Okay but check out this on-point campaign my schools starting
((Lone Mountain is one of the buildings on campus and there’s a ridiculous set of stairs to get up to it))
Um whoa, how cool. The school is seriously doing this? This makes me want to visit again haha.
Do you know what started it?
I’m actually not sure, but the posters say it’s a couple professors from the psych department, design department, and school of management working together on it. The posters should be up next week, I’m stoked
Life and Donuts by Pablo Stanley
I need to say this is one of the most uplifting things I’ve seen.
well that’s my existential crisis sorted out
seriously though its nice to have that kind of comfort written out like that
"What connects us to life?"
"Right now? I’m going with donuts"
How long does it take you to open the fridge, scrape up some ‘I can’t believe it’s not butter’ and apply it to two pieces of bread? A minute? Less than a minute? You’ve still got time to spare! Throw a ready-cut slice of cheese between the two pieces of bread – and head out the door to catch your train. You can dispense with putting the result in a polythene bag if you like – think of the environment. Just chuck it in your briefcase; it will still fill your stomach at lunchtime – even squashed flat it will transform into stomach-shaped once it has travelled down your gullet – doesn’t need to start life perfectly triangular. The wonders of the human body!
The cost? 40p would be generous.
What’s that you say? You’re rushed in the morning? Busy people; pressure of modern life?
Then how come, four hours later, you can find that same two entire minutes to lean over a chill counter as you dither between ‘Camembert and ripe Forest berries’ or ‘Cheddar with organic red onion’ in Marks and Spencer – and that’s not counting the time spent queuing up to pay your £4.
*Sigh*. Ms Raccoon has been reading ‘sandwich statistics‘. More interesting than it might seem at first sight.
Did you know that 300,000 people get up every morning, catch that train, and then spend all day, their entire day, applying ‘I can’t believe it’s not butter’ to two slices of bread on your behalf, and don’t even throw the slice of cheese in between? Nope, that’s someone else’s full time employment; professional cheese slice chucker…
300,000 people! That’s ten times the number employed in the entire wind farm industry; and we spend enough time complaining about what a useless waste of space that is. 300,000 people – that’s ten times the number of people who come into Britain ever year from non-EU countries that we are having a major political row over at the moment. That’s ten times the number of people as were required to run the entire 2012 Olympics.
300,000 people who manage to pay their mortgage, their child care bills, feed their family, claim their top up benefits, buy new knickers, feed the cat – doing nothing more than spread pretendy butter on two slices of bread all because you can find two minutes at lunch-time to dither over their handiwork, but you can’t find those two minutes before you leave the house in the morning!
I’m not counting the number of people who spend at least an hour a day saying “White or brown” to you, or “That’ll be £7.20″ should you have stupidly stepped into Starbucks sandwich emporium. Nor the expensively trained journalists who uncomplainingly spend their working week writing about sandwich fillings for ‘International Snack and Sandwich News‘; nor the experts involved in judging ‘British Sandwich Designer of the Year ‘ – Oh well done Catherine!
It was, of course, the news from the Greencore factory in Northampton that they were to search for an additional 300 eastern Europeans to butter those slices of bread for us that sent me nose-diving into the sandwich sub-culture. Despite over 500 bread butterers in Corby, a mere 50 miles away, having lost their jobs, only 50 of them applied for the new jobs in Northampton. Greencore decided that the British were simply not ‘hungry enough’ for work – and so went to Hungary, where they are. So to speak. Or summit like that.
Up in sunny Bradford, you will find ‘Love Bites’, a major sandwich making empire. Richard Smith started making sandwiches in his kitchen and flogging them out of the back of a van in 1991. Now he has a fleet of refrigerated lorries that can each carry 56,000 sandwiches charging round the country.
In the Midlands, you will find Iwona Zilinskas – she came here in 2004 as an illegal immigrant, buttering slices of bread for us – but now has legal status and runs an employment agency making sure that the mainly Albanians, Latvians and Poles 300,000 people who know which side our bread should be buttered are paid minimum wage and not exploited.
It is a £7bn industry. 7,000,000,000 quid a year – and 300,000 people. 3.5bn sandwiches every day.
We could solve overcrowding on this beleaguered isles at a stroke here – and if my maths is right, I’ve just put an extra £5.5bn in your pocket for cat food. I must take a week off writing more often – I could solve the entire problems of the world if I took a month off….
Shift that two minutes you find at lunchtime to 7am – and discover which side your bread is buttered!
I recieved this breathless email that reveals the ghastly truth about liberal Oregon and their evil sex education plans.
KOIN, the CBS affiliate in Portland, is set to air its special investigative report “Triple X-Rated Education” Tuesday at 11pm. This report will expose the Oregon Adolescent Sexuality Conference and its pornographic sex education forced on area children. Planned Parenthood is on the steering committee of the annual Oregon ASC.
“I felt really horrified and unsettled by it all,” says a student on the KOIN report trailer. “A conference intended to teach kids as young as 11 about safe sex, but you won’t believe what they’re learning,” the commentator continues.
A local watchdog group, Parents’ Rights in Education, has had its eye on the Oregon Adolescent Sexuality Conference and the XXX-rated presentations and materials being peddled to and by schoolchildren there for several years. In 2013, the group asked Rita Diller, director of American Life League’s STOPP Planned Parenthood International, to attend the conference and see for herself what was being promoted to children. Diller says she came away scarred. “I monitor Planned Parenthood sex education on a regular basis and I have seen some unbelievably horrifying situations that young people are put in because of the abortion giant’s fixation with sexualizing children, but never have I seen so many adults work so hard to defile young people than at this conference,” she said. “It is blatant child abuse.”
Several parents attended on behalf of the investigative effort and brought out materials that matched and expanded on the cache that Diller brought out in 2013. Those materials are now up on the website of Parents’ Rights in Education for the world to see.
Also on the website are some videos from the 2014 conference. One of them shows a presentation where a teen boy blows up a condom, lubricates it, and performs a simulated sex act with it while adult sponsors and teens laugh. The trailer for the KOIN exposé is also linked on the website.
American Life League president, Judie Brown, stated, “Planned Parenthood continues to receive funding at taxpayer expense and uses this money to shove pornographic material down the throats of our children. Congress must defund Planned Parenthood immediately.”
Media inquiries, please contact Rob Gasper at 540.659.4171 or RGasper@all.org.
You think they’d learn someday that the “shove X down their throats” cliche is really inappropriate.
But of course this all made me curious — what horrifying things are these radicals at Planned Parenthood telling kids that defiles them? So I dug up some videos that are apparently excerpts from this exposé.
This is a video about Dangerous Sex Advice for Kids.
So it’s about a 15 year old going into a Planned Parenthood and asking for sex advice — she wants to talk about kink. And what she gets is a frank discussion about the facts: that some people like to role play, that they play dominance/submissive games, that you should use a safe word. I looked at a couple of videos, and rather than being horrifying or sexualizing children, they are telling these kids that their desires are perfectly normal, urging them to learn more (they recommend The Joy of Sex, oh horrors), and emphasizing the importance of consent.
These are the tamest sex talks imaginable: non-judgmental, informative, reassuring, and professional. All I can say after seeing them is…good job, Planned Parenthood. I hope a lot of kids see this ‘documentary’ and learn that if they want honest answers, they should just visit their local Planned Parenthood office, because I was really impressed with how nice they were in the clips.
And contra these conservative wackaloons, the real blatant child abuse is keeping kids ignorant and afraid.
Then out spake prim Horatius,
The Censor of the Gate:
"To every persyn upon this earth
Butthurt cometh soon or late.
And how can we do better
When facing fearful speech,
Than shut down all discussion,
And stop the crimethink's reach?
"As for the tender mother
Who knits a woolen toy,
Best send the cops to brace her
Although it gives her joy,
It matters not what we think,
We privileged with some sense,
Call the cops if anyone
May somehow take offense.
"Haul down the books, Oh Councils,
With all the speed ye may;
I, with the state to help me,
Will halt bad speech in play.
If the people won't obey us
And alter all their norms,
Then force of law we'll bring to bear,
and stop extremism in all its forms.
Pages from In Real Life (al images courtesy the publisher)
It’s all fun and games until the thinly veiled artifice of a virtual world becomes all too real. In the case of young Anda, the main character of In Real Life, a graphic novel written by Boing Boing co-editor Cory Doctorow and illustrated by Jen Wang, she must reconcile that the distinction between good and bad isn’t always clear cut in the multi-player online role-playing game (MMORPG) she plays known as Coarsegold. In Real Life is spun out of “Anda’s Game,” a short story, also written by Doctorow.
Each page of In Real Life showcases Jen Wang’s thoughtfully illustrated panels, which easily pull you into the story. Her drawings are loosely rendered — some areas appear to be drawn playfully with a crayon-like texture — and are reminiscent of popular comic book illustrator Jillian Tamaki. Wang does a great job of keeping the real world in boring neutral colors to describe Anda’s suburban Arizona life, while the virtual world is either a series of warm yellows and oranges during fight scenes, or cool blues and greens when Anda is contemplative and about to come to a realization about in-game ethics. It feels like a necessary accompaniment to Doctorow’s original story — Anda is portrayed as a plain, stocky teenager, far from the beautiful comic characters that typically grace the pages of major superhero comics. Her idealized self in the virtual world of Coarsegold is known as “Kalidestroyer,” an athletic redhead that can kick ass. Anda gains confidence through playing as “Kalidestroyer,” and soon she’s accompanying another character, Lucy, on missions that pay cash — not in-game currency, but real dollars. Her missions are essentially to raid other player’s houses and kill gold sellers for money.
An ethical dilemma arises when Anda learns that these gold sellers aren’t just robots — they’re real people from impoverished nations that are trying to make money through the game. They collect gold and artifacts within the game to sell back to more wealthy players — a common practice within MMORPG games. Upon realizing this, Anda befriends a young gold seller who, in real life, is a Chinese boy who goes by his English name, Raymond. Anda begins to question Raymond about his practices in an effort to figure out why he is gaming the system. Eventually, he divulges that this is the easiest way for him to make money without working in a factory.
With this knowledge, Anda begins to advocate for Raymond to stand up to his cruel employer, which has numerous consequences.
Interestingly, Raymond has been changed from a gold-farmer of Mexican heritage in the original “Anda’s Game” to a Chinese one, perhaps as a reflection of current working conditions for many of China’s poor, a nod to the spread of MMORPG gold-seller sweatshops, and the proliferation of internet access. As all games, especially MMORPGs, can mirror aspects of the real world, In Real Life asks important questions about how assets are controlled, how prejudice is carried into a virtual world, as well as the ethics involved in online gaming. It also forces us to think about the implications of selling off precious artifacts to wealthier patrons in order to support oneself or one’s family — a practice all too common in impoverished countries.
“When you contemplate the microscale phenomenon of a world-in-a-bottle like an MMO and the toy economy within it, it equips you with a graspable metaphor for understanding the macroscale world of monetary policy. In other words: thinking about gold farming is a gateway drug to thinking about money itself,” Doctorow explains in an interview with Kotaku about the novel.
Though these are the broad ideas Doctorow aims at with In Real Life, it does feel like more of an introduction to moral issues within virtual societies and a simplistic look into broader problems. Some of the original criticism of sexism and gender in video games that was present in “Anda’s Game” is noticeably missing. For example, “Sensible boobs, sensible armour, and a sword the size of the world” is an epithet used a few times in “Anda’s Game,” but there is no mention of this in In Real Life. There is, however, a nod early on in In Real Life that there are more female gamers today and that more should start playing. But if Doctorow’s primary audience for the book is adolescent players easily indignant over the economics within an MMORPG, there’s definitely a lesson or two to be learned.
In Real Life, a graphic novel written by Cory Doctorow and illustrated by Jen Wang, is available on Amazon and other online booksellers.
THIS IS THE BEST COMMERCIAL EVER
I’ve reblogged this so many times because I truly think every parent should involve themselves with what their child enjoys.
YIPPE YIPPE YEET
This is how I imagine zhinxy's childhood. So I've been led to believe. Except the hair was bigger. And it was more 90s. And she summoned zombies or something.
This is exactly what snapchat was created for
Just mail it to Mordor addressed to “Mr. [Whatever], 25 In the Lava Pit Blvd, Mordor, M.E.” With special instructions to just drop it in the Lava Pit if nobody’s home.
Actually, by definition, her future is always starting now since if it didn’t proceed from the present it would by definition not be the future.
Fireworks designed for daytime.
This is how many children that died in their Hunger Games, without even being mentioned throughout the three books. All these children were under 18. All these children had parents. All these parents’ hearts sank to their knees during their child’s reaping. All these parents saw their terrified child off at the train station. All these parents heard the sound that signified their child’s death. All these parents received their cold, dead child in a wooden box. All these parents’ lives ended there. All these parents could say or do nothing. All these parents were merely thanked that they gave up their child. Thanked.
And the media focuses on the love triangle.
All these children and all these parents aren’t real
Yeah, sure, I guess that’s true. None of these people were real.
But let’s focus on what this series, and this fact, say about our society.
In the series, the Capitol’s media focuses entirely on the ‘fun’ of the Games- the fashion, the plot twists, the favorites, the strategies, the romance. And the entire time, they completely overlook the fact that 1,678 children between the ages of 12 and 18 have died. Usually brutally murdered by other 12 to 18 year old children.
And how does our real-life media react to this story when news of a movie adaptation reaches them? They talk about the romance. This tragic story of a girl who must choose between her long-time best friend and her new love. Even if she chooses Peeta, they still must fight to the death. The star-crossed lovers of District 12. And many readers of the original novels saw the books through the same lens. You would tell them that you read/ were reading the books and their first reaction was, “Are you Team Gale or Team Peeta?”
Meanwhile, children are fighting to the death.
The fact that our media, and many every-day people reacted to the Hunger Games the same as the Capitol media scares me.
I don’t want this world to be anything like the Capitol. I don’t think any of us do.
And the fact that most of us (including myself) never really considered how many children had died in the games also scares me. But, hey, it didn’t happen now/ in the current story, so it doesn’t matter, right?
I’m not sure about that math though. I think it’s MORE.
Let’s talk about just the first 73 games, ok? Every year before Katniss and Peta.
24 Tributes (1 girl + 1 boy x 12 districts)= 1 Victor + 23 Dead Every year
23 x 73 = 1,697
EXCEPT, the 50th games (The games Haymitch competed in) had DOUBLE the number of tributes. An extra 24 kids died that year.
Now, 22 kids died in Katniss and Peeta’s first game, because they both live.
In 74 years, the brutal, violent murders of 1,725 children aired on TV in Panem, and in both the Capitol, and on the red carpet in our world, the first question people want to ask it “Team Peeta?” Damn.
i’m not even in this fandom, but damn, that’s scary
And here we have people who GET the hunger games.
#until this moment#i didn’t realize there were still people who haven’t figured out that our reactions to media are an important indicator of our values#it doesn’t matter that they aren’t real#our reaction on a story primarily about children killing each other#was to focus on the romance#it wasn’t a romance#it’s a story about a tyrannical governemt sentencing children to death as a means of intimidating the sectors into submission#and we reacted to the games exactly the same way the capitol did
you can be as meta as you can but you can never be this meta
this is why not the media’s focus on JUST the love triangle is important—because it goes beyond that. Maybelline released a “Hunger Games” themed make up campaign. Barbie dolls were made of Katniss. T shirts. Plastic jewelry.
This is the real lesson.
The movie does a good job of using the capitol as a stand-in for the empty stupidity of some of our own current culture. That’s on purpose. The fact that someone decided to sell merchandising rights that completely subverted the message is just typical movie studio greed, and I’m sure nobody in the business of making these toys a reality cared one whit for the message of the film.
The following document was procured from the desk of Stanford psychiatrist Dr. Keith Humphreys by an undercover AddictionMyth operative posing as a patient seeking treatment for a substance use disorder.
Project ‘Emancipation Proclamation’
A Progress Report on Our Plan to Take Over the World
Dear Mr. Soros,
The following is a progress report as of November 2014 on our top secret plan to take over the world and enslave the masses. The conspiracy requires convincing people that addiction is a brain disease and then we will institute universal random drug testing with a zero tolerance policy and this will be followed by swift and certain sanctions of rapidly increasing penalties and require lifetime 12 Step attendance for anyone who has at any point tested positive for detectable levels of non-prescribed drugs or alcohol in their system. In these groups (such as Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous) they will be abused and exploited for sex, money and labor, and then the ones who are noncompliant or no longer useful will be brainwashed into suicide. The remaining thugs and psychopaths will operate as a group at your whim. I am pleased to report we have already made great progress on all fronts.
Of course our plan requires that children be deprived of any kind of moral or religious education so that they are unable to distinguish between right and wrong and believe that all truths are relative. Great progress has already been made:
I congratulate you and your agents in Hollywood for your achievements in this area over the last 40 years without which our plan would be unworkable.
George Koob, Arthur Caplan, Robert DuPont, Angela Hawken and I have been working hard to legitimize science and public policy to realize your dream. Here is a summary of our progress:
George Koob – NIAAA
Dr Koob has been publishing beautifully illustrated science fiction speculation about how the disease of addiction might actually work in the brain to produce a reward feedback loop that makes the victim have anonymous sex and rob drug stores for Oxy without realizing that they are doing anything wrong (or even worse, realizing that they are doing wrong but being completely unable to stop themselves). This ‘zombification’ strategy has been incorporated into propaganda published by NIDA and SAMHSA to convince children that if they do drugs they will do things they regret even if they seem like fun at the time but will eventually turn into a disease before they know it and that they can always claim ‘blackout’ if they really don’t want to remember their shenanigans and that most kids who have the disease are in total denial about it as proven by his extensive research on drunken rats.
Arthur Caplan – NYU
Art has been working hard to provide a bioethical justification for enforced drug compliance by arguing that the addict is enslaved to their drug of choice and therefore we are setting them free with coercive treatment. Arthur notes that most drug users are too stupid to be able to decide for themselves whether they want treatment as proven by the fact that they took drugs or alcohol in the first place. Arthur notes that most drug users are even less intelligent than the average American voter. Arthur’s work inspired the title of our project: Emancipation Proclamation.
Robert DuPont – NIDA, ONDCP
Dr DuPont has a long career of institutionalizing drug testing and his extensive experience includes a financial stake in drug testing companies. He has already made great strides with state level physician oversight programs that have destroyed the careers of many physicians who were suspected or falsely accused of using drugs or alcohol by requiring them to submit to onerous conditions such as 5 year biweekly AA attendance and frequent random drug testing and referrals to expensive rehab programs run by the oversight committees themselves. He believes these programs can be expanded to all states and then into schools and finally to healthcare facilities. He recommends that everyone be required to undergo a randomly scheduled yearly check-up (free under Obamacare) at which time they will be tested for drugs using only testing kits approved by him personally to ensure greater compliance and reliability. Rob reminds us that this is the “American Way” to health and prosperity, and any follow-up testing required after a positive result will be offered at a ‘nominal charge’ to the patient and can be taken at numerous secure locations such as local police stations, county hospitals and correctional facilities where immediate treatment can be provided in the event of a confirming result.
Angela Hawken – Pepperdine
Angela has published well respected research showing that ‘swift and certain’ sanctions for drug use (e.g. short term jail stays) greatly reduces drug use in parolees. They are much less likely to use drugs when they know they can be tested at any time, and a positive test will result in an immediate punishment. This result comes as a surprise since behavioral modification is not considered effective treatment for most diseases, but evidently ‘drug addiction’ is an exception to that rule. Angela advocates for expanding these sanctions to other jurisdictions as well as testing their effectiveness on other diseases such as asthma and cancer. Angela recommends increasing sanctions on repeated violations such as higher fines and longer jail stays. She does not recommend amputation of body parts however I believe I am making progress with her on medically supervised sterile detachment as long as ‘best efforts’ are made to maintain the parts securely for reattachment upon successful completion of the prescribed treatment regimen.
Keith Humphreys – Stanford
I have been working hard to convince government agencies that effective public policy does not require scientific justification. This way we can promote the ‘clubhouse model’ of addiction treatment where anyone who has tested positive for any drugs or alcohol (or has been suspected by work or school administrators of using drugs) can be sent for enforced compliance with anti-craving medications like Vivitrol and can be introduced to 12 Step programs where they can find spiritual fulfillment through a higher power of their choice. They will be required to attend on a daily basis for the rest of their lives but will be allowed to meet with the fellowship outside the clubhouse after they have shown mastery of Big Book theology as demonstrated by the suicide of a sponsee, which will also serve as a reminder for everyone of the danger of ‘drug addiction’ and that ‘some must die so that others can live’ and provide the epidemiological justification for the program.
We are very excited by our achievements so far and look forward to continued progress. Very soon you will have armies of recovery-addicted zombies that you can control to enforce goodness and fairness around the world so you can ‘one-up’ the failed god who did nothing as you accompanied the Nazis while they looted, raped and killed countless people including members of your own family.
Your Trusted Servant,
P.S. Absolutely no one suspects a thing. Just for fun I left out this information for one patient who is particularly nosy. But don’t worry he’s a paranoid schizophrenic with persistent florid psychosis usually involving intricate government conspiracy fantasies and delusions of grandeur. Plus he’s a confabulator and has treatment resistant scabies (which he consistently denies) so he is isolated from the other patients and everyone just ignores or ridicules everything he says!
Not allowing comments is not censorship or anti democracy. If I publish a book, I don’t need to publish a 2nd one with your complaints about me.— Ami Angelwings (@ami_angelwings)November 1, 2014
A thing I wrote on Twitter is on tumblr now, apparently O:
On one of the world’s oldest maps, off the coast of Southeast Asia the phrase “here be dragons” is written in Latin. Asia—the Orient—the exotic other. Dragons signpost: “Beware, civilized person. Beyond this boundary, different rules apply.”
I was born and raised in Bangkok by a Thai mother and an American father. My parents met working at a tech company in the early ’80s. They are equally educated. My mother’s career took her from Thailand to Singapore, Ireland, Australia, back to Ireland. When she lived in Singapore, my mom was one of the few Thai women Singaporeans encountered who wasn’t cleaning their houses, which is to say that Thai women in Singapore are often maids. So sometimes my mother was treated as a maid. That was frustrating, maddening, but the fact that she put up with that, in her suit going to work each day, meant that maybe the next Thai woman a Singaporean met was less likely to be typed so easily.
My father’s career kept him in Thailand. He is an anomalous foreigner who stayed in the Kingdom, not rotating in and out on an expat package, or coming to the country to retire.
Growing up, I attended a British school. I met my American husband when we were undergraduates at Brown University; the two of us moved to Thailand, then Australia, working our way through my inherited need to travel. Now we live in the Bay Area where he works for a Kenyan company. Ours is a global family, but one that is constantly explaining our unions and countries of residence.
People in the US are usually surprised when I say that my Thai mother lives in Ireland. “How did that happen? That’s so strange.” Strange, and their little laugh that accompanies the statement, are code for their assumptions about the education and mobility of this foreign woman of color, who in this case is my mom. She most recently worked for Salesforce, a fast growing tech company headquartered in San Francisco. When she moved to Singapore it was to work for Intel, another large tech company. She is ambitious and accomplished. She defies the stereotypes.
My dad runs up against a different stereotype. That he, a white American man, lives in Thailand is not unusual. White American Men have more world-conquering powers according to a general, Western, unexamined assumption of normalcy. But when my parents were first married, in 1984, they spent a night in Bangkok at the Oriental Hotel, considered to be the epitome of class and elegance. It must have cost my dad more than he could afford at the time to get a room there. He must have been so proud.
As my parents approached the elevator, they were stopped by hotel staff who informed my dad that women like my mom weren’t welcome in their establishment. A White man with a Thai woman could only mean one thing: he is rich and she is a prostitute. My dad corrected the hotel staff, and my parents rode the lift up to their room
My dad never related the Oriental Hotel story to me. My mom did, shaking with remembered humiliation. Growing up, it became part of my vocabulary of inherited family wrongs to be righted. I was not sure that I would be able to fix this. I am only half Thai, and my white half protects me from their condescension. It is only in the West that I am seen as the lascivious Thai woman stereotype. But when my now-husband and I got engaged, my dad insisted on one thing: that we get married at the Oriental Hotel.
I am writing here around the weight of a stereotype that trumps all others, and best explained in Chimamanda Ngozie Adichie’s TED talk, The Danger Of A Single Story. In that speech Chimamanda, who is Nigerian, tells us about her American college roommate’s shock that Mariah Carey, and not some “tribal music”, was Chimamanda’s CD of choice. She says that the single story of Africa is one of catastrophe. It reduces potentially complex understandings of people and place to one-dimensional pity. In her speech, Chimamanda says she’s looking for the possibility of equal human connection.
For anyone from the global fringe, the flattening expectation created by a cultural stereotype is pervasive and familiar. There is, of course, a single story of Thailand. It is what my parents confronted in the hotel, the stereotype of the foreign man seeking a Thai woman. People unfamiliar with the country won’t know that shorthand for a wife who is twenty years her foreign husband’s junior, who speaks broken English, who is from the countryside, who may have met her husband while working at a “bar”—that woman is called a “Thai wife.”
Bangkok bookstores are full of this reductive narrative. On my last trip home I stood in front of the bookshelf for “Thai literature”, a category that mostly consists of crime thrillers written by white men capitalizing on the little they know about the Thailand. The books are formulaic: white male meets Thai female in the exotic Kingdom, land of smiles. They fall in love. She is sweeter, kinder, and easier to please than any foreign woman he has been with. The myth of the exotic Asian female is upheld. Then he finds he’s been duped: his Thai wife, who is inevitably from a poor family in the country, turns out to be in it for his money. Interwoven with tales of drug users, gang members, Muay Thai fighters, and monks, and the story is a predictable series of plot twists with the white male hero struggling to navigate a country more frightening and less friendly than it initially appeared.
Here is an example: the blurb of the novel, My Thai Girl and I:
This is about how Andrew Hicks met Cat, a ‘Thai girl’ half his age and how they set up home together in her village out in the rice fields of North Eastern Thailand. He’ll tell you of toads in the toilet, of ants’ eggs for breakfast, how they took up frog farming and how he got married without really meaning to.
The single story of Thai wives is insulting to every Thai union, even if the woman is from a village where they do eat ants’ eggs. Exotifying hardship and cultural norm serves no one but the spectator. There is a crisis of education and upward mobility in Thailand, which begins to account for the prevalence of willing Thai women and our recent political turbulence. But in the same way that Africa is more than a continent ridden with catastrophe, even given the current Ebola outbreak, Thailand is more than a country where one kind of woman marries one kind of foreign man. As Chimamanda would point out, there is no possibility in that singular narrative for Thai women who are educated, financially self-sufficient, uninterested in foreign men, or not in need of rescue. It should go without saying that too many of the current stories are from the perspective of the white male foreigner.
Now, my lineage is different. My mother is educated and my parents met at work. I was careful to say that I met my husband when we were both in college. So even despite the story that my parents have, and the story that my husband and I have, “Thai wife” is an insult I’m anxious to skirt. It’s a stereotype that overwrites complexity. Despite my efforts though, I have been introduced as my husband’s “Thai wife.” Although I recoil at the phrase, I recognize that if I’m not willing to widen and reclaim the definition of a Thai wife, who will?
For the last few years, I’ve been writing fiction about Thailand. A big influence on my work has been Chimamanda Ngozie Adichie, whose truth-telling career and electrifying latest novel, Americanah, has been the lodestar by which I try to navigate. Chimamanda came into my life as one of the writers who showed me how much I didn’t know about Nigeria, and made me realize how much more needs to be told about Thailand.
Americanah is notable for how it traces an immigrant arc from Lagos to the US and back. Ifemelu, the protagonist of Americanah, grows up in Lagos, and yearns to be educated in the US. She succeeds in coming to study here. The reader experiences the excruciating journey of integration with Ifemelu, struggling to find a job, to understand Americans and our habits. After some years, Ifemelu adapts to life in the US. She maintains a blog on racism in America that has some of the best modern commentary on the issue that I’ve read, even though the blog is embedded in the novel as something written by a fictional character. Ifemelu wins a fellowship at Princeton; she dates a Black American academic. Then she gets homesick. This is not the homesickness of one who has “failed”, whatever that means, to gain a foothold in their new society. Ifemelu decides to go back to Lagos. Unlike a typical immigration story where America is the destination, a pinnacle of achievement, Adichie gives us a global arc; her protagonist returns to a developing country. Americanah is exciting because it depicts the world I live in, a world that has moved past one-way immigrations. That world demands a literature that reaches beyond the single story.
As an undergraduate, I took a seminar on African women writers with the Ghanaian writer Ama Ata Aidoo. Each week Aidoo placed a blank map of Africa with national boundaries drawn in front of us. Pacing between our desks, Aidoo said that Africa is a continent, not a country, and we were to learn that fact. We had five minutes on the clock to map the countries and their capitals. To my embarrassment, I discovered places I’d never known existed: Burkina Faso, Togo, Djibouti. This made me sympathetic to people who confused Thailand and Taiwan, or asked if I speak Japanese.
One day after our obligatory test, Aidoo announced that she’d been on a panel of judges who granted an exciting new writer the Orange Prize. Who was that writer? Of course it was Chimamanda Adichie, who won the prize for her second novel, Half of a Yellow Sun. When I learnt about Biafra reading Half of a Yellow Sun, I started thinking about the untold stories of Thailand. I imagined writing in English about why Thailand was never colonized, about the effect of the US bases in the country during the Vietnam War, which was where the demand for sex tourism came from.
Before I took that class with Ama Ata Aidoo, I had a failure of curiosity about Africa. I was guilty of many of the assumptions that Binyavanga Wainana named in his satire, “How to Write About Africa,” which went viral. Wainana nailed the expectations of people like me when he wrote:
Always use the word ‘Africa’ or ‘Darkness’ or “safari’ in your title.
Never have a picture of a well-adjusted African on the cover of your book, or in it, unless that African has won the Nobel Prize. An AK-47, prominent ribs, naked breasts: use these.
Note that ‘People’ means Africans who are not black, while ‘The People’ means black Africans.
In your text, treat Africa as if it were one country. It is hot and dusty with rolling grasslands and huge herds of animals and tall, thin people who are starving.
Always end your book with Nelson Mandela saying something about rainbows or renaissances. Because you care.
The burden of stereotype is heavy. Once when I waited for my husband in a restaurant in San Francisco, a city of many Asians, a husband and wife starting talking to me. The husband perked up when he heard that I’m Thai. “I know some Thai,” he told me. “Just the naughty words.” It comes as a surprise, how lascivious a grown adult male can be to my face, even though I speak fluent English, even though this guy was in front of his wife, even though I was waiting for my husband. The single story of Thailand reaches far and deep. I was inspired to write a list like Wainana’s.
How to Endear Yourself to an Asian Woman Writer:
1. Tell her you love her eyes—they make her look smart.
2. Inquire at a shout about her English language skills. Congratulate her on her fluency.
3. Underestimate her age by ten to fifteen years. When you find that the petite girl you’ve been calling “sweetie” and “honey” is a woman older than you, older than you thought, has a partner, and you stand corrected, tell her she’ll be glad to look so young some day. Continue to call her “sweetie.”
4. Ask her where she’s from. Ask her where she’s from from.
5. When she says Japan/Vietnam/Laos, say you were once in Bali. Smile broadly. Congratulate yourself on your worldliness.
6. Announce that she writes real well for “someone her age,” despite having no inkling about the breadth and depth of where her life has taken her.
7. Put your hands on her shoulders, on her head. Touch her, stroke her like a pet, like a plaything, like she’s so cute, you just can’t resist; all women, but especially Asian women, are pliant.
8. When she tells you to stop, ask why she has to be angry. Tell your friends about the angry Asian chick. Warn them to stay away.
9. Commend her on her writing, then ask why she’s featuring another Burmese/South Korean/Filipina character. If she asks why you’re writing about another American one, see number 8, angry. Don’t forget to notify your friends.
10. Most of all, if you’re the type to be attracted to women, when she tells you she’s from Thailand, give her a smile that lets her know you like Thai women, you get the code, you’re on the inside, and you want some too.
My encounter with the work of Chimamanda and other incredible global writers tells me that there is a rising generation of people who call many continents home. I don’t mean only immigrants, transplanted, yearning for somewhere as they fit themselves to the rhythm of their new country. What is it to be both, to exist in multiple cultural-linguistic dimensions, with traits from one culture that glare in relief in the other?
I’ve worked in Thailand as an adult and struggled because I have dared to disagree with men and with older people in meetings. At the same time, now that I live in the US, I find it bold and boggling when Americans state what they need with ease; I’m not used to individuals asserting “I want” with such authority. As a writer, I can fall between the cracks. I have been told by Americans and Thais that I don’t have the authority to write about either place.
But these are examples of a dated paradigm. My parents are cheerleaders of my global identity; they know that authenticity can encompass many-pronged belonging. I take heart that people like Chimamanda Adichie write about the fluid movement between Nigeria and the US. The writers who inspire me have been global: Nadine Gordimer (South African), Rohinton Mistry (Indian, Canadian), Leo Tolstoy (Russian), and Michael Ondaatje (Canadian, Sri Lankan). There are writers who’ve just published their first collections like Krys Lee (Korean, American) and Chinelo Okparanta (Nigerian), whose quiet, charged sentences speak to me about the way Thai culture seems muted on the surface but is fierce and elaborate underneath. I learn from them too.
I hope that what I do as a global writer will help to dispel stereotypes of Thailand the way that Chimamanda’s work has been a vehicle for demystifying Nigeria and upending the norm of one-way immigration stories. That every time I say, “Yes, I really lived in Bangkok until I was eighteen,” and “Yes, my English is fluent,” that I will be helping to expand the possibility that Thai wives and Thai women can be capable, self-sufficient, and complex humans. That by living my own multi-faceted, global life, I am complicating the idea of a single story. In this way, the globe is mapped, the regions lit, until there are no othered peoples, no dragons lurking at the edge of the unknown world.
Rumpus original art by Max Winter.
When I started the Ladies High Tea and Pornography Society, my girlfriend A and I always joked that the unofficial rule was that while hats and gloves were required, everything else was optional. While we said it often enough, the truth was that Ladies High Tea was a pretty casual get together, and rarely did it become even slightly sexual, even with a slight tendency towards vintage fashion.
I’ve always had an erotic draw towards formalwear, however. One of the hottest fictional characters in the world to me is Jeeves, because a competent man in a suit is basically my pornography. I mean, part of it is that I’m reasonably high femme, and seeing a partner dress up for me tickles my senses in some indescribable ways. The layers upon layers, carefully applied, and the orderly way they all come together is just sensual, as I imagine the time it took to meticulously structure the outfit. And the accessories, especially for mens wear! Suspenders, waistcoat, pocket square, cufflinks- so many little ways to show off a sense of style and uniqueness, and men don’t get many opportunities to get creative with their clothing. It just gets me so fucking wet when they do. I love that P and N are both super into letting me dress them in short shorts and glitter, or bow ties and shiny shoes.
I love to be dressed up too, of course. The stockings, the heels, the carefully chosen jewelry, the dress I need a lover to zip onto my body… it’s a ritual, and one where the dressing is as hot as the undressing. As I swoop my eyeliner over my lids, as I apply my lipstick and twirl mascara over my lashes, I shiver to think about that makeup running down my face later from sweat, spit, and happy tears. I dress this way as a challenge, and perhaps as a promise. I may not be fit for public consumption, but I can play the part.
I was reminded of how sexy formalwear is recently, when I went to a wedding with N. It wasn’t a typical wedding, mainly as it involved friends of mine and therefore was highly likely to be populated by perverts and nerds. Also, because the bride had asked to see my date naked, preferably having sex, presumably with me, during the reception. She’s an artist and had enjoyed his body from afar before, and I was a little surprised but happy to oblige, if he was down. So I slipped on a nice dress, making sure to wear black lingerie that was ready to be cut off, just in case… and I made sure to tell him how much I was looking forward to the ripping of fishnets and lace under his hands.
Well, N and I got dressed way before we needed to, as I misread the invite and had us fancied up hours ahead of time. It didn’t take much suggestion for us to start to make out, you know, to take up some time. We got to that point of hot and bothered where we definitely wanted to fuck, but… it took us an hour to get ready, and every minute spent putting ourselves back together would be another minute not having teh sexx.
So we kept all our clothes on. No rolled down tights, but right through a hole already ripped through the crotch of the fishnets (carefully, because we didn’t want to destroy these until it was the right time). No pulling down of pants, either, but pulling his cock out from the fly. He kept his jacket on. I kept my jewelry on. It was all very elegant, if not necessarily in line with our usual “wholesomeness” kink (which is a whole ‘nother blog entry).
At first, it was delicate, trying not to catch cufflinks on lace. Soon, I didn’t care if I squirted all over my tulle skirt, I just wanted him inside me as quickly and roughly as possible. N, being quite a giver, obliged me with one hell of a fucking. I remember thinking to myself “I wonder if his tux is going to be smeared with my come, will it need dry cleaning” for a split second before deciding that I hoped it was, and also, fuck it. I have scratched on my upper arm from where he braced himself, his cuff link digging into my flesh. Even better, with his flatmate entertaining in the other room, we had to be incredibly quiet, whispering sweet and filthy dirty talk, whimpering in pleasure, biting knuckles as we came.
While I wrapped my mouth around his post-orgasmic cock, savoring the taste, N grinned down at me and told me that this tux may not have been washed since the last time he wore it. Apparently it gets most of its use at sex parties. This is probably part of why we’re dating… I have a thing for the sort of man who wears a cummerbund and nail polish to an orgy, what can I say. And we went to that wedding, smelling of sex instead of perfume, my hair “styled” by our vigorous pounding and a touch of hairspray. It was only right, I think. Later he ripped my bra, panties, and tights off my body as we rolled around on the soft fur of the Liberator faux fur throe. Pure, extravagant luxury, grabbing handfuls of silky fur as your lover grabs handfuls of you. Mmm.
Now I’m kind of aching for another reason to see N in a tux, to be honest. Dry cleaned or not. What can I say, I like the gutter, it’s nice there.
“Solidarity is created by shared discomforts, which is caused in part by the civic-minded desire to be pleasing in the eyes of one’s fellow citizens,” says Lord Whimsy in one of my favourite essays, “The Perils of Sportswear“. “Comfort isolates us from one another, and should be seen in the clear light of day for what it is: a killer of nations.” I don’t know if I’d go that far, but I certainly feel that dressing up for one another indicates a bit of care for what others think, and I find that hot.
I want my lovers to show off for me, as I show off for them.
Wearing a full tuxedo, or an evening gown, suggests a sacrifice for fashion… a masochism I can get behind.
Look. I don’t know what you’re over there thinking about. It could be simple or sophisticated, mundane or whimsical, practical or creepy.
But I’m over here thinking about numbers. Again.
I’ve never been especially impressed by words. They’re mushy and sometimes pleasant and sometimes annoying. They’re subtle and subjective and rambly and flowy. Words are okay. Whatever.
But numbers. Numbers are fascinating and precise and satisfying and delicious and whatever it is you’re thinking about at any given time, there’s at least a 60% chance that I’m over here thinking about numbers.
So I’ve decided to do not one, but two consecutive posts on numbers, during which we’ll start at 1 and end up in a very scary place. Today, we’ll keep things in the realm of the ordinary and the conceivable, capping ourselves at a million.
The numbers between 1 and 1,000,000 are everywhere in daily life. 1, 10, 100, 1,000, 10,000, and 100,000 are our friends—we get them, they get us, and in this post, we’re basically gonna just hang out with them and catch up, since you probably haven’t been good at keeping in touch.
Let’s start at the beginning—
We’ll lead off with the extraordinarily dull 1.
1 likes to masquerade as this poetic and profound thing, getting used in sentences I don’t really understand, like “the oneness of all” or something annoying like that. But then anytime you actually spend time with 1, you end up bored.
1 is also no fun to play with. Multiplying or dividing things by it is an incredibly underwhelming experience, and it manages to be such a dud that somehow, it’s not a prime number even though it only has one factor.
As for the rest of the one-digit numbers, I enjoy 2, 4, and 8 because when I was seven I became obsessed with saying “2, 4, 8, 16, 32, 64, 128, 256, 512, 1,024, 2,048, 4,096″ before hitting a wall,1 and I have an affinity for prime numbers, naturally, so 3, 5, and 7 fall into my favor. Not thrilled with 9, but at least it’s a perfect square. The only thing 6 offers my life is annoying the shit out of me every time I have to tell someone my phone number—(xxx)-666-xxxx—and they can’t help but have some reaction to that and then we end up in this little song-and-dance interaction about it.2
Let’s move on.
Getting to the two-digit numbers, interesting things finally start happening. 10 itself is a big one, because our entire base ten existence stems from it. Why did we end up in base ten (instead of something like base 8, which would go 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 20, etc.)? Because we have 10 fingers. It seems intuitive that only with base 10 could you multiply and divide so easily and simply add zeros or move a decimal point when shifting by multiples of 10, but that would be the case with any number system.3 Let’s look at some bigger numbers—
12 has the dozen thing going which is something, as well as factors up the dick. It’s also the number of people who have been on the moon.
Let’s pause for a second to acknowledge how ridiculously impressive it is that humans got humans onto the moon and safely back. And how lucky are those 12 guys? Could any life experience be more desirable than getting to bounce around the moon while looking at the Earth hovering out there in space?
Continuing along, I don’t know whose sister 13 slept with, but somewhere along the way it pissed off the wrong person and managed to become the only number with a legitimately bad reputation.
20’s worth mentioning just because I read during my research that only about 1 in 20 men in the US is 6’2″ or taller. So if you’re 6’2″ or taller, you’re the tallest of this average sampling of 20 American men—4
33 is relevant because of Larry Bird and because that’s what I turned on Wednesday thanks for wishing me a happy birthday none of you.
You might be surprised to know that only 1/43 Americans openly identifies as gay, lesbian, or bisexual, but that when asked in an anonymous and veiled survey, that number jumps to 8/43:
Not much else happening with the two-digit numbers until we arrive at sleazy 99, the price tag whore who’s made its whole living being the guy next to 100.
100 is a big deal and clearly knows it, but that’s fair. It’s the first three-digit number, but in our world, 100’s main role is being the overlord of the one and two-digit groups—it’s a century of years, the official “okay you win” age to reach, and the whole concept of percent is just comparing a part of 100 to all of 100. 100 is also a perfect square of another one of these fundamental numbers (i.e. 10, 100, 1,000, etc.), which is satisfying.
Being in the top 100th of a group in some way is also a thing. It looks like this:
If you’re in the red dot when it comes to wealth, you’re the notorious 1 percent and a lot of people will make signs that are mean to you. To be in the red dot among Americans, you need to make almost $400,000/year, but only about a tenth of that ($39,000 in 2011) to be in the red dot worldwide.
On the SAT, you’d be the red dot if you scored a 1480 out of 1600 or a 2200 out of 2400, and on the ACT, you’d need a 33. A Stanford-Binet IQ of 137 will make you the red dot too and would mean 99% of people are stupider than you.5
After 100, we’re about to get into superbly random number territory, but first we hit 101, a C-list number celebrity for a handful of small claims to fame, like 101 Dalmations and beginner courses and the West Coast US highway.
There are 444 Apple retail stores in the world:
If you deal five cards 508 times, you’ll average one flush:
And there are 12 million US dollar millionaires in the world, or 1 out of every 583 people. If your total assets (in excess of your total liabilities) add up to over $1,000,000, you’re the red dot in this diagram:
Four Digit Numbers
1,000 is also a huge deal in our world and has a bunch of nicknames, like a grand, a G, a kilo, and k. It’s also part of the elite chain of numbers in the “order-of-magnitude” chain, which we know as million, billion, trillion, etc. Million is actually the third number in that chain, with the dud 1 as the first number and 1,000 as the second number. And 1,000 is the key multiplier that defines the whole chain.
That said, 1,000’s dirty secret is that it’s a fraud like 10 and can’t be made into a square. The square root of 1,000 is an embarrassing 31.62277660168 etcetera without even a vinculum.7
Anyway, let’s look at some four-digit numbers and odds:
Here’s how many times a neutron star spins around every second:
And here’s how many minutes there are in each day:
A genius-level IQ of 150 will earn you red dot status on the thousand-dot intelligence diagram, but that doesn’t mean you got a perfect 1600 on the SAT—only the red dot in a 1,489-dot sample aces the SAT:
On a perfectly clear night, we can see about 2,500 stars in the night sky:
Here are all the seconds in an hour:
And here’s the number of religions in the world:
So there are more religions than the stars we see in the night sky, and you could name a religion every second and it would take you over an hour to name them all.
And here’s how many living languages there are in the world:
Finally, this is how many medium-sized (.5mm in diameter) grains of sand you could fit in a cubic centimeter box:
If 1,000 is a little overrated, 10,000 is underrated. No one talks about 10,000, but unlike the square rootless 1,000, 10,000 a perfect square of 100 100s, and 1% of a million.
Stephen Hawking’s IQ is supposedly 160, which would just qualify him to be the red dot in a 10,000 dot average sample of human intelligence. And just so you know, in an average group of 17,000 people, one will be an albino.
This is how many people fit in a sold-out Fenway Park:
The 55,030 Google employees would fill up a large stadium, as would Apple’s 50,250. Facebook is considerably smaller, with a staff of 8,348, while Wikipedia is running with only 208 people. You could fit the Craigslist team in a small bus:
And here’s how many seconds tick by every day:
100,000 is the most random main category number of this post. In life, it mostly comes up as a salary most people would really like to be making. It’s also getting very close to the largest number of people I can actually picture all together in one place. Michigan Stadium (The Big House) is just under 110,000, and the largest stadium in the world is India’s Salt Lake Stadium, with a capacity of 120,000. North Korea claims that its Rungnado May First Stadium holds 150,000 people, but North Korea also says that Kim Jong Il shot 11 holes-in-one on his first time trying golf so we’ll be sticking with Salt Lake Stadium as the world’s largest.8
Equal to the capacity of the world’s largest stadium is the number of abortions that happen in the world every day, on average:
That’s about 1/3 the amount of worldwide births per day, meaning a quarter of all pregnancies that don’t end in miscarriage end in abortion. That’s about the same as the rate in the US, but in New York City, 41 of every 100 non-miscarried pregnancies are aborted. And no, this isn’t meant to be a political statement of any kind, just an interesting (and to me, surprising) statistic, so just settle down.
Good luck. See you at the bottom—
Sorry. A million dots is a lot of dots.
And how small are one-in-a-million odds? How much of a long shot is one-in-a-million? Just try to find the red dot in the million dots above.
This image is the only way I can think of to visualize what a million or what one-in-a million actually means.
A million is interesting because it’s huge—but it’s also the smallest of the big boys, just small enough that you can still picture it or depict it on a diagram. It’s right on the border between the world we can wrap our heads around and the world of the totally inconceivable.
That red dot, if you found it, is a good thing to keep in mind next time you buy a 1-in-146 million Powerball ticket, or anytime you hear facts like one out of every 11 million airplane flights crashes. A one-in-a-million long shot is the same as rolling three 100-sided dice and trying to hit the number 63 with all three of them in one roll.
If you want to play around with taking a one-in-a-million shot at something, pick a number between 1 and 1,000,000, say it out loud, and then click Generate below and try to hit it (or two other ways to do it: 1) Change the max number to 1,000 and try to hit the number you say with the next two clicks; 2) Change the max number to 100 and try to hit a chosen number three times in a row):
The numbers generated by this widget come from RANDOM.ORG’s true random number generator.
The Million-Dot Poster
I like both the number 1,000,000 and the number 1/1,000,000, and I love any chance to visualize them. A blog post that can only fit 200 dots horizontally isn’t an ideal way to visualize a million because it makes a 1 x 25 rectangle you have to scroll down for an hour to see all of. So we’ve made a million-dot poster.
The poster is, satisfyingly, a square. A 24″ x 24″ (61cm x 61cm) poster with a 1,000 dot x 1,000 dot square of a million total dots. This allows you to most effectively visualize the number one million (it also helps to visualize 5 or 10 or 100 million, or even a billion, by picturing multiple posters next to each other).
And, of course, one of the dots is red. It takes a hunt to find it,9 but once you do, you can understand exactly what 1/1,000,000 means. So one poster, two extreme numbers to visualize.
There’s a plain poster, and we also made other versions that have a WBW drawing behind them. You can check them all out here.
Here’s what the plain one looks like:
A closer shot, showing the red dot in the middle:
And a close up shot, showing the red dot:
And here’s numbers post #2: From 1,000,000 to Graham’s Number
The other children were playing outside.↩
At least at some point I’ll have a new phone number—oh wait, whatever your first smartphone number was is now your number for eternity.↩
Yes, that was kind of a random fact to have brought into this—get used to it cause this whole post is just gonna be me throwing haphazard shit at you.↩
IQ is kind of a fake concept, but quantifying everyone’s intelligence with a number is fun anyway.↩
I’m not sure how many of those people are deaf, but there are 600,000 functionally deaf people in the US, or 1 out of every 454 people.↩
The WordPress spellchecker underlined vinculum even though it’s a word, because WordPress is appalled by where I’ve gone with this post.↩
I’ve also been in that North Korea stadium (where I took this video), and it seemed about the same size as a typical NFL stadium. I originally had this note as part of that last sentence, but it seemed one notch too braggy for a non-footnote.↩
Bonus points to anyone who can figure out why the dot is where it is on the grid.↩
66 million years ago, a large asteroid about six miles in diameter smashed into what is present-day Mexico. It was the most unpleasant thing you can imagine for everyone here at the time, and it ended up causing the extinction of over 75% of species, including all the dinosaurs.
It killed off all the dinosaurs—that’s how the story goes. Right?
The thing is, when we picture dinosaurs, we picture large, reptile-looking guys tramping about on land being dicks. And yes, those guys you’re picturing went extinct.
But there were also a lot of other kinds of dinosaurs, including some with feathers who could fly. While no non-flying dinosaurs survived the mass extinction, some of their avian cousins did survive, and they’re still surviving today. Which leaves us with the surprising fact:
Birds aren’t just the descendants of dinosaurs, they are dinosaurs.
So there dinosaurs were, ruling the Earth, when a big rock changed everything, setting mammals on a new course to dominate the world and sending the mighty dinosaur off to the periphery to watch from the sidelines. And today, most of our attention is on the mammals of the world—ourselves in particular, but also on our dogs and cats and elephants and bears and whales and cows and monkeys and sheep.
But what about our planet’s flying dinosaurs over on the sideline? Have any of us thought to see what’s going on with them?
Sometimes, when a big, popular circus loses its appeal and another, new form of entertainment takes over, and then a bunch of time passes, it’s better not to see what those old, forgotten circus performers are doing these days. Sometimes, you don’t want to know. Because sometimes, it turns out that what’s going on behind the doors of the old, broken down circus caravan is a bunch of weird, dark shit.
This week, I decided to pull back the curtain on the bird world and see what was happening there. Here’s a report on what I found:
Identity Fraud: Ordinary Birds Pretending to Be Exotic
There’s no less glamorous animal than the pigeon, so it’s understandable why so many pigeons are trying to pass off as other, less stigmatized types of birds—but come on:
It’s just not working:
Growing a mustache and calling yourself the Inca Tern is clearly not fooling anyone:
The best pigeon-hiding effort I’ve seen is by a group of white pigeons who spent millions of dollars on PR and rebranded itself as “the dove,” locking down a partnership with the Catholic church and plastering the internet with images and drawings like this:
It gets worse. Here’s a vulture that grew a beard to try to escape all the baggage of being a vulture, which might have worked had it come up with a cleverer name for itself than the bearded vulture:
Here are two skinny-headed anhingas who are pretending not to be birds by posing as the hind legs of a deer or a dog:
Then again, we shouldn’t be surprised when the anhinga is unimpressive, given that this is how it plays hide and seek.
An even more ridiculous move is some normal yellow and black bird gluing a clearly-fake plastic beak onto its face and calling itself the toucan:
Then there’s the harpy eagle trying to pose as a fucking panda bear of all things:
But the most blatant identity fraud cases are happening throughout the chicken world. I get that no one wants to be a chicken.3 A chicken is a tweaky, paranoid joke of an animal. A chicken doesn’t fly, it spazzes into a brief flutter—and it can’t chirp, settling instead for the absurd “bawk.” And while we have the courtesy to call cow and pig meat euphemisms like “beef” and “pork,” we just call chicken meat “chicken,” because nobody respects the chicken. I understand why you’d wish you were a different type of bird. But that’s no excuse for doing psychotic things like painting yourself black:
Or getting a transparent makeover:
Or getting a ridiculous haircut:
Or fluffing out your feathers and calling yourself the silkie hen:
I also discovered a new fad that’s gotten hot—impersonating humans.
Here’s a bird pretending to be a makeup-y 53-year-old woman:
And here’s a bird trying to be a human grandmother:
Here are birds posing as human old men:
And it’s apparently become trendy to grow stylish human hair:
The irony of all these ordinary birds going to insane lengths to try to be more exotic is that what’s going on in the world of exotic birds is far worse:
Sadistic Psychological Abuse of Male Birds By Females
What humans don’t realize is that exotic birds are only exotic for one reason—women abusing their power of sexual selection to force horny men to go through tremendous shame and indignity at their whim. The females in a species of birds can get together and decide to evolutionarily turn the men of their species into literally whatever absurd creatures they want just by agreeing to all “select” for it. Like female peacocks getting together and colluding to only sleep with the men who turn themselves into the biggest, prettiest fans—which leaves the men with no choice but to spend the next hundred million years evolving into big, pretty fans:
And you’d think it would be bad enough that the female mallard thought it would be fun to turn the male mallard’s head bright green, but the much more twisted female mandarin duck has made her man into a piece of full-blown abstract art:
And this is nothing compared to the sick practice by some species of female birds to turn their males into “birds of paradise”—like the tanager females, who got together and decided to have sex with only the fuzziest, most neon men, resulting in this tragedy:
And just look at the shame on the face of the male Wilson’s bird of paradise:
One set of females forced their males to change species altogether into an orange fuzz ball and renamed them “the cock of the rock” because they found it fucking hilarious:
You’d think turning men into clowns would be enough, but the women aren’t done. They make their clowns put on mortifying dance performances:
Meanwhile, many birds have bigger things to worry about than whether they’re exotic or not:
Birds With Proportional Difficulties
There are birds out there going through physical hell and no one has any idea. Like this bird who has the head of a duck but the body of a sparrow:
Or this bird who has a miniature pair of human legs instead of normal bird legs:
This bird has no head:
And this bird is only a head:
These birds didn’t realize you were supposed to be a body with feathers on it, not just feathers and nothing else:4
And this bird forgot to not be just a fuzzy sphere:
Widespread Facial Rotting
One of the more disturbing findings of my investigation was the large number of birds out there who are actively decaying even though they’re not dead yet. The most well-known example is the gruesome turkey, whose facial gummies—which are delicious-looking on other birds—have horribly rotted:
And it gets worse. The wood stork’s head is fully decomposing:
Some have tumor or mold-ridden beaks:
And others have replaced their head entirely with that of a tiny bludgeoned-to-death llama:
Creatures Out in the Open Who Are Clearly Supposed to Still Be in The Egg
The elephant in the room whenever you’re in the presence of a newborn human baby is that it very obviously belongs in the womb for another month. But in the bird world, this phenomenon is far more extreme. Some upsetting examples:
Most alarmingly, many of these fetuses are in a constant state of agony, with every passing moment being the new worst moment of their life:
Birds Who Forgot to Go Extinct When They Were Supposed To
There are a number of birds currently living who were obviously supposed to go extinct a long time ago and just forgot. Most notably, the shoebill:
And the helmeted hornbill:
The golden pheasant is a prime offender:
As is this strapping eagle, who needs to rein it in a notch and remember that he’s still a bird:
As is this chicken, who doesn’t even have clothes on, let alone a fashion runway and an audience:
But for Americans, we don’t have to look very hard to find avian narcissism at its worst. This is what the bald eagle looked like before 1776:
Just an ordinary, low-confidence bird. But ever since signing a deal with the US to serve as its national emblem, the bald eagle has let the whole thing go to his head, strutting around with this absurd look on his face:
Little does he know how close he was to being ousted in favor of the turkey of all animals.5
Outrage at Nothing in Particular
There’s an odd fetish in the bird world with being outraged about what seems like nothing in particular.
The Biggest Asshole in the Animal Kingdom
If you know the animal kingdom, you know that’s saying a lot. And no, I’m not talking about the ostrich, nature’s terrible personality on a stick:
I’m talking about the goose.
Outside of the heinous world of insects, I can’t think of a creature that has literally no redeeming qualities. Except for the goose.
You know when you have some bread and you decide to feed some birds, and there’s one piece of shit who’s bigger than everyone else and shoves the other birds out of the way, taking literally every piece of bread, and you have to cleverly strategize in order to throw bread to the rest of the birds, and even then it’s hard? Well the goose is the quintessential feed-the-birds-bully.
The goose is perpetually unpleasant to be around, and the second something happens that doesn’t go his way, he has a fit and makes this appalling face:
That’s about plenty of the goose.
The bald eagle isn’t the only bird with a hero’s complex. Steller’s sea-eagle seems to be convinced that he’s that Disney character who’s all hardened and low-voiced and gruff and doesn’t want to talk about his past but then ends up having a heart of gold and agrees to mentor the protagonist and ends up sacrificing himself to save the day:
On the other side of things, it appears that the vulture has taken his reputation to heart and become a caricature of himself, overexaggerating his sinister, menacing stereotype in a bad-guy-in-a-kids-movie way:
And just when you thought we had our hands full with these real birds thinking they’re fictional, the puffin, who is fictional, is out there living his life in the three-dimensional real world as if he’s an actual creature:
Odd so far, and a bit grim. But as my investigation grew deeper and I asked more questions, I began to uncover more disturbing things going on in the darkest corners of the bird world:
Legitimately Psychotic Behavior in the Pigeon World
The identity fraud pigeon cases mentioned above were just the tip of the iceberg of the strange things going on with pigeons. On the streets of your city, you’d have no idea, but as I explored, I was shocked by what I found. It started with certain pigeons looking kind of abnormal:
Something wasn’t right. I dug deeper, and an entire perverted world began to reveal itself:
After that last one, I decided I had dug deep enough. I still don’t know what the fuck is going on with those pigeons.
And my darkest findings were still yet to come—
The Rapey White Parrot That’s Terrorizing the Planet
I’m not talking about normal parrots, or even this overly-segmented fuck:
I’m talking very specifically about the white parrot:
Here’s what I want you to do. Look at the above photo and form an opinion about his motive at the moment the picture was taken.
Now watch this video:
Now look at this picture again:
Not okay, right?
A Ghostly Sociopath Who Watches You at Night
Owls are creepy. Everyone knows that. But when most people think of an owl, they picture this handsome, potentially-wise, only-scary-in-a-cartoonish-way owl:
Or maybe they picture the low self-esteem owl:
They might even picture the genuinely eerie round-headed owl:
What they probably don’t picture is the ghostly sociopath owl who watches you at night:
Let’s just discuss the situation here. First of all, he doesn’t have a face, he has an anti-face, which is unsettling as fuck. Secondly, he’s a predator who makes his living silently murdering unsuspecting living things. Thirdly, he’s nocturnal. Of course. Fourthly, most of the time, he’s just standing there by himself, perfectly still, with wide eyes. Fifthly, he says “hoo.” All the normal birds “chirp,” and this creepy fuck says “hoo.” And finally, add on to all of that that his head swivels around and even flips completely upside down:
Then—then—I come across this GIF:
And this GIF:
Nothing about this GIF is okay. The guy on the left is manically devouring some kind of rat alive, the two guys on the right are slinking around like the grudge lady coming down the stairs, and those three manage to be the three least disturbing owls in the GIF.
Complete Mental Breakdowns
We all know that the flamingo lost his mind a long time ago:
And the potoo’s snap is well-documented:
But as I reached the farthest fringes of society, I saw more and more cases that seemed beyond hope.
Like the arctic tern and its inexplicable migration habits. In general, I’ve always wondered what birds’ issue is and why they need to migrate such absurd distances, and then I read about the arctic tern and found this:
Arctic terns are true champions in the bird world. They fly about 11,000 miles from their breeding grounds in the Arctic to their winter home in Antarctica.
Champions? Champions of what—horrible decision-making? The North Pole is 6,000 miles away from the equator. Every climate possible exists in between. Whatever climate difference they’re finding on the other pole could be achieved by flying 1,000 miles of latitude away from the pole. There’s no explanation for going farther than 6,000 miles. And if the arctic tern claims there’s some key subtle factor that makes the far pole better than somewhere on their current hemisphere, that’s like commuting every day from your home in Boston to an office in San Francisco because you found a slightly better deal on office rent there.
Then there’s the California condor, who at some point began shaving his whole head and face for no apparent reason:
And there’s this lunatic:
And this chicken, whose family hasn’t heard from him in over a year:
And these chickens, who look like walking food:
And these birds, who are non-ironically and permanently impersonating Big Bird:
And this parakeet, for whom we need no comment:
Birds Who Apparently Think This is All a Big Joke
If there’s one takeaway from all this, it’s that the state of the bird world should not be taken lightly, especially by birds. And yet, in the midst of everything I found, there were a bunch of birds who couldn’t give a fuck either way. Like the dimwitted spoonbill:
Or this incredibly immature pelican:
Or the blue-footed booby—
—who seemed more intent on dancing than doing anything to help:
I’ll wrap up with a bird who should be concerned about both the wider bird world and his own bizarre situation and seems apparently worried about neither:
So there you go. Next time you’re outside and you see your neighborhood crow or sparrow or pigeon, just remember: A) it’s a dinosaur, B) it may have secrets, and C) leave it at that—some things are better left unexplored.
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who the movie Jurassic Park lied to you a lot about—they were around the size of a turkey, feathered, and not especially intelligent.↩
I have a billion things to say about dinosaurs and this extinction event, but I’m going to cut myself off here and save it for a post all about it.↩
Weirdly, the currently-living creature whose DNA is most closely-related to that of a Tyrannosaurus Rex? The chicken. I picture what happened is that T-Rexes started having these disappointing sons and the fathers would be like, “You’re not my son” and then those sons would have even more disappointing sons and disown them, and then it happened again and again each generation and 65 million years later, this is where we are.↩
I’ve been informed by a reader that the first of these two birds is, in fact, much more of a Christmas tree ornament and much less of a living bird. On one hand, I should probably take it off the post. On the other hand, I’m going to leave it up as commentary about how ridiculous-looking real birds are that I couldn’t tell that this was fake.↩
Before settling on the bald eagle, Ben Franklin suggested that the US choose the turkey as its national emblem. He thought the turkey made more sense because it was aggressive and mean, while the bald eagle was a lazy scavenger.↩
The cover art for Eula Biss’s new book, On Immunity: An Inoculation, surprised me at first. I’d expected something stark and edgy—maybe a shiny hypodermic needle against a blank background—to illustrate an exploration of modern vaccine phobia by a young writer known for her understated style.
Instead, the jacket of On Immunity features a detail from an early seventeenth century painting, Achilles Dipped in the River Styx by Peter Paul Rubens. The image is lush and nuanced and drenched in allusion to myth and history and the body and motherhood and love and fear—like Biss’s argument, as it turns out.
Today’s anti-vaccine movement, whose most visible leader is talk show host Jenny McCarthy, has deep roots and broad ramifications. Fear of inoculation has existed for centuries, beginning with the earliest versions of the practice. Over time, fear of vaccines themselves have become inseparable from larger fears, both real and metaphorical: of contamination by the “other,” of having one’s personal integrity compromised, of being forced surrender to one’s individuality for the common good.
In 2009, Biss began delving into these fears as she grappled with her own discomfort about having her infant son vaccinated. Using her personal experience as a narrative thread, Biss draws in subjects as diverse as Voltaire, vampire lit, and the BP oil spill. The openness of her inquiry makes On Immunity an important contribution to a dialogue about vaccination currently dominated by those certain that vaccines are toxic and those equally certain that those who hold this belief are morons.
Biss lives in Chicago and teaches at Northwestern. She is the author of two previous books, The Balloonists, a prose poem about divorce, and Notes From No Man’s Land, a collection of essays about race, for which she won the 2009 National Book Critics Circle Award for Criticism.
I spoke with her recently about On Immunity, about her literary influences, and about whether we really are, as the New York Times suggested recently, in “a golden age for women essayists.”
The Rumpus: In all of your books you’ve come at big subjects from very personal points of entry. With On Immunity, how far was the leap from the personal decision about whether to vaccinate your son to writing a book about vaccination?
Eula Biss: Most of my essays begin with a question that I want to work out for myself, primarily. And often in the course of working that question out I produce a document that feels like it could be made available to other readers. Sometimes that’s not the case, though. Sometimes I embark on a draft and I do clarify something for myself, but I don’t produce something that I think is readable or necessary for other people.
Rumpus: So it’s possible that you could have worked through your decision on paper but not necessarily have moved beyond that?
Biss: Yes, definitely. Especially if I hadn’t run into anything that I thought was interesting or surprising. Actually, when I began doing research I did not intend to write a book or even an essay. I really was just trying to solve my own problem, which was that I was encouraged to vaccinate my son, and I knew I should, but that I’d also heard that many mothers had hesitations, and I didn’t know a lot about those hesitations. So I had to find out more before I moved forward with my decision. And, really, in the grand scope of this project, it didn’t take me very long to answer the biggest one of my personal questions, which was: should I vaccinate this kid on schedule or not? By the time my son was two months old I had read enough to feel comfortable vaccinating him and vaccinating him on schedule.
I had made the decision to follow the schedule, but I also wondered what does this say about my relationship with the government? Does this mean that I’m following government recommendations blindly? What does this mean about my relationship with pharmaceutical companies and the medical system? Does this mean that I accept everything that happens in those realms?
So I was just struggling with what my decision meant, and that’s when the essay began to emerge. And at first it was just going to be an essay, but it got bigger and bigger, and then for a while I thought it would be a very long essay. Then it became clear that it was going to be a book.
Rumpus: Do you remember the moment when you were researching this to sort out your own discomfort and you said: “Whoa! This is about more than me. This is a topic”?
Biss: There were a few moments like that. The research really escalated for me in that I read a number of books that made me think differently.
The first was Bodily Matters by Nadja Durbach, who’s a historian. I read her history of the anti-vaccine movement in Victorian England. The moment I said, “Whoa!” was when I was reading this history of an anti-vaccine movement over a hundred years ago. The fears and anxieties that propelled that movement forward were so similar to my own fears and anxieties that I had to step back and look at my own concerns in a historical context. That was really interesting to me. The actual technology has changed considerably, but the fears have remained, in many ways, static over a very long period of time and in fairly different political contexts. So that’s the moment when I thought, Okay, there’s a lot more going on here than I ever saw or realized and I’m going to have to dig quite a bit deeper into this subject.
Rumpus: Is there something specific about vaccines—about having your body punctured and having foreign material injected into you—that causes more fear and suspicion than other medical treatments? I have patients who have fewer hesitations about heart surgery than about flu shots.
Biss: I can believe that. I do think there is something emblematic about it—and this goes back to before we used needles, right? The smallpox vaccine that was given in the 1800s was not given with a needle but was an incision.
It’s this breaking of the skin paired with the introduction of foreign matter into the body that sets off something that is almost archetypical. It’s part of why I reached back into mythology to begin my discussion of this because I felt that just the act of vaccination was triggering a fear that wasn’t necessarily about that act so much as it was about what it represented to the mind; the metaphors behind it.
The skin is a really powerful metaphor for our protection against all that is outside, a division between external and internal. So to have that protection penetrated becomes metaphorically meaningful. That’s why I picked up I Is An Other by James Geary. His book is all about metaphor, but he has a really illuminating chapter about metaphors that are sourced from the body, about how many of our most basic metaphors, our most often repeated metaphors, are sourced from our bodies.
You can tell from the metaphors that we use that the body is our primary locus of understanding. In some ways we understand everything around us in terms of our own bodies. That made me look at this act as an act that was opening up a metaphorical space for people—to a greater degree than heart surgery, right? When you approach people saying, “You’re going to need heart surgery,” in many cases they’re going to interact with that information literally. There probably is some metaphoric stuff going on there, around the heart. But when I examined my own reservations about vaccination I found that they were almost all based in metaphor. And the more I learned about the actual act and the actual technology, the more comfortable I felt, because almost all my fears and hesitations were about what vaccination symbolized to me, not what it actually was.
Rumpus: Metaphors are important in On Immunity—the vampire motif, for example—but so are concepts that are very real: race and class and feminism and motherhood. What is the relationship between the conceptual and the metaphorical when you’re drilling deeper and deeper into a subject?
Biss: I think part of how this book became so interested in metaphor is that I began to discover that some of the metaphors were masking either really important realities or really important concepts. Issues of race and class, for instance, I felt were getting completely erased or masked by the metaphors that were in use around vaccination.
There are a lot of metaphors around vaccination that involve power, but very few of them acknowledge what I think is one of the more interesting and disturbing power relationships in the situation, which is the relationship between a healthy, middle-class, white person with very good access to medical care who’s chosen not to vaccinate and a poor, lower-class person of color who doesn’t have excellent access to medical care and may not be fully vaccinated because of issues of access rather than philosophical issues.
Rumpus: To clarify, the power differential exists because poor people who are not vaccinating due to access are vulnerable to outbreaks caused by people who choose not to vaccinate.
Biss: Yes. That’s a power relationship that’s, to my eye, very problematic. But when I began writing this book, when people talked about power and corruption around vaccination they were always talking about the power that pharmaceutical companies have or the power that the government has or the power that pediatricians and health care workers have. They weren’t necessarily looking at the power of the unvaccinated body, that kind of social power.
I got into the metaphors in part because I wanted to expose them as flawed or problematic metaphors. And this goes back to Susan Sontag who made the point that if we’re thinking about something through a metaphor that’s flawed, our thinking is going to be flawed. And so I wanted to expose some of these metaphors as inaccurate and bad tools.
Rumpus: The anti-vaccine movement has created some strange bedfellows on the left and on the right, aligning so-called “Whole Foods parents” and Tea Partiers. Why do you think that is? Is this simply about suspicion of authority, of experts?
Biss: I think it’s partly that, but I also think it exposes something about liberal politics. It exposes the libertarian vein that can run through liberal politics. This is an issue where you see people who call themselves liberal and say that they’re concerned with social justice joining the same movement as people who are actually libertarians and more on the far right side of things or part of the Christian right.
I think it has less to do with the suspicion of experts than it has to do with this thing that we treasure and nurture in America, individualism, which can actually be quite damaging if it’s taken to political extremes. And we can see it both on the right and the left.
Rumpus: Have you gotten any feedback that you changed minds of people who were anti-vaccine?
Biss: I got feedback from a friend who read a draft. She mentioned after she read it—and she pushed back on a lot of things and had quite a hearty critique of the book—that she vaccinated her son against hepatitis B. I’ve had a couple of interactions like that, where I’ve learned that it has changed the mind of someone who was vaccine-hesitant or delaying vaccines.
I’m sure you’re familiar with the more extreme position, people who are dedicated to not vaccinating at all. There have been some studies recently that have shown that it’s very, very hard to get someone in that position to change their mind, and that has been my experience in conversations.
Rumpus: As you read the news these last few weeks about Ebola, do you see themes emerge that came up in your research about vaccines?
Biss: Quite a bit. Both of my last two books have been interested in fear, in our tendency to fear things that don’t pose us a threat and interested in where fear intersects with other attitudes, like racism—where fear is a product of racism or an extension of racism or a complement to racism. Just the other evening I was having a conversation with my husband and he said: “I really don’t think people would be reacting the way they’re reacting to Ebola if it had originated in Sweden.” If most of the victims were blond and light-skinned—I think in some ways the fear is about disease, but the fear is also giving people an opportunity to exercise their fear of otherness.
Rumpus: I have no doubt.
Biss: I have no doubt, either. There might still be a reaction, but the reaction would look really different.
Another thing that it’s brought up for me is thinking about quarantine. How awkward and difficult and problematic it is to have quarantine be one of your primary preventative health measures. Recently I was on a radio program, and a listener called in, and she said, “I think that you’re over-emphasizing the role of vaccination in disease prevention.” But Ebola is actually a reminder of how messy and awkward and difficult it is to deal with a disease without vaccination. Quarantine is a pre-modern method for controlling the spread of disease, and we have to go back to this pre-modern strategy when we don’t have vaccination. Which doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t use it. It can be a be a useful and necessary complement to vaccination.
I’ll say just one last thing about quarantine: People make civil rights arguments around vaccination, like, “Oh, my right to my body is being violated,” but I think that many people would find that quarantine feels much more like a violation of civil rights than vaccination. Given the choice, we might actually prefer vaccination.
Rumpus: I’d like to talk a little about your beginnings as a writer. In On Immunity you mention the influence of your dad, a doctor.
Biss: Yes. I wanted him to be the voice of the best of medicine, a reminder to everyone that doctors aren’t all evil arbiters of the establishment
Rumpus: And you also mention your mom, an artist,
Biss: She’s a visual artist, a poet, and a nonfiction writer.
Rumpus: Reading about them I found myself thinking of the surgeon-writer Richard Selzer, who described how his father practiced medicine in an office on the first floor of
his childhood home while his mother, an amateur opera singer, belted out arias upstairs, about how these were the two poles of his young imagination: science and art. Was it like that for you?
Biss: I think that’s true, though at this point in my life and development I’m no longer inclined to think of them as two poles. I think of them much more as two different modes. The driving interests and concerns of both are quite similar. And I do think medicine practiced well is an art. That’s obvious, especially when you read the words of one of these really masterful doctor-writers.
Rumpus: You’ve written many medically-themed essays: “The Pain Scale” and “Relations” (in part about in-vitro fertilization), and, of course, the essays that became On Immunity. Did having this particular combination of parents set the stage for you to think about medical issues in a literary way?
Biss: I do think it gave me access. I remember when I turned twenty-one I went to a fortune teller with my sister, and the fortune teller looked at my palm, and she said: “Ah! You’re interested in medicine! You’re going to be a doctor or a nurse!” and my sister and I fell over laughing. It was so absurd, so out of the range of my interests. Really, though, the way my trajectory of interests has progressed, maybe the palm reader was seeing farther into my future than I knew.
I think that having my father be a doctor, I’m not afraid of medical terminology. A lot of it is familiar to me. My father talked in that terminology. I think that’s a barrier for some people, the language of medicine. The language of medicine doesn’t intimidate me.
Rumpus: I read that in researching On Immunity you slogged through an immunology textbook. I was impressed.
Biss: It took, like, six months. I had to look almost everything up.
Rumpus: You earned an MFA in nonfiction at Iowa. How did your understanding of what nonfiction could be evolve there?
Biss: It helped that I entered nonfiction through poetry. My first book, The Balloonists, which can absolutely be read as an essay, I was thinking of at the time as poetry, just because I didn’t know enough yet about the tradition of the personal essay. I didn’t know that you were allowed to do that in nonfiction. So even though it doesn’t look like poetry in a number of ways, I was calling it poetry because poetry was the only genre I knew of where I’d seen anything like that happening.
I had studied prose poetry quite extensively as an undergraduate. I was lucky to be exposed to Anne Carson early in my career. Anne Carson is so great in terms of giving permission. That sense of “I didn’t know you were allowed to do this”—I had that with every book I read by Anne Carson. I started reading her as an undergraduate, and she just blew a lot of doors open. I loved what she was doing with ideas, but I also loved what she was doing with form. She has a number of pieces which have “essay” in the title but are in fact written in lines like most poems are. And she has work that has the word “poem” in the title and looks a lot like an essay. She’s moving very freely between these genres, making them collide and collapse into each other. I think she’s done a lot for all of us who write, in terms of blowing apart the boxes that genre can become.
Rumpus: You’ve said that your own work straddles poetry and nonfiction, is a hybrid of the two. The usual connotation of “hybrid” is mixing memoir with researched information, perhaps what might have once been called “New Journalism.” How would you characterize your nonfiction? Do you simply think of yourself as an essayist—or is yours a new genre?
Biss: The quick answer is that yes, I usually do think of myself as an essayist. But that category is so broad. Contemporaneously and historically it contains things that are aesthetically incredibly different. And I think that’s part of why I’m comfortable thinking of myself a an essayist. There’s a lot of room within that category to go in a lot of aesthetic directions.
But to get into the more pointed part of your question, the New Journalists have been really important to me, especially Joan Didion, but the other group of writers that have been important to me have been the confessional poets, people like Adrienne Rich and Sylvia Plath. The assertion in their work—and which was truly radical at the time—is that the personal is political, that one can write from one’s life, about one’s life, about one’s body, as a way of way of addressing a political situation or a political idea or problem. That’s an old idea now, but it’s an idea that is still challenging to people, surprisingly. It still can be kind of disorienting for someone to see highly personal material on the page with highly political material. We still like to think of these things as belonging in different spheres.
I think my hybridity has a lot of sources of inspiration. I don’t think it’s brand new. I’m drawing heavily on Didion. I’m drawing heavily on Rich and Plath and other writers. In this latest book I was thinking about and engaging with Sontag. So I’m definitely not striking out alone.
Rumpus: I can’t help but notice that all of the literary influences you’ve mentioned are women: Carson, Plath, Rich, Sontag, Didion. This leads me to ask your reaction to the piece a few weeks ago in the New York Times Book Review, in which Cheryl Strayed and Benjamin Moser were asked whether we are in “a golden age of women essayists.” Both objected to the qualifier “women.” You are being compared with Didion and Sontag and being grouped with other young female essayists like Leslie Jamison, Lia Purpura, Maggie Nelson, and Sarah Manguso. Would it be just as accurate to say that you come out of the tradition of, say, Orwell and to group you with today’s young male essayists? Is there anything particularly female about the modern essay, or is this something we’ve invented as a way of marginalizing young women who write essays?
Biss: That’s a really interesting question. For me it depends on the moment you catch me. I could’ve just as easily have given you a list of writers who have influenced me that would be heavier on the men. And every once in a while people ask me for a list and I provide one, and I realize it’s all authors who are men, and I feel a little chagrined about it. There are men in there for sure. James Baldwin is probably the biggest one. Orwell is, for me, less important. Hemingway was really important to me as a young writer.
Speaking of a “golden age,” I’d be reluctant to say there’s something fundamentally different about a woman essayist than a man essayist. But there have been times, historically, when it certainly wasn’t a golden age for women essayists. For example, I admire the work of Sei Shonagon, a tenth-century Japanese writer. But that wasn’t a great time or place to be a woman writer. There were a lot of barriers.
That doesn’t mean that there aren’t barriers now. One of the things that I’ve been surprised by, actually, in the weeks since my book has come out, is how many of even the positive reviews are laced with sexism. That’s been a reminder to me that this world of writing is, in some ways, different for us women.
Rumpus: Is that on the record, what you just said?
Biss: Yes. I’m happy to say it because most of the reviews have been positive, so this isn’t sour grapes. It’s an observation. A number of the positive reviews have been quite sexist. I wrote about mothers, and I think we reserve a special kind of sexism for women who are mothers. I definitely saw that appearing in much of the coverage of the book.
The “hysterical mom” was the stereotype that was showing up in the reviews. I’m talking about fear and anxiety in my book, and talking about it through myself, so I necessarily showcase some of my own anxiety. But in certain reviews that showcasing of my anxiety is referred to in such a way that it makes me look very much like a hysterical woman.
Rumpus: Some of the emotions you express—your fears for your son’s well-being—are very moving. But it should be remembered, you did explore those emotions with years of research—and a book!
Biss: I’m focusing on my anxiety as part of a cultural critique, but all of that gets lost if a reader is so excited by the fact that a mother has fulfilled their sexist expectations of a mother that they can’t see any further into that moment in the text.
In trying to talk about fear and anxiety I’m coming close to a prejudice that people have about women, and once you get close to that, people cease to be able to see clearly, and the prejudice consumes whatever is happening on the page.
Guaranteed basic income to every citizen, whether or not they are employed to ensure their survival and that they live in a dignified, humane way, preventing poverty, illness, homelessness, reducing crime, encouraging higher education and learning vocations as well as helping society become more prosperous as a whole.
Wow. Forget raising the minimum wage. This is much much better idea.
The minimum wage could actually drop if we had basic income.
But Americans would never go for it. Miserably slogging through 12 hour days and having businesses open 24/7 is too engrained in our culture.
"BUT WHERE WILL THE GOVERNMENT GET THE MONEY?" screamed Joe Schmoe, slamming a meaty fist onto the table and getting mouth-froth all over the front of his greying tank top. "You libt*rds all think money grows on TREES!! HAHA!"
"But where will people get the incentive to work?!" Mindy Bindy cried, flapping her hands in front of her face. She’d had a fear of the unemployed lollygagging about ever since she was a child and her mother told her to be afraid of the unemployed lollygagging about. "You think people should get paid for nothing? I work hard for my money!”
"But who will serve me?" grumbled Marty McMoneybags. "Who will make me feel important? Who will do my laundry and cook my food and stand in front of me wearing a plastic smile while I take out all my stress—because I do have a lot of stress, you know, being this rich is stressful—on them?” He paused and straightened out the piles of hundred dollar bills on the desk in front of him, then raised his two watery, outraged eyes up to the Heavens. “Lord, if there are no poor people, how will I know that I’m rich??”
I laughed. This is perfect! Well said!
The thing is, while I’m sure you could scrape up a few people who’d be willing to just float by on a guaranteed minimum income? For most people the choice to work would be a no-brainer. “Hmmm. I can get by on 33k a year, or I can take that part time job and make 48k… enough to move to a better apartment, maybe take the family on vacation. Sold.” Hell, most people would want to work simply because it gives one a sense of dignity and something to do with one’s time. (Speaking as someone who’s been unemployed, on extended sick leave, etc. in her time, the boredom and sense of isolation that comes with not having a job is almost as bad as the humiliation of having to depend on other people for one’s survival.)
And with this system, part-time jobs and “non-skilled” jobs would be much more readily available because nobody would need to work two or three jobs just to stay afloat!
Which would ALSO mean that employers and customers couldn’t shamelessly exploit employees the way they can today, because if losing a job weren’t necessarily a financial disaster, more people would be willing to walk out on jobs where they weren’t being treated with dignity.
And if this also applies to students (and it should) then student loans would become much less of a problem, and fewer people would flunk out of school because of having to juggle studies and work.
Far fewer people would be forced to stay with abusive partners, parents or roommates because they couldn’t afford to move out.
And the thing is, all those people who suddenly had money? They’d be spending it. They’d be getting all the stuff they can’t afford now - new clothes, books, toys, locally-produced food, car repairs - and with each purchase money would flow BACK to the government, because VAT, also income tax.
The unemployed and/or disabled wouldn’t need special support any more - which would also mean the government could fire however many admins who are currently engaged in humiliating - *cough* making sure those people aren’t getting money they don’t deserve. Same for medical benefits and pensions. And I’m no legal scholar, but I somehow imagine less financial desperation would lead to less petty crime, and hence less need for police and security everywhere?
TL;DR Doomie thinks this is a good idea, laughs at those who protest.
reblogging for more top commentary
They tried something like this out in Canada as a sort of social experiment, called Mincome. What they found was that, on the whole, people continued to work about as much as they did before. Only new mothers and teenagers worked substantially less hours.
But wait, there’s more. Because parents were spending just a little more time at home and involved with their families, test scores increased. Because teens didn’t have to work to support their families, drop-out rates decreased. Crime rates, hospital visits, psychiatric hospitalizations and domestic abuse rates all dropped, as well. More adults pursued higher education. Those who continued to work reported more job flexibility and more opportunity to choose employment they preferred.
Basically, now you can go prove to your asshole family members that society won’t collapse without poor people for you to feel better than.
There are no Jack Kerouacs or Holden Caulfields for girls. Literary girls don’t take road-trips to find themselves; they take trips to find men.
"Great" books, as defined by the Western canon, didn’t contain female protagonists I could admire. In fact, they barely contained female protagonists at all.”
MY FAVOURITE QUOTE I’ve been looking for it! I identify with this so much.
Darth Vader is showing less mercy than usual here. [via]