Shared posts

02 Mar 19:00

Paintings of Witches Sabbats That Resemble Parties I Have Attended

by Mallory Ortberg


Naked on a leopard-skin chair with a receiving line of adoring women bearing housewarming gifts as you rest your bare feet on a supplicant male. This was most of my 2007.


A flattering head wrap, a handful of men you have magicked into speechless, loyal beasts, a good book, and a lion to sit on: a perfect Saturday night.


Massive cats, melodramatic robes, and yelling: there was a lesbian house party in LA like this every week the summer I was 22.

Read more Paintings of Witches Sabbats That Resemble Parties I Have Attended at The Toast.

02 Mar 20:00

It's not easy seeing green

by Mark Liberman

The whole dress that melted the internet thing has brought back a curious example of semi-demi-science about a Namibian tribe that can't distinguish green and blue, but does differentiate kinds of green that look just the same to us Westerners. This story has been floating around the internets for several years, in places like the BBC and the New York Times and BoingBoing and RadioLab, and it presents an impressive-seeming demonstration of the power of language to shape our perception of the world.  But on closer inspection, the evidence seems to melt away, and the impressive experience seems to be wildly over-interpreted or even completely invented.

I caught the resurrection of this idea in Kevin Loria's article "No one could see the color blue until modern times", Business Insider 2/27/2015, which references a RadioLab episode on Colors that featured those remarkable Namibians. Loria uses them to focus on that always-popular question "do you really see something if you don't have a word for it?"

Here's the relevant segment of Loria's piece:

A researcher named Jules Davidoff traveled to Namibia to investigate this, where he conducted an experiment with the Himba tribe, which speaks a language that has no word for blue or distinction between blue and green.

When shown a circle with 11 green squares and one blue, they could not pick out which one was different from the others — or those who could see a difference took much longer and made more mistakes than would make sense to us, who can clearly spot the blue square.

But the Himba have more words for types of green than we do in English.  When looking at a circle of green squares with only one slightly different shade, they could immediately spot the different one.

Can you?

For most of us, that's harder.

No kidding.

Davidoff says that without a word for a color, without a way of identifying it as different, it is much harder for us to notice what is unique about it — even though our eyes are physically seeing the blocks it in the same way.

The images in Loria's article are apparently screenshots from a segment of a 2011 BBC documentary "Do you see what I see?". The relevant segment is available via Vidipedia and BoreMe, and the section about the Himba of Namibia starts about 3:00 of the BoreMe version.

The striking story about the Himba's color perception has been widely disseminated — aside from the RadioLab episode, there's Mark Frauenfelder, "How language affects color perception", BoingBoing 8/12/2011; Maud Newton, "It's not easy seeing green", NYT 9/4/2012; and Dustin Stevenson, "The last color term", 4/25/2013; and so on.

Most of the articles have the same pair of examples that Loria shows — a circle of 12 green squares, one of which is a slightly different green from the others, and similar circle with 11 green squares and one blue square. Unfortunately, like Loria, most of the others show the blue-and-green display only as a photo of a CRT display taken over the shoulder of a Himba subject doing the task.

Mark Frauenfelder at BoingBoing was interested enough to use an image-processing program to calculate the RGB values of the squares in the varieties-of-green display:


I get slightly different values from Loria's image: [85 168 0] for the oddball green square, and [72 166 8] for various of the other green squares. (I loaded the image into Gimp via "Copy Image" and "Create>>From Clipboard", and used the eyedropper tool to measure RGB values. In fact the values vary slightly for different parts of different squares.) For the "white" background (which is necessary for turning RGB values into CIELUV values) I get [242 242 242]. Frauenfelder doesn't specific the value of the "white" background in his image, but I get [244 244 246] from it.

From the stimulus seen over the shoulder of the Himba subject, I get [23 88 110] for the blue-looking square, and [27 74 54] (plus or minus a bit) for the green-looking ones, with "white" at [97 108 102].  This is very unsatisfactory — but it's what they give us.

So I implemented the algorithms to convert from RGB to CIEXYZ and then to CIELUV (given e.g. here), because euclidean distance in L*u*v* space is said to be roughly equal to psychophysical distance. My implementation is here.

The result for the kinds-of-green display, using my measurements:

green1a = [85 168 0];
green1b = [72 166 8];
white1 = [242 242 242];
norm(rgb2luv(green1a, white1) - rgb2luv(green1b, white1))
ans = 8.4526

And using Frauenfelder's measurements:

green1a = [97 192 4];
green1b = [80 186 15];
white1 = [244 244 246];
norm(rgb2luv(green1a, white1) - rgb2luv(green1b, white1))
ans = 10.606

And from the over-the-shoulder shot (as found in Loria's screenshot):

blue2 = [23 88 110];
green2 = [27 74 54];
white2 = [97 108 102];
norm(rgb2luv(blue2,white2) - rgb2luv(green2,white2))
ans = 46.446

So maybe the CIELUV space is highly ethnocentric. Or maybe the documentary's assertion about the perception of these stimuli is just wrong — the blue and the green are 4-6 times farther apart, in psychophysical terms, than the different kinds of green are.

Or maybe the over-the-shoulder shot somehow exaggerates the amount of blue-green contrast (though I would expect the opposite). So I went looking for a better version of the blue-vs.-green stimulus. One of the pages that I cited (Dustin Stevenson, "The last color term", 4/25/2013) gives a more comparable-looking blue-vs.-green display (i.e. not an over-the-shoulder photo):


The RGB values from this image, with the associated CIELUV distance, are:

blue2 = [0 0 255];
green2 = [58 185 5];
white2 = [242 242 244];
norm(rgb2luv(blue2,white2) - rgb2luv(green2,white2))
ans = 234.54;

But the blue value of [0 0 255] in this display is obviously either an innocent but wildly mistaken invention by Mr. Davidson, or else a complete fraud — this version is even less satisfactory than the over-the-shoulder image. It suggests that the blue-green difference is 20-30 times more salient, in purely psychophysical terms, than the green-green difference is.

So I went looking for a publication with a clear description of the stimuli, as well as a description of the experiment and the results. And I struck out, utterly and completely.

Looking for Himba color in Google Scholar, I find things like Rachel Adelson, "Hues and views: A cross-cultural study reveals how language shapes color perception", American Psychological Association Monitor, 2/2005; Roberson et al., "Color categories: Evidence for the cultural relativity hypothesis", Cognitive Psychology 2005; Goldstein et al., "Knowing color terms enhances recognition: Further evidence from English and Himba", Journal of Experimental Child Psychology 2008 — but none of these describe an experiment anything like the one shown in the 2011 BBC documentary, and discussed in various places since then.

The documentary names Serge Caparos as the experimenter, and we see him and hear him running the experiment and discussing the results. But as far as I can tell, searching for Serge Caparos Himba color again leaves us without any publication that describes the experiment we're looking for.

So either

  1. The experiment was abandoned because it failed, or because serious design flaws turned up in the review process; or
  2. The experiment was abandoned because the author(s) went on to other things, or couldn't write it up for personal reasons; or
  3. The experiment has been published, but my search techniques were unable to find it.

Whatever the explanation, I submit that the BBC documentary (and the subsequent coverage) has given us a sensationalist interpretation of an undocumented experiment, presented as reliable science, without giving us any basis to trust that this interpretation is even close to true.

Unfortunately, this is all too typical of the BBC's approach to the popularization of science — see "It's always silly season in the (BBC) science section" for a inventory of examples as of a decade ago, and "Bible Science stories" for a theory about the source of this pathology.

It would be funny if it weren't so sad, or maybe vice versa.

03 Mar 13:43

Autocomplete strikes again

by Geoffrey K. Pullum

I think I know how an unsuitable but immensely rich desert peninsula got chosen by FIFA (the international governing body for major soccer tournaments) to host the soccer World Cup in 2022.

First, a personal anecdote that triggered my hypothesis about the decision. I recently sent a text message from my smartphone and then carelessly slipped it into my pocket without making sure it had gone to sleep.

I figured out later that, during the process of putting the device back into my pocket, my finger must have slid across the Q, the A, the Space bar, and the Send button. Autocomplete did its blindly uncooperative work without checking with me (there is only one word in English beginning with the two letters I accidentally typed), and the result was (I swear this is true) that the last person I had texted received an additional text from me.

The text said simply "Qatar".

There are people who point out that FIFA is famously corrupt. They note that one whistleblower has claimed that two executive committee members were paid $1.5 million to vote for Qatar (over another finalist, the USA — you may have heard of it), despite Qatar's manifest geographical unsuitability — its broiling temperatures, way over 100°F between May and September, would make playing full-length soccer games by daylight medically inadvisable and perhaps suicidal. (Already there is a plan to shift the World Cup from its customary summertime slot to December, infuriating many managers in the soccer industry who need the autumn for regular fixtures.)

But really, how plausible are these fairytales about buckets of money? My theory is so much simpler. Suppose FIFA president Sepp Blatter had promised a certain journalist that he would leak the name of the winning country to him in a text message, and as he slipped his phone back in his pocket his fingers (and we know this can accidentally happen!) slid across Q – A – Space – Send. The journalist would have immediately published the scoop. And after that Blatter would have been too embarrassed to admit to the error. So (I conjecture) he simply told the rest of the executive committee to shut up about it and treat Qatar as the official winner.

Why posit institutional corruption on a vast scale within FIFA, and multi-million-dollar bribery to gain visibility for a small country in the sporting universe, when there is a plausible hypothesis available that posits no such unsavory things? Autocomplete, already guilty of so many crimes, is the hitherto unsuspected culprit in the 2022 World Cup scandal. Elementary.

03 Mar 18:30

The Cost of Becoming a U.S. Permanent Resident, Part II

by Anonymous
by Anonymous

Green Card
Part one of this series is here.

In our household accounting spreadsheet, P and I almost forgot to make two separate categories for wedding and immigration expenses; right now they kind of seem like the same thing. The city hall wedding, while a pretty fun engagement with the municipal apparatus—was the first step towards staying in America above board. And like the I-693 described in my last post, the marriage certificate is just one of the many parts of the permanent residency application.

On the morning of January 12, we went to the marriage bureau office in Brooklyn and got a marriage license. You need to get a marriage license at least 24 hours before you get married, it’s good for two months (unless you’re on active military duty, in which case you get six months). We got to the office when they opened at 8:30 a.m., confirmed all the information we had filled in online (our names, birthdays, lack of previous marriages, parents’ names and places of birth). We paid $35 and received a fancy piece of paper that allowed us to get married anywhere in New York state. The woman in the fluorescent-lit drop-ceilinged room asked us if we were coming back to get married; we told her that we were going to Manhattan.

We got married the afternoon of Friday, Jan. 30 with the intent to send in our permanent residency application on Monday. Feb. 2; we needed to have the packet assembled before the actual wedding. The copy of Marriage and Fiancé Visas I had taken out of the library was an invaluable guide to figuring out all the specific pieces and walking us through what to type in every box. We had spreadsheets, checklists, and drop boxes to manage it all. I typed my married name over and over again even though it wasn’t my name yet. I went to the passport services office at the Brooklyn Public Library and got two sets of passport photos taken to include with the various applications. We gathered our evidence of marriage: printed out the statements from our shared bank accounts and affidavits from our friends who would be at City Hall swearing that we were really a couple and that they were at our wedding (they signed them after the actual wedding! We were very certain to make sure that happened in the right order). We assembled the documents that proved that my U.S. citizen husband made enough money so that I wouldn’t need government welfare benefits (form I-864EZ, W2s, and tax transcripts).

On the Sunday before the wedding, we spread everything out on the kitchen table (our 103-inch Ikea Norden finally living up to its full potential!), and re-read the instruction documents and updated our checklists. We needed some photocopies of our passports and birth certificates, and P also needed to get passport photos taken. I also needed another set of passport photos—I had overlooked that they were needed for form I-131, the application for "Advance Parole" which is the authorization to leave the country while my permanent residency application is pending.

On Monday, P scanned and copied the documents and got his passport photos taken. I went back to Passport Services at the Brooklyn Public Library to get another set of photos taken. The woman there recognized me and asked, not unkindly, "Why do you need so many photos?" I explained, and she nodded, skeptically. I contented myself knowing that, though possibly crazy, I wasn’t there to get a passport for a noisy squirmy baby like many others in the room.

Monday night I added all the new things in, checking off my checklists and being very pleased at my project management skills. I carefully re-read the application instructions as I did this, to double check the work I had done, smug about having it all covered. We had everything except for our marriage certificate and the signed letters from our friends.

"Do you think I’d be a good bureaucrat?" I asked P.

"You’d be the best," he said.

And then, as I looked over the last pile, I saw something I hadn’t noticed before: form I-765, the Employment Authorization application, also required a set of passport-style photos. Two inches by two inches, on glossy paper, with my name written on the back in pencil. This was the only form I had filled out before—I’ve been authorized to work in the U.S. through the pre-completion OPT program—so I must have glossed over the instructions. Of course it requires passport photos: they issue you a little card with YOUR FACE ON IT!

Tuesday was the Snow Day that Shut Down New York, so I couldn’t go back to the library. Maybe I couldn’t ever go back to the library! Maybe they would think I’m a crazy lady who has a collection of $15 pairs of tiny unsmiling photos of herself. (Like a less charming dude-from-Amelie.)

On Wednesday morning I worked my Park Slope Food Coop shift, and then went to the library and got two more photos taken. I walked in quietly and met the woman’s confused eyes. "I miscounted," I said. "I need another set of photos."

Costs so far

Previous: $250
• Marriage and Fiancé Visas book from the library (renewed twice): Free
• Marriage license: $35
• First 2 set of my passport photos: $30
• Coffee at the Four and Twenty Blackbirds pie shop in the library: $1.50
• Third set of my passport photos: $15
• Another cup of coffee at the Four and Twenty Blackbirds pie shop in the library: $1.50
• Set of P’s passport photos (at FedEx-Kinkos): $16.75

Total this installment: $114.75

Cumulative total: $364.75

The writer lives in New York.

21 Feb 22:42

Even superheroes need recovery time.

by Amanda J Harrington

I have the best of intentions and somehow, here I am, with nothing achieved in real life but a whole generation raised and married off in The Sims.

I would like to say to all busy people (you know who you are) that yes, I do understand this is a waste of time and yes, I do realise there are better things I could be doing and no, I do not have an army of house fairies to make everything fey and beautiful while I sit on the laptop all day.

In my defence (though I resent having to defend it) I've had a very busy week and only today where I didn't have to be doing something. And when I'm busy or have been busy, I need recovery time.

It's at this point that most busy people roll their eyes. They do not understand the idea of recovery time. They have busy lives too and they work full time and they come home and do all their jobs and they don't have time for recovery, they just get on with it (sigh).

And the evenings are enough for them, after the busy day; and the morning before they start it all again, that is enough for them too so that the opposite ends of the day feel, to them, as if they have had time to themselves before and after the busy-ness.

I never did get the hang of that. To me, evenings and mornings are a time of held breath either side of the part of the day when I need to put every last bit of effort into seeming as most people seem and managing those aspects of life which make it possible to live without too much want.

When you have lots of things to do, you are busy, but when you have lots of things to do and also, the whole time, have to be a version of yourself that isn't quite true, that's when the strain tells. After a busier week than normal, I need recovery time to re-establish the me who keeps me sane.

At this point, the busy person, thriving on their moments of hearth and home amongst the many hours of worldly-wares, has no idea what I mean by needing to be someone else. I expect they think I mean like when you act in a professional way at work, to give the right impression. No, not so.

It's like always being in a slight disguise, one which doesn't quite cover who you are but hides it enough so that you pass into the world and do what you need to without giving away everything precious.

That disguise is not easy to wear though and sometimes you don't get it right. Other times you need more layers so that there is nothing visible of the real you, it is all packed away inside the outer shell that everyone can see with their harsh, daylight-bright lamps for eyes.

And blessedly sometimes there is no disguise at all and the real you parades forth, resplendent, happy, loved, knowing that today is one of those rare times you feel comfortable in being abroad as yourself.

Most days when money needs to be made and people like to see me as a real person who can do real work, I at least have to flip the cape over my shoulders and pop on the little mask, the one that lets them see enough to know when I am laughing but not so much that they see when I cry.

Those days lead me back here, home again, resting, secretly revelling in the absolute peace of being just me, right now and right where I am.


My books and writing blog, with free stuff.
Find me on Facebook.and Twitter!

04 Feb 19:00

Jay Smooth’s “Marshawn Lynch and the Theater of Disobedience”

by Mallory Ortberg

I don't even watch football, and I still love this (also, I bet lots of you do watch football and will therefore love it all the more).

Read more Jay Smooth’s “Marshawn Lynch and the Theater of Disobedience” at The Toast.

27 Feb 23:43

Bullies have always been intersectional, even before that was a word

by Fred Clark

William Lindsey recently quoted and discussed this comment from Owen Jones:

Why should lesbians, gays and bisexuals stand together with trans people? “Because we get beaten up by the same people!”

Yes. They’re not just talking about the calculated self-interest of “the enemy of my enemy is my friend.” They’re talking about solidarity. Or, to use a newer word that aims to shake up our complacent familiarity with that idea, they’re talking about “intersectionality.”

You’ve probably seen that word a lot this week following Patricia Arquette’s triumph and pratfall at the Academy Awards. Arquette made a passionate plea for the full equality of women, but then managed somehow to bungle the point by seeming to suggest that the rights of women should be a greater priority than the rights of other groups who have also been oppressed and bullied and preyed upon. She seemed to embrace an either/or, zero-sum framework that prevented her from seeing all of those struggles for equality as interconnected.

In contrast to that, Jones rightly points out the reason that intersectionality is not just a nice idea, but a necessary one: We have to be intersectional because the bullies are. They always have been. Bullies and oppressors and Pharaohs have never allowed themselves to be held back by an either/or, zero-sum framework. But they’ve always been very good at exploiting that idea to pit their various victims against one another.

Jeet Heer discusses this at The New Republic in “How to Make It in Conservative America (If You Aren’t White)“:

Anti-black racism, I’ve often thought, is one of the more unwholesome manifestations of assimilation. If blacks are near the bottom of the perceived racial hierarchy across North America, some enterprising immigrants find it useful to step on blacks as a way of climbing higher.

I don’t want to wade into the specific dynamics of the particular situations Lindsey and Jones or Heer discuss. I just want to highlight both of them as examples of the need for solidarity and intersectionality, and the harm that is allowed to occur in their absence.

I’ve used the schoolyard term “bullies” rather than something grander, like “oppressors,” because those are, if not identical, at least overlapping categories. And because I think the image of schoolyard bullies presents us with the intersectionality of oppressors in its clearest form. Those bullies might briefly turn from picking on the South Asian kid to go pick on the black kid, but as Jones said, all of those groups “get beaten up by the same people.” And those schoolyard bullies usually can’t even be bothered to distinguish between their various victims — they’ll apply the same vocabulary of slurs and epithets regardless of whether the kids they’re beating up are black or Indian or gay or trans.

I wrote about this a while ago when discussing the powerful video by the band Hidden Camera for their song “Gay Goth Scene“:

Oppressors aren’t interested in making distinctions between goths and gays and gay goths. Any illusion they create of a hierarchy of their targets is only that, an illusion.

It’s not possible to stand with only some people against the bullies, or — to use that theological language again — to share in God’s preferential option for only some of the oppressed. Any attempt to do that means accepting the bully’s bargain, so vividly portrayed in this video: Either join them in casting stones, or become a target of those stones yourself.

27 Feb 14:00

What Do Women (Seeking Men) Want?

by Lisa Wade, PhD

Flashback Friday.

Dating site OKCupid did an analysis of 500,000 inquiry messages to determine what keywords correlate most strongly with getting a reply.  It has some great lessons about dating and some counter-stereotypical news about what heterosexual women want from men.

This first graph shows that mentioning someone’s level of attractiveness decreased the likelihood of getting a response (for both men and women), though men were more likely to mention looks.  But general compliments about one’s profile increased the likelihood of getting a response (the middle line is the average number of responses, the green bars signify an increase in the number of responses, and the red bars a decrease):


A good lesson in operationalization: “pretty” is used in two ways in our culture, so when they made sure to differentiate between pretty (meaning “sort of”) and pretty (meaning “attractive”), you can see clearly the way that commenting on looks decreases the recipients’ interest:

So, in contrast to stereotypes, many women cannot be flattered into a date (though the figure above includes men and women, I’m assuming most people being called “pretty” are female).

Further, the site found that when men sent messages, female recipients preferred humility to bold self-confidence.  The words below all increased the chances of a woman responding to a man’s inquiry:

Instead of bravado and flattery, women appear to actually like men who take an interest in them.  They respond positively to phrases that indicate that a guy actually read their profile and is interested in the content of their person:

The lesson: Treat a woman (on the OK Cupid dating site) like a human being and she will respond positively.

And to answer the question, “What do women want?”  As my dear friend David Landsberg would say: “Everything!

This post originally appeared in 2009.

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

26 Feb 14:19

Jay Smooth on the Idea of the “Good Person”

by Lisa Wade, PhD

“First, let me say that I’m tired of all of this talk about ‘snubs,'” said an anonymous member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. And continued:

And as far as the accusations about the Academy being racist? Yes, most members are white males, but they are not the cast of Deliverance — they had to get into the Academy to begin with, so they’re not cretinous, snaggletoothed hillbillies.

In the video below, Jay Smooth takes on the idea that only “hillbillies” are racist and asks about the idea of the “good person” and what it actually takes to be one.

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

24 Feb 14:36

"Imitation Game" codebreakers also played the palindrome game

by Ben Zimmer

Doc, note: I dissent. A fast never prevents a fatness. I diet on cod.

Is this the best palindrome ever created in English? Many think so. (I agree.) But did you know that it was made by the British mathematician Peter Hilton, while working alongside Alan Turing as an "Enigma" codebreaker during World War II? If you've seen The Imitation Game, you might remember Matthew Beard's portrayal of young Hilton. (The film embellishes his true story, giving him a brother serving on a Royal Navy ship targeted by the Germans.)

Even more amazingly, "Doc, note I dissent…" was actually the result of a palindrome competition held by the codebreakers at Bletchley Park (who, as the movie shows, were quite good at UK-style cryptic crosswords, too). The competition was, like the rest of the goings-on at Bletchley Park, shrouded in secrecy until relatively recently. Now for the first time, Mark Saltveit, editor of The Palindromist Magazine, tells the full story of the codebreakers' palindrome game. Read all about on here.

25 Feb 11:31


by Mo
26 Feb 01:15

Republicans saying Republican things (2.25)

by Fred Clark

• “I support establishing Christianity as the national religion.” — 57 percent of Republicans, according to a recent survey by Public Policy Polling. Another 13 percent were “not sure” whether or not repealing the First Amendment was a good idea.

• “The three biggest problems that have to be solved are welfare, the debt and our ridiculous immigration system where we’re becoming the welfare magnet for the western hemisphere.” — Republican Rep. Glenn Grothman of Wisconsin.

Alabama state Chief Justice Roy Moore is anti-LGBT, but also a bit confused about what exactly the B and T parts of that mean: “When two bisexuals or two transgendered marry, how large is that family? Can they marry two persons, one of the same sex and one of the opposite sex? Then, you’ve got a family of four or how many?”

GOP• “Can this same procedure then be done in a pregnancy? Swallowing a camera and helping the doctor determine what the situation is?” That’s Idaho state Rep. Vito Barbieri during a debate on new abortion restrictions he supports (because controlling women’s bodies apparently doesn’t require understanding them). Rep. Barbieri directed the question to Dr. Julie Madsen, who patiently explained that a pill swallowed by a woman would not end up in her vagina.

Poor Barbieri is probably now rethinking how it is that those little blue pills he swallows might work.

• “If you have cancer, which I believe is a fungus, and we can put a pic line into your body and we’re flushing, let’s say, salt water, sodium cardonate [sic], through that line, and flushing out the fungus. … These are some procedures that are not FDA-approved in America that are very inexpensive, cost-effective.” — Republican Nevada Assemblywoman Michele Fiore. (Note: Cancer is actually not a “fungus” that can be flushed out with salt water. Just FYI.)

• “If I want to let my child be with God, why is that wrong?” — Idaho state Rep. Christy Perry, speaking in opposition to a proposed law to prevent parents from denying their children medical care and opting instead for “faith healing.”

• “I do not believe in evolution.” — 49 percent of Republicans, according to the same PPP poll. Again, 13 percent were also “not sure.”

• “Each illegal alien will get $24,000 in compensation,” said Rep. Paul Gosar, R-Arizona. The tough part of fact-checking this story wasn’t demonstrating that Gosar’s claim was false, but trying to figure out what the heck he might even be talking about.

• “Mistakes were made.” — Former Pres. George H.W. Bush, former Pres. George W. Bush, and now former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush.

• “A strategically placed nuclear weapon would save the lives of our soldiers and quickly turn things around.” — Republican Arkansas state Sen. Jason Rapert, calling for the U.S. to nuke ISIS.

• “The Black Caucus … are really against war because they want all of that money to go to food stamps for people here,” said retired Republican Rep. Ron Paul. Whenever he says stuff like that, some poor staffer in the office of his son, Sen. Rand Paul, has to come up with some way of spinning it where it sounds less enthusiastically racist.

• “I come from a town where all the blacks are getting food stamps and what I call ‘welfare crazy checks.’ They don’t work.” — Mississippi state Rep. Gene Alday, who says his remarks were taken out of context, but was unable to provide any context, real or imagined, that might not make them sound stupid and awful. Alday’s comments, by the way, were in opposition to funding for education.

• “Obviously, rape is awful,” said West Virginia Del. Brian Kurcaba who, alas, was not done talking. “What is beautiful is the child that could come from this.”




26 Feb 17:00

Fancy Lady Phrases I Want To Be Able To Seriously Say Before I Die

by Jazmine Hughes
by Jazmine Hughes


"My home… well, one of my homes…"

"Draw up the papers!"

"Well, my accountant says…"

"Sorry, I was in a committee meeting…"

"Well, my lawyer says…"

"This was one of the toughest decisions we had to make in this competition…"

"I took the company car."

"Well, my psychic says…"

"My husband…well, one of my husbands…"

"You'll never work in this town again!"

"Well, my personalized GOOP newsletter says…"

"My gigayacht… well, one of my gigayachts…"

"And can I have guacamole on my burrito? It's ok if it's extra."

26 Feb 19:15

Songs From A Steely Dan Album Where No One Cheats At Cards

by Mallory Ortberg

"The Jazzman Had Nothing To Say"

"A Relatively Subdued Horn Line"

"No One Was Out For A Walk On Greene Street"

"A Quiet Game Of Cards"

"Two Men Go Driving With A Specific Destination In Mind And Arrive There Promptly"

Read more Songs From A Steely Dan Album Where No One Cheats At Cards at The Toast.

26 Feb 20:02

Art History Link Roundup

by Mallory Ortberg

Does it count as a link roundup, exactly, if all the links come from the same website? Let us be gentle with ourselves and say that it does.

Read more Art History Link Roundup at The Toast.

26 Feb 21:59

Good news for your customers is good news for your business

by Fred Clark

Walmart recently announced it will be raising its wages at 1,434 of its stores — boosting the incomes of nearly 500,000 of its employees. The parent company of T.J. Maxx, Marshalls and HomeGoods followed by announcing a wage increase for about 200,000 workers in their stores.

I work for another big retailer — one with about 2,000 stores of its own here in the U.S. And for that company, this is fantastic news. About 700,000 of our customers just got a raise! They’ve now got more money to spend in our stores.

There’s no way that fact is not Very Good News for the Big Box chain I work for.

Let’s call him Bob. Bob works at a HomeGoods store and he’s making nine bucks an hour. By the end of the year, he’ll be making $10 an hour. That’s not a huge raise, and $10 an hour still isn’t really even a living wage. Bob isn’t suddenly living the American Dream. But still, at the end of the week, he’ll be taking home an extra $32 bucks or so. He’ll have an additional $64 in every paycheck, and an additional $128 in his monthly budget.

i60ibBob won’t be spending all of that, or even most of that, in our Big Box store. But he’ll be spending some of it there. He’ll finally be able to get around to some of the things he’s been putting off — the home improvements he’s long wished he could make, the maintenance he’s too-long deferred around the house or the apartment. The next time he comes into the Big Box it won’t just be to pick up another roll of duct tape. He’ll have a project.

The up-selling mantra in our company is “sell the project.” That’s a bit less sleazy than most forms of up-selling, because the aim is to send customers home with everything they need to get done what they’re trying to do. They’ll be happier if they don’t have to make a second or a third trip back to the store before they can finish the job. So if somebody’s buying paint, make sure they’ve got brushes and rollers and pans and masking tape and dropcloths. If somebody’s buying a new bathroom mirror, make sure they’ve got the hardware to hang it and maybe a stud-finder and tape measure. That means more sales, yes, but it’s also pretty good customer service.

But you can’t “sell the project” to customers who make $9 an hour working retail. Guys like Bob can’t afford to buy the project. For customers like that, the trick becomes figuring out the bare minimum they can use to scrape by or to make do. That means you can sell them duct tape and Vimes’ boots,* but you can never sell them the cartful of stuff they’ll need for a quality, satisfying home-maintenance or home-improvement project.

An extra $128 a month won’t mean that Bob can run wild, remodeling his kitchen with top-of-the-line appliances, oak cabinets and granite countertops. But you can still do a lot with $100. Instead of coming in to buy another roll of the cheapest plumber’s tape, Bob might come in to get a decent new bathroom faucet, and maybe even a decent wrench to install it.

Bob got a raise. Bob can now spend more money in our stores. That’s Very Good News for our company.

It’s Very Good News for a lot of companies. Bob has been making $9 and hour, so he has been forced to learn the discipline of thrift. Thrift borne of necessity involves the making of conscious decisions dozens of times a day, every day. Bob is acutely aware of every one of those decisions — every deferral and denial he has been constrained to make. And he will be just as acutely aware of what the difference between $9/hour and $10/hour means for every one of those decisions.

That additional income — that new influx of $64 a paycheck, or $128 a month, or $192 dollars in those glorious three-paycheck months — is going to be spent. Bob has been denying himself minor luxuries and deferring minor necessities — probably even some major necessities — and he won’t need to stop and think about what he’s going to do with this new income. He already knows. He’s been thinking about this, constantly, for years.

Bob is our customer, so good news for Bob means good news for us. “Customers first,” like our CEO always says.

But this isn’t how our CEO will react to this happy news for Bob and for 700,000 more of our customers. None of the above — absolutely none of it — will occur to him at all. Because our CEO, like most CEOs, has lost the ability to think of our customers as people with jobs and budgets. So he won’t be thinking, “Woohoo! 700,000 of our customers just got a raise!” He’ll be thinking, “Ohnoes! Wage increases in the retail sector could lead to higher labor costs — I must oppose this!

And if the fear of the possibility of the potential of the shadow of a slight increase in labor costs requires our CEO to fight to screw over 700,000 or 7 million or 70 million of our customers, then he will enthusiastically screw over our customers.

This is why the lobbyists of the Chamber of Commerce and the National Retail Federation always fight against any increase in the minimum wage. That screws over their customers — which is stupid and self-destructive and Very Bad Business, but this is how CEOs and Chambers of Commerce think. Or how they fail to think.

We just went through an iteration of this whole process involving the Affordable Care Act. The officers, executives and local managers of the Big Box had a great deal to say about Obamacare. They predicted all manner of calamity and sky-falling — none of which came to pass. But not one of them ever, even for a second, entertained the possibility that reducing health insurance costs for tens of millions of our customers might be good news for our company.

“Customers first?” Our customers didn’t enter their thinking at all. Ever. Never once, apparently, did any of our managers or district managers or corporate officers ever entertain the possibility that, for example, people financially constrained because they were denied health insurance due to diabetes cannot afford to repaint the living room or to spruce up the front walkway with those spiffy paving stones.

But it’s not just the managers and executives at the Big Box who think this way. The managers and executives of most companies think this way. They employ armies of accountants to strangle every last cost-cutting penny from their labor expenses, and then hire a second army of lobbyists to fight for newer, more extreme ways of cutting those costs. And that is the only lens they have for considering any public policy.

The health and security and well-being of their customers never appears anywhere in their policy agenda, or in their personnel agenda.

P.S.: “But wait,” someone might say, “I have an overly simplistic economic ideology gleaned from dimly remembered textbook abstractions and a denial of global realities, so isn’t it fair to worry that these raises from Walmart and T.J. Maxx could produce inflationary pressure?”

No. No it’s not. There’s a simple test for whether or not any given economy faces such inflationary pressure. Anyone who thinks that describes the context today in the U.S. is invited to attempt that test to see for themselves.

- – - – - – - – - – - -

* From Terry Pratchett’s Men at Arms: The Play (which I’ve never read, except for this bit, which well-read commenters here have posted so many times over the years that it’s become a favorite passage of mine):

The reason that the rich were so rich, Vimes reasoned, was because they managed to spend less money.

Take boots, for example. He earned thirty-eight dollars a month plus allowances. A really good pair of leather boots cost fifty dollars. But an affordable pair of boots, which were sort of OK for a season or two and then leaked like hell when the cardboard gave out, cost about ten dollars. Those were the kind of boots Vimes always bought, and wore until the soles were so thin that he could tell where he was in Ankh-Morpork on a foggy night by the feel of the cobbles.

But the thing was that good boots lasted for years and years. A man who could afford fifty dollars had a pair of boots that’d still be keeping his feet dry in ten years’ time, while the poor man who could only afford cheap boots would have spent a hundred dollars on boots in the same time and would still have wet feet.

This was the Captain Samuel Vimes ‘Boots’ theory of socioeconomic unfairness.

27 Feb 00:04

Of pocket lint and ‘political correctness’

by Fred Clark

My phone wasn’t charging properly and it was gradually getting worse. At first I thought it was the cheapo charging cord I was using, but then I started to think it was a problem with the phone itself.

For a while, I could recharge the phone by rigging a rubber band that kept the cord snugly docked into the phone, but even that stopped working and it got to the point where the phone only charged if I was physically holding it — actively shoving the cord into its little dock, which was not an optimal arrangement. So the other day I finally bit the bullet and took the phone and went to the Verizon store in the hopes of getting it fixed or rebuilt or replaced, whichever turned out to be necessary.

Screen shot 2015-02-26 at 6.53.21 PMThis was worrisome. I was fretting about warranties and upgrade schedules and what all of this might wind up costing. I was mentally juggling our various bills and expenses and debts, trying to estimate which ones I could maybe cut back on or delay in order to get my phone back in working order. So I was pretty stressed about the situation when I walked up to the counter at the Verizon store.

But then Brad, the Verizon guy, pulled out a paper clip and squinted into the little charging dock on my phone. He probed around in there for a second with the end of the paper clip and pulled out a BB-sized ball of pocket lint. And then another.

“That ought to do it,” he said, plugging my phone into a charger behind the counter.

Boop,” said the phone, happily charging itself like the day it came out of the box.

I was equal parts relieved and mortified. I was relieved because this wasn’t going to cost me anything — no money, no time. The problem had been quickly and easily solved. For free.

But I was also embarrassed because I had allowed myself to be inconvenienced and bothered and worried for weeks over nothing more than pocket lint. What I had feared was some potentially large problem turned out to be something easily resolved with a paper clip. Seeing how simple and obvious the solution was made me feel kind of stupid because I had been kind of stupid.

That has happened before. And it will happen again.

There are two morals to this story.

First, of course, is that the charging dock on a cellphone can get clogged with pocket lint. If yours starts to get a bit unreliable, shine a flashlight in there and poke around a bit — gently — with a toothpick or the end of a paper clip. That should take care of that for you. Good to know.

Click here to view the embedded video.

The second lesson here is just as practical, but it has wider implications. The second lesson here is that briefly feeling kind of stupid can be a Good Thing. It means there’s a solution that you hadn’t seen before — maybe even a quick, easy, obvious and no-cost solution. And briefly feeling a bit stupid — owning up to the fact that there was something simple you had overlooked or failed to think of — is a small price to pay for the relief that comes from no longer having to worry about problems that turn out to be easily solved.

There’s a perverse impulse to get defensive when confronted with anything that might make us feel embarrassed or force us to admit that we maybe did something foolish or unthinking. And that defensiveness can lead us to resent or to reject the simple advice that can free us from what may turn out to be wholly avoidable and easily resolvable problems.

It was kind of stupid of me to jump to the conclusion that my phone was broken in some expensive way. But it would have been far more stupid to stubbornly cling to that conclusion, refusing to believe that Brad knew more than I did and refusing to let him help me by not just solving my problem but showing me how to avoid it in the future.

Many of us want to avoid ever feeling stupid, ever admitting there was something obvious we overlooked, or admitting that others know things we don’t know. But such minor embarrassments are an unavoidable part of what it means to be human. Sometimes our oversights inconvenience ourselves and burden us with silly stress. Sometimes those oversights burden others with harms and offenses that are no less harmful or offensive for being unintentional.

I suppose if I were perfect then I would never need to worry about fessing up to having done something stupid, having overlooked something obvious, having not known everything that somebody else might have known. But I’m not perfect. And trying to convince myself or others that I am wouldn’t actually spare me from occasional stupidities, oversights and offenses. It would only prevent me from correcting them.

Every few months we see an Internet flurry prompted by someone — Jonathan Chait, Freddie DeBoer — complaining about the “political correctness” of their online critics. These complaints are an expression of the pretense of perfection. They’re based on the idea that any of us would somehow be capable of writing or speaking in public for years without, somewhere along the way, saying something dumb or thoughtless or hurtful. They’re embarrassed by their embarrassment, and so they lash back at the critics who called them out in the hopes that this will allow them to maintain the illusion of unwavering perfection and omniscience.

That doesn’t work. Whining about supposed “political correctness” is just a way of refusing to listen and refusing to learn. It’s a way of turning some minor stupidity into a major stupidity, doubling down.

Brad the Verizon Guy was very kind. He was polite and generously reassuring, and that made my embarrassment easier to overcome. But really it shouldn’t matter. My embarrassment wasn’t the actual problem. I didn’t go to the Verizon store to have my feelings tended, I went there to get my phone fixed. And he showed me how to fix it.

That’s all that matters. If he had been a total jerk — if he had announced in a loud voice, “Hey, everybody, check out this moron. He thinks his phone is broken but he didn’t even bother to check for lint in charging dock!” — that still wouldn’t change the fundamental fact that he was showing me how to solve my problem.

And when someone tells you how to solve your problem, it would be stupid not to listen.


27 Feb 01:54


24 Feb 20:00

Code Words For Lesbianism In Classic Films

by Mallory Ortberg

If you hear any of the following words or phrases used to describe a female character in a movie made before 1970, odds are good that they're trying to tell you about a lesbian, a real shadows girl, someone who prefers the hour just after dusk, a gal with her own library card.







Fond of her health



Read more Code Words For Lesbianism In Classic Films at The Toast.

25 Feb 19:10

The Ideal Woman

by Mallory Ortberg

I'm usually not one to complain about modern gender roles, but I've come to realize that women are not pulling our weight as a gender in the same way that we used to. It pains me to admit it, but there it is. All of the following paintings are named "Portrait of a Woman" (or a lady, or a young woman, or some minor variation); they are regular paintings of regular ladies doing regular things, and they put each and every one of us to shame.

regular woman

Here's "Portrait of a Woman," by Marcus Gheeraerts the Younger. The sight of a woman bedecked in a shapeless silver gown, in turquoise slippers and a beehive crown who had mastered and tamed a noble beast of the hunt was once so commonplace it needed no additional title. Portrait of a Woman with Deer? No. People will instinctively understand that deer serve her, because she is a woman.

regular woman 16

"Mother, how will I know when I am a woman?"

"You will wear a ruby the size of a bird, and clutch a baby unicorn with sad eyes to your breast. That is how you will know."

Read more The Ideal Woman at The Toast.

23 Feb 14:00

Our Favorite Oscar Looks

by Anna Fitzpatrick
by Anna Fitzpatrick

Oscar looks after the jump.
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23 Feb 16:00

I Dedicate This Novel to the Man Who Convinced Me to Stop Writing Silly Genre Fiction and Crank out a Thinly Veiled Memoir

by Janet Manley

This novel is for John, without whom I would still be writing fantastical accounts of beasts, magick, and women allowed to smoke in public.

This novel is for Friederich, who had access to a reputable publisher for male writers and, with the pomp of his cravat, saved my precious manuscript from becoming a worthless serial, installing it to proper jacketed status with a mostly self-explanatory title.

To dear Roderick: you knew that vampiric fiction would never sell.

To Gideon, who convinced me that the class system made for a better villain than a one-legged highway bandit in this novel about the human condition.

For Gilbert, who always knew that I was better than the tight plotting required of a successful Gothic novel, and could instead be persuaded to fictionalize my life into an easily digestible tome for women readers.

For Fred: I followed your advice to write what I know, and that turned out to be mostly just stuff about sitting in the parlour, waiting for something to happen.

Read more I Dedicate This Novel to the Man Who Convinced Me to Stop Writing Silly Genre Fiction and Crank out a Thinly Veiled Memoir at The Toast.

21 Feb 12:26


when do babys go to college ?

when they are smart

18 Feb 17:43

New Horizons spots Nix and Hydra circling Pluto and Charon

A series of images just sent to Earth from New Horizons clearly shows Pluto's moons Nix and Hydra orbiting the Pluto-Charon binary.
19 Feb 00:38

What if it were all true?

by Fred Clark

Here’s my idea for a TV show. It would be an hour-long drama with elements of the supernatural and paranormal, featuring monster-of-the-week episodes mixed in with season-long Big Bad threads and longer story arcs involving the underlying mythology. Your basic X-Files/Buffy/Warehouse 13/Supernatural kind of deal with maybe a little Sleepy Hollow tossed in for good measure.

But it wouldn’t need to be as plausible or realistic as any of those. It couldn’t be.

I’m not the only one who likes that kind of show, which is why TV keeps trying to reinvent new variations of it for us. But all of those previous examples were constrained by the imagination of their writers. No matter how gloriously creative and inventive those folks might have been, none of them was endlessly or infinitely creative.

And that’s what I think my new show could be: endlessly and infinitely creative. Viewers would be scrambling to keep pace with all the delirious plot twists and turns because the writers themselves would be scrambling to keep pace.

Those writers wouldn’t be sitting down to invent stories or to compose plotlines. They’d just be watching television, listening to the radio, and reading the Web.

Here’s the premise: It’s all true. Everything Pat Robertson says is true. Everything Michele Bachmann or Glenn Beck or Todd Starnes or Sandy Rios or Alex Jones says is true. Everything that’s posted on Charismanews is true. All of it. All the writers need to do is conform the fictional reality of the show to the wild reality described every day by Robertson, et. al.

So, for example, here is Pat Robertson calmly explaining for his 700 Club viewers how covens of witches use ultrasound photos posted on Facebook to put curses on Christian children:

Click here to view the embedded video.

“There are demons and there are evil people in the world,” Robertson says, “and you post a picture like that and some cultist gets hold of it or a coven and they begin muttering curses against an unborn child.”

So, OK, in this episode a coven of demon-worshipping cultists is surfing Facebook, “muttering curses against” innocent children. The curses are efficacious, because that’s our premise: It’s all real. It’s all true.

But what, specifically, do these curses do? Frustratingly, Robertson doesn’t tell us. Are they deadly curses? Or do they maybe do something that Robertson would consider even worse — like turn all these babies gay, or Democratic, or (shudder) both?

The show’s writers don’t have to speculate — they can just turn to some other convenient source, like say,, and fill in the blanks of Robertson’s plot with whatever they find there. Whatever they find there, remember, should be treated as if it were all true.

Also for this TV show, everything in every Jack Chick tract is true. All of it.

Also for this TV show, everything in every Jack Chick tract is true. All of it.

The hard part, of course, would be trying to make it all fit together. It can’t. It won’t. That Charismanews front page, for example, contains several articles that tell us we are living in the final generation in the Last Days. If that’s true, then it really doesn’t matter much if a coven is placing Internet curses on the next generation. Browse around a bit on that site and you’ll find plenty of “prophetic” articles that disagree and contradict each other in numerous ways. Or look through just the recent history of Pat Robertson’s kookier claims and predictions and you’ll soon realize that if you treat some of what he says as true, then it seems impossible to do the same for others things he said just a short time later. Pat is large, he contains multitudes.

Reconciling all those contradictions won’t be easy, but again the genius of this show is that the writers won’t be trying to do all this alone. They’ll be encouraged to reach out for help to people like Pat Robertson or Jennifer LeClaire (the delightfully inventive news editor and demon-sex reporter for Charismanews). Ask them about any apparent contradictions, and then incorporate whatever they suggest into the plot because, again, it’s all true.

Questions remain. How are these covens of Facebook-cursing demon-worshipers connected to the conspiracy sending ebola-infected juvenile ISIS soldiers across the border into Texas? Did the secret Muslim atheists put the fluoride in our water, or was that part of Agenda 21? Is the pope working for the Rothschilds or are the Rothschilds working for the pope?

That’s the great thing about episodic TV — when there’s no end to the questions, there’s no end to the episodes.

19 Feb 08:46

Oliver Sacks: “now I am face to face with dying”

by vaughanbell

In a moving and defiant article for the The New York Times, neurologist Oliver Sacks has announced he has terminal cancer.

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

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

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

The whole piece is a reflection on life, death and living and, fittingly, is a joy to read.

Keep on keepin’ on Dr Sacks.

We look forward to hearing about your final adventures.

Link to ‘My Own Life: Oliver Sacks on Learning He Has Terminal Cancer’.

19 Feb 16:00

Nicolas Cage on Netflix: A Survey of Five Bad Movies

by Thomas Lawrence

Thomas Lawrence's previous work for The Toast can be found here.

Recently I took it upon myself to do a mini-Nic Cage fest via Netflix for reasons that remain unexplained. These are my highly scientific findings.

The Five Movies:

Seeking Justice
The Frozen Ground

Plot Descriptions:

Cage protects his family from thieves.
Cage gets involved in a secret group that kills “bad people.”
Cage is a retired thief who steals to get his daughter back.
Cage is a cop who hunts down a serial killer.
Cage is a retired mobster who hunts down the men who killed his daughter.


Plot Twists:

The family is broke!
Secret group is evil!
His angry ex-buddy kidnapped his daughter!
The Quiet Family Man is a serial killer!
His daughter’s death was an accident!

Read more Nicolas Cage on Netflix: A Survey of Five Bad Movies at The Toast.

01 Feb 13:51

#6 Dinah the Aspie Dinosaur and the Doctor Appointment

by Dinah

Dinah the Aspie Dinosaur and the Doctor Appointment

18 Feb 15:30

This Man Took a Photo of his Wife the Same Day Every Year for a Decade. You Won't Believe the Results.

by Anna Fitzpatrick
by Anna Fitzpatrick











He was a terrible photographer.

16 Feb 16:00

Mystery Mars plume baffles scientists

Plumes seen reaching high above the surface of Mars are causing a stir among scientists studying the atmosphere on the Red Planet.