I continue to be ridiculously impressed by the art talent within the staff over there.
Via Coolhemacha: "I have always loved this saying"
In case you missed them.
I put all the comics from being home in one place, three long image files, as usual. Click to read:
I am sad to leave again, like a lot of us are when we go from where we came from. I hope that my family times give you a chuckle, and that your family is well. I hope to heaven that your family doesn’t talk about butts as much as mine does.
These are tremendous fun, and great playing, too. via Laszlo Tenki.
Here’s two amazing videos of musicians realizing the air pressure from their faulty plumbing makes for a great music. The violinist from the first video us from the Altra Volta Quartet in Poland, and the video of the guitarist appears to be uncredited. If you like this, also check out Diego Stocco’s Music from a Dry Cleaner. (via The Awesomer)
Tom has been playing around the edges of this market for a while.
Bespoke Savile Row tailoring is our business. We’ve been telling you the truth about this craft for ten years and now we want to offer the Savile Row experience to everyone.
Our bespoke service is a specialised product and we’re fully aware the cost is out of reach for many people. We have been looking for a way to offer a suit that has the best hallmarks of English tailoring. After a long search and nearly two years in the planning, we feel we have something very special for you. An English Cut suit averaging $700 (£415).
Approaching this from the same angle we approach everything, making quality our priority. We are offering suits made to order, using only fine worsted fabrics from England. After searching everywhere for a maker that would tailor to our exact standards, we are confident that we have found the best people to tailor for you. Whilst maintaining our soft comfortable style with high armholes for movement. The very essence of an English suit.
There are a lot of companies offering a suit around this price point. But ask yourself, how many of these are actual tailors with a proven background? Do they have a heritage in the trade and know what is most important in a suit?
We look forward to welcoming new clients in to our craft.
attn: NE whiskey drinking sharebros.
I got a chance to visit two craft distillers in the Northeast last week: Berkshire Mountain Distillers and Catskill Distilling. I took a day off and drove up to Boston for the 30th anniversary of the opening of the Boston Beer Company (the brewers of Samuel Adams), and realized I could easily stop in to see some whiskey being made on my way back. It was a gorgeous day, and after I’d cleared the Boston traffic, a great drive west out the Mass Pike, past lakes, marshes, and forests, then into the rolling folds of the Berkshires. I got off the Pike, headed south, and watched as the roads my mapping app directed me onto got smaller and smaller, until finally the arrow pointed down a long gravel driveway through a meadow.
Nice work, mapping app: that’s where I found Berkshire Mountain Distillers and founder Chris Weld. Things were, as he put it, “a tad crazy,” as they prepared to move to a new building in nearby Sheffield, Mass. The grassy area around the barn where the distillery has been for seven years was littered with tanks, “totes” (the heavy plastic, roughly 1,000 liter container cubes this industry seems to run on), and a malfunctioning auger, all waiting to be moved or salvaged. It was also crazy because while they were mashing in for a run of bourbon, they were eagerly anticipating the first run of their new bottled gin-and-tonic product, due to be done at the new plant in mid-August. (I got a chilled sip: deliciously refreshing and dangerously drinkable at 26 proof!)
Berkshire runs on a pot still salvaged from Brown-Forman, an odd, capsule-shaped device with internal copper. The new make ages in a variety of barrel sizes; like many craft distillers, Weld is moving away from tiny 10-gallon barrels to larger ones. Too woody, too fast in the smaller ones, he acknowledged. That’s some of the reason they’re moving: more room for barrels. Another reason is that long gravel driveway and the barn. It’s hard for trucks to get back here, and once they’re here…Weld told me a hair-raising story about a parked truck starting to slide, wheels locked, down the snow-covered driveway toward his cottage. They managed to get it stopped, but started looking for another location.
Berkshire has done some interesting collaborations with brewers. I’d actually tasted one the night before at the Samuel Adams event; a whiskey made by distilling Samuel Adams Boston Lager and aging it in bourbon barrels. It was at barrel proof, and only two years old, but with a bit of water it opened right up and gave the floral, spicy hop nose the Lager is known for, without the bitterness in the mouth. It’s still young, and hot; in a couple years, it might be an interesting whiskey indeed. They did another one with Samuel Adams Cinder Bock, a smoked beer, which was aged in barrels that had held Samuel Adams Utopias. I tasted that at the distillery, and didn’t really get much of the smoke; the rich vinous wood of the barrel was more evident.
They’ve also done a series of small bottlings of their bourbon, finished in barrels used by other brewers to age their beers. I review the Samuel Adams Utopias edition in the upcoming Fall issue; Chris gave me a sample bottle of the Terrapin Brewing project at the distillery; there will be ten bottlings altogether. I found the Utopias bottling to be a richer, rounder version of the standard Berkshire Mountain bourbon bottling, and look forward to trying the Terrapin.
Chris had to run at this point, so I thanked him, and headed back down that gravel driveway and west toward the Hudson River. I crossed at Poughkeepsie, had lunch at a brewpub in New Paltz, and headed into another incredibly scenic drive, up over the Shawangunk escarpment and into the Catskills. After 50 minutes of roller coaster-like thrill driving on more two-lane roads, I found myself stuck in a solid mile of backed-up traffic…a mile from Catskill Distilling! What the heck was going on, a run on the tasting room?
My single-mindedness had betrayed me. I didn’t know that Catskill Distilling was just a couple hundred yards up the road from the Bethel Woods Center for the Arts, a performing space on the site of the 1969 Woodstock festival…and Jimmy Buffett was playing there that night. Don’t mess with the Parrotheads! I did finally get to turn off at the Dancing Cat Saloon and Catskill Distilling Company, where I was quickly greeted by the gregarious and friendly Monte Sachs, DVM.
That’s right; the owner is a large animal veterinarian. He made his money caring for racehorses in the Hudson Valley and at the track at Monticello, just down the road. I asked him how he got hooked on distilling, and he told me a great story about an Italian girlfriend who took him back to the family vineyard, where he decided to learn winemaking to impress the parents. “But after six months, I learned that winemaking is a lot of work!” he laughed. “What I really liked and wanted to do was make grappa.” The distillation of this Italian spirit fascinated him, and he decided he would make grappa. Someday.
Eventually the opportunity came along when New York passed a farm distillery law in 2008. Sachs jumped on it. He put in a Carl still setup, and got some valuable consulting help from industry legend Lincoln Henderson. (I first heard of Monte and Catskill from Lincoln, who told me that, among other things, he’d told Monte to “keep the place clean and open a gift shop; people want to buy things.” I can report that Monte definitely took that advice; the place was spotless, and there was plenty of merchandise.) Henderson advised him on his aging building, a former horse stable behind the distillery.
This little barrel house is heavily insulated, without windows, and when Monte opened the door for me, I could see it was stuffed with barrels. It was also eye-stingingly heavy with boozy aromas; the angels have to fight for their share of this whiskey! There was a concrete slab beside the building; another aging house is going in soon, and should be up by October.
Monte needs that barrel house, and new tanks, and more barrels (he says he’s got good barrel supply, but has to order in large lots to get it). Not only is the current barrel house chockfull, he’s ramping up production. Through a chance meeting at a spirits expo, he connected with a high-powered consultant with years of experience in major spirits companies who had just retired and was looking for interesting products to work with. Monte sent him his product line and, just as I did in this summer’s Rye Issue, he picked out the Buckwheat whiskey as the most interesting, the most different. There are plans to make the Buckwheat the forefront of the portfolio, and there may be a lot more investment coming in to make it happen.
He’s also doing a collaboration with a brewery, by the way. He connected with Brewery Ommegang, over in Cooperstown, N.Y., and they made a batch of ale for him that’s been distilled and is aging in the barrel house now, with the rampant Ommegang lion stenciled on the barrel head. Exciting times in the Catskills.
And the grappa? He’s still making it. “You see those bottles? They’re all hand-blown, which means they’re all a different size, so I have to measure the spirit going in at precisely 375 ml, and I have to use a tapered cork because all the necks are different, and then I have to wax the corks to keep them in. And it’s not a big seller.” He shrugged, and grinned. “I’m still going to make it! I really love the stuff.”
I don’t like grappa. I’ve tried it, repeatedly, and I don’t like it, or the similar slivovitz or pisco (though I do like marc; go figure). But I told Monte I’d try his, because he’d been so friendly, and because that Buckwheat was so interesting. You know? I liked the grappa (words I’ve never said before, or ever thought I would). It had much more to it than just hot rocket fuel character; it was subtle, intriguing, delicate. It was an interesting insight into how distilling is done here; each product clearly shows its origin grains or grapes, packed with flavor before it comes anywhere near wood.
I left Catskill Distilling, cut back half a mile to elude the Parrotheads, and two-laned it home, managing to make it a hat trick of pretty little mountain chains by driving through the Poconos during a gorgeous sunset. There aren’t any craft distillers in the Poconos yet, but who knows what might happen in a few years?
(Do you like the video? Do you want to see more? Or is it just annoying?)
The post Craft whiskey in the mountains: Berkshire and Catskill appeared first on Whisky Advocate.
This came up with C-bat recently.
Marvelous turn in this one.
I'm filing this away come that day.
This is a good articulation of why nobody wins in this situation.
Update 5:12 PM (CST): Global edit, Hatchette->Hachette. Because apparently I thought the publisher was actually named after an axe.
Updated 5:18 PM (CST), 11 August: Someone popular linked to this and site traffic is crazy. Load times are slow. Apologies. Also, see the addendum at the end.
I hoped I’d be able to stay out of this whole Hachette/Amazon mess. It should be easy: I’m not a recognized authority on publishing, after all, and my soapbox isn’t really pointed in that direction. But as it happens, no one in this argument is saying what I want them to say, so I’m going to have to say it myself, and leaving comments on other people’s blogs just isn’t going to cut it for me.
This is a horrible fight. No matter who wins we’re probably screwed. Hachette isn’t the hero, and Amazon isn’t the hero either.
Looking at this fight all by itself, without any context at all, Amazon probably deserves to win--and honestly, I think it probably will win whether it deserves to or not. There’s no legitimate reason an ebook should cost the same as a paperback. “Well we really want to” is not a legitimate reason. “Because we can get away with it” is only legitimate from a business perspective if you can actually get away with it, and the current fight between Amazon and Hachette suggests that they can’t.
As reader of books I want ebooks to be cheaper than paperbacks because a) they’re obviously cheaper to make and b) when I “buy” an ebook I have fewer rights to do what I want with it than I do when I buy a paperback, so please don’t try to pretend it’s the same thing. If the first sale doctrine doesn’t apply to an ebook purchase, or doesn’t apply as completely, then it better be cheaper. So strictly within the boundaries of the current argument between a publisher that wants to charge stupid prices for their product and a retailer that wants to sell a product at less-stupid prices, regardless of their actual motives, as someone who buys ebooks I gotta hand Amazon the win.
That said: an Amazon win is probably not in anyone’s long-term interests.
Here is the secret to understanding my take on Amazon: they’re not part of the publishing industry, although the things they do certainly affect it. They’re not a service and retail company, though that is the way they make all their money. At its core, Amazon is and always has been part of the computer industry, and if you view them from that perspective their business practices should scare the shit out of you.
More below the cut.
It's a very good sausage.
non stop holes
I celebrate my own strength because nobody knows how I’ve far I’ve come better than me. My path to happiness did not come without hiccups, but at least it was my choice. I am happy to finally live a life that is my choice.
Many things are.
this is mostly about arses
Vukari is the smoothest, mellowest "black metal" I think I've heard to date.
Happy goddamned Saturday to one and all. I’m in the middle of a mini-vacation with family and friends, which means I’ve spent more time over the last 24 hours making lists of new music to check out than actually listening or writing. But I hate to let a day go by without posting something at NCS (that’s happened on a grand total of 3 days since we started this site in November 2009), so here are a few quick things I’d like to recommend. With luck, I’ll have a few more to bring your way tomorrow.
BLOOD OF KINGU
As previously reported here, the Ukrainian black metal band Blood of Kingu (started by Roman Sayenko of Drudkh) will be releasing their third album via Season of Mist on September 2 in North America (and August 29 everywhere else). The title is Dark Star on the Right Horn of the Crescent Moon. Last month Terrorizer premiered the first advance track from the album — “Enshrined in the Nethermost Lairs Beneath the Oceans” — and a few days ago Metal Underground premiered a second track.
The new song is “The Bringer of Pestilence”. Like the first advance track, this one kicks open the door immediately and storms through it like a ravening beast. Swarming, corrosive riffs; blasting, thundering percussion; hollow bestial vocals; and extraterrestrial tremolo-picked guitar leads — together they unleash a black/death monstrosity that may surprise you, because you may find its slithering melody hanging around your head after the song ends.
TOURISM: GIGAN, PYRRHON, ARTIFICIAL BRAIN
Two days ago Metal Sucks announced a North American tour by three out-of-the-ordinary death metal bands — Gigan (Chicago), Pyrrhon (NYC), and Artificial Brain (NY). Not surprisingly, the tour is named The Interstellar Intellect North American Tour 2014. Thankfully, the tour incorporates a West Coast swing that will include Seattle. I know this will make you happy because it makes me happy.
9/11 – Cleveland, OH @ Now That’s Class
9/12 – Toronto, ON @ Rancho Relaxo
9/13 – Montreal, QU @ L’alizé
9/14 – Quebec City, QU @ Salle Unisson
9/15 – TBA
9/16 – Providence, RI @ Dusk
9/17 – Albany, NY @ Bogies w/ Fit For An Autopsy
9/18 – Holyoke, MA @ The Waterfront Tavern
9/19 – Brooklyn, NY @ Saint Vitus Bar
9/20 – Clementon, NJ @ Harper’s
9/21 – Baltimore, MD @ The Sidebar (Psychodeathia Fest)
9/22 – Raleigh, NC @ The Maywood
9/24 – Covington, KY T@ he Backstage
9/25 – Atlanta, GA @ Swayze’s
9/26 – Pensacola, FL @ The Handle Bar
9/27 – Austin, TX @ The Lost Well
9/28 – Fort Worth,TX @ Tomcats West
9/30 – Denver, CO @ 3 Kings
10/3 – Glendale, CA @ The Complex
10/4 – San Diego, CA @ Til Two Club
10/6 – San Francisco, CA @ Elbo Room
10/8 – Seattle, WA @ El Corazon Lounge
10/9 – Vancouver, BC @ Funky Winkerbeans
10/11 – Bozeman, MT @ The Complex
Yesterday, Panopticon posted a Facebook link to a new EP (En To Pan) by this Chicago band, along with some enthusiastic words of recommendation. I needed no further motivation to check it out. I’m sorry to say that at this writing (because of my vacation) I haven’t made my way through the EP as a whole, even once. But the first two songs are captivating.
“Din of Consciousness” is a shimmering aurora borealis of atmospheric black metal and post rock, with a beautiful central melody, beautiful rippling lead guitar accents, a beautiful interplay of bass and drums, and beautifully roaring vocals. Basically, it’s beautiful.
The second song, “Riddled With Fear and Doubt”, is quickly off to the races, yet although more hard-driving and headbanging than “Din”, it also shines with a similarly heart-swelling melody.
As soon as I finish pecking out these words, I’m going to give the whole EP a proper listen — and you should, too. It’s available on Bandcamp (as is the band’s debut album Matriarch), and I’m embedding the player below.
P.S. One of Vukari’s guitarists is Johan Becker, whose amazing violin playing can be heard on the new Panopticon album, as well as Kentucky and Social Disservices.
octopus4 is a pretty fun record, and "Fearful Shepherds" is interesting, though I feel a desire for bellowing on it.
(We’re veering off our usual beaten paths in this post, as DGR reviews the latest releases from The Algorithm and The Luna Sequence.)
We don’t generally cover techno/electronica/dj acts here at No Clean Singing, and I know that my presence has largely been the reason we might have in the past. You’ll likely never see the more straightforward of such acts here, but I will wholly admit to being drawn to the hybrid monsters — the ones that have combined their music with heavy metal and over time have morphed into some strange creatures. Those have been a huge draw for me, and when it comes to artists who I think are doing it particularly well, then you’ll see that I’ll make some continuing attempts to cover them. However, I understand that taking up the front page when there is so much more traditional metal news out there might irk some folks, so I’ve combined two of the more recent works into one huge mega-review article.
Both of these names, The Algorithm and The Luna Sequence, should be familiar to a bunch of you more regular readers, as I have made efforts in the past to share their work, which I’ve quite enjoyed over the years. It just so happens that both artists managed to have new albums, Octopus4 and Fearful Shepherds Hunt Their Sheep respectively, hit around the same time. And thus we find ourselves in a huge review where you can witness me talk out of my ass about electronica music — of which I know between fuck-all and absolute zero — and heavy metal, about which I’ve made writing a huge hobby. Below, you can watch me thrash about between the two moods while I try my best to articulate why exactly I’ve found myself enjoying the hell out of both The Algorithm and The Luna Sequence releases in recent months.
In all honesty, I don’t think we’ve gotten the chance to cover The Algorithm too much in my time here at NCS. I know, from time to time, Islander has highlighted some of the band’s more recent activities since he knows that I love this project — but as far as a full in-depth review, I can’t remember if we’ve done one or not on this site, outside of a small shout-out to Polymorphic Code in one of my first year-ender bibles. A quick introduction is probably required then; because even though this project is popular, I imagine that the Venn Diagram for those who read NCS and those who regularly listen to The Algorithm probably consists of about ten people. We cater to the heavier side of the metal spectrum, but that doesn’t mean that on occasion we won’t reach beyond our usual sphere and cover something we think you’ll enjoy.
photo by Ben Davies
The Algorithm is a project belonging to French musician Rémi Gallego that is currently signed to Basick Records. It is in large part an electronica project that has sought to hybridize a bunch of heavy metal influences — including a pretty undeniable helping of djent/tech-metal/whatever-label-it-goes-by these days — to create a pretty intense style of music. It is at times very aggressive, but also includes a bunch of moments where it is entirely electronic, with Rémi using whatever tools he has at his disposal to create music that could actually be heavy metal were it played entirely on instruments and not through a series of drum programs and various dj loops. He’s also kept a bunch of guitars in the mix as well, to interchange between the two at the drop of a hat. One of the things The Algorithm has done especially well is creating analogues between instruments and the various drum programmings and synth work heard in the music.
I stumbled onto this project via Last.fm, which decided to play pretty much all of his Critical. Error, Identity, and Doppler Effect releases to me over the span of a week or so. Naturally, it spoke to me and I’ve been following the project ever since, including his Basick Records debut Polymorphic Code – a disc so absolutely willing to throw everything and the kitchen sink into one song that it became joyous in its excess. I have a lot of love for Polymorphic Code, especially the madness that is “Access Granted”, though that album as a whole has gotten a tremendous number of spins on this end. Which means, of course I was watching for the new release, Octopus4, like a hawk. Some time has passed since the disc hit, but I’ve had the album since day one; like Polymorphic Code, there’s a lot to take in, but in a different sense. Octopus4 is a very different album, one that sees The Algorithm going more toward the electronica side of its musical spectrum, as well as attempting tell a story.
For a significant portion of its runtime, Octopus4 consists of music that is in sharp contrast to the sounds that made up Polymorphic Code. It’s actually pretty conservative in its musical aspirations for much of the album, up until the last few tracks where things get more familiar to those who embrace the joyous excess and ‘fuck everything’ sensibility of the electronica that made up the last album. Up until the song sensibly titled “Will_Smith”, Octopus4 is an exercise in the varying degrees of techno and electronica, including the song “_MOS”, which is a fun, catchy tune that sounds like it is made up of SNES-era samples of various squid-like creatures and fauna from games. It has that bouncy, inky sound that seemed to be the motif for that sort of character or enemy in that era of videogames. However, Octopus4 progresses from the more conservative and electronica side of music to the one with which fans are more familiar, toward the end of the album. It’s all part of the story, though I have no idea what that story is.
[Editor's Intrusion: Per a press release lodged in my in-box, "The album is named after a Commodore 64 computer virus with a vicious love of Will Smith and tells the story of OCTOPUS4 escaping in an alternate universe and changing the face of the world forever."]
The turn starts around the aforementioned “Will_Smith”, but really kicks into gear ‘long about the time you hit “Synthesiz3r” and its polyrhythmic-flavored breakdowns and beats. It’s also one of the first where the synth really starts to step into place as an analogue for the guitar, although the prior track “Pythagoras” has a legitimate guitar throughout much of the music. After those songs, the album lines up more for people who loved Polymorphic Code and it bounces all over the place — including a real strange tangent into what I believe is French rap (it’s on the inoffensive side, providing an interesting color to the section afterward, which is one of my favorite moments on the disc). It’s a super-heavy descent into an almost metal-core esque breakdown, though there are no instruments — just a wall of bass, some intense drum programming, and heavy synth work.
Octopus4 has its merits, for sure. It will probably turn off a bunch of the people who may be inclined to the dent-via-electronica sound that has made up a huge body of The Algorithm’s work — but it is still an enjoyable disc. Since it is an album that feels distinctly bi-polar in its movements, it speaks to two different sides of my own musical enjoyment. There’s the side that willingly and frequently submits itself to the more brainless and less challenging electronica, techno, edm, and various other shades of computer-powered music out there, the side that finds itself really enjoying the first half of Octopus4; and then, as the sound blends, my mind switches to the side that was drawn to this project in the first place, the side that enjoyed the heavy metal by way of differing dj techniques and sounds, the approach that really defined The Algorithm’s earlier work. It’s a different disc than Polymorphic Code for sure, an album that really sees the two ends of The Algorithm’s formula pulling at each other in a brutal tug of war, but that still has a lot of playability to it. Also, the way this album ends is just grand.
THE LUNA SEQUENCE
The Luna Sequence is another project — like The Algorithm above — that I came to because, although the music that makes up the majority of it is electronically based throughout its varied genres and spectra, it too uses rock and metal as its foundations. However, The Luna Sequence has seemingly gone in the opposite direction from the last band because it has only gotten heavier on the metal side, including an increased focus on adding hammering guitar and thrash to death-metal-influenced drumming to break things up.
The Luna Sequence belongs to musician Kaia Young, who has had an eventful year, including a pretty big relocation to the best goddamn State in this wonderful union known as California, and more specifically to the Bay Area. It has seen The Luna Sequence working super-hard to get music going in the midst of the usual rigamarole that a big move may involve. Unlike The Algorithm, though, I know we’ve covered this project many times before, which is why the name may seem more familiar to the more constant NCS readers. It’s also why I couldn’t pass up the chance to do another review when The Luna Sequence returned with its newest album in June, Fearful Shepherds Hunt Their Sheep. You’d never know guess that anything had happened with this project other than time spent between The Day The Curse Grew Stronger and this disc listening to a bunch of heavy metal, because for a pretty good chunk of its runtime, Fearful Shepherds Hunt Their Sheep contains some of the most consistently and authentically heavy music that The Luna Sequence has put out yet.
The core of The Luna Sequence still remains the same as it has been over the last few discs, which means that the closest you’ll come to any sort of vocalist the use of keyboards to provide some sort of lead or orchestral backing to the more epic sections of the music. Usually, you’ll find that these leads tend to be sustained notes, which could as easily be sung as played on a guitar, but it’s as close to a vocal melody amidst this hybrid of electronica and rock/metal that you’ll find. Alongside that, The Luna Sequence has gotten really good at taking the differing varieties of electronica, from its more bass-heavy leanings to the DnB varieties, and making them into analogues for metal tunes.
A few of the songs flip everything on their heads and are just full-blown metal songs that feel like an electronica artist is trying to invade them, and what you essentially get as the final product is the war between the two. The switch is often flipped flawlessly, meaning that when the two aren’t combining into what makes The Luna Sequence what it is, then the trip to the opposite hemispheres often happens without any sort of jarring, ‘Oh, now we’re in the synth heavy section…’ transitions. Case in point: the closing track “From Unrest To Atrophy”, while at its core being a heavy as hell metal tune, shifts from the thunderous drumming and guitar chord desecration to the more calming and ambient piano with about the same effort it takes most folks to breathe.
Unlike The Day The Curse Grew Stronger, which was probably the most metrically heavy album this project has produced, with songs like “Visions” and “Lacerate” for instance, Fearful Shepherds Hunt Their Sheep spreads it out through the whole CD, with the result that the album is a more consistent experience rather than one in which these awesome, concentrated blasts of heavy metal have been packed into a smattering of really good electronica/rock hybrids. That doesn’t mean that Fearful Shepherds doesn’t have its moments of blasting fury though; it’s just that it is more blended into the overall sound now, which means that the heavier songs on the disc are backed by just-as-angry electronics works as well. Even the more synth-and-drum-loop-focused songs find themselves taking on a sinister air at lends itself well to headbanging.
Of course, The Luna Sequence is still filling a very difficult niche; combining the two genres can often lead to people becoming opposed to them like polarized magnets. It seems that the people who embrace this project have a very special and odd bit of musical combination going on in their minds, myself included, with a heavy history of industrial music alongside my requisite Satan worship and circle head banging. Yet it’s hard to deny that The Luna Sequence has a serious draw if you meet those requirements. Every release so far has been enjoyable, and the current tangent into the heavy metal side of this, from This Is Bloodlust to The Day The Curse Grew Stronger, to the current Fearful Shepherds release, has been a lot of fun to hear. It’s music that loans itself well not only to deep listening, but also to just providing a good background, especially to a marathon video game session.
So yes, Fearful Shepherds appeals to an odd Venn diagram of listeners, but if you manage to fall right into that intersection, then the experiences it offers are fantastic. The album’s potential crossover appeal is also tremendous, and I hope people have found themselves traveling from one side of the aisle to the other as they find different elements of each song that they may like. The project may be an odd bridge, but it is one built to be incredibly solid and one that is currently getting really, really good at writing heavy as hell metal songs.
The authors use of "Post-Constitutional America" is a bit much, but otherwise interesting piece.
"bagged" should be a thing.
Two days in a car and my Grand Uncle, Grand Aunt, cousin and myself made it to Cape Breton.
Three of four sisters are here and a cousin and it’s hard to tell the scribbles apart
Some people will try to fit any and every thing into a gender essentialist framework.
Imagine you walked down the street and asked random people what autism is. What would they say? My guess: They’d talk about social skills, and the rising prevalence, and probably the vaccine nonsense. And they’d almost certainly mention that it happens to boys.
The idea that autism is a mostly male disorder is pervasive in the news, pop culture, and scientific circles. And it’s not just an academic curiosity. Last year a popular fertility clinic in Sydney, Australia, reported that about five percent of couples went through in vitro fertilization just so they could select a female embryo and thus lower the kid’s risk of developing autism.
The sex skew in autism is real: A diagnosis of autism is almost five times more common in 8-year-old boys than in 8-year-old girls, according to the latest statistics from the CDC.
But it’s not that simple. Most people don’t realize, for example, that autism’s sex bias changes dramatically depending on the severity of the disorder, with so-called high-functioning autism (a problematic term that usually means having an IQ above 70 or 80) showing a ratio more skewed towards boys. The ratio also varies wildly depending on who’s calculating it.
Two quick examples: A 2008 study of children in South Carolina found that among kids with IQs above 70, boys outnumbered girls 4.9 to 1. But among kids with IQs less than 70, the ratio was 2.4 to 1. And in the group of kids with the most intellectual impairments — IQs less than 34 — there were just as many girls as boys.
A 2010 study of children in the U.K. found the same trend but very different numbers. Among all children with autism, the male-female ratio was about 7 to 1, whereas among those with Asperger syndrome — characterized by high verbal and cognitive ability — it was 12 to 1.
I’ve just rattled off a bunch of numbers, and you might be wondering why you should care. But these numbers, as I learned this week, are powerfully charged.
Asking the question of why there’s a sex bias in autism brings up a host of messy social issues. Talking about autism’s sex ratio means talking about the challenges involved in diagnosing brain disorders, and the differences in the way we raise boys and girls, and possible differences between “male” and “female” brains, and the gender disparity in math and science fields.
It’s all so…uncomfortable. But I’m going to wade into the muck, anyway, with the hope of generating a meaningful and provocative discussion.
I’m thinking about all this now thanks to a paper published this week in the journal BioSocieties. In it, science historian Sarah Richardson of Harvard University and her colleague Eva Gillis-Buck argue that autism’s male bias has been greatly exaggerated. What’s more, they say, autism’s purported sex differences are often exploited by scientists outside of the autism field who want to take advantage of the recent influx of funding directed specifically at autism research.
And this whole situation, Richardson and Gillis-Buck worry, is not only bad for our understanding of autism, but is fueling unfounded cultural stereotypes. “Giving the gloss of scientific integrity to claims that autism is a disorder of gender I think contributes, mostly unintentionally, to negative stereotypes about women’s innate capacity for math and science,” Richardson says.
Some autism researchers take great umbrage at these claims. I’ll get to their rebuttal, but first I think it’s worth describing some of the intriguing historical context outlined in the new paper.
Boys took center stage in the first scientific reports of autism. Child psychiatrist Leo Kanner’s first description of the disorder, published in 1943, included 11 cases, 8 boys and 3 girls. In a later paper of 100 children Kanner reported a 4:1 male-female ratio.
Hans Asperger, who first described Asperger disorder in 1944, noticed it, too. “It is fascinating to note that the autistic children we have seen are almost exclusively boys,” he wrote. The reason, he explained, was in the difference between male and female intelligence:
“In general, girls are the better learners. They are more gifted for the concrete and the practical, and for tidy, methodical work. Boys, on the other hand, tend to have a gift for logical ability, abstraction, precise thinking and formulating, and for independent scientific investigation.
…In general, abstraction is congenial to the male thought processes, while female thought processes draw more strongly on feelings and instincts. In the autistic person abstraction is so highly developed that the relationship to the concrete, to objects and to people has been largely lost.”
There was (and is) little evidence for this inherent distinction in male versus female thinking. (And as a side note, Asperger’s reasoning there assumes a very narrow conception of autism — you could say, after all, that many people with autism thrive on “tidy, methodical work”.)
Asperger was writing in a different era, of course, when these gender bifurcations were commonly accepted. But these ideas haven’t disappeared with modernity, thanks in large part to the work of psychologist Simon Baron-Cohen, one of today’s most famous autism scientists.
More than a decade ago, Baron-Cohen debuted a theory to explain the sex bias in autism. The so-called ‘extreme male brain’ theory says that autism’s primary characteristics are just an exaggeration of typical differences between men and women, and that they’re caused by excessive exposure to male sex hormones in the womb.
Baron-Cohen’s theory, as well as the methods of his studies that bolster it, have many scientific critics. (Cordelia Fine’s book, Delusions of Gender, gives a great overview.) And yet it has received an enormous amount of public attention. That’s partly because of how Baron-Cohen has trumpeted what he sees as its real-world implications.
The theory, he contends, explains many of the gender disparities between men and women. Take what he wrote in his 2003 book, The Essential Difference: “People with the female brain make the most wonderful counsellors, primary-school teachers, nurses, carers, therapists, social workers, mediators, group facilitators or personnel staff.”
Or this snippet from a column he wrote for the BBC in 2009:
“Males, maths and autism. On the face of it, these three things don’t appear to be linked. And yet they are.
Males are much more likely to apply to university to study maths, for example.
In 2007, three quarters of applicants to read maths at Cambridge were male, as were 90% of applicants for the computer sciences degree.
Cambridge is not unique in this way. So why are males so attracted to studying maths?
And why, in over 100 years of the existence of the Fields Medal, maths’ Nobel Prize, have none of the winners have ever been a woman?”
Why, indeed. Baron-Cohen’s column goes on to cite genetics and hormones. Unfortunately he makes no mention of the well-known social drivers of these gender differences.
There are many holes in the extreme male brain theory. To mention just one: Many studies have shown that people with Asperger’s aren’t particularly good at math and tend to have better verbal skills (a supposedly “female” trait). Based on my autism reporting over the past seven years I’d say the theory is not, by any stretch, a mainstream view among autism researchers. “On the other hand,” Richardson points out, “you see it cited everywhere.”
Funding for autism has skyrocketed over the last decade or so. In 2009, the National Institutes of Health spent $196 million on autism, compared with $186 million on Parkinson’s disease and $22 million on Down syndrome. In her new paper, Richardson takes a close look at hundreds of grant applications and published studies related to autism and sex differences. Many grant applications cite autism’s rising prevalence as prime motivation. But they also frequently site the sex bias and Baron-Cohen’s theory. Richardson describes grant proposals investigating autism’s sex bias through the lens of genetics, epigenetics, gene-hormone interactions, brain anatomy, chemical exposures, rat brain cells, and even the nervous system of worms.
She also found 442 studies related to autism and sex differences that have been published since 1980. Of these, 86 percent came out after 2001, and 10 percent were authored by Baron-Cohen. The rest came from laboratories in a variety of fields, including endocrinology, genetics, brain imaging, and molecular biology. Since 2001, animal research on this topic has exploded.
This is all evidence, Richardson says, that autism has become a “biomedical platform” for scientists of all stripes who are looking for funding, particularly in this era of shrinking science budgets.
“We show how, over time, researchers have begun to link their very basic research — even if it’s on nematodes — to frame it as a contribution to autism,” she says. “In the funding and publication structure, there’s been a real shift toward opportunistically using extreme-male-brain-type theories to gain research funding.”
But is this a bad thing? I asked Richardson. Our society has evidently decided that autism is a pressing public health problem, and most of basic medical research is publicly funded. So isn’t it a good thing that all of these labs doing sex research are suddenly turning their attention to autism?
Richardson stresses that she is not arguing that sex difference research shouldn’t be done. But she does think it needs to be looked at with a more critical eye, particularly at the funding stage.
What’s more, she says, the growing obsession with autism’s sex bias is ultimately bad for our understanding of the disorder. “With this focus on the extreme-male-brain model,” she says, “you’re contributing to a kind of archetypal thinking about autism that obscures autism’s reality for many people.” It leads researchers to neglect boys with autism who don’t fit the math-geek stereotype, as well as girls with autism.
She makes a valid point there. Many autism researchers have decried the dearth of research on girls with autism, who tend to have a different symptomatic profile than boys do. That’s almost certainly due, at least in part, to differences in the way adults treat girls and boys. (One study, for example, found that mothers tend to talk more to young daughters than to their sons.) These gender differences in autism symptoms mean that many girls are missed by standard diagnostic tests. Even when symptoms are the same in boys and girls, it could be that parents, teachers and doctors don’t notice them in girls with a mild version of the disorder, but are primed to seek them out in boys.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the autism scientists I contacted about this paper were not too happy about its claims.
They pointed out that many people studying sex differences in autism don’t accept the premises of the extreme male brain theory, and say it’s not relevant to the growing scientific interest in the disorder.
“The primary reason for funding in autism has nothing to do with sex differences in prevalence,” says Thomas Frazier of the Cleveland Clinic, who studies sex differences in children with autism. “It has to do with the massive functional impairment that most individuals experience, regardless of their sex or measured IQ.”
Lauren Weiss, a geneticist at the University of California, San Francisco, whole-heartedly agrees that autism scientists need to bring more girls into their research — she wrote a commentary about it for SFARI.org a few years back. But Weiss also says that Richardson puts too much emphasis on the extreme male brain theory, and doesn’t give enough credit to other studies suggesting that autism’s sex bias might indeed have biological underpinnings.
For instance, a genetic theory known as the ‘female protective effect’ says that girls carry some kind of (as yet mysterious) genetic variant that protects them from autism. In 2011, two studies found that among kids with autism, girls are more likely to carry genetic variants dubbed CNVs than boys are, and that the girls’ CNVs tend to be larger. This might mean that girls only get autism when their genomes take a major “hit”.
A study Weiss published earlier this year offers a different kind of genetic lead. She and her colleagues analyzed autism traits in people with four different genetic syndromes related to autism. These syndromes are all caused by a single gene, and none of them show a sex bias—girls are just as likely to have them as boys are. Intriguingly, though, Weiss found that for some of the syndromes, autism traits showed up differently in boys and girls, suggesting some kind of gene-sex interaction.
All that said, Weiss agrees that diagnostic bias may also play a role in autism’s sex skew. But the only way to tease apart cultural and biological factors, she says, is with more research on animal models and human patients.
“Just as evidence of biological genetic underpinnings helped to divert public opinion from the ‘refrigerator mother’ theory of autism etiology,” Weiss says, “scientists should encourage and not discourage biological understanding of sex differences that might be relevant to autism in order to refute any unfounded and damaging stereotypes about sex differences and in order to ensure that females as well as males with autism get appropriate care.”
A lot of the issues raised by Richardson’s paper may be obvious to autism researchers. But I do wonder about the general public. My sense is that when people hear (over and over again) about a sex bias in autism, their first thought is not about differences in the way the disorder presents itself in boys and girls, or about diagnostic biases. They think it means there must be an innate difference between boy brains and girls brains.
And perhaps there is. But the point is that nobody quite knows. If you come away with anything from this (very long!) post, I hope it’s this: Autism isn’t just a boy thing.
This text has been changed from the original to reflect that Leo Kanner’s first description of autism had 11 cases, not 10, and 3 girls, not 2. Thanks to Michelle Dawson for alerting me of the error.
Kind of like this pen. The Safari I used to have on my bag got stolen (or lost), but I never got another.
Still true, though.
Oddly this is one of the LEAST dire panels in this week’s page of Family Man.