Category Archives: Opinion

Segregated Proms and Social Media


-Casey Klekas

This year marks the 150th anniversary since President Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation. It has been sixty years since Brown v. Board of Education declared racial segregation unconstitutional. And it has been fifty years since Dr. Martin Luther King gave his imperishable “I Have a Dream” speech, addressed not just to those at the feet of the Lincoln Memorial, but to every person in the United States, from the “snow-capped Rockies of Colorado” to the “Stone Mountain of Georgia.” It has been fifty years, and yet the word “segregated” still rings in some parts of the United States.

My generation hasn’t had much more than a Hollywood encounter with segregated schools or the unavoidable pains of integration. My first experience with the history of racial segregation probably came through Forrest Gump (“Ma’am, you dropped your book.”). This period, while undoubtedly unforgettable, is still just a distant chapter in our history books.

Well, at least that’s what I thought until I stumbled across headlines that read, “Georgia students organize their own, integrated prom,” and “Segregated prom tradition yields to unity.”

For those of you who are well aware of this “phenomenon” (I don’t know what else to call it), please forgive me. For those of you who, like me, were convinced that segregation died in the ‘60s and ‘70s, you might be as shocked as I was when I found out that in some parts of the American south, school dances are still organized according to skin color.

The ruling in Brown v. Board of Education said that segregated schools were unconstitutional, and that, “in the field of public education, the doctrine of ‘separate but equal’ has no place.” Chief Justice Earl Warren fought to make it a unanimous decision (nine-zero) so as to quell any further legal opposition. In order to get a nine-zero decision, Warren made the concession of leaving an open timetable to the implementation of school integration. Schools gradually became integrated or they closed down. But some traditions such as school dances were difficult to integrate with force. Some proms were no longer sanctioned by the school but were instead privately organized by students and parents so dances could remain racially segregated.

This tradition has been difficult to buck. “White proms” were normally invitation-only, while “black proms” remained largely open to all.

There have been several famous acts of resistance to this tradition, like in 1997, when actor Morgan Freeman offered to sponsor an integrated high school prom in his hometown of Charlestown, Mississippi. His offer was denied. Ten years later, he made the offer again. This time, it was accepted. This event inspired a documentary Prom Night in Mississippi.

Only a few counties in the southern states still hold separate proms based on variations in pigment. Until Saturday, April 28, 2013, Wilcox, Georgia, was one such county. Four girls came up with the idea of breaking with tradition and making their high school prom integrated. To raise money and awareness, they created a Facebook page, which brought in more than enough money to rent a ballroom and offer party gifts to every couple.

The pictures of happy couples at the dance look like any other prom pictures of nervous high schoolers with awkward smiles and silly hats.

The first two statuses on the group’s page are about local fundraisers, including the “Barbecue Chicken Plate Sale,” as well as donation opportunities for those across the country. The next few read something like, “We would like to thank everyone all over the world who have given to this Prom and cause from the depths of your heart.” Then the countdown begins. “4 MORE DAYS!!!! *SCREAMING* :-)”. The Saturday of the dance read, “TODAY IS THE DAY!!!!!! SO BEYOND EXCITED 🙂 *BUTTERFLIES IN OUR STOMACHS AND SCREAMING WITH EXCITEMENT*.”

Each picture and status update has hundreds, if not thousands of “likes” and heartening comments. Don’t be surprised if you get teary-eyed.

The courage of the students who organized, attended, and got down on the dance floor at Wilcox High School’s first integrated prom makes me proud to think that the spirit of brotherhood that sustained the Civil Rights Movement is alive and well in the Facebook generation.

Image by Shalimar Flower Shop.

Great Expectations Fulfilled: Baz Luhrmann’s “The Great Gatsby” Soundtrack


-Emily Fraysse

Director Baz Luhrmann has become infamous in the cinematic world for reworking, rejuvenating, and remixing old songs into a refreshing rendition. His latest film, The Great Gatsby, is no exception.

On May 2, the entire album was leaked to the public for listening-only. Combining an all-star collection of artists like Jay-Z, Beyoncé, Florence and the Machine, Jack White, The xx, and Fergie, the album captures the fame and glory of the main character, Jay Gatsby, and the over-the-top ragers he throws at his mansion in New York City during the roaring ’20s. The book, by F. Scott Fitzgerald, states that, “the tempo of the city had changed sharply. The buildings were higher, the parties were bigger, the morals were looser and the liquor was cheaper. The restlessness approached hysteria.” The soundtrack reflects this imagery.

Luhrmann’s post-modernistic style leaves the soundtrack with a juxtaposition of classic jazz and current styles of rap, pop, and hip-hop. NPR explains that by, “distilling the essence of the Jazz Age though never completely reflecting it, this soundtrack is as much an event as is the film that inspired it.”

This left many people in the NPR community and beyond disappointed because of the lack of the traditional Jazz music that was the epitome of that era. So, why did Luhrmann stray away from period music? Don’t get me wrong—there’s a bit of the ’20s sprinkled through a few of the songs. In the text, Fitzgerald makes references to jazz-influenced pop songs that capture the amplification of the parties Gatsby throws and the lusciousness of his filthy-rich lifestyle. The soundtrack portrays the period of music that we are in right now—the “hip-hop age.” The mixture of talented artists, ranging from rap to alternative, exemplify how hip-hop is deeply embedded in rock and dance music. With the juxtaposition of the roaring twenties period shown on the screen, the viewers get to feel the impact of modern-day music, just as Fitzgerald did for the readers of his novel when it was published in 1925.

The question is: will the work of a variety of artists reflect the work of this brilliant writer, or will it take away from the film? I guess we’ll have to wait and see when the film opens May 10.

Grade: A-

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Translating the (Ridiculous) Language of Redbox


-Reed Nelson

Take a trip to your local Redbox. With you, take a pad of paper, preferably pocket-sized, and a writing utensil, preferably not a fountain pen. Write down the movies you see.

Go ahead, I’ll wait. You can find more of them in this town than street signs in the University District.

But if you don’t want to scroll through such memorable titles as Stitches, Skew, Pawn, and Expiration, here is what you missed: an electronic box featuring a mystically infinite selection of films with titles like Stitches, Skew, Pawn, and Expiration.

Sure, Academy Award winning films can be found at most locations (Silver Linings Playbook, Life of Pi, and Django Unchained to name a few), but why would anyone rent something that pretentious when K-11, the story of Raymond Saxx—two x’s, in case the first one got lost in plot detail—is available. According to the informational screen, it’s about a businessman who gets sent to the LGBT wing of the Los Angeles County Jail where he then gets Nasty-Nated by “Mousey, a malicious transgendered inmate.”

Redbox, you have my attention. Especially when the opening line of plot info on Life of Pi reads, “A Montreal writer in search of his next project happens across the incredible story of Piscine Militor Patel.” Boring.

Why would I want a title longer than ten characters, anyway? 140 is so 2010. If I’m renting a movie, I’m renting Jacob, a movie that most definitely stars the Baby Sinclair puppet from Dinosaurs, but all grown up.

Or maybe I’ll just go with The Wicked or The Collection or The Bay. Or another one that starts with “the.”

Lord knows I’m not making that intrepid journey up to the last remaining Blockbuster in South Eugene. So what if I wanted to rent Annie Hall or The Squid and the Whale? I came home just as happy with The Marine 3: Homefront and Ghost Storm, the latter of which is a movie about two heroes saving the wonderful folks “on a small island from a strange electrical storm which is led by angry souls looking for revenge.”

(Again, their words, not mine. But, information authors at Redbox, that whole leaving-out-the-name-of-the-island move? Well played. I need to know. Like, right now.)

But Redbox is like Steve Jobs: I don’t know I want it until Redbox gives it to me. Vengeful Ghost Storms? Yup. I’m in. I already have so many questions. Like, is this based on a true story? How many ghosts does it take to make a Ghost Storm? Are there Ghost Drizzles? How about Ghost Hurricanes? Or do supernatural atmospheric occurrences peter out around Ghost Nor’easters? Are the individual ghosts visible during one of these storms? Or is it just like a collective energy kind of thing? Why is there no mention of Ghost Cellars? If this is a remote island, shouldn’t they have severe storm precautions? How does a Ghost Storm differ from, say, a Mount Olympus-inspired Midwestern thunder-and-lightening throw-down? Could those two types of storms duke it out in the sequel? Can you start a Kickstarter for the sequel involving warring storms?

See. Redbox was right. Ghost Storms are infinitely more interesting than stories of human behavior, test of will, and interpersonal relationships.

That’s why I don’t go to Blockbuster anymore. And it’s the same reason I traded in my working automobile for a Segway. Gas-mileage, baby, I’m progressive.

Blockbuster, after all, is so expensive. three dollars for a movie? Rather have a Red Bull Special Edition Blueberry, thank you very much. It doesn’t matter if I’ve seen all the award winners at Redbox, I’ll pay a dollar to see them again.

(I will then let them sit on my kitchen counter for the next six days, allowing them to become, individually, six dollar movies instead of one dollar movies, thus defeating the entire purpose. But, in the immortal words of Icona Pop: I crashed my car into a bridge. Wait that wasn’t right, I was looking for: I don’t care, I love it. That’s right, I love holding onto movies that I’m not all that into for an extended period of time, bleeding my bank account like some mini-Office Space siphon job.)

So, next time you want to rent a movie that you haven’t seen in a while, or maybe you just want to finally watch Shawshank Redemption for the first time, go instead to Redbox, and grab yourself a copy of So Undercover, starring Miley Cyrus. It’s totally the same thing, I swear.

Image by Valerie Everett.

Popcorned: New Wes Anderson Movie! (Hopefully it’s R-rated)

“Popcorned” is a weekly entertainment blog by Casey Klekas. Rambling from movies to television, from healthy obsessions to shades-drawn, mustard on the collar Netflix binges, Popcorned is a lighthearted, heavy-minded commentary on the shows you’ve missed, the ones you should look forward to, and the ones you should never give a chance.

-Casey Klekas

If you’re a Wes Anderson fan, you can think of your favorite of his films before I finish this sentence. The candidates are, in chronological order: Bottle Rocket (1996), Rushmore (1998), The Royal Tenenbaums (2001), The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (2004), The Darjeeling Limited (2007), Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009), and Moonrise Kingdom (2012). Of course, it isn’t necessary to choose a favorite, although it is easier to do that than to choose the best.

If you were to ask me on Tuesday, “Hey, what’s your favorite Wes Anderson movie, cuz?” without an upward-looking moment of hesitation, I’d say, “The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou.” If you were to ask me on Wednesday, I might go with The Darjeeling Limited. But, after just finishing that film for the nth time, I feel as if one should never have a favorite Wes Anderson film because you will constantly be weighing them against each other. Instead of enjoying the long shots of ten different scenes between twenty different characters, you’ll be rating one dysfunctional family, the Tenenbaums, against another, the Whitmans or the Bishops. (Bill Murray’s first name in Moonrise Kingdom is Walt; his last name in The Darjeeling Limited is Whitman. Actually, his ten-second character is known as “the businessman,” but I always think he’s the dead father of Jack, Peter, and Francis. Be on the lookout for further tributes to Walt Whitman).

Perhaps your favorite W. A. film is Fantastic Mr. Fox. Hear me, dear Reader, ye who find this film to be your least of faves. I swear on the soles of the Zissou specials—“These are great!”—that a friend named Spike did claim that very film as his most dear. The first time I saw the film, I admit, I did not stop laughing a most unnaturally induced laugh through at least sixty-three of the eighty-seven minutes. After all, it was my birthday! But I have since reviewed it. Let’s not force it into a hierarchy. I love it. I’m just not that attached to it.

His most recent film, Moonrise Kingdom, was Anderson’s first collaboration with actor Edward Norton. (In an interview with The Guardian, Norton revealed that on the set of Fight Club, he and his co-star Brad Pitt were obsessed with Anderson’s first film Bottle Rocket so much so that they tried to slip a few homages into their own film. One success was when Pitt climbs over barbed wire to steal liposuctioned fat for homemade soap brewing. Here, he caws for Norton to follow, just like Owen Wilson does to his brother Luke during Bottle Rocket’s well-planned heists.) Anyway, this film, though charming and characteristically Wes-Andersonian, still feels like it’s missing something.

Anderson’s upcoming film is called The Grand Budapest Hotel. It includes his usual comrades—Murray, Wilson 1, and Schwartzman—but also some new faces like Jude Law and Ralph Fiennes (don’t know how to pronounce that). The story is set in the 1920s, a great start, and involves friendships, heists, and family fortunes like all good Wes Anderson films.

This brings me to explain why I brought up Fantastic Mr. Fox and Moonrise Kingdom and why they aren’t even contenders for my favorite Wes Anderson film. Of all of Wes Anderson’s films, only the last two have escaped an “R” rating by the good people at the Motion Picture Association of America (Mr. Fox is PG while Moonrise is PG-13). Again, I love both of these films dearly, but I do not connect with them like I do with his other pictures. Often what is so delightful about Anderson films is that adults, like Bill Murray in Rushmore or Gene Hackman in Tenenbaums, act like children. I wouldn’t argue that there wasn’t any of that in the last two films. I guess I just miss the drug use, sex, and even the curse words in his other films. I miss the grown-up relationships, like the near incestual one between Margot and Richie Tenenbaum. Or the bags of pain killers and muscle relaxers that fuel the Whitman boys on their spiritual journey through India. And the cigarettes! How can you have a true Wes Anderson film without cigarettes? Eli Cash on mescaline. Francis Whitman and Sweet Lime Rita in the Darjeeling’s bathroom. Steve Zissou on the unresponsive albino dolphins accompanying the Belafonte—“Son of a B!*#%, I’m sick of these dolphins.”

So, I suppose all I’m really saying is that I hope Anderson’s next film is rated R for all the glorious reasons his first five were deemed inappropriate for unaccompanied minors. Bring back the debauchery, Wes! It’s why I fell in love with you—er, your films and stuff.

"What Would Ryan Lochte Do?" or: The Worst Thing on TV Right Now

-Rache’ll Brown

I don’t think anyone appreciates trashy reality TV like I do. I mean, my favorite show is Gypsy Sisters, I like every single thing that Snooki posts on Instagram, and I still regularly dream about becoming Lauren Conrad’s BFF due to her time on Laguna Beach and The Hills (I rocked that Team LC t-shirt in middle school). With all of my life experience in this category, I think it’s safe to say that I know when a TV show is truly bad. So, while enjoying a typical night of reality TV and popcorn, I was instantly able to spot the worst thing TV has to offer right now: What Would Ryan Lochte Do?

The world became acquainted with Lochte last summer during the 2012 Olympics, where he won five gold medals in swimming. We were entranced by his amazing swimmer’s bod, but repulsed by his attitude and ignorance. Nevertheless, the 28-year-old entered the public eye, and we’ve been unable to shake him since.

What Would Ryan Lochte Do? premiered on the E! Network April 21, and had .8 million Americans tune in. Surprising. In this episode, the audience was introduced to Lochte’s everyday life, which includes his “Lochterage” (friends), “love-hate, but mostly hate” relationship with roommate and younger brother, Devon, and his attempts at romance (he takes every girl he dates to the exact same sushi bar and doesn’t see a problem with it). We also discover his desire to become a fashion designer (I can’t even… ), and that his favorite movie is What Women Want starring Mel Gibson.

He is so deep.

Usually, I am all for shallow, poorly scripted “reality” shows, but I can’t get past how much of an airhead he is. Instead of being funny, he is just pathetic, and I’m not the only one who feels this way—reporters can’t even take him seriously! I love reality TV shows because other people’s insane lives make me feel better about myself, but this just left me feeling sympathetic for him. Needless to say, I won’t be tuning in again.

Grade: D

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"Life is But a Dream"-Beyoncé the icon, the woman

-Rache’ll Brown

I have never wanted to be Beyoncé more than I did after I watched her autobiographical documentary Life is But a Dream on HBO—and that says a lot, considering that as a child, my number one documented wish was to be the icon herself. Among other things, the documentary shows a heart-wrenching account of her relationship with her father (and ex-manager) Matthew Knowles, and the stresses she faces being in the public eye. Viewers see a side of Beyoncé that has never been seen before. She is inspiring, articulate, hard working, and outrageously fabulous. Beyoncé runs the world.

Life is But a Dream was filmed over a number of years, featuring a mix of performance footage, home videos, interviews, vlogs, and documentary style footage of her day-to-day life. Viewers see the star in a raw, personal light, and things are revealed that fans never would have guessed, like a miscarriage she had prior to her pregnancy with daughter Blue Ivy.

Through all of the emotion, my favorite part of the documentary was a detailed behind-the-scenes look at Beyoncé’s 2011 award show performances. Her act at the Billboard Music Awards featured an insane and inspiring rendition of “Run the World (Girls).” Then I got emotional all over again watching the unforgettable performance of  “Love On Top” at the MTV VMAs where she announced her pregnancy. It was interesting to see her creative process, and what she went through to bring her visions to life. The decisions she made, the way she felt—all of it was awesome. Trust me, the end results were beyond amazing, and I have more respect for Beyoncé as a performer then I ever did before.

Since I can remember, I’ve admired Beyoncé, but when I was asked why, I never really had an answer. Life Is But A Dream has given me a billion and one reasons to love this artist. The documentary will make anyone a fan of Beyoncé, whether it is for her music, her work ethic, or her personality. She truly is a strong and inspiring woman, and the amount of work and emotion she puts into her career is over the top.

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Image by martdiz.

Bury Your Head: The Ostrich Pillow

-Sarah Keartes

My name is Sarah Keartes and I have a problem.

“Hi Sarah.”

When insomnia hits and I’ve had my fill of cat videos and British animal voice-overs, the urge to peruse the precious cargo of “DudeIWantThat” takes over. What can I say, the “geek’s gift guide of gadgets, gear, novelties, and zombies” tugs at my nerd-heart (and wallet).

Who doesn’t need a levitating computer mouse, a zombocalypse survival kit, and of course, a Tron light cycle?

Should you not have $50,000 to spare, or share my love for geekery—fear not my fellow students! There is something here for you. And, dude, you want this.

During my last late night search, I came across something that I couldn’t resist: the Ostrich Pillow, described as creating “a micro environment in which to take a warm and comfortable power nap at ease. It is neither a pillow, nor cushion, bed or garment, but a bit of each all at the same time. It’s soothing cave-like interior shelters and isolates both your head and hands, perfect for a power nap.”

“Soothing cave-like interior.” That was enough for this nap-lover. I wanted my portable cave, and I wanted it fast. I clicked. I bought. I slept.

This futuristic sleep-aid was created by architecture and design studio Kawamura-Ganjavian to assist with power-napping, which has been known to increase productivity and creativity.

Though the pillow will have you looking more like Squidward from Spongebob Squarepants than a giant bird, the name stems from tales of ostriches burying their heads to escape stressful situations. Heads up (and out of the sand, eh?)—this is only a myth.

Claustrophobics beware: the pillow, which is made from soft, breathable cotton, is like a sleeping bag for your face. Once inside, you see nothing. The design features a large opening for easy mid-nap breathing, and an innovative hand hole on either side of the headpiece which allows the user to lay belly down without the risk of double-dead-arm or forehead-flattening.

The pillow is perfect for a between-class hallway snooze,  a power nap at 10,000 feet, or when you need a quick escape from daylight. That said, there are a few design flaws.

The Ostrich Pillow’s breathing hole lies directly over the mouth, leaving the nose covered. Now, while mouth-breathing is effective in maintaining oxygen flow to the brain, it lends quite well to excessive drooling. The body of the pillow is padded for comfort, but because of this, is not very portable—rolled up it takes up one-third of a standard size backpack.

Several reviewers have targeted the pillow’s lack of eye-holes as a major problem. With your head buried in cotton you are certainly unrecognizable, and the unlikely target of unwanted chatter from passersby—but that soft fortress of solitude does mean that you are completely unable to keep an eye on your things. “Nothing screams ‘rob me’ like essentially wearing a bag over your face while in public,” points out one reviewer. Though I understand the concern, I would love for someone to explain how they watch for run-by robbers while sleeping without the pillow.

Despite these factors, I thoroughly enjoyed my Ostrich experience. If you are a nap-loving, mouth-breathing, non-claustrophobic person who can handle the guarantee of social-suicide, the Ostrich Pillow might just be the solution to your finals week brain-fry. Should you desire full body coverage, and even more nap-anonymity, there is always the Sleep Suit.

Nap on, UO. Nap on.

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No subject is off limits for comedy…but it needs to be funny

-Casey Klekas

Two subjects of comedy that have gone stale–if they were ever even fresh–are fat people and the Holocaust. Joan Rivers is a “comedian” in the very loosest sense of the term: someone who tries to make people laugh. Appearing on Late Night with David Letterman, Ms. Rivers made a “joke” about hit-singer Adele. The two met at last year’s Academy Awards and Rivers thought she’d try to get a laugh at the expense of Adele’s weight.

“What is her song? ‘Rolling In The Deep’? She should add fried chicken!” Rivers later said in an interview for the Huffington Post, “She’s a chubby lady who’s very, very rich, and she should just calm down—or lose weight!” She claimed that Adele “wanted an apology,” so, Rivers said, “I took an ad out on her ass. I said, ‘You are not fat.’ And then I had room for a lot of other ads. Adele is beautiful and successful and has what, $100 million? Let’s face reality: she’s fat!”

Rivers is unapologetic and claims that there is no subject safe from comedy. I agree. The problem is that Rivers isn’t funny.

This was just the first in the list of not-funny jokes that Rivers has recently made. On E!’s Fashion Police she commented on German model Heidi Klum and her deliciously revealing dress displayed at this year’s Academy Awards. Rivers said, “The last time a German looked this hot was when they were pushing Jews into the ovens.”

Soak it in.

The Anti-Defamation League, an organization committed to fighting anti-Semitism and other forms of bigotry, responded, “This remark is so vulgar and offensive to Jews and Holocaust survivors, and indeed to all Americans, that we cannot believe it made it to the airwaves.” Personally, I think the Anti-Defamation League took offense on somebody else’s behalf. The Germans, Frau Klum in particular, have as much cause to be offended as do Jews and Holocaust survivors.

I am one of the staunchest defenders of free speech you’re liable to find. Joan Rivers is protected by law to say whatever she wants at the expense of whomever she wants. This isn’t a question about “rights;” it’s a question about comedy.

Rivers later responded to calls for her to apologize by scoffing, “Learn what comedy’s about, tell that to Richard Pryor, tell that to Chris Rock, tell it to Louis C. K. , go back to Lenny Bruce. I’m very proud to be a part that group.” You aren’t. She isn’t. The difference between these masters of comedy and Joan Rivers is that they are/were funny. Louis C. K. could make a joke about Schindler’s List because he’s talented enough to pull humor out of everything. Comedians have the special role of pushing the limits of what we say, and making light of the taboo. The only deal is—they have to be funny. Louis C. K. can make a joke about being fat, too. Because he’s funny.

In an embarrassing interview Rivers said, “It’s a joke, number one. Number two, it is about the Holocaust. This is the way I remind people about the Holocaust. I do it through humor.”

She has said elsewhere that she reminds people of the Holocaust “because half the people now don’t even believe it ever happened.”

“My husband lost his entire family in the Holocaust, so let’s just start with that. Your generation doesn’t even know what I’m talking about. My doing a joke gets them talking. Doesn’t bother Heidi, doesn’t bother me.” Nice retrospective justification, I’m sure that’s what she was thinking when she made the joke, ‘This will get them talking about the Holocaust, cause this generation doesn’t even know.’

There are a lot of people who say you should apologize.

“For what? Why don’t you worry about Mel Gibson? Why don’t you worry about the anti-Semites out there and not pick someone who doesn’t have a single living relative, hmm?” Any subject that’s too serious that you wouldn’t take on in humor? “I think that’s how we get through life. That’s how I deal with [it]. You make people laugh. You laugh, you can deal with it.”

First, Mel Gibson is talented, even if he is allegedly a rabid anti-Semite. He also has nothing to do with this conversation.

Secondly, you know gosh-darn well you’re making up some excuse like you’re on a crusade against Holocaust deniers. You were trying to be funny. You weren’t. If you still claim to be a comedian, you should apologize for not doing your job. You should apologize for not being funny.

Image by David Shankbone.

Through the eyes of Dick Cheney

-Casey Klekas

What’s it like to wear Dick Cheney’s glasses? Well, they might be transition lenses because everything looks a little darker. In case you missed it, Showtime has released a new documentary called The World According to Dick Cheney, in which the former vice president opened his cold, transplanted heart for the Academy Award-nominated documentary filmmaker, R. J. Cutler. Cheney talked about his life in the political sphere, from his early days of drunk-driving in Casper, Wyoming, to twice failing out of Yale University, to eventually going to work for a young Donald Rumsfeld in the Nixon administration. Cheney has held a high-ranking position in nearly every republican administration since Tricky Dick, culminating in his nomination for vice president in 2000. It’s about time someone made a documentary about the “most powerful vice president in history.”

The movie begins with Cheney responding to a Proust Questionnaire—favorite virtue: integrity; favorite food: spaghetti. Cheney is asked to name his main fault: “Well, I don’t spend a lot of time thinking about my faults, I guess would be the answer.” There’s your thesis statement.

Surprisingly, for the majority of the film, Dick Cheney does not come off as a power-hungry crypto-fascist. Instead of Darth Vader, we get grandpa’s reflections of an extraordinary life from humble beginnings. Born in Nebraska to life-long democrats, Cheney’s formidable years were spent playing football and drinking Coors beer, a brand he loved so dearly that for a spell he was a Coors employee. Coors was instrumental in his failing out of Yale, after which he returned to Casper and dabbled in manual labor. Cheney then had the sobering experience of getting two DUIs in a matter of months. Threatened with separation from his high school sweetheart, Lynne Vincent, he went back to school to study politics. It was in reaction to the lively anti-Vietnam War protests at the University of Wisconsin that Cheney found himself moving more to the political right.

Cheney got his start in politics working for Donald Rumsfeld, who would act as a sort of mentor until Cheney was elected to serve Wyoming in the House of Representatives in 1978. He then served as Secretary of Defense under George H. W. Bush from 1989 until Bush lost the presidency to Bill Clinton in 1992. He left the political sphere for a quiet life as CEO of Halliburton, a multi-billion dollar oil corporation.

In 2000, George Bush Jr. asked Cheney to head his search for a vice-presidential candidate. Cheney set up a grueling vetting process, in which, after exhausting all possibilities, Bush eventually asked Cheney to join the ticket. Cheney agreed on the condition that he would have an influential position in the administration, not just to act as a slot filler. Also, he would not be subjected to the taxing vetting process of background checks and medical records demanded of earlier candidates.

Whilst the hands were busy sorting through dimpled chads in Florida, Cheney was already at work selecting Bush’s council of ministers, filling the cabinet with friends and like-minded individuals such as Rumsfeld.

Cheney said, “Watching a coordinated, devastating attack on our country from an underground bunker at the White House can affect how you view your responsibilities.” September 11, 2001 was a turning point for Dick Cheney, one that set the tone for his duties. The general feeling in the Bush Administration was that the worst attacks were still on the way. Preventing further attacks took precedence over consulting with congress or the constitution. On the issue of “enhanced interrogation” of “enemy combatants,” including water-boarding and other forms of torture, Cheney defended himself by posing the question, “Are you going to trade the lives of a number of people because you want to preserve your honor?” Suddenly Cheney appears as a man of respectfully disagreeable ethical positions; Dick Cheney with a human face. He gives a similar apologia for provisions like the PATRIOT Act, which is criticized as a gross infringement on basic civil liberties. “It was a war time situation and it was more important to be successful than it was to be loved,” Cheney says (later adding, “If you want to be loved, go be a movie star”).

Up to this point, Cheney doesn’t fare all that badly. We may strongly disagree with him, but at least we have a better understanding of what besides his pacemaker makes him tick. For the rest of the film, Cheney appears in an increasingly unflattering light. His political skill turns to trickery and deception, such as sharing fabricated facts with congressional leaders about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction capability in hopes of a “yay” vote for war. He offers no apologies, not even regrets. Still, that’s another thing that makes this documentary so fascinating. Bluntly, he says, “If I had to do it over again, I’d do it again in a minute.”

The World According to Dick Cheney is a must-see for anyone who remembers eight years of Bush/Cheney, no matter what your nostalgic campaign bumper sticker says. (For a more in-depth analysis of Cheney, check out Barton Gellman’s best-selling book, Angler: The Cheney Vice Presidency.)

Image by Gage Skidmore.

1.21 Gigawatts: Do U(O) Know? Shark Finning

“1.21 Gigawatts” is a weekly science column covering local and national science news, as well as wildlife and conservation. Sarah Keartes is an ocean-obsessed junior studying journalism and marine biology. For more science mind candy, follow this Attenborough wannabe on Twitter.

-Sarah Keartes

Throughout the first week of the term, the hustle and bustle surrounding the campus book store resembles that of a Savannah watering hole. Buzzing about the perimeter is a diverse blend of organisms: “Jazzed Jenny,” a hyperactive creature who has had her fill of early morning caffeine; “Barely-There Billy,” moseying his way to class against all primal instinct; and “Miserable Madison,” low on much-needed resources after purchasing this round of textbooks.

There I sat lurking—a self-proclaimed nature nerd armed with a whiteboard waiting to prey on the minds of spring students, posing the question “Do you know what shark finning is?”

Around forty students took the bait and ventured a guess. While many of them penned their responses with confidence and conviction, not a single one answered correctly.

“Shark finning is riding sharks like Manny the shark guy,” one student wrote.

The incorrect responses continued, with students most commonly defining shark finning as “shark fishing,” “cutting off a shark’s [dorsal] fin,” and “making shark into soup.” Close, but no cigar. Let’s start with the soup.

Shark fin or “chì” soup has long been served as a symbol of wealth and class in Chinese culture. The simple soup which is comprised of pricey meat from the shark’s fins, along with a few traditional ingredients, boasts price tags of more than $100 per bowl. While the majority of fin meat sold in world markets does supply demand for chì soup ingredients, not all fins for sale in markets are the result of “finning.”

Shark finning does not just mean removing shark fins, nor is it synonymous with shark fishing. The term actually refers to the practice of removing the fins from a shark while the animal is still alive and aboard the shipping vessel. Once removed, the shark is dumped overboard to bleed to death. Lovely.

Why dump the sharks? Shark fin meat is vastly more valuable than the meat from the animal’s body, so by dumping sharks overboard, fishermen are able to use smaller boats and retrieve more fins at less cost to the industry. This gruesome practice is wildly unsustainable as large populations can be overfished rapidly by small fishing operations.

Shark finning has become one of the hottest topics on the marine conservation scene, sparking heated debates and nabbing the attention of many activists and politicians. But like our sample of students, many conservationists, bloggers, and shark supporters misconstrue the term.

Who cares? Shark fishing is “bad.” If the issue is brought to the forefront, why does it matter?

In order to better understand this, let’s take a trip to yester-year. Since the dreaded “duh-nuh…duh-nuh” theme song first made its appearance in Steven Spielberg’s Jaws, sharks have stared in more than forty horror films. This rise to stardom helped secure our finned-foes as one of the media’s most menacing monsters.

As technology and continued research allow us to become more environmentally aware, we’ve jumped to the other side. We watch “Shark Week” by the millions, we eat up Planet Earth and soak up David Attenborough’s narration, we are going green, we post, we forward, we petition, we tweet—we are part of the solution, right?

This is where we run into problems. Just like shark-slasher films polarized the way we looked at sharks, the gruesome practice of finning featured in blog posts, tweets, articles, and online petitions with little explanation of alternative fishing methods agitates the battle between fishing communities and conservationists, devaluing the work of those searching for a more sustainable solution.

This has become a prominent issue for shark biologists like David Shiffman.

“Increasing the level of confusion and misconception that’s already out there only makes things worse for the oceans, and demonizing responsible fishing practices can undo decades of progress made by those who do understand the issues,” Shiffman said.

Think you now know which sharks have been “finned?” Take the Quiz!

Top image by Nicholas WangIllustration by Lily Nelson.