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29 Aug 18:00

The Best Time I Went Alone To the Sugar Ray Festival

by Jia Tolentino
by Jia Tolentino

This post originally appeared on July 15, 2013.

At 6 p.m. on a Sunday night I’m driving an hour outside of Ann Arbor to attend the Clarkston, Mich., stop of the Under the Sun tour, which celebrates “the golden age of nineties pop rock ‘n’ roll with Smash Mouth, Sugar Ray, Gin Blossoms, Vertical Horizon and Fastball.”

I am alone and wearing jorts and a baseball T-shirt, onto which I have Sharpied “MRS. RAY.” I am only slightly depressed that none of my friends in town seem to see the Under the Sun tour as the can’t-miss cultural event that it is. Mostly I’m glad, because now it'll be much easier for me to really get in there and be a Sugar Ray superfan for the night.

On the way to the venue, I play the same two Disclosure songs for 30 miles straight and get into character. “No one’s done anything like ‘Every Morning’ since 1999,” I say into the rearview mirror. “Such a chill song. Perfect for summer. We’ll never get another Mark McGrath.”

I sincerely believe all these things to be true.

When I get to the parking lot, I pause in my car for a second and smoke some weed, feeling like a loser. Fastball is already on—I can hear “The Way” from the parking lot—but people are tailgating, and near me, someone’s blaring Sugar Ray.

Suddenly self-conscious and also suspecting that I have overestimated the number of attendees who think this event is in any way funny, I walk into the DTE Energy Musical Theatre, which is a 15,000-cap venue, and get a beer from a guy standing over a cooler at the base of the stairs leading to the general-admission lawn. He asks for my ID. When he hands my license back, he says, “You’re a lot better-looking in person.”

“Cool,” I say. “Cool to know. Do you like Sugar Ray?”

“Sure,” he says. “Whatever.”

I climb the stairs in a hyper-aware state, entering a sea of earnest, clean-cut white Midwesterners jamming out with incredible enthusiasm to Vertical Horizon, who have taken Fastball’s place. I make my way around the arc of the lawn surrounding the covered pavilion and sit down at the very left edge of the grass.

Surrounded by groups, I start texting. You’re never alone when you have technology, I tell myself, and then look around, wondering how I’m going to get my journalistic in with the Sugar Ray crowd.

Then a guy taps me on the shoulder: “What’s a pretty girl like you doing here by yourself?”
More here!

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29 Aug 15:00

Trans Microaggressions: “Women, Amirite?”

by Kenneth Henry

Screen Shot 2014-08-28 at 2.16.56 PMThe Toast’s previous coverage of trans* issues can be found here.

Actual Reasons People Have Told Me I Am Not A Real Man

1.) I enjoy musical theater. (Someone should probably call Hugh Jackman and inform him that he is female.)

2.) I want to kiss other men. (Wanting to kiss women and people of other genders as well is irrelevant. The only people who want to kiss men are women. Full stop.)

3.) I don’t hate women. (Quickest way to get kicked out of any male bonding exercise–refuse to respond positively to the phrase, “Women, amirite?”)

4.) I write fanfiction. (Shakespeare based many of his plays on pre-existing works of fiction. Therefore, Shakespeare was a woman.)

5.) I have a vagina. (Thanks for the reminder, asshole.)

***

Actual Reactions I Have Received In Response To Telling People I Am A Man

1.) “Maybe if you’d had more strong female role models growing up, this wouldn’t have happened.” (On behalf of every woman in my family, every girl I befriended growing up, Sailor Moon, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and the Two Princesses of Bamarre, may I say: fuck you.)

2.) “You’re so funny!” – high school friend

3.) “[heavy sigh]” – another friend

4.) “[laughter, disproportionate both in volume and duration]” – roommate

5.) “No, you’re not.” – my mother, and countless others

***

Actual Things Said To Me By Other Trans Men

1.) “Are you binding? You look so flat!” – said in a clearly audible stage-whisper, in front of a large group of strangers I had not come out to and had no intention of ever coming out to.

2.) “How long have you been on T?” – said by a person who I had literally just been introduced to. For the record, I have never been on T.

3.) “Want to help fund my surgery?” – a person who was, at best, a vague acquaintance.

4.) “Are you trans? I could tell from your ears.” – referring to the closed-up piercing holes in my earlobes, after LGBT studies class, where I had stumbled in late, tripped over a desk, and had to explain to the professor in front of thirty other students, that while, yes, he should be marking [girl's name] as present, I would like to be called Kenneth if at all possible, please.

5.) “Women, amirite?” – said by a person who was not, in fact, right.

Read more Trans Microaggressions: “Women, Amirite?” at The Toast.

27 Aug 18:00

A Beautiful, Sweaty Woman Reads “How To Respond To Criticism” To Universal Approval

by Mallory Ortberg
28 Aug 14:00

Lord Alfred Douglas, Dirtbag

by Mallory Ortberg

NPG x28098,Lord Alfred Bruce Douglas,by George Charles Beresfordbabe
babe
how much do you love me
oh god
are you in prison again?
no
what?
no
lol that was like one time in france
it doesn’t count as prison if you’re in france
anyhow
what are you doing like right now
I’m trying to finish The Importance of Being Earnest
okay well
stop doing that and sue my dad
what?
you should sue my dad
why would I do that?
he’s been telling everyone you’re gay
I am gay
well but he’s being really shitty about it
everyone’s shitty about it
okay
fine
well then just sue him because he sucks and I hate him
that doesn’t seem like much of a basis for a legal case
oh my god
are you going to sue him or not
all I want is a boyfriend who will sue my dad
I really don’t think that’s too much to ask
a boyfriend who will sue my dad and also come down to the Savoy to bail me out because they keep saying I owe them like £300 for champagne and sex grease
what?
right?
like I brought my OWN sex grease obviously

 

babe come over
are you all right, my ivory poppet?
no
im sick
come over and take care of me

it’s the boys’ first day of school
and Constance’s birthday
come over im dying
all right
I’ll be there
bring champagne

 

sweet Christ, Bosie
the lawyer has produced the letters I gave you in court
how in God’s name did they find their way to his hands?
I told you to burn them
what letters
our — letters of an intimacy, Alfred
ahhh
did u give them to me when I was wearing that velvet suit
I don’t know
I think so
I do think so
because i gave that away
the letters?
or the suit?
i mean both i guess
like the letters were in the suit probably
lol idk i gave that guy a LOT of stuff
what guy?
the sex guy
that one guy who has sex for money
or like one of the guys who has sex for money
hahaha
obviously there’s not just the one
JESUS

 

Bosie, what is this?
um
its my translation of Salmoe i did for you?
SALOMÉ
IT’S “SALOMÉ”
thats what i said
its the version i did of your Salmon in English
youre welcome
do you even speak French
uhh what kind of a question is that
champagne
merde
yes i speak french
what does this sentence mean?
‘On ne doit regarder que dans les miroirs’?
“don’t look in mirrors”
“buy low, sell mirrors”
“a mirror saved is a mirror earned”
IT MEANS
“ONE SHOULD ONLY LOOK IN MIRRORS”
right
something about mirrors
it’s French, it’s all the same thing
oh and not to be a dick or anything by the way
but i havent gotten my translators fee yet??

 

Bosie, are you at home?
yeah
do u want me to CUM OVER
lol
;)

Bosie, I’m ill and Constance is away
could you please come by the house and see me?
ahhh sorry im actually not in town right now?
you said you were going to come over a moment ago
i
say
a lot of things
but
um
im in jail right now
in France
in french jail so
hope u feel better soon babe
get better so we can have sex when youre better and not gross

 

Bosie
Bosie darling, they’re sending me to Pentonville for two years
I must see you before I go
please come
sorry new phone who is this
also like whoever this is I like girls now
I mean I liked them before
just like a heads up
girls: I’m for ‘em
their legs and what have you
all the various bits that make up girls, physically and sexually and so on
big fan
so if you know any girls for sex
send them my way
send them my sexual way
(for sex)

Read more Lord Alfred Douglas, Dirtbag at The Toast.

28 Aug 14:35

The once and future goddess

by Mark Liberman

Geeta Pandey, "An 'English goddess' for India's down-trodden", BBC News 2/15/2011:

The Dalit (formerly untouchable) community is building a temple in Banka village in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh to worship the Goddess of the English language, which they believe will help them climb up the social and economic ladder.

About two feet tall, the bronze statue of the goddess is modelled after the Statue of Liberty.

"She is the symbol of Dalit renaissance," says Chandra Bhan Prasad, a Dalit writer who came up with the idea of the Goddess of English.

"She holds a pen in her right hand which shows she is literate. She is dressed well and sports a huge hat – it's a symbol of defiance that she is rejecting the old traditional dress code.

"In her left hand, she holds a book which is the constitution of India which gave Dalits equal rights. She stands on top of a computer which means we will use English to rise up the ladder and become free for ever."



Chinki Sinha, "The English Goddess Who Went Away", Open 9/14/2013:

There could have been a black temple here. The entrance might have said ‘Paradise Lost’ after John Milton’s poem about man’s disobedience and ouster from the Garden of Eden. Milton intended the poem to justify the ways of God to men. There was no justification intended here. The temple was meant to celebrate the outcastes, the fallen—Paradise Lost would be a refuge. Within its walls, Dalits would chant ‘ABCD’ and solve mathematical equations. They would denounce other gods and goddesses who perpetuate caste barriers.

The goddess wore a hat, a gown, and had gold hair. She looked like a Statue of Liberty knock-off. Chandra Bhan Prasad, the man who created her, says there were modifications made to give the new goddess her own mythology. The Goddess of English held a keyboard and a pen. She was atop a computer on the screen of which was the chakra of the Buddhist faith. She also held the Constitution of India to cement her bond with the Dalit community because Dr BR Ambedkar, the Dalit scholar and leader, was its founding father.

Why was the temple to be black? Because people would have found it strange. It would provoke reaction and this goddess was all about reactions. Black is seen as evil. The goddess would redefine black, give it sanction, says Bhan. This was Paradise Lost. They would regain it. But nothing happened. The English goddess went as suddenly as she came.

Why? Well,

The goddess came but only just. After the first day, she was stacked away in the office of the headmaster and for a few days, remained there in hiding. The district administration shut the temple down because, it was rumoured, Mayawati, then Chief Minister, had said there could only be one Dalit goddess in the state. Bhan wrote to the administration asking for a reason and was told there was a Supreme Court directive that no temple should be built on public land without permission from the administration.

“We said this was private land, and they still said you can’t build it,” says Bhan. “They kept sending police officials. When we started building the roof, they came and stopped us.”

The goddess was transported to the house of the school owner in a nearby town. There she remains, hidden away till she can be installed once again. The expensive black granite that was bought for construction of the temple lies around unused. Rain pours down, washing away the dirt, and the stones glisten again. A dog seeks shelter in the old office from the rain. This is where the goddess had been moved after the police came to Banka and ordered that construction be stopped.

28 Aug 17:09

So Who is The Doctor Anyway? All You Need To Know About Doctor Who

by Alex Wilcock

Last Saturday evening a new Doctor landed on BBC1, causing even his friends to wonder if they knew who he was any more. That’ll be doubly unnerving if you’re coming to the Doctor and the series for the first time. But don’t worry. It’s only as complicated as you want to make it. There’s really very little you need to know – and the easiest way to find out is to watch an episode of Doctor Who. But here’s a simple start…


What Do You Need To Know About Doctor Who?

The Doctor is a traveller in time and space. He goes anywhere he likes, from Earth’s past, present and future to alien worlds and stranger places still. He respects life rather than authority, and obeys no-one else’s rules. He lives by his own joy in exploring new places and times, and by his own moral sense to fight oppression. He prefers to use his intelligence rather than violence, and he takes friends with him to explore the wonders of the Universe.

That’s it.

OK, so that’s the important bit, but if you want answers to a few more questions, take a look at the headlines below and read the bits that you want to know about. Or you could just get on and watch an episode.




The Doctor – Who Is He? Why Does He Travel?

He’s an alien, from a world whose rigidly authoritarian rulers watched over all of time and space – but without interfering. He found that just watching and keeping everything the same bored him, when he wanted to get out to meet people and experience things for himself. So he took a TARDIS and the name “the Doctor” and left.


The TARDIS – the Doctor’s Time-ship

A TARDIS is a machine (or a place, or an event) for travelling through time and space, the name standing for Time And Relative Dimension In Space. The Doctor’s TARDIS was a bit old and unreliable back when he borrowed it from his people, and he’s patched it up and customised it many times in the perhaps a couple of thousand years that they’ve been travelling together. Just to make it even less likely it’ll go where he wants it to (but more likely to go where he needs it to), it’s quite literally got a mind of its own, too. It moves seemingly by vanishing from one place, then just appearing in the next, travelling not through ordinary space but a strange space-time vortex.

The other big thing about the TARDIS is that its outside gives no sign of what’s inside. It used to disguise itself on landing so it wouldn’t be spotted, but when the Doctor arrived in the 1960s it got stuck on taking the form of a police box, a sort of dedicated phone booth before handy mobile communications. Inside, though, unfolds into many other dimensions and many different rooms. You’ll have noticed that it’s bigger inside than outside, then. So do most people who go in (unsurprisingly). And while the old blue exterior is pretty much a constant, from time to time the interior changes its style, colour, shape and tone, while keeping its essential character. Much like its pilot does…




The Daleks – and Why the Doctor Fights Them

Once he started travelling, the Doctor found that that the more experience he had of other people and places, the more he wanted to get involved, because the more he saw the urge to dominate others the more he wanted to stand up to it. He’s opposed bullies, tyrants and monsters from many alien races – and from his own, and from ours – but one enemy always comes back.

Those he’s fought most often in their endless campaign to dominate and exterminate without question are the Daleks, alien conquerors in armoured mini-tanks with a hatred for all other races. They’re the ultimate dictators, the opposite of the Doctor’s own desire for freedom.

The Daleks too developed time travel, leading to a cataclysmic Time War with the Doctor’s own people – which is a history so complicated that no-one has a full answer. But by the end of it, the Doctor seemed the only one left, so he just carries on travelling, making the most of life, seeing the sights, toppling empires, that sort of thing. And if that sounds like a dangerous lifestyle, it’s often been fatal…




How the Doctor Changes

The Doctor’s people were each remarkably long-lived, so that helps more than moisturiser. But it’s not just that their bodies live for many hundreds of years. When they get too old, or are fatally injured, they’ve got a way of cheating death. At what would be the final moment, their body is reborn into a completely new one, giving them a new lease of life, shaking up their personality while remaining essentially the same person underneath. The Doctor’s had quite an eventful life, and the most recent body he’s been ‘born’ into is his… Well, it’s easiest to say it’s his twelfth.


How Old? How Many Bodies? …No, Nobody Else Really Knows Either

Some people might tell you that the Doctor is now in his thirteenth, fifteenth or twenty-third body, and they’ll all be right, but just as with the Time War, no-one has a precise answer and it makes no difference to the story. Similarly, while the Doctor is as a rule honest, he’s at best a little confused over his precise age. Perhaps on occasion he’s dropped a few hundred years or so for vanity’s sake (my money’s on the one in the leather jacket having a mid-lives crisis). But like his precise number of bodies, the Doctor’s exact age isn’t something we need to know – just as well, really, as we’re never going to. Just nod sagely and say, ‘Ah, well, things got complicated in the Time War,’ because if time was getting messed up to that extent by rival peoples each with the power to control it, things were bound to, weren’t they?

These disconcerting rebirths also help Doctor Who the series carry on when the actor playing the Doctor decides to leave, making it almost the only TV show that can recast its lead without hoping the audience are watching TV with the picture turned off or pretending it’s something to do with plastic surgery or showers. The latest actor to play the Doctor is Peter Capaldi.


What’s Special About Doctor Who?

The TV series Doctor Who began broadcast in 1963, starring William Hartnell as the Doctor (the first three stories are available in the DVD box set Doctor Who – The Beginning). It ran continuously for more than a quarter of a century, making it the longest-running science fiction series in the world and inspiring an awful lot of people. Kept alive in books, audio plays and millions of imaginations, the TV version was reborn in 2005 and has again been a popular and critical success thanks to its sheer joy, its unique flexibility and, of course, to monsters like the Daleks. A bonus to the series always reinventing itself is that you don’t need to know any intricate details, ongoing plots or characters to follow it. Even the most involved elements change and get left behind (or even undone); happily, many of the best writers assume that every episode is someone’s first, and even if some are tempted to make no concessions to the viewer, the very variety of the series stops it ever becoming too impenetrable.

It’s one bold central idea that’s important and that runs through now more than half a century of adventures. With Doctor Who, you can go pretty much anywhere and do pretty much anything, and always see that people everywhere are worthwhile, whether they’re people like us or green scaly rubber people. The Doctor believes in freedom, and hates ignorance, conformity and insularity. He doesn’t work for anyone, wear a uniform or carry a gun, making the series both very British and very anti-establishment.

Doctor Who encourages people to think, to have fun, and to take a moral stand, but it’s wary of solving problems by shooting them. You don’t have to believe what you’re told, still less do what you’re told. And it’s spent several decades scaring children with nasty monsters, eerie places and even the music, which when you put it all together is what family entertainment is about – a show with enough in it to satisfy all ages, from action to excite the adults to sharp questions to keep the children intrigued. That’s how down the years it’s inspired spin-offs from novels to comics, from Torchwood to The Sarah Jane Adventures and many more.

The best of Doctor Who would include a dash of horror, adventures in history, enough wit to make you smile, enough ideas and strangeness and to make you think, and enough action to get you excited. That’s probably too much to fit into just one piece of television, which takes you right back to the idea that you can go anywhere and do anything, because it’s not about just one piece of television, but different travels. Like the TARDIS, Doctor Who is bigger on the inside. It’s the only show where, if you don’t like where it’s ended up one week, if you want it to be scarier, or funnier, or more thoughtful, or more action-packed, the next week will be in a completely different place and time and probably in a completely different style, but still recognisably the same programme.

That’s probably why I fell in love with it, anyway.


How Can You Find Out More?

You can read more on this blog (and my occasionally updated others) and any of my terrifyingly in-depth Doctor Who articles that take your fancy, or there are at least hundreds of thousands of other web pages, books and learned articles (though, obviously, I don’t think they’ll be as good. As with everything else about Doctor Who, your tastes may vary).

But I wouldn’t just read, if I were you. Doctor Who is probably the best TV programme ever made, so the best way to find about it is just to watch it. Take a Deep Breath and plunge in.

The new series started on BBC1 and on many other TV channels around the world last Saturday. Tune in every Saturday evening for the next three months to see more of it unfolding, brand new, that you know as much about as I do, with Peter Capaldi as the Doctor and whatever friends and foes there are to come. If you missed the first episode and are in the UK, it’s free on air this Friday (and doubtless many more times) on BBC3 and at times of your own choosing on BBC iPlayer.

Or you can choose older stories in a multitude of formats – aside from the books and comics and CDs, you can find pretty much every single episode of the TV series on DVD and other formats, broadcasts, downloads and online (some of the latter even free and legal).

If you do want more than the new stories to warm your darkening Autumn nights but the incredible range of choice is bewildering, here are two suggestions that might help in your selection. Ready?


The Twelve-ish Faces of Doctor Who

It’s now a few days after the full-length debut of Peter Capaldi’s Doctor. Back in 2010, a few days before the full-length debut of his predecessor Matt Smith, I published my pick of “The Eleven Faces of Doctor Who” – one story for each Doctor, to introduce them all. Or, rather, two sets of one for each Doctor, one my pick of more populist stories (or as mainstream as Doctor Who gets), the other of stranger or more thoughtful tales. They’re all easily available on DVD, with several in other formats as well.

Click here to look at both lists and see if anything takes your fancy. Then watch one.

They’re a good set of introductions for each of the other Doctors so far – except one. Four years later, there is of course a big addition to make.

To celebrate the full Matt Smith, his Doctor deserves a full story too. My lovely Richard and I are in the middle of rewatching all his adventures, and though they’ve still not settled in enough for me to divide them into populist and strange, here are some particular favourites of mine from his era:
  • Amy’s Choice – a brilliant sci-fi short story, and almost Matt Smith’s era in a nutshell
  • The Doctor’s Wife – dark, strange and moving
  • The Crimson Horror – and this Victorian horror story makes me laugh.
Plus
  • The Day of the Doctor – the Fiftieth Anniversary special, starring three Doctors and featuring a great many more.
Then choose your own Peter Capaldi story, because right now I’ve not seen those yet either!

Or perhaps, rather than the hero in his many faces, you want to get into the Daleks. If so, here’s another article I’ve prepared earlier in which I explain who and what they are and give a rough idea of what I think of their stories so far.


Tune In To #WHOonHorror

If you’re in the UK and your TV can receive the Horror Channel, you’re in luck. Several months ago, the Horror Channel bought the rights to show thirty different Doctor Who stories – at least two from each of the first seven Doctors.

So my advice is, again, to turn on your telly (or other device) and watch one.

Apparently their Doctor Who selection has been doing very well for the channel’s ratings, so with luck they’ll still be showing them in their two-episodes-daily run for some time to come. Besides, who knows? They’ve been quite a success, so they might decide to get hold of more stories to show. As far as I’m concerned, they’ve made an excellent set of choices so far. The thirty Horror Channel Doctor Who stories include fifteen that I’d give nine or ten out of ten to – and just five I’d score lower than five out of ten. I’m not going to give you a great long list of them all my own order of preference, though, because there’s something good about all of them and everyone’s tastes vary.

But if you want to look out for my particular favourites, these get my personal ten out of ten:
  • The Deadly Assassin
  • The Talons of Weng-Chiang
  • The Curse of Fenric
  • Genesis of the Daleks
  • The Mind Robber
  • The Caves of Androzani
They may or may not be great introductions to the series, but I love each of them especially, and if you happen to catch them on #WHOonHorror I can guarantee there’ll be something to entertain, amuse, scare, intrigue or offend. I just can’t guarantee which will apply to you. And if none of them happen to be scheduled for a repeat in the next few weeks, just try your luck and start with whichever one’s on!


What Doctor Who People Say About Doctor Who

This is the third edition of an article I originally wrote in 2006 to introduce that year’s new series. Version one and version two are pretty much the same as each other; this time it’s more of a regeneration. Of my other Doctor Who writing, some of my favourite – and more bite-sized – pieces I’ve written to illustrate why Doctor Who is brilliant are a selection of great scenes and what makes them marvellous. These might be easier to take in than writing about a whole story at once. In theory there are going to be fifty of them eventually, but I’ve not quite got that far yet. Still, click here for my slowly growing Doctor Who 50 Great Scenes and choose one at random.

If you want a different perspective from mine, should you have a device that can read the Radio Times App, this week’s issue (search for 23-29 August 2014) has a particularly special free gift. As well as having Peter Capaldi on the cover and several articles introducing the new series, the electronic version includes the Radio Times Doctor Who Tenth Anniversary Special from 1973. I was given a tattered old second-hand copy when I was a small boy and loved it dearly, and I still think it’s one of the most gorgeous Doctor Who magazines that’s ever been published. It’s fun and it’s now free in electronic form with the ordinary issue, so I recommend it.


And finally, for another change from me, here’s what some of the most important creative talents behind the series in past and present have to say about Doctor Who:

Russell T Davies, Doctor Who lead writer for the 2005 relaunch and through the 2000s:
Doctor Who is the best idea ever invented in the history of the world.”

Peter Capaldi, the new Doctor:
“You should watch it if you want to nourish your heart and your soul – and if you want to be scared.”

Jenna Coleman, the Doctor’s friend and current travelling companion, Clara:
“If you like adventure, if you want to imagine that you could go anywhere in space and time – what would you do? Where would you go? It’s just a show full of infinite, infinite possibilities.”

Steven Moffat, current Doctor Who lead writer:
Doctor Who is about a man who can travel anywhere in time and space in a box that’s bigger on the inside.”

Verity Lambert, Doctor Who founding producer from 1963 to the mid-1960s:
“He embodied the utmost complexity – he was sometimes dangerous or unpleasant, sometimes kind, sometimes foolish, but most importantly he was never a member of the establishment. He was always an outsider.”

Terrance Dicks, Doctor Who lead writer during the early 1970s and author of more Doctor Who books than anyone else:
“Much has changed about the Doctor over the years but much has remained the same. Despite the superficial differences in appearance, at heart, or rather at hearts (the Doctor has two) his character is remarkably consistent.
“He is still impulsive, idealistic, ready to risk his life for a worthy cause. He still hates tyranny and oppression and anything that is anti-life. He never gives in and he never gives up, however overwhelming the odds against him.
“The Doctor believes in good and fights evil. Though often caught up in violent situations, he is a man of peace. He is never cruel or cowardly.
“In fact, to put it simply, the Doctor is a hero. These days there aren’t so many of them around.”

Robert Holmes, Doctor Who lead writer during the mid-1970s (and so the man who got me hooked, got me into politics and got me the man I love):
“Let’s frighten the little buggers to death!”

So why don’t you turn off my web page and go and watch a more interesting Doctor Who television programme instead?

27 Aug 19:48

War: Because, hey, what’s the worst that could happen?

by Fred Clark

“What’s the harm of bombing [ISIS] at least for a few weeks and seeing what happens?

This is Bill Kristol’s idea of foreign policy. Drop some bombs and “see what happens.”

"What's the harm ...?"

“What’s the harm …?”

You may remember Kristol and his Neoconservative friends for advocating this same idea back in 2003 — “What’s the harm of invading Iraq at least for a few weeks and seeing what happens?” I’m so old I can still remember how that turned out.

This is the basis of the Neocons’ preferential option for war: Hey, what’s the worst that could happen?

One of the many problems with that mentality is that it tends to produce an answer to that question.

We don’t need to take a careful look at the jus ad bello criteria of just war theory to consider whether Kristol’s argument for war is justifiable. It’s not simply that his argument violates those criteria, but that it refuses to acknowledge that there are or ever could be any criteria for whether or not war is a reasonable or just measure. For Kristol, war is the default — the perpetual first resort.

We could kill a lot of very bad guys,” Kristol said, revealing he’s still committed to the simple, neat and wrong idea that shaped American policy during the Bush administration — just kill all the bad people and all your problems will be solved:

“Someone said on a panel with me, ‘We can’t just bomb. We have to really think about this and have a long debate and discussion,’” Kristol said in an interview with fellow conservative Laura Ingraham during her radio show in a clip pulled by Mediaite. “You know, why don’t we just [bomb]? We know where ISIS is. What’s the harm of bombing them at least for a few weeks and seeing what happens?

“I don’t think there’s much in the way of unanticipated side effects that are going to be bad there,” he continued. “We could kill a lot of very bad guys.”

As jaw-droppingly awful as it is to realize that Kristol hasn’t learned anything from his complicity in the biggest, deadliest blunder of a generation, it’s just as awful to realize that many others haven’t learned anything from that mistake either. “Someone said on a panel with me,” Kristol says there — because he’s still regularly invited to sit on panels and to offer advice. It’s the same advice he offered in 2002 and 2003 and yet, despite everything that came of that, people still imagine it’s worth listening to.

As James Fallows wrote last month for The Atlantic, the lethal debacle of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq means “Some people have earned the right not to be listened to.”

Fallows boggles at the fact that Paul Wolfowitz and Scooter Libby — two men who were definitively and massively wrong about everything from 2002 on — were recently hired to teach a course titled, “The War in Iraq: A Study in Decision-Making.”

For a bit of contrast from a saner time, here’s a snippet of Anthony S. Pitch’s piece marking the bicentennial of the burning of Washington by British troops in 1814:

The man most responsible for the catastrophe was none other than the Secretary of War, John Armstrong, of whom it was said, “Nature and habits forbid him to speak well of any man.” When a frantic head of the capital’s militia went to see him, the officious and stubborn secretary of war belittled the threat to the capital.

“They would not come with such a fleet without meaning to strike somewhere. But they certainly will not come here!” he said. “What the devil will they do here? Baltimore is the place.” Later he would become the most reviled man in the country and resigned from office.

Armstrong’s resignation and his complete disappearance from public life was necessary. His becoming “the most reviled man in the country” was wholly appropriate.

But Armstrong wasn’t as massively, sweepingly wrong as people like Kristol, Wolfowitz, Libby, Chaney, Rice, Powell and Bush were in 2002. And the consequences of Armstrong’s catastrophic wrongness were not as vast and enduring as the ongoing catastrophe chosen by those fools.

Plus Armstrong at least had the decency to go away. Kristol, et. al., refuse to do so.

They’re still on TV, on the radio, online and in print. And they’re still saying the same foolish thing: “We could kill a lot of very bad guys. … What’s the harm of bombing them … and seeing what happens?”

The recklessness and pride of that still-influential ideology, I think, gives an answer to Scott Paeth’s recent question: “Has the ‘Niebuhr Moment’ Passed?” No, it hasn’t. It hasn’t even arrived yet.

27 Aug 14:00

Science Headlines I Would Like To See More Of

by Mallory Ortberg

800px-Lake_LureThe Oceans Are Fine And Full Mostly Of Fish And Water, With A Very Small, Normal Amount Of Plastic In Them

Still Plenty Of Places For Us To Put Our Garbage Before We Have To Start Worrying About Anything

There Are Over 1300 Species Of Birds In Danger Of BIRTHDAY PARTIES

Pretty Much All Trees Are Doing Fine And Also There Are No New Diseases For You To Worry About

People Just Don’t Seem To Be Getting Alzheimer’s Any More

You’re Getting Plenty Of Sleep; Don’t Worry About It

Increased Sausage McMuffin Consumption Linked To Gracefulness, “Swan-like” Necks In 27-Year-Old Bloggers

Temperatures Normal For This Time Of Year

Yosemite Fire Goes Out All By Itself

Some Good News About Whales

Everything In The Rainforest Is Normal And Great

Sitting’s Honestly Not That Bad

We’re So Far Away From Any Kind Of Tipping Point That It Would Be Ridiculous To Worry

Southern California Faces Another Week Of Moderate, Seasonally Appropriate Rain

Swansea University fit backpacks to learn sheep secrets

Shocking Pictures Demonstrate How Consistently Level California’s Water Reserves Are

Not Eating A Burger Right Now Linked To Depression, Is Easily Cured By Eating A Burger Right Now

Scientists Find Evidence Of Life On Europa, The Good Kind, That’s Conscious And Mobile And Friendly, Not An Outline Of What Might Have Once Been Bacteria

Mosquitos? Never Heard Of ‘Em

Read more Science Headlines I Would Like To See More Of at The Toast.

25 Aug 20:34

W.E.B. DuBois on the Indifference of White America

by Lisa Wade, PhD

1

W.E.B. DuBois (1934):

The colored people of America are coming to face the fact quite calmly that most white Americans do not like them, and are planning neither for their survival, nor for their definite future if it involves free, self-assertive modern manhood. This does not mean all Americans. A saving few are worried about the Negro problem; a still larger group are not ill-disposed, but they fear prevailing public opinion. The great mass of Americans are, however, merely representatives of average humanity. They muddle along with their own affairs and scarcely can be expected to take seriously the affairs of strangers or people whom they partly fear and partly despise.

For many years it was the theory of most Negro leaders that this attitude was the insensibility of ignorance and inexperience, that white America did not know of or realize the continuing plight of the Negro.  Accordingly, for the last two decades, we have striven by book and periodical, by speech and appeal, by various dramatic methods of agitation, to put the essential facts before the American people.  Today there can be no doubt that Americans know the facts; and yet they remain for the most part indifferent and unmoved.

- From “A Negro Nation Within a Nation.

Borrowed from an essay by Tressie McMillan Cottom. Photo from ibtimes.com.

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 http://thesocietypages.org/socimages)

25 Aug 14:00

“I don’t think I’ll venture on dual garmenture”: Rational Dress and the Politics of Biking

by Genevieve Valentine

bicycle_fashionsOnce upon a time, ladies decided to ride bikes.

Since that time was the Victorian era, and ladies were tight-lacing themselves right into punctured lungs, this provided an excuse for upper- and middle-class ladies to celebrate recreational and sartorial mobility, a dovetail of causes for the rational dress movement, and a perfect storm of social reform fought in the public opinion. It was a defining moment in late 19th-century aesthetics, and became instantly iconic in several sometimes-conflicting social arenas. Pop culture went wild for it. (Still does; see Sue Perkins in a fetching ensemble in The Supersizers, Kate Beaton’s rakish velocipedestrienne, and Dracula‘s attempts at bicycle suits, a sad trombone of costuming.) It also owes a debt to a movement from nearly 50 years earlier.

The rational dress movement was born in the mid-Victorian years, on a platform of “We Love Pretty Fabric, but Perhaps Less Mutilation of the Ribcage Area.” In 1849, Water-Cure Journal published a piece outlining the degree to which the multiple-petticoat, long-waist corset trends currently going were distorting the body and causing health problems. “Turkish costume” was promoted as a healthy fashion alternative; when American Amelia Bloomer publicly adopted it and included the pattern in her magazine The Lily, it took off, particularly in the States. (Rational dress advocates, technically more concerned with the absence of corsets than the length of skirts, still became synonymous with any trend that lacked body-manglers.) 

The ensemble of flowing pants with knee-or-calf-length skirt, worn corsetless with a short jacket, provided unparalleled ease of motion physically. The similar social implications escaped no one. 

Interestingly (though not unexpectedly), the procedures adopted by the male-run press to shame women out of bloomers are all too familiar: publications from Harper’s Weekly to Punch decried it as horribly unflattering (laaaadies), hinted its adopters had loose morals, suggested women did it it simply to spite men, and claimed the style was so masculine it threatened the fabric of society. (Punch, particularly concerned about rational dress, showed “Bloomers” proposing to bashful men, and gathering to smoke and be waited on by a man Punch bitterly describes as “one of the ‘inferior animals’.”)

ladies-of-creation--bloomerism-6

The attitude of corsetless trouser enthusiasts is perhaps best encapsulated in “The bloomer’s complaint”, a self-described “very pathetic” song from 1851 that announced “I’m coming out as a Bloomer” and contained the lyrics:

“I wonder how often these men must be told

When a woman a notion once seizes, 

However they ridicule, lecture or scold,

She’ll do, after all, as she pleases.”

However, the movement suffered from unceasing press scrutiny, and the more decisive blow of hoopskirts. The heavy, corded petticoats of the 1840s that had sparked resistance were now replaced by a single steel-cage crinoline, making it more lightweight than ever to have an eight-foot-wide skirt in the newest style. Over the next two decades, bustles appeared—a narrower silhouette that offered the elusive promise of being able to sit down on the first try. 

But hoopskirts and bustles required corsetry so intense it verged on scaffolding, and wasp-waists were getting serious. In 1881, a Rational Dress Society was formed, desperately hoping to save the lungs, ribs, and livers of fashionable women. 

They were joined—sort of—by advocates of Aesthetic Dress, the theater-kids of rational clothing, who were inspired by the Pre-Raphaelites and adopted quasi-medieval, corset-free gowns. In the 1870s, the corsetless “tea gown”—appropriated and adapted from Orientalist conceptions of Japan, Turkey, and Egypt—also gained popularity. However, it was a garment intended for meeting friends at home only – at a dinner party, only the hostess got tea-gown rights. (Conservative fashion answered with the “natural form” dress—one of fashion’s biggest lies ever, since its skirts were hobblingly narrow and the corsets longer than ever, compressing both the torso and the hips.)

The Aesthetics promoted the tea gown from the drawing room to the street, a corsetless Romantic silhouette that met with raised eyebrows. But by the early 1880s, aesthetic dress had become an acceptable, if artsy, trend for women whose societal position allowed them to suggest deshabille in their dress without being damaged by the respectability politics that governed the lower classes. And though it was a more relaxed silhouette, it was also decidedly feminine. 

Then came bicycles.

***

79.168a-d_back_CP4As the velocipede was introduced as a leisure activity for women amid trendsetting upper classes at the end of the 19th century, Rational Dressers advocated for ladies who wanted to ride bikes without getting mangled by long skirts. (Newspapers loved to report grisly accidents, either as evidence that 1890s fashion was out of control, or evidence ladies shouldn’t ride bikes.) 

However, it didn’t escape ladies that you were less likely to be mangled by your skirts if you weren’t wearing skirts to begin with, and dressmakers saw a need they fulfilled with a bicycle suit. The standard became a nipped-waist riding jacket worn over calf-length pants, often with a false skirt front, and inevitably full (to prevent glimpses of anything that might inflame men, like hips and knees and ambition).

Concern-troll periodicals produced cartoons of predictable open-mindedness, and editorial features like this lengthy etiquette guide to ‘correct’ behavior for lady cyclists, which includes warnings against going out alone at night and matchy-matchy outfits, cautions women to leave slang “to the boys,” and hands out the delightful Catch-22, “Don’t appear in public until you have learned to ride well.”

Bicycle riders who insisted on slanging their way cross-country were encouraged to dress in plain skirts, ankle-length or slightly shorter. Various gadgets were invented purely to rescue ladies from the tyranny of trousers. What women wore was seen – correctly – as a statement of intent. “Bloomers” of the past had belonged to temperance leagues and pushed for abolition; another suit that allowed for ease and mobility was the tip of an emancipation iceberg.

Thus, a cycliste became the symbol of the daring modern woman, and the press panicked, decrying rational dress as the abandonment of everything holy in the pursuit of bifurcation. Punch got right to the point: “‘Tis hardy and boyish, not girlful and coyish — /We think, as we stroll round the gaily-light room — /A masculine coldness, a brusqueness, a boldness. /Appears to pervade all this novel costume! /In ribbons and laces, and feminine graces, /And soft flowing robes, there’s a charm more or less — /I don’t think I’ll venture on dual garmenture, /I fancy my own is the Rational Dress.”

Still, not all the Punch cartoons in the world could prevent women from dropping their tight-lacing and picking up elasticized corsets and enormous bloomers for bike rides through Hyde Park. Since at this point bicycles were a mark of the leisure class who could afford to purchase and maintain them, a “rational dress suit” even became fashionable amongst trendsetters. The image of a genteel woman in her carefree bicycle ensemble became a touchstone for aspirational advertisements selling everything from bikes to seltzer. 

But underneath the symbol of the cycliste was the more complicated, more threatening future she suggested. There was a connection between the suffragette movement and the rational dress movement; ladies’ publications championed both as elements of a greater emancipation movement forming a direct challenge to the system. (Annie Cohen Kopchovsky, who cycled around the world in 1895,  got official sponsorship – Londonderry spring water – and espoused “the new woman” as the equal of a man, confirming fears that split skirts led to high hopes.) In a Victorian England that used reputation and social graces as currency, the idea of emancipation as fashionable – and, like most trends, was likely to sift from the hands of the powerful down into the hands of the many – caused quite a bit of social friction. 

In 1898, shit got legal.

*** 

Read more “I don’t think I’ll venture on dual garmenture”: Rational Dress and the Politics of Biking at The Toast.

25 Aug 14:21

occhiolism

n. the awareness of the smallness of your perspective, by which you couldn’t possibly draw any meaningful conclusions at all, about the world or the past or the complexities of culture, because although your life is an epic and unrepeatable anecdote, it still only has a sample size of one, and may end up being the control for a much wilder experiment happening in the next room.

25 Aug 19:00

Your Gender Expression In Art

by Mallory Ortberg

tinaA little chat on gender expression and performance on Twitter this morning turned into a lively and frolicksome mass-interview that I invite you to join in, should you feel so inclined.

ok what book/movie/media WHATEVER best encapsulates your gender expression and why, GO (if you feel like it)

— Mallory Ortberg (@mallelis) August 25, 2014

Answers so far include Bobby Hill from King of the Hill, Tina Belcher mixed with Jane Lane, Mulan, Sam from Lip Service, “The White Witch as she slits Aslan’s throat” (that one was me, sorry sorry sorry), Rock Hudson, a bell hooks quote, a Prince song, and Watts from Some Kind of Wonderful. Please add to this rich and shining tapestry with whatever piece of culture best represents your truest and best self.

If no piece of culture yet represents your truest and best self, please feel free to submit a free-form drawing or representational graph in the comments.

Read more Your Gender Expression In Art at The Toast.

24 Aug 13:27

Pyramids of London ('Deep Breath' 1)

by Jack Graham
I've realised who Strax reminds me of: the policeman from 'Allo 'Allo.  But not as good.  That's a cheap shot, but I do have a serious point to make.

Strax, you see, is essentially a funny foreigner.  You know, with his allegedly hilarious misunderstandings and all that stuff.  Moffat evidently imagines that Strax's misunderstandings are a rich and continuing source of humour, since he stops the plot of 'Deep Breath' for a few minutes so that he can (once again) run through all the same Strax jokes he's already done several hundred times in other episodes.  (This, by the way, is another way in which Strax resembles a character from 'Allo 'Allo - he is the same joke, repeated endlessly, over and over again, with the laugh demanded - upon recitation of a well-known catchphrase - from an audience supposedly trained via pavlovian technique.  If you object to my singling out 'Allo 'Allo here then, really, I agree with you.  How about we use Little Britain as our example instead?)

Of course, the funny foreigner - with all the imperial contempt and jingoistic chauvinism that is built in to it - is a very old, traditional, endlessly recurring character in British comedy.  Shakespeare, for instance, relied upon it heavily, with his nebbishy Welshmen Fluellen and Dr Evans, his amusingly touchy Irishman MacMorris, and his randy preening French vanitycase Dr Caius, etc etc etc.  So we can't be too hard on Moffat here.  He is, after all, simply doing (yet again) something very old, venerable and respected, despite it being unfunny and based in national chauvinism.  Can't really blame him, can you?

As I say, however, Strax isn't as good as the policeman in 'Allo 'Allo... because the policeman in 'Allo 'Allo (you remember, he used to come in and mispronounce his words - it was terribly amusing) is actually a jab at the English, at the English habit of imagining that, rather than bother to learn foreign languages, all you have to do is speak English at foreigners, but with an attempt at their accent, and in a loud voice, and they'll get it... because English is the only proper language, and people who don't speak it are thus functionally the same as the mentally disabled, and everyone knows that people with mental illness just need to try harder.

I don't mean to attribute attitudes like that to Moffat.  But its a shame that he falls back on a comedy trope that is so incredibly dodgy.  Though, in fairness, the employment of dodgy foreigner stereotypes (comic or otherwise) is not exactly unknown to pre-Moffat Doctor Who.  And Strax isn't overtly supposed to represent any particular non-British nationality.  He's supposed to be an alien.  And here we stumble across another complicating factor: the alien in Doctor Who has always been based on a kind of racial essentialism, a fear of the other, etc etc etc.  Strax could arguably be said to be considerably less dodgy than, say, Linx, because he represents a condition of mutual acceptance.  He is the other, sure, but the other muddling along amongst us and basically on our side.

But here we run into yet another twist in the story... because this alignment of the other with 'us' is worrying in itself.  This recurring team - Vastra, Jenny and Strax - worries me.  It represents the reconciliation of the antagonist with 'us'.  They don't just live with humans, they live in Victorian London, and this seems to me to be the most blatant possible way of integrating them into a kind of aggressively middle-class, twee, cutesy, ostensibly lovable, yet aggressive and insular and ressentimental Britishness, a Britishness at its most iconically imperialistic and hierarchical.  Victoriana is the heavy drapes and elaborate dresses and cravats and top hats of the middle-classes.  Victoriana is the coughing, shivering, gin-swilling street poor as an essential background decoration, a set of tropes to locate us.  Victoriana is brown derby-wearing police inspectors (probably called Lestrade) who consult toff private detectives because, being working class, they're too thick to do their jobs themselves (the implicit goodness and necessity of the police is never questioned in Victoriana - something that wasn't true amongst common people in actual Victorian London, who often saw the bobbies as incompetents at best, violent spies at worst).  Victoriana is empire as backdrop.  Queen and country.  Big Ben.  Smog, gaslight, cobbles, hansom cabs, etc etc etc.  This is the milieu that Vastra, Jenny and Strax have assimilated themselves into.  Vastra even challenges the bad guys "in the name of the British Empire!"  This sort of thing no doubt seems desperately cute to Moffat, and all those people who write those rubbishy Jago & Litefoot audios for Big Finish, but its only our historical amnesia to what the British Empire was that allows this kind of desperate cutesiness to subsist.  The subsistence of it, in turn, allows the amnesia.  And boy, do we love our symptoms... hence our desire to inflict them on everyone and pull everyone, and everything, into them.  The Silurian and the Sontaran, for instance, have joined us in our adorable, pop-Conan-Doyle-inflected national fantasy of a penny dreadful past of wonders and horrors.  The horrors are all safely in the past (things we've cured now) and the wonders remain as a kind of nostalgic longing for the lost times when, right or wrong, he had confidence and lush gothic cliches galore on our side.  Vastra - the representative of a displaced people who are perpetually denied redress and justice (umm... imperialism? colonialism?) - has isolated herself from her people and integrated herself into imperial Britain.  She has ceased to be any kind of rebuke to 'our' world, or 'us'.  And 'we' have become the national gestalt that once lived in the United Kingdom of Sherlock.  Strax - the representative of a culture of militarism and conquest - has similarly integrated himself.  His imperialist attitudes are turned into cute, amusing misprisions which allow him to sink with ease into the warm slippers of imperial Victoriana.  The militarism of the Sontarans is no longer a rebuke to 'our' militarism.  The Sontaran may not be a threatening other anymore, but he is now no longer, in any sense, a mirror reflecting our own nastier values back at us.  He's not a reflection that attacks.  He's a stooge who safely reminds us of our foibles by being sillier than us, and then puts on the uniform of a servant and takes his place in the pyramid.  The good pyramid.  'Our' pyramid.  The pyramid we all fit into somewhere, nicely and neatly.  The pyramid that even the comedy tramps fit into.  The pyramid in which the chirpy cockney maid voluntarily calls people "ma'am" and serves them their tea, as an empowered life choice.  The pyramid of contextless, gutted, sanitised tropes.  This is partly why our representations of the Victorian era are so tropetastic... because tropes slot neatly into each other (hence all the Victoriana crossovers, i.e. Holmes vs Jack the Ripper, League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, etc), arrange themselves into pyramids of perceived cultural weight, and start to resemble a vertiginous but orderly class structure, a sort of naturally-occuring periodic table of the social roles, which is the ideology of Victoriana that we are sold by every bit of culture the tropes come from.  This is why 'actually existing steampunk' (which 'Deep Breath' appropriates in predictable fashion, Moffat having been pulling at this particular thread for some time) is so pernicious.  Because the iconography of the high era of industrialisation, imperialism and colonialism is reduced to contextless fetishized commodities, sumptuous archaic kit, and safely de-conflicted social classes.  And even the identification of the cogwheel and the top hat with villainy nevertheless makes no apology for the joy we're supposed to take in the sheen of the 19th century machine. 

Of course, once again, we shouldn't be too hard on Moffat.  He's just doing what lots of people do.  He's just going along.  And he's not doing anything worse than Robert Holmes did in 'Talons of Weng Chiang'.  In fact, he's better than that.  His obligatory Victorian chinese person looks right, according to the big book of stereotypes... but at least he was played by an actual Chinese person.  And at least he wasn't being singled out.  At least he was just another brick in the pyramid, another character on the picturesque Quality Street tin that Victorian London has been turned into by our culture industries.  That's what we do now.  We don't do stories about Victorian London in which Chinese people are The Enemy.  The sneer at the foreigner has been displaced elsewhere, translated into code.  Now, we do stories in which all races and classes, all costumes and styles, all tropes, are brought together, all present and correct, all slotted into place.

Is that so bad?  I honestly don't know.  I'm not necessarily arguing that we're looking at a regress.  But I'm pretty sure we're not looking at progress.  And I'm not talking about the paucity of round things on the wall.
22 Aug 20:24

Watch London Cops Subdue, Not Kill, a Man Yelling and Swinging a Machete

by Jay Livingston, PhD

Despite the cellphone video of two police officers killing Kajieme Powell, there is some dispute as to what happened (see this account in The Atlantic). Was Powell threatening them; did he hold the knife high; was he only three or four feet away? 

The video is all over the Internet, including the link above. I’m not going to include it here.  The officers get out of the car, immediately draw their guns, and walk towards Powell. Is this the best way to deal with a disturbed or possibly deranged individual – to confront him and then shoot him several times if he does something that might be threatening?

Watch the video, then watch London police confronting a truly deranged and dangerous man in 2011.  In St. Louis, Powell had a steak knife and it’s not clear whether he raised it or swung it at all.  The man in London has a machete and is swinging it about.


Unfortunately, the London video does not show us how the incident got started. By the time the recording begins, at least ten officers were already on the scene. They do not have guns. They have shields and truncheons. The London police tactic used more officers, and the incident took more time. But nobody died.  According to The Economist:

The police in and around Ferguson have shot and killed twice as many people in the past two weeks (Mr Brown plus one other) as the police in Japan, a nation of 127m, have shot and killed in the past six years. Nationwide, America’s police kill roughly one person a day.

The article includes this graphic:

1 (2)

I’m sure that the Powell killing will elicit not just sympathy for the St. Louis police but in some quarters high praise – something to the effect that what they did was a good deed and that the victims got what they deserved. But righteous slaughter is slaughter nevertheless. A life has been taken.<

You would think that other recent videos of righteous slaughter elsewhere in the world would get us to reconsider this response to killing. But instead, these seem only to strengthen tribal Us/Them ways of thinking. If one of Us who kills one of Them, then the killing must have been necessary and even virtuous.

Originally posted at Montclair SocioBlog.

Jay Livingston is the chair of the Sociology Department at Montclair State University. You can follow him at Montclair SocioBlog or on Twitter.

(View original at http://thesocietypages.org/socimages)

22 Aug 12:57

Genres

by Mark Liberman

In today's Bad Machinery, Shauna abandons powerviolence and decides against crustcore.

Some of you will recognize that these are names of musical genres, well enough established to have Wikipedia entries. Thus

Powerviolence [...], is a raw and dissonant subgenre of hardcore punk.The style is closely related to thrashcore and grindcore.

and

Crust punk (often simply crust) is a form of music influenced by anarcho-punk, hardcore punk and extreme metal.

A couple of weeks ago in Groningen for Methods in Dialectology XV, I happened on a sign with an ambiguous title. It was clear to me that "hard style" was probably a musical genre, and indeed Wikipedia explains that

Hardstyle is an electronic dance genre mixing influences from hardtechno, hard house, hard trance, and hardcore.

But is "dance" (or maybe "dance style") another genre? Or does the sign just mean that the event in the park is in some sense a "dance"?

Anyhow, this made me wonder again how many named genres of contemporary music there are?

As with vocabulary-counting in general, this is the sort of question that is guaranteed not to have a crisp answer. New genre names are being coined all the time, and some coinages thrive to one degree or another, while others more or less die on the vine.

This "Music Genres List", which claims to be "The most comprehensive list of genres of music available on the Internet", doesn't have powerviolence, thrashcore, grindcore, crust, hardstyle, much less shoegaze or post-metal.

Wikipedia, needless to say, has a much more complete List of Modern Popular Music Genres, which currently lists 756 items.  But some of the penumbra is surely missing — "tragic lounge" isn't there, for example, though I wouldn't know about it if an acquaintance hadn't once described her band's genre with that term.

Anyhow, has there ever been a time in history when the proliferation of named musical styles within one cultural continuum reached anything close to this number? And what are the forces that drive the process? Is it like revolutionary parties and religious cults and hunter-gatherer tribes?

Update — a couple of commenters point us to everynoise.com, which offers an interactive map with clickable samples,  a list of 1246 named genres, and a feature that will tell you the genre associations of a specified "artist". (Though the last one is a bit over-enthusiastic, it seems to me, probably because it's based on some kind of subspace distance metric that causes cascading similarities to bleed into weird assignments, like adding "British Blues" to Buddy Guy's genres…)

 

21 Aug 17:00

Women on Their Favorite Tools

by Brooke Benoit

Last week a friend of mine bragged on her social media about acquiring a shiny new mint-green scroll saw. Before I could derail her moment and bemoan my failure to replace my long lost cordless Dremel, a slew of comments popped up voicing safety concerns and personal testimonies of complete inadequacy with tools. My covetousness was quickly replaced by another lost thing, my annoyance with women who claim to not be tool inclined.

One winter I worked in a bead shop in Alaska, wherein every day I heard women bemoan their tool-using deficiency. Yes, just women, as only about five men came into the shop during my employment and not a one whined that, “Oh I just couldn’t use a wire snipper!”, though one guy did mock our adorable mini anvil designed for detailed hammering work. Women, on the other hand—you know the ones who can use their bare hands to install contact lenses and feminine hygiene products into the most sensitive regions of the body—who can use forks, various brushes, and often even drive cars and run complicated machines such as clothes and dish washers, many of them claim they could never use a drill, which is basically a hair dryer with a thing on the end that you point away from you. I thought we were the DIY generation? This is not gendered genetic coding folks, it is an internalized sexist fallacy. In the interest of furthering advanced fine motor skills for grown people, herein is a sampling of the possibilities available to women who want to tool.

Zahrah and her torch.

Zahrah Habibullah, Melbourne, Australia

Profession or major occupation: Photographer/Jeweller

Favorite tool: Torch

How long have you been working with a torch? A few years.

What do you do with your tool? I use the torch to heat up and soften metals I am working with, to manipulate the textures on metal and to mix different metals together. I have always been fascinated by the ability to make fluid what is solid, so using tools for melting metals is at the top of the list of my favourite processes.

Is there another, bigger, better or fancier tool you long to own? Not at this time, I feel like I still don’t know the possibilities with the torch/flame as there is much technique to learn about the application and intensity of heat on differing surfaces.

Sumayyah working her serrated chain nose pliers.

Sumayyah Talibah, Michigan, U.S.A.

Profession or major occupation: When not plotting to take over the literary world, I live a double life as a bead artist and jewelry maker.

Favorite tool: It is difficult to choose only one, but I would have to say that my favorite tool is a pair of serrated chain nose pliers.

How long have you been working with serrated chain nose pliers? I was dragged kicking and screaming into the shiny world of bead art about three years ago.

What do you do with your tool? Chain nose pliers are good for bending wire, connecting loops of wire, and opening and closing small pieces, like ear wires and crimp covers.

Is there another, bigger, better or fancier tool you long to own? I’ve always wanted a butane torch. I would love to get into welding and metalsmithing on a small scale.

Aaminah and their super strong brayer.

Aaminah Shakur, West Michigan, USA 

Profession or major occupation: Artist, poet, and doula. 

Favorite tool: A brayer.

How long have you been working with a brayer?: I have only used a quality brayer a few times and very briefly. Owning one has been on my wishlist for at least 3 years. When I first taught myself to do acrylic transfers, which I used to transfer poems onto my paintings and iconic book covers onto collages, I wanted a brayer so badly because I was struggling with pressing the paper down with my hands instead. I saw other potential uses for a brayer as well and had a chance to borrow one from a partner for a bit but discovered that the one they had (and now I understand why they never used it) was not strong enough to hold up to the way I needed it to. The roller kept slipping out of its plastic handle because of the pressure I exerted on it. Then I began to dream about what kind of brayer I wish I had… 

What do you do with your tool?: I use my brayer to lay flat collage work, putting together zines, to adhere acrylic transfers, and will soon use it for printmaking and paint printing onto fabric as well.

Is there another, bigger, better or fancier tool you long to own?: So, this brayer actually is my fantasy tool! I suppose over time I might see a need for this in multiple sizes, but otherwise this is just perfect to me! Someday I might find myself looking for a heavier stone one, which would be awesome with printmaking.

Fatima the sander.

Fatima Killeen, Canberra, Australia

Profession or major occupation: Visual artist (Painter & printmaker)

Favorite tool: Printing Press

How long have you been working with a printing press? Close to 20 years

What do you do with your tool? I make collographs & etching prints.

Is there another, bigger, better or fancier tool you long to own? A Table saw for cutting large pieces of timber. [Go ahead and reread that last bit]

*

Read more Women on Their Favorite Tools at The Toast.

21 Aug 19:00

The Ways in Which White People Talk Over Music

by Johannah King-Slutzky
by Johannah King-Slutzky

Screen Shot 2014-08-21 at 12.16.57 PM

If you want to scream whiteness, almost nothing beats rap-talk-singing—that half-monotone half-melodic vocal technique you may recognize from the likes of Beck’s "Loser" or many recent commercials. These days, rap-talk-singing is typically parody in the vein of Sir Mix-A-Lot's famous "Baby Got Back" intro. (You know: "Becky, look at her butt. It is sooooo big. She looks like one of those rap guys' girlfriends.") It is not always clear when white people rap-talk-sing self-deprecatingly. Perhaps this is what happened to Taylor Swift, whose most recent single, "Shake It Off," is somewhere between a great Gap ad and a bad pop song.

Although "Shake It Off" is aesthetically bad, even T-Swift knows that in most cases, if you are white, you must address your bad rap through irony, calling yourself out for your failure to achieve authentic blackness. Around 2:30, Taylor does just that by dressing up, first in a snapback with an oversized boombox (her black persona intro), then as a bouncy-haired cheerleader, icon of whiteness. She is going to rap-talk-sing her way to the Billboard Top 40: "My ex-man brought his new girlfriend, she's like oh my god…" You can hear the echoes of Sir Mix-A-Lot. This is different from her attempts at rap, which are also parodic, but have never jumped directly from thug-persona irony to the exaggerated strutting and lilt of a white cheerleader.

Rap-talk-singing is as white as it gets, but it doesn't have to ironize or foil blackness. White people rap-talk-singing pre-dates hip hop by seventy years, with roots in German opera and melodrama. The proper name for rap-talk-singing is sprechstimme, sometimes used interchangeably with sprechgesang, the latter of which is a little more melodic. Encyclopedia Brittanica defines sprechstimme as "a cross between speaking and singing in which the tone quality of speech is heightened and lowered in pitch along melodic contours indicated in the musical notation." As a vocal technique, sprechstimme was popularized by Arnold Schönberg in his 1912 melodrama, Pierrot Lunaire. Although today "melodrama" applies to anything from Douglas Sirk films to pulp fiction, it originally referred more specifically to quasi-operas whose texts were spoken rather than sung, which is exactly what Pierrot Lunaire does. The notation for sprechstimme resembles that of singing, with precise pitch and duration, but the end effect should resemble speech first, song second. Or at least, so Schönberg said—apparently, the performance of his melodrama by its original singer, Albertine Zehme, did not match his expectations, and Schönberg repeatedly revised descriptions of his technique over the course of thirty years. Regardless, the end-product sounds something like this, starting at around the 1:11 mark:

This is still a far cry from the rap-talk-singing of today. Sprechstimme took its next step forward with another German drama, Kurt Weilland Bertolt Brecht's Aufstieg und Fall der Stadt Mahagonny, which (if Kurt Weill, Bertolt Brecht, and Lotte Lenya are not enough for you), The Doors made famous as "Alabama Song (Whiskey Bar)." As you can see, early performances were quite flat (go to around 9:04).

This flatness, the source of the song's appeal, was quite deliberate. Brecht actually devised "Alabama Song" as a full-bodied melody, but Weill altered it by shifting some of the emphases and razing the pitch to a sprechstimme. (Weill's teacher at the Berlin Hochschule für Musik, Engelbert Humperdinck, contends that he is the inventor of sprechstimme, which he employed in his 1897 opera Königskinder.) Although using a different notation system, Weill's opera, like Schönberg's, specifies spoken intonation down to the sharps and flats.

Skipping ahead a half century, sprechstimme continued to be unrelentingly white without being faux- or anti-hip hop in Paul Simon's under appreciated classic, "Pigs, Sheep and Wolves." The name alone! It may not be a classic as measured in prestige, but it is certainly vintage Paul Simon, who spends just under four minutes chuckling in sing-song about picaresque barnyard animals just as, elsewhere, he rhapsodizes on Puerto Rican immigrants and college bound killers. Although Simon’s aesthetic is pre-hip hop (and thus pre-hip-hop irony), "Pigs, Sheep and Wolves" is just about the whitest song I've ever heard.

Paul Simon's sprechstimme shares a few things with Taylor Swift's: It is silly, it is parodic. Perhaps this is just what sprechstimme is—recursion from melody to flat sing-song as a kind of indirect speech act. Although the contexts of the vocal technique have changed significantly in the last century, using sprechstimme to denote a strange speaker is nothing new. Michael Von der Linn's article on sprechstimme for Columbia University's Sonic Glossary notes that in the early twentieth century, "The unique sound of Sprechstimme was often used to represent emotional duress, the macabre, even madness." Today, we don't use sprechstimme to signal madness, but to parody strange speakers. And there is still the madness of depression, for which, for example, Beck employed sprechstimme in the 1993 alt rock hit, "Loser."

As in "Pigs, Sheep and Wolves," you see the same kind of indirect quotation in yet another popular example of rap-talk-singing, Bikini Kill's "Rebel Girl," whose first lines are written in parodic indirect speech before they give way to the unabashed, sincere position of the more melodic song proper: "That girl, thinks she's the queen of the neighborhood. She's got the hottest trike in town…" Without being named explicitly, sprechstimme has become a hallmark of riot girrrl—it is even in Russian punk—and of Kathleen Hanna's bands in particular. "Rebel Girl"'s gurlesque intro is particularly interesting because it fills one of the gaps between something like "Pigs, Sheep and Wolves," which is white and parodic but not a foil to hip hop's blackness or masculinity, and Taylor Swift's anti-hip hop rap-talk-singing.

In a post-hip hop world, sprechstimme tends to take the form of the anti-hip hop, white girls with bad agendas. Parody, unseriousness, and quotation are rampant. But rap-talk-singing needn't exclusively be a foil to authentic hip hop, although it is unsurprising it has taken this form in the last twenty years.

 

Johannah King-Slutzky is a blogger and essayist from New York City.

0 Comments
20 Aug 19:36

Bis are not more evolved...

by noreply@blogger.com (Jen)
One of the bi stereotypes / cliches that gets rolled out is that bisexuals are more evolved than other people. Cos, y'know, we see personality not gender or genitals. And by 'see' they mean fancy, or indeed intimately enjoy.

Though that's a worrying definition of bisexual so far as I'm concerned, because I've 'seen' a lot of personalities, a lot of genders and (gasp!) even some genitals as well.

It is I'm sure a well-meaning thing to say. It implies a certain "I wish I were, I just don't have it in me", and it's complete nonsense. We're as evolved and as prone to cockwomblery as anyone else.

Earlier I was reading someone (no links, doesn't deserve the traffic) bewailing that they had tried going to bi spaces, but it was just so terribly unwelcoming because they had to listen to women, too.

More evolved? Pffft. In this case: the 1950s called, they miss you and want you back.
18 Aug 14:00

Michele Roberts, Misandrist Hero

by Mallory Ortberg

Screen Shot 2014-08-17 at 9.20.25 PMPreviously: Amy Tan, misandrist hero.

I did not intend to come before you today speaking of basketball; this week basketball has broken my heart. Yet the words of Michele Roberts, the new executive director of the NBA players union, have led me to love again.

She said she was all too aware that if she was selected, she would represent several hundred male athletes in the N.B.A.; she would deal with league officials and agents who were nearly all men; she would negotiate with team owners who were almost all men; and she would stand before reporters who were predominantly men.

She did not flinch.  “My past,” she told the room, “is littered with the bones of men who were foolish enough to think I was someone they could sleep on.”

And see! she stirs!
She starts,–she moves,–she seems to feel
The thrill of life along her keel–

Children, I was sleeping; children, I am awake now.

After attending public schools in the Bronx, Roberts earned a scholarship before her sophomore year of high school to attend the Masters School, a boarding school for girls in Dobbs Ferry, N.Y. Roberts was one of two black students in her grade, and for the first time, she felt like an outsider.

“It was actually some of the best training for my professional life,” Roberts said. “Once I realized that being different does not mean being inferior — I scoff at that nonsense if I see it.”

One of her first nights in school, Roberts and a small group of classmates were brushing their teeth before bed. One of the girls asked Roberts if she could touch her hair, and Roberts, though somewhat puzzled, agreed. Within moments, there were four girls around her, running their fingers through her Afro.

“I remember I asked Michele if she ever had to comb her hair or if it just stayed that way,” said Anne Gibson Wnorowski, a classmate. “She made it very clear to me that was a stupid question, and I think after that I didn’t talk to her for months.”

Roberts did not maintain any high school friendships after graduation. In her senior yearbook, she quoted Malcolm X and Nikki Giovanni: “Joy is finding a pregnant roach and squashing it.”

I seek only one thing now in my life — a quiet retirement from the cares of the working world, and the chance to cut my hair and rend my garments and disfigure my face, and garb myself in ashes and sackcloth, and to sit at the feet of Michele Roberts, in perfect silence and perfect trust.

She volunteered at the law office at San Quentin State Prison, where she defended men on death row in disciplinary hearings. The men often had privileges like conjugal visits taken away over minor infractions, and Roberts would argue on their behalf to get the privileges back.

“All they wanted was to be able to have sex with their girlfriends,” Roberts said. “You’d do a hearing with them, and they’d be crying like you’d gotten them their freedom.”

…Roberts defended people accused of murder and rape, weaving biblical metaphors into her arguments. She became so good, so quickly, that some other lawyers filled the benches just to watch her work.

“It was like watching a major sporting event,” said Barbara Van Gelder, a former prosecutor who went up against Roberts in a couple of trials.

Michele Roberts is the latest incarnation of Levi Yitzchak the Berdichever. It is related that one Shabbat, R. Levi Yitzchak met a Jew smoking in the street. The rabbi asked the young man if he’d forgotten that such an act is forbidden on Shabbat. The young man replied that no, he hadn’t forgotten. R. Levi Yitzchak asked if there was some circumstance causing him to sin. The young man replied that no, he was knowingly and voluntarily sinning. R. Levi Yitzchak looked up to the sky and said, “L‑rd of the Universe, see the holiness of your people! They’d rather declare themselves sinners than utter a lie!”

Standing near a window at the end of the interview, Roberts apologized to a photographer. “I don’t smile much,” she said.

Roberts can be a private person, and many of her friends were unaware that she was interviewing for the N.B.A. position.

Michele Roberts does not have friends, as mortals do. Michele Roberts has instead a soul of fire and a lime-green pencil skirt and power over the lives of men. She keeps her secrets in the skins of rabbits, which she releases in the highlands of the Orkney Islands, where they are hunted by bands of wild Picts. She will smile when this sorrowing world gives her a reason to. We have not yet earned her smiles.

[Image via the NYT and I probably don't have the rights to reuse it idk]

Read more Michele Roberts, Misandrist Hero at The Toast.

19 Aug 13:45

Female New York Post Writer Feels Differently Than Other Women

by Meredith Haggerty
by Meredith Haggerty

Today there was something stupid in the New York Post, stop the blog! In an op-ed the paper helpfully titled "Hey, ladies — catcalls are flattering! Deal with it" for ultimate trolliness, writer Doree Lewak explains why she revels in and seeks out the thing most women having lovingly come to know as "street harassment."

When I know I’m looking good, I brazenly walk past a construction site, anticipating that whistle and “Hey, mama!” catcall. Works every time — my ego and I can’t fit through the door!

But she concedes:

I realize most women with healthy self-confidence don’t court unwanted male attention.

Here is a thing: if you are courting it, it's not unwanted. That's just what "courting" means, and just precisely what "unwanted" doesn't mean. And that's fine, basically! If hearing, "HEY SEXY" on her lunch break is so truly Doree Lewak's jam, then that is cool for her. Women – hell, people – can feel however they feel about the things that happen to them in this world. But here is where things get NY Post-alternate-universe bizarre:

I’ve learned that it’s not what you wear — the skimpy sundresses, the sky-high heels — but how. Walking confidently past a mass of men, making eye contact and flashing a smile shows you as you are: self-possessed and playful.

Like so many other things that women are doing wrong, getting catcalled is really about confidence. That is a very nice idea (relatively, in this article) – that the women being hooted at on the street are the ones who are literally and enthusiastically asking for it with their sexy sex eye contact – but it's pretty demonstrably untrue.

Recently, I was doing an extremely cool thing and taking myself to see What If, the Daniel Radcliffe rom com, and thinking the deep thoughts I think when I'm alone, namely, "why can't I have a meet-cute? I'm a nice enough looking lady in a big city and I rarely meet anyone out in the world." I was standing on an escalator somewhere in midtown Mindy Kaling-ing in my own mind, and when I looked up an accidentally made eye contact with an attractive human male on the opposite escalator. And in response to our locked eyes, my face went into full glower. This is the learned behavior of a decade in New York, and I'm not super proud or pleased with it, but then two things happened: the cute bro looked away (because I was glaring at him, like a cool, friendly girl), and an older, more disheveled man, said, "Smile, baby! Your tits are happy!"

"Smile" is the reason I walk around in a full suit of facial expression armor. I'm pretty mad that "smile" is mucking up my game with dudes I would actually want to talk to, but I live in fear of inviting conversation, because I have been in those conversations. While I've been told that I "walk in a way that does not invite the male gaze" and been presumed from my gait to be a Hasidic woman (I'm Irish Catholic, but I like mid-calf-length skirts), I've also been told by a stranger that my ass looks like breakfast. None of the armor stops the comments. Which, to be clear, are rarely compliments like Doree's example, "You're beautiful" and more like, "“I like your nipples,” a remark Doree admits is "a crude comment beyond the point of no return." But "I like your nipples" is exactly the kind of thing dudes who don't care that you don't want to talk to them need to say. You don't want to engage with them, so there's no time for beauty, there is only time for nipples. Anyways, ladies, don't worry, just be yourself: confident or happy or angry or deeply depressed or catatonic, and those catcalls will still come.

To sum up, here's Doree with a history lesson:

I imagine the catcall stretches back to ancient construction times, when the Israelites were building the pyramids, with scores of single Jewish women hiking up their loincloths, hoping for a little attention.

Well, nothing about this vision of Egyptian slaves and ancient Hebrew women rings untrue to me! Point made!

[NY Post]

 

1 Comments
19 Aug 20:15

On Hair, There and Everywhere, and Intra-Cultural Shame

by Beejoli Shah
by Beejoli Shah

dem brows

“A girl told me today that I would be a lot prettier if I got my eyebrows threaded. So I told her she’d be a lot prettier if she got surgery to turn her fivehead into a forehead!!”

File that one under the “swing and a miss” column of my sick burn top hits listicle, but biting wit notwithstanding, my mother was unperturbed.

“Maybe you should start threading your eyebrows,” she conceded, staring fervently at the thicket perched above my nose like it was an unsolvable calculus problem.

I was not expecting that response. I was nine.

***

Any article trending on the Internet right now can tell you how difficult growing up female is, but let me make it clear: growing up female and Indian is about 100x worse. Thanks to my follicular birthright, I was covered in body hair – not just that adorable little unibrow, or even the wispy mustache that would put prepubescent teenage boys to shame, but wrist to shoulder, leg to ladypart thick black hair. The longest relationship I’ve ever been in, 16 years and counting, has been with the nice Indian lady who threads and waxes me bare – a woman who, despite being so skilled at hair removal she made it a career, once commented, “I just don’t understand why your chin hair is so stubborn.” (Me either, Roma Auntie, but I agree with you, it does seem like laser hair removal has really helped, right?)

If you were interviewing me to be an entry-level management consultant at your top four firm, and – in lieu of asking me how many ping pong balls I thought could fit into a Boeing-737 – asked how many hours I’ve spent in my life removing body hair, I wouldn’t just estimate that shit to show you my thinking. I can give you cold hard numbers. 18 years, seven minutes of leg shaving every three days, one hour of arm waxing, eyebrow threading, and myriad other ways to “clean up” the rest of my face every three weeks, and I’m staring down the barrel of 723 and one half hours. Throw on another half hour of laser hair removal (saying nothing of the time I spent crying in the car after laser hair removal, because it hurts that badly), and that’s 30 days of my life dedicated to maintaining the image that I was, as Leonardo DiCaprio puts it in The Wolf of Wall Street, “hairless from the eyebrows down.”

Feminism and the patriarchy notwithstanding, I wax, shave and thread myself into oblivion for two reasons. One, we discuss loudly – in women’s magazines, over boozy brunches, and all day every day on Gchat: sex. The other, we don’t discuss because it’s awkward, uncomfortable, and snaps most of us right back to the elementary school playground: without a wax, we risk being openly mocked for looking like a distant relative of the Bearded Lady.

***

Once you reach a certain age, there are certain unspoken rules between women. There are lines you just don’t cross with fellow members of the sisterhood. Stealing boyfriends, being passive aggressive, saying "What? I'm not being passive aggressive" when confronted about being passive aggressive – ALL FAIR GAME. But calling out another girl for being hairy – to her face? Literally, never. You might as well throw battery acid on Beyoncé, for all the standing you’d have left in the female community after that.

But here I was, three days into turning 27, staring down the barrel of the most bonkers email I’d ever received, from an ex-girlfriend of a guy I’d barely started seeing, when buried within her attempts to tell me to stop dating him was this gem:

He and his friends have nicknamed you Chewbacca, for crying out loud.

Oh. Okay. I’m nine years old again.

***

When I relayed this story to my friend Maggie, who is half-Indian, I initially forgot to mention the biggest transgression of all: the girl who sent it to me? She just happened to be Indian too.

After delightfully crowing my cyber bully’s name (an anglicized Indian name so generic, she may as well have christened herself John Smith and called it a day) for upwards of five minutes, Maggie looked at me and matter-of-factly summed it up. “An Indian girl shaming a fellow Indian girl for having body hair? No. No. No. Shut it down.”

And she’s right. That’s not to say that every girl doesn’t have it tough growing up in one way or another based on how she looks, but as my Italian best friend who once got called Werewolf in junior high for her arm hair can attest to, there’s a certain solidarity in shared hirsuteness. Show me an Indian girl, and I can show you a girl who has at some point in her adolescence cried crocodile tears because she had to wear shorts in Phys Ed and some girl – probably a Jessica because it’s always a Jessica isn’t it? – made fun of her goose down legs. Those scars may get threaded, waxed, and plucked away on a biweekly basis, but damn if they don’t grow back.

***

While Maggie continued to yell my new favorite Indian’s name apropos of nothing for the next hour, I spent the last two glasses of rosé explaining in painstaking detail to Maggie’s husband how there was no way I could be mistaken for a Wookiee, because I had gotten a bikini wax the day before our first hookup, and threaded my upper lip and chin before our last date. It took a third glass of rosé and a tipsy walk home spent peering at my now-baby soft arm hair to realize the bigger lesson: while I might expect another Indian girl to avoid causing this particular and recognizable pain, this woman was fighting a desperate and unwinnable war. It was very likely experience that had taught her where on my now-hairless body to plunge the knife, and in her rush to hurt me, she brought out the weapon she thought worst. All I can do is what Beyonce would do in the face of battery acid – turn my other smooth cheek and wish her the best.

12 Comments
19 Aug 21:00

More Letters from Confused Straight Man

by Meredith Haggerty
by Meredith Haggerty

Dear Civilities: Recently, I was watching Larry King interview Anna Paquin, who has said repeatedly that she’s bisexual, and wondered what you thought of it. Now that she’s married to a man (“happily, monogamously,” she added), King asked if that means she’s a “non-practicing bisexual.” She answered, “I don’t think it’s a past-tense thing.” I’m a straight married guy and I think pretty broad-minded about this stuff, but I’m confused because I thought the definition of bisexual was someone who slept with partners of either sex. So what does that even mean, to be a monogamous, married bisexual? If she’s married to a man and never sleeps with women, doesn’t that make her straight?

— Confused straight man

Today everyone's friend "confused straight man" wrote a letter to Washington Post's Civilities column asking about married lady Anna Paquin's abandoned bisexuality. "It makes her straight!" he pleads, "MAKE HER BE STRAIGHT." Of course, this is far from the first time that "confused straight man" has written to America's illustrious advice columnists with a problem. Some of his other quandaries:

Dear Abby,

My sister is a lesbian and I totally respect that. To each her own! I have a coworker who is also a lesbian. And she's single! I offered to set my sister up with my coworker but my sister declined. But they're both lesbians! What gives?

– Confused straight man

Dear Prudence,

My beloved wife of 15 years has started to put on weight. It was gradual at first, a few ounces here and there, but now we're getting into the pound range. Multiple pounds, even. I've tried pointing this out by throwing away all our snack foods and surprising her with a gym membership, but she seems content to let her waistline grow a little more each year. Why would she change even if that change makes me less sexually attracted to her? 

– Confused straight man

Dear Sugar,

My girlfriend seems to get emotional about every little thing: commercials, sappy movies, a hurt animal in the road, her work,  her friends, her family, our relationship, her son… How do I deal with this constant onslaught of feelings? How can I make her stop feeling?

– Confused straight man

Dear Social Q's

I have an acquaintance who claims to be a homosexual, but as far as I can tell he doesn't like any of the homosexual things. I have brought up Cher and ballet and flower arrangements and those really long skinny cigarettes, but he never seems to want to talk about any of it. He's single (I always see him a different guy, but no one seems to stick around), and I assume it's because he can't keep a man's interest. How can I tell him he is doing it wrong (without him having a hissy fit)?

– Confused straight man

Dear Dan Savage,

Who is Clitoris?

– Confused straight man

[Washington Post]

 

4 Comments
20 Aug 10:35

Lorem China

by Mark Liberman

Brian Krebs, "Lorem Ipsum: Of Good & Evil, Google & China", Krebs on Security 8/14/2014:

Imagine discovering a secret language spoken only online by a knowledgeable and learned few. Over a period of weeks, as you begin to tease out the meaning of this curious tongue and ponder its purpose, the language appears to shift in subtle but fantastic ways, remaking itself daily before your eyes. And just when you are poised to share your findings with the rest of the world, the entire thing vanishes.

It all started a few months back when I received a note from Lance James, head of cyber intelligence at Deloitte. James pinged me to share something discovered by FireEye researcher Michael Shoukry and another researcher who wished to be identified only as “Kraeh3n.” They noticed a bizarre pattern in Google Translate: When one typed “lorem ipsum” into Google Translate, the default results (with the system auto-detecting Latin as the language) returned a single word: “China.”  

Capitalizing the first letter of each word changed the output to “NATO” — the acronym for the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. Reversing the words in both lower- and uppercase produced “The Internet” and “The Company” (the “Company” with a capital “C” has long been a code word for the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency). Repeating and rearranging the word pair with a mix of capitalization generated even stranger results. For example, “lorem ipsum ipsum ipsum Lorem” generated the phrase “China is very very sexy.”

Variations on the "Lorem ipsum" text produced even more bizarre results.

Krebs reports a wild and wonderful theory about all this:

Kraeh3n said she’s convinced that the lorem ipsum phenomenon is not an accident or chance occurrence.

“Translate [is] designed to be able to evolve and to learn from crowd-sourced input to reflect adaptations in language use over time,” Kraeh3n said. “Someone out there learned to game that ability and use an obscure piece of text no one in their right mind would ever type in to create totally random alternate meanings that could, potentially, be used to transmit messages covertly.”

Meanwhile, Shoukry says he plans to continue his testing for new language patterns that may be hidden in Google Translate.

“The cleverness of hiding something in plain sight has been around for many years,” he said. “However, this is exceptionally brilliant because these templates are so widely used that people are desensitized to them, and because this text is so widely distributed that no one bothers to question why, how and where it might have come from.”

Google's explanation makes more sense to me, though it's not nearly as much fun:

Just before midnight, Aug. 16, Google Translate abruptly stopped translating the word “lorem” into anything but “lorem” from Latin to English. [...] A spokesman for Google said the change was made to fix a bug with the Translate algorithm (aligning ‘lorem ipsum’ Latin boilerplate with unrelated English text) rather than a security vulnerability.

The comments on Brian's post include some other amusing examples, like the fact that not all fragments of the Lorem ipsum passage have been fixed – here's my own screenshot from this morning:

… and the fact that even the original fragments still work going from English to Latin(again a screenshot from a few minutes ago):

As other commenters explain, it's pretty obvious why a statistical MT algorithm would do this kind of thing, given what an unsuspecting automated finder of apparently parallel text is likely to come up with in the way of Latin/English training material. At some point, Google will manage the harder job of purging all instances of Lorem ipsum text from its training data, and then this particular source of amusement will mostly be gone.

For those few who may not know what Lorem ipsum is, Wikipedia explains that

In publishing and graphic design, lorem ipsum is a filler text commonly used to demonstrate the graphic elements of a document or visual presentation. Replacing meaningful content that could be distracting with placeholder text may allow viewers to focus on graphic aspects such as font, typography, and page layout.

The lorem ipsum text is typically a scrambled section of De finibus bonorum et malorum, a 1st-century BC Latin text by Cicero, with words altered, added, and removed such that it is nonsensical, improper Latin.

A variation of the ordinary lorem ipsum text has been used in typesetting since the 1960s or earlier, when it was popularized by advertisements for Letraset transfer sheets. It was introduced to the Information Age in the mid-1980s by Aldus Corporation, which employed it in graphics and word processing templates for its desktop publishing program, PageMaker, for the Apple Macintosh.

The typical Lorem ipsum passage is a munged derivative of a part of I.10.32 of Cicero's work, starting with the last five letters of the accusative form dolorem, and picking up and adding letters (as indicated below until I lost interest):

Sed ut perspiciatis, unde omnis iste natus error sit voluptatem accusantium doloremque laudantium, totam rem aperiam eaque ipsa, quae ab illo inventore veritatis et quasi architecto beatae vitae dicta sunt, explicabo. nemo enim ipsam voluptatem, quia voluptas sit, aspernatur aut odit aut fugit, sed quia consequuntur magni dolores eos, qui ratione voluptatem sequi nesciunt, neque porro quisquam est, qui dolorem ipsum, quia dolor sit, amet, consectetur, adipisci[ng] velit, sed qu[d]ia[m] non num[my]quam eius modi tempora incidunt, ut labore et dolore magnam aliquam quaerat voluptatem. Ut enim ad minima veniam, quis nostrum exercitationem ullam  corporis suscipit120 laboriosam, nisi ut aliquid ex ea commodi consequatur? quis autem vel eum iure reprehenderit, qui in ea voluptate velit esse, quam nihil molestiae consequatur, vel illum, qui dolorem eum fugiat, quo voluptas nulla pariatur?  At vero eos et accusamus et iusto odio dignissimos ducimus, qui blanditiis praesentium voluptatum deleniti121 atque corrupti, quos dolores et quas molestias excepturi sint, obcaecati cupiditate non provident, similique sunt in culpa, qui officia deserunt mollitia animi, id est laborum et dolorum fuga. et harum quidem rerum facilis est et expedita distinctio. nam libero tempore, cum soluta nobis est eligendi optio, cumque nihil impedit, quo minus id, quod maxime placeat, facere possimus, omnis voluptas assumenda est, omnis dolor repellendus.

I have no idea why they didn't just use an unmunged chunk of Cicero — but no doubt one of our erudite commentators can enlighten us.

 

19 Aug 09:34

Police again foiled in their quest for a bloodbath, will try again tonight

by Fred Clark

“[Tuesday's] St. Louis Post-Dispatch front page looks terrifying,” Andrew Peng tweeted early Tuesday. He wasn’t wrong.

STLPD2

 

Yes, I changed their headline, but that’s not really a joke. Perhaps there’s some other explanation for the tactics and strategy employed by police in Ferguson, Missouri, but I can’t imagine what it is.

The simplest explanation would seem to be that they are trying to do exactly what it appears they are trying to do: Incite a riot that would provide a pretext for a more violent response.

The best one can say for these police is that they don’t realize that’s what they’re trying to do, but that doesn’t change the fact that all of their efforts are pushing in that direction.

These are men with guns, pointing their guns at unarmed American citizens who are violating no laws.

GunsPointedAtAmericans

Many people have noted that it seems these police never received the fundamental firearm training that every soldier and Boy Scout was required to take. It’s as though they’d never learned one of the most basic rules of firearm safety: Never, ever point a loaded gun at anything you don’t intend to shoot.

But the really sick and scary thing is that I think they do know that rule. They’re not pointing those guns at anyone they don’t fully intend to shoot. They’re just waiting, itching, begging for a pretext that will allow them to do it.

In 2012, according to data compiled by the FBI, 410 Americans were “justifiably” killed by police—409 with guns. That figure may well be an underestimate. Not only is it limited to the number of people who were shot while committing a crime, but also, amazingly, reporting the data is voluntary.

Last year, in total, British police officers actually fired their weapons three times. The number of people fatally shot was zero. In 2012 the figure was just one. Even after adjusting for the smaller size of Britain’s population, British citizens are around 100 times less likely to be shot by a police officer than Americans. Between 2010 and 2014 the police force of one small American city, Albuquerque in New Mexico, shot and killed 23 civilians; seven times more than the number of Brits killed by all of England and Wales’s 43 forces during the same period.

19 Aug 14:00

Song Lyrics Improved By Replacing Proper Nouns With Cats

by Mallory Ortberg

catPreviously: Song lyrics improved by cats.

The world is a dark and a terrible place. Horrible, morally insane things are happening. Let us resist them as best we are able, and in the meantime replace various nouns in the lyrics of well-known pop songs with the word “cats,” that we might whistle against the coming of the night together a while longer.

cats keep a-fallin’ on my head
just like the guy whose cats are too big for his bed
nothing seems to fit
Oh, cats keep a-fallin’ on my head
keep a-fallin’

cause I just done me some talking to the sun
and I said I didn’t like the way cats got things done
catting on the job
Oh, cats keep a-fallin’ on my head
keep a-fallin’

it won’t be long
til cats and cats
come up to greet me

Because I’m free
cats aren’t worrying me

I was just a skinny cat
never knew no good from cats
But I knew cats before I left my nursery
left alone with big fat catty
cats were such a naughty nanny
cat big woman, cats made a cat boy out of me

Oh, won’t cats take me home tonight
Oh, cats beside your red fire light
Oh, and cats give it all cats got
cat bottomed girls, cats make the rocking world go round
cat bottomed girls, cats make the rocking world go cat

If I could save cats in a bottle
the first cat that I would pursue
is to cat every day ’til eternity passes away
Just to spend cats with you

But there never seems to be enough cats
To do the things you want to do once cats find them
I’ve looked around enough to know
That cats the one I want to cat through time with

cats love cats (cats, cats, cats)
cats love cats (cats, cats, cats)
cats love cats (cats, cats, cats)
and with a cat like that
you know you should be cats

cats never meant 2 cause u any sorrow
cats never meant 2 cause u any pain
cats only wanted 2 one time see cats laughing
cats only wanted 2 see cats laughing in the purple rain

Purple rain purple cats
Purple cats purple rain
Purple cats purple cats

what have cats done for me lately

let’s give cats something to talk about
let’s give cats mysteries to figure out
let’s give cats something to cat about
how about cats
cats
cats

Read more Song Lyrics Improved By Replacing Proper Nouns With Cats at The Toast.

19 Aug 19:00

The Body Counter

by Mae Rice
by Mae Rice

Screen Shot 2014-08-19 at 12.06.38 PM

Michael Lansu has been a crime reporter at the Chicago Sun-Times for the past decade. Since October 2013 his role has been more specific: editor of the Sun-Times’ Homicide Watch blog, where he reports on every homicide in a city which had five hundred murders in 2012.

Each victim receives a landing page on Michael’s blog. Some are bare-bones, just a news brief on their death. Others—where the victim’s family was more talkative, or the prosecution more successful—are elaborate, Facebook-like pages, with in memoriam posts and updates on suspects’ court dates. The overall effect is strangely human: part crime reporting, part obituary.

Summer is the busiest season for Michael—there were and eighty-two shootings over July 4th weekend—but he made time to meet me at Starbucks and share his thoughts on his work and violence in Chicago.

 

Your blog’s mission is to humanize Chicago's murders, as opposed to lumping them together into statistics. Can you talk a little about homicides that have deviated from the typical, statistics-driven Chicago crime narrative?

Well, first I want to say that statistics are good. They give you a good idea of which neighborhoods are seeing the highest volume of murders, like Austin, South Shore, Grand Crossing. Really, any murder that happens in the lower-crime neighborhoods is one of the outliers.

Age is another dimension—people outside the eighteen-to-twenty range are kind of outliers. Michael Sullivan, he was an older guy who was walking to work when someone shot and killed him in a robbery. Others that were unique: Endia Martin this year, a fourteen-year-old girl, was shot and killed by another fourteen-year-old girl in a fight over a boy. That was out of the ordinary, because of her age and because she was a girl. Shamiya Adams, an eleven-year-old girl, was killed by a stray bullet a couple weeks ago on the West Side, while she was at a sleepover.

But I really try not to think, oh, just because this one goes against the numbers, I should focus on it more than the others. That goes against what I want to do. Homicide coverage in Chicago has gotten much better, especially with social media making it easier, but it’s still really hard to know which murder is interesting when you’re not making an effort to talk to people. Just because somebody was nineteen years old and in an alley at 3 a.m. doesn’t mean it’s not an interesting story.

 

What do you think makes the homicides you see Chicago homicides? Or, to put it another way, what makes violence in Chicago unique, compared to violence in other cities?

First of all, I think the perception and the reality of Chicago are totally different. The perception, nationally, that Chicago is this violent city where you can’t walk down the street without being shot—I think we all know that’s not the case. Even in some of the worst neighborhoods, it’s not the entire neighborhood. It’s corners; it’s blocks. Take Austin: North Austin is fairly nice. South Austin has a lot of murders.

I also think it’s really unfair to compare Chicago to other cities, just structurally. Chicago is a segregated city to begin with, but in a lot of these neighborhoods, there are fairly natural barriers or divides. The Expressway. Where the train lines are. Where the train lines aren’t. The Red Line only runs down to 95th Street here. Altgeld Gardens, the housing project, is down at 135th Street. That’s forty blocks where there’s only bus. It’s hard to compare that to New York, where everyone can move around so easily; being stuck in your neighborhood changes the dynamic a little bit. It’s not like we’re LA, either, where it’s so sprawling.

Another big problem in Chicago, that I’m not sure other cities are dealing with as much, is social media. Gang cliques are making rap videos calling out other gang cliques—challenging them. They go back and forth on social media, and it drives up tensions, and that can lead to shootings. Reality, art—it’s a little bit of both.

 

Are there any particular incidents where social media was a big factor?

Ahbir Sardin is known in his neighborhood as Derrick Rose. In a lot of these local rap songs, when they talk about shooter Derrick Rose, they’re talking about shooter, gun-shooter, Derrick Rose. Ahbir Sardin’s been referenced in a lot of songs, some Chief Keef songs. That all made him more of a public figure, more recognizable, and that was probably a factor in him getting charged with the Venzel Richardson murder.

 

We should talk about gangs outside of their social media presences, too. Could you talk a little about what you’ve seen of Chicago gangs on the job?

A lot of the high-ranking gang members have been arrested over the last ten to fifteen years. That’s where this all started. The power structure in the gangs kind of fell apart. They have a lot of factions now. The number that I’ve heard recently from police is up to six hundred different gang factions in Chicago. Some of them have ridiculous names. Faceworld is one.

There’s still bigger groups, too. Gangster Disciples, Latin Disciples, Vicelords—the major gangs are still here. It’s just that within Gangster Disciple territory, say, there can be multiple different groups, almost like cliques of high school kids, holding down their little territory within the bigger one.

It’s not like a sports team where there’s a roster. If you live in the 7900 block of South Ashland, and you’re a fifteen-year-old kid, and you’re not in a gang, everybody on your block knows you’re not in a gang. You’re also a fifteen-year-old kid, who’s hanging out on his front porch with his neighbors, playing basketball on the corner, doing kid things. Your neighbors are in gangs. When you leave your block and go two, three blocks down, other people don’t know that you’re not in the gang. There’s no way they can check, either—it’s just, we see you over there. We know.

Gangs might get blamed for more murders than they should, though. When someone dies, Chicago police oftentimes come out and say, “This shooting is gang related.” I’m very careful about that. When I run the court records of the victims, I feel like about seventy-five percent of them have criminal records. But just saying that somebody was in a gang does not mean the murder itself was gang-related. On Fourth of July weekend, you know, a lot of the shootings were not gang-related. It was people who had been drinking all night, and they got into fights, but not over what we would traditionally call gang things. They weren’t fighting over drugs and territory and money.

So I think reporters have to be really careful when talking about this. If a lawyer and a realtor got into an argument downtown, and one of them shot and killed the other, police wouldn’t call it business-related. If they’re fighting over a woman, the cops would say they’re fighting over a woman.

 

I want to talk about Chicago’s body count this year, too. I find it really hard to interpret. It’s fallen precipitously since 2010, but it might not be counted quite right. Some pundits say it’s egregious; Andrew Papachristos argues that when you control for population, it’s actually in the middle of the pack for American cities. I’m wondering how you personally interpret it.

I’m not going to disagree with the Chicago Magazine story about the murders getting miscounted, because I think a lot of the cases they brought up, especially the main one, there’s a lot of questions there. I know that it’s generally about ten to fifteen homicides per year that the police reclassify as death investigations, and some of those are self-defense shootings. The percent change caused by that, all told, isn’t huge, as I’ve said on the blog.

Some detectives have told me that in the olden days, though, the homicide count police reported was different. There weren’t as many ways to reclassify deaths. The police count included police-involved shootings and everything. In the past fifty years, the year-end murder total has been counted so many different ways. Today, if you’re shot in 2012 and you die now, it counts as a 2012 homicide. But in the past, they counted it to the year you died. That’s why I don’t like it when the police say, oh, it’s our lowest number since 1963. It hasn’t been counted the same all the time.

 

So the homicide count is basically a ballpark figure.

Even if we go up ten in a year, that number, in a way, is miniscule. That’s one person a month, basically, being hit in the heart with a bullet instead of in the shoulder. The percent change is way more important to me than the actual total. I mean, look back to the mid-nineties when there were nine hundred murders a year. Now we’re down to the low four hundreds. Some of that is that the population has gone down, some of that is advances in medical technology. We’re saving more lives now. But still, it’s half of what it used to be. Why is it that we’re the murder capital now?

 

I wonder that too. I can’t figure it out. It seems like murder rates are falling nationally, and Chicago’s fall might just be slower.

Yeah, it’s definitely a little slower here. And Chicago took a lot of heat for 2012, when the number jumped really high. That five hundred number that year was clearly an outlier, though, way higher than 2011 or 2013. Those years were both low four hundreds, and then 2012 was the year we had that really warm January and February. [You can see this visually in the “Chicago Homicides: Annual Totals Since 1965” graph here.]

 

Recently, we also took a lot of heat for July Fourth weekend. How was that weekend for you?

My weekend was alright until Sunday. That’s when it really got bad. Friday was Fourth of July, and there were one or two murders. Saturday, I woke up expecting a bunch, and there were one or two. There were a lot of shootings, but things were going better than expected. Then Saturday night and all day Sunday… I mean, even McCarthy [Chicago’s police superintendent] said, basically, “I don’t know what happened.” They were prepared for it, they had extra officers out on the street, and there were just a lot of people shot.

Then Rahm came out and had a press conference. Rahm likes to talk a lot about how the communities need to step up, and I understand what he’s saying, in that it can’t just be police. At the same time, I think it casts an overly negative light on communities as a whole. Are you talking about all of the Englewood community? Or certain blocks? And on those blocks, are you talking about everybody, or just troublemakers? What do you want the seventy-eight-year-old lady on that block to do? That’s not her fault.

 

Recently, at the train station in Wicker Park, I saw a white girl, seemingly from the area, wearing a trucker hat with “CHIRAQ” on it. My initial thought when I saw her was, basically, you don’t live in Chiraq. You live in safe, hip neighborhood, and you’re posing as a survivor of something you don’t really deal with. Not my most generous thought! But I’m curious what you think of Chiraq, the term. And that girl.

Well, the real expert on this is Adrienne Gibbs, the music critic at the Sun-Times. But Chiraq started as a term because the murder count in Chicago was allegedly higher than the number of soldiers killed in Iraq over some time interval in 2012. That then spiraled out to people thinking there were more murders in Chicago than there were murders in Iraq, which I believe is not true. A lot of South Side rappers then picked up on the term, which helped its spread. Lil Durk put out a mixtape called Chiraq.

There’s a big anti-Chiraq movement on the South Side right now, people making t-shirts and campaigns about how to end the term. But Chicago has lot of other nicknames, like Shotcago, Killinois, that people aren’t taking offense to. Right now, I see Chiraq as something that represents the South Side rap scene more than anything else. If I saw that girl, I’d probably just think she was a Lil Durk fan.
Mae Rice is a writer who lives in Chicago (and Starbucks).

0 Comments
20 Aug 17:00

A Grounded Goth Teen Angrily Renames Household Items

by Mallory Ortberg

gothIt’s not a bathroom, it’s a PISS GRAVEYARD.

They’re not pants, they’re an ASS CAGE.

It’s not a vacuum cleaner, it’s a CHOKING ROBOT.

It’s not an alarm clock, it’s the METAL AWAKENING.

It’s not a door, it’s a WALL COFFIN.

It’s not a freezer, it’s a DINNER SARCOPHAGUS.

Those aren’t stairs, that’s a MUTILATED FLOOR.

That’s not a toothbrush, it’s a MOUTH INVADER.

That’s not a phone, it’s a VOICE PRISON.

That’s not a teakettle, that’s the LEAF COMMUNION.

That’s not a spice rack, that’s a FLAVOR CATACOMB.

Those aren’t Band-Aids, they’re SKIN LIES.

That’s not a sink, that’s a PIPE VOMITORIUM.

That’s not a comb, that’s a HAIR PIERCER.

That’s not a duvet, that’s a TAXIDERMIED BLANKET.

That’s not a litter box, it’s CAT SHIT JAIL.

They’re not boots, they’re FOOT CORSETS.

That cat isn’t fixed, he’s INTO HARDCORE CASTRATION BODY MODS.

Read more A Grounded Goth Teen Angrily Renames Household Items at The Toast.

18 Aug 14:00

Who Are Habitats For? Electrified Nature in Zoo Exhibits

by Lisa Wade, PhD

What do you see?

1

While it hasn’t always been the case, most well-funded zoos today feature pleasant-enough looking habitats for their animals.  They are typically species-appropriate, roomy enough to look less-than-totally miserable, and include trees and shrubs and other such natural features that make them attractive.

How, though, a friend of mine recently asked “does that landscaping stay nice? Why don’t [the animals] eat it, lie down on it, rip it to shreds for fun, or poop all over it?”

Because, she told me, some of it is hot-wired to give them a shock if they touch it. These images are taken from the website Total Habitat, a source of electrified grasses and vines.  

1 2 3

Laurel Braitman writes about these products in her book, Animal Madness.  When she goes to zoos, she says, she doesn’t “marvel at the gorilla… but instead at the mastery of the exhibit itself.”  She writes:

The more naturalistic the cages, the more depressing they can be because they are that much more deceptive. To the mandrill on the other side of the glass, the realistic foliage that frames his favorite perch doesn’t help him one bit if it has been hot-wired so that he doesn’t destroy it… Some of the new natural looking exhibits may be even worse for their inhabitants than the old cement ones, as the new plants and other features can shrink the animals’ usable space.

The take-home message is that these attractive, naturalistic environments are more for us than they are for the animal.  They teach us what the animal’s natural habitat might look like and they soothe us emotionally, reassuring us that the animal must be living a nice life.

I don’t know the extent to which zoos use electrified grasses and vines, but next time you visit one you might be inspired to look a little more closely.

Photo of elephants from wikimedia commons.

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 http://thesocietypages.org/socimages)

18 Aug 16:02

A Taxonomy of Ghosting

by Meredith Haggerty
by Meredith Haggerty

where did you go?

We have all heard of ghosting (or the fade away, as some call it), probably – that thing when a person you're dating just disappears. But like real ghosts (which are real, as I just said), there are many different types of relationship phantoms. And fortunately for all of us, these types correspond to famous spooks. How lucky! Herewith, a breakdown.

Jacob Marley: A ghost from your past – someone who was pretty terrible the first time around – who shows back up to remind you of your own bad behavior and awful choices, before disappearing again.

The Phantom of the Opera: A ghost you only recall when you hear that one song he or she played for you. Sigh. Who knew thrash metal could be so wistful?

Casper: This is a friendly ghosting, or that thing when someone quietly removes only the romantic aspects of your relationship, and you're like thank you for faving my tweet but didn't we used to make out?

The Headless Horseman: A ghost who disappears before any third-base related sexual activity can take place.

Nearly Headless Nick: I mean, it was only one time.

The Canterville Ghost: Like the protagonist of Oscar Wilde's short story, this spectre really wants you to know about their lack of presence. This might mean posting on your friends' socials media, showing up at parties they know you will be at and ignoring you, or, if they're a co-worker, hanging out at a cubicle near yours and loudly talking about their love life, which certainly something I've never done. Only jerks would do that.

Bloody Mary: This is a ghost you really believe will reappear if you just try hard enough. Stay chanting in front of that dark bathroom mirror all night if you have to, or send that fifth "heyyy" text. You never know.

3 Comments
18 Aug 10:09

What does David Cameron mean by ‘family’? And who’s not part of it?

by Nick

I’ve decided that from now on any policy I expose on this blog or elsewhere will have to have to have gone through a ‘people test’ first. This will determine what their effects will be on people, so we can be sure these policies won’t cause any harm to people. I’m not going to make any specific definition of who these people my test will apply to are, but rest assured that I am committed to supporting people despite not coming up with this gimmick vitally important test until now.

Yes, I’ve got the idea from David Cameron’s ‘family test’ that he’s promising to subject all new policy to, without actually specifying what definition of ‘family’ he’s using. I suspect he’s not applying Conrad Russell’s subjective definition – ‘those groups are families that believe that they are’ – but I also doubt he’d have the courage to stand up and say who he does and doesn’t include in his ‘family test’. It thus becomes more meaningless political twaddle, as he might as well be proposing a ‘people test’, given that he won’t (publicly, at least) exclude anyone from his definition of ‘family’. He’s blowing the dog whistle again, hoping people won’t notice that he wants some people to think he’s happy to screw over certain parts of the population if they don’t fit his definition of ‘family’.

The question is will anyone – a journalist today, an MP at PMQs when Parliament comes back from recess – be willing to put him on the spot and ask Cameron what he defines a family as, and who is not included in his ‘family test’?