Couch Potato Briefing: Of Hackers, War Criminals and Killer Cucumbers

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Global Spin’s weekly offering of five rental movies to bring you up to speed with global events, presented by Tony Karon and Ishaan Tharoor.

Food Inc.

With more than a dozen Europeans having died this week as a result of an e-coli outbreak initially (falsely) blamed on Spanish cucumbers, governments across the continent are scrambling to find the source of the bacteria — and their citizens are suddenly forced to think about what they eat, and where it comes from. Well, the makers of the 2008 documentary Food, Inc. has news for them: “The industry doesn’t want you to know the truth about what you’re eating, because if you knew, you might not want to eat it.” The source of the e-coli problem in Europe, just as with recent ones in the U.S., they would argue, is an industry that mass produces all manner of food stuffs in ways that would make your hair stand on end – which, of course, is why the industry doesn’t really want you to pay too much attention to how the backstory of the things on your burger. This may a good week in which to pay some attention to the question of where that beef patty, bun, tomato, lettuce and ketchup have been before you put them in your mouth. -T.K.


The cult 1995 hit Hackers, starring a short-cropped Angelina Jolie, conjured an improbable world of New York City cyber-punks, clad in the garish, motley best the 90’s had to offer while lurking around secret hideouts and high school hallways on the path to their next great hack. Fast forward a decade and a half, and it doesn’t seem so outlandish — sustained hacker attacks continued to rock Sony’s Playstation 2 network this week, while the shadowy hacktivists of Anonymous have targeted mega corporations, nation-states and even this magazine. Of course, today’s hackers are less likely to be electric-blonde and ice cool like Jonathan Lee Miller’s character and more likely to be in the employ China’s People’s Liberation Army. And they certainly don’t walk around with those yellow floppy disks. – I.T.

The Odessa File

The capture this week of accused Serbian war criminal Ratko Mladic was a reminder that when wars end, the perpetrators of some of their worst atrocities sometimes go underground and elude capture for years — thanks to the support of networks of loyalists. In the 1974 movie The Odessa File, Jon Voigt plays German journalist Peter Miller who goes underground to infiltrate a secret organization of former Nazi SS men. It’s a high-tension thriller written by Frederick Forsyth, the author who produced such fare as “The Day of the Jackal”. May seem a little dated, now, but it’s a reminder that the likes of Mladic only survived in Serbia because there were plenty of people willing to hide him. – T.K.

The Man Who Would Be King

Julius Cavendish reported from Afghanistan earlier this week of the Taliban’s resurgence in the remote, mountainous province of Nuristan, nestled in the country’s northwest. The Taliban’s hold on the area that has gone relatively unchallenged by NATO, and Cavendish writes of numerous foreign Arab and Pakistani militants — “foreign interlopers” — flooding the region and padding the Taliban’s ranks. They are hardly the first foreign fighters to take up residence in the area, though: Nuristan was once part of an area known for centuries known as Kafiristan, or land of the infidels. Its inhabitants had converted late to Islam, and 19th century Orientalists wondered at their curious origin and identity, imagining the land and its peoples to be a living link to Alexander the Great’s ancient campaigns through Asia. The 1975 romp, The Man Who Would Be King, based on the Rudyard Kipling novel, stars Sean Connery and Michael Caine as rakish colonizers who don Alexander the Great’s mantle in exotic Kafiristan. Their act of usurpation leads to its own fair share of problems — and this is well before NATO drones started buzzing around Nuristan’s mountain passes.- I.T.

Brassed Off

Friday’s U.S. unemployment number simply confirms what millions of ordinary Americans have known all along: The “recovery” of which politicians speak happened largely largely on Wall Street and the balance sheets of major banks; it’s simply not reversing the unemployment whose impact on lives, livelihoods and whole towns is every bit as devastating as a flood or a typhoon. If you’re brassed off by a bipartisan economic consensus that continues to funnel a growing share of America’s wealth into the hands of a tiny elite while millions lose hope of ever working again, watch Brassed Off, a 1996 British movie about a small coal-mining town fighting to save their dignity as the local economy collapses. It’s The Full Monty, but fully clothed – in the uniform of the traditional brass band, in fact. (And yes, that is a young Ewan McGregor…) Pete Postlethwaite, who died earlier this year, plays Danny, who leads his mine’s band to glory in a national competition but, well, there’s a twist. If you don’t mind spoiling the end, here’s a clip of his moving and memorable speech on behalf of the victims of an economic system that prioritizes banks over people.  – T.K.