Shared posts

19 Feb 08:48

Today's Top 7 Myths about Daesh/ ISIL


I wish people would stop shitting their pants over these assholes. They are very media savvy, and dangerous to the locals, but that's about it, and that's only for now. The Kurds have repelled them largely on their own.

Today’s Top 7 Myths about Daesh/ ISIL

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) –

The self-styled ‘Islamic State’ Group (ISIS or ISIL), the Arabic acronym for which is Daesh, is increasingly haunting the nightmares of Western journalists and security analysts. I keep seeing some assertions about it that strike me as exaggerated or as just incorrect.

1. It isn’t possible to determine whether Daesh a mainstream Muslim organization, since Muslim practice varies by time and place. I disagree. There is a center of gravity to any religion such that observers can tell when something is deviant. Aum Shinrikyo isn’t your run of the mill Buddhism, though it probably is on the fringes of the Buddhist tradition (it released sarin gas in the Tokyo subway in 1995). Like Aum Shinrikyo, Daesh is a fringe cult. There is nothing in formal Islam that would authorize summarily executing 21 Christians. The Qur’an says that Christians are closest in love to the Muslims, and that if they have faith and do good works, Christians need have no fear in the afterlife. Christians are people of the book and allowed religious freedom by Islamic law from the earliest times. Muslims haven’t always lived up to this ideal, but Christians were a big part of most Muslim states in the Middle East (in the early Abbasid Empire the Egyptian and Iraqi Christians were the majority). They obviously weren’t being taken out and beheaded on a regular basis. They did gradually largely convert to Islam, but we historians don’t find good evidence that they were coerced into it. Because they paid an extra poll tax, Christians had economic reasons to declare themselves Muslims.

We all know that Kentucky snake handlers are a Christian cult and that snake handling isn’t typical of the Christian tradition. Why pretend that we can’t judge when modern Muslim movements depart so far from the modern mainstream as to be a cult?

2. Daesh fighters are pious. Some may be. But very large numbers are just criminals who mouth pious slogans. The volunteers from other countries often have a gang past. They engage in drug and other smuggling and in human trafficking and delight in mass murder. They are criminals and sociopaths. Lots of religious cults authorize criminality.

3. Massive numbers of fighters have gone to join Daesh since last summer. Actually, the numbers are quite small proportionally. British PM David Cameron ominously warned that 400 British Muslim youth had gone off to fight in Syria. But there are like 3.7 million Muslims in the UK now! So .01 percent .000027 of the community volunteered. They are often teens, some are on the lam from petty criminal charges, and many come back disillusioned. You could get 400 people to believe almost anything. It isn’t a significant statistic. Most terrorism in Europe is committed by European separatist groups– only about 3% is by Muslims. Cameron is just trying to use such rhetoric to avoid being outflanked on his right by the nationalist UKIP. One of the most active Daesh Twitter feeds turns out to be run by an Indian worker in a grocery chain in Bangalore who lived in his parents’ basement and professed himself unable to volunteer for Syria because of his care giving chores. Daesh is smoke and mirrors.

4. Ibrahim Samarra’i’s ‘caliphate’ is widely taken seriously. No, it isn’t. It is a laughing matter in Egypt, the largest Arab country. There are a small band of smugglers and terrorists in Sinai who declared for Samarra’i, but that kind of person used to declare for Usama Bin Laden. It doesn’t mean anything. Egypt, with 83 million people, is in the throes of a reaction against political Islam, in favor of nationalism. It has become a little dangerous to wear a beard, the typical fashion of the Muslim fundamentalsit. Likewise, Tunisia voted in a secular government.

5. Daesh holds territory in increasing numbers of countries, including Afghanistan and Pakistan. But outside of Syria and Iraq, Daesh is just a brand, not an organization. A handful of Taliban have switched allegiance to Daesh or have announced that they have. It has no more than symbolic significance in Pakistan and Afghanistan. These converts are tiny in number. They are not significant. And they were already radicals of some sort. Daesh has no command and control among them. Indeed, the self-styled ‘caliph’, Ibrahim Samarrai, was hit by a US air strike and is bed ridden in Raqqah, Syria. I doubt he is up to command and control. The Pakistani and Afghan governments have a new agreement to roll up the radicals, and Pakistan is aerially bombing them.

Even in Syria and Iraq, Daesh holds territory only because the states have collapsed. I remember people would do this with al-Qaeda, saying it had branches in 64 countries. But for the most part it was 4 guys in each of those countries. This kind of octopus imagery is taken advantage of by Daesh to make itself seem important, but we shouldn’t fall for it.

6. Only US ground troops can defeat Daesh and the USA must commit to a third Iraq War. The US had 150,000 troops or so in Iraq for 8 1/2 years! But they left the country a mess. Why in the world would anybody assume that another round of US military occupation of Iraq would work, given the disaster that was the last one? A whole civil war was fought between Sunnis and Shiites that displaced a million people and left 3000 civilians dead a month in 2006-2007, right under the noses of US commanders.

In fact, US air power can halt Daesh expansion into Kurdistan or Baghdad. US air power was crucial to the Kurdish defense of Kobane in northern Syria. It helped the Peshmerga paramilitary of Iraqi Kurdistan take back Mt. Sinjar. It helped an Iraqi army unit take back the refinery town of Beiji. The US ought not to have to be there at all. But if Washington has to intervene, it can contain the threat from the air. Politicians should just stop promising to extirpate the group. Brands can’t be destroyed, and Daesh is just a brand for the most part.

7. Daesh is said to have 9 million subjects. I don’t understand where this number comes from. They have Raqqah Province in Syria, which had 800,000 people before the civil war. But the north of Raqqah is heavily Kurdish and some 300,000 Kurds fled from there to Turkey. Some have now come back to Kobane. But likely at most Daesh has 500,000 subjects there. Their other holdings in Syria are sparsely populated. I figure Iraq’s population at about 32 million and Sunnis there at 17%, i.e. 5.5 million or so. You have to subtract the million or more Sunnis who live in Baghdad and Samarra, which Daesh does not control. Although most of the rest Sunni Iraq has fallen to Daesh, very large numbers of Sunnis have fled from them. Thus, of Mosul’s 2 million, 500,000 voted with their feet last summer when Daesh came in. Given the massive numbers of refugees from Daesh territory, and given that they don’t have Baghdad, I’d be surprised if over all they have more than about 3-4 million people living under them. And this is all likely temporary. Plans are being made to kick them right back out of Mosul.

24 Feb 22:52

February, 24th


This sofa is not fair.

February, 24th

22 Feb 13:54

February, 21st


Big Sax

February, 21st

24 Feb 03:30

Thinner Isn't Always Better


This is the saddest Red Robot I have ever seen. Except for maybe that one time Dylan did a guest comic...

sleep is dumb

Red Robot is having battery life problems lately.

20 Feb 16:46


by Dan Henshaw

Kinda bummed, because it is indeed very cool stylistically.

(This review pertains to Apotheon’s single player aspects only.)

Calling Apotheon a case of style over substance doesn’t totally feel right. To me that phrase makes it sound as if developer Alien Trap somewhat purposefully created something flashy and vapid. I don’t believe this to be the case, even if that tag does tell a lot of the story. I think Alien Trap set out to create an artful and substantial experience, but simply failed to stick the landing because of clunky controls, a shallow story, and an awkward interface. Despite its awesome art style, Apotheon is sorely lacking in the fun department because its gameplay just isn’t up to par.

The game looks unbelievably cool.

The game looks unbelievably cool.

A word on that art style: wow. Apotheon is one of the most original looking and expertly styled games I’ve come across in recent memory. If this review were based entirely on looks, it’d be near a perfect ten. The game looks like a Grecian urn painting come to life. It’s such a smart choice and Alien Trap pulls it off with great overall design direction and exceptional animation. The look of the game is so singular and impressive that I recommend that anyone with an appreciation for great art in games at least give it a look on YouTube. Perhaps the greatest compliment I can pay is this: if Apotheon did not feature such an incredible look, it would go from “decent” to “pretty terrible” in an instant. The art style is just that good.

Unfortunately that’s were the superlatives more or less end. Apotheon has a great body, but pop open the hood and one finds the engine rather lacking. The gameplay doesn’t pass muster because of control problems and an awkward user interface. Often referred to as “Greek-a-melee” in the run-up to its release, Apotheon is indeed a 2D action RPG in the “Metroidvania” style. The game presents an open world and tasks the player with completing objectives in a fairly fluid order, opening up more of the map in the process. The meat of the game is the combat, and sadly, it’s passable at best. It can be semi-fun at times, such as situations where it’s just the player vs. one or two other human enemies. The actual use of the game’s many arms feels okay, and burying a hatchet in an enemy soldier with a sickening squish is decently satisfying. The combat is all about blocking and timing, and there’s a stamina bar, so “2D Dark Souls” actually gives a pretty decent idea of the feel.

As soon as the difficulty ramps up and enemies become harder to hit and dodge, the gameplay falls apart. Combat quickly grew frustrating and tiresome as I grappled with the sluggish controls in an attempt to fight. The player character tends to stick to walls and ledges, wrecking the fluidity of his movement and making it tough to move and fight in desirable ways. The obtuse UI doesn’t help either, and switching between various weapons, shields, and items – in both arms no less – in the middle of combat is an exercise in frustration. It’s bad enough when I wanted to swap from say, a javelin to a fire bomb mid fight, but further exacerbating the problem is the fact that shields and weapons degrade. This will cause them to vanish in the midst of combat, leaving the player to fumble awkwardly with the UI in order to select a replacement.

Apotheon Green

The palette changes keep the game fresh visually.


The platforming is impacted by the bad controls as well. Running and jumping just doesn’t feel good. The player character takes too long to build up to a full sprint, making the movement feel all the more sticky and sluggish. I think perhaps a dedicated “run” button might have gone a long way in this regard, but there are other issues still. Platforming is marred by the aforementioned tendency to get hung up on walls and such, and getting any kind of running start without a lot of room is impossible. I missed jumps left and right, and it became very tedious just navigating the world. I should mention that I encountered some rather annoying bugs while wandering around and fighting. The worst came when an a enemy tossed me off a cliff and I fell through the floor when I landed. I was trapped inside of the ground and had to restart my game. Another time I defeated a boss who then dropped an essential item…which then fell through the floor, forcing me to do the fight again. Other instances of getting totally stuck on walls and behind objects occurred as well. Some more polish really would have helped.

Apotheon people


All of the aforementioned fun-killers are a real shame, because there really are a lot of good ideas and great designs here. There are a lot of cool weapons and items, and some of the boss fights are pretty unique and interesting. The levels are actually well made from a design perspective. The different areas of the world are very distinct from one another, with lots of different color palettes and assets featured. The world is sizable and the amount of content is commendable, especially for an indie game. And again, this game is simply wonderful to look at, and it should be a model going forward for wholeness of vision and execution in art design. Unfortunately the same cannot be said for the story, which is very thin. It’s boilerplate gods vs. humans stuff seen countless times before, and I was terribly bored by it. It’s the final nail in the coffin of a game that reeks of wasted potential. There really is a great game lurking here, it’s just obscured by too many big problems. I can only recommend this one to huge fans of Greek themed stuff and brilliant art styles – and I do so cautiously at that. They’re the only ones I could see perhaps tolerating all of Apotheon‘s failings.

*played on a Playstation 4*


24 Feb 00:27

amusingabe: I haven’t sketched a face since 2014..! 20 mins....


I haven’t sketched a face since 2014..!
20 mins. Fun.
@odegrate #art #drawing #portrait #sketch #pencil #contemporaryart #beauty

23 Feb 05:01

Cranial Fauna

by Ian

Headbees are better than assbees.

Cranial Fauna

21 Feb 22:23

Secretary and 50 Shades of Grey

by Erika Moen

A thing to think about.

Around the corners of the internet where I hang out, mentioning 50 Shades of Grey can be like standing in a shooting range. It’s difficult to talk about, as anything short of wholesale condemnation brings a barrage of outrage for your assumed avocation of abusive relationships and bad BDSM practices.

“If only these kink-curious newbies could see Secretary instead!” I’ve heard people say many times.

That the abuse and poor BDSM practices of 50 Shades is so reviled but that the same practices in Secretary are adored and embraced is genuinely baffling to me.

So, my Dearest Perverts, today I’m illustrating how Secretary also romanticizes abuse and promotes unsafe BDSM practices equally as badly, if not WORSE, then 50 Shades.

Shocking, I KNOW.

Let’s do a Quick Plot Synopsisisisis (That word’s always looked ridiculous to me):

Secretary (2002) is an erotic romantic film directed by Steven Shainberg about a BDSM relationship that takes place between virginal, fragile, troubled, naive protagonist Lee Holloway (who has just been released from a mental hospital) and Mr. Grey, her haunted, dominant, sadistic boss.

The 50 Shades trilogy began as free Twilight fanfiction written by E.L. James and was published by Random House between 2011-12. In it Anastasia Steel, our virginal, fragile, troubled, naive protagonist (who is still a senior in college), enters into a BDSM relationship with haunted, dominant, sadistic millionaire Christian Grey.

Before we go any further, I need you to know something.

I love Secretary.

I watch it once a year and have done so ever since buying it on DVD as a wee-freshman in college. I even had the soundtrack (but it’s now lost in the place where CDs go to hide from you). Since 2002, my annual re-watching has added up to approximately 20 hours of viewing. (Yes, I counted)

This is a beautiful movie told with exquisite storytelling, compelling acting, artful framing, carefully coordinated color palettes, and a musical score that’ll make your toes curl. And it’s not just me that loves it, it’s won many awards and is generally beloved by critics and audiences, both vanilla and kinky.

50 Shades, on the other hand, is horribly crafted garbage. It appears as if the author of the book has a sixth grade writing level, there is no pacing, the characters are one-dimensional, and their dialogue beyond insipid. Barf.

Both these tales romanticize abusive relationships. They both demonstrate remarkably poor communication, consent, and unsafe BDSM.

Stay with me.

In Secretary, Lee is the vulnerable, unstable employee of Mr. Grey, a man older and more experienced than her in life, who controls her ability to financially support herself. Even before their physical relationship begins, Mr. Grey, a man in a position of power over her, alternates between praising and humiliating her. That’s emotional abuse. Then, without communicating to her what he intends to do, without her informed consent, he orders her into his office where he proceeds to beat the fuck out of her ass because of a typo. They never discuss the nature of their relationship. Ever. They never communicate about what their likes and limits are sexually. They never establish safe words, and we never see any aftercare when their D/s scenes are over. When Lee needs him most as a human being, he coldly turns her away from his house. And after climaxing on her back, he devastatingly fires her. Now guys, I may not be a BDSM expert, but I’m pretttty sure that is not good aftercare.

What if Lee had been assaulted before she came to work for Mr. Grey? What if, instead of being surprisingly turned on by that first spanking, she was deeply triggered? Grey certainly doesn’t check in with her beforehand to make sure it wouldn’t be a traumatic experience. Then there’s the part where he lets her starve herself in his office, sitting in her own urine and excrement for days, until she is too weak to lift her own head. He leaves her unsupervised in a situation that could have created permanent damage. By the end of this scene, Lee’s so weak, that she’s in no state to get up and leave, and she very well could have just died of dehydration and starvation at his desk had he not returned in time. That situation was not safe or sane.

Lest you think Mr. Grey’s emotionally abusive behavior applies only to Lee, the movie establishes early on that this is par for the course. That part where he throws out his red pens? He uses the red pens to antagonize Lee, it’s not much of a stretch to assume he used them to also berate and humiliate all his former secretaries too. He terrorizes and devastatingly fires his poor secretaries (like the one seen leaving with her paycheck in mouth, obviously distraught) so frequently that he has a wooden sign surrounded in lights at the front of his building that announces when he needs yet another replacement. He hires these women as his office subordinates, intending to bully and emotionally destroy them. Mr. Grey is a serial abuser.


Alright, now try this on for size:
In 50 Shades, Christian presents Anastasia with a written document laying out all the sexual things he is into, a number of which she vetoes. Christian teaches Anastasia about safe words and is sincere that he will always honor it if she chooses to use them. Christian and Anastasia cuddle and are affectionate with each other after their BDSM scenes. That is, they practice aftercare.

Yes, the rest of 50 Shades is completely fucked, they absolutely have an abusive relationship, and yadda yadda yadda you can read the million other blog posts and essays detailing all the ways this book is Horrible For Society and Especially Women. But still… I can’t help but notice there is more direct communication and consent between our protagonists in this reviled book than there is in the celebrated movie Secretary.


Secretary is a movie that a good number of well-meaning kinksters hold up as an excellent example of how BDSM should be portrayed in the media. They wish people would watch this instead of consuming 50 Shades. This is done with the implication that this relationship of abuse and unsafe BDSM practices in Secretary is healthier than what we see between Anastasia Steel and Christian Grey in 50 Shades.

Is Secretary a better told story with superior character development than 50 Shades of Grey? Yes, absolutely.

Are the BDSM scenes in Secretary hotter than the graphic sex descriptions of 50 Shades of Grey? That’s subjective, but personally I’ve watched 20 hours worth of Secretary while my 50 Shades books got one read-through before I re-sold them to Powell’s for store credit.

Does 50 Shades of Grey romanticize abusive relationships and portray poor consent, communication, and unsafe BDSM practices, while Secretary does not? …Dude. No. Not at all. Not. At. All.


I completely appreciate that since 50 Shades became popular, now people are suddenly invested in pointing out the portrayal of abuse in romantic relationships in mainstream media. Yes, society upholds some pretty toxic models of heterosexual relationships through our entertainment and this needs to be actively combated.

But I’m just… kind of befuddled about the double-standard 50 Shades Critics have when it comes to the movie Secretary.

Readers took issue with me when I said in my comic that I have general faith in people to differentiate between what they find arousing in their fantasy porn and how they behave in real life with their real relationships. They fear that women will now just blindly throw themselves into unsafe situations and dangerous relationships because of these books. But I still believe that people –even women!– can enjoy problematic porn fantasies without being completely brainwashed by it, just like Secretary fans have already been proving since 2002.


The only difference between these two stories is that one is absurdly poorly written and the other is beautifully, masterfully told. If you’re not worried about Secretary viewers, then you don’t need to worry about 50 Shades readers either. Really! It’s ok, you don’t need to fret so much about what other people are masturbating about.

Now, I’d say it’s about time I upped my hours watched of Secretary from 20 to 21…


Further Reading

Laurie Penny in defence of Fifty Shades of Grey by Laurie Penny
If the personal is political, is it ever OK to want a spanking? by Lux Alptraum
16 Feb 19:57

If I Ran the School, Things Would be Different

by Mr. Money Mustache

MountainscallingAs a retiree, I have a special place in my heart for Monday mornings, because that’s when I would have had to go back to work if it weren’t for the joy of early retirement.  Despite the option of complete leisure, I woke up at 5:30 this morning because the sky was starting to brighten and I was too excited about the new day to let any of it go to waste.

I’m writing to you right now, but later on I’ll be building stuff, riding bikes, meeting with people and teaching kids. Later on as bedtime approaches I might fiddle around in the music room, read a book or listen to a podcast. It’s my idea of the perfect life: self-directed activities in pursuit of knowledge, self-improvement and even getting a chance to help others if you’re lucky.

This might not seem related to the subject of our school system, but at the core I think the idea is the same:

Humans are naturally curious and energetic creatures, and if you set us free in the right environment, we will get to work learning, producing, and having a great time at it.

This is especially true for kids, whose brain composition is set up for maximum-speed-learning-at-all-costs. And double especially true for my son, who has always loved the freedom to create and worked with every atom of his being to fight against any rules that might constrain it. This is a boy who, given an elaborate new high-tech Lego set, will immediately discard the instruction set, open the bags of parts, and dump them without hesitation into his main supply bins. “Great! we have way more parts now – let’s make some ships!”

This inspired (but very high maintenance) personality has been clashing with the public school system on a regular basis. Last year, he started to feel the crush of boredom and irrationality and Mrs. MM and I fought it for a long while.

“You have to stay in school”, we insisted, “that is what all responsible people do to ensure a bright future, learn to deal with diverse sets of people, and of course to socialize with other children. With you being an only child, this is especially important.”

But it started affecting his sleep, and his non-school hours started to become dominated by worrying about school, and then even his health started to follow down that road. Through research and a bit of professional counseling, we learned that he has an anxiety disorder. While this is fairly common in young kids of his type, the teachers he had to work with most often seemed unable to adapt. His third grade classroom had become a disciplinarian place with a constant shushing of kids, straight lines in the hallway, and stern words for anyone who didn’t follow assignment instructions without question. Explanations of his ideas to the teacher were shot down as “talking back” or “excuses”.

There are of course many schools of thought on how to raise a kid. In 19th century England, they used to whack them frequently with canes to keep them in line. In certain philosophies, cultures or religions it is still common to maintain an iron fist of discipline over kids until they move out of the house as young adults. The traditional Asian school system emphasized long hours, strict rules and rote memorization. The opinions of the parents and teachers are the only ones that count, and failing to perform well in school is considered a disgrace to your family.

While I’m happy to let those people do their own thing, my response to this style of education as a parent now is the same as it was when I was a kid: “Fuck That.”

The Pursuit of Soul Craft

Around the time we were going through all of this, I was reading the book “Shop Class as Soulcraft” by the badass philosopher/mechanic Matthew B. Crawford. The author shares my own opinions on the bullshitty nature of most of our traditional rules and their influence on the modern office environment, and the value of thoughtful but difficult physical work. To quote the man on the clash of school with human nature:

 “It is a rare person who is naturally inclined to sit still for sixteen years at school, and then indefinitely at work”

Don’t get me wrong. The idea of a free public education for all is still a great one. In my school, a noticeable portion* of the kids come from families where the parents don’t seem to be putting much effort into their upbringing. Nobody is reading to them at home, or talking about science or teaching them a trade. There’s no Lego, not enough bikes and too much TV, drowning out the chance to actually learn by creating anything for themselves. For them, school is the only hand up they have in life so we’d better make the most of it.

But damn, we could do so much better.

If I ran the school, there would be none of those leaky-tire teachers that are permanently shushing kids in the classrooms and the hallways.

I remember one vivid experience while volunteering in the school, walking down the hallway with a group of my little advanced math students. The hall was empty and our journey back to the main classroom was going well. Without warning, an attack of shushes came at us from a sniper who had positioned herself inconspicuously at a desk off to the side. We escaped without losing the flow of our thoughts, but at the midway point, a second attack came from a guy standing at the far end. Arms down, straight line, no talking.

When kids are talking to each other, that’s called a conversation, which is one of the most valuable things you can let kids have.

And nobody needs to line up in the hallways. I don’t do lineups myself, so why would I make kids endure this irrational suppression of natural body placement?

If I ran the place, there would be a red button on the wall, that would start Walking on Sunshine, pulsing LED rope lights and a disco ball. Anybody could run up and press it. The walls would be padded and there would be subwoofers. It would be an invigorating and ridiculous dance party going from one class to the next. Coincidentally, this is very similar to how I run my own house.

Some teachers are still taking away recess from kids as a form of punishment. The most valuable and educational part of the school day – experiencing nature and fresh air, refreshing the mind and training the body – gone because of an cruel desire to make a child regret not conforming to their irrational rules. I found this both enraging and ironic, because the school hallway proudly displays a large banner with the following quote:

“Leave all the afternoon for exercise and recreation, which are as necessary as reading; I will rather say more necessary, because health is worth more than learning.”
- Thomas Jefferson

In my school, recess would come first. There is more than enough time to learn the easy stuff like physics, chemistry and software design. Plenty of adults accomplish that. But how many of us spend enough time outside and maintain reasonable levels of strength and fitness into our old age? How many people over 50 even do barbell squats with any regularity any more?

In my school, play is not something to be suppressed – it is something you facilitate and hope for. There’s a reason that kids of all the most intelligent animals (whether kittens, dolphins or humans) are born with a desire to play. It is because playing is the most efficient way to learn. How could this blatantly obvious bit of evolution have been suppressed in the design of our school system? Thus, the ultimate achievement as a teacher is to trigger a marathon session of Automatic Learning Through Play, and sit back and watch the neurons connect.

 So We Decided It Was Time To Run The School

My rant above is overly idealistic, or course. Real school systems are faced with all sorts of constraints, just like any organization that involves a large number of humans. You have vastly diverse kids, some of them uncooperative or even violent. Meddling administrators, parents, and politicians. The flawed implementation of standardized testing which often displaces actual learning. Sure, it can be improved, but that’s a separate battle from the job of taking care of our own son because he needed a solution right now. 

Much like Mustachianism itself, we decided it was more efficient to try something new immediately and start learning from it, than to sit around complaining about the system we were stuck in. Since we’ve been experimenting with this for about a year now, I figured it would be worth sharing some of the surprising observations.

Is Homeschooling Only for Weirdos? Surely it Wouldn’t Work for Me?

This was my first assumption before learning about the option. I had never met anyone who didn’t go to school, so I thought it was necessary to grow up as an educated, well-adjusted adult. This turned out to be totally wrong and I have heard from (and read about) dozens of exceptionally happy, intelligent achievers who went this way. But it’s not for everyone – if you find yourself with a kid who already likes school, you might want to keep that good situation as it is.

How Can This Lead to a Good Education?

If you start with the natural hunger kids have towards learning, and subtract out some of the biggest obstacles (lineups, waiting for the slow trudge of big-class teaching, boring and repetitive activities), you find that you can exceed the actual academic learning contained in a typical school day with just an hour or two of concentrated effort. You can double the pace by throwing in a second hour or more. And this leaves the rest of the day to broaden the benefits – activities with other people, physical challenges, educational trips, etc. You can also let the kid run free with uninterrupted time when he does find a true interest – for example getting into a really good book, writing, music, programming, etc.

This fits well with the modern and future workforce, where employers are looking for people who can adapt, create, and produce, rather than simply follow rules. But even using the word “employers” is shortsighted in my book. I’m not teaching my kid to be an employee – I’m teaching him to be a creator, who will find it satisfying to start his own small companies. Employees will be the people he hires when the time comes.

Where do you Get your Curriculum?

Sal Khan is pretty much The Man when it comes to great do-it-yourself education. Thanks Sal!

Sal Khan is pretty much The Man when it comes to great do-it-yourself education. Thanks Sal!

Much of this becomes obvious if you ask yourself what really defines a good education. But for a shortcut, just look at Khan Academy. This brillant utopia of an organization has been creating well-organized, advanced, free learning for years now, and it just keeps getting better. Get your kid an account there, set him or her free and watch the sparks fly. Of course, you should also hover conveniently nearby to help expand the learning.

We also worked with the school and borrowed some textbooks, looked at the US core standards that help define the teaching done in conventional school, and did plenty of online searching to see what other people use for their learning.

But the fun part comes when you leave the conventional lessons. For example, to illustrate math and trigonometry (as well as a tiny bit about astronomy), I taught my son how to calculate the height of our city’s water tower based on the length of its shadow at noon on March 21st. To learn about science and engineering, you talk about how things work and watch the amazing documentaries they have now that explain how fascinating these things are.

Technology and Computing: The video game called Kerbal Space Program tricks kids into learning rocket design and planetary physics at a deeply intuitive level. Another called Robocraft involves iterative design, construction and testing disguised as a first person shoot-em-up. We also build and program real robots using a VEX IQ set, but you can ease into kid-style programming with a language called Scratch.

In fact, any strategic and complicated video game contains a lot of disguised learning, because your kid has to learn the subtleties of using a computer in order to get it to work in the first place. How to use a mouse, keyboard, and menus. How to read, type, copy files, install updates, search for information, even connect to another IP address to host a multiplayer game. These end up being really useful skills throughout life, and this is why I would never buy an Xbox, Wii, PlayStation or other simplified video gaming system. Those things preserve the recreation, but strip out the important technology. If your kid is going to have “screen time”, it might as well be on a nice, complicated real computer, which is another reason we haven’t had TV service since well before he was born.

Music: At the most basic level, you learn a lot about music by simply listening to it. I always have something playing in the house and I let my son change the Pandora station and create his own. But we also jam with real instruments which are left strategically lying about the house and make songs with Ableton Live. Music lessons are valuable for those so inclined, but due to our resistance to rules and structure, my son and I are not so inclined at the moment even as people who are unusually interested in music.


Art Class tends to change along with the current topics of interest in real life. Currently space travel and colonization due to a binge of reading we did about SpaceX.


Reading and Writing: kids reading to themselves at any time, parents reading books to kids at bedtime, hitting the Library at least once a week, and leaving blank notebooks and great writing instruments and erasers around the house to facilitate creation of new literature and comics.

The Typical Day of Homeschooling

Typical day's schedule

Typical day’s schedule

It changes along with the season, but there is the whiteboard as it appears today. You got some writing, building/programming, lunch, outdoor activities, and math. We keep things in the 1-4 hour range to avoid homeschooling becoming a drag. After all, kids are always learning, whether you label it as school or not.

Surprising Advantages

  • You can live wherever you like without regard to “school district”. You can also travel and take vacations without regard to the school calendar.
For example, nice weather last week required that we spend Monday hiking in the mountains.

For example, nice weather last week required that we spend Monday hiking in the mountains.

  • You get the best private school, with a commute and tuition cost of roughly zero.
  • I find myself learning more, just so I’ll have more to share with him (similar to the effect that this blog has had on my life)
  • My son is at peace with the world, fired up, and learning quickly.

What about Testing and Standards?  Is anybody watching what I do?

This part is easy. Although it is unlikely any authorities will ever be involved with your schooling, in theory you are supposed to do at least 4 hours per day of classes, and keep a journal of what you do. You may also be able to drop in on your local school for special classes if you make arrangements with the principal there.

You can order practice tests, and the real end-of-year tests (called the Iowa Test of Basic Skills), which you can administer yourself or do at the school. Mrs. MM bought her copies from**

Your kid does of course need to pass the test, but if you’re serious about learning you will be miles ahead of the requirements.

What about Socialization? 

As it turns out, the regular school day is mostly about discouraging socialization. Get the kids to sit still and be quiet so they can learn, except in widely spaced controlled group activities. Most of the fun happens in extracurricular activities, which you can still join, or in plain old free play, which you can do any time.

Little MM still has all of his earlier school friends, and he hangs out with them constantly outside of school hours and on the weekends. We also keep meeting more people, just by virtue of living in a neighborhood where people want to know each other.

There are also organized homeschooling groups where you gather for group activities or even classes at a dedicated location. While we haven’t had time to join any groups yet, I plan to start running some classes of my own out of the parkside studio building I’ll be building in my back yard once the main house is done.

In Conclusion

Homeschooling has turned out to be a highly Mustachian activity: packed with Freedom, requiring high effort in exchange for high reward, and a way of improving upon the system of our society while working peacefully with its boundaries. It is not for everyone and it will consume much of your mental and physical power, but in exchange you will deliver a truly excellent education.

Further Reading: Mrs. Money Mustache shares more about her homeschooling journey in this March 2014 post on her own site.

 * By “noticeable portion” I’m not talking about kids with a different race or language of origin. This parenting divide is caused some other way – perhaps even by stress. If your own life as an adult is pushing your boundaries, you might have less energy left over to help your kids. Now that I’m a parent myself, I feel less judgmental about how things work out for other parents, because this stuff is pretty damned hard even from my very privileged position of having only one kid, two parents, and more free time and money than most. So instead of bashing parents of disadvantaged kids, I’d rather just help them by trying to inspire their kids.

**BJU happens to be a religious group, but the tests themselves are just the standard national tests. In fact, you’ll find a high correlation between homeschooling and religion, but that doesn’t make the idea any less valid for completely non-religious people (such as the MMM family) as well. For me, it’s all about better learning and a better life, which are almost the same thing.

20 Feb 14:00

Behold, the almost-finished inset art for Volume II of Family...

Behold, the almost-finished inset art for Volume II of Family Man, currently in the pre-press/design phase! A very fun image to compose and color.


20 Feb 08:04

Oliver Sacks on Learning He Has Terminal Cancer

A MONTH ago, I felt that I was in good health, even robust health. At 81, I still swim a mile a day. But my luck has run out — a few weeks ago I learned that I have multiple metastases in the liver. Nine years ago it was discovered that I had a rare tumor of the eye, an ocular melanoma. Although the radiation and lasering to remove the tumor ultimately left me blind in that eye, only in very rare cases do such tumors metastasize. I am among the unlucky 2 percent.

I feel grateful that I have been granted nine years of good health and productivity since the original diagnosis, but now I am face to face with dying. The cancer occupies a third of my liver, and though its advance may be slowed, this particular sort of cancer cannot be halted.

It is up to me now to choose how to live out the months that remain to me. I have to live in the richest, deepest, most productive way I can. In this I am encouraged by the words of one of my favorite philosophers, David Hume, who, upon learning that he was mortally ill at age 65, wrote a short autobiography in a single day in April of 1776. He titled it “My Own Life.”

“I now reckon upon a speedy dissolution,” he wrote. “I have suffered very little pain from my disorder; and what is more strange, have, notwithstanding the great decline of my person, never suffered a moment’s abatement of my spirits. I possess the same ardour as ever in study, and the same gaiety in company.”

I have been lucky enough to live past 80, and the 15 years allotted to me beyond Hume’s three score and five have been equally rich in work and love. In that time, I have published five books and completed an autobiography (rather longer than Hume’s few pages) to be published this spring; I have several other books nearly finished.

Hume continued, “I am ... a man of mild dispositions, of command of temper, of an open, social, and cheerful humour, capable of attachment, but little susceptible of enmity, and of great moderation in all my passions.”

Here I depart from Hume. While I have enjoyed loving relationships and friendships and have no real enmities, I cannot say (nor would anyone who knows me say) that I am a man of mild dispositions. On the contrary, I am a man of vehement disposition, with violent enthusiasms, and extreme immoderation in all my passions.

And yet, one line from Hume’s essay strikes me as especially true: “It is difficult,” he wrote, “to be more detached from life than I am at present.”

Over the last few days, I have been able to see my life as from a great altitude, as a sort of landscape, and with a deepening sense of the connection of all its parts. This does not mean I am finished with life.

On the contrary, I feel intensely alive, and I want and hope in the time that remains to deepen my friendships, to say farewell to those I love, to write more, to travel if I have the strength, to achieve new levels of understanding and insight.

This will involve audacity, clarity and plain speaking; trying to straighten my accounts with the world. But there will be time, too, for some fun (and even some silliness, as well).

I feel a sudden clear focus and perspective. There is no time for anything inessential. I must focus on myself, my work and my friends. I shall no longer look at “NewsHour” every night. I shall no longer pay any attention to politics or arguments about global warming.

This is not indifference but detachment — I still care deeply about the Middle East, about global warming, about growing inequality, but these are no longer my business; they belong to the future. I rejoice when I meet gifted young people — even the one who biopsied and diagnosed my metastases. I feel the future is in good hands.

I have been increasingly conscious, for the last 10 years or so, of deaths among my contemporaries. My generation is on the way out, and each death I have felt as an abruption, a tearing away of part of myself. There will be no one like us when we are gone, but then there is no one like anyone else, ever. When people die, they cannot be replaced. They leave holes that cannot be filled, for it is the fate — the genetic and neural fate — of every human being to be a unique individual, to find his own path, to live his own life, to die his own death.

I cannot pretend I am without fear. But my predominant feeling is one of gratitude. I have loved and been loved; I have been given much and I have given something in return; I have read and traveled and thought and written. I have had an intercourse with the world, the special intercourse of writers and readers.

Above all, I have been a sentient being, a thinking animal, on this beautiful planet, and that in itself has been an enormous privilege and adventure.

16 Feb 16:07

February, 16th


Stone Chicken.

February, 16th

20 Feb 06:50

LORD DYING - "Poisoned Altars" (Official Music Video)


Keep Portland Metal?

LORD DYING - "Poisoned Altars" from the album 'Poisoned Altars' SUBSCRIBE: Purchase via Relapse:
12 Feb 19:30

tsabe:72 Degrees in the shade. The Animated Self Portrait  T.S...


72 Degrees in the shade.

The Animated Self Portrait 

T.S Abe

A little about the work _

72 degrees in the shade operates both literally (the shade in question) and metaphorically, referencing the song ‘96 degrees in the shade’ detailing an uprising that, whilst failing, arguably led to Jamaicas successful emancipation from the British Empire. In short, Resistance is FERTILE.

Originally conceived as a 360° rotation, the 15 frames begin inquisitively before turning away in disgust. It’s a look perfected fending off leeching males on the preternaturally deprived streets of Brixton, and is now reserved for classless men of all socioeconomic backgrounds. _

16 Feb 14:31

How a Professional Writer Improved My Academic Writing

by Carole McGranahan

I don't agree with all of this, but it's not bad advice for technical writing. Unfortunately, some of it is not entirely helpful, in the sense of not being explicit (see: On dull subjects).

[Savage Minds  is pleased to publish this essay by Annie Claus as part of our Writers’ Workshop series. Annie  is assistant professor of anthropology at American University in Washington, D.C. specializing in the social ecology of marine and coastal environments and diverse environmentalisms. She has published work on the impacts of environmental policies on coastal communities, the political ecology of disasters, and conservation social science. Her most recent work analyzes the relationship of Okinawa to Japan through the lens of coral reef conservation.]

I weaseled my way into a writing class as I was finishing my dissertation. Others had advised against taking the course (“just finish your dissertation and worry about its readability later”). But I had been convinced that clear writing reflects clear thinking. If clear thinking emerges through writing with clarity, shouldn’t we all be required to take at least one class about the craft of writing before we inflict our thinking on others?

The professor had taught writing for years and was on the editorial board of The New York Times—a real professional! His (The Pro’s) over-enrolled class was pitched to future journalists but that seemed insignificant to me. I pleaded with The Pro for a spot:

“Anthropologists are also writers, without training or hope. Isn’t it important to make academia a better, more accessible place?”

I argued and implored and won.

The Pro’s task was enormous. We students were formidable, with our ingrained use of dull verbs that arrange and present, our anxious prose with its superfluous connective tissue, our obfuscating descriptions of abstractions. He started small, with sentences. A third of the way into the class we progressed to paragraphs and then finally, to thousand-word pieces.

I wish the whole blogosphere could luxuriate in a writing class! I’m certainly not a pro but if you’re reading this we conceivably share a set of literary aspirations. Perhaps the lessons I learned from The Pro will be useful for your anthropological compositions too?


Covering less ground.

Ask yourself, what will make my sentence as simple and clear as it can be? Be economical and efficient. Your sentences are most likely too long, too crowded. Revisit each sentence—are your ideas moving too quickly in the space you have given them? Look for the incomplete thought and clarify. Rephrase, reword, recast. Oftentimes this will open up a new pathway for writing and thinking.

Every single sentence should captivate. The weight of your sentence does not make it more valuable. Allow each sentence to do a tiny part of what you want it to do. Believe that a slow build over time will convey your message.

Resist the semi-colon, it will tempt you to overstuff your sentence with ideas.

On language.

How many consecutive lackluster words can the reader tolerate? Avoid any turn of phrase or cliché that is used thoughtlessly or out of habit. Someone else’s phrases will rot in your sentence. (The Pro was passionate about this. He said they were gangrenous.) Writing is a series of choices and it shouldn’t just flow or come easily. If it does we ought to be suspicious. Are we submitting to rhetorical convention, and therefore relinquishing our freedom of choice?

When you’re submerged in theoretical explications, try to make just one sentence shorter, clearer. Is the subject of your sentence capable of performing the action that you’re attributing to it? Move away from abstractions by adding a sentence about actual actors performing actual actions.

Please don’t replace real, live action with noun phrases (i.e., don’t participate in the replacement of real, live action with noun phrases).

On dull subjects.

Occasionally our writing must address tedious content. For me, writing about the policy context of coral conservation can be boring but necessary. In that case, isn’t it better to just lay down the details as quickly and succinctly as possible?

When tedium sets in I turn to John McPhee. Where a less skilled writer might depend on a personal anecdote or a vignette to seduce the reader, McPhee creates structural variety. Even when writing about policies, McPhee’s prose is energetic—it’s as if he’s trying to make his subject interesting for himself. He does this by changing the patterns of his sentences. Or he upends his prose, introducing a pulse. And each sentence is different from the previous and following sentences. McPhee changes the rhythm and sustains the reader’s attention.

Trusting your reader.

This lesson is the hardest to implement and it requires a bit more discretion than the others. Though it may seem that academic writing is different from other writing we do—letters, emails, blog posts—it isn’t. Set the cap and gown aside when you sit down to write. Writing that sounds oratorical, stiff, and formal is unclear and opaque and difficult to understand, whoever the audience is. Introduce some levity—throw in a contraction or two! Because we take our writing seriously and hope that others do too, our prose conveys anxiety. Our citations betray us here (“Look, these other people agree with me”) but alongside these attributions that academic convention requires, we fill our paragraphs with unnecessary navigational markers. We clarify, we indicate, we argue, we summarize.

You aren’t responsible for your readers’ ignorance or inattentiveness. You do have to tenderly bring their attention along. This should not include using terms like while, therefore, as, when, since—terms that illustrate that we think the reader is dull. But, nevertheless, yet, however. Convey negation through luminous prose and forego those insipid grammatical markers.

Joan Didion does this well. She is quietly assured about the information she presents. Instead of hierarchical sentences, she builds a rhythm by lengthening her sentences one fragment at a time. By the end of her paragraphs we have followed along without feeling like we’ve been led to a predetermined conclusion. She structures her paragraphs so they build cumulative power.

Final thoughts.

Clearly The Pro’s tips are impossible to implement all the time. How many of them did I eschew in this short piece? Fewer here than in the draft! The Pro constantly reminded us that clear writing emerges from careful editing. The initial work of making words appear on your screen is the most frustrating and tortuous. Spend more time revising. This is where your ideas are shaped and refined. Even incremental changes will inject clarity and liveliness into your ethnographic prose.

Anthropologists identify as fieldworkers, archivists, researchers, and teachers, but seldom as writers. Would we be more likely to do so if we explicitly studied the craft of writing, if we were more confident about our technical skills? Taking a writing class will likely sharpen your thinking and make your writing more vivid and accessible to others. I advocate sneaking into one of your own.

02 Feb 02:22

Angry White Buddhists and the Dalai Lama: Appropriation and Politics in the Globalization of Tibetan Buddhism

by Carole McGranahan

People will fight and create divisions over literally anything.

[Savage Minds is pleased to publish this essay by Ben Joffe. Ben is a PhD candidate at the University of Colorado. He holds a MA from the University of Capetown, and a Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research dissertation grant for the project “White Robes, Matted Hair: Tibetan Renouncers, Institutional Authority, and the Mediation of Charisma in Exile.”]

You know that guy. He talks about ‘Tantric yoga’ in casual conversation. Maybe he has dreadlocks. Maybe he’s shaved his head. He’s definitely not had a beverage with regular milk in it for years. He’s probably white and affluent. He’s probably been to India. And he probably wears Buddhist prayer beads as jewelry.

It’s easy enough to compare this stereotype to the ‘serious’ convert to Buddhism, who though they too may talk about Tantra, sport distinctive hairstyles or be white and affluent, seem at least to wear their prayer beads as more than just a fashion statement. Yet, how easy is it to identify where religious conversion begins and cultural appropriation ends?

For ‘world’ religions like Buddhism, Christianity, and Islam the distinction is perhaps obvious. These religions operate according to an evangelical logic: everyone can (and often must) enjoy access to the means of salvation. Accusations of cultural appropriation, suggesting group-specific rights and restricted entry, might seem incompatible with an ethos of universalistic salvation. Tibetan Buddhism, like Islam and Christianity, is an enthusiastically evangelical religion. Buddhist theology widens the possibilities of evangelizing enormously: beyond spreading the Dharma to their fellow human beings, Tibetan Buddhists say prayers for everything from ants to vampiric spirits so that these beings might be swiftly reborn in human form and achieve salvation through Buddhist practice. Like Islam and Christianity too, Tibetan Buddhism is today an increasingly global religion. Unlike Christian and Muslim missionaries, however, today’s cosmopolitan Tibetan lamas have been motivated by both a universalist theology and by a sense of urgency to preserve their religion in the face of persecution by Chinese authorities in Tibet. As such, Tibetan Buddhism’s significant spread westwards in recent decades cannot be separated from Tibet’s colonial history: from Tibet’s occupation by the People’s Republic of China in 1950 and the exodus of thousands of Tibetans from their homeland following a failed uprising against Chinese rule in 1959. The political context of Tibetan Buddhism’s globalization then has made the Western convert an ambiguous figure.

A newcomer to Buddhism, the convert is on the one hand culturally and spiritually impoverished: dependent on Tibetan experts, she is a beneficiary of Tibetan lamas’ spiritual charity. Compared to most Tibetans, who are stateless refugees or occupied people, however, she is distinctly advantaged. Her material and political privilege means she is often positioned by Tibetans in the traditional role of patron (jindak), yet while Tibetans may expect or hope that converts will serve as allies and advocates for Tibetans’ interests, commitment to Buddhism doesn’t guarantee any particular political subjectivity. These dynamics can make the lines between conversion and cultural appropriation blurry in the Tibetan Buddhist context.

Ben Pic 1

ISC protesters in Upper West Side New York in November 2014

In November of last year, the fourteenth Dalai Lama Tenzin Gyatso completed an extensive lecture tour of the USA. Of the thousands who showed up for the Nobel Peace Prize winner’s talks, one group arrived without fail to each of his events: crowds of mostly white protestors in Tibetan robes who came to boycott the religious leader. Brandishing placards and shouting slogans, they accused the Dalai Lama of being a hypocrite, a liar and a denier of religious freedom. Calling the leader ‘the worst dictator in this modern day’ and a ‘false Dalai Lama’, the demonstrators seemed to be channelling the most zealous of Chinese Communist Party ideologues. Yet these were no party cadres. Rather, they were converts to the Dalai Lama’s own school of Tibetan Buddhism. As representatives of the ‘International Shugden Community’ (ISC), the protesters came to highlight their grievances over the Dalai Lama’s opposition to a Tibetan deity known as Dorje Shugden, and the discrimination and human rights violations they claim the religious leader’s rejection of this being and its followers has engendered.

The ISC is a major mouth-piece for the New Kadampa Tradition (NKT), a sect of almost exclusively non-Tibetan converts to Tibetan Buddhism that currently spearheads the global pro-Shugden, anti-Dalai Lama agenda. On the surface, the NKT’s almost two decades-long global campaign against the Dalai Lama and his supporters – that is, the overwhelming majority of the ethnic Tibetan and Tibetan Buddhist global population – appears to be primarily about a dispute hinging on opposing theological positions within a single tradition. The Dalai Lama believes that Dorje Shugden is a dangerous demon masquerading as a benign deity, the NKT believes that the being is a bona fide Buddha. What I want to argue here is that the controversy, and specifically NKT’s involvement in it, points as well to the politics of race, appropriation, and privilege involved in conversion and new religious movements, and highlights ongoing tensions between ethno-nationalist and universalist impulses in the globalization of Tibetan Buddhism and culture.

The Dalai Lama and NKT converts are all members of the Geluk school of Tibetan Buddhism, in which at least since the 19th century, Dorje Shugden has been seen by some practitioners as a particularly potent worldly ‘protector’ (in Tibetan Buddhism such protectors are powerful, yet ferocious, egotistical spirits that have been ritually converted into defenders Buddhism). Although the Dalai Lama is technically not the highest spiritual authority in the Geluk school (this is the Ganden Tripa), his line’s historical political leadership of Tibet has made him one of the school’s most prominent figures. His dual role as a national leader and sectarian authority, however, has generated some tension, and historically the Dalai Lamas’ more inclusive, nationally orientated policies have clashed with the narrower sectarian priorities of some Gelukpa elites. Himself once a Shugden propitiator in accordance with his Geluk education in Tibet, the current Dalai Lama began to voice reservations about the spirit in the 1970s. Shugden’s reputation for ruthlessly punishing (and assassinating) prominent Gelukpa practitioners who engage with teachings from other schools has made the spirit iconic of a certain brand of Geluk supremacism. Such bias is in fundamental conflict with the Dalai Lama’s particularly non-sectarian vision of Tibetan Buddhism and a Tibetan nation in exile. Thus, to protect himself and the Tibetan people from what he sees as a dangerous demon, the Dalai Lama has prohibited those with ritual commitments to the spirit from attending any of his teachings, and some officials have set about purging exile monastic and government posts of anyone associated with the being.

Different actors and institutions in exile have interpreted and responded to the Dalai Lama’s statements about the spirit in their own diverse, haphazard, and inconsistent ways, with different community prohibitions being indepedently implemented on-the-ground.  Ultimately though, given Shugden’s current status, ties with the spirit automatically preclude involvement with any exile administrative institutions. While some pro-Shugden lamas continue to hold posts in exile monasteries, their continuing relationship with the spirit ensures their isolation from mainstream religious life.

Ben Pic 3

Geshe Kelsang Gyatso

Geshe Kelsang Gyatso, who studied with one of the Dalai Lama’s teachers in Tibet, refused to accept the spirit’s demotion. In 1977, under the auspices of the Foundation for the Preservation of the Mahayana Tradition (FPMT) – a Geluk organization in exile that has over time come to cater increasingly to non-Tibetan converts – Kelsang Gyatso relocated to England and quickly amassed a number of inji (non-Tibetan, typically white) students. By the time the FPMT formally went along with the Dalai Lama’s rejection of the spirit, Kelsang Gyatso had already moved away from the organization and its leadership. In 1991, he founded the NKT, and set himself up as its sole spiritual director. From this moment, Shugden reliance, opposition to the Dalai Lama and a strict focus on Geluk exclusivism became pivotal parts of Gyatso’s disciples’ identity. Unyielding in his conviction that Shugden was an enlightened protector and increasingly disturbed by what he saw as the laissez-faire, ecumenical approach of his Gelukpa peers in exile, Kelsang Gyatso came to believe that he alone could preserve the authentic and unadulterated Geluk tradition for posterity. Importantly, despite becoming one of the largest, fastest-growing Buddhist group in Britain, when Gyatso cut ties with the FPMT and the Dalai Lama, the NKT became effectively isolated from the wider Tibetan world. Not just cut off from but actively hostile to virtually all other Tibetan Buddhists, NKT members became the Death Eaters to the broader Hogwarts of global Tibetan Buddhism.


Ben Pic 4


NKT members have made their quarantine into something of a virtue. NKT converts claim Tibetans have become too worldly and politically-focused to be worthy of functioning as custodians of pure Buddhist teachings. Though inji monks and nuns entering the NKT rely on a Tibetan guru, adopt Tibetan names, wear traditional robes and preserve lineage practices hailing from Tibet, any direct engagement with Tibetan politics or culture is denounced as retrogressive and unnecessary. The NKT’s philosophy is one of ‘one lama, one yidam (meditational deity), one protector’ in reference to their sole reliance on Kelsang Gyatso and his particular teachings, a stance distinctly odds with how Tibetan Buddhism has historically been practiced. Today, the NKT curriculum is based exclusively on Kelsang Gyatso’s texts, and ritual activity and teaching in NKT centres worldwide happens pretty much entirely in languages other than Tibetan.

How legitimate are NKT members’ claims of human rights violations? The Shugden controversy has had serious consequences in Tibetan communities. Tibetans thought to be associated with Shugden have suffered discrimination. Evidence remains patchy, but it appears that individuals and families have been denied services, harassed and attacked. A mood of paranoia prevails, with Shugden ‘scares’ and witch-hunts periodically erupting in Tibetan communities. Monastic communities have been split. In 1997, Lobsang Gyatso, a Gelukpa geshe and close friend of the Dalai Lama was murdered in Dharamsala, India, along with two of his students in a ‘revenge killing’ by assailants who were identified through a letter at the scene as Shugden advocates (the NKT denied any involvement and the perpetrators were never apprehended). The Tibetan administration in exile continues to publish lists of Tibetans who have taken part in Shugden protests around the world, replete with specific, personal information.

As the Shugden controversy has evolved, a policy change internal to the Tibetan societies has come to implicate not only Tibetans but non-Tibetan converts across the world. On one level, inji NKT converts want to expunge themselves of Tibetanness. On another, to make themselves heard and intelligible, they have appropriated the suffering of Tibetans affected by the Shugden controversy as their own. While NKT members claim to speak for Tibetan Shugden practitioners, and amass cases of Tibetan-on-Tibetan discrimination in exile to bolster their cause, they fail to explain how their subjectivities and politics diverge from those of Tibetans so affected. For most Tibetans raised in Shugden propitiation, especially newcomers arriving from Tibet, family or monastic histories of Shugden practice do not equal a wholesale rejection of the Dalai Lama or of Tibetans and their politics. This inconsistent solidarity from typically anti-Tibetan injis is both curious and perversely ironic. The ISC/NKT’s tireless, well-coordinated and well-funded attacks on the Dalai Lama – which ultimately have very little to do with the merits or demerits of Shugden reliance – have helped cement for Tibetans an image of Shugden practitioners as a unified and organized group, unambiguously and unanimously opposed to the Dalai Lama (not to mention have helped fuel popular theories that the NKT are Chinese agents on a CCP payroll). An insidious circularity is at work here: protestors’ agitating against the Dalai Lama helps persuade exile Tibetans of the real threat of Shugden supporters in their midst, a witch hunt mentality ensues, and then the NKT uses this as legitimation for its claims and efforts. Tibetan activist Tenzin Dorjee has underscored NKT converts’ privilege in no uncertain terms:

“The Ultimate Insult: After 300 years of colonizing, plundering and devastating the East, the White man in the West now claims they’re the victims of a homeless refugee monk who has no army nor police nor an inch of territory on which to set up a tent? If these people feel oppressed by the Dalai Lama, all they have to do is take off their robes and walk away, back to their edifice of European privilege built largely from the bricks of former colonies.”

Ultimately, the Shugden controversy underscores the challenges involved for Tibetans and Tibetan Buddhist converts in negotiating the links between religion and politics and in deciding how ethnic identity is mobilized in response to these. To what extent and in what ways does conversion oblige political commitment? Where does religion end and culture begin?

The Dalai Lama has often stated that Tibetan Buddhism in the West need not import Tibetan culture wholesale, nor follow any particular politics. He has admonished Tibetans and non-Tibetans alike to disaggregate core Buddhist teachings from ‘folk’ (Tibetan) practice. By engineering a (Tibetan) Buddhism where Tibetans are expendable, the NKT might seem to exemplify just this kind of independent Western Buddhism. Yet the NKT presents a more complex picture. In his zeal to perfectly preserve the teachings of his own lineage, Geshe Kelsang has prioritized non-Tibetan disciples and interests over Tibetan ones. His is an extreme and peculiar case, one he has rationalized in terms of a plan by Shugden himself to relocate the teachings to the West for posterity. Here Buddhist evangelical and sectarian imperatives overpower any loyalty to ethnicity and nation. Yet considering that one of Tibetans’ key strategies in appealing to the world for political support against China over the last half century has been to emphasize the distinctiveness of Tibetans’ culture and civilization as enshrined in Buddhism in particular, this is troubling. By arguing that the flame of pure Dharma has passed to the West and to the NKT specifically, NKT members reprise a stubborn Orientalist trope. Namely, that the erasure of Tibet as a distinct nation is what will allow for the universal teachings of the Buddha, once sequestered and ‘frozen’ in timeless Tibet, to at last become ‘open-access’, to be enjoyed by their truest, most deserving heirs: modern (typically white) Westerners.


16 Feb 07:13

Belief is a Practice

by Kerim

An explication of why context and detail matter, and why blunt numbers can be misleading.

In an effort to cut through a lot of hot air being blown on the internet I recently argued that race (and gender) is a “technology of power.” I would like to follow that up with an argument that belief is best understood as a set of social practices, not as an internally coherent ideological system. This is because a large number of seemingly well-intentioned people on my timeline are arguing something along the lines of “we shouldn’t let Islam of the hook for terrorism.” In my previous post I argued that we should endeavour to engage the best arguments that we disagree with, not those easiest to dismiss. This is one reason I haven’t engaged this particular argument before. At first blush it strikes me as little more than laughable “clash of civilizations” Islamophobia (not that Islamophobia is funny). However, some recent discussions have convinced me that there might be a more anthropological version of this argument which is worth a more serious discussion. This argument has two parts: (1) that we should take people’s ideas seriously, including those of violent extremists, and (2) that we should not erase difference by arguing that all forms of violent extremism are the same (i.e. by arguing that not all, or even most, violent extremists are Muslims). I think few anthropologists would take issue with either point, but in so doing we would still not end up in the same place as those making these arguments.

Let’s start with taking ideas seriously. There are three problems I see with this argument. First, whose ideas do we look to? Not only is Islam a large and diverse religion, of which the kind of political Islam associated with groups like the Muslim Brotherhood are a minority, but even those following the Muslim Brotherhood are much more diverse in their thought than most observers are willing to acknowledge.

Yet the declaration of jihad was tearing the Muslim community apart. There was never a consensus that the jihad in Afghanistan was a genuine religious obligation. In Saudi Arabia, for instance, the local chapter of the Muslim Brotherhood refuted the demand to send its members to jihad, although it encouraged relief work in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Those who did go were often unaffiliated with established Muslim organizations and therefore more open to radicalization. Many concerned Saudi fathers went to the training camps to drag their sons home.

Even if we could identify a coherent ideology, or perhaps abstract certain commonalities across this diversity, we still have the problem that these ideas are not necessarily clearly understood or interpreted in the same way by those who act in its name. For instance, this profile of Chérif Kouachi, one of the Charlie Hebdo attackers, says he described himself as a “ghetto Muslim” and that not long ago he was so ignorant about religion that one source said “He couldn’t differentiate between Islam and Catholicism.” But we need not rely on such profiles to understand that real people are bundles of contradictions who often believe in multiple contradictory ideas at the same time.

This brings us to the second objection which is that, for anthropologists, “emic” accounts of people’s own motivations are only one of several sources of data that anthropologists use in the process of constructing an “etic” interpretation. Taking people’s own words seriously means interpreting those words, not simply accepting them at face value. Psychologists understand that many explanations are post-facto justifications, not necessarily reflective of the thinking that led up to the action in the first place. This is one reason why anthropology doesn’t just rely upon interviews, but on participant observation as well.

Third, for the past fifty or so years anthropologists have increasingly shifted from thinking about forms of culture as a “code” from which people take marching orders to a view of culture as a form of social action, highlighting how people create and transform ideology and social structure through social action (including speech). (See my discussion of Asif Agha’s book.) Treating religious belief as a form of social action moves us from a conception of religion as a form of brain washing to taking seriously how people actually use religion, even transforming it through their lived practices.

But by focusing so much on individual interpretation, agency, and practice, do we go too far in dismissing difference? This is a valid concern. Anthropologists do not think action takes place in a void, nor do we dismiss the importance of ideology. However, we tend to treat these things at a different level of analysis than do many who rely entirely on written texts for interpreting culture. For anthropologists, culture is often manifest not so much in specific ideas, but in underlying rules of interpretation or in the very categories through which people think about the world. Thus, the numerous Chinese words for “uncle” reflects a history of patriarchal family relations and so, while Chinese people’s actual family practices no longer adhere to many of the old patriarchal customs, the words and categories they use to think about family still reflect upon that history and are meaningful for them.

In short, differences matter, ideas matter, beliefs matter, but for an anthropologist they don’t matter in the way that many people who talk about Islam think they matter. You can’t say we need to take people’s ideas seriously but then deny them the agency to interpret and act upon those ideas in their own unique and historically contextualized ways. An Arab kid growing up in the suburbs of France is going to read Islam in a uniquely French way and his radicalism may have much more in common with a follower of Le Pen than it does with someone living in the Middle East. That is why it is important to understand the socio-political context of French racism, not because those who bring it up are trying to blame the victims or something silly like that.

17 Feb 21:17

This National Anthropology Day, say 祝你全國人類學節快樂!

by Rex

Coming soon, to a disinterested populace near you!

We are now only days away from the first annual National Anthropology Day. As I’ve said in past coverage of this story, the American Anthropological Association scheduled National Anthropology Day on 19 February, which is also National Chocolate Mint Day. But chocolate mint is small-fry compared to the major holiday to be celebrated this Thursday: Chinese New Year (aka Lunar New Year). That’s right, people, this year National Anthropology Day is also YEAR OF THE GOAT. So this year, let’s make National Anthropology Day extra Goaty by wishing each other:


My knowledge of the significance of the Year of the Goat derives largely from what the MC said at the parade this year. But, based on that experience, I understand that goats are, like anthropologists, team players who don’t give up on their goals. If this sounds like you, then congratulations — National Anthropology Day is for you!

In preparing for this blog post, I spent a good deal of time working through the specialist literature on the anthropology of goats. This ended up being pretty easy since not much has been written by cultural anthropologists about goats. About goat bones, and the dating thereof, the archaeologists have tremendous amounts to say. But the goat has not yet found its Evans-Pritchard. Perhaps this National Anthropology Day one of you will grasp the nettle in this as-yet-understudied topic in multispeciesality?

When I found out that National Anthropology Day and National Chocolate Mint Day were the same day, it seemed pretty clear to me that this meant that we should eat chocolate mint on National Anthropology Day. But what of goat? Is this a sign that we should make a point of eating goat on National Anthropology day? Or rather, does it indicate that the goat is Our Animal,  and hence ought not be eaten because of its close association to anthropology?

Regardless of the answer to this vexing question, Lunar New Year brings a whole host of fun holiday customs that are ready, willing, and able to diffuse into National Anthropology Day: red envelopes, fire crackers, jiaozi (perhaps with goat meat?), and much more besides.

Any ideas on how best to meld Lunar New Year and National Anthropology day? Find us in the comments or on social media and let us know!

16 Feb 05:01

Also mushrooms

by Ian

And weird little cats.

Also mushrooms

14 Feb 23:37

Absent friends shall live by love



Absent friends shall live by love

14 Jan 04:37

Save the Honeybee, Sterilize the Earth


This made my really depressed, but is well written. Via Rafael.

13 Feb 22:08

Blue & Pink Orgy Print 1/2 Apron- Mature Content


I can think of someone who might need this...

Whoa! You can't favorite your own shop.

Whoa! You can't buy your own item.

Whoa! You can't favorite own item.

Whoa! You can't add your own item to a list.


You don't have any treasuries yet. Enter a title below to create one.

You must select an existing treasury or provide a name for your new treasury.


Treasury Title


This item has been added.

View your treasury.

Like this item?

Add it to your favorites to revisit it later.
  • Blue & Pink Orgy Print 1/2 Apron- Mature Content
This amazing fabric was designed in the 1970s by William J. Bertuglia for Bloomcraft fabrics. The selvage reads that the fabric has been treated with Zepel stain repeller. The campy blue and pink [cotton] fabric depicts an orgy or tangled mass of bodies, but there are no genitals, so it's tame: ) There are boobs on it, though.

This half apron measures about 17x21 inches with a generous 88 inch long tie. The pocket measures about 4x6 inches.

ONE OF A KIND! There is only a tiny scrap of this fabric left !

Handmade by me with Oshe Designs fabric tag.

Perfect for fairs, cooking, crafts, you name it!

13 Feb 03:08



Marten's "I WILL DESTROY YOU" face is still kind of nice, but apparently effective.

07 Feb 20:39

February, 7th


Someone has been playing the Dr. McNinja card game, I think.

February, 7th

11 Feb 21:40

Seattle's Fight Against Sprawl, 20 Years On


I did a bunch of the analysis for this as a summer gig last year.

In 1992, then-Mayor Norm Rice announced a strategy to reduce urban sprawl in Seattle. The idea was to channel future growth into so-called "urban villages": walkable, affordable sections of the city that contained residential, commercial, and recreational structures. Now, 20 years after that plan's implementation in 1994, a new report says that it has been successful.

Well, mostly.

"The goal of directing the growth to the villages—spot on," says Peter Steinbrueck, the former Seattle city council member whose firm was commissioned to conduct the research. "What it didn’t accomplish was equitable distribution."

As a part of the urban village growth strategy, Seattle was divided into residential urban villages, hub urban villages, and urban centers based on density (from low to high). (Seattle Sustainable Neighborhoods Assessment Project)

Steinbrueck's firm analyzed neighborhood-level city-wide data and scored 10 of the 30 urban villages on 22 indicators. It found that between 1994 and 2014, 75 percent of the housing growth in the city occurred in the 30 urban villages, which means that the city achieved its biggest goal. Transit networks vastly improved, and eight of the 10 villages saw a significant rise in people taking public transport on weekdays. The villages hosted 80 percent of new jobs. Tree cover also increased.

But while urban villages seem to have exceeded their growth targets, others fell short of neighborhood targets, says Steinbrueck. Neighborhoods like North Beacon Hill and Westwood-Highland Park—areas with a majority of non-white residents—saw very small increases in population. Other areas, like Lake City, saw disproportionate growth (85 percent) in residents.

Some of Seattle's urban villages experienced more growth than others. (Seattle Sustainable Neighborhoods Assessment Project)

Overall job growth in the urban villages also missed its goals—especially in the post-recession period. The 56,594 new jobs created in these areas only met 38 percent of the 20-year target, and most of these were clustered around the dense downtown spots. More than half the people who worked in the city (62 percent) still commuted from outside it.

The 56,594 new jobs created in urban villages only met 38 percent of the 20-year target. (Seattle Sustainable Neighborhoods Assessment Project)

The analysis revealed that some of the villages still suffered from high rates of poverty and everything that comes with it—unemployment, poor public health, and low levels of education. At the same time, these areas weren't all financially neglected. For example, the Rainier Beach area was three times as poor as the West Seattle Junction area, but it saw one of the highest public investments in infrastructure between 2005 and 2010 relative to other urban villages.

Steinbrueck hopes the findings lead to more insight about the urban growth program so both policymakers and residents know which places deserve more attention and whether the money allocated is making a difference.

"The neighborhood-level data can serve to inform more of an acupuncture approach," he says.

11 Feb 17:24

Reductio Ad Absurdum

by Christopher Wright

If only.

10 Feb 05:01

It has lyrics

by Ian

It does indeed have lyrics.

It has lyrics

10 Feb 17:18


by Christopher Wright
09 Feb 02:28

Review: McAfee’s Benchmark Bourbon

by Jason Pyle

Has anyone ever seen this? I never have.

You’ve probably seen McAfee’s Benchmark Bourbon at your local liquor depot. If not, head to the Bourbon aisle, look a couple shelves down from eye level – there it is. As many times as I’ve scanned right over this bottle I’ve never purchased it before. I’ve had it a time or two here and there, and been asked my thoughts, but frankly couldn’t ever remember anything specific. It was time to give it a closer look as a we work to “keep it real” in 2015. Is it a bottom shelf gem or merely a solid cheap pour?

BENCHMARK NO 8 2McAfee’s Benchmark Old No. 8 Brand Bourbon, 40% abv (80 proof), $12/bottle
Color: Light Amber/Gold
Nose: Clean and fruity with notes of vanilla, dried apricot, sweet orange, corn oil, and honey.
Palate: Straight forward – Vanilla, light caramel sweetness and bright fruit.
Finish: Vanilla, fruit and faint spice – finish drops off quickly.
Overall: Benchmark bourbon is a light, bright bourbon produced by Buffalo Trace. It’s an easy, pleasant sip, but doesn’t bring much flavor to the party. While rather cheap, there are other bourbons in the $11-$15 range that are better pours.
Sour Mash Manifesto Rating: 7.4 (Good)

09 Feb 16:00

Unprecedented Yet Inevitable

by Christopher Wright

Image seems broken, but worth the clickthru