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09 Dec 17:00

A Linguist Explains the Syntax of “Fuck”

by Gretchen McCulloch

Gretchen McCulloch's previous work for The Toast can be found here.

Sometimes people tell me, as a linguist, that they're surprised I swear so much. They think linguists must have a mystic access to the higher realms of the language and that we oughtn't to sully ourselves with anything as profane as swearing.

But what makes swearing so profane is social factors, not linguistic ones, because linguistically, swear words are fucking fascinating. In fact, it's a professional advantage for me to be fluent at swearing, because I have better access to my linguistic intuitions about them, which makes them easier to study.

I swear, I curse for entirely academic reasons. At least, this is what I tell my father. I'm not sure if he believes me.

I'm going to concentrate on fuck, because it's the most interesting, and also because there's been enough research on it to more than fill an article. I could tell you origin stories about medieval monk cyphers and outlandish acronyms, and some of them (the monks) might even be true, but there are already several nice explanations of this side of the topic, so I'll just point you here as a good start, and get on with the hardcore linguistics instead.

The seminal linguistics article about fuck is called "English sentences without overt grammatical subject" and was written by the suspiciously-named Quang Phuc Dong in the 1960s (we'll come back to that.) The article asks us, is fuck really a verb? That is, the command "close the door" is a classic transitive verb followed by its object, but is "fuck you" the same?

It seems like it could be, until you realize that the equivalent sentence with any other verb just isn't a thing: there's no such thing s "*admire you" or "*express you". You can, of course, say the command "admire yourself" or "express yourself", but now "*fuck yourself" is the weird one. (We'll set "go fuck yourself" aside.)

(Note that I will be employing throughout the linguistic convention of marking weird-sounding, aka ungrammatical, sentences with an asterisk. If you like, you may consider them all the natural evolution of doge. Also, for the record, please assume that all innuendoes in this piece are entirely deliberate.)

Read more A Linguist Explains the Syntax of “Fuck” at The Toast.

15 Dec 13:47

Cleveland police say they’re opposed to justice, find it offensive. These boys are in the wrong line of work. Fire them all.

by Fred Clark

The Cleveland Police Patrolman’s Association can’t read and can’t understand the English language. That’s the most charitable explanation for their taking offense at this T-shirt worn by Cleveland Browns wide receiver Andrew Hamilton Hawkins:


The Cleveland cops are reacting as though Hamilton’s shirt said “Free Eric Frein” or “I Stand With Dennis Marx” or “Hurray for Dennis Williams” or otherwise expressed sympathy for those anti-police cop-killers. But his shirt didn’t express any such sentiment. His shirt simply read “Justice for Tamir Rice and John Crawford” — two law-abiding civilians who were killed in the city where Hamilton works.

“Justice for Tamir Rice and John Crawford” is not an insult directed at the Cleveland police. It is a summary of their job description.

What the Cleveland police are saying, then, is that they do not want to do their job. What they have chosen to say, unambiguously, is that they are opposed to “Justice.” That’s a clear sign they’re in the wrong line of work. It makes about as much sense as a group of doctors getting angry about a T-shirt championing “health.”

Specifically, the Cleveland police are going out of their way to make us all aware that they are opposed to “Justice for Tamir Rice and John Crawford.” I would hesitate to accuse them of such an ugly, defiantly unjust position, but this isn’t my opinion of them or anyone else’s evaluation or characterization: This is them, on their own, choosing voluntarily to inform us all that they stand opposed to and are offended by “Justice.”

It’s not clear whether or not this was intended as a mass letter of resignation, but that is the most logical conclusion that can be drawn from Cleveland Police Patrolman’s Association President Jeff Follmer’s statement that Hamilton’s shirt was offensive to him and to all the “police officers” he claims to represent. If they’re opposed to and offended by justice, then they can’t want to remain on the job. They must be begging to be relieved of duty.

Grant them that wish. Any police officer who is offended by “Justice” needs to be relieved of the duty to uphold it.

Unfortunately, Follmer’s weird anti-justice, anti-police rant on behalf of these anti-justice “police officers” was not the only news this weekend from the Cleveland police department. There was also this:

Police aggressively questioned the tearful girlfriend of a young black man they had just shot dead as he held a BB gun in an Ohio supermarket – accusing her of lying, threatening her with jail, and suggesting her boyfriend had planned to shoot the mother of his children.

Tasha Thomas was reduced to swearing on the lives of her relatives that John Crawford III had not been carrying a firearm when they entered the Walmart in Beavercreek, near Dayton, to buy crackers, marshmallows and chocolate bars on the evening of 5 August.

“You lie to me and you might be on your way to jail,” detective Rodney Curd told Thomas, as she wept and repeatedly offered to take a lie-detector test. After more than an hour and a half of questioning and statement-taking, Curd finally told Thomas that Crawford, 22, had died.

“As a result of his actions, he is gone,” said the detective, as she slumped in her chair and cried.

Crawford had been shot by police officer Sean Williams, after a customer called 911 and claimed the 22-year-old was pointing a gun at passersby. Surveillance footage released later showed Crawford picking up the BB rifle from a shelf, wandering the aisles and occasionally swinging the gun at his side while he spoke on his cellphone to his ex-girlfriend.

A 94-minute police video recording, released to the Guardian by the office of Mike DeWine, the Ohio attorney general, in response to a public records request, shows Thomas, 26, being interviewed by Curd after she was driven from Walmart to the Beavercreek police department. Curd later told investigators he had not yet been told Crawford only had a BB gun that had been on sale at the store.

It seems woefully inept and irresponsibly cruel that Det. Curd would spend so much time bullying this newly widowed woman about a gun that didn’t exist hours after the police knew full well that Crawford was unarmed when he was killed, but again such massive ineptitude is the best case scenario. Because if the Cleveland police weren’t that much of an appalling clown show — if it was not the case that Curd “had not yet been told” that the gun he’s grilling Tasha Thomas about did not exist — then he was, instead, attempting to coerce false testimony from a crime victim in order to cover up the killing of an unarmed man.

So let’s hope this is just epic stupidity and not sheer evil, because I guess, at some level, that would be slightly less awful, if not any less cruel or lethal.

Either way, add that to Follmer’s insistence that he and his fellow officers find “Justice” to be offensive and it’s pretty clear that these guys lack the capacity and the inclination to do their very important job. Let them go, then. It shouldn’t be hard to find replacements who are at least as competent, and who don’t share their reflexive opposition to justice, then very definition of their job.

15 Dec 14:00

Inequality in the Skies: Applying the Gini Index to Airplanes

by Elizabeth Popp Berman PhD

I’m on a plane right now, flying from Sacramento back to Albany. And sitting here I’m reminded of how air travel itself reflects the growing inequality of society in a trivial, but suggestive, way.

Planes have always had first-class and passenger cabins, at least as far as I know. If the Titanic had this distinction, I’m guessing it was in place from the beginning of commercial aviation.

But for most of my adult life, planes — at least the ones I usually fly on, from one U.S. city to another — looked something like this:

1 (3) - Copy

Just roughing it out here, this means that 7% of the passengers used about 15% of the room, with the other 93% using 85% of the cabin space. Such a plane would have a Gini index of about 8. The Gini index is measure of inequality, a fancy statistical way of representing inequality in the income distribution of a country’s population. For reference, the U.S. Gini is about 48, and the global one is around 65.

Domestic airlines have pretty much moved to a three-tier system now, in which the traditional first-class seating is supplemented by “Economy Plus,” in which you get an extra three or four inches of legroom over the standard “Economy” seats. I, as usual, am crammed into what should really be called “Sardine Class” — where seats now commonly provide a pitch of 31”, a few inches down from what most planes had a decade ago.

In today’s standard U.S. domestic configuration, the 12% of people in first class use about 25% of the passenger space, the 51 people in Economy Plus use another 30%, leaving the sardines — the other 157 people — with 45%. That gives us a Gini index of about 16.

1 (3)

Transatlantic flights, however, are increasingly taking this in-the-air distinction to new heights. Take, for example, the below United configuration of the Boeing 777. It boasts seats that turn into beds on which one can lie fully horizontal. United calls this new section of bed-seats “BusinessFirst.”

1 (4) - Copy

Unsurprisingly, though, these air-beds take up even more space than a nice comfy first class seat. So if we look again at how the space is distributed, we now have 19% of the people using about 35% of the plane, 27% using another 25%, and the final 52% using the last 40%. The Gini index has now increased to 25.

It’s not often you see such a clear visual representation of our collective acceptance of the right of a small fraction of people to consume a very disproportionate percentage of resources. I wonder how much of the shift is actually driven by increased inequality, as opposed to improved capacity for price discrimination.

And it’s also worth noting that the plane above, while unequal relative to the old-fashioned three-rows-of-first-class-and-the-rest-economy layout, is still nowhere near the inequality of the U.S., or the world.

Elizabeth Popp Berman, PhD is an associate professor of sociology at the University at Albany.  She is the author of Creating the Market University: How Academic Science Became an Economic Engine and regularly blogs at OrgTheory, where this post originally appeared.

(View original at

11 Dec 16:00

“God-night, Rune”: An Old English Translation

by Cassandra Rasmussen

Cassandra Rasmussen's last Old English translation for The Toast ("The Cat in the Hwæt") can be found here.

Goodnight, Rune. Goodnight, Stone.
Goodnight to the sleeping king, laid alone.

Goodnight goblets, and golden plates,
Wondrous workmanship, wrecked by the Fates.

Farewell to the Feasting Hall, felled by time,
Goodnight to the ancient Gates, engraved with grime.

Where has gone the great hall, where the golden seats?
Goodnight to the grain bowl, the goodly meats.

Read more “God-night, Rune”: An Old English Translation at The Toast.

11 Dec 15:00

Common-Sense Archaeology: Fact-Checking Breathless Headlines About Archaeological Discoveries

by Ezekiel Kweku

"Archaeologists in Peru say they have unearthed the previously unknown tomb of a nobleman from a pre-Inca civilization known as the Moche. The tomb contained the remains of an adult male, plus artifacts indicating the man's elite status, according to the Peruvian newspaper El Comercio.

Among the most intriguing artifacts are ornamental metal pieces fashioned to look like feline paws with claws. The paws may have been part of a ritual costume used in ceremonial combat, El Comercio reported. The loser would be sacrificed, while the winner would get the costume."

Read more Common-Sense Archaeology: Fact-Checking Breathless Headlines About Archaeological Discoveries at The Toast.

18 Dec 16:00

Signs That You Are The Only Black Person You Know

by Carvell Wallace

1. You are terrified of the word “monkey.”

2. You are fluent in multiple languages, all of them English.

3. People like to ask you if you are upset about something.

Read more Signs That You Are The Only Black Person You Know at The Toast.

17 Dec 22:13

U.S. policy toward Cuba, a brief review

by Fred Clark

1960: U.S. isolates Cuba in an attempt to force reform. Policy fails.
1961: U.S. isolates Cuba in an attempt to force reform. Policy fails.
1962: U.S. isolates Cuba in an attempt to force reform. Policy fails.
1963: U.S. isolates Cuba in an attempt to force reform. Policy fails.
1964: U.S. isolates Cuba in an attempt to force reform. Policy fails.
1965: U.S. isolates Cuba in an attempt to force reform. Policy fails.
1966: U.S. isolates Cuba in an attempt to force reform. Policy fails.
1967: U.S. isolates Cuba in an attempt to force reform. Policy fails.
1968: U.S. isolates Cuba in an attempt to force reform. Policy fails.
1969: U.S. isolates Cuba in an attempt to force reform. Policy fails.
1970: U.S. isolates Cuba in an attempt to force reform. Policy fails.
1971: U.S. isolates Cuba in an attempt to force reform. Policy fails.
1972: U.S. isolates Cuba in an attempt to force reform. Policy fails.
1973: U.S. isolates Cuba in an attempt to force reform. Policy fails.
1974: U.S. isolates Cuba in an attempt to force reform. Policy fails.
1975: U.S. isolates Cuba in an attempt to force reform. Policy fails.
1976: U.S. isolates Cuba in an attempt to force reform. Policy fails.
1977: U.S. isolates Cuba in an attempt to force reform. Policy fails.
1978: U.S. isolates Cuba in an attempt to force reform. Policy fails.
1979: U.S. isolates Cuba in an attempt to force reform. Policy fails.
1980: U.S. isolates Cuba in an attempt to force reform. Policy fails.
1981: U.S. isolates Cuba in an attempt to force reform. Policy fails.
1982: U.S. isolates Cuba in an attempt to force reform. Policy fails.
1983: U.S. isolates Cuba in an attempt to force reform. Policy fails.
1984: U.S. isolates Cuba in an attempt to force reform. Policy fails.
1985: U.S. isolates Cuba in an attempt to force reform. Policy fails.
1986: U.S. isolates Cuba in an attempt to force reform. Policy fails.
1987: U.S. isolates Cuba in an attempt to force reform. Policy fails.
1988: U.S. isolates Cuba in an attempt to force reform. Policy fails.
1989: U.S. isolates Cuba in an attempt to force reform. Policy fails.
1990: U.S. isolates Cuba in an attempt to force reform. Policy fails.
1991: U.S. isolates Cuba in an attempt to force reform. Policy fails.
1992: U.S. isolates Cuba in an attempt to force reform. Policy fails.
1993: U.S. isolates Cuba in an attempt to force reform. Policy fails.
1994: U.S. isolates Cuba in an attempt to force reform. Policy fails.
1995: U.S. isolates Cuba in an attempt to force reform. Policy fails.
1996: U.S. isolates Cuba in an attempt to force reform. Policy fails.
1997: U.S. isolates Cuba in an attempt to force reform. Policy fails.
1998: U.S. isolates Cuba in an attempt to force reform. Policy fails.
1999: U.S. isolates Cuba in an attempt to force reform. Policy fails.
2000: U.S. isolates Cuba in an attempt to force reform. Policy fails.
2001: U.S. isolates Cuba in an attempt to force reform. Policy fails.
2002: U.S. isolates Cuba in an attempt to force reform. Policy fails.
2003: U.S. isolates Cuba in an attempt to force reform. Policy fails.
2004: U.S. isolates Cuba in an attempt to force reform. Policy fails.
2005: U.S. isolates Cuba in an attempt to force reform. Policy fails.
2006: U.S. isolates Cuba in an attempt to force reform. Policy fails.
2007: U.S. isolates Cuba in an attempt to force reform. Policy fails.
2008: U.S. isolates Cuba in an attempt to force reform. Policy fails.
2009: U.S. isolates Cuba in an attempt to force reform. Policy fails.
2010: U.S. isolates Cuba in an attempt to force reform. Policy fails.
2011: U.S. isolates Cuba in an attempt to force reform. Policy fails.
2012: U.S. isolates Cuba in an attempt to force reform. Policy fails.
2013: U.S. isolates Cuba in an attempt to force reform. Policy fails.
2014: U.S. isolates Cuba in an attempt to force reform. Policy fails.

But now, apparently, President Barack Obama plans to break with this grand tradition of tough-talk and consistent failure.

According to White House materials, the new policy will establish diplomatic relations with Cuba, expand travel opportunities to and from the island, make it easier for those in the United States to send money to people in Cuba, and create opportunities for limited financial transactions between the countries, among other things.

About time. America’s Cuba policy has been been an utter failure for longer than I’ve been alive.

Some will no doubt try to get political traction by decrying this change as a “betrayal,” but I’m not sure that criticizing the president for an insufficient commitment to abject failure and fecklessness is really a winning argument. A losing policy should never be a winning argument.

After more than half a century of failure, it’s time to try something else.

Plus, we need the pitching.


17 Dec 09:55

Super Hero Fly

what makes a super hero fly?

hero dust . boring right

16 Dec 16:00

What We’ve Done to Wolves

by Amy Collier

Amy Collier's previous work for The Toast can be found here.

1 poodle

2 bloodhound

3 chow chows

4 chihuahuas

large mops:
5 mop

Read more What We’ve Done to Wolves at The Toast.

16 Dec 19:00

The Eighth Wonder of the World Is…

by Jazmine Hughes
by Jazmine Hughes

Gene Kelly's butt. Who knew?!

Image via Gene Kelly's Butt tumblr.

16 Dec 08:30

A ‘siege’ and a manhunt and the ongoing American ‘death cult’

by Fred Clark

Sunday night I went to bed watching the BBC World News reporting on the hostage situation in Australia and following #sydneysiege on Twitter until long after that hashtag had devolved into a swamp of authoritative speculation, earnest calls for prayer, and racist diatribes.

Sarah Proud and Tall’s post at Balloon Juice reflected a hopeful and helpful spirit that I saw expressed and demonstrated by many Aussies — that of people who weren’t eagerly excited to cooperate with a potential terrorist by enthusiastically seizing the opportunity to be terrorized. The #illridewithyou response that quickly arose was also an encouraging sight.

(The anti-kitten-burning coalition was also out in full force, as was the usual right-wing disappointment later on when the situation failed to escalate into the mass-casualty international event some apparently hoped would bring a sense of meaning to their otherwise meaningless lives.)

Much of the hyperventilating press coverage of the “siege” in Sydney emphasized that this was an unprecedented event — a day on which everything had changed for ever and ever for Australia. Nonsense, Juan Cole says:

In fact, Sydney had another hostage crisis, in 1984, in a bank. A formerly wealthy (secular) Turkish-Australian became unhinged at losing his fortune. Today’s incident is not more important than that one, which few now remember. Both of these hostage-takers were common criminals. Neither is a “terrorist.” Today’s Sydney hostage-taker is not representative of a new activity. He isn’t important, and ordering a black flag won’t make him so. The only one who can bestow recognition on this criminal is the mass media and the press. They shouldn’t do it.

Well put.

I awoke Monday to check on the latest updates from Sydney and learned that a similar situation was happening closer to home.

In one of the region’s deadliest shooting rampages, an Iraq war veteran shot and killed his ex-wife and five of her relatives early Monday, terrorizing four upper Montgomery County communities and sparking a manhunt that continued deep into the night, officials said.

The suspect, Bradley W. Stone, 35, of Pennsburg, had a “familial relationship” with all of the victims, officials said. Besides his ex-wife, he allegedly killed her mother, grandmother, sister, brother-in-law, and niece. The couple’s two daughters were unharmed.

The killings began before hours before daybreak, and sent SWAT teams scrambling from town to town and put schools into secure mode. Officers discovered bodies in homes in Souderton, Lansdale, and Harleysville, in Lower Salford. A 17-year-old boy, Stone’s former nephew, was shot and wounded

Several reports have said Stone is suffering from PTSD, but the deeper problem is a lethal case of MRA:

Nicole and Bradley Stone had divorced in 2009.

“They’ve been fighting for years, real bad,” a neighbor, Michele Brewster, told the Allentown Morning Call. “He’s been tormenting her. She’s gone to the police, and she has told everybody, ‘He’s going to kill me.’”

The Stones had been involved in a protracted custody battle over their two daughters, according to a friend of Bradley Stone.

“She was trying to hold the kids from him, and he just snapped,” theorized Matthew Schafte.

This is not an unusual story. This precise form of deadly violence happens all the time in America. Every day, several times a day. Men kill women. Every damn day.

“More women were killed by their husbands or boyfriends since Sept. 11 than all the Americans who were killed by 9/11 or in Afghanistan and Iraq,” Gloria Steinem said a few months ago, sparking a minor uproar among those who refused to believe it could possibly be true.

It’s true. Between 2002 and 2012, more than 15,400 American women have been slain by their “intimate partners.” Every day, several times a day, American men kill American women.

Here’s the appalling front and back covers of the special edition Rupert Murdoch’s Daily Telegraph rushed out in Sydney as the hostage crisis there unfolded.

The Daily Telegraph's special edition featured three factual errors in its front page headline.

The Daily Telegraph’s special edition featured three factual errors in its front page headline.

Rupert Murdoch’s error-ridden sensationalism also shapes the “journalism” of his American news outlets — from Fox News to the New York Post. But even those ratings-chasing carnival shows never speak of the ongoing slaughter of women by their intimate partners as a “death cult.” You didn’t see your local media covering the latest killing by the latest aggrieved male as “The instant we changed forever.” Nor will they cover the next such episode in such sweeping, hyperbolic terms.

But we do have a death cult. It’s not terrorists or jihadists. It’s American men killing American women. Every day.

15 Dec 10:37

Bob Humbug

Knock knock
whos there
Bob Humbug who
naughty bob humbug

13 Dec 13:19

What we see by the light of logic.

by Amanda J Harrington

When we feel we have no control, there is a helplessness born of terror. How can the world be a safe place if we are powerless? How can we step safely if the way is strewn with dangers? What are we meant to do to stay safe if other people seem to lead us constantly into cold, hard paths with no sunlight above?

At the age of 7, I walked into school with a box of matches and a plan: I would stop the bullying and the never-ending stream of fear by making the school go away. I was calm and I knew it would work.

I never meant to hurt anyone (and no one was hurt). I planned it so that the children would be out in the playground. I thought that meant the building was empty.

In the end, I burnt a poster and the edge of some books. And, finally, people took notice of me, but for all the wrong reasons.

I had no control over going to school and, after telling everyone about the bullying and nothing being done, I knew it was up to me to stop it. It seemed logical that with the school gone, I wouldn't have to suffer anymore. And I had suffered. My childish plan to solve the problem was never going to turn out well but I have finally forgiven myself for hatching it.

The trouble is that logic can be an untrustworthy substitute for real resolution. Logic is a soothing alternative to emotions, especially as logic seems easy to work out whereas emotions just kind of happen by themselves.

It can be very tempting to say to yourself, Today I will not feel this problem, today I will solve it. You don't know if you can solve your problem but approaching it logically is such a relief after all those feelings washing over you for so long.

Feel bad about a tricky situation? It's logical to walk away, as that removes you from the situation. If you let your feelings rule you then you stay in the situation and flail and cry and kick at stuff until you felt better or cry yourself out. Give it over to logic and you can depart without all the drama and be safe.

Feel bad about your job and don't know how to make it better? Normal logic says you can't walk away because you need the money and grown-ups don't walk out of paying jobs. But logic driven by the need to keep yourself safe wakes you up early one morning and says, You don't need to go back to work, there are other jobs and anyway, you know it isn't going to get any better.

Whether it would get better or not is not important to you at this point because the application of cool, undramatic logic has given you the excuse to leave and feel safe again.

It seems that logic can be manipulated to suit your own purposes; I guess it becomes self-justification when viewed from the outside. But from the inside, logic is safety and safety is a vital lifeline amidst the aspie maelstrom.

From meltdowns to major life decisions, selfish logic carries with it the promise of release from the latest anxiety and freedom from the inherent threat of more crises later on.

Aspie logic, when applied to aspie life, means this is what I do because this is best for me. It is a selfish logic built up over many years of not being kept safe any other way. If you are the only one who realises what feels safe and what is dangerous, then you are also the only one who knows when it is time to do something about it.

You see, in a lot of cases that faulty logic which has you making strange and impractical decisions is your only way to keep safe. It is what means you can go to bed and sleep, knowing in the morning it will be a new day and not just another dark, old one.

The light of logic is not always the most trustworthy one: it can glimmer and touch your life in a way that picks out strange aspects in the everyday. It makes you follow it, glittering along the dark path ahead. It promises you gleaming treasures which, when viewed in the daylight, are simply what you had already.

Logic is a beautiful light, though. It takes you on when your emotions would have left you in the dark. Who can help but love such a light, when it is the only one you see?


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13 Dec 01:27

Two reasons we know Frosty the Snowman was white

by Fred Clark

Two reasons we know that Frosty the Snowman was white:

FrostySnowman1. He was made of snow, and snow is usually white.

2. He disobeyed a direct order from a police officer and resisted arrest, yet none of my relatives have posted any long Facebook rants in ALL CAPS arguing that he was therefore a thug who deserved to be gunned down in the street.

The latter point, I think, is pretty conclusive.

Down to the village, with a broomstick in his hand,
Running here and there, all around the square,
Saying, “Catch me if you can.”

He led them down the streets of town, right to the traffic cop;
And only paused a moment, when he heard him holler, “Stop!”

Yep. Definitely white.

13 Dec 14:00

Chart of the Week: Gender Segregation of Toys Is On the Rise

by Lisa Wade, PhD

Some nice news has come out lately that the occasional toy store is taking the words boy and girl off of their aisle signs — mostly in Sweden, I say half-jokingly — but Google ngrams suggests that we’re nowhere near backing off of separating children’s toys by sex.

Sociologist Philip Cohen graphed the frequency of “toys for boys” and “toys for girls” relative to “toys for children.” This is just language, and it’s just American English, but it’s one indication that the consciousness raising efforts of organizations like Let Toys Be Toys is still on the margins of mainstream society.

As you can see from the graph, the extent to which children are actively talked about as gendered subjects varies over time.

One explanation for why companies resist androgynous toys and clothes for children — an arguably adults, too — has to do with money. If parents with a boy and a girl could get away with one set of toys, they wouldn’t need to buy a second. And if they could hand down clothes from girls to boys and vice versa, they would buy less clothes. The same could be said for borrowing and trading between family members and friends.

It would really cut into the profits of these companies if we believed that all items for children were interchangeable. They work hard to sustain the lie that they are not.

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

11 Dec 23:11

Livetweeting Classic Video Games

by Blake Stacey

Greg Gbur: Long suffering at the hands of the ghosts, I have eaten an Energizer. Now the hunter becomes the hunted.

Physics has forsaken this place. Asteroids pass through each other, vanish before me, appear behind me.

“What mad god made it so that my sword can kill at a distance only when my heart is full to bursting?”

Another red slime blocked my path. The poor creature. I killed it, in case it had a gold piece.

“It was deadly arithmetic, but it had to be done. We had no other choice. The mines had to be cleared.”

“You’ve never lived, kid,” the veteran spat, “until you’ve seen the centipede’s segments breed.”

We knew the war was immanent. We thought we could win. The missiles keep coming.

“Always the same. Another castle, another castle, another fucking castle!”

11 Dec 19:00

How to Sing With Dead People: Barry Manilow's My Dream Duets

by Rahawa Haile
by Rahawa Haile

Something strange happened when I searched for Whitney Houston on Spotify last month. Instead of an image depicting a goddess who made origami swans of the word “actually” in her sleep, who would be my baby tonight and every night until the end of recorded time, a turtle-like figure hunched in the corner of the screen, its neck craned skyward below the words “latest release.” Accompanying this distinct Not-The-Face-Of-My-Black-Empress were six more words: “I Believe in You and Me.”

My heart sank. “What treachery is this?” tingled strategically distributed black outrage sensors, each in the shape of Phylicia Rashād. Dare I click? I stepped quietly away from my work desk and into the Potential Rage room on my office floor. I took a deep breath.

There it was: Barry Manilow’s “I Believe in You and Me.” Was this a cover? No. It was a “dream duet” from his new album My Dream Duets, or How to Sing With Dead People. These were formerly songs of, by today’s standards, questionable audio fidelity, whose vocal tracks Manilow’s engineers had isolated, then zoomed in and enhanced. This allowed Manilow to then rearrange and retouch beloved tunes otherwise foreign to multitrack recording.

Contrary to the assertions of some, one can’t sing a live duet with a decidedly dead performer. At best you can sing a simultaneously alive-and-dead duet, hereby known as the Schrödinger's Cat Collabo.

Steeling myself, I seized the opportunity to watch the fruits of his labor during a live performance of the album on QVC. "We put together some videos for these songs so you can see them as well as hear them," crooned Manilow. A grand piano and television screen took center stage, but over the course of an hour I cringed less and less as my skepticism dissipated. Intent mattered here. These weren’t songs I’d ever want to listen to again in their current iterations, but the earnestness with which Manilow spoke of his love for the originals moved me. I was touched.

The more I heard him discuss the project, the more it became clear how ecstatic it had made him, how proud he was of the repeatedly-thanked audio engineers. These really were his dream duets, and he was humbled by the feat. When asked about harmonies, Manilow exclaimed, "My goal was to have the audience feel how talented these people were. I tried not to get in their way."

To be clear, Manilow is a man who loves harmony. Really loves it. He wrote a musical called Harmony. So what if he penned a spit valve of a song titled “What a Wonderful Life,” meant to be layered atop Louis Armstrong’s “What a Wonderful World”? All Manilow wants is to talk about letting the voices of dead singers breathe as though he were an aural sommelier for Hades. Which is all well and good, except when it comes to Whitney.

Houston’s “I Believe in You and Me” is itself a cover of a Four Tops’ single that makes Momofuku’s cereal milk ice cream look tart. If some hairless, heat-resistant incarnation of you wished to know how it felt to swim in a pool of warmed caramel, it could listen to Levi Stubbs’s rendition and towel off invigorated.

But in 1996, Houston covered it for the Penny Marshall holiday film The Preacher’s Wife, itself a remake of 1947’s The Bishop’s Wife.

How can I put this? It doesn’t matter whether you’ve seen the film; before Beyoncé and Jay Z, Whitney Houston singing “I Believe in You and Me” to Denzel Washington in 1996 was the definition of black love and black superstardom. Washington played an angel who adored pizza, saving marriages, and smiling at the woman whose 1993 Billboard performance of “I Have Nothing” temporarily extinguished life on earth. When Lionel Richie prods Houston into singing at a jazz club in the film, asserting that she carries the secret to “what lovin’ really sounds like” in her voice, Washington gently responds: “I’d like to know what love really sounds like.”

Penny Marshall knew. She spent 10 seconds zooming in on Washington’s enraptured face as he heard it. I would hear it again in the coming years. The sheer power of her, the beauty; the firing shot of a long goodbye.

Across pop culture, the mid-90s felt like a time when black stars were everywhere, demolishing previously held records and earning quantifiable recognition. That last part has changed. Then, you could find us towering on the charts (sorry Bey), across critically acclaimed black sitcoms, in a variety of nonreductive black films. It’s gotten better in recent years, particularly in television, but nothing like it was then.

This is the context in which I and others (roughly 6 million copies of The Preacher’s Wife soundtrack have been sold worldwide) experienced “I Believe in You and Me,” a time of infinite possibility and two Chicago Bulls three-peats. To hear it stripped of this in My Dream Duets reduces a massive cultural signifier to the happenstance physics of timbre. The "why" and "whom for" vanish. It’s how we get Annie Lennox claiming “Strange Fruit” as a song of universal struggle.

In this way, Manilow’s albums is a tribute to content over substance. In “I Believe in You and Me” he alters the words “my love” in the opening verse to “my friend,” making it the neutered complement to Sam Smith’s infuriating, gender-neutral cover of Houston’s “How Will I Know” from earlier this year.

My Dream Duets is also far from the first dead duet album. A 1965 Billboard review describes Father & Son by Hank Williams Sr. & Hank Williams Jr., the earliest dead duet album I could find, as such:

This deluxe LP has been referred to as a 'modern-day electronics miracle,' and indeed it is. Hank Jr. bears a striking vocal resemblance to his dad. They are heard here dueling on memorable Williams hits. A remarkably done dual-tracking process gives the effect of a new recording of both voices. The result is [a] worthy collector's item.

Fifty years later, tribute is not without its issues. The video of Manilow performing with Whitney Houston uses a random, backlit black woman in place of the star. While chances are this was a matter of failing to obtain rights to Houston’s likeness more than a microagression, it is also a nod to the ease with which one can erase an icon even in reanimation.

The slight appears to have had little effect on Manilow’s fans. According to QVC host Carolyn Gracie, 6,000 units of My Dream Duets were ordered in the first 15 minutes of the show, over 10,000 at the halfway mark, and by the end of the hour more than 21,000 records had been sold. The album would go on to debut on the Billboard 200 at number four.

Despite Taylor Swift’s 1989 providing 2014 with its first platinum album, the music industry is far from flourishing. In an article titled “Why Big Artists Are Banking on Year-End Covers Albums,” Ed Christman explains the reasoning behind labels’ willingness to forgo potential publishing revenue from new music by older performers. “Big sales for original material from mature acts are never guaranteed,” he writes. “The fourth quarter is when cover albums’ target demographic—adults age 35 and older—is most likely to buy music for the holidays.” And so we have Barbra Streisand’s star-studded Partners. Annie Lennox’s Nostalgia, featuring a cover of “I Put a Spell on You.” Bette Midler—whose rendition of “I Put a Spell on You” beats eternal—tackling “Waterfalls” with aplomb on It’s The Girls.

This temporal mining shows no sign of relenting anytime soon when so much is at stake. Not when the sector of the population most willing to spend money on tangible media keeps aging into oblivion. And yet it’s important to remember certain covers can come with unintended consequences. Many songs, particularly the great ones, are often more than the sum of their parts. None are free of their history.

Rahawa Haile is an Eritrean-American writer of short stories and essays. Find her on Twitter at @RahawaHaile.

10 Dec 16:00

Ada Lovelace, Genius

by Jazmine Hughes
by Jazmine Hughes

I have a peculiar way of learning, and I think it must be a peculiar man to teach me successfully… Do not reckon me conceited… but I believe I have the power of going just as far as I like in such pursuits, and where there is so decided a taste, I should almost say a passion, as I have for them, I question if there is not always some portion of natural genius even.

This is part of a letter that Ada Lovelace, daughter of Lord Byron, sent to Charles Babbage, requesting him to be her mentor. Walter Isaacson, author of The Innovators, a collection of mini-biographies, included this in Lovelace's section, commenting: “Whether due to her opiates or her breeding or both… she developed a somewhat outsize opinion of her own talents and began to describe herself as a genius.”

OK, but shouldn't we insist that the person who designed the foundations of modern-day computer programming— back in 1843—actually is a genius? Lovelace "envisioned a general-purpose machine capable not only of performing preprogrammed tasks but also of being reprogrammed to execute a practically unlimited range of operations," and began the conversation of technological sentience we're still having nearly 200 years later (see: Her, sex robots, Bender from Futurama). Let's give her some more credit: Ada Lovelace was a genius. Happy birthday to her.

[via Brain Pickings.]

09 Dec 22:19

Sen. John McCain on the failure and disgrace of American torture

by Fred Clark

Click here to view the embedded video.

“Floor Statement by Senator John McCain on Senate Intelligence Committee Report on CIA Interrogation Methods,” Dec. 9, 2014

I believe the American people have a right – indeed, a responsibility – to know what was done in their name; how these practices did or did not serve our interests; and how they comported with our most important values. …

The truth is sometimes a hard pill to swallow. It sometimes causes us difficulties at home and abroad. It is sometimes used by our enemies in attempts to hurt us. But the American people are entitled to it, nonetheless.

They must know when the values that define our nation are intentionally disregarded by our security policies, even those policies that are conducted in secret. They must be able to make informed judgments about whether those policies and the personnel who supported them were justified in compromising our values; whether they served a greater good; or whether, as I believe, they stained our national honor, did much harm and little practical good. …

I have long believed some of these practices amounted to torture, as a reasonable person would define it, especially, but not only the practice of waterboarding, which is a mock execution and an exquisite form of torture. Its use was shameful and unnecessary; and, contrary to assertions made by some of its defenders and as the Committee’s report makes clear, it produced little useful intelligence to help us track down the perpetrators of 9/11 or prevent new attacks and atrocities.

AbuGhraibI know from personal experience that the abuse of prisoners will produce more bad than good intelligence. I know that victims of torture will offer intentionally misleading information if they think their captors will believe it. I know they will say whatever they think their torturers want them to say if they believe it will stop their suffering. Most of all, I know the use of torture compromises that which most distinguishes us from our enemies, our belief that all people, even captured enemies, possess basic human rights, which are protected by international conventions the U.S. not only joined, but for the most part authored. …

There was considerable misinformation disseminated then about what was and wasn’t achieved using these methods in an effort to discourage support for the legislation. There was a good amount of misinformation used in 2011 to credit the use of these methods with the death of Osama bin Laden. And there is, I fear, misinformation being used today to prevent the release of this report, disputing its findings and warning about the security consequences of their public disclosure.

Will the report’s release cause outrage that leads to violence in some parts of the Muslim world? Yes, I suppose that’s possible, perhaps likely. Sadly, violence needs little incentive in some quarters of the world today. But that doesn’t mean we will be telling the world something it will be shocked to learn. The entire world already knows that we water-boarded prisoners. It knows we subjected prisoners to various other types of degrading treatment. It knows we used black sites, secret prisons. Those practices haven’t been a secret for a decade.

Terrorists might use the report’s re-identification of the practices as an excuse to attack Americans, but they hardly need an excuse for that. That has been their life’s calling for a while now.

What might come as a surprise, not just to our enemies, but to many Americans, is how little these practices did to aid our efforts to bring 9/11 culprits to justice and to find and prevent terrorist attacks today and tomorrow. That could be a real surprise, since it contradicts the many assurances provided by intelligence officials on the record and in private that enhanced interrogation techniques were indispensable in the war against terrorism. And I suspect the objection of those same officials to the release of this report is really focused on that disclosure – torture’s ineffectiveness – because we gave up much in the expectation that torture would make us safer. Too much. …

But in the end, torture’s failure to serve its intended purpose isn’t the main reason to oppose its use. I have often said, and will always maintain, that this question isn’t about our enemies; it’s about us. It’s about who we were, who we are and who we aspire to be. It’s about how we represent ourselves to the world.

We have made our way in this often dangerous and cruel world, not by just strictly pursuing our geopolitical interests, but by exemplifying our political values, and influencing other nations to embrace them. When we fight to defend our security we fight also for an idea, not for a tribe or a twisted interpretation of an ancient religion or for a king, but for an idea that all men are endowed by the Creator with inalienable rights. How much safer the world would be if all nations believed the same. How much more dangerous it can become when we forget it ourselves even momentarily.

09 Dec 16:00

Powerful Women Join Forces, Combat Racism, Save Music, Improve World

by Jazmine Hughes
by Jazmine Hughes

In case you didn't know, let me clear this up for you: Ella Fitzgerald is the greatest singer to have ever lived. Remember when Haley started editing here and talked about how it'd be a blog full of petty enthusiasms, about small, maybe a little weird, ideas that people were just really excited about?? Well, either way, "Ella Fitzgerald is the greatest singer to have ever lived" is not a petty enthusiasm, it is an irrefutable fact, and if you don't believe me then I want NOTHING to do with you!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Anyway, turns out Ella Fitzgerald and Marilyn Monroe were besties, which, man, can you think of a better sentence? People have been talking a lot about privilege and allyship lately, particularly vis-a-vis the #BlackLivesMatters movement, but if you're looking for an example, look to Marilyn:

Fitzgerald was not allowed to play at Mocambo because of her race. Then, one of her biggest fans made a telephone call that quite possibly changed the path of her career for good. Here, she tells the story of how Marilyn Monroe changed her life:

“I owe Marilyn Monroe a real debt … she personally called the owner of the Mocambo, and told him she wanted me booked immediately, and if he would do it, she would take a front table every night. She told him – and it was true, due to Marilyn’s superstar status – that the press would go wild.

“The owner said yes, and Marilyn was there, front table, every night. The press went overboard. After that, I never had to play a small jazz club again."

After Fitzgerald died, Frank Rich wrote a tribute to her in the New York Times, which I read all the time because I think it's filled with some of the nicest words anyone's ever said about anybody. "It's not just that her singing is beautiful. It is also liberating, transporting us into a realm of pleasure beyond all barriers, whether of race and age, of jazz and pop, of high art and low, or even, when she floats into scat, of language. That timelessness will never fade."

Imagine, that power, that sound, that voice, relegated to small jazz clubs; all the opportunities Ella might've lost, all the other singers who didn't have a Marilyn. Good looking out, Monroe; I owe you one.

09 Dec 14:00

Women in Apocalyptic Fiction Shaving Their Armpits.

by Lisa Wade, PhD

This is what gender ideology looks like:


That’s The Walking Dead’s Rosita Espinosa with newly shaven armpits.

This is also gender ideology at work: the privileging of an idea of gender over real life or, in this case, realism.

The Walking Dead’s producers go to great lengths to portray what a zombie apocalypse might be like. They are especially keen to show us the nasty bits: what it really looks like when dead people don’t die, what it looks like to kill the undead, and the evil it spawns in those left alive. It’s gruesome. The show is a gore orgy. But armpit hair on women? Apparently that’s just gross.

If gender ideology had lost this battle with realism, we’d see armpit hair on the women in Gilligan’s Island, Planet of the ApesThe Blue Lagoon, Beauty and the BeastWaterworld, Lost, and The Hunger Games – but we don’t. (Thanks to Ariane Lange at Buzzfeed for the whole collection and to @uheartdanny for the link.)

At least Rosita could conceivably have a razor. How do women supposedly shave their armpits on deserted islands? Did the Beast slip Belle a razor, you know, just as part of his controlling personality? And maybe some persnickety women would continue to shave even if they were lost in purgatory, but Riley in Alien? Come on.


Our interest in realism only goes so far. Armpit hair on women is apparently one of its limits.

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

08 Dec 14:00

Where Did the Ouija Board Come From?

by Lisa Wade, PhD

To begin, it wasn’t just a toy. It debuted in 1890 and it was the next in a long line of devices that had been invented to allow people to communicate with spirits. These weren’t intended to be pretend; they were deadly serious.

According to Lisa Hix, who wrote a lengthy history of such devices for Collector’s Weekly, the mid-1800s was the beginning of the spiritualist movement. People had long believed in spirits, but two sisters by the name of Fox made the claim that they could communicate with them. This was new. There were no longer just spirits; now there were spiritualists.

Amateur historian Brandon Hodge, interviewed by Hix, explains:

Mediums sprang up overnight as word spread. Suddenly, there were mediums everywhere.

At first, spiritualists would communicate with spirits by asking questions and receiving, in return, a series of knocks or raps. They called it “spirit rapping.” There was a rap for yes and a rap for no and soon they started calling out the alphabet, allowing them to spell out words

Eventually they sought out more sophisticated ways to have conversations. Enter, the planchette. This was a small wooden egg-shaped device with two wheels and a hole in which to place a pencil. Participants would all place their fingers on the planchette and the spirit would presumably guide their movements, writing text.

Here is an example of a planchette from 1900 and some pre-1875 spirit scribbling, both courtesy of Hodge’s fantastic website, Mysterious Planchette:2

These were religious tools used with serious intentions. Entrepreneurs, however, saw things differently. They began marketing them as games and they were a huge hit.

Mediums resented this, so they kept innovating new and more legitimate-seeming ways of communicating. In addition, the planchette scribbles were often difficult to read. The idea of using an actual alphabet emerged and various devices were invented to allow spirits to point directly to letters and other answers.

A Telepathic Spirit Communicator and a “spiritoscope” from 1855 (source): 3

Eventually, the concept of the planchette merged with the alphabet board and what we now know as the Ouija board was invented.

An Espirito talking board (1892) and the Mitch Manitou talking board (1920s) (source): 4

Here is an antique Ouija planchette:4

In the 1920s, mediums came under attack from people determined to prove that they were liars. Houdini is the most famous of the anti-spiritualists and Hodge argues that he “ravaged spiritualism.”

He set up little “colleges” in cities like in Chicago for cops to attend to learn how to bust up séances, and there was a concerted national effort to stamp out fraud.


The Spiritualist believers never successfully cohesively banded together, because they were torn asunder by their own internal arguments about spirit materialization.

Most mediums ended up humiliated and penniless.

“But the Ouija,” Hodge says, “just came along at the right time.” It was a hit with laypeople, surviving the attacks against spiritualists. And, so, the Ouija board is one of the only widely-recognized artifacts of this time.

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

06 Dec 10:56

Richard III's mtDNA and and Y chromosomes

I've been very intrigued by the story of the identification of Richard III's remains, published in Nature a couple of days ago. For an occasional genealogist like myself, the connection between the historical lines of descent and the genetic evidence was particularly intriguing. It is pretty amazing that two separate and verifiable mother-to-daughter lines, one of 17 generations and one of 19, were provably established from Richard's sister, Anne of York, to people alive in London today.

The first line of descent, to cabinet-maker Michael Ibsen, included a number of women whose husbands and fathers - or in one case, daughter/sister/aunt - were notable enough to have made it to Wikipedia. I edited the relevant articles to make reference to this (Sir Robert Constable, Henry Chomley, Thomas Belasyse, Sir Henry Slingsby, John Talbot, Sir Henry Gough, Barbara Spooner Wilberforce, and Edward Vansittart Neale). When the findings were first announced in February 2013, it was also stated that another line of descent had been identified, but that the living individual concerned did not wish to go public. I wondered whether this might be a descendant of the musician Margaret Harrison, referred to in an earlier Guardian piece (one-time fiancée of Percy Grainger, daughter of the painter Peter Harrison and the writer Alma Strettell); and if so whether this would really help much, given that such a person would have been not so many generations removed from Michael Ibsen; any failure of methodology with regard to his lineage would likely apply also to Margaret Harrison and her descendants.

But in fact it turned out to be much more robust. Wendy Duldig, a social policy researcher, is descended from a different daughter of Sir Robert Constable and his wife Catherine (née Manners), Richard III's great-niece, back in the early 16th century, with an extra two generations in her lineage compared to Michael Ibsen. Only two of the intervening links in Wendy Duldig's mother-daughter line had close family members who made it to Wikipedia (Sir George Wentworth and Sir Benjamin Truman), though one of them was painted by Gainsborough.(Truman's granddaughter Frances Read, see right). I found this in itself interesting - it shows that even without historical notoriety, the present-day researcher can pursue good genealogical links through the ranks of the upper middle classes.

It shouldn't be very surprising that such lineages rise and fall in income bracket and level of social prominence over the centuries. Taking it in the other direction, consider Mary Garritt, the wife of Thomas Webb, a surveyor in Stow-on-the-Wold in the mid-18th century. Her daughter Frances (1775-1862) married Thomas Salisbury, landlord of Marshfield House in Yorkshire. Their daughter Anne (1806-1881) married another gentry type, Edwyn Burnaby of Baggrave Hall in Leicestershire. Their daughter Caroline (1832-1918) married a widowed clergyman who was the grandson of a duke. Their daughter Nina (1862-1938) managed to bag an earl as her husband. Her daughter Elizabeth (1900-2002) did rather better than a mere earl. Her daughter, another Elizabeth, was born in 1926 and is still alive; those of you in the UK and Canada will find her depicted on certain useful everyday objects, ie money. But her direct female line ancestry can be traced back only six generations before it is lost in Gloucestershire.

These lineages are in fact very fragile. 17 generations on, Michael Ibsen is 57, and he and his siblings have no children, so the lineage from Sir Robert Constable's older daughter will die with them. 19 generations on, Wendy Duldig, in her fifties, is not reported to have siblings or children either. Had Richard III's remains been discovered forty years later, there might have been nobody around to compare his DNA with. There may be other undocumented maternal line descendants still around, daughters whose descendants were written out of the record for reasons easy enough to envisage; but the Leicester researchers seem to have done a pretty thorough job and it's difficult to imagine that much slipped past them. On the other hand, we know for certain that everyone alive today had at least one female-line ancestor who was alive in 1485. We must all be descended maternally from a fairly small number of women even going back only a few centuries. Mitochondrial Eve is reckoned to have lived 100,000-200,000 years ago, but for a lot of us, our most recent common maternal ancestor will have been much closer to the present day.

A couple of demographic notes. The average mother-daughter age difference in Michael Ibsen's lineage is 30.5 years, which is perhaps a little older than I had expected. The average mother-daughter age difference for Wendy Duldig's lineage is 27.5 years, which I find less surprising. The biggest generational jump is 42 years, between Michael Ibsen's grandmother and his mother. There are just four other births to mothers over 35 among the 33 births in the two lineages - Michael Ibsen's great-grandmother, her grandmother, Wendy Duldig's grandmother, and poor Anne of York who at 37 died giving birth to Anne St Leger in 1476, the link that kicks off the entire process. At the other end, there are no provable teenage mothers, though it's quite likely that at least one of the uncertain early 16th century 20-year-olds would have qualified.

Three women are known to have outlived their daughters (one seventeenth-century, two eighteenth-century). Two of these lived to over 90 (both born in the seventeenth century and living to the eighteenth century). The average lifespan of the women born in the fifteenth century was 43.5 years; of those born in the sixteenth century, 47.8; of those born in the seventeenth century, 62.4 (skewed by the nonagenarians, though the Duldig lineage is also pretty robust in general in that era); for both the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, 70.6 years; and for the two born in the twentieth century, 79. (I have no data on the ages of the fathers.)

It's also interesting to note that Michael Ibsen's family emigrated to Canada, and Wendy Duldig's to New Zealand; but both Ibsen and Duldig have ended up in London.

Finally, the newspapers had great fun with the other side of the story, that the Y-chromosome analysis for male descent failed; comparison of Richard III's DNA with that of several known descendants of the fifth Duke of Beaufort showed that they did not have a common male ancestor in Edward III, as had been thought from historical records, so therefore at some stage the recorded father-son link did not reflect the biological facts. Does this mean that the entire British royal line is illegitimate? Well, probably not - or at least not for that reason!!! Four generations separate Richard III and Edward III, but the fifth Duke of Beaufort was 15 generations removed from his royal ancestor; on the face of it, it's therefore almost four times as likely that the bogus link is on the Beaufort side rather than the York side. On top of that, of the 15 Beaufort side links, only the first two are shared with Henry VII. So if for some peculiar reason you believe that Elizabeth II has a right to rule Britain and various other places due to Henry VII's descent from John of Gaunt, you can probably rest easy.
06 Dec 13:00

Let none of us pretend

by Tim Chevalier

Content Note: This post deals with the École Polytechnique massacre and violence against women.

A black plaque engraved with the names of the women who died in the Ecole Polytechnique massacre

Today marks 25 years since 14 women were killed in an act of sickening violence at the École Polytechnique engineering school in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. They were targeted for being women and for being engineers.

  • Geneviève Bergeron (born 1968), civil engineering student
  • Hélène Colgan (born 1966), mechanical engineering student
  • Nathalie Croteau (born 1966), mechanical engineering student
  • Barbara Daigneault (born 1967), mechanical engineering student
  • Anne-Marie Edward (born 1968), chemical engineering student
  • Maud Haviernick (born 1960), materials engineering student
  • Maryse Laganière (born 1964), budget clerk in the École Polytechnique’s finance department
  • Maryse Leclair (born 1966), materials engineering student
  • Anne-Marie Lemay (born 1967), mechanical engineering student
  • Sonia Pelletier (born 1961), mechanical engineering student
  • Michèle Richard (born 1968), materials engineering student
  • Annie St-Arneault (born 1966), mechanical engineering student
  • Annie Turcotte (born 1969), materials engineering student
  • Barbara Klucznik-Widajewicz (born 1958), nursing student

The man who murdered Bergeron, Colgan, Croteau, Daigneault, Edward, Haviernick, Laganière, Leclair, Lemay, Pelletier, Richard, St-Arneault, Turcotte, and Klucznik-Widajewicz said — before he killed himself — “I am fighting feminism”.

“And those of us who know what went before can come again
Must ring the bells of morning”
Stephen Fearing

03 Dec 20:30

How Proteins Work

by Amy Collier
by Amy Collier

Every morning Cytokines wake up for another goddamn day at the office.

It is difficult to get out of bed when they know today will be a day exactly like any other. They consider for a moment: "Should I even bother?" Ultimately, they drag themselves up and go through the routine: coffee, shower, suit up, out the door.

"What if I wore the same suit for a week straight? Would anyone notice? Would anyone care?" they wonder, on their daily bus route from the primarily residential neighborhood in which they reside to the high rises of downtown Amyopolis. "That's right. The exact same blue pin stripes and pants and gray pullover." With a closet full of variations on that theme, such a test of limits would likely go unnoticed. It was partly their own fault. During Cytokines’ last performance review, Tumor-Necrosis Factor Alpha called recent cytokine storms “cytokine drizzles.”

They get into work and check their inbox for emails regarding humoral and cell-based immune responses. Cells, cells, cells. All. Day. Long. An inflammation here. An infection there. Life is a constant rush of cells, and all Cytokines can do is roll with the punches, both proverbial and literal.

"I release you," macrophages joke at the end of a check-in. Cytokines smile, then turn and exit sneering. At lunch, Cytokines stare out the window forlornly and consider their life choices. Cytokines see the building across the way where hormones work. Everyone knows about hormones. If they don't exactly understand what hormones are, they at least have passing knowledge. Epinephrine. Insulin. But Cytokines are lesser known, underappreciated. A lot of friends don't even understand what it is Cytokines do. Cytokines stopped bothering to try and explain and simply resigned to professional obscurity.

After lunch, a presentation: "What To Do if Cancer Strikes Amyopolis." Cytokines tunes out during the talk. Maybe we would be better off, they think, and return to their desk and listen to every Elliot Smith album at once.

The clock finally reaches 5:00 pm. Cytokines exit the building, and return to the residential neighborhood where their day began. They pass the hours drinking alone until it is time once again to give in to sleep and the nagging dawn.

Insulin has been around the block, knows a thing or two about Amyopolis, and what lies outside. Life is about steady regulations. You do your work thoroughly and consistently—you don't rush through things and exhibit all sorts of risky behaviors, Insulin reflects, eying the red Lamborghini in the lot outside the window. SOME proteins could stand to learn a thing or two about steady. SOME proteins should stop trying to inhibit Insulin’s workflow, and just let Insulin do its thing. But why listen to Insulin? It’s only been a crucial protein for billions of years.

A corner of the poster that reads "A healthy liver means you'll live a little longer!" is drooping. Insulin rises from its upholstered swivel chair and tapes the corner back up. Someone opens the door.

"Halt! Glucose there?" Insulin calls out. Cortisol laughs and hands Insulin some paperwork to sign. "Oh, Insulin."

Seconds after waking, Epinephrine zooms out of Chromaffin onto the freeway in a red Lamborghini, ready for another day of killin' it at the office.

"Hey Epinephrine, nice to see you," everyone will say as Epinephrine passes by the water cooler. Damn straight. Without Epinephrine where would all these jokers be? "I want to shake things up," Epinephrine provokes at the end of the first morning meeting. "It's go big or go home time."
Everyone knows what Epinephrine is about, and Epinephrine is about crushing it. Heart attack? Not on Epinephrine's watch. Immediate physical danger to Amyopolis? Yeah the fuck right. Epinephrine speed dials a contact.

"I'm sorry. I can't give you access to the nerves." The beta receptor explains again.

"You're busting my balls, Beta." Epinephrine paces with the phone to its ear. "How can we work this out? Help me help you."

"I'm sorry, there's nothing we can do at this point. We're fully committed."

"Tell me who you're doing business with. The beta blockers?"

"You know I can't give you that information."

Goddamn the beta blockers. Godddamn them all to hell.

"Let's not let what happened in 2010 happen again," Insulin says at the end of the 4:00 creative. What the hell did it mean by that? What the fucking hell did it mean? Who even let stale old Bitchosaurus Rex into the creative meeting? The earthquake and the poorly hung shelf on the wall, if that’s what the incompetent asshat (who Epinephrine always has to clean up after) was referring to, it had come out of nowhere. There was literally nothing Epinephrine could have done. Was Epinephrine in charge of tectonic plates now? Anyway, they had all survived, hadn't they?

Lying awake at night, all the fates that could end Amyopolis hit Epinephrine. Bear attack. African vacation culminating in Ebola. (I mean what can the fastest response do about Ebola? Nothing, that's what.) Sailboat accident. Spiders. They are all in the room, but there is nowhere to run. Epinephrine jumps out of the bed full of spiders. “Oh, god—Oh god—Oh god.” It crumbles to the floor, rocking back and forth, and pictures the ultimately inescapable collapse of Amyopolis over and over and over again.

Amy Collier once saw Fabio at an airport. Fabio is an Italian model who has appeared on many classic romance novels, such as Love Me with Fury, Lovestorm, and More Than a Feeling. He is 6’3” barefoot; usually in cowboy boots. Follow Amy on Twitter.

Adam Waito is an illustrator and musician living in Montreal. You can find more of his work at and He likes cats but they make him sneeze.

05 Dec 20:13

My Proposal for a Post-Racial America

by Dave

Recent events have aggravated the constant open would of race in America. They haven’t ripped off the bandages or the scab because neither has ever been really applied. There is a deep racial divide in this country, and its effects reach through every area of society.

In the wake of the Mike Brown and Eric Garner grand jury decisions, we are not only hearing from a black America that is crying against injustices imposed upon it, but also a white America that feels it is not being treated fairly. In an effort to begin a healing process, I’ve come up with a plan that I think addresses the major concerns being expressed.

I’m proposing a trade. From now on, only white people would be allowed to use the n-word. In addition, November would be declared “White History Month”. And one cable channel will be set aside for a White Entertainment Television network. I think these are reasonable provisions.

In return, 98.8% of all Fortune 500 CEOs will now be black, as will 99% of the Senate and 91% of the House of Representatives.

I think this is an equitable trade, as it gives white people what they seem to want most — access to a certain word and specialized history months and television channels — and black people what they want — economic and political power. I’ve actually tilted it a little in favor of whites, since they currently just want equal access to the n-word but I’m proposing they can have it completely. I hope black folks are okay with that.

I’m forwarding this proposal to President Obama, who incidentally will be the first of 43 black presidents we’ll have until we let a white guy again have a turn.

02 Dec 10:07

And Also Flys

what is furry and lays eggs and also flys?

a hot air chicken egg

02 Dec 16:11

Triumph of bilingual labelling

by Mark Liberman

I can tell I'm a little tired because this Candian bilingual label is completely hilarious.

— Jen (@NHLhistorygirl) December 2, 2014

[h/t Jonathan Lundell]

02 Dec 17:05

Doctors Performing Surgery For The First Time In Western Art History

by Mallory Ortberg

“It is my belief, esteemed members of the board, that this man’s leg is not in fact ‘cut off’ or ‘missing;’ rather the rest of the man’s body has become invisible, and only through poking about his tendons can I hope to restore visibility to the entire patient. If this works…my God. I’ll be famous.”

Screen Shot 2014-12-02 at 8.28.02 AM

"Madam, I can assure you that the top hat is medically necessary. Now please lie still and stop asking me 'and what does that do?' I don't know what it does yet."

Screen Shot 2014-12-02 at 8.27.42 AM

"Gentlemen, I propose a wager: just for fun, let's see what else we can fit in here."


"Perhaps if I propped up his other arm...perhaps that would provide sufficient stimulus to reverse death. It would almost look as if he were standing on his own. Yes, I think the other arm should do the trick. Nurse, I'm going to need a great deal of twine."

Read more Doctors Performing Surgery For The First Time In Western Art History at The Toast.

02 Dec 18:00

Books for the Misanthropic Traveler

by Hollis Beck

If it hasn’t happened to you yet, it will. He, and it will be a “he,” will attempt to catch your eye from the other side of the train. You will pointedly ignore him, concentrating even harder on the book in your hand, boring holes into the paper and yet not taking in a single written word. Time will pass, and then he will approach you. You will hear his shoes squeaking as he makes his way closer.

Maybe he’ll sit down. Maybe he’ll just loom over you like an irritating specter. And he’ll ask you, despite every facet of your body language screaming that you do not want to be approached, what he feels is not just an appropriate question, but one that deserves a warm response: “What are you reading?”

By the time he asks this question, you have already lost. You have failed in your quest to get from point A to point B undisturbed. This stranger, whoever he may be that day, will always be a threat to you and your peace, and books are a solid defense, but you must pick your weapon wisely. Like brightly colored beetles in the wild, the book-loving traveler can use her choice of reading material to give a clear message to anyone watching her: “stay away.” Here are some books that do just that.

A Book that is Not a Book, but a Household Object

Try once, instead of bringing a book on the bus, bringing a stapler. Really read that stapler. Examine its contours. Think about exactly how much effort was made to make this object that exists to bind other thinner objects together. NEVER take your eyes off the stapler. Form a relationship with the stapler. LOVE it.

Do you think you’ll get people coming up to you asking you why the hell you’re staring so hard at a stapler? No. No you won’t. Because they will sense that the stapler is more important to you than anything they could ever say.

Feminist Literature

There is something to be said for carrying around a copy of The Feminine Mystique with you wherever you go. It’s like carrying around a cross to ward off demons.

Read more Books for the Misanthropic Traveler at The Toast.