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16 Apr 11:47

I'm not clumsy, I just forget where my feet have gone.

by Amanda J Harrington

I was never going to make a tightrope walker, I've been tripping over invisible toads for as long as I can remember. With that peculiarly elegant way of lifting one foot then trying to lift the other before the first has come down, pegging a nose at physics as they somehow meet in the middle and over we go.

I have become very adept at not falling all the way down though. If I could combine this ability with proper elegance and a centre of gravity, then I might have been a small, fat ballet dancer, or at least been able to ride a bike.

I can fall off the pavement, twist as I go and land on one foot with the other raised behind and up, one hand out to hit the road and the other one gripping my phone so at least one of us will make it. Or trip up stairs and find a way to lunge slowly towards the next step so that I have just enough time to stop before I smash my teeth, my nose poised to nudge the stair.

When I was very small, I liked to climb and was discovered in the upstairs window, sitting with my legs swinging out into the air, one hand holding the window (relaxed though, as if I was sailing down the river on a slow boat) and the other hand waving at the growing crowd below. I had no sense of danger then; because I was happy, I was also safe. I had to be distracted until my uncle could sneak up behind and grab me (thanks, Uncle Tom).

Now that I'm old enough to know what it could mean to fall up or down stairs, to fall into the road, to be eaten by the escalator (one of these days it will get me, I know it), I try to be careful. I travel like a little old lady sometimes, one foot, then the other, trying to remind myself that one foot should always be on the ground and that it's a good idea to know where the other is going next.

I have a little student who is also clumsy and a bit delicate. We often laugh at ourselves, she disappearing off under her chair when she only wanted to pick up a pen and me trying not to fall off after her as I help her up. She likes me to high five her when she gets something right but she has to chase my hand. When she raises her little hand and comes towards mine, I discover I am dodging her - not a very kind reaction to a small girl who wants to celebrate.

Finally, she told me off and I realised what I was doing. I explained to her that I was such a bad aim that every time she wanted me to high five her back, I was afraid of missing her hand and smacking her in the head. She thought this was hilarious. So we've worked out a system where I hold my hand still and straight and accept her high five without moving. She knows I'm part of it, she knows why I don't move and I don't have to fish her out from under the table after.

As for the rest, it's just best to be aware of what you might do or not do or do in the wrong order. If your feet are against you, try not to stare at them all day as you might walk into people. If you need to hold important handrails, do not grab them and hold on as if your very life depended on it - it's weird and you have to remember to let go at the end before the escalator belt takes its chance.

If you fall off pavements into the road, then feel free to little-old-lady-walk until you are at the other side. There is no point trying to act like a person who doesn't fall off pavements in the hope that it will come true.

When people make fun of you for tripping, or, more likely, tease you for not doing something you know will end in tripping, let them. If their feet always behave, they won't have any idea what it can be like expecting ground and finding fresh air instead.

And lastly, if you see an open window, do not sit in it. My Uncle Tom is a lot older now and not very good at sneaking.


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16 Apr 18:00

Paintings Of Sappho In Order Of How Bummed Out She Looks

by Mallory Ortberg

So maybe my favorite part about all of Greek history is that Sappho was just such a BIG GAY BUMMER that it pretty much killed her. (This may or may not be true. 100% of what we know about Sappho is "this may or may not be true," except for the rumor that she threw herself off of a cliff for the love of some male boatman, which is a vile calumny invented by, I don't know, Athenians probably, who were terrified of women's sexuality in general.)

(Follow-up parenthetical: we are NOT going to have an argument about Sappho's historic gayness. If I hear the words "finishing school," "Phaon," "it's impossible to know her sexuality because..." or anything about Erinna being a male poet using a pseudonym, I will shut down this entire website and send all of you packing.)

Anyhow, here are a bunch of paintings of Sappho in order of how super bummed-out she looked. (She was bummed out all the time because of ladies.)

Read more Paintings Of Sappho In Order Of How Bummed Out She Looks at The Toast.

16 Apr 19:00

The Ubiquitous Roving Plants of the Starship Enterprise

by Audrey Ference

Star Trek: The Next Generation (or Next Gen, as it will always be known to me) is one of the formative shows of my childhood. In my memory, every time I snuck through the family room after I was supposed to be in bed, my parents were watching one of three programs: Next Gen, Poirot, or Nick at Nite reruns of The Mary Tyler Moore Show.

Read more The Ubiquitous Roving Plants of the Starship Enterprise at The Toast.

16 Apr 19:55

Long corridors of the mind

by vaughanbell

I’ve just read Barbara Taylor‘s brilliant book The Last Asylum: A Memoir of Madness in Our Times which blends her own experiences as a patient in one of the last remaining asylums with an incisive look at the changing face of mental health care since the Victorian era.

Taylor is a renowned historian but the book is not what you’d expect. It’s scandalous, searingly honest and often a exquisitely observed look at herself and others as they made shaky orbits around the mental health system.

Through severe mental unwellness, the state mental health system, and a searching course of psychoanalysis, Taylor is an exceptional guide and she is provides a lot of cold hard truths, as well as a lot of warm, overlooked ones.

You might think that this is a book in the same vein as Kay Redfield Jamison’s An Unquiet Mind or The Center Cannot Hold by Elyn Sacks – accounts by brilliant women who recount the challenges of developing their careers while walking on the shifting sands of the mind.

But Taylor’s book is quite different. She has become a renowned history professor but the book ends well before, when she gets her first steady job after a long period of disability. Actually, most of the book describes her dysfunction in the face of wanting to fulfil her ambitions.

In this sense, the book is more like an explorer’s journal than the post-voyage story of success. It carefully captures the day-to-day atmosphere and characters of a world she never thought she’d be in.

Wrapped around this are Taylor’s descriptions of how her experiences, and the experiences of many others like her, were situated in the mental health system of the late 20th Century. It captures the course not only of her madness, but madness as a part of a changing society.

By the way, the ‘last asylum’ in the title is the sprawling Friern Hospital née Colney Hatch Lunatic Asylum, which we’ve discussed previously on Mind Hacks as one of the many Victorian asylums which have become don’t-mention-the-past luxury flats.

Link to more info on The Last Asylum by Barbara Taylor.

16 Apr 21:14

Meanwhile, in a secret base beneath the Walmart …

by Fred Clark

Chris Morran of The Consumerist reports on a mystery: “Walmart Raises Suspicions After Closing 5 Stores in Same Day for ‘Plumbing’ Problems.”

There are thousands of Walmarts in the U.S., so the fact that five of them were temporarily shut down all on the same day, all for the same reason, and all for the same estimated amount of time, may be statistically insignificant. But some workers and city officials are raising questions about what’s actually behind these six-month shutterings.

The five stores — two in Texas, one in California, one in Oklahoma, and another in Florida — were all closed on Monday without advance notice to shoppers or the thousands of affected employees. At each of the stores, the reason given for the closures — which are estimated to last upwards of six months — was problems with plumbing.

But it seems no one at those stores was aware of these plumbing problems. “No plumbing permits have been pulled in any of the municipalities where Walmart closed stores on Monday.” Walmart’s own local plumbing technicians don’t know what this is about. And the plumbing inspector from Midland, Texas, was actually “sent away when he tried to visited the closed store earlier this week to help them secure necessary permits.”

Hmm. Five stores abruptly closed due to “plumbing problems.” But pretty clearly not due to plumbing problems.

The likeliest explanation for this mystery isn’t all that mysterious. This smells like a (possibly illegal) lockout designed to squelch worker protests:

Some employees at [the Pico Rivera, California] store are questioning the motive, as it’s been a focal point of the pro-union OUR Walmart movement, and was the first location to stage a wage-related walkout back in 2012.

Ah. This appears to be a bit of union-busting, or — since the OUR Walmart movement isn’t actually a formal union — proto-union-busting. Walmart isn’t calling in plumbers, they’re calling in Pinkertons. If so, the only “plumbers” involved are plumbers only in the Nixonian, Watergate sense of the term.

Walmart has a long history of closing stores to avoid any hint of union activity. The company closed a Quebec store shortly after its workers voted to join the UFCW in 2004. When a Colorado Walmart worker organized a union vote that same year, the company transferred in anti-union workers to swing the vote.

k9o8gAnd do you know why you can’t get fresh cut meat at a Walmart? It’s because back in 2000, the butchers at a Texas store voted to join UFCW Local 540. “Two weeks later, Walmart close[d] its 180 meat counters and switche[d] to prepackaged cuts only.”

So, yeah. The surprise closing of five stores Monday probably isn’t a mystery. And it probably ain’t about plumbing.

All of this is pretty depressing. The game is rigged and the deck is stacked and workers have little recourse to organize or negotiate. Even asking for a voice or a seat at the table invites swift, harsh retaliation.

But allowing ourselves to get depressed, or to despair, just guarantees that nothing can ever change. We can’t pursue any course of action for worker justice unless we start to believe that something better is possible. And we can’t start to believe that if we let ourselves get depressed and dismayed and disheartened by this latest bit of depressing, dismaying and disheartening news.

So here’s an idea to cheer us up a bit before we even start to think about responses like consumer boycotts, demonstrations, Pete Seeger sing-ins, or legislative campaigns.

Let’s try to imagine some other possible explanations for the “mystery” of Walmart’s sudden outbreak of “plumbing problems.” What was going on in those stores? Or, perhaps, beneath those stores? Were these closures an attempt to keep some dark secret? Were they necessary to keep the public — the world — safe from something else, something it couldn’t possibly understand?

Bonus points for references, allusions or derivations from any of the following: The X-Files, Men in Black, Chuck, The Thanatos Syndrome, Torchwood, Warehouse 13, Stargate, H.P. Lovecraft, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and/or Three Days of the Condor.

11 Apr 10:00

She’s giving me hallucinations

by vaughanbell

Last year I did a talk in London on auditory hallucinations, The Beach Boys and the psychology and neuroscience of hallucinated voices, and I’ve just discovered the audio is available online.

It was part of the Pint of Science festival where they got scientists to talk about their area of research in the pub, which is exactly what I did.

The audio is hosted on SoundCloud which gives you an online stream but there’s no mp3 download facility. However, if you type the page URL into the AnythingToMP3 service it’ll present you with you an mp3 to download.

It was a fun talk, so do enjoy listening.

UPDATE: The nice folks at Pint of Science have made the mp3 downloadable directly from the SoundCloud page so no second website trickery needed.

Link to audio of Vaughan’s talk on hallucinated voices.

06 Apr 19:30

Women Praying Furiously In Western Art History

by Mallory Ortberg


ok before we start this prayer
everyone remember
you hate god
you hate food
you hate everyone in this room


hello, God
bet you didn't expect to hear from me again
did you, fucko

Read more Women Praying Furiously In Western Art History at The Toast.

05 Apr 03:34

Happy Easter from Texts From Superheroes!

Happy Easter from Texts From Superheroes!

01 Apr 19:00

Things My Male Tech Colleagues Have Actually Said to Me, Annotated

by Cate Burlington

“Most girls aren't into this kind of stuff.” No way, do you have the list? The list of things most girls are into? I've been trying to find that thing forever, can you forward it to me? You have my email. Thanks, man, you're the best.

Read more Things My Male Tech Colleagues Have Actually Said to Me, Annotated at The Toast.

02 Apr 17:00

Songs From A Tom Waits Album Where No One Gets Drunk At A Diner

by Mallory Ortberg

Previously: Songs from a Johnny Cash album where the law is just.

This Ice Cream Truck Driver Sells Only Ice Cream, Not A Sense Of Specifically American Melancholy

Everyone In Line For This Pay Phone Is Calling To Deliver Good News

Read more Songs From A Tom Waits Album Where No One Gets Drunk At A Diner at The Toast.

02 Apr 22:39

‘Weaponized’ religious exemptions, in turn, weaponize religion (part 1)

by Fred Clark

David Watkins offers what I think is a helpful insight with a discussion of what he calls “The Weaponization of Religious Exemptions.”

This covers some of the same history we discussed here (in “Artificial Lemons“). After the Supreme Court allowed Oregon to refuse a religious exemption for a member of the Native American Church who used peyote in a religious ceremony, religious groups and civil rights advocates — everybody from the ACLU to the religious right — rallied in support of a legal remedy to reaffirm the right to such exemptions. The Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 was unanimously approved by the House of Representatives and passed 97-3 in the Senate.

Think about that for a moment. I’m not sure I can imagine the current House of Representatives unanimously approving anything, but that’s what happened with RFRA in 1993.

The rallying point for that law was what Watkins describes as a “classic example” of a religious exemption:

Here are some classic examples of requests for religious exemptions: permission to use otherwise illegal substances for religious ceremonies, such as the Smith plaintiffs and Peyote, Catholics and sacramental wine during Prohibition, Rastafari and marijuana; exemptions from zoning laws for the construction of Sukkahs and rules regarding the religious use of public property for the constructions of eruvs; exemption from mandatory military service, schooling requirements, or vaccinations; exemptions from incest laws (regarding Uncle/Niece marriages for some communities of Moroccan Jews); Native American religious groups seeking privileged access to sacred spaces on federally owned land; exemptions to Sunday closing laws for seventh-day Sabbatarians.

Those examples are not hypothetical — they come up all the time in American courts. Sitting here in Chester County, I’d add another prominent example: The Amish. Head west on U.S. 30 from here and you’ll soon encounter Amish carriages and Amish communities that enjoy a wide array of religious exemptions. Those exemptions are not controversial — not even for those stuck in traffic behind a buggy out in Gap — because, as Watkins says, “they are fundamentally defensive in character.”


I find some of these [classic examples] easy to support and others profoundly problematic, but they collectively share a common feature: they are fundamentally defensive in character. Their primary objective is to protect a practice or tradition or community, and little more. These exemptions are political but not in the sense that their exercise is directed toward the larger community in any concrete, meaningful sense. In these cases, the end sought in pursuing the exemption is, more or less, the exemption itself.

Bingo. “Fundamentally defensive in character.” That’s important.

I’m a strict-separationist Baptist kind of guy. That means, among other things, that I do not want to see any religious structures on government property. Public property is no place for sectarian religious structures.

Print this out and you can save two bucks per adult on a genuine Amish buggy ride.

Print this out and you can save two bucks per adult on a genuine Amish buggy ride in beautiful Strasburg.

But I also lived for many years inside the bounds of an eruv, and I do not believe that this eruv — by definition, a sectarian religious structure — violated the separation of church and state. I believe, rather, that allowing the presence of the eruv on public, government property was a Good Thing. It honored the important principle of the free exercise of religion. And it honored the important principle of not being assholes to minorities just because you’ve got them outnumbered.

If you’re not familiar with eruvs, they’re a kind of religious loophole that allows Orthodox Jewish communities to travel a bit on the Sabbath without breaking their religious laws. That requires some kind of boundary marker to enclose the area in which they are permitted to travel — ideally, an area large enough to include their synagogue and the local hospital. The enclosure needs to be physically bounded, and its physical boundary markers will often need to cross or rest on public property.

Part of the reason that eruvs are not a controversial religious exemption is because they are nearly invisible and completely non-intrusive. We’re talking about string or wire tracing existing utility lines along city streets. If you don’t know it’s there, you’ll never see it. (Even when you do know it’s there, it’s very hard to spot. But it’s kind of fun to try.) Accommodating an eruv is much easier for the rest of the community than accommodating the religious exemptions for our Amish neighbors here in Chester County.

But, as Watkins says, that’s not the main reason that an eruv is a classic example of an easily supported religious exemption. The main reason is that it is “fundamentally defensive in character.” It exists “to protect a practice or tradition or community, and little more.” Our Orthodox neighbors aren’t demanding that the rest of us abide by their religious laws forbidding carrying on the Sabbath. They’re simply asking the rest of us to allow them to do so by running a bit of unobtrusive string along public property. Yes, it’s sectarian string, but they’re not seeking a privilege that would give them some advantage over anyone else. They just want to do their thing and to survive. They want the right to extend their arm without hitting anyone else in the nose.

I don’t think that’s a threat to the separation of church and state.

Watkins then discusses what he calls “a kind of transitional case” — City of Boerne v. Flores. This was the 1997 case that overturned the RFRA law Congress had passed nearly unanimously four years earlier:

The exemption sought was to modify a church in a Historical District where such modifications were not permitted. While the exemption was clearly sought for the purpose of the exercise of religious activity, it wasn’t really a religious exemption per se — they wanted a bigger, more modern facility for more or less the general kind of reasons a private business or homeowner might have liked an exemption — accommodate more people, better amenities, etc. There was no connection between their status as a religious group and the nature of the particular exemption they were seeking; in essence they were arguing that the RFRA gives them license to avoid a law they found inconvenient.

That, Watkins says, is the first step toward “weaponized religious freedom” — “turning religious exemptions into a license for religious groups to evade general laws when inconvenient.” The next step is far worse:

But this is only a partially weaponized use of religious exemptions; they’re being used as a weapon to advance the church’s goals, but not striking against their political enemies. The quintessential case of a weaponized religious exemption is, of course, Hobby Lobby; Obamacare was to be the subject of a blitzkrieg, to be hit with any and every weapon imaginable, and that’s what the RFRA provided. Their efforts to make the claim appear credible could hardly be lazier or more half-assed. One possible check on weaponization, in a better and more decent society, could conceivably be a sense of embarrassment or shame; exposing one’s religious convictions as a cynical political tool to be wielded against one’s political enemies might be hoped to invoke enough embarrassment that it might be avoided, but we were well past that point. A remarkable document of this trend is this post from Patrick Deneen – fully, openly aware of the fundamental absurdity of Hobby Lobby’s case, cheering them on nonetheless. I mean, you’d think they’d at least have found a company owned by Catholics.

This weaponized use of religious exemptions has changed the context of the entire conversation that previously shaped our legal and neighborly accommodation of such exemptions. It is no longer about the classic examples of exemptions that are fundamentally defensive in character. This is an effort to use religious exemptions as an offensive weapon for political purposes that have nothing to do with the religious beliefs supposedly in question.

The goal of weaponized religious exemptions is not “to protect a practice or tradition or community” but to carve out privileges and advantages for some groups over others. And that, as Watkins says, changes everything:

The assumption on the right is that it’s liberals who’ve changed; we don’t support religious freedom like we did back in the 90’s. … [But] insofar as liberals changed their minds about the proper scope of religious exemptions, they didn’t do so in a vacuum, they changed their mind about it because the context we’re now in — facing an utterly shameless political movement that treats any conceivable political tool as fair game to achieve its political ends — is just simply not the kind of environment that fits well with an expansive approach to religious exemptions. The personal, faith-based nature of religious conviction makes it clearly inappropriate for the state to question the sincerity of the professed belief, even when that insincerity is obvious and barely concealed; which in turn makes exemptions easier to support in an environment where there’s some degree of trust that this process won’t be routinely abused. … We may have been something closer to that kind of society suited for expansive religious exemptions in the past, and we may someday be that kind of society at some point in the future, but it’s becoming difficult to deny we’re not such a society now.

03 Apr 21:40

Between Scalia and Charybdis (another non-scholarly look at why an awful Supreme Court ruling was awful and made RFRA necessary)

by Fred Clark

I admit I’m still confused by RFRA,” writes Rmj of the blog Adventus, attempting to sort out some of the ways Indiana’s rapidly evolving “Religious Freedom Restoration Act” departs from the 1993 federal law it usurps its name from. A follow-up post cuts closer to the heart of the matter, attempting to “parse out Smith from Hobby Lobby (the connection being RFRA).”

They’re both interesting discussions well worth a read. Rmj also takes a moment to chide me (good-naturedly, I think) for being “a poor legal scholar.” Really, I’m not so much poor as paycheck-to-paycheck middle class. And I’m not actually a legal scholar at all. (I’m thus tempted to take this as a compliment. Even poor legal scholarship is an accomplishment of sorts for someone outside that guild, right?)

My connection to RFRA, and my understanding of it, isn’t based on legal scholarship, but on having been one of the multitude of activists who campaigned for that law in 1993.

RFRA was written and passed as a legal response to the Supreme Court’s decision in Employment Division … [blah blah blah] of Oregon v. Smith. I can’t give you a legal scholar’s scholarly legal opinion of the Smith ruling, but I can tell you what we were all so upset about back then. And I can tell you — second-hand, filtered through my layman’s perspective — what it was that the legal scholars of the Baptist Joint Committee and the ACLU and the various prot0-defense-funds of the religious right (they’ve changed forms and names since then) were all disgusted with at the time.

Regarding Smith, Rmj writes:

I happen to be of the opinion that the Supreme Court is mostly a loony bin which comforts the comfortable and afflicts the afflicted. …  But I’m still not sure where Scalia was wrong.

He’s talking about Justice Antonin Scalia’s argument in Smith. I’ll take a crack at that — from a non-legal-scholar’s perspective.

I think Scalia did a good job describing the conundrum in Smith:

We have never held that an individual’s religious beliefs excuse him from compliance with an otherwise valid law prohibiting conduct that the State is free to regulate. On the contrary, the record of more than a century of our free exercise jurisprudence contradicts that proposition. …

Conscientious scruples have not, in the course of the long struggle for religious toleration, relieved the individual from obedience to a general law not aimed at the promotion or restriction of religious beliefs. The mere possession of religious convictions which contradict the relevant concerns of a political society does not relieve the citizen from the discharge of political responsibilities. …

Subsequent decisions have consistently held that the right of free exercise does not relieve an individual of the obligation to comply with a valid and neutral law of general applicability on the ground that the law proscribes (or prescribes) conduct that his religion prescribes (or proscribes).

The justice cites a bunch of examples and precedents — with a weirdly repeated emphasis on the spectre of war-tax resisters. Scalia isn’t much interested in whether or not peyote, specifically, is illegal. But he’s obsessively concerned here that allowing Native Americans to smoke it in their church might encourage the damned Quakers to try again with the same argument they’d been making since they were first taxed to pay for British redcoats in the New World.

On the whole though, Scalia offers a helpful, pointed description of the fear that allowing religious exemptions to generally applicable laws could lead to something like anarchy — a state in which no one has to obey any law they claim their “conscientious scruples” dislike. He refers to the dangerous potential of “a system in which each conscience is a law unto itself,” and rightly argues that such a system would not be desirable.

All true. And I still think it’s true — even though Justice Scalia himself seems to have pulled a 180, ignoring all such concerns and cheerfully pushing off down his own slippery slope in the Hobby Lobby decision. (Again, I’m not a legal scholar, but from an unscholarly perspective that reversal sure looks a lot like brazen hypocrisy in service of partisan politicking.)

But after providing such a helpful summary of one potential danger in Smith, Scalia and the rest of the majority just punted. They shrugged their shoulders and refused to deal with it:

Because respondents’ ingestion of peyote was prohibited under Oregon law, and because that prohibition is constitutional, Oregon may, consistent with the Free Exercise Clause, deny respondents unemployment compensation when their dismissal results from use of the drug. The decision of the Oregon Supreme Court is accordingly reversed.

Cornell’s Legal Information Institute summarizes that this way: “The Free Exercise Clause permits the State to prohibit sacramental peyote use, and thus to deny unemployment benefits to persons discharged for such use.”

"Sirens Scylla and Charybdis," by Wolfgang Schweizer.

“Sirens Scylla and Charybdis,” by Wolfgang Schweizer (via

Here’s an even blunter summary: The constitutional prohibition against making a law prohibiting the free exercise of religion does not prevent a state from making a law prohibiting the free exercise of religion.

I’m not alone in thinking that’s bonkers. The legal scholars at the ACLU and the BJC (the actually Baptist Baptists — the Roger Williams, soul-freedom types) thought so too. So did every member of the House of Representatives and 97 U.S. Senators.

We all thought — and I still think — that Oregon’s state supreme court got it right: “The State Supreme Court held that sacramental peyote use violated, and was not excepted from, the state law prohibition, but concluded that that prohibition was invalid under the Free Exercise Clause.” They said the constitutional right trumped the state statute. Scalia et. al. said it was the other way around. Bonkers.

Prior to Smith, decisions involving such religious exemptions usually hinged on the question of whether or not the generally applicable law involved a “compelling state interest.” But the court’s ruling in Smith explicitly refused to do that. The courts should not be asked, Scalia argued, to “weigh the social importance” of such a law “against the centrality of all religious beliefs.”

The bonkers bit — the outrage-inducing component there — is that little qualifying word “all.” Here’s the full sentence, the conclusion and culmination of Scalia’s argument:

It may fairly be said that leaving accommodation to the political process will place at a relative disadvantage those religious practices that are not widely engaged in; but that unavoidable consequence of democratic government must be preferred to a system in which each conscience is a law unto itself or in which judges weigh the social importance of all laws against the centrality of all religious beliefs.

Religious minorities are screwed. The courts won’t help them and their only recourse is to somehow convince the majority to vote for laws that will allow them the same rights the majority enjoys. Good luck with that.

Scalia notes “it may be fairly said” that this is unfair. And he even deigns to lament the unfairness of it. But c’est la vie. You gotta break some eggs to make an omelette. And specific injustices are a small price to pay for avoiding the slippery slope of “each conscience as a law unto itself.” Whatever it takes to keep those effing Quakers quiet.

Look again at that little word “all,” though. Scalia wrote that the courts will not “weigh the social importance of all laws against the centrality of all religious beliefs.” But they will weigh laws against the centrality of some religious beliefs. They regularly do so. They pretty much constantly do so. What’s outrageous here is that Scalia is saying, explicitly, that the courts can and will and should treat “religious practices that are not widely engaged in” differently than those same courts will treat religious practices that are widely engaged in.

Is this really an “unavoidable consequence of democratic government”? That seems to throw in the towel on the whole idea of minority rights. It’s like the old George Carlin bit about the Bill of Rights really being only a “bill of temporary privileges.”

And is it actually true that we must make a binary choice between “a system in which each conscience is a law unto itself ” and creating a legal, constitutionally mandated “disadvantage” for religious minorities? Are these really our only options?

I don’t think so. It may be difficult to navigate between Scalia and Charybdis, but that doesn’t mean it’s impossible. And it’s certainly better to try — even if that means sometimes not getting it right — than it is to insist that we have to choose one or the other of these intolerable options.


26 Mar 16:30

World of Wonder: Fairyfly

by Aimee Nezhukumatathil

Aimee Nezhukumatathil's previous World of Wonder columns for The Butter can be found here.

I’ve just returned from taking my kids on a surprise visit to Disney World’s Animal Kingdom (cue “The Circle of Life” here). And as such, have been thinking about hearts and blood and valves and hearts and thumps and extremes in the animal world—the biggest ______, the fastest_______, the smallest ______. But I wasn’t always like this—my seven year-old, who adores all manner of animals, thinks and questions me like this—in extremes: Mommy—what is the largest jellyfish? The tiniest reptile? What has the biggest teeth on this planet? You name it, I’ve probably daydreamed about it, all because of his incessant questions.

Which brings me to the answer of one of his recent queries—what animal has the smallest heart? My friends, I give you the fairyfly, of the family Mymaridae.

Read more World of Wonder: Fairyfly at The Toast.

26 Mar 20:30

A Loss For Words

by Haley Mlotek
by Haley Mlotek

There are approximately seven billion inhabitants of earth. They conduct their lives in one or several of about seven thousand languages—multilingualism is a global norm. Linguists acknowledge that the data are inexact, but by the end of this century perhaps as many as fifty per cent of the world’s languages will, at best, exist only in archives and on recordings. According to the calculations of the Catalogue of Endangered Languages (ELCat)—a joint effort of linguists at the University of Hawaii, Manoa, and at the University of Eastern Michigan—nearly thirty language families have disappeared since 1960. If the historical rate of loss is averaged, a language dies about every four months.

The mother tongue of more than three billion people is one of twenty, which are, in order of their current predominance: Mandarin Chinese, Spanish, English, Hindi, Arabic, Portuguese, Bengali, Russian, Japanese, Javanese, German, Wu Chinese, Korean, French, Telugu, Marathi, Turkish, Tamil, Vietnamese, and Urdu. English is the lingua franca of the digital age, and those who use it as a second language may outnumber its native speakers by hundreds of millions. On every continent, people are forsaking their ancestral tongues for the dominant language of their region’s majority. Assimilation confers inarguable benefits, especially as Internet use proliferates and rural youth gravitate to cities. But the loss of languages passed down for millennia, along with their unique arts and cosmologies, may have consequences that won’t be understood until it is too late to reverse them.

Guys, I'm telling you, language is cool and we should all think about words and what they mean all the time.

26 Mar 14:33

Southern States Lead Nation in Consumption of Gay Porn, But Why?

by Lisa Wade, PhD

According to data released by Pornhub, 5.6% of porn users in Mississippi seek out gay porn, compared to 2.8% in North Dakota.


On average, gay porn is more heavily consumed in states where same-sex marriage is legal than in states where it’s illegal, but every single state in the South has a gay porn use that exceeds the average in states with same-sex marriage.

1aFor me, this raises questions about what’s driving sentiment against same-sex marriage and porn use and if and why it’s related. I can think of at least three theories:

1. There is the (barely) repressed homosexuality theory, of course. This is the idea that some people express homophobic attitudes because they fear being non-heterosexual themselves. So, out of fear of exposure, or fear of their own feelings, they are vocally anti-LGBT rights. There’s data that backs this up in at least some cases.

2. Another possibility is that both homosexual inclinations and anti-gay hatred are high in Southern states, but not in the same people. This is one version of the contact hypothesis: the presence and visibility of gay, lesbian, and bisexual people threatens the norm of heterosexuality, increasing opposition. This is consistent with data showing, for example, that white racial resentment is higher in counties with larger populations of black folk.

3. Or, it may be that politicians in Southern states stoke anti-gay attitudes in order to win elections. They may be doing so as a simple strategy. Or, it may be part of that notorious “culture war,” a politics that supposedly distracts poor and working class people from their own economic interests by getting them to focus on so-called social issues like abortion and same-sex marriage.

As fun as it is to snicker at the fact that the part of the country that claims a moral high ground on homosexuality is over-represented in pursuing it (at least digitally), there’s also probably some pretty interesting social/psychology sociology here.

Cross-posted at Pacific Standard.

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

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26 Mar 16:00

Neurotica: Erotica For the Slightly Anxious

by Sonia Weiser
by Sonia Weiser

He pulled me close to him, his hips grinding up against my own. "I promise you," he said. "I'm not into you because you remind me of my mother who was emotionally distant after my father died." I kissed him, my heart pumping furiously now that he had answered one question that had been plaguing me all along.

"Are you sure?" I asked. "You're not just saying that because you know it's what I want to hear? If you are, just tell me. I'll be fine with it. But honesty is really important to me." He stopped my ramblings by covering my mouth with his hand. "I'm not just saying that," he said, then dropped his hand to my waist. Before I could say anything, he added, his hot breath against my neck, "I washed my hands with soap and hot water just before this. Don't worry." I sighed, relieved that I hadn't just been exposed to a handful of New York City germs. Did he use brand soap or generic? I should have checked his bathroom more closely when I had gone in earlier, but I had been too busy examining the mold-less shower curtain. "Brand," he whispered as if he could read my mind. "Mrs. Meyers' Clean Day." He was sanitary and eco-friendly. My knees weakened and he pulled me towards him again, this time with more force.

He started unbuckling my pants. I was too drunk to stop him and he did it without asking whether I was ready to move on to that level of intimacy. We had just met. I imagined my therapist and the way he would claim to be entirely non-judgemental about my decision to have a one-night stand. I was conflicted in the same way I was always conflicted when ending up in a stranger's bed, which was something I really needed to work on.

He stopped, leaving my pants on. "You're not into this, I can tell," he said. "Do you want to make a pros and cons list? I have a legal pad around here somewhere." He scooted off the bed and looked in the top drawer of his dresser. I pushed myself onto my knees and peeked over his shoulder to see the contents and to assess whether, if need be, there would be enough room for me to eventually store some of my things in it. There was.

He found a notepad and pen and sat down next to me. If he had noticed that I was checking out the measurements of his drawer, he didn't say anything.

"Okay, pros," he said, writing the word in crisp Arial-like font. I looked at the blank yellow paper and back at the man who was holding the Pilot Dr. Grip pen. Possible pen-holding failures aside, which could technically be a symptom of a larger problem like weak finger muscles (was that genetic?), or could just be that he never learned how to hold a pen properly, he was the perfect man.

"We don't have to do this," I said, pushing the pad to the floor. "Even the fact that you would care enough to make a pros and cons list with me shows that it's worth it."

"Your lips are moving, but all I can think about is how beautiful you'd look basked in the glow of my computer screen as we legally streamed Game of Thrones after you've caught up completely."

"You would wait for me?" I asked, my lips twitching with desire. "You would wait for me to finish all four seasons?"

"And read the books first, if that's what you wanted to do."

"You're really something special," I said. "Someone," I added quickly, hoping he didn't think I thought of him as an object.

"I know what you meant," he said. "You're really special too."

Without saying anything else, he closed his eyes and slipped my tight satin shirt over my head. He turned around and grabbed a t-shirt from his closet.

"Here," he said, his eyes still closed as he handed me the shirt. "You'll be much more comfortable in this. It's new and 100% cotton."

"You can open your eyes," I said, once the shirt was on. He looked at me and smiled. "You look beautiful," he said, extending his hand. I took it, wondering what romantic adventure he had planned for us. He led me over to the bed. I lay down willingly, and he got in next to me, pulling the comforter over both of us.

"Let's just lie here, cuddle, and talk about the different female comedians that could take Jon Stewart's place," he said.

"That sounds perfect," I said.

He switched off the bedside lamp. The faint lights of Bleecker Street gave his half bedroom a hazy glow. He propped his head on top of mine.

"This is the best night ever," he said. "Five out of five stars."

"And no one's bribing you to write that review?"

"No one."

"Then you get a five out of five too," I murmured into his chest. I looked up at him, his shiny eyes, the way his scruff was perfectly trimmed so he looked manly without permanently scarring my chin when he kissed me, and at his gentle smile.

I sighed, closed my eyes, and went to sleep, dreaming a beautiful R-rated dream full of sunshine, picnics, and non-public displays of affection.

It was amazing.

Sonia Weiser is a writer and functioning adult living in New York City. You can follow her on twitter @weischoice or read more of her stuff here.

24 Mar 16:00

Every Argument About “Buffy” On The Internet, From 1998 Until Now

by Nicole and Mallory

Joss Whedon: Inventer Of Feminism Or Literal Hitler?

  • Joss Whedon invented feminism. Before Joss Whedon, every female character on television was crushed to death under the weight of her male co-stars' heavier paychecks in the second-season finale.
  • Every female character Joss Whedon ever wrote was forcibly impregnated by a demon and brutally murdered, because Joss Whedon hates lesbians.
  • But Warren And The Trio Were –

Joss Whedon Doesn't Understand What Bisexuality Is 

  • Willow Identifies As Gay And You Are Robbing Her Of Self-Determination Because She Doesn't Have A "Gold Star"
  • I'd Feel More Comfortable With Willow's Lesbianism If It Weren't Sometimes Equated With Drug Addiction, Literal Vampirism, And Megalomania
  • But She Was Clearly In Love With Oz
  • Who Are You To Say What Love Is
  • Dark Willow Was Pretty Hot, Though
  • Yeah, Dark Willow Was Super Hot
  • I'd Watch Dark Willow And Doppelgangland-Era Willow Hook Up If It Weren't A Patriarchal Fantasy
  • Read more Every Argument About “Buffy” On The Internet, From 1998 Until Now at The Toast.

13 Mar 16:00

Hysteria and Teenage Girls

by Hayley Krischer
by Hayley Krischer

It was a typical Thursday night at Smash Burger. My friend was with her two sons who were furiously stuffing sweet potato French fries in their mouths. In the booth behind her, my friend saw a young boy who looked a lot like Justin Bieber. So she called her 16-year-old-niece, Kate (not her real name), a Justin Bieber fanatic since she was 12. Kate owns two life-size cardboard Bieber cut-outs—one with a squiggly black mustache drawn on his upper lip by a mischievous cousin—hovering over her bed.

No one knows yet that Justin Bieber was on a religious retreat in my small New Jersey town, at the home of the new pastor to the stars, Carl Lentz. Justin Bieber was just trying to have a burger in peace for about five minutes.

That all ends once Kate walked in and confirmed that, yes, it really was Justin Bieber. She screamed and fell to the ground on her knees. “She had a total nervous breakdown. Crying, hands shaking. She couldn’t move. I had to walk her to the booth,” my friend says. Kate’s screaming was Bieber’s cue to leave, but by then he was surrounded by a swarm of girls. He signed the autograph of a girl in a wheelchair, took a quick picture, left his uneaten food in the booth and bolted.

Kate cradled his empty soda cup in the booth, which is when my friend started filming her. And there she is, this young girl, her face stricken like she witnessed a shooting or an attack, tears and mascara streaming down her face, an expression society would call “hysterical.” Even the counter guy, who I spoke to a few days later, told me: “The Justin Bieber part was weird, but that girl screaming, that’s what made everything explode.” Kate babbled some half-coherent sentences like, “I’m going to die. Oh my God, Justin Bieber at Smash Burger. This is beyond my comprehension. I’m going to kill myself.” And then the phone rings. It’s Kate’s friend. “Alex,” she says, hiccupping through tears. “I’m holding his cuuuuuuup.”

All I wanted to do was hug her when I heard this story—I’ve had my own nervous breakdowns about musicians. What makes girls from the Beatles to Duran Duran to N’Sync to Michael Jackson to One Direction—full on freak out?

* * *

Hysteria has always been a women’s issue. The concept goes back about 4,000 years. In Ancient Egypt, hysterical disorders were said to be caused by “spontaneous uterus movement within the female body;” hysterical women who were diagnosed with a uterus too far “up” inside the body were treated with sour and bitter odors near her mouth and nose. If the uterus was too far down, then the putrid odors were placed near her vagina.

In Greek mythology, the Argonaut Melampus treated hysterical women who refused to honor the Greek’s massive phallic symbols and ran away to hide in the mountains from these Goliath-sized penises. During that time, the giant phallus was a representation of God, life and fertility. Melampus cured these virgins, according to research, by urging them to have sex with “young and strong men” because their uterus was being “poisoned by venomous humors due to a lack of orgasms.”

By fifth century B.C., Hippocrates was the first person to use the word “hysteria.” He took the notion of the poisonous uterus to another level—he believed that the “restless” uterus was because of a woman’s “cold and wet” body (as opposed to a man’s “dry and warm and superior” body). He explains that the uterus is a sickly organ—especially if it’s sexually deprived. Writes psychiatric researcher Mauro Giovanni Carta, “[Hippocrates] goes further; especially in virgins, widows, single, or sterile women, this “bad” uterus—since it is not satisfied—not only produces toxic fumes but also takes to wandering around the body, causing various kinds of disorders such as anxiety, sense of suffocation, tremors, sometimes even convulsions and paralysis.”

By the mid 1600’s, doctors like Thomas Willis and philosophers like René Descartes were explaining that hysteria wasn’t because of “bad” lady parts but as a psychological issue; specifically, a psychological women’s issue. For the next 200-250 years, hysteria was defined as part of female “nature,” a hostile “characteristic,” explains researcher Elanie Showalter in Hysteria Beyond Freud. “As a general rule,” wrote the French physician Auguste Fabre in 1883, “all women are hysterical and…every woman carries with her the seeds of hysteria. Hysteria, before being an illness, is a temperament, and what constitutes the temperament of a woman is rudimentary hysteria.” Meaning: women don’t need a reason to be hysterical. We just are.

By the late 1800s and the early 1900s, Freud took on hysteria, theorizing that some of hysteria had to do with traumatic events, but most of hysteria was because of sexual repression. I asked my therapist about this theory, and she told me that hysteria was treated as if there was nothing neurologically going on. “Doctors would take a woman, put her on a table and stimulate her clitoris to orgasm in hopes that she’d be cured of her hysteria,” she explained.

This wasn’t an enviable job though, historians say; doctors were burdened by the chore of bringing their patients to climax, complaining about how long it took. Husbands didn’t want to be sidled with this job of having to bring their hysterical wives to climax either. That's why the vibrator was invented, writes Rachel P. Maines in her book, The Technology of Orgasm. It was considered a medical instrument “in response to demand from physicians for more rapid and efficient physical therapies, particularly for hysteria.”

It wasn’t until the 1960s that feminists took the idea of hysteria and redefined it—feminist thinkers like Juliet Mitchell believe that hysteria was the first step to feminism, because it was feminine pathology that spoke to and against patriarchy. Hysteria, in other words, has always been a language that women have used to attempt to shut down centuries of mansplaining—and only until the 1960s were they successful at it.

* * *

In Salem, Massachusetts in 1692, two girls—9-year-old Elizabeth Parris and 11-year-old Abigail Williams—began having what was described as uncontrollable “hysterical” fits. They were screaming, crying, moaning, their bodies convulsed and they babbled incoherently. A doctor diagnosed the girls of being under the spell of witchcraft and soon, more girls became “afflicted” with the same symptoms. By the end of that year, 13 women and five men were accused of witchcraft and hanged, according to the Salem Witch Museum.

Though there have been a number of theories as to why this happened; some blame ergot (a fungus) poisoning, others say they were rebelling against their social standing, some historians say the fasting and the obsessive prayer rituals caused tremendous stress. Salem was very religious, it was a small settlement described by historians as “rife with anxiety,” a “crumbling providence.” The girls, in other words, did not just become hysterical out of the blue—there was a lot to be afraid of.

But because it spread from person to person like a social contagion, psychologists explain the hysteria in Salem as conversion disorder. Conversion disorder is a physical manifestation of psychological stress and anxiety. Like, say, the contagious hysteria that goes on at a Justin Bieber concert.

I started researching other cases of conversion disorder. In Monroe, Louisiana in 1952, 165 cheerleaders fainted during a football game. In 1998 in McMinniville, Tenneesse, a teacher noticed a gas-like odor and though the school was evacuated, her symptoms spread to 180 students and teachers. In 2007, in Chalco, Mexico, 600 girls became feverish and nauseated. But the most highly publicized case happened in 2012 in Le Roy, New York, when 14 students (13 girls, one boy), developed symptoms of involuntary twitching and clapping, snorting, muscle spasms and even loss of consciousness.

Two books came out this year based on the Le Roy incident: Megan Abbott’s poetic and creepy The Fever and Katherine Howe’s disturbing Conversion. Because Howe, who also wrote “The Penguin Book of Witches,” is something of a Salem encyclopedia, I spoke with her about the hysteria in Le Roy and if there’s a tie between what happened there and the hysteria surrounding pop stars. And though she was hesitant to name a connection, she did say that there seems to be an expression of excitement and release in conversion disorder.

“Here’s this space in which its almost socially sanctioned to release this kind of tension, especially for adolescent girls who are supposed to control themselves. It’s what they’re supposed to master as a teenager, to control themselves,” she said. Hysteria goes against every grain that adolescent girls learn: be good, be better than the next girl, don’t be loud, don’t be promiscuous. There’s an intensity to hysteria that’s significant, Howe says.

In fact, during her research of the Le Roy incident, she found that one girl described the experience as a “build up of tension which was then released by a verbal disorder and that she felt better if she gave into the physical disorder, the tic,” she said. “There’s a thread that connects it to female anxiety and female emotionalism.”

What is this thread, I wondered? I spoke to Jane Mendle, a clinical psychologist and assistant professor at Cornell University who specializes in adolescent girls. First, she made clear that the hysteria we see with girls in front of pop stars is not the same as what’s happening in conversion disorder. Conversion disorder is a diagnosable, psychological disorder; in the case of girls and rock stars, the term “hysteria” is really a metaphorical description of their behavior. But “that doesn’t mean that the elements of screaming and crying over rock stars and symptoms of conversion disorder in adolescent females aren’t driven by some of the same underlying principles,” Mendle told me. “There is a strong element of social contagion for both of these things.”

When a group of girls develop conversion disorder, it typically starts with somebody who is at the top of the social pecking order; the Queen Bee or someone close to her. But in the case of Bieber or One Direction hysteria, it may be more complex than just social ranking, because fame is more “valued now than it has been in the past,” Mendle says. A few generations ago, when girls were screaming over The Beatles or The Jackson Five, they didn’t have the option to share that experience on Instagram or Facebook. They shared it with each other, collectively, in the moment. Today’s fame component changes everything. “The majority of tweens and adolescents are extremely interested in becoming famous themselves—it is one of their top priorities for their lives,” Mendle says.

I ask her if this means fame alone would inspire hysteria. “To some degree,” she replied, “because fame as a value and considering Justin Bieber as a part of their lives, even though they’ve never met him, is really what has inspired a lot of this.”

What about conversion disorder? Even though it typically starts with the Queen Bee, there’s still an element that seems to be inspired by wanting attention. Mendle agrees. “One of the things that is most noticeable about conversion disorder is that it tends to occur in people who don’t necessarily command a lot of social attention; by social attention, I really mean society’s attention—in that they are not the focus of their society. And historically and traditionally that’s women,” she said. “So when you look to things like the Salem Witch Trials, these girls were by no means a focus of their community until they developed their physical symptoms. And then they became a center of a town’s narrative in a way they would have never have been able to otherwise.”

* * *

Doris Day’s “Que Sera, Sera” was number two on the Billboard chart in 1956. The narrative goes like this: A girl asks her mother about her future, “Will I be pretty? Will I be rich?” The mother replies:

Que sera, sera. Whatever will be, will be.
The future’s not ours to see
Que sera, sera.

The mother isn’t wrong, the future isn’t ours, but when you look at it in the context of women’s place in society the song sums up patriarchal 1950s pretty well. There’s zero agency in it. There’s no question about her passions outside of looking good and being wealthy. Now look at the popular male artists of that same time: the dominators were ultra-macho crooners like Elvis, Frank Sinatra or Dion. As historian Kimberly Cura points out in her paper “The Beatles and Female Fanaticism,” Elvis used his sex appeal and pushy lyrics, Frank Sinatra had his sentimental crooner image and Dion had his womanizing songs like “The Wanderer,” which goes like this:

Oh well, I'm the type of guy who will never settle down
Where pretty girls are well, you know that I'm around
I kiss em and I love em cause to me they’re all the same
I hug em and I squeeze em they don’t even know my name

It’s no wonder girls lost it when The Beatles entered the music scene—they had remarkable differences to these hyper-masculine artists, namely in their lyrics. Adolescent girls went crazy when they heard “She Loves You,” a song that I never really paid much attention to because the chorus, “She loves you, yeah, yeah, yeah,” was repetitive and annoying. But revisiting the song now and deconstructing it, as well as giving it some historical context, changes it.

She said you hurt her so
She almost lost her mind
And now she says she knows
You’re not the hurting kind
She says she loves you
And you know that can’t be bad
Yes, she loves you
And you know you should be glad, oooh

The Beatles then become this sensitive guy vessel with this song, injecting your stereotypical blockhead male rhetoric with an emotional narrative. Look, you hurt this girl and she knows you didn’t mean it, and she wants to give you a second chance, so why don’t you talk to her, man? “’She Loves You,’ not only speaks of a common real-life dynamic between lovers, but also—and most importantly—places responsibility on the man, not his partner,” explains Cura.

These early Beatles songs created a world where women had freedom from traditional gender roles (like in Doris Day’s “Que, Sera, Sera”). “Women in The Beatles’ songs weren’t depicted as the idealized figures described in typical rock lyrics, but instead were represented fully-formed characters,” writes Cura. This was the key behind the hysteria that surrounded Beatlemania: women and girls were free to express themselves—finally!—because they were understood.

The same has to be said for Morrissey who not only openly embraced a fluid definition of sexuality, but who also wrote from the perspective of masculine sensitivity. His lyrics created a safe place for female fans to scream, to cry, to hand him roses on the stage while he sang. Morrissey reveled and embraced male vulnerability; he exhausted heartbreak. Take the lyrics to “How Soon Is Now:”

You shut your mouth
How can you say
I go about things the wrong way
I am human and I need to be loved
Just like everybody else does
There’s a club if you’d like to go
You could meet somebody who really loves you
So you go, and you stand on your own
And you leave on your own
And you go home, and you cry and you want to die

In this song, he reveals his insecurity and his isolation—he goes to a club and can’t even be consoled because he’s so lonely. Morrissey sings countless songs like this—take “I Know It’s Over” in which he cries, “Oh mother, I can feel, the soil falling over my head. And as I climb into an empty bed. Oh well, enough said.”

Though Morrissey and The Beatles and Justin Bieber have little in common musically, they have everything in common as vulnerable lyricists; Justin Bieber takes the same page out of the Morrissey handbook, especially during his earlier mall days. In his movie Never Say Never he brings up a girl for each performance of “One Less Lonely Girl” and serenades her.

How many "I told you’s" and "start over’s" and shoulders have you cried on before?
How many promises? Be honest girl
How many tears you let hit the floor
How many bags you packed
Just to take them back
Tell me that how many either ‘or’s’
But no more if you let me inside of your world
There’ll be one less lonely girl

The appeal here, like with Morrissey, is that Justin Bieber talks to his subject as if he understands what true vulnerability and heartbreak is about. (And who am I to say? Maybe he does.) These kinds of lyrics allow girls to feel comfortable and secure, giving them permission to engage in hysteria, most noticeably after the introduction of the Beatles. Cura puts it like this: “The Beatles… was the first widespread outburst during the sixties to feature women—in this case, teenaged girls—in a radical context.”

Though lots of critics at the time wanted to write off the hysteria around the Beatles as yet another example of crazy, hormonal girls, or some kind of “social dysfunction,” or as depressive loners—their collective hysteria was really about them stepping outside of their prescribed identities. “Teen and pre-teen girls were expected not only to be good and pure, but to be the enforcers of purity within their teen society—drawing the line for overeager boys and ostracizing girls who failed in this responsibility,” writes journalist Barbara Ehrenreich.

Has much changed? Girls are still expected to act a certain way—but screaming over a pop star gives them a say. It’s like sexual release that’s allowed. Michelle Janning, a sociology professor at Whitman College, who has written about screaming girls, explains this in an email: “This bodily and vocal sexual expression could have two paradoxical interpretations: either a girl screaming at a concert is defiantly protesting girls’ sexual repression in a highly sexualized society, or she is doing so as an unsuspecting part of the larger project to maintain girls’ sexuality as controlled, quiet, and contained."

But performers like Bieber and Morrissey and The Beatles and Michael Jackson have something else in common: their somewhat androgynous man-boy looks. Adolescent girls see a feminine quality in these kinds of men, sociologists say, that reminded them of themselves. Girls feel safe around more androgynous singers because they’re not pushing the macho stereotype which can be intimidating to a teenage girl. Girls saw the (early) Beatles and Bieber as reflection of themselves, “a phenomenon that would be imitated in the future by androgynous stars such as David Bowie and Michael Jackson,” explains Steven Stark in Meet the Beatles. In the ‘80s, hysteria followed Duran Duran and Adam Ant, as Nina Blackwood, one of the early MTV “veejays” explained in an interview with CBS, “The guys were so beautiful. Not handsome in the classic "movie star" way, but actually pretty— lush lips, cheekbones a mile-high, porcelain skin— and they all knew how to apply make-up better than most women I knew."


It has to be the same reason women lost it around Franz Liszt, a pianist in Germany in the 1800s—so much that German critic Heinrich Heine, deemed it “Lisztomania.” Liszt also had that feminine quality (more so than other men that time who, at least in old-timey pictures, looked sort of inbred and hairy); Liszt was a Tori Amos kind of performer, historians say, in that he used his body liberally while he played, with “wild arms and swaying hips.” Women tore his clothes, pulled out pieces of his hair and one woman, wrote Alan Walker in a biography, picked up Liszt’s cigar stump, placed it in locket and monogramed it with his initials in diamonds.

The woman’s reaction to Liszt isn’t so far off from Kate’s who collected Justin Bieber’s cup. That plastic cup now rests on her bookshelf, sealed in a plastic zip lock bag.

* * *

“People started lining up five days ago.”

“I know they love me even though they don’t know me.”

“Because of you, we’re number one in 37 countries”


These are sound bites from the One Direction movie, This Is Us, which is cute and corny with stories about the boys and how they always wanted to be singers, but the primary story is of high-pitched soundtrack of thousands of screaming girls. They’re the screams of pleasure—which is exactly how the neuroscientist Daniel Levitin explains it to the Wall Street Journal. The screaming, he says, is from the release of dopamine, the neurotransmitter that allows us to feel pleasure—it’s the chemical in our brain that’s released when we eat chocolate, or when a compulsive gambler wins.

But Levitin's research also found something else interesting: because the neural pathways in our brains are forming when we’re teenagers, the music that we like as teenagers then becomes hardwired in our brains. It's not an accident that you still know that pretzel cross-legged move to Beyoncé’s “Crazy in Love” you studied a million times when you were 14. That’s not nostalgia, according to Levitin’s research; that’s your brain being hardwired to experience pleasure every time you hear that song.

I couldn’t help but think of the music I went hysterical over as a teenager—I wasn’t a Duran Duran girl in the ‘80s. I saved my hysteria for girls, not boys; my heart belonged to Madonna. I was 15 in 1986, the year her album “True Blue” came out—which had some amazing songs like “Live To Tell,” but also some really uninspiring, unremarkable songs like “True Blue.” There was also “Papa Don’t Preach,” which was a departure for Madonna—she changed her whole look from her “Lucky Star”/”Burnin’ Up”/”Borderline” days (which I had memorized the dance moves to as well, though I didn’t completely understand the sexual narrative yet).

In the “Papa Don’t Preach” video she wore boyfriend jeans, had short straight hair, a striped nautical shirt and carried a black motorcycle jacket over her shoulder. My mother called her a Jean Seburg knock-off, but I was mesmerized.


I watched the “Papa Don’t Preach” video on You Tube and remembered those weird arm movements and the dance from that video clearly—then the oddest realization came to me. I’m still influenced by her style from that time, the jeans, the striped shirt, even the motorcycle jacket is currently in my fantasy shopping cart—which, okay, you the jacket has been an iconic staple since Marlon Brando wore it in The Wild Bunch. But then I made another connection. I named my dog, a rescue I just got nine months ago, Trudy Blue. When I started singing the song “True Blue” to her, I couldn’t figure out why—it really bothered me. Why this song?

But now I get it. The dopamine release I experienced as an adolescent girl is still affecting me years and years later. My Madonna hysteria never really waned. When I tell people I follow her on Instagram, they ask me why. And I’m like, “#BitchI’mMadonna,” but the real reason has a lot more to do with chemical engineering.

I wonder what that means for the swarms of Bieber fans like Kate or the One Directioners depicted in their movie. I thought about the years I spent being a hysterical teenage girl, either obsessing over Madonna or later over Morrissey or later REM, or over any of the countless musicians that impacted my life. Science has a great deal to do with hysteria—you can’t ignore the chemical impact of dopamine, but hysteria defined women and girls more broadly than just that; hysteria has been a method of communication in which women have used to separate themselves from men for centuries. I though about that video of Kate in Smash Burger, wondering if she’ll one day look back at it embarrassed, but I hope she won’t. I hope she’ll see it as her individuality shining through, as a way she was able to be true to herself at a very specific time in her life.

Hayley Krischer is a writer living in New Jersey.

Girls screaming via Flickr Commons, Franz Liszt via Wikimedia Commons, and Madonna via Papa Don't Preach.

15 Mar 13:33

When aspies are right, they're right.

by Amanda J Harrington

I'm often a wrong aspie, as are lots of other aspies I know. We don't like being wrong but we're well used to it. We know how hard it can be when someone points out our faults and explains how we got it wrong all over again. It means we become awkward under criticism - obnoxious at our worst.

So it's ironic that an aspie in the right is such a big pain in the butt. (Yes, you are, you know it). If being wrong is painful to the aspie, then being right is at least as big a pain to everyone else.

It's not so much gloating (though some do like to gloat); rather it's to do with:

Making sure the person realises they are wrong, understands how they are wrong and can show the aspie they know they are wrong otherwise there will be absolutely no shutting up about it.

It's almost helpful, this need to point out your wrongness. If we tell you how you went wrong and the many vivid details of your errors, then you'll know not to do it again. We don't like to be wrong and always try to avoid it so we don't mind repaying the favour and helping others avoid wrongness too. It's a public service.

If you do something the wrong way and we know the right way then we will tell you the right way. And when good manners or social shock cause you to clam up and just let us go on, we will take that as your misunderstanding of what we are trying to explain and so we'll continue explaining. And there will be hand gestures and show-and-tells and detailed explanations with figure diagrams and also references to your wholly wrong effort, so you know where you went wrong.

None of this will be meant unkindly but there will be a firmness about it, as if you are 5 again and having it explained to you why it's a bad idea to talk and eat at the same time. You will be left in no doubt as to how you went wrong and that you are being Put Right.

At the end you have the choice to accept the staunch advice from your helpful aspie or venture a small complaint about the method of correction. This would be the moment when you try to explain how the aspie made the lecture kind of painful and did they know they had hurt your feelings?

If you manage to finish the sentence, your aspie will be dumbfounded, appalled, just totally brimming with disbelief - not at having hurt your feelings but at your ability to sidestep the whole point of this exchange and move onto your emotions (again!). All the effort put into explaining how you went wrong seems to have been wasted. How is your aspie expected to help you if all you do is lose concentration? No wonder you get things wrong!

The suggestion that the way your aspie explains things might be slightly abrasive or hurtful is irrelevant. As usual, if it wasn't meant this way then there's no point in you taking it this way. If you can't use good advice when it's offered, your aspie might have to stop offering it (no, there's no real hope of this happening, sorry).

Sadly, your aspie wanders off, secretly plotting how to help you be right once you've stopped being silly and are ready to listen. Or maybe you can just be shown the right way to do something? Be converted by the brilliance of the finished effort?

Smiling to themselves, your aspie closes the door, leaving you to wonder what on earth you did to deserve a ten minute lecture on the right way to clean a sink. Especially as you're the only one who ever does it!

Sighing, you take up the cloth and then hesitate, looking guiltily at the kitchen door as you start to clean the sink the way you were told. Sometimes it's better just to do things right...


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16 Mar 14:00

Children, Chores, and the Gender Pay Gap at Home

by Lisa Wade, PhD

Girls do more chores than boys and are less likely to get an allowance in exchange for their work. When they do, they are paid less.

Research projects on children’s time use find that boys do 43 to 46 minutes of housework for every hour that girls do. When asked to list the chores they do, girls list 42 percent more chores than boys. Girls are as likely as boys to participate in outside chores and more likely to clean their own rooms, help prepare meals, and care for sibling and pets; the only thing boys report doing more often than girls is basic housecleaning.


Another study by the children’s magazine Highlights confirmed the finding: 73 percent of their girl readers reported being assigned routine chores, compared to 65 percent of their boy readers. Girls spend more time on chores than they do playing; the opposite is true for boys.

Not only are girls more likely to be asked to help out around the house, they are less likely to get paid. The Michigan study found that boys are 15 percent more likely than girls to get an allowance for the chores they do. And when they do get paid, they get a lower wage than their brothers. Male babysitters get paid $0.50 more an hour than females. Girls do 35 percent more work than boys, but bring home only $0.73 cents on boys’ dollar.

The gender pay gap starts early.

Cross-posted at Pacific Standard.

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

(View original at

19 Mar 20:39

‘I was homeless, and you chased me away …’

by Fred Clark

Kaya Oakes beat me to this joke, which would be funnier if it wasn’t a joke.

Screen shot 2015-03-19 at 3.33.01 PM

The link there is to this appalling story from San Francisco, where culture-warrior Salvatore Cordelione sets the tone for right-wing post-Christianity, “Saint Mary’s Cathedral Drenches Homeless With Water To Keep Them Away“:

Saint Mary’s Cathedral, the principal church of the Archdiocese of San Francisco, has installed a watering system to keep the homeless from sleeping in the cathedral’s doorways.

The cathedral, at Geary and Gough, is the home church of the Archbishop. There are four tall side doors, with sheltered alcoves, that attract homeless people at night.

“They actually have signs in there that say, ‘No Trespassing,’” said a homeless man named Robert.

But there are no signs warning the homeless about what happens in these doorways, at various times, all through the night. Water pours from a hole in the ceiling, about 30 feet above, drenching the alcove and anyone in it.

Mark Evanier goes there: “I‘m so glad they’re doing this because all that stuff about priests molesting children and the church covering it up didn’t do quite enough damage to the faith.”

Oakes’ tweet highlights the stark contrast between Cordelione’s awfulness and Pope Francis’ response to the homeless who seek shelter in the Vatican. Francis commissioned showers for the homeless under St. Peter’s colonnades. The notable thing there is not just what the pope is doing, but why. He and his buddy Bishop Krajewski sometimes go out to dinner with their homeless friends, and one of those friends, Franco, said it was embarrassing to meet for dinner when he worried he smelled because he had nowhere to clean up. Francis responded because he knows Franco. Cordelione doesn’t know — or care to know — any of the people he’s been soaking off of his steps.

The auxiliary bishop in charge of St. Mary’s Cathedral, Bill Justice (ahem), has now apologized and says the sprinklers will be removed. “We are sorry that our intentions have been misunderstood and recognize that the method was ill-conceived,” Justice said. 

So apparently it was all just a misunderstanding. I think something crucially important was being misunderstood, but I don’t think it was their intentions.

Seriously, we’ve had 2,000 years to practice this stuff. You’d think we should have figured some of this out by now.

Screen shot 2015-03-19 at 4.31.39 PM

“Homeless Jesus,” sculpture by Timothy J. Schmaltz.

The Rev. Linda Kaufman is an Episcopal priest who runs a ministry based at Mount Vernon Place United Methodist Church in Washington, D.C. Like St. Mary’s and many other big urban churches, Mount Vernon’s porches, doors and archways had also become places where homeless people sought shelter.

But their response was very different from Cordelione’s “ill-conceived” soak-’em-away plan in San Francisco: “No sprinklers required: How one church kept homeless people off church steps.”

Mount Vernon’s first step was far more in line with the approach of Francis and his Almoner — they invited the homeless living there to a meal and got to know them. That changed the nature of the project, and the outcome:

I am convinced that those individuals who were sleeping on the church porches are better off now than they were in January, before we started.

There is a way to keep safe, clean grounds while helping our homeless neighbors — and it’s both easier and harder than installing sprinkler systems or putting up fences. It requires the investment of time and resources to build relationships, listen and help. The community we formed still gathers at 7 a.m. each Tuesday.

19 Mar 19:05

Women Feigning Interest During Polite Conversation In Western Art History

by Mallory Ortberg


keep smiling, girls
keep him looking in that direction and i'll keep signaling for help

Read more Women Feigning Interest During Polite Conversation In Western Art History at The Toast.

18 Mar 18:47

Sen. Inhofe’s perfectly legal corruption is worse than former-Rep. Schock’s law-breaking

by Fred Clark

Rep. Aaron Schock has abruptly resigned following a cascade of questions about funding and spending by him and his office.

Congressional ethics and federal campaign finance rules can be arcane and complicated. I tend not to be deeply concerned by the occasional mini-scandals that erupt when members of either party run afoul of some more technical aspect of those laws. Yes, they ought to know better — lawmakers should know the law, or should at least know enough to hire people who do, or to consult with party officials whose job it is to ensure that members follow the rules. But when some member of Congress gets in trouble for using the wrong phone line, or charging some expense to the wrong line in a ledger, I’m usually willing to give them the benefit of the doubt.

MerchantsIn most such cases, the usual principle involving money and politics applies: The scandalous thing is not what is illegal, but what is accepted as perfectly legal.

That was my initial response to the first several stories about Aaron Schock — the flashy, young, impeccably chiseled bro-dude Republican congressman from Illinois. The first bit of news that registered with me involved the elaborate decor in his congressional office, inspired, apparently, by Downton Abbey. His staff reported that this decor and design were not at taxpayer expense, but had been donated to the congressman as a gift. But he had failed to report that gift as election law requires.

That law is good and necessary. We don’t want our elected officials beholden to donors who can buy their favor with extravagant gifts, so we tried to forbid such gifts lest they be what they seem — bribes in kind, rather than in cash. Alas, it seems we were unable to ban such bribery-in-kind outright, and the best we managed to do was to require disclosure. Gifts have to be reported so that voters and constituents can, at least, research who it is that is buying our elected officials.

And Rep. Schock, reportedly, had failed to comply with that law. That’s not good, surely, but I wasn’t inclined to get too worked up about it. Correct the error, pay the fine, don’t make a habit of it.

The problem though is that Schock apparently had made a habit of it. Worse than that, really. He hadn’t so much run afoul of election and finance law as he had failed to acknowledge its existence.

Take for example the case that seems to have been the final straw for Schock, which involved mileage reimbursement for a vehicle he used in his campaigns. The problem wasn’t the usual semi-scandalous technical problem of one or several trips misreported as campaign expenses. Schock is reported to have been reimbursed for every mile ever driven in that vehicle — and for an additional 90,000 miles beyond what its odometer reads. He wasn’t just fudging his expense accounts, he was treating them like an ATM.

And that is why, despite easily winning another term in the last election, Aaron Schock is now leaving Congress.

Some commentators say they’re still waiting for another shoe to drop in Schock’s story. They’re sure there must be other, larger, darker secrets that forced him to resign. But nothing else is needed. Schock’s reckless disregard for the law — always in the direction of personal enrichment — is cause enough for him to resign. That’s corruption. And corruption is a sufficient reason for a public official to be forced to resign.

Even here, though, the principle applies: The real scandal is not what is illegal, but what remains perfectly legal. Aaron Schock was forced to resign because he was corrupt, but 534 members of Congress remain in office and many of them are far, far more corrupt than he has ever managed to be.

Consider, for example, Sen. James Inhofe of Oklahoma. This guy:

Click here to view the embedded video.

Now, Inhofe may not be the sharpest tool in the shed, but he isn’t dumb enough to believe the nonsense he has been spouting for years about climate change. He says these things because he is paid to say these things. Inhofe says these things because he is corrupt — because the only constituents he represents in the Senate are the fossil-fuel industry donors who have funded his election and re-election for decades. The money those donors have poured into Inhofe’s campaign coffers over the years vastly outweighs the chump-change that Aaron Schock is suspected of skimming for his personal benefit.

But Inhofe’s corruption is perfectly legal. Even though the crooked senator from Oklahoma is doing far more real harm to his constituents and to his country, he isn’t breaking the law. He’s following the law — and constantly rewriting that law to ensure that what he does can never be described as illegal.

Unethical, immoral, dishonest, damaging, stupid, sinful, ignoble, dishonorable and thoroughly corrupt, yes. But not illegal.

Here’s a short promo for Merchants of Doubt, Robert Kenner’s documentary based on the book by Naomi Oreskes and Erik M. Conway.

Click here to view the embedded video.


What Kenner documents is corruption — perfectly legal corruption facilitated by thoroughly corrupt liars like Sen. James Inhofe.

Until such corruption is recognized as worse than the petty crimes of people like Aaron Schock, we’re all in big trouble.

19 Mar 06:30

Day 5190: A Budget of Signposts and Pitfalls

by Millennium Dome
Wednesday Budget Day Election Day Minus Forty-Nine:

So, for the last time in the first fixed term Parliament, Master Gideon did a thing.

Liberal Democrat policies once more featured strongly (and anonymously) in the form of future rises in the personal allowance towards the minimum wage and a promise of an end in sight of austerity.

But most of what he did was mess things about. A little. He cut some taxes a little; cut some spending a little less; made the tax system a little more generous to favoured industries/more complicated with more loopholes. And made several bad jokes. Mostly about the unfortunate Mr Milipede's kitchen arrangements.

When he wasn't cracking our sides with his rib-ticklers, he gave us not so much substance as a full meal, more a sort of taster's trolley to whet our appetites for the shape of Parliamentary things to come.

Most of the actual tax arrangements are, of course, post-dated, setting the sort of traps for a future Labour Chancer– in the decreasingly likely event of there being such a person – just as Mr Allstar Darling did for him, with the "for one month only" 50% tax rate (which did indeed successfully blow up in Gideon's face). The promise of a little less squeezing of the pips on higher rate taxpayers (in the assumption that the Venn diagram of higher rate taxpayers and Tory voters is quite a large overlap) gives a sweetie to his base today that might reward a second time if incoming Hard Labour have to reverse it to make ends meet after the election and post Financial Review. Likewise, the £1000 tax free interest is a giveaway to the "haves" that makes the tax system yet more needlessly complicated (with interest rates at ½% you can "have" up to two-hundred grand in the bank before paying any tax on the interest). And aside from the Chancer's personal delight in being able to string two catchphrases together do we really need yet more money injected into the housing bubble? I'm just surprised he didn't rename the newly in-out-shake-it-all-about ISA his "long term economic savings plan"!

Meanwhile he sketched out a – suspiciously "Coalition flavoured" – direction of travel, adopting that Liberal Democrat pledge to bring an end to austerity and offer a promise of better days to come. His compromise of beginning to increase spending on public services "after four more years" falling mid-way between the Lib Dem position of "after three more years" and the Tory one of "after hell freezes over". Cutting the lifetime allowance for payments into a pension was also a Libby Demmy way of raising a few more tax dollars from the richer end of the spectrum.

This is, as we know, typical Tory strategy: use the Lib Dems as a sort of THINK TANK from Planet Nice to generate socially acceptable policy and use this to detox the brand (while pretending to smile and nod along to the wingnuts, and occasionally unleash a "Go Home Van" to keep them drooling happily).

Just because he's EXACTLY as scary-right-wing as his Romulan haircut suggests, don't ever think Gideon isn't PRACTICAL.

(And, in many ways, another Coalition is actually the best way for GIDEON to keep his own job: if they lose, he'll have to come third to Boris and Theresa in the ensuing leadership bloodbath; if they win on their own, then he might have to think up some policies of his own without Danny to hold his crayons for him!)

And look at how he did bang on about how the Coalition had brought economic success.

Obviously that's a GREAT advert for letting the Tories RUIN it by running the country off the rails on their own!

Being in Coalition has given him GREAT COVER for making it all up as he went along (or in fact letting Nick and Vince and Danny make most of it up for him, and then copying their homework). For all that Gideon the Chancer is a man who's made much political capital out of sticking to "Plan A", it should be apparent that we are by now on something like the "F Plan" (the diet nobody sticks to) or the "G-Plan" (given his wooden delivery). Whatever, he's in danger of running out of letters!

"Plan A" only lasted about a year. That was the "stick to Alistair Darling's disastrous plan to cut all capital spending" Plan. Fortunately the widely underrated Mr Danny managed to persuade Gideon to go on an Obama-esque Keynesian spending spree. That would have been Plan B. Plan C was the disaster of the OMNISHAMBLES budget, quickly walked back to Plan D. The REAL disaster being that budget had contained some attempts to simplify some of the tax system, and there's no way Gideon was going to try THAT again! And even last year we were still on Austerity Eternal of Plan E, but it appears that that didn't test well with the voters.

The only thing "Long Term" about the Conservatories "Long Term Economic Plan" is how long they've been ramming the stupid message down our throats!

Not that Hard Labour have much to crow about.

(It won't stop them. That Mr Allstar Darling was on the radio last weekend crowing about his own last budget – because, as he himself admitted, nobody else would – and saying that the Coalition's plan has arrived us exactly where he predicted the economy would be… slightly overlooking the fact that this must mean his own plan would have missed the target by miles and landed us in much worse straits! And also rather undermining Hard Labour’s case that they’d have done anything at all DIFFERENT!)

But in the absence of having bothered to pay any attention to what Gideon was saying, Mr Milipede delivered the speech he'd memorised anyway. I KNOW it's the hardest job in politics, replying to the budget with no notes or notice, but do you think he could at least TRY to remain on topic?

And if "long term economic plan" is becoming the most BORING big fib in British politics, then surely there's some sort of mutant hybrid of Godwin's Law being spawned on the other side: "the longer a debate goes on the closer to 100% gets the probability of Mr Milipede claiming it will lead to the privatisation/dismantling (the meaning of these terms being indistinguishable to his audience) of the NHS".

So today Mr Milipede invented the Tories "secret plan to fight inflation"…

No, sorry, that's "secret plan to wreck the NHS"; it's just he's so clearly and painfully obviously been watching too many episodes of his "West Wing" box set. It's all that free time he has not doing any work on actual policies.

But PLAGIARISM, Ed? Again?

I mean, bless him, he's only got one trump card, but he does keep playing it… in fact, it looks like he's only got one card AT ALL, at least only one that doesn't say "the same as the Tories but, er, nice" (see also what Rachel the Reever wants to do with welfare and Tristram the, er, Hunt wants to do with Education.) But it's clear that his schoolboy debate club tactics are no good when the country is calling for a STRATEGY.

The worst part of his day was probably the moment where you can see the dawning realisation creep into his sad eyes that the Conservatories are going to win, to beat him, beat him probably quite a lot. It was probably the time when he laughed at the second or third second kitchen joke.

Even until recently I had expected Labour to improve, and the Tories at best to hold their ground in numbers of seats. How could the Conservatories do anything OTHER than go backwards after the PAIN and the AUSTERITY and the BEDROOM TAX? But today, Miliband looked like a loser. No, worse, he looked like HE believed he was a loser, and that sort of thing is INFECTIOUS.

And Gideon looked like HE thought he was a WINNER.

Because Master Gideon's real talent is luck. The sort of luck that lets him get away with it.

Because this recovery isn't really a result of ANY plan – long term or otherwise – by this Government. It's mainly driven by the Saudis response to American fracking, pumping oil like it's going out of fashion (because it is!) driving down energy prices.

What the Coalition has actually done is a series of smart economic tacks across the wind, sheltering most people from the worst of the storm of the recession, while the rest of Europe has been battered by the ongoing Euro crisis, and while the rise of China and India drove a huge spike in energy prices and food prices, all of which delayed any chance of real recovery. We’ve been keeping more people in work – at the price of depressing earnings; keeping down homes repossessed; shifting the burden of taxation a few notches up the income scale. When the Lib Dems were stronger, we also kept benefits rising with inflation.

That doesn't mean that the austerity was WRONG or didn't work. If nothing else, thanks to the Coalition Britain was at least in a position where we COULD take advantage when the wind changed in our favour.

But what we've also done, again largely Lib Dem policies, is laid the groundwork for FUTURE economic strength: the pupil premium, and add to that free school meals, already giving kids a better education; the apprenticeships scheme, not just getting young people into jobs, delivering two million more quality training places, but kicking off a total reappraisal of the worth of vocational verses academic further education; even the hated tuition fees cum sort of graduate tax has delivered more young people from less well-off backgrounds into higher education.

You can, as Cap'n Clegg is fond of saying, still do a lot of GOOD with a bit of goodwill and three-quarters of a trillion pounds!

All of which means THIS is where the fight gets DESPERATE.

Liberal Democrats, we might have thought that we could go quietly into Opposition, sit the next Parliament out, lick our wounds – which will be many – and rebuild our tattered reputation under the cosy leadership of Saint Tim, while enjoying the no-doubt-hilarious spectacle of a minority Labour administration giving new definition to being propped up with a (lack of) confidence and supply (of demands) from the SNP.


The Tories are already planning how to wreck democracy: that infamous "black and white ball" they held, that wasn't to raise funds for the General Election. They've already GOT the funds to fight the General Election. THAT was to raise funds for the SECOND General Election.

Remember, our slogan is "Stronger Economy; Fairer Society; Opportunity for All".

It's NOT because we'd deliver a fairer society than the Tories and a stronger economy than Labour. (Though we would. But that's OBVIOUS.)

It's because we'd deliver a FAIRER society than LABOUR and a STRONGER economy than THE TORIES!

Labour: the Party of I.D.iot cards, 90 day detention, dog whistles on immigration, cutting benefits for young people, introducing ATOS, introduction Work Capability Assessments, introducing tuition fees (yes, that burns), cash for peerages, cash for Bernie Eccleston, Iraq… no WAY are Labour the Party of "fairer society".

But equally, the Tories: the Party of throwing our relationship with our single biggest trading partner into doubt, the Party of toying with GBrexit, the Party of slashing immigration and all the benefits that come with it, the Party of slashing benefits(!), the Party of tax cuts for Dead Millionaires (promised again, this week), the Party of blowing dirty great wads on Trident… no WAY are the Tories the Party of "stronger economy".

People, if you DON'T want the LUNATICS to take over the asylum, if you don't want the drawbridge pulled up and the curtain run down on five centuries of Britain being the greatest trading nation on Earth, we CANNOT let the Tories win! Labour are about to surrender. It's up to the Liberal Democrats.

No pressure, then.

In this post:

Master Gideon = Gideon known as George Osborne, Chancellor of the Exchequer
Mr Allstar Darling = Alistair Darling, his Labour predecessor
Rachel the Reever = Rachel Reeves, Labour Shadow Welfare Minister
Tristram the Hunt = Tristram Hunt, Labour Shadow Education Minister
Mr Milipede, reverting to Mr Miliband = Ed Miliband, probably-doomed leader of the Labour Party
Cap'n Clegg = Nick Clegg, Deputy Prime Minister and Leader of the Liberal Democrats
Mr Danny = Danny Alexander, Liberal Democrat Chief Secretary (i.e. second in charge) at the Treasury
Mr Vince = Dr Vince Cable, Liberal Democrat Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills and widely respected as Lib Dem economic spokesperson and stand-in leader
18 Mar 14:46

Fifty Things I Love About Britain

by Alex Wilcock

Fifty days until the General Election. Fifty days of nothing but ‘why Britain is terrible’. Labour say it’s terrible now they’re in, so put back in the people who made it terrible in the first place. Tories say it was terrible when they were in, so don’t let them back in. UKIP say Britain has been terrible ever since we let any of ‘them’ in and hang up their ‘No blacks, no Polish, no gays’ signs. And the Lib Dems say it’ll be a bit less terrible if we’re a bit in. So, today, only things I love about Britain.

1 – My greatest Briton
…and Earthling, and citizen of the Universe, of them all, my husband, Richard Flowers

2 – Love and marriage
Having the right to marry the person I love, if they want to too, or not to marry at all

3 – That he did want to
…and that we did, after waiting only twenty years (to the day)

That’s all I need, really, but there are forty-seven more, including food, Doctor Who, more food, the Liberal Democrats (the whole bally lot of them), so much food… And that’s all just the other stuff that was at our wedding!

4 – Doctor Who
of course

5 – Being a nation made up of several nations
…all distinct and all having each in common, and being a people that has always been made up of many peoples and still mixing in people from everywhere else

6 – Being a nation where we all have multiple loyalties and identities
…by definition, and not letting people tell us what one thing they think we are

7 – Being always open to change
…whether it’s new people in our streets, new words in our language (often from someone else’s) or newly being comfortable with lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people and all sorts of other people who no longer have to be like everybody else

8 – My parents
…My Mum, who wasn’t born here but has always put her all into wherever she is, and my Dad, who was born in Glasgow, did some more growing up in Watford, and made a life for his family in Stockport, because we’re lots of different places and all one country too

9 – Inspirational heroes
…The four greatest British heroic myths: King Arthur; Robin Hood; Sherlock Holmes; and World War II

10 – Doubt
…and asking awkward questions

11 – Great big cliffs
…and windmills on hillsides

12 – Great crashing waves
…and nudist beaches when it’s bloody freezing

13 – Picturesque villages
…like Aldbourne, East Hagbourne, South Oxhey, Little Bazeley-by-the-Sea, Summerisle (but I’m more of an Escape From the Country guy, so…)

14 – Thrilling cities
…like London, Manchester, Edinburgh

15 – Stockport Town Hall

16 – The Beatles
…and especially George Harrison who, like me, swung wildly from terribly earnest to taking the piss, but who unlike me played the most gorgeous slide guitar ever heard – plus the movie of Yellow Submarine

17 – Electronic music
…from the likes of the Pet Shop Boys, The Human League, Heaven 17 and Delia Derbyshire

18 – Kate Bush
…and whatever the hell she does

19 – Punk rock
…Especially Tom Robinson and, right now, Ian Dury and the Blockheads and the wish that I could make my lists scan as well as Reasons To Be Cheerful

20 – Dame Shirley Bassey

21 – The Avengers
…Possibly the most British thing ever, and which wasn’t just style and subversion but which mattered – introducing to a mass audience the idea of intelligent, independent women who flung men over their shoulders. A fantasy of Britain where old-fashioned tradition and high-tech, sexually equal modernity went hand in hand (a hugely successful Conservative-Liberal coalition, you might say)

22 – The BBC

23 – Quatermass
…combining British ingenuity and a wish to build rocket ships with sheer naked terror (but doing it anyway)

24 – The Clangers
…encouraging us to love the alien and gently laugh at ourselves

25 – 2000AD
…the comic, not the year, particularly, which turned out a bit samey

26 – Carry On Up the Khyber

27 – Alastair Sim
…in drag


29 – Shakespeare
…A great many of his lines, anyway (and Queen Elizabeth the First, at least according to Blackadder)

30 – The works of JRR Tolkien
…even the ones scribbled on bits of toast and painstakingly reconstituted by his son. Mmm, toast…

31 – Clasping strange new foreign foods to our bosom
…over the centuries, making them our own so we couldn’t imagine life without them, like – the potato – and tea – and chocolate

32 – Chicken Korma

33 – Roast lamb

34 – Scotch eggs

35 – Pies
Pies. More pies. And especially appropriate today, Pieminister pies

36 – Margaret Thatcher, Tony Benn, Alex Salmond and Nigel Farage
…and the gladly exercised right to say thanks but no thanks, never have, never will

37 – William Gladstone, David Lloyd-George, Paddy Ashdown, Nick Clegg and Jo Swinson
…and the gladly exercised right to say yes, and I will again

38 – Being more or less democratic for quite a long time

39 – Mostly giving up an Empire with less fuss than is usual

40 – The NHS
…which on balance makes me go “Aaargghh!” less than it helps stop me going “Aaargghh!”

41 – Fulfilling the UN target of giving 0.7% of our national wealth in overseas aid and development
…a target set a year before I was born. It’s only in the last couple of years that we’ve finally met it (one of only about half a dozen countries that does), and in the last few weeks set it in law created by the Liberal Democrats

42 – The gap between rich and poor narrowing
…at last, over the last five years, after widening hugely ever since the 1980s

43 – The Rule of Law
…meaning that those in power get frustrated by the law applying to them too

44 – Signing the European Convention on Human Rights
…And not just being part of it, but Winston Churchill commissioning British lawyers to create it, in order to protect and spread our values

45 – Traditional British values
…like creativity, eccentricity, tolerance, generosity, fair play, standing up for the underdog, and universal, indivisible freedom

46 – Not having ID cards
…or being snooped on by the state at will, and the Liberal Democrats constantly being on guard whenever everybody else suddenly thinks that would be a good idea

47 – Making lists instead of doing anything
…making tutting sounds instead of hitting anyone, and grumbling but never giving up

48 – Inventing the train and the Internet
…even when each sometimes goes off the rails

49 – Many of the things we used to have but don’t any more
…like welcoming immigrants, Woolworths, Texan Bars, how Blackpool was in my childhood memories, The Daleks’ Master Plan, Nick Courtney, Conrad Russell and my Grandad

50 – The future
…even more than those I’ve loved and lost, and that there will always be many, many more new wonderful, beautiful, innovative, unpredictable and aggravating but loveable things to put on a list.
And that any list will be quite different for you, or even quite different for me tomorrow (I thought the best way was to write the lot off the top of my head), but still blatantly and brilliantly British.

So in fifty days’ time, why not vote for a Britain that offers more things to love than merely against the bits you don’t?

Here’s Nick Clegg on things he loves about Britain. I applauded him delivering this speech on Sunday and suspect he may have spent a bit more time and thought crafting this version than I did mine, but I agree with most of his, too.

17 Mar 16:00

Songs from a Johnny Cash Album Where the Law is Just and Your Loved Ones Can Be Trusted

by Michael Whitney

Previously in this series: An Album from The Hold Steady Where No One Gets Wasted or Shows Questionable Judgement.

"I Slept Fine Last Night Because I Know My Wife is Faithful"

"Riding Trains is Preferable to Robbing Them"

"A Ballad I Wrote Myself and Which Was Definitely Not Given to Me by an Inmate"

"My Moral Compass is Stronger than My Fear of Losing You"

"Our Relationship is Based on More than Fleeting Passion"

"Tommy Can't Wait (to Rehabilitate)"

"No One Will Be Executed Today"

Read more Songs from a Johnny Cash Album Where the Law is Just and Your Loved Ones Can Be Trusted at The Toast.

16 Mar 19:00

Lamp Options

by Anna Fitzpatrick
by Anna Fitzpatrick

Koala lampbartvsaustraliareference"For a nursery or child's bedroom or playroom"

Monkey chandelier lampweeee"Will lend a designer touch to your home."

Easter Island lampwhythelongface"These castings are popular with Tiki collectors."

Headless dog lamparf"Wonderful conversation piece!"

Clown lamplisa's first word reference"Sometimes he's referred to as Sad Hobo Clown."

Ice cream truck lampit comes with a free froyo"Driven by a sentient ice cream cone."

Troll head lampgo to sleep now"The light is conTROLLed (lol) by an in line on/off switch."

Baby head lampit sees you when you're sleeping"The back of the head has 3 large vent holes to be sure the vinyl doesn't get hot."

Eyeless baby head lampit knows when you're awake"Hand poured with liquid clay and fired."

Ribcage lampit knows if you've been bad or good"I then cut out the spaces in between each rib with a sharp knife."

Headless baby lampso be good for goodness sake"This item brings 'plug and play' a whole new meaning."

This lamphello clarice"Bernadette."

Previously: Soap options

05 Mar 15:00

Uncomfortable Attempts At Heterosexuality In Art History

by Mallory Ortberg


okay i'm ready
let's do this


ah yes
this is how kissing goes
your whole face in my mouth, that's what kissing is
now stop squirming so I can absorb your essence


no, that's quite all right

Read more Uncomfortable Attempts At Heterosexuality In Art History at The Toast.

22 Feb 16:41

"They called for more structure"

by Mark Liberman

From Kevin Knight's home page:

I think our approach to syntax in machine translation is best described in D. Barthelme's short story They called for more structure….

In case you didn't follow the link, and to guard against future link rot:

They called for more structure, then, so we brought in some big hairy four-by-fours from the back shed and nailed them into place with railroad spikes. This new city, they said, was going to be just jim-dandy, would make architects stutter, would make Chambers of Commerce burst into flame. We would have our own witch doctors, and strange gods aplenty, and site-specific sins, and humuhumunukunukuapuaa in the public fishbowls. We workers listened with our mouths agape. We had never heard anything like it. But we trusted our instincts and our paychecks, so we pressed on, bringing in color-coated steel from the back shed and anodized aluminum from the shed behind that. Oh radiant city! we said to ourselves, how we want you to be built! Workplace democracy was practiced on the job, and the clerk-of-the-works (who had known Wiwi Lönn in Finland) wore a little cap with a little feather, very jaunty. There was never any question of hanging back (although we noticed that our ID cards were of a color different from their ID cards); the exercise of our skills, and the promise of the city, were enough. By the light of the moon we counted our chisels and told stories of other building feats we have been involved in: Babel, Chandigarh, Brasilia, Taliesin.

At dawn each day, an eight-mile run, to condition ourselves for the implausible exploits ahead.

The enormous pumping station, clad in red Lego, at the point where the new river will be activated . . .

Areas of the city, they told us, had been designed to rot, fall into desuetude, return, in time, to open space. Perhaps, they said, fawns would one day romp there, on the crumbling brick. We were slightly skeptical about this part of the plan, but it was, after all, a plan, the ferocious integrity of the detailing impressed us all, and standing by the pens containing the fawns who would father the fawns who might someday romp on the crumbling brick, one could not help but notice one's chest bursting with anticipatory pride.

High in the air, working on a setback faced with alternating bands of gray and rose stone capped with grids of gray glass, we moistened our brows with the tails of our shirts, which had been dipped into a pleasing brine, lit new cigars, and saw the new city spread out beneath us, in the shape of the word FASTIGIUM. Not the name of the city, they told us, simply a set of letters selected for the elegance of the script. The little girl dead behind the rosebushes came back to life, and the passionate construction continued.

13 Mar 10:53

It’s Friday the 13th once again …

by Fred Clark

Legend has it that on Friday the 13th, just before midnight, one of the greatest Americans who ever lived returns from the grave to chew bubblegum and kick ass …



And Mr. Douglass is all out of bubblegum.

(Tonight’s optional soundtrack.)