The Riff - July 2009

VIDEO: Obama Mouths Off

| Fri Jul. 24, 2009 3:38 PM EDT

Remember during the campaign, when then-candidate Obama was perfectly poised and careful to stay on message? Be it climate change, social issues, or foreign policy, Obama and his campaign lackeys clung to their message for dear life. Not even Sarah Palin's repeated insinuation that Obama is either a terrorist or secretly in love with terrorists could faze them.

So where did that ninja-like focus go? In each of this week's divisive issues, President Obama swerved from the important goal of moving health care reform through Congress to give his critics the unrelentless, shameless platform that is 24-hour news networks. When it came to the arrest of Henry Louis Gates Jr. and proving his own citizenship, President Obama just could not avoid commenting.

Whether you think that the Cambridge police department, as President Obama put it at his health care press conference Wednesday night, "acted stupidly," in arresting the prominent Harvard professor breaking into his own house, or if you think that Gates blew it with his response, it's clear that Obama should have steered clear of the issue. The next day, instead of debating health care, the MSM focused on the President's Gates remark and its implications for race in America. Obama backpedaled today and even invited Gates and Officer Crowley to the White House for a beer. 

Jon Stewart mocked Obama and the MSM response last night on The Daily Show (skip to 6:00 minute mark). “I think it’s fair to say that Obama handled that question… oh what’s the word I’m looking for…stupidly?”

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Call Of The Wild: Cougars In Palo Alto, CA

| Fri Jul. 24, 2009 2:47 PM EDT

Chalk it up to the Demi Moore/Ashton Kutcher effect, or better yet, just call it creepy: Northern California is bracing for an influx of cougars in about a month. And I'm not talking about the animals; I'm talking about the ladies, specifically those in the 35+ age bracket who are seeking young men with better than average verility.

Pop culture loves cougars, but apparently real people do too. Yesterday, a friend sent an e-mail inviting me to the following event:

National Single Cougars Convention

Single cougars from all over America will converge on the Silicon Valley, the ONLY major metropolitan area in America with a surplus of single men, many of whom are young, educated, attractive, and prosperous, but lacking in experience with women.

7:30pm - Complimentary appetizers from Trader Vic's, as long as they last.

8pm – Entertaining Keynote Address with author Francesca Gentille and Tahil Gesyuk, her romantic partner, who is 14 years younger.

9pm-Midnight - The Cougar Ball, featuring dancing to your favorite hits. At approximately 11pm, one cougar at the Convention will be crowned MISS COUGAR AMERICA and receive prizes, including her choice of the upcoming Singles Halloween Cruise or the Spring Baja Cruise, courtesy of The Singles Travel Company, plus a Cougar Kit from Cardeaux Cosmetics, valued at over $100. To be eligible to win, the lucky Cougar must be present at the convention, legally single and at least 40 years of age.

BONUS: The first 50 women to arrive will receive free samples from Cardeaux Cosmetics!

Yes, you read correctly. There will be prizes and even a coronation. I'll be out of town that day, but if I were around, you can bet your bottom dollar I'd be tempted to go watch.

An Alternative History of the US Role in Afghanistan

| Thu Jul. 23, 2009 8:00 PM EDT

The United States' involvement in Afghanistan is growing deeper and more costly--30 US soldiers have died there since the start of July, making it the deadliest month since the US invasion in 2001. Vice President Joe Biden was probably right when he said in a radio interview on Thursday that the war is "worth the effort." Still, now is a good time to better understand exactly why it has been so hard to turn Afghanistan into a more peaceful place. A new book by two US journalists explores some less well-known historical explanations.

In 1981, Elizabeth Gould and Paul Fitzgerald were the first US journalists to enter Afghanistan after the Western press corps had been expelled from the country a month after the 1979 Soviet invasion.  The footage that they shot for CBS News painted a far different picture of the occupation than had been portrayed in the US media. Yet they say that the story that Dan Rather aired that spring buried the most important revelations--a problem that they've seen with US media coverage of Afghanistan ever since. In January 2009, they published "Invisible History: Afghanistan's Untold Story," a book that Selig Harrison, the Washington Post's former South Asia bureau chief, calls "a much needed corrective to five decades of biased journalistic and academic writing about Afghanistan that has covered up the destructive and self-defeating US role there." Mother Jones spoke with Gould and Fitzgerald last month.

Mother Jones: In your view, what do most people not understand about the US government's early involvement in Afghanistan?

Paul Fitzgerald: In the major media, you get the story about a Soviet invasion. What you don't get are all the politics and motivations that were behind that.

Elizabeth Gould: When the Soviets crossed the Afghan border, President Carter exclaimed that this was the greatest threat to peace since the Second World War. The claim was that the Soviets were running out of oil and this was their first step to the Persian Gulf to get our oil. So that became the mantra.

MJ: So when did a different explanation catch on?

Getting Shot With Jack Daniels

| Thu Jul. 23, 2009 5:58 PM EDT

Just yesterday, gun-toting Senate Republicans and their Democratic allies were narrowly defeated in their attempt to allow gun owners with concealed weapons permits legally take their arms across state lines. (No thanks to Harry Reid for his wonderful leadership... Even Kirsten Gillibrand voted nay on this one!)

However, for residents of Tennessee, everything isn't so hunky-dory. As the Memphis Commercial Appeal reported last week, it became legal for "people with valid handgun-carry permits to go armed—the gun concealed or not—into Tennessee restaurants serving alcohol, provided the restaurant doesn't ban guns on the premises." This makes one wonder, what are these lawmakers smoking (or drinking)? A similar law was also just passed in Arizona.

Even our foes friends at FoxNews have acknowledged that alcohol consumption and gun violence are linked—"Heavily consuming alcohol can greatly lower inhibitions, increase confidence and potentially release violent impulses," according to a University of Pennsylvania study—so it's ludicrous that legislators would go out of their way to endanger the lives of innocent people who are at a bar or restaurant looking for a non-violent good time, and instead have to be around individuals living out their Wild West fantasies.

Amy Poehler, We Love You Too

| Thu Jul. 23, 2009 2:12 PM EDT

The Hollywood Reporter recently gathered Emmy Award nominees Amy Poehler, Sarah Silverman, Christina Applegate, Jane Krakowski, Mary-Louise Parker, and Julia Louis-Dreyfus to discuss the entertainment business. Surprisingly, the conversation turned to Mother Jones:

For the record, Mother Jones doesn't have an age limit for our cover girls.

On the other hand, we do have strict accuracy requirements, and it's a pretty sure bet that our team of fact checkers would catch a discrepancy like casting Amy Poehler to play Rachel McAdams' mom (she's only 8 years older) or Sarah Silverman to parent Jonah Hill (a 13 year difference). Then again, this is the same Hollywood that thought we'd buy Winona Ryder as Zachary Quinto's Star Trek mom—she would have been a mother at the age of six.

The Onion Sells Itself to China, and a New Comedic Genre Is Born

| Thu Jul. 23, 2009 1:26 PM EDT

As you may have heard, The Onion has been sold to the Chinese. Not really, of course, but you could be fooled by their site this week. It's a much-needed comedic shot in the arm after the recent sad news that their California print editions are shutting down.

The funniest bit isn't actually any of the China-related content on the Onion homepage, but the website they set up for their fake Chinese parent company, Yuwanmei Amalgamated Salvage Fisheries and Polymer Injection Corp. From the "Company History":

Founded in 1998 without incident or legal complication, what is now a glorious 300,000-square-foot processing center began as a humble 230,000-square-foot warehouse.

Clicking through the Yuwanmei website I can't help but think that we're witnessing the birth of a new—and potentially game-changing—comedic genre: the fake website. While fraud and deception are nothing new to the internet, and fake websites have been sometimes innovative promotional tools for movies and TV, the culture is still barely scratching the surface. Besides the Chinese Onion, the best example I've come across is an extensive spoof website featuring the comedian Charlie Murphy as Leroy Smith, the man who motivated Michael Jordan. Nike is apparently behind this project, which explains the bells and whistles, like the Leroy Smith video game. The ease with which this stuff can go viral (Leroy's website comes fully equipped with Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and iPhone apps) has to have entertainment execs salivating.

Look for Hollywood to follow the lead of the website for the new Apatow flick, "Funny People", which features long fake trailers for the fake movies its protagonists star in.

Have a favorite fake website? Leave your links in the comments. But first, watch a video of Charlie Murphy (yes, Eddie's brother) as Leroy Smith, the man who motivated Michael Jordan, after the break.

Update: The Onion has taken it even farther than I had realized. Check out the Yu Wan-Mei Corp. Twitter feed (h/t to commenter Yu Wan Mei).

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Lady Gaga Parody=GOP's Savior?

| Wed Jul. 22, 2009 9:04 PM EDT

Recently, MoJo published a story about the GOP's hackneyed attempts to crack the web.

Their latest straw-grasp: A YouTube video called "Just Tax," set to Lady Gaga's hit "Just Dance." According to The Guardian, the parody of Obama (sample lyric: "This shouldn't happen, man/Go on and ask Japan") was recently featured at a Republican party meeting as a way to attract young people.

The fact that this got play at an official gathering reveals just how desperate the party has become. Then again, maybe it's not such a bad idea. After all, if Lady Gaga + YouTube + "tax and spend liberals" won't appeal to potential young converts…what will?

Watch below:

How to Confront Rape Jokes

| Wed Jul. 22, 2009 3:17 PM EDT

A co-worker's tweet this morning drew my attention to a blog post on how to respond to rape jokes. The author of the blog post lays out 5 possible responses when someone jokes that a woman wanted it, or was so unattractive she should be glad to get raped:

1. Keep quiet and feel uncomfortable.

2. Try to top the joke with a more offensive one.

3. Initiate a Very Serious Conversation in which you state rape is never funny.

4. Initiate a Very Serious Conversation II in which you disclose your own rape, and mention that you were definitely NOT laughing during it.

5. Talk outside the box. As in, "I knew this guy in college, and he totally got raped during rush and had to go to the doctor! He's in therapy now! It was hilarious!"

 

High School Feminist Bloggers are Smart (and Punny)

| Wed Jul. 22, 2009 2:38 PM EDT

When I was a junior in high school, I was pretty sure the only other feminist in my small town was my AAUW card-carrying mother. I also thought that a dial up modem was the height of technology.

Since then, technology has made it possible for teenaged feminists to do much more to connect with each other and the world.

Miranda, a soon-to-be high school senior, is the brains behind Women's Glib, a feminist community blog made up of self-proclaimed "nerdy foul-mouthed youth." Since starting the blog this winter, she has already been featured as a guest blogger on long-running blog Feministe.

The fantasticly titled FBomb was started by 16-year-old founder Julie Zeilinger and has been highlighted by Feministing and other feminist blogs, and caught like wildfire after being highlighted on Jezebel.

Both blogs are at once accessible and enlightening, wittily covering everything from the gendered implications of high school popularity and dating to Sonia Sotomayor's nomination. But not all attention has been positive. A week after the online media blitz, F-Bomb founder Zeilinger Tweeted:

"older feminist readers I'm a teen its for teens can't be perfect don't have a degree. get some perspective plz & stop writing mean comments!"

Miranda ended her Feministe guest blogging stint with remorse for a post that asked for the community's advice on being a womanist ally.

Here at Mother Jones, we've had our own share of contentious conversation on generational feminism. But these young women also point out other rifts contemporary feminism is working to untangle.

Not only are these young women actively working to expand their political viewpoint—and the tools they need to work within their communities—they are negotiating their personal and online identities in real time for the world to see. As both of the blogs note, simply claiming the title "feminist" is a powerful act, for both teenagers and adults (there is a reason Julie Z. called her blog The FBomb), and these bloggers are actively working to ensure more people claim it, grapple with its meaning, and work towards achieving its goals.

As Julie Z's twitter bio screams: "badass teenage feminists who give a shit unite!"

Is Hollywood Finally Going Galt?

| Wed Jul. 22, 2009 1:25 PM EDT

In a world...of disappointing literary movie adaptations, one film must make it to the screen with its nuance, political integrity, and 50-page monologues intact: Atlas Shrugged. At least that's the hope of Ayn Rand fans in Hollywood, who have long sought to bring the Objectivist tome to the silver screen, without much luck. Angelina Jolie was recently rumored to be interested in starring in the tale of top-down class warfare, but the latest reports from Tinseltown say that Charlize Theron is eyeing the project—on the condition that it be made into a cable TV miniseries so its subtleties aren't diluted. Assuming this gets off the ground in the next three years, this could be exciting news for the Go Galt crowd, the folks who, as Amy Benfer writes in our current issue, are creatively reading (or skimming, or just Wikipedia-ing) Atlas Shrugged for clues on how to rebel against the United States' recent transformation into a collectivist totalitarian gulag, i.e., the election of Barack Obama. So far, the Galt movement—named after Atlas' protagonist, capitalist übermensch John Galt—hasn't done much more than inspire lots of online fist shaking. But with Theron playing kinky railroad magnate Dagny Taggart, things could really pick up for it. Now who to play her lover and the namesake of the current recessionist movement? For some reason, I really like the sound of the line (use your best movie trailer voice here): "Nicholas Cage IS John Galt." And this one, too: "This summer, America is going, going...Galt!"