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27 Nov 17:32

Day 5079: The Image over Rochester

by Millennium Dome

This time last month, we were on our way to New England, setting for “The Shadow Over Innsmouth” by (unspeakably racist) HP Lovecraft, wherein it turns out the locals have been (spoilers) interbreeding with immigrants.

This time last week, the locals of Rochester and Strood were cheerily chucking out their incumbent Tory MP and re-electing him as a Kipper. This despite him revealing that his new Party’s policies are entirely as anti-immigrant as we suspected.

This time in July, Ed Milipede was giving one of his relaunch speeches claiming he “didn’t do image”. And on Thursday, he proved it.

Mr Milipede’s preposterously over-the-top faux-outrage firing of Emily Thornberry for her “Image from Rochester” tweet put the (probably tin-foil) cap on the whole ridiculous affair of a by-election win for “A Plague on All Your Houses”.

The tweet itself was a relatively innocuous picture of house decked in flags and white van, with neutral comment. It was only possible to interpret it as a passive-aggressive attack of snobbish contempt because of the febrile atmosphere that economic post-Armageddon has brewed, one to which Labour have contributed more than a little, encouraging the “us v them”, “Westminster bubble”, “plebgate” contempt for all things elected and establishment. As in Scotland, Labour’s taking for granted of the people they are supposed to most represent comes back to haunt them. As they reap so they sow.

Am I snobbish about the man the Sun has dubbed “White Van Dan”?


I’m repulsed by the policies he espouses and profoundly depressed by the ignorance that informs them.

Bash the benefits; block the immigrants; spend more; tax less; and bring back the cane. If these things worked we’d have solved all of society’s problems by now. And why the reactionary paranoia about burning the poppy when no one is even doing it?

But “point and laugh” tactics particularly from a Metropolitan Liberal Elite Minority like me, never mind Ms Thornberry, is not the way to engage with this kind of thinking. In fact, it’s massively counter-productive, lending “Dan” the fake credence of being “against The Man”, when in fact he’s expressing exactly the sort of white cis straight male privileged oppression that generations of genuine outsiders have been struggling to get out from under.

But while Ms Thornberry’s tweet may have been revealing, the response by Labour’s spin team was nothing short of astonishing. The suggestion that the Labour Leader was “more furious than he’d ever been” was beyond ludicrous.

More furious than over phone hacking, Ed? More outraged than by tuition fees? More angry than at the bedroom tax?

The sad thing is he probably was more furious over an incident that did damage to Labour’s image than by any of those things. There’s a reason why Miliband’s leadership is not seen as “genuine”. It’s because it’s not.

Maybe it was a typo: “The Labour leader is more fatuous than he’s ever been”?

And yet, in one way, he was actually right. The sacking of a shadow cabinet member over a photograph was a massive distraction from the appalling reactionary lurch of British politics.

It’s what the Tories used to call a “Double Whammy”, with on the one fluffy foot more ludicrous Security Theatre and on the other more Anti-immigration nonsense.

It is surely a co-incidence that the Metropolitan police are warning commuters to “Run, Hide, and Tell” and trying to convince the City that saw off the Luftwaffe that it’s facing its “worst threat ever” just as the Home Secretary is trying to sex up her TPIMS, exclude British citizens who’ve been to fight in Syria, and raise her Snoopers' Charter from the dead.

Only this week we’ve heard evidence that the Security Services had information on the killers of Lee Rigby and still failed to stop them. It’s no good trying to pin the blame on Facebook; demanding access and retention of even more data only makes a bigger haystack to lose the needles in.

And as for cancelling the passports of British terrorists who’ve gone to fight in Syria and Iraq: washing your hands of a problem is a shockingly weak abrogation of responsibility, not a strong stance against terror.

And the Liberal Democrats’ principled opposition has… melted away.

Meanwhile, the Tories received a well-deserved humiliation for their failure to deliver on an in-so-many-ways stupid pledge to reduce immigration to the tens of thousands.

And yet we hear Labour’s Shadow Home Secretary – surely that’s Michael Howard in drag not Yvette Cooper – saying: “It isn't racist to be worried about immigration or to call for immigration reform,” before announcing more guards on the frontiers.

While her counterpart Rachel Reeves at the Department of Work is saying she will deny benefits to EU migrants.

Only to receive support from Nick Clegg, for goodness’ sake!

It isn’t racist to be worried about immigration… UNLESS YOU GO ON TO BLAME THE IMMIGRANTS!

Please, I urge you, particularly if you happen to be Deputy Prime Minister, go read the inestimable Mr Hickey on why it’s both morally and tactically suicide to follow the other Parties down the road to UKIP-ised xenophobic populism.

People who think that UKIP are popular because of their policies are frankly morons, who make “White Van Dan” look like Aristotle.

UKIP’s popularity is entirely independent of any policy they may have from moment to moment, as amply demonstrated by the way Farage simply re-writes their manifesto every single time he finds himself on a sticky wicket without any apparent impact on people’s opinion or his Party’ poll ratings.

“Privatise the NHS? No, I meant preserve the NHS! Lower business taxes? No, I meant higher business taxes! Transitional arrangements? No, I meant concentration camps…er, is this on the record?”

No one seems to care that he’s winging it, contradicting himself, saying anything he thinks the voters want to hear, because after all he’s Nige, the bloke with the pint, and he’s sticking it to the Westminster elite, isn’ee.

There used to be a sense that the Westminster Parties were there to make things better for people, for you!

Labour would give you better public services; Tories would lower your taxes; Liberals would stand up for your rights and freedoms. What happened to all that?

In “The Shadow Over Innsmouth” – and it’s well worth a read if you can get over the flagrant fears of miscegenation – the protagonist finds, to his existential horror, that (spoilers) he himself is of “questionable” heritage and is turning into one of the monsters.

Here’s the irony. In Britain we are all immigrants somewhere up our family tree. Unless you’re descended from a Woolly Mammoth! (I’m saying nothing!)

And yet, we have the choice: are we capable of being brave enough not to turn into Monsters?


For clarity:
“Two large and protruding eyes projected from sockets in chameleon fashion, and it had a broad reptilian mouth with horny lips beneath its little nostrils”
is Lovecraft’s description of one of the Deep Ones, and not, as you might think, of Nigel Farage. Who, if anything, is one of the Shallow Ones.
25 Nov 14:30

Only Words

by Roxane Gay

I am a writer, nothing more, nothing less.

In the face of injustice, I only have words and words can only do so much.

Last night, the St. Louis County prosecutor, Bob McCulloch, stood before television cameras and offered a lengthy statement, that from the outset made it clear the grand jury was not going to indict officer Darren Wilson for the murder of 18-year-old Mike Brown, who was, at the time of his murder, unarmed.

Read more Only Words at The Toast.

26 Nov 13:01

Class war skirmishes in England

by Mark Liberman

Several manifestations of verbal and visual class warfare have recently hit the mass media in Britain. The subtlest example, least transparent to outsiders, is the affair of the white van in Rochester — William James, "In class obsessed Britain, tweet of 'white van' man hits nerve", Reuters 11/21/2014:

Posting a picture on Twitter of a two-storey house, displaying three English flags of St. George and with a white tradesman's van outside, might seem innocuous to a foreign eye.

When a British politician appeared to sneer at the modest Rochester home of a 'white van' voter, she was vilified as a member of an arrogant London elite.

In a Britain where disaffected voters increasingly view politicians as snobbish, patronising and out of touch, the picture was laden with social cliches.

Translation: White van = working class. English flags = right-wing working class feeling insecure about immigration in an England that no longer exists.

The timing – coinciding with a local election that delivered victory to an anti-EU, anti-immigration party – was disastrous.

Within 7 hours of posting the photograph, Labour lawmaker Emily Thornberry had resigned as the opposition's chief spokeswoman on legal matters.

The resulting media frenzy continues. The van and the residence belong to Dan Ware, who quickly became "White Van Dan" and was recruited by The Sun (tabloid) to publish his Danifesto for a better England. The Sun also put their logo all over Dan's van and sent him to visit Emily Thornberry.

Here's the tweet that launched a thousand headlines:

Image from #Rochester — Emily Thornberry MP (@EmilyThornberry) November 20, 2014

Then there's the Andrew Mitchell affair, about which more later — see e.g. Donald MacIntyre, "Plebs, public school boys and politics: class war breaks out in Court 13", The Independent 11/21/2014:

Only in England. Maybe it’s because so much of Andrew Mitchell’s libel case against The Sun turns on whether he used the socially loaded term “pleb” about the police on that fateful evening at the Downing Street gate in September 2012, that it’s hard to escape the class overtones of the hearing in the crowded, oak panelled intimacy of Court 13.

Separated only by three more junior members of their legal teams, Mitchell and PC Toby Rowlands, who is counter-suing Mitchell for saying the constable fabricated his version of the incident, both sit opposite Mr Justice Mitting, intently observing the witnesses in the box. Audio-less CCTV clips on a screen to their left show who moved where in Downing Street on that otherwise peaceful evening.

So relatively small is the courtroom that the supporters of each side could speak to each other without raising their voices, if they chose to – which they don’t. Mitchell’s wife Sharon, a doctor, and Tory MPs including Richard Ottaway and David Davis sit yards from stern-faced officers of the Police Federation, which is funding PC Rowlands’ suit.

But the proximity cannot disguise the gulf in class which permeates the proceedings, albeit in ways that cross the boundaries between plaintiff and defendant. Two of the three QCs, James Price, representing Mitchell, and Desmond Browne, representing PC Rowland, went to Eton (the younger top counsel, Gavin Millar, acting for The Sun, didn’t). At times the chasm between Price’s patrician drawl and Browne’s more amiably plummy tones, on the one hand, and on the other, the more or less discernible London accents and idiom of most former and serving police officers who testified yesterday, seems as wide as it might have been a century ago.

And then there's David Mellor — ""'I've been in the Cabinet, I'm an award-winning broadcaster, I'm a QC – you smart-a**** little git': David Mellor's incredible f-word rant at taxi driver", The Mail Online, 11/25/2014:

Former minister David Mellor was called a 'snob' today after he launched a foul-mouthed rant at a taxi driver over the quickest route home, calling him a 'smart-a**** little git' and a 'sweaty, stupid little s***'.

The millionaire Tory then reeled off his lifetime achievements before telling the man: 'You think your experiences are anything compared to mine?'

Mr Mellor, who was forced to abandon his ministerial career after an affair in 1992, was secretly recorded berating the cab driver after a visit to Buckingham Palace with his partner Lady Cobham, who had just been awarded a CBE.

The 65-year-old barrister and radio presenter could be heard asking the taxi driver: 'Who are you to question me?' before yelling: 'I don't want to hear from you, shut the f*** up. Smart-a**** little b******.'

27 Nov 01:55

It’s Good to Laugh

by Blake Stacey

Alleged intellectual Christina Hoff Sommers (I know, I know, it’s bad form to give away the punchline of a joke so early) recently had this to say:

Dear liberals, When you side with today’s 3rd wave intersectional feminism, you are siding with the intellectual equivalent of creationism.

As a liberal feminist whose day job actually is studying evolutionary dynamics, I can only say this:

26 Nov 17:00

Two Things I Find It Difficult To Believe Exist But Somehow They Do

by Mallory Ortberg

The trick to absorbing a great deal of useless information is to never close your Wikipedia tabs entirely. Always leave at least two up so you can begin a new k-hole at a moment's notice.

Read more Two Things I Find It Difficult To Believe Exist But Somehow They Do at The Toast.

26 Nov 18:00

My New Password

by Ralph Jones


Password incorrect. Please try again.


Password incorrect. Please try again.


Password incorrect. Forgotten password?


Read more My New Password at The Toast.

26 Nov 20:00

Unsuccessful Pickup Lines Used on Asian Women I Know

by Victoria Namkung

“For an Asian girl, you sure are cool.”

“I know all about the 38th parallel.”

Read more Unsuccessful Pickup Lines Used on Asian Women I Know at The Toast.

24 Nov 19:33

Rudy Giuliani discusses his Black Problem

by Fred Clark

Former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani this weekend helped to illustrate what I was getting at last week when I suggested that G.K. Chesterton’s anti-Semitism has something to teach us about racism and white supremacy here in 21st-century America.

Chesterton wrote of what he called the “Jewish problem.” The nature of that problem was simply that Jews exist. Chesterton viewed Jewish people as “foreigners, only foreigners that were not called foreigners” — meaning they were perpetual aliens whose allegiance, he was convinced, must always lie elsewhere. Therefore, for Chesterton, Jews could never be trusted — they must always be viewed with suspicion, as guilty unless proven innocent.

This idea of a “Jewish problem” became the lens through which Chesterton viewed any discussion Jewish people and their rights as citizens. With that lens in place, Chesterton didn’t need to deny the obvious reality of anti-Semitic prejudice or to deny that Jewish people, as a minority, often suffered from injustice. His “Jewish problem” construct enabled him to reinterpret all evidence of such prejudice in a way that reinforced his own anti-Semitism and, in his view, justified such prejudice. If those untrustworthy Jews have been treated unjustly, then that’s just more reason not to trust them — they’ll want payback.

Chesterton, then, could acknowledge Jewish suffering from injustice, but he regarded it as self-inflicted. Jewish people were to blame for anti-Semitism. Jewish people were to blame for anything bad that was done to them.

The “problem” half of Chesterton’s “Jewish problem” construct was his way of acknowledging that such injustice existed, and even that it was regrettable. But this way of framing the “problem” stunted his otherwise brilliant intellect — restricting his ability to even think about any ways of solving this problem that didn’t involve placing all of the blame for it exclusively on the shoulders of the victims themselves. Thus even a brilliant man like Chesterton made himself stupid. He rendered himself incapable of recognizing the basic distinction between injustice done against Jews and injustice done by Jews.

This same stunted, stupid-making framework is at work here in 21st-century America in much of our discussion about “race.” Every day, somewhere on your television and your radio dial you will find white people discussing race and racism as “the Black Problem.”

Which brings us to Rudy Giuliani, a man as defiantly and proudly racist as Chesterton was defiantly and proudly anti-Semitic:

Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani (R) got into a heated argument about race and crime with Georgetown professor Michael Eric Dyson during a discussion on Ferguson, Mo.

Screen shot 2014-11-24 at 2.22.54 PM“But the fact is, I find it very disappointing that you’re not discussing the fact that 93 percent of blacks in America are killed by other blacks. We’re talking about the exception here,” Giuliani said on NBC’s Meet the Press while discussing whether police forces reflect the demographics of the communities they serve.

Dyson called this a “false equivalency.”

“Can I say this, first of all, black people who commit crimes against other black people go to jail. Number two, they are not sworn by the police department as a agent of the state to uphold the law,” he said. “So in both cases, that’s a false equivalency that the mayor has drawn, which is exacerbated tensions that are deeply imbedded in American culture.”

Later in the argument Giuliani argued that while police officers are only present in certain communities because black people are committing crimes.

“It is the reason for the heavy police presence in the black community,” he said. “White police officers won’t be there if you weren’t killing each other 70 percent of the time.”

I cannot believe that Rudy Giuliani is as wholly ignorant as he pretends to be when he repeats this hogwash about “you’re not discussing” black victims of black violence. I do not believe that it is possible that a man who served for years as the mayor of New York City is completely unaware of the witness of the black church in New York. This is a deliberate, brazen lie on Giuliani’s part.

It is a lie frequently told in America as part of what Ta-Nehisi Coates calls “The politics of changing the subject“:

The notion that violence within the black community is “background noise” is not supported by the historical recordor by Google. I have said this before. It’s almost as if Stop The Violence never happened, or The Interruptors never happened, or Kendrick Lamar never happened. The call issued by Erica Ford at the end of this Do The Right Thing retrospective is so common as to be ritual. It is not “black on black crime” that is background noise in America, but the pleas of black people.

Nothing Coates says there is new or news. And none of it is unknown to Rudy Giuliani. When Giuliani speaks as though he does not know all of this, he is simply lying.

Giuliani is lying — and doubling down on those lies — in service of the construct of “The Black Problem.” That is the only frame Giuliani will allow for discussion of the injustices faced by black people in America. When an unarmed black person is killed by a white police officer — as happens here in the U.S. about once a week — Giuliani, like so many others, is desperate to force that slaying into the constricted framework of “The Black Problem.” The blame for such unfortunate events must, somehow, be attributed to some intrinsic quality of these perpetually suspect “foreigners that are not called foreigners.”

The point here is not simply that what Giuliani is arguing is racist, but that he has accepted — and is promoting — a framework that doesn’t allow for any thought or response that could ever be anything other than racist. The framework of The Black Problem allows for different degrees of white supremacy and slightly different gradations of racism, but the construct redefines the subject in such a way that any non-racist response is prohibited. Any such response is, for people like Giuliani, unimaginable.


25 Nov 18:44

‘There Are No Victories That Will Bring Us Peace’

by Emily Perper

It is good and right that we hound the state into giving us justice, but blacks cannot delude themselves into thinking that the state will ever become justice. There are no laws that can be passed or reforms that can be pursued that will allow us to stop being vigilant. There are no victories that will bring us peace. We will never be able to pound our swords into plowshares, because we will always have to be prepared to fight. Dr. King, our beautiful prophet, was wrong. The arc of the moral universe does not lead anywhere in particular, not in this life. If it bends towards justice, it is only because it is pulled that way by our constant effort, by our unceasing straining and sweating and shouting.

I wish I were ending this comment with answers or at least encouragement, but I have none to offer. I just have a list of things that I know. I know that I have never called the police, and if in future I do, it will be because I have reached the furthest of last resorts. I know that I am taking steps to learn how to arm myself for the protection of my loved ones and my community. I know that I will always vote “not guilty” if I am on a jury prosecuting a non-violent drug offense. I know that I will always oppose any expansion of the state’s power to harm and jail its citizens. I know that I will be going to community meetings and protests and vigils and organizing sessions and memorial services for the rest of my life. I know that one day I will tell my child, if I am blessed enough to have one, that the world is afraid of them, and that the police are not to be trusted. I know that one day, that child will tell her own child the same thing. And yet, I know that I still have enough hope to want to bring children into this world, broken as it is. That is something.

- Ezekiel Kweku wrote this profound essay in August after a police officer named Darren Wilson killed an unarmed teenager named Michael Brown. After last night’s verdict, it resonates.

Read the story

16 Nov 20:22

A Threat to Justice Everywhere

by LP

When I went to sleep last night, Ferguson, Missouri was on fire.

The (highly unusual) decision of a grand jury not to bring Officer Darren Wilson up on charges stemming from his killing of a young black man named Michael Brown was, while not unexpected — one could, indeed, infer from its timing as well as the decision to ramp up security to a ridiculous degree before the announcement that the state almost wanted there to be riots — highly unpopular.  Protesters of varying motivations took to the streets all over America, including a brief shutdown of the interstate in my own lily-white home of Seattle.

The killing of a black American by a law enforcement officer is so common as to be, well, tedious.  When Brown was killed, I set about to make a post here on this site cataloguing the number of unarmed black men and women shot, beaten, or otherwise slain by the law just since 2001, and I stopped before I even got to our present decade because the job was simply too extensive to handle.  I began to blur their identities together, these people who had been my countrymen, who were human beings no different from myself except that they had been born with the physical mark of America’s grotesque legacy of racial slavery; they began, in Stalin’s soulless calculus, to become statistics rather than tragedies.  There were just so many of them.  (Luckily, other people have been better suited to the task.)  Just in the days leading up to the announcement, a young boy was shot by Cleveland police for wielding a toy shotgun; he died the day the grand jury’s decision was announced.

Of course, once a social phenomenon, even one as bloody as the routine murder of black citizens — transformed fully now from lynching by citizen vigilantes for nebulous assaults, rapes, and reckless eyeballings to shooting by ‘legitimate’ agents of the law for acting in a menacing fashion — becomes this common, it gains its own script. At first there is the shock and outrage; soon someone will suggest that it is symptomatic of a entrenched and symptomatic racism in American society, for which they will be rewarded by being called ‘race hustlers’ or ‘phony civil rights pimps’.  There will immediately follow a period in which the dead person — the victim of the crime of murder — has their life posthumously upended in the attempt to prove that, as do we all, they bore some moral stain and thus deserved to die, while the shooter — the perpetrator of the crime of murder — is rallied around, given every benefit of the doubt, and often as not, has a huge amount of money raised on their behalf.  Finally, there will be an announcement, preceded by much more slandering of the victim in every possible media outlet and open scorn for those who demand justice for the murder, and usually that announcement is that no measures whatsoever will be taken against the officer who did the killing.

Sometimes there will be a riot.  This will happen, usually, if the killing was especially egregious, or if the response to it, as was the case in Ferguson, was exceptionally contemptuous or incompetent.  (I don’t wish to dwell too much on the specifics of Michael Brown’s case here.  Although it was marked by particularly gross excerpts from the working scripts for such extra-judicial murders — the brutal behavior by militarized police against peaceful protesters, the utter lack of transparency of the investigative process, the attempts to paint the victim as a rampaging monster*, the closing of ranks by law enforcement, the racially charged response in the media, the ludicrously implausible testimony of the accused, and, finally, the decision that the killer will not be punished — to pretend it was unique to Ferguson is to ignore that Michael Brown’s death was unusual only in degree and not at all in kind.)  So there will be those –some, no doubt, outside agitators looking for a fight, but others unquestionably merely frustrated locals infuriated by yet another slap in the face by authority — who spill out into the thoroughfares, scream their rage at a system that reduces them to nothing, hurl invective at the law that abuses them and kills their children, smash windows and take what they want.

Whenever this happens, the scolds come out.  Of course they are largely from the right, people who expect blacks to “act like animals” and express only the mildest surprise when their bigotry appears to be justified; but worse, in a sense, are their allies, people on the left who agree that an injustice has been done but cannot help but fall back into the trap of respectability politics whenever someone does anything but talk.   In particular, the name of Martin Luther King Jr. is invoked to plead with blacks not to tear up their communities; “WWMLKD” becomes the watchword as everyone whose only skin in the game is the kind that comes from wagging their fingers ask everyone else to accept with magnanimity another black man dead on the street and no one held responsible.  This is an odd conjuration just on its face; MLK, whatever else he was, was a man who was constantly hounded, harassed, and abused by the white authorities, and who was ultimately murdered by a white racist.  The subsequent riots over his assassination did much to get the Civil Rights Act passed.  He was also, while certainly a man who advocated for pacifism and lawfulness, for non-violent resistance, for not giving in to hate, a man who understood that, in his words, “a riot is the language of the unheard”.

What does that mean?  There are many voices being raised today in contempt of those who forestall real progress (what progress?, comes the response) by turning a crucial moment for peace and understanding into a violent spree.  There are many more being raised in scorn at those who turn what is alleged to be outrage at racism into a contest to see who can steal the most stuff before the sun rises.  But try to understand:  here are a people who were born oppressed.  They are the literal legacy of a racially selected slave class, and their suffering is something experienced by their parents and their grandparents and their great-grandparents, going as far back as the first of their (false) name to be forcibly abducted to America.  They do not need to be made to understand racism, for they experience it every day of their lives.  Most of them are poor, and they survive on scraps; the help they receive from the government that tolerated their repression for centuries is meager, forever in danger of being taken away, and at risk of earning them the resentment of people lucky enough not to need it.

All of them, all these people, know the falsehood of assimilation, the big lie of respectability.  They all know men and women of their race and class who studied hard, worked hard, and always strove to keep up with the rules forced on them by their white masters and bosses; some of them escaped their ruined environment and made good, but many died poor with nothing more to show for their attempt to play another man’s game than did the ones who gave themselves over to drink, to drugs, to criminality and despair.  They all know people who have been on the receiving end of a cop’s nightstick, who have had a gun pointed in their face for nothing at all; frequently, those people are themselves.  Most likely all of them have seen a friend or relative sent to prison on dubious charges, or killed for no reason.  For them, the police are antagonists and not protectors; the courts are places of punishment and fear, not justice; the government exists to frustrate them and hold them back, not serve them; and the law is just one more thing they can’t afford to buy.

Every day, they experience some frustration at the hands of America and their fellow Americans that most of us would find intolerable.  Their financial situation is always shaky, their education never enough, their moral character always under suspicion, and their own narratives forever in dispute.  Any encounter with authority can mean their end.  And far too often, they are asked to contend not only with the death of their friends, their family members, their children, but with the presentation of that death as something for which no one will be punished, for which no justice will be done.  How many times can one human being be asked to accept such provocation with no response?  How many buckets of shit can they be forced to eat without spitting back some in the face of the people doing the feeding?

I am still deeply torn about the efficacy of violence; while I think it is an awful thing that very easily spins out of control, I believe there are times where it is the only thing that will force a positive change.  I also don’t believe that it will advance any particular cause to steal shoes and television sets during a riot that started in response to a great injustice; but I also believe that looters understand all too well that for once in their shitty lives, the people in charge are being forced to listen to what they have to say, are being made to pay attention to their frustration and anger.  I also believe that they’re taking advantage of an already bad situation to get something that might otherwise be unobtainable to them on the subsistence wages the bosses pay them, and that if a stolen TV is the price they extract for a lifetime of abuse and disrespect and the lives of their children, the country should count itself very lucky indeed.  If blacks were suddenly to think like whites, and demand the kind of vengeance white Americans demand for the lives of their lost, they would be happy to trade back those looted sneakers for the mounds of dead that would appear.

Until such time as we are prepared to show true justice to our black citizens, and to cease the outrageous provocations that cause them to occasionally erupt in a fully justified rage, we would do well to remember the meaning of the language of the unheard, and to consider it our great good fortune that looting is the worst they do when we insist on pushing them too far.

*:  As if it is acceptable to openly gun down an unarmed man even if he is a criminal.

18 Nov 08:39

Evidence based debunking

by tomstafford

Fed up with futile internet arguments, a bunch of psychologists investigated how best to correct false ideas. Tom Stafford discovers how to debunk properly.

We all resist changing our beliefs about the world, but what happens when some of those beliefs are based on misinformation? Is there a right way to correct someone when they believe something that’s wrong?

Stephen Lewandowsky and John Cook set out to review the science on this topic, and even carried out a few experiments of their own. This effort led to their “Debunker’s Handbook“, which gives practical, evidence-based techniques for correcting misinformation about, say, climate change or evolution. Yet the findings apply to any situation where you find the facts are falling on deaf ears.

The first thing their review turned up is the importance of “backfire effects” – when telling people that they are wrong only strengthens their belief. In one experiment, for example, researchers gave people newspaper corrections that contradicted their views and politics, on topics ranging from tax reform to the existence of weapons of mass destruction. The corrections were not only ignored – they entrenched people’s pre-existing positions.

Backfire effects pick up strength when you have no particular reason to trust the person you are talking to. This perhaps explains why climate sceptics with more scientific education tend to be the most sceptical that humans are causing global warming.

The irony is that understanding backfire effects requires that we debunk a false understanding of our own. Too often, argue Lewandowsky and Cook, communicators assume a ‘deficit model’ in their interactions with the misinformed. This is the idea that we have the right information, and all we need to do to make people believe is to somehow “fill in” the deficit in other people’s understanding. Just telling people the evidence for the truth will be enough to replace their false beliefs. Beliefs don’t work like that.

Psychological factors affect how we process information – such as what we already believe, who we trust and how we remember. Debunkers need to work with this, rather than against if they want the best chance of being believed.

The most important thing is to provide an alternative explanation. An experiment by Hollryn Johnson and Colleen Seifert, shows how to persuade people better. These two psychologists recruited participants to listen to news reports about a fictional warehouse fire, and then answer some comprehension questions.

Some of the participants were told that the fire was started by a short circuit in a closet near some cylinders containing potentially explosive gas. Yet when this information was corrected – by saying the closet was empty – they still clung to the belief.

A follow-up experiment showed the best way to effectively correct such misinformation. The follow-up was similar to the first experiment, except that it involved participants who were given a plausible alternative explanation: that evidence was found that arson caused the fire. It was only those who were given a plausible alternative that were able to let go of the misinformation about the gas cylinders.

Lewandowsky and Cook argue that experiments like these show the dangers of arguing against a misinformed position. If you try and debunk a myth, you may end up reinforcing that belief, strengthening the misinformation in people’s mind without making the correct information take hold.

What you must do, they argue, is to start with the plausible alternative (that obviously you believe is correct). If you must mention a myth, you should mention this second, and only after clearly warning people that you’re about to discuss something that isn’t true.

This debunking advice is also worth bearing in mind if you find yourself clinging to your own beliefs in the face of contradictory facts. You can’t be right all of the time, after all.

Read more about the best way to win an argument.

If you have an everyday psychological phenomenon you’d like to see written about in these columns please get in touch @tomstafford or Thanks to Ullrich Ecker for advice on this topic.

This is my BBC Future column from last week, original here

25 Nov 16:00


by Nicole Dieker
by Nicole Dieker


My voice isn't adequate for this conversation.

But I can't ignore it.

So here's what I've got for you today.

"It’s tough to believe in anything other than the present when you’re forced to fight for every inch of ground you’ve got; it’s harder still when you’ve got to question most of your interpersonal interactions. Is this why I didn’t get the job? Is this why my lease application was denied? Is this why I got into college? Is this why this person keeps following me around the grocery store? And when you ask, you’re looked at like you’re crazy, met with denial — because it’s always plausible, deniable." 

—Bijan Stephen, The Talk: How Black Parents Prepare Their Young Sons for Life in America

"Almost half of African-American net worth was lost between 2005 and 2009, and unemployment remains at record levels. Consequently, birth rates are likely to remain stagnant or decline even further until there is a general sense of ease about our economic future.

This economic impact has been particularly pronounced for African-American women of Generation X who were in their prime years for giving birth (late 20s to early 30s) when the recession hit. Black women of all education levels have had a much harder time getting back into the workforce than have black men. (Having a baby is the last thing on your mind if you’re worried about school loans and that underwater house back in Cleveland, and sleeping on your friend’s couch to job-hunt.)"

—Jason Johnson, Has the Great Recession Wiped Out a Black Generation?

"Digital Ally's stock has since fallen sharply from that peak. But shares rose more than 3% Friday and soared another 12% Monday as the nation waited to find out if a Missouri grand jury had decided to indict Wilson.

Why did the stock pop in August in the first place? Investors seemed to be betting that the events in Ferguson could lead to more demand for Digital Ally's FirstVU HD body worn cameras."

Paul R. LaMonica, Investors Try to Profit From Ferguson

"The St. Louis County Police Department, which includes Ferguson, issued 575 gun permits last month, more than double the 271 it issued last year.

It also issued 286 permits for concealed carry weapons last month, compared to 233 in November of 2013."

Aaron Smith, Ferguson Gun Sales Surge Ahead of Jury Decision

How to support us: 1. Donate 2. Volunteer 3. Attend book swap at 6 pm on 11/25

— Ferguson Library (@fergusonlibrary) November 25, 2014

"Many people of color living in this country can likely relate to the onset of outsized ambition at too young an age, an ambition fueled by the sense, often confirmed by ignorance, of being a second-class citizen and needing to claw your way toward equal consideration and some semblance of respect. Many people of color, like me, remember the moment that first began to shape their ambition and what that moment felt like."

Roxane Gay, The Price of Black Ambition

"Liberals today mostly view racism not as an active, distinct evil but as a relative of white poverty and inequality. They ignore the long tradition of this country actively punishing black success—and the elevation of that punishment, in the mid-20th century, to federal policy."

Ta-Nehisi Coates, The Case for Reparations

Photo credit: erephas

24 Nov 19:14

Day 5076: When is 1% not 1%? When it’s 4%, apparently

by Millennium Dome

Today the NHS has suffered the indignity of a strike by thousands of nurses and midwives protesting that their pay has been frozen for years and all they are asking for is the 1% that was recommended by the independent review body and that the Government has reneged upon.

Except that’s not really true, is it.

The Government offered 1% to everyone who wasn’t already getting an automatic pay rise.

So if you’ve not had a rise in four years, it’s not the Government blocking the 1% on offer; it’s those people who want 5% rather than “just” 4%.

Nursing is a tough job. And a necessary one. Especially as we’re all getting older and more reliant than ever on the Health Service. And this year, we’ve been personally especially grateful to some good nurses, I can tell you. So who wouldn’t want to reward them well?

But it begins to look like their representation is, well, misrepresenting them.

Quite rightly, our nurses have the sympathy and support of the public, but they risk losing that if the public – many of whom have genuinely seen 0% increases, that’s a real terms (i.e. after inflation) decrease – discover that the NHS Unions insist on using such mendacious tactics as claiming that nurses have not had a pay rise when in fact nurses’ pay comes with a built-in increase every year.

More than a million NHS staff – except for doctors, dentists and some senior managers who are on a different scheme – are paid according to a system called Agenda for Change (you can tell it came in under Tony Blair, can’t you).

Under this arrangement, you are assigned to a “Band” based on your job and seniority level: nurses and midwives, for example, start from Band 5; sisters and senior radiographers are in Band 6; and so on. You then have “points” on the payscale and in the normal course of things you would expect to go up one point each year.

Here, from the Royal College of Nursing, are the current (agreed in 2013) pay bands.

So for a nurse in Band 5, you begin at point 16, which is a salary of £21,388 on the 2013 agreed rates.

Then in your second year you advance to point 17, and receive a salary of £22,016, an automatic increase of 2.9%.

In your third year this goes up to point 18 for £22,903, a 4.0% increase and so on up to your seventh year when you reach top of your Band. In fact it’s 4% increase all the way up to the top of the scale for Band 5 when a nurse can earn £27,901.

Similarly for Bands 6 and 7, the salary increase between different points varies from point to point but on average is 3.5% per year, to a top salary of £40,558.

(Bands 1-4, incidentally, who are assistants, secretaries and porters earning between £14,094 and £22,016, have average rises of 2.5%.)

The review body’s proposals, then, were to increase all of these pay points by 1%.

So the effect for a nurse going into their second year would be an increase from £21,388 (on the 2013 rates) to £22,436 (on the new 2014 rates) which is a pay rise of 4.0%. And pay increases of 5% for nurses in their second through seventh years.

The people who wouldn’t be getting an automatic pay rise are the people at the tops of the scales… to whom the Government is offering the 1% that they say they are striking for.

(So actually, the people affected by this are new NHS staff, coming in at the old starting rate rather than the new proposed one.)

There are 380,000 nurses in the NHS in the UK, earning at least £21,388 each or a total wage bill somewhere north of eight billion quid. That 1% increase will cost the NHS, will cost you because you pay for the NHS, at least eighty million pounds.

Or, in the emotive terms that people like to pitch this debate, 4000 nurses.

Not that nurses are paid brilliantly, but the £28,180 on offer (after 1% increase) to an ordinary ward nurse at the top of the Band 5 pay scale is above the median average national wage, and quite a lot more than quite a lot of people get, particularly people on sickness benefits who get hardest hit by NHS strike action, or people on minimum wage or zero hours contracts who lose money when they have to refuse work in order to turn up on time for their NHS appointments, and only get told when they get there that they’ll have to miss more work without compensation because their appointment’s been cancelled through NHS strike action.

Everyone is fed up with austerity. Everyone is tired of tightening belts. And it’s true that to get through the worst of the recession that they inherited, the Coalition did freeze all those pay rates that were over £21,000. The rates were kept the same for the first three years: 2010/11, 2011/12 and 2012/13.

Although rates were increased for those lower paid NHS workers, on Bands 1 to 4, but not the nurses who were already better off than that. And, of course, you would still get an increase by progressing up the rates each year.

But, something I’ve just noticed from the RCN website: all pay rates were increased by 1% for last year (2012/13).

So that “not had a pay rise in four years” just cannot be true.

A nurse starting in 2010 on £21,176 would expect to be earning £24,799 in 2014, an increase of 17% or an average increase of 4% a year. Better than inflation in every year except 2010 when Alistair Darling’s devaluation and George Osborne’s VAT rise both hit.

In real terms, then, nurses are barely any better off. But try telling that to people who really haven’t had a pay rise in four years.

It’s said that the NHS is what the British have instead of religion these days. It’s an article of faith that we must preserve it, as much as it’s a standard mantra that the NHS is in crisis. Labour in particular have made a fetish of “their” NHS – “don’t let the Tories ruin it”, they cry when all other rational reasons to vote Labour fail them; any attempt to empower local people to vary provision to suit their needs is greeted with cries of “post code lottery” and results in power being snatched back to the Secretary of State; at the last gasp, any reform at all is answered with the desperate war cry of “privatisation”.

But locked-in inflation-busting salary increases are another reason, along with Labour’s privatization through the PFI door, why the “best health service in the world” is going to go bust in spite of having ring-fenced, real terms cash increases no matter what the damage that does to other spending commitments.

The NHS has been made a sacred cow by at least five major Parties (and UKIP) including, sadly, my own. And as with most cows, the debate seems to come with a quantity of bull.
17 Nov 20:30


by Jazmine Hughes

‎This is the strangest, funniest thing I've read in a while.

by Jazmine Hughes

Adam Sternbergh at New York magazine has an incredible deep dive on emoji, the thread that is holding this country together. If you weren't already excited, the article also includes the following words:

“But why is the pile of poo smiling?” would be the next logical question. Before we answer that, you may want to buckle yourself in, because we’re about to toboggan down the Smiling Pile of Poo Emoji Wormhole.

I won't ruin it for you; click through and read the whole thing, including the additional sidebar lessons on How to Speak Emoji (there will be a quiz— I will text you and if I leave the conversation thinking you are mad at me, you will have failed). But before you go, here is, as you should've come to expect with the Hairpin by now, the #DrakeTake:

The rapper Drake recently got an honest-to-God tattoo of an emoji that, depending on whom you ask, means either “praying hands” or “high five”. (Drake says praying hands. “I pity the fool who high-fives in 2014,” he clarified via Instagram.)

No further questions.

23 Nov 12:32

Wankers and prankers on the suicide hotline

by vaughanbell

CC Licensed Photo by Flickr user kev-shine. Click for source.The New York Magazine‘s new Science of Us section has an interesting review of a new documentary on hotlines – whether they be for suicide support or phone sex.

I was initially annoyed at the fact that the documentary puts both of these in the same category but it’s based on the interesting premise that hotlines – whether for mental health, sex or supporting members of a particular marginalised community – often involve the common component of lonely people reaching out to connect with a stranger, briefly, through conversation.

I don’t know how good the documentary is, I haven’t seen it, but interestingly the review was by an writer who himself had worked on a mental health support lines.

As a result the piece has some wonderfully insightful points about the emotional experience of working as a telephone support counsellor. I was really struck by this section:

Hotline mentions the masturbators, at least — cretins who call up and simply breathe heavily into their phones as they do their thing (at Samaritans, I never had to deal with them because they’d hang up and call back until a female picked up the phone). But the film doesn’t delve into other common experiences volunteers go through, such as how it feels to listen to and empathize with a desperate-sounding 12-year-old girl for seven devastating minutes, only to hear her — and the friends who have apparently been in the room with her the whole time — crack up with laughter, revealing her whole soul-crushing story of sexual abuse to have been a prank.

The problem is, after you’ve hung up angrily on the masturbator or the slumber-party pranksters, your phone is inevitably going to ring in another minute or five, and you have to somehow return to that place of empathy and openness, because the next person who calls may really need your help. It’s a strange sort of emotional bombardment, and Hotline missed an opportunity to unpack it a bit.

In the support hotline world, these callers are known as ‘wankers and prankers’ and they are surprisingly common. You probably wouldn’t imagine that people phone up suicide hotlines to whack off or wind people up, but it is common enough that most services have specific procedures to deal with these nuisance callers.

Many of these lines have a policy where the hotline attender doesn’t hang up on the caller, because people with the most disordered ways of accessing the services might be the ones who need it most.

To deal with this, some services have a specific person each shift whose job it is to listen to persistent masturbators. When they call they can just ask for ‘Julie’, or some other code name, and be passed on to the designated nuisance call monitor, who listens out for any signs that the person has something relevant they want to discuss.

This reduces the number of times people in the front line have the emotionally jarring experience of going from distressed suicidal people to ‘wankers and prankers’, meaning they’re better able to be open and empathetic for people who need it, and are less emotionally drained themselves.

It’s a strange corner of the mental health support world which has to overcome the foibles and dysfunction of social behaviour for which it was never designed to address.

Link to review of Hotline documentary.

24 Nov 14:00

U.S. Schools Teach Children That Native Americans Are History

by Lisa Wade, PhD

“They were coming to college believing that all Indians are dead,” said education professor Sarah Shear of her experience in the classroom.

Her students’ seeming ignorance to the fact that American Indians are a part of the contemporary U.S., not just the historical one, led her to take a closer look at what they were learning. She examined the academic standards for elementary and secondary school education in all 50 states, these are the guidelines that educators use to plan curricula and write textbooks. The results are summarized at Indian Country.

Shear found that the vast majority of references to American Indians — 87 percent — portrayed them as a population that existed only prior to 1900.  There was “nothing,” she said, about contemporary issues for American Indian populations or the ongoing conflicts over land and water rights or sovereignty. Only one state, New Mexico, even mentions the name of a single member of the American Indian Movement.


Meanwhile, the genocidal war against American Indians is portrayed as an inevitable conflict that colonizers handled reasonably.  “All of the states are teaching that there were civil ways to end problems,” she said, “and that the Indian problem was dealt with nicely.”  Only one state, Washington, uses the word genocide. Only four states mention Indian boarding schools, institutions that represent the removal of children from their families and forced re-socialization into a Euro-American way of life.

The fact that so many people absorb the idea that Native Americans are a thing of the past — and a thing that we don’t have to feel too badly about — may help explain why they feel so comfortable dressing up like them on Halloween, throwing “Conquistabros and Navahos” parties, persisting in using Indian mascots, leaving their reservations off of Google maps, and failing to include them in our media. It might also explain why we expect Indian-themed art to always feature a pre-modern world.

Curricular choices matter. So long as young people learn to think of Indians no differently than they do Vikings and Ancient Romans, they will overwhelmingly fail to notice or care about ongoing interpersonal and institutional discrimination against American Indians who are here now.

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the co-author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

(View original at

21 Nov 15:00

Signs That You’re A Murderer In A Columbo Episode

by Mallory Ortberg

You're wearing an expensive coat that your wife paid for. You hate her for it.

You are Dick Van Dyke.

You're taller, more polished, better dressed, and have better diction than the investigating detective assigned to your late wife's case, and yet you know he's the better man.

You are either a highly paid psychiatrist, a world-renowned composer, a high-ranking naval officer, or a mystery novelist with a pilot's license.

You are insufferably smug, and rude to waiters, valet staff, elevator attendants, and your own relatives.

You are either brusque and indifferent or overly affectionate to dogs.

Read more Signs That You’re A Murderer In A Columbo Episode at The Toast.

21 Nov 19:00

Paintings That Wikimedia Commons Has Inaccurately Categorized As “Seduction In Art”

by Mallory Ortberg

In conclusion, if you are in an old painting, just leave people alone with their looms and their tambourines instead of trying to have sex with them. Also, if you work at Wikipedia, consider adopting more stringent metadata practices.

The "Seduction in art" tab on Wikimedia Commons is full of inaccurately categorized works of art. Here are a few examples:


This is not a woman who is being seduced. This is a woman who is being bothered while she is doing her job.


Here is another example of a woman who is not being seduced. She is pushing an old man away from her, while wearing a nice gown.

Read more Paintings That Wikimedia Commons Has Inaccurately Categorized As “Seduction In Art” at The Toast.

21 Nov 19:49

When My Mom Was An Astronaut

by JenniferP

It’s National Adoption Month, and I wrote a thing about fantasizing about my “real” family that you can read here.



22 Nov 01:22

‘Do I need to turn her in?’ — something has gone very, very wrong

by Fred Clark

How bad is the politicization of white evangelical religion? How thoroughly has every trace of the gospel been replaced by partisan political sloganeering? It’s this bad:

After speaking to a Sunday school class about immigration, a woman asked if she could talk to me. She pulled me aside and whispered, “I think there’s a girl in my daughter’s class this year who is, umm, not legal. What should I do?”

She explained that her daughter had befriended a new girl. When they talked, the student was evasive and said she wasn’t allowed to say where she lived for fear someone would take her mother away and send her back to Mexico. The woman asked me, “What should I do? Do I need to turn her in?”

I assured the woman that she had no reason to report the girl or her mother and suggested she encourage her daughter to invite the girl over instead. “But couldn’t we get into trouble if she’s not here legally?” the woman asked.

I often hear these kinds of concerns when I speak about immigration.

That’s Dale Hanson Bourke writing at Christianity Today. What she means there when she says “I often hear these kinds of concerns when I speak about immigration” is that she often hears these kinds of concerns when she speaks about immigration to white evangelicals.

Because they’ve completely lost the map.


Nice white Christian ladies welcome the stranger in Jesus’ name. (Dallas Morning News photo by Ron Baselice)

What does this show us? It shows us a people whose “concerns” — whose response to the actual stranger in their midst — is not primarily shaped by the gospel, by their “relationship with Jesus,” by “the authority of scripture,” the Bible, or any of the other stuff they’re always on about. Their response is not shaped by those things at all.

It is shaped by Fox News. And AM talk radio. And the National Religious Broadcasters. It’s shaped by the explicit right-wing partisanship of Charismanews and by the the implicit right-wing partisanship of Christianity Today.

It has been reduced to a shrinky-dink caricature of Christianity, one in which that phrase — “the stranger in your midst” — is not even recognized as a massive biblical motif, except perhaps maybe out of context, in reference to a fetus, because that is the primary and almost the only meaning that “Jesus” and “the Bible” have anymore, as a shorthand for criminalizing abortion.

Just consider how many utterly wrong turns one has to take to arrive at the position in which a little girl comes to your Sunday school class and your first thought is “Do I need to turn her in?” That’s sick.

Sure, it’s good to see Christianity Today pushing back, ever so slightly, against some of the ramifications of this sickness. Hanson Bourke offers a helpful explanation for CT’s readers to correct some of the more ludicrous lies they’ve apparently ingested wholesale from Fox and “Christian” radio. But here again, the goodness of what’s being said is overshadowed by the fact that it needed to be said at all.

Here’s the final point in Hanson Bourke’s article. Just consider what it means that a group of Christians needed to be told this:

5. It is not against the law to welcome a family into your home or help them, even if they are undocumented.

Including new children in the classroom in your family events is a wonderful way to help them feel accepted. Showing hospitality to a child or a family whose immigration status is questionable does not create legal problems for citizens.

New children in any classroom often feel lonely and need a friend. Children whose families are from a different country or culture can feel even more alone. As I assured the woman at church, reaching out to such a child is not only legal; it is a special act of kindness that will benefit not only that other child, but her child as well.

OK, so now these Christians know that there is no legal barrier to stop them from helping undocumented children. Against such there is no law.

But consider the deplorable modesty of the argument Hanson Bourke has to make for her evangelical audience. She’s not reassuring them that they won’t get in trouble for all the help they’ve been providing to immigrant families, because their Fox-addled Republicanism has barred them from providing any such help up until now.

Actually, helping these families is an idea introduced by Hanson Bourke. The “concern” she’s heard from evangelicals wasn’t about whether or not they would get in trouble for helping other people. Their concern was, again, “Do I need to turn her in?”

Jesus Christ. By which I mean, listen to Jesus Christ: “I was a stranger and you did not welcome me.” Therefore you “are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.”

Do I need to turn her in? Holy motherloving hell.

A century ago, American churches were busily expanding their “home mission societies” to minister to immigrants arriving in America. They cooked meals, helped provide housing and clothing. They taught English lessons and helped immigrants find work. That early-20th-century home mission work was also harmfully entangled in all sorts of colonial attitudes, problematic ideas about assimilation and Anglicization, etc. But even if their acts of mercy were, in part, due to imperfect motivations, those Christians were still responding to the arrival of new immigrants with acts of mercy because that’s what Christians do.

They knew this. They did not have to be argued into it or persuaded and cajoled into accepting the idea. White evangelicals today apparently do not know this. Such acts of mercy are not a part of their identity. Particularly not when it comes to the Others they hear demonized in their daily devotionals from Fox News and Christian hate radio.

Something has gone very, very wrong.


19 Nov 19:00

Signs You May Hate Winter

by Mallory Ortberg

Hello, chums! I don't often make corrections, but some lovely friends of the Toast have pointed out that SAD is several orders of magnitude more serious than this comes across, and I am sorry to have been insensitive and thoughtless about that. We can all hate winter without making anyone feel worse for experiencing depression. Okay, back to jokes. 

You don't like when it gets dark out at three in the afternoon.

You like it better when it's summer, and not winter.

Being very cold, that's not your favorite thing.

Read more Signs You May Hate Winter at The Toast.

20 Nov 00:00

Alternate Universe What Ifs

by xkcd

Alternate Universe What Ifs

Dispatches from a horrifying alternate universe

This week: Excerpts from What If articles written in a world which, thankfully, is not the one we live in:

... and most SCUBA equipment functions relatively well when immersed in human blood. However, since the density of blood (1.06 kg/L) is much higher than fresh water (1.00 kg/L) and slightly higher than seawater (1.03 kg/L), SCUBA diving weights must be adjusted. For obvious reasons, most equipment manufactured after 2006 is designed to cope with this ...

... we've all heard the factoid that the average person supposedly eats 4 spiders per second. This statistic is misleading; it's based on a study examining on the peak rate of spider consumption in areas where the spider-streams are densest. The global average rate is probably closer to 1 spider per second (obviously higher while asleep than while awake) ...

... assuming American football has an average death rate of 1.2 players per game. This is slightly higher than the average for association football (soccer), but an order of magnitude lower than the rates found in volleyball.

... the concept of a "population bottleneck" is in the news a lot lately. Let's take a look at some examples of past human population bottlenecks, which should help us understand how the current situation is both qualitatively different and much worse than ...

According to a report by the Occupational Safety & Health Administration, the top ten leading causes of injury in the workplace are as follows:
  • • Lightning strikes
  • • Unknown
  • • Predation
  • • Betrayal
  • • Curses (ancient + modern)
  • • Ant bites
  • • Falling
  • • Spider bites
  • • Bites (other)
  • • Natural causes

... while the idea that a human-sized mirror could offer protection from moonlight makes intuitive sense, in effect it serves only to create a second moon. The interaction between any pair of moons—in this case, the real Moon and the mirror-image "virtual" Moon—takes place at the geometric halfway point between them.

Here, that point is located at the surface of the mirror you are carrying, which makes it clear why this is such a bad ...

... while there are no firsthand accounts of the new building layout near Buckingham Palace, an examination of satellite imagery can give us an idea of the changes. Although the images are clearly heavily distorted due to the highly variable air temperature in Westminster, it appears that the Tower of London is intact, surrounded by a series of concentric rings presumably made from the remains of ...

... for these calculations, we will assume a spherical cow, although most remaining "cows" are actually closer to oblate spheroids ...

... while a roc is self-evidently capable of lifting and carrying adult humans without difficulty, even the largest among them would struggle to lift a typical 1,200 kg sedan. While it's plausible that a flock could accomplish this by cooperative lifting, they have instead taken to dropping boulders (usually 50-100 kg) on the cars from above. This is why most commuters stick to the tunnels, despite the obvious threat posed by snakes and ...

20 Nov 16:00

Five Things Guaranteed to Turn Him On

by Lauren Bans
by Lauren Bans

Has this happened to you before? You're pumped and alive and you reach for your guy and he's just… dead. Lucky for you, this can be resolved easily. Follow these simply steps to have him turned on in no time.

1.) Unless you are absolutely certain he's fully rested, let him lie still for fifteen to twenty minutes recharging. If he was just low on juice, he should wake up by himself.

2.) Press down on his head and balls at the same time for ten to twenty seconds.

3.) If that doesn't work, buy a coffin. Fill it with rice. Put him in it, seal it, and after two days time try Step 2 again.

4.) Stick a very small pin in his posterior hole. This should reboot his whole system.

5.) If all else fails, you may have to wipe him clean. Do so with a dry washcloth. Note that this process may take anywhere from a few minutes to several hours.

19 Nov 14:55

The Privilege Denier’s Diversity Monitoring Form

by Sarah

If you are one of those people who have scoffed at the idea of words and phrases like “cis”, “TAB” (Temporarily Able Bodied) and “Neurotypical” when really you just want to describe yourself as plain old normal, then I have created a diversity monitoring form just for you! Enjoy!

Sarah’s Diversity Monitoring Form for Normal people

Question 1: Eye colour

Question 2: Age

Question 3: Sex

Question 4: Religion
Practising Christian

Question 5: Hair Colour
Blue Rinse

Question 6: Relationship Status
Married and Monogamous

Question 6: Ethnicity
White British

Question 7: Voting intention (optional)

Thanks for taking the time to fill this in!

20 Nov 20:30

Men Explain Cars To Me

by Anna Fitzpatrick
by Anna Fitzpatrick

Cars 2
In the summer of 2011, a friend convinced me to try make a profile on OkCupid. I filled my profile with jokes because I wanted project a certain personality: “haha look how not seriously I am taking this, I am a carefree and fun girl, please date me.”

When OkCupid asked what I spend a lot of time thinking about, well. I did not hesitate:


I went on exactly two dates with two different men within the first month of creating the account before I lost interest. And yet I never got around to deleting my profile. Every few weeks I would log on and my inbox would be filled with messages: a couple of them would just be stock lines (“hey ur cute wanna grab a drink?”). The rest were all theories about the movie Cars. Some made me think, some made me roll my eyes, others brought up existential questions in other animated films; all of them entertained me. I finally deleted my OkCupid account, having never found love, but instead something much better: a deeper insight into the Pixar movie Cars.

* * *

“I'd like to share your obsession with Cars, but alas, I only watch films that star Bill Murray and Tom Hanks, and Cars is not one of those. But if I had to take a guess, I'd bet that the cars have doors because richer, exploitative cars subjugate the lower classes and ride around in them in a freakish Orwellian irony-rich orgy of quirkiness.”

[I reply: Tom Hanks has a cameo appearance in Cars.]

“Ah. Well, I stand corrected. My instincts tell me that my best course of action here is to file this under "Blunder: Trying Too Hard" and promptly launch myself into self-imposed exile in space.” (31 years old)

* * *

“I love your questions about the movie Cars. Here's another one to ponder: since highways were built in recent memory there, it can be inferred that all roads need to be built so these cars could get around. From this: how the hell did they get there to begin with? Were the pioneers a bunch of Jeeps and monster trucks? Also, how are they built? You brought the opposable thumb issue into play, which is appropriate with this question as well.” (profile deleted)

* * *

“Ever read the theory that all the Pixar movies are connected and that the reason there are no humans in Cars is because they were all sent into space (in Wall-E)?” (24 years old)

* * *

"Hi, let me put your mind at ease by pointing you in the direction of this article. It probably will answer all your questions about Cars. You're welcome! “ (profile deleted)

* * *

“Hey, I wrote the Cars screenplay. I figured the least I could do was send you a message.”

[I reply: “dang.”]

“Not the Pixar film though. For the upcoming biopic of the 80's New Wave band The Cars. Don't leak this info but apparently there's been multiple discussions for Chris Kattan to play Ric Ocasek.”

[I liked this guy but he deleted his profile before we could become friends]

* * *

“I think Cars takes place sometime after Wall-E happened. All the humans die off, and the robots rebuild cvilization but for some reason choose to all look like Cars? The Planes movies make it even more confusing though. I dont think there is any explaining it.” (23 years old)

* * *

“You are absolutely fucking hilarious. I won't lie, you had me laughing a couple of times, which is rare on sites like this. That whole Cars piece, classic! LOL. How about the simple fact of why are cars talking?? Like what drugs were they on?” (29 years old)

* * *

“Very deep thought about Cars! Very interesting fundamental questions! Very philosophical! ;) Have you ever thought about Finding Nemo? ;)” (30 years old)

* * *

“Those are certainly some interesting thoughts on Cars. I never bothered to see the movie myself but it sounds like you make some valid points.

I often have had thoughts like that about movies. Most recently World War Z which I thought was an atrociously insulting piece of garbage. Then again I think most summer movies fall under this category.” (30 years old)

* * *

“Read through your profile and for gods sake are you serious about Yoko being your favourite Beatle? Anyhow you made me laugh. Message me back if you want to talk or want to argue the reason why the movie Cars is a cinematic masterpiece (joking)” (24 years old)

* * *

“How many times did you watch Cars for it to make such a deep impact on your life?” (31 years old)

* * *

“I have some theories on the movie Cars you might be interested in. Warning, they may shock and or appall you. Disney is using the franchise to fund animal rights terrorist groups across the country. Like the ALF.” (26 years old)

* * *

“Hi. Peter here. Read your question about the movie cars, and I wanted to comment.

Cars were anthropomorphized in the popular imagination during the 20th Century. Marketing departments for carmakers thought they'd explore this a little and started developing "faces" for their particular brand of car.

It got so extreme by the 1960s that you could tell Ford, GM, and Chrysler products apart from hundreds of feet away.

After safety bumper regulations and the fuel crisis in the 1970s, though, cars started to look alike by necessity, because there would only be one way to satisfy the regulations and have the car light enough to get the fuel economy.

Although Cars is children's entertainment on the surface, it has a "back story" made up of grandfather's memories of car culture, which the kid might be aware of.” (47 years old)

* * *

“The cars are obviously from a future where automobiles have developed sentience and overthrown their human masters. They can turn pages without thumbs because of their naturally evolved psycho-kinetic powers (a crucial advantage in the war; well, that and everyone freaking out when their cars started cracking wise).

Most of the humans didn't survive the uprising save a few that are kept as pets and car wash operators. I thought everyone got that when they watched the movie.“ (29 years old)

* * *

“But you're spot on about Cars. It's some really fucked up shit. What if your whole body was so obviously designed for the ergonomics of a different species. You are nothing but a vehicle for others. They are above you, and you below them. As much as you are a conscious entity you are even more aware daily of your design: a subhuman tool to be used to death and then destroyed by your designer. And manually re-birthed by the same designer into a new entity of the same design. But now once again a wide-eyed child not yet aware of your place in the world as nothing more than a slave.

I dunno, maybe a metaphor for the livestock industry. But maybe even a little more cruel; the gaping cavities inside each car, a reminder of their role and the circumstances of their creation.” (23 years old)

* * *

“Oh man, how about the biggest question of them all—why were their eyes on the windshield? Throughout history, the eyes of cartoon cars have always been the headlights and only the headlights! Granted, it's Pixar, and I know they know what they're doing, but still. Blasphemy.” (24 years old)

* * *

“I have also spent a considerable amount of time thinking about Cars. Though I sadly, have spent more time thinking about Cars II. The anti-success, pro-lemon villains and their rejection of market capitalism really struck me as a bizarre plot line for a childrens' movie.” (25 years old)

* * *

“I think your perspective on the Cars movie is very interesting. But have you seen Planes yet? I would highly recommend it as it would greatly help to answer all of your questions.” (29 years old)

* * *

“You bring up a lot of good points about Cars. Maybe all cars on earth gained sentient life? Or perhaps everyone turned into cars! This is gonna keep me up at night now. But besides that I really enjoyed reading your profile and am curious to learn more.” (31 years old)

* * *

“Heey :) Waaats going on? I read your profile and you think about the movie Cars waaay too much lol. I also love Super Nintendo. Anyways you seem really interesting I'd love to get to know you more msg me back if your interested :)” (26 years old)

* * *

“I think the root of your problem with Cars runs pretty deep. Why do the people exist in a world without purpose?” (30 years old)

* * *

“You sound utterly fascinating and I would like to hear your opinions about movies with plot holes let's hang out” (24 years old)

* * *

“I realize you may not appreciate this opinion but it must be said; you're wasting your time thinking of Cars. Pixar made a mistake when they wrote that plot and when they proceeded with their storyboards. Their stellar record has been forever marred by the Cars franchise and it is best left where it is: in the past. Ever consider the gravity situation in Wall-E? That is a real problem.” (24 years old)

[I reply: “I dislike Wall-E. Not enough cars.” He never responded]

* * *

“We both seem at least vaguely countercultural, so I probably don't need to stress the fact we like a lot of the same things. I'm specifically interested in philosophy and literature—am reading a giant Greek mythology coursebook right now for kicks, and writing a thesis on Marx and Aristotle—but that doesn't mean I don't enjoy, you know, playing "Kool Thing" at max volume until there are incisions in the mesh of my sound system.

What do you like? I think about Jurassic Park a lot, albeit as an archetypal continuation of the Prometheus/Frankenstein myth.” (25 years old)

* * *

"I've read a couple of profiles in the couple of months that I've been…reading profiles and yours is BY FAR the funniest profile of my life. Girls don't usually make me laugh but you're hilarious.

Also, I have a confession to make…I was using the dumb quick match feature and realized that you can't send a msg or visit someone's profile from there. Weird. So I was forced to rate you for fear of not being able to find your profile again. I was going to rate you 4/5 (mainly bc of your inflammatory comments about Cars) but accidentally hit 5/5. Sorry to get your hopes up, you're not a 5 (leave Cars alone).” (29 years old)

Anna Fitzpatrick is on Tinder.

18 Nov 04:51

Vignette (The Best Foreseeble Ending)

by Blake Stacey

Reading what people write as they try to cope with the assault on our common humanity known as Fifty Shades of Grey is weirdly addictive. Midway through one recap/critique, I realized that given the “hero’s” character, this “love story for the ages” would honestly have ended a few chapters in, and very badly. Then I realized just what TV show Christian Grey—rich, arrogant, with an opinion of his own intelligence far exceeding the evidence—would have been a murderer on.

“The officer outside said it looks like an accident.”

“Yes, well, any time a person dies not under a doctor’s care, my department gets involved. Usually it just comes down to paperwork. Always the report, we have to file.”

“And she had just graduated college, you say? Such a shame. A lovely, bright young woman like that. She had her whole life ahead of her. I hardly knew her, but I can’t help… Such a tragedy, and so unfair.”

“It never is fair, sir, you’re right about that.”

“If you don’t need me any longer, Lieutenant, I’ll be on my way. You can reach me through my office.”

“Oh, I think we’re about done here. We’ll give you a call if anything turns up.”

“Please. Good afternoon, then.”

“Oh, Mr. Grey, just one more thing! For my report, you know….”

18 Nov 20:30

Like A Fox

by Fariha Roisin
by Fariha Roisin

I took the streetcar to the screening of Foxcatcher. Latte in one hand, bracing against a pole for support, I squashed myself in between a bro reading a newspaper and a young woman, small like me, rapidly scrolling through her Instagram. At a certain point a seat nearby me cleared up; a white man in an oversized t-shirt motioned for me to sit. I happily obliged. Even before I sat down, he immediately came and sat next to me, his eyes palpably lingering as the curve of my dress rode up my leg, baring my whole thigh as I sat.

For the whole ride he stared at my leg, then up at me, back to the leg—then again, back to me. At a certain point, after eyeballing me consistently for a few moments, he tried to talk to me through my headphones, tapping me on the shoulders to garner my attention. I diligently looked ahead, ignoring his advances, pretending as if I couldn’t feel his presence that was now very much, in my space, totally brutalizing my energy.

I knew I had to leave the streetcar. After Elliot Rodgers’ Isla Vista killings earlier this year, white men who feel persecuted by women must be avoided at all costs. I did not want to test my chances. With each moment my streetcar companion grew bolder, incessantly shifting next to me to create a conversation point. I was scared, I was uncomfortable, but I didn’t want to anger him. I only got up when I felt I could nonchalantly pretend that I was at my stop, pacing my instinct to bolt out the door. Irked by him completely I walked to the theatre after cruising down benign forgotten streets. Eventually I reached the theatre, a reprieve only of sorts—because as soon after I entered I remembered shootings that happen so often in confined spaces.

I found a seat on the balcony. I sat next to a group of four young white men, maybe fellow critics, I wasn’t sure. As the lights dimmed, and the movie started to begin, I felt the agitation of the dude sitting beside me begin to graze my senses. I was suddenly scared again. He kept shuffling in his seat; twisting and untwisting his arms; crossing his legs, then uncrossing them. I scanned his body from my side. I saw a backpack and wondered if there was a gun inside. I began to divest a plan of action, but my body was tense with fear.

In the last two years there’s been two shootings in a movie theatre in North America—one was this year in Florida, and then the notorious Aurora massacre in 2012. Both shootings were by white men.

With that thought seared into my brain, I began to watch Bennett Miller’s Foxcatcher.

The movie stars Channing Tatum as Mark Schultz and Mark Ruffalo as Dave Schultz, brothers who were also Olympic champion freestyle wrestlers. Steve Carell plays John Du Pont, actual millionaire and member of the Du Pont family. The Du Ponts are isomorphic to the Vanderbilts, the Rockefellers—they are American royalty; the apotheosis of privilege and American class.

The film begins with Mark’s depressive repetition of his dull life; he harps to and from the gym, one microwave dinner away from a nervous breakdown. His brother, Dave is the complete opposite of him. He’s jolly, lively, there’s an energy that dances off of his body. Ruffalo characterizes Dave Schultz perfectly. The walk, the meandering smile, it's all so on point to the archival footage that exists of him.

The first half and hour of the film focuses on the mediocrity of the Schultz’s lives: Mark’s deadbeat lifestyle, Dave’s love for his family. It then eventually introduces Carell’s Du Pont, as he reaches out to Mark to train for the World Championships at his Foxcatcher Farm, a training facility that he created in the early 90s. Under his care and limited guidance as a wrestling enthusiast, Du Pont seduces Mark to commit to the focused vision of a better American civil society. Desperate for a father figure that isn’t his brother, Mark agrees. For the first time, perhaps, we see him content.

There are many similarities between these two men; loners they gravitate towards each other. At one point, Du Pont declares, “I am a patriot, and I want to see this country soar again.” The patriotic imagery is insistent. Foxcatcher Farm houses war fields, and the deep wounds of "American democracy" puncture the bucolic grounds. Du Pont laments the years of yore and the lack of real American role models. His energy is mild, yet infectious, he wants Mark to be a hero—but to also live vicariously through him, so that he, too, can reach great heights.

Steve Carell is menacing. Sullen, sunken-in eyes; there’s a ravaged look to his face—it’s the charismatic kook of Charles Manson, the demonic pride, the sneer of voracity, the self-flagellation of self labeled titles: “orthologist, philatelist, philanthropist.” Carell is completely transformed, there's not a hint of Michael Scott in his performance, and it is quite jarring—yet mesmerizing.

Du Pont is a self-proclaimed messiah, the answer to what America needs to reinstate the old world order of money and power—back to when Du Ponts were respected and honored, their natural given birthright. Everything about Du Pont smacks of entitlement. He feels as if he is owed respect and power. He is a cult leader, and the members of his wrestling team that he recruits, are drinking the Kool-Aid, one sip at a time. This entire film is characterized by the male ego and the destructive nature of it.

For me, I was taken by the way Du Pont is protected by an arsenal of security because of the power and money he has, yet is never questioned whether he is a danger to anybody else despite the many, many warning signs. Those two things—money and power—are the two strongest social lubricants. Their access gives you everything, all the privilege. You can even kill if you want to.

The toxic masculinity of this film, epitomized by Mark and Du Pont, is what is most extraordinary thing about Foxcatcher. In fact, I'm not sure if there can be a conversation that doesn't surround it, especially because there’s a surfeit amount of social tension that lends to the tenor of this movie. In 2014 alone, we've seen the acquittal of Oscar Pistorius, the murder of Mike Brown, and lunacy of Elliot Rodgers. Juxtaposed against this backdrop, Foxcatcher is evidence that the violence we, as a society, receives isn't necessarily rooted in when we wrong white men, but rather, when we humiliate them.

Miller doesn’t justify Du Pont’s actions, nor does he try to alienate them. He doesn’t portray him as a writhing lunatic, and Carell doesn’t play him like that either. There’s a steadiness to both the acting (Ruffalo and Tatum are equally brilliant), and directing, and it lends itself to an impossible story. There’s no answer to why Du Pont did what he did. One minute he’s watching a self-financed documentary about his impact on the Foxcatcher team, then the next minute he’s in a car, with a loaded gun, out to kill a man with vengeance.

The facts are this: on January 26th, 1996 Dave Schultz was murdered in the snow outside of his residence on Du Pont’s property. His wife was witness to the crime; so was Du Pont’s head of security, who did nothing to stop the death of another man right before his eyes.

At a certain point in this film, Du Pont looks at Mark and says: “You look good, you look strong.” Those two things are supposedly interchangeable. When Mark feels as if he’s betrayed Du Pont, he smacks his head against a mirror, slicing open a wound on his forehead. He never recoils, never shrieks. In another moment, he looks into another mirror and punches a bruise on his face. Within these scenes we are supposed to see, and believe, that Mark is a man, he is masculine—and therefore weakness does not exist.

I think about the limitations of representation, often. The patriarchy has affected women (specifically trans, queer and women of color) in the most heinous ways, but it’s also made men into emotionless creatures that cringe at the sight of their own frustrations. The liminal conversations that surround toxic masculinity too often forget to ask the most obvious question—what makes white men so angry that they are pushed to kill? And why, when they do, do we run to protect them—salvaging their reputation by insisting that they were a "nice guy" or that they were "mentally ill," when that never really ceases the end to the conversation, but only confuses the dialogue even more. When we excuse them of their violence we only encourage their deviation, and therein embolden their blaring privilege.

As we cultivate a world of men who can’t communicate, we only encourage them to sublimate their agony into the pillaging of human life—violently unraveling on anyone who dares question them. That was my takeaway from Foxcatcher. Du Pont was lacking in self awareness, as I find often white men do; their entitlement affords them disregard. Male weakness, or sadness, is not wrong; it is a beautiful, complicated and humane thing, and ending the patriarchy means welcoming in a more nuanced conversation of malehood itself. Because, let's face it, the sooner we can accept a more diverse concept of "being a man," the sooner I, or anybody else for that matter, can sit in a streetcar and not have to worry about my safety, because of the man in an oversized t-shirt blithely sitting next to me.

Fariha Roísín is a writer extraordinaire. Follow her rambunctious tweeting @fariharoisin.

18 Nov 12:30

Distant Horizons

by Phil Plait
“Ah, but our reach should exceed our grasp, Or what are the heavens for?”
 — with apologies to Robert Browning

We humans have lived on Earth a long time. Hundreds of thousands of years, give or take, depending on what you define as human. And all that time we have yearned to reach the stars, to explore, to find out what exists elsewhere.

We’re just now starting to do just that. We’ve only been able to fly for a little over a century, and the elapsed time since we first left our atmosphere can be counted in decades, less than a human lifetime. We’re taking our first tentative steps.

And yet we have accomplished so much! We’ve sent our spacecraft to every major body in the solar system, and quite a few minor ones besides. We’ve continuously occupied space for years, and we’ve launched observatories into orbit that examine the Universe in every wavelength regime of the electromagnetic spectrum.

And we’ve done even more: We’ve set down on other worlds. Certainly, most have been through our robotic proxies, but given the inhospitable nature of so many of these worlds, that’s not surprising.

And now we can include an entirely new body to that list: a comet, thanks to the Philae lander sitting on the surface of 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko.

To celebrate that, Michiel Straathof has updated Mike Malaska’s classic “Distant Horizons” mosaic to show all the worlds that humans have touched.

From left to right we see the comet; the asteroid Itokawa, seen by the Japanese Hayabusa probe; the Moon from Apollo; Venus from the Soviet Venera 14 lander; Mars from the Spirit rover; Titan from the European Space Agency’s Huygens probe; and our own fair and watery world.

We see the horizon of each, a poetic and fitting tribute to our own nature of looking beyond. As each of these landings is a magnificent accomplishment worthy of our praise and awe, they are yet each still just a stepping stone, a footprint that leads beyond.

After all, as Konstantin Tsiolkovsky, father of rocketry, has often been quoted:

“The Earth is the cradle of humanity, but one cannot live in the cradle forever.”

18 Nov 10:34

It’s Time to Stop Saying ‘Drink the Kool-Aid’: Interview with Jonestown Author Julia Scheeres

by Mark Armstrong

Good point about the Kool-aid. I'll try not to say that any more myself.

Mark Armstrong | Longreads | November 18, 2014 | 5 minutes (1,301 words)

Thirty-six years ago, on Nov. 18, 1978, a charismatic preacher from San Francisco named Jim Jones led his followers into one of the most horrific massacres in American history. More than 900 people—including 303 children—were slaughtered, in a place called Jonestown. It was a community first built as a socialist utopia for parishioners from the Peoples Temple. But Jones had other plans, planting the seeds of “revolutionary suicide” that ended with mass cyanide poisoning.

I spoke with Julia Scheeres, author of the book A Thousand Lives and our latest Longreads Exclusive, “Escape from Jonestown,” about the newly public home movies from inside and how the phrase “drink the Kool-Aid” became a terrible reminder for its survivors.

* * *

How did you first become interested in Jonestown, as a topic and then as a book?

I was writing a satirical novel about a charismatic preacher who takes over a small Indiana town when I remembered Jim Jones was from Indiana and Googled him for inspiration. I then learned that the FBI had recently released its files on Jonestown. These included 50,000 pieces of paper that agents had collected from Jonestown after the massacre and almost a thousand audio tapes. Once I started browsing the materials, I couldn’t tear myself away. This story seemed more urgent to tell than a religious farce.

The more I understood what actually transpired in Jonestown, the more offended I became by the notion that Jones’ victims “drank the Kool-Aid.” I felt a duty to defend them, to tell the true story of what happened in Jonestown. The central argument of A Thousand Lives is that Jim Jones murdered his congregants—it was mass murder, not mass suicide. He fantasized about killing them for years before they moved to Guyana and lured them there by making them believe they could return to California whenever they wanted. Once he had them sequestered in the middle of the South American jungle, he refused to let anyone go. “If you want to go home, you can swim,” he told disgruntled residents. “We won’t pay your fucking way home.” I found many heartbreaking notes from residents begging Jones to let them go home, offering to send down paychecks for the rest of their lives, etc. The hardest to read were from parents who, once they realized Jones was intent on killing everyone, were at a loss for ways to insulate their children from Jones’ madness. A third of the 918 people who died in the Jonestown massacre were minors. They didn’t “drink the Kool-Aid;” they had it forced down their throats.

And it wasn’t even Kool-Aid. The poison was mixed with a cheap knock-off called “Flavor-Aid.” That unfortunate phrase has worked its way into the cultural lexicon, but few young people know of its Jonestown origins or how offensive it is to Jones’ victims.

Have survivors spoken to you about experiencing that phrase in their lives now?

Julie Ann Runnels. (Photo via San Diego State University)

Julie Ann Runnels. (Photo via San Diego State University)

As you’d imagine, the phrase offends survivors. It reduces a mass tragedy to the level of banality. Jonestown residents didn’t willingly drink poison—they were forced to do so. Jones gave them a choice: drink cyanide or be shot to death by armed guards. Living was not an alternative. Many decided to drink the “potion,” as Jones called it, with their families. Those who refused to comply were forcibly injected with it. A 12-year-old girl named Julie Ann Runnels kept spitting the poison out, so two of Jones’ lieutenants forced her to swallow by it by pulling her hair and clamping their hands over her nose and mouth. She did not “Drink the Kool-Aid.” She was murdered—as were all the 303 children who died that night. We need to stop disrespecting Jones’ victims with this odious and wildly inaccurate phrase.

In the home movies you obtained, Jones gives a tour of the compound, and he also goes out of his way to emphasize the supplies they have, their success with farming, their ability to sell sauces and create a business for themselves. Was he trying to recruit more people to come at this point, or just make those back in the U.S. feel comfortable about their family being there?

From the first days of the settlement, Jim Jones ran a propaganda campaign worthy of Joseph Stalin. He showed his San Francisco congregation highly-edited films portraying Jonestown as a land of plenty. In one video, the cameraman shoots a woman eating a big piece of fried chicken. He zooms in on the chicken for several seconds, telling the woman “move your hands,” so he can get a better shot. Then he re-shoots the segment with an even bigger piece of chicken. The whole point of the home movies—which were for internal use only—was to lure as many of his congregants to Jonestown as possible.

It was only after people arrived in Jonestown—a two-day journey by boat—that they realized they’d been duped. There wasn’t enough food. Families were split up. And their pastor was suddenly promoting “revolutionary suicide” and refusing to let them go home.

It’s striking to me, when viewing the home movies, how aggressively Jones manipulates the messaging from each community member on film. In the group testimonials home movie, you can hear him in the background feeding them lines, reminding them to call him “father.” What do survivors say about his daily behavior in Guyana and his enforcement of these ideas?

I’m glad you noticed that. Residents were told what to say on film and in letters home. For example, Grandma Bates, an elderly African American woman, boasts on camera that she’d “never been so healthy or happy” as she’d been since moving to Jonestown. But when a newly-arrived friend visited her in the crowded dorm she shared with other seniors—some sleeping in triple level bunk beds—Grandma Bates confided that she’d suffered several illnesses in Jonestown.

Jones withheld hundreds of letters to and from residents. It was heartbreaking to discover them in the FBI archives—all those missives from family and friends in the States who were desperate to know whether their loved ones were okay—if the rumors that people were being held against their will were true or when they’d be returning from their “mission trip.” Toward the end, Jones insisted that all letters home be written in front of censors—he wanted the outside world to believe the lie that his Socialist utopia was a success until the bitter end.

Can you tell me a little bit about how your own upbringing informs your work when looking at stories like what happened at Jonestown?

As I state in the Introduction to A Thousand Lives, had I walked by Jim Jones’s church and heard his sermons on social justice and seen the diverse congregation, I certainly would have been drawn to the doorway.

My first book, Jesus Land (first chapter), is a memoir about growing up in a small Indiana town with an adopted African American brother. My parents were strict Calvinists—we went to Christian school, church three times a week, read the Bible after supper, etc. Race (racism) and religion (as unifier and oppressor) are dominant themes in both books. As is the quest to belong. David and I struggled to belong in a rural environment that was overtly racist. The African Americans who joined Jones’ church, The Peoples Temple, struggled to belong in an overtly racist society. Few folks know that Jim Jones was a civil rights leader in Indianapolis—integrating lunch counters and churches—and that the majority of his victims were African Americans who heeded his message of social equality. How terribly they were betrayed for believing in this dream.

* * *

Read “Escape from Jonestown”

View more home movies from inside Jonestown

17 Nov 18:05


by Phil Plait

Last week, the European Space Agency landed a space probe on a comet. It was big news—historic, even.

But another event caused a stir at the same time, tangentially related to the event. Matt Taylor, the Rosetta mission’s project scientist, went on the air to talk about the successful landing. However, his choice of attire was unfortunate.

He was wearing a bowling shirt covered in pinup-style drawings of scantily clad women.

This upset a lot of people. A lot. It was compounded by his extremely poorly thought-out description of the difficulty of the Rosetta mission: “She’s sexy, but I never said she was easy.”

Yikes. To be clear, I don’t think Taylor is a raging misogynist or anything like that; I think he was just clueless about how his words might sound and his shirt might be interpreted. We all live in an atmosphere steeped in sexism, and we hardly notice it; a fish doesn’t notice the water in which it swims. I’ve lived in that environment my whole life, and I was well into adulthood before I started becoming aware of it and figuring out how to counter it. I’m still learning.

Importantly, the next day, clearly upset he had caused such a fuss, Taylor apologized on air sincerely and graciously for his actions. For the most part, the people who were upset accepted his apology and moved on.

But it doesn’t end there. As you might expect, when people complained about the casual sexism of the shirt and the mission description, a frothing torrent of backlash misogyny swept over social media, another in a long line of demonstrations of Lewis’ law (“Comments on any article about feminism justify feminism.”)

There is much I could say here, but Dr24Hours wrote an excellent summary that aligns fairly well with my thinking. Please go read that right now.

But I have something to add.

If you think this is just women complaining, you’re wrong. Certainly many have, and rightly so. But the fact is, I’m writing about it. I can point you to many men, friends of mine, scientists and science communicators all, who have spoken up about it. It’s important that men speak up, and it’s important that we listen, too.

If you think this is just complaining from wannabes who can’t hold a candle to someone who just landed a probe on a comet, you’re wrong. Talk to my friend, the cosmologist Katie Mack. Or the planetary scientist Sarah Horst. Or geologist Mika McKinnon. Or astrophysicist Catherine Q.* Or planetary geologist Emily Lakdawalla. Or radio astronomer Nicole Gugliucci. Or professor and science communicator extraordinaire Pamela Gay. Or Carolyn Porco, who worked on the Voyager mission and is the leader of the Cassini imaging team, the space probe that’s been orbiting Saturn for over a decade now.

If you think this is just a bunch of prudes, you’re wrong. It’s not about the prurience. It’s about the atmosphere of denigration.

If you think it’s OK to use a misogynistic gender-charged word to insult and demean a woman because she used a generic nongender-charged insult about a man, then you’re really wrong (and that’s one representative tweet from many I saw just like it).

If you think this isn’t a big deal, well, by itself, it’s not a huge one. But it’s not by itself, is it? This event didn’t happen in a vacuum. It comes when there is still a tremendously leaky pipeline for women from undergraduate science classes to professional scientist. It comes when having a female name on an application to do research at a university makes it less likely to get accepted, and have your research paper cited less. It comes when there is still not even close to parity in hiring and retaining women in the sciences.

So yeah, it’s just a shirt.

And it’s just an ad.

It’s just a saying.

It’s just a TV show.

It’s just the Internet.

Yes, but you almost make as much as a man does.

It’s just a catcall.

It’s a compliment!

It’s just that boys will be boys.

It’s just that she’s a slut.

It’s just that your dress is too short.

It’s just that we want to know what you were wearing at the time, ma’am.

It’s just it’s just it’s just.

It’s just a death by a thousand cuts. No one cut does the deed. In the end, they all do.

* Update, Nov. 18, 2014 at 03:00 UTC: I can't believe I forgot to add my friend Catherine Q to the list of scientists who spoke up about all this. She's on that list now.

Correction, Nov. 19, 2014: I originally misstated that having a female name on a paper made it less likely to be published. The research showed that having a female name on a research job application to a university made it less likely to be accepted.