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27 Feb 12:18

AUDIO: US ambassador tries pidgin English

US ambassador to Nigeria James F Entwistle takes a radio presenter by surprise in Lagos by answering a question during a live broadcast in Nigerian pidgin English.
21 Feb 23:54

Had to say goodbye to this beauty too soon.  1900s Opal and...

Had to say goodbye to this beauty too soon. 

1900s Opal and Demantoid Garnet Ring 

13 Feb 22:54

SUSANvia headlikeanorange


via headlikeanorange

13 Feb 21:56

arcaneimages: Texas Sportscaster Gives Best Response to Michael...

Russian Sledges

via firehose


Texas Sportscaster Gives Best Response to Michael Sam’s Coming Out Ever

13 Feb 21:47

Whom loves ya?

by Geoffrey K. Pullum
Russian Sledges

via multitask suicide

I would rather misuse "who" where I should use "whom" rather than the opposite

I would not date these people

also, evidence that women do not prefer "outlaw bikers"

What a fool I've been, thinking all the time that the important stuff was about evidence and structure and the search for genuine syntactic principles — trying to find out through study of competent speakers' usage what are the actual principles that define (say) marking of accusative case on pronouns in Standard English. God, I've been wasting my life.

Wired magazine has just published a large-scale statistical study of what correlates with numbers of responses to online dating ads (and let me say here that I am deeply grateful to Charles Hallinan for pointing it out to me). Much of the survey relates to the words used in the ad. For example, mentioning yoga or surfing in your ad has a positive influence on the number of contacts that will result. Some of the discoveries are curious: for men, it is much better to refer to a woman using the word "woman", but a woman's ad will do better if she refers to herself as a "girl". And (the point that has turned my life around, made on the infographic here), it turns out that men who use "whom" get 31% more contacts from opposite-sex respondents.

This changes everything! It's not just about the inflectional marking of relative and interrogative pronouns any more, people; it's about getting more sex!

I'm talking just to the men from this point on. Here's the scoop, guys. In case you should want to get everything right, here is a synopsis of the relevant linguistic principles:

  • The accusative form whom should never be used as the subject of a finite clause; that is the role reserved for the nominative who.
  • Whom should always be used when a preposition immediately precedes it (as in the person to whom it was sent), and except in very informal style the same is true when a verb immediately precedes it (You saw whom?).
  • Where a relative clause modifying a noun of human gender is formed with the gap in a non-subject position, formal style requires whom as the relative pronoun: thus the person whom they hired ___, or the person whom I told you about ___.
  • Formal style calls for whom as the human-gender interrogative word where it has non-subject function (thus Whom did they hire ___?), though this is rare in conversation and could sound a bit pompous.
  • In cases where a relative or interrogative human-class pronoun is associated with subject function in a subordinate clause that is not the main clause in which it is preposed, usage is divided, but many prescriptive authorities (ignoring quite a significant body of educated usage) regard whom as incorrect; they would recommend the person who the police thought ___ was responsible rather than the person whom the police thought ___ was responsible, as the relative pronoun is understood as the subject of was responsible (even though it is not the subject of the whole relative clause, the police thought ___ was responsible). The preference is stronger for interrogatives: Whom did the police think ___ was responsible? would be disrecommended by most usage authorities.

But listen, guys, here's the point: none of this complicated crap makes the slightest bit of difference! Wired didn't check the syntactic contexts, they just counted word-form tokens!

It simply doesn't matter whether you use whom correctly! In general, women won't know any more about syntactic contexts for rare and marginal inflectional forms than men do. Sure, they are interested in seeking out intelligent men to have sex with: the idea of breeding with brainy guys who will think of good ways to protect the offspring and bring home food (yadda yadda yadda) is built into them by natural selection. And the obvious inference from the fact Wired has uncovered is that, influenced by the educational stress on the importance of that pesky final accusative-marking -m, women use occurrence of whom as a surrogate for evidence of intelligence.

But they won't be checking for subject function in relative clauses! They will just assume that wherever they see whom they are looking at text composed by someone intelligent!

Take the last bullet point in the set of principles above: that most of the stuffy old grammar pedants will treat Whom did the police think ___ was responsible? as a mistake (an error of the type known to linguists as a hypercorrection). The fact is that such uses of whom occur frequently. To take a random example (found by doing a Google search on the randomly chosen sequence "whom did they think was"), note Whom did they think was underwriting the signage? in a political piece by Ari L. Noonan in a Culver City online newspaper. You can find hundreds of thousands of other cases the same way. The rules given above are so little known that nobody checks this stuff, even in local newspaper offices.

To laugh at Ari Noonan for making a grammatical error would be to miss the point: what's important is that if you and he are both using online dating services, he will get more sex than you will, unless you up the frequency of whom in your writing.

So listen, what I'm saying is screw the rules: evolution cares only about whether you get laid. And (admit it) so do you. I certainly do. I've been throwing my life away trying to catalog the entire set of grammatical principles that characterize Standard English; but those days are gone. My eyes have been opened to what's really important: attracting women through writing woman-pleasing prose with plenty of whoms in it.

I recommend using the word wherever it looks as if it might make sense to somebody. Write an ad saying you are looking for "someone whom will love you". Only the few eggheads who actually slog through the boring shit in the above bullet points, or similar material, actually know what the rules say; and only dozy old twits who wear bow ties actually care. But every red-blooded straight guy knows what it means to get 31% more chicks answering a romance ad.

In the past, back when I was an idiot, I suggested that whom was dying out (see this Language Log post, for example). I was wrong. It is not going to die out now we know it is a babe magnet, and you can get more sex simply by using more whoms.

13 Feb 21:44

Union Wine Company Introduces Their Underwood Pinot Gris and Pinot Noir In an Aluminum Can

by Lori Dorn
Russian Sledges

via firehose

Underwood Pinot Gris & Pinot Nois

Good beer comes in bottles, so why shouldn’t good wine come in a can? The Union Wine Company based in Tualatin, Oregon has answered that question by producing their highly praised Underwood Pinot Gris and Pinot Noir in a convenient 12 ounce aluminum can.

Pre-orders are currently being taken for delivery in Spring 2014.

Producing Underwood Wine in a Can

Underwood Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris

Underwood Bottles and Cans

images via Union Wine Company

via Design Milk

13 Feb 21:43

Goldfinch ascending

by whyevolutionistrue

Okay, do I really need to say that this photograph of an American goldfinch (Spinus tristis) was taken by reader Stephen Barnard in Idaho?

I swear, these things could be used to illustrate a bird guide:


13 Feb 19:46

on social rss readers

by villeashell

it’s like school’s out and we’re just trying to sit on the bench and talk to our friends but the grownups keep screaming at us to move on

we’re the good kids, I swear

we just want to talk about articles we’ve read recently

13 Feb 18:30

Faces of Real Estate - phildesignart

by russiansledges
I have a deep respect for anyone who is willing to put their face on a bus stop bench knowing what people do to them. I thought it would be fun to do my own take on our local realtor advertisements.
13 Feb 18:17

sirensongfashion: Michael Cinco Haute Couture Fall/Winter...

Russian Sledges

via firehose


Michael Cinco Haute Couture Fall/Winter 2013/2014 at Fashion Forward, Dubai

yes I’ll take one of everything so I can look fab as hell while I rip out the still beating heart of a man

13 Feb 17:31

The Full-Fat Paradox: Whole Milk May Keep Us Lean

by rebeccahp
Russian Sledges


There's growing science that eating and drinking full-fat dairy (rather than low-fat) is linked to a lower body weight. Some hypothesize full-fat dairy provides more satiety, leading to folks consuming less overall. Others believe milk fat may assist our metabolism. Either way, let's give three cheers for natural cheese, milk, and yes, even butter, getting some good press!

It's unclear whether more people are opting for whole milk products. Though nonfat and low-fat still dominate dairy sales, the organic sector is experiencing an uptick in whole-fat sales.

"We definitely in the last few years are seeing a trend toward the whole-fat products," George Siemon, CEO of farmer-owned Organic Valley, told us. His company's sales of whole-fat milk are up 10 percent, he says. And sales of skim milk have trailed off. Also, there's been a boom in butter sales.

The Full-Fat Paradox: Whole Milk May Keep Us Lean

read more

13 Feb 17:28

houghtonlib: Holbein, Hans, 1497-1543. Totentanz, ca. 1525. Typ...

by villeashell
Russian Sledges

via otters ("lol look how sassy Death is in the second pic")


Holbein, Hans, 1497-1543. Totentanz, ca. 1525.

Typ 515.38.456a

Houghton Library, Harvard University

Death comes for the Knight and the Abbot in these two images from Holbein’s Dance of Death.

13 Feb 17:24

Trip Hawkins and how to fix gaming's 'pornography' problem

by Colin Campbell
Russian Sledges

via firehose

"Do you ever feel like what we are doing is too much like pornography?"

With this introduction, game industry grandee Trip Hawkins began an eclectic and ranging DICE speech on the potential of educational games to improve the lives of students. His point, eventually located, was that many parents and teachers view games with hostility and suspicion, even though games have the potential to teach way more effectively than outdated didactic methods.

Hawkins, founder of Electronic Arts, said that the game industry has a bad reputation, because it creates educationally empty experiences that divert kids' attention away from education. "It's a battlefield," he said, between children and adults.

"This is why we're being perceived as a social ill. Children's attention is on [cellphones] and they want to play games. The parents and the teachers believe that the games have no use in real life. They are fed up with seeing angry birds being launched."

Hawkins, whose previous company was mobile games outfit Digital Chocolate, took a short anecdotal detour to note various alleged similarities between Rovio's Angry Birds and one of his own earlier games, Crazy Penguin Catapult, adding that Rovio was launched by former employees of Digital Chocolate.

Back on track, he said the game industry needs to get through its negative image and create games that tick the relevant boxes for both kids and for parents; games that are fun, that hit curricula criteria, and that are measurable as educationally useful.

His company, If You Can, is launching a game called If, (pictured) that seeks to teach emotional intelligence to youngsters. He compared its development to his own revolutionary creation of the first Madden game, which was launched to fulfill a market need, and relied on the input of experts like John Madden, and data, like sports stats.

"Developers have to give up a little bit of creative control," he explained. "Just like with Madden, we had to conform to the NFL's rules and to bring in experts." He is following the same strategy with If, which is based on the famous poem by Rudyard Kipling, relying on the input of educational experts and teachers.

Hawkins believes that education is a "sweet spot" for game developers who are able to move on from "making the games they want to play," and embrace the needs of educators and parents.

13 Feb 17:22

SF Fauxtest 2014, 2nd Annual Fake Protest in San Francisco

by Rollin Bishop
Russian Sledges

via firehose

I'm willing to bet there will be anti-google-bus signs anyway

SF Fauxtest 2014

“Embrace hypocrisy and irony, Air petty annoyances and gripes, Facts, truth and nontroversy.”

On Friday, February 7th, the second annual SF Fauxtest, a fake protest where San Franciscans can air any kind of grievance at all, will be held in Dolores Park. Starting at 5:15PM, the fauxtest will then march down Valencia St. around 5:55PM. Ridiculous signs are encouraged.

This Friday, Feb 7th is a day of fake protest in Dolores Park.

— Doctor Popular (@DocPop) February 5, 2014

The first annual SF Fauxtest was held February 1st, 2013.

image via SF Fauxtest

via Doctor Popular

13 Feb 17:15

spaceexp: Northern Lights - Taken by a member of the ISS Crew

Russian Sledges

via firehose


Northern Lights - Taken by a member of the ISS Crew

13 Feb 16:53

The Old Reader Premium!

Russian Sledges

"You are currently using 1309 of the 100 subscriptions available for your plan. You should consider an upgrade to premium"

We are thrilled to announce that we are rolling out Premium accounts for The Old Reader. Since taking over the application in August we’ve made tremendous strides to improve the dependability and speed of the application. We’ve also begun the process of building and releasing heavily requested features and have worked diligently on user support. We believe The Old Reader is now truly a world-class application!

Our next goal is to ensure the long term financial viability of The Old Reader. Hosting, development, and support are not inexpensive and while it’s never been our goal to get rich off of this application, long term sustainability and growth will require revenue. So we explored several models for generating revenues including a premium offering and advertising. In the end, we’d like to avoid advertising as we feel it’s too invasive and runs counter to our strong belief in the open web. So we started working on a premium offering that would allow 90% of our users to continue on with a free account that is largely unchanged from what they are using today.

What will you get with The Old Reader Premium?
- Full-text search
- Faster feed refresh times
- Up to 500 Subscriptions
- 6 months of post storage
- Instapaper and Readability integration
- Early access to new features

What will it cost?
The Old Reader Premium will cost $3/month or $30/year. However, for the next 2 weeks (or up to 5,000 accounts) we’ll be offering the service for $2/month or $20/year and we will lock you into that price for a minimum of the next 2 years. This is our way of saying thanks to our existing users and hopefully getting the Premium service off to a great start.

Do I have to upgrade?
No! 90% of our users can continue on for free just as they are today. However, users with more than 100 feeds will need to upgrade to premium. Otherwise, all functionality will remain available to free accounts. We also offer a 2 week trial period for the premium service and will even allow that trial period to get extended for those still interested in moving to Premium.

We hope you are as excited about TOR Premium as we are. It’s a great value for a service that we know our users will love. Thanks for continuing to support us and thanks for using The Old Reader!

13 Feb 13:33

Concept Liquor System Makes Drinking (More) Fun

Russian Sledges

via firehose ("barbot beat")

French spirits maker Pernod Ricard has unveiled Project Gutenberg, a web-connected cocktail maker concept that blends together alcohol, apps, and an unusual design.
13 Feb 12:06

Public Space Invitational

by russiansledges
Russian Sledges


The Mayor’s Office of New Urban Mechanics Streetscape Lab is sourcing ideas from designers, makers, artists, and engineers to improve Boston. We are asking members of our vibrant creative community to submit project ideas to make our public spaces simple, intuitive, and literally awesome.
13 Feb 02:46

These Soviet Textiles Are Actually Propaganda Tools From The 1920s

by Vincze Miklós
Russian Sledges

via firehose


The Soviets used many methods to spread their vision of communism: movies, art, science fiction novels . . . and even textile patterns. These gorgeous textiles, created in the 1920s, show how the communist ideal was woven into the fabric of everyday life in Russia during the early days of the Revolution.



13 Feb 01:52

Justice Department to give married same-sex couples equal protection - The Washington Post

by gguillotte
Russian Sledges

via firehose

The Justice Department on Monday will instruct all of its employees across the country, for the first time, to give lawful same-sex marriages sweeping equal protection under the law in every program it administers, from courthouse proceedings to prison visits to the compensation of surviving spouses of public safety officers.
13 Feb 01:07

alunaes: damn billy

Russian Sledges

via rosalind


damn billy

13 Feb 01:05

A Loving Little Penguin Chases After His Zookeeper in Japan

by Justin Page
Russian Sledges

via rosalind

In this adorable video, a loving little penguin named Sakura chases after his Zookeeper at the Matsue Vogel Park in Matsue, Shimane Prefecture, Japan.

Penguin in Love

Penguin in Love

Penguin in Love

video and images via Matsue Vogel Park Official Blog

via cineraria, Daily Picks and Flicks

13 Feb 01:02

Judge: Ky. must recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states

by Associated Press
Russian Sledges

via rosalind

KentuckyLOUISVILLE, Ky. -- A federal judge ruled Wednesday that Kentucky must recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states, part of an unprecedented barrage of marriage equality lawsuits in states where voters have overwhelmingly opposed recognition of gay and lesbian couples.
12 Feb 23:41

Poet On Trey Gowdy And Health Insurance - In Which Trey Gowdy Gets His Ass Kicked By A Poet - Esquire

by russiansledges
Russian Sledges

jill mcdonough autoshare


Being an American poet means that, while I have been writing poems, I have had the following jobs:

cleaning hotel rooms
teaching English in Japan
teaching writing in a high school
teaching English in a Japanese nuclear power plant
washing dishes
making salads
deviling eggs
painting houses
cleaning houses
teaching college writing classes in prisons
tending bar
waiting tables
calling sick people to ask about the quality of their home health care
teaching writing in adult education programs
running an online writing program
teaching writing in a college
teaching writing in a college
teaching writing in a college
teaching writing in ten more colleges

Guess how many of those jobs came with health insurance? Three. And one of those was in Japan. See all those college teaching jobs? Those were mostly "part-time" "adjunct" jobs. That's code for working more than fulltime -- way more than Trey Gowdy, Trey Gowdy! -- but without a promise my job would still be there the next semester. No promise = no insurance. Isn't this better, Trey Gowdy? I promise to keep paying taxes so you can keep buying health insurance. Because we live in a country rich enough for all of us to have health care, even those of us who only work one day out of three, going on the TV machine to talk smack about poets.

I am an American poet, and I am delighted my taxes help pay for Trey Gowdy's health care. I believe I live in a rich country, one that can provide money to pay for health care even for Trey Gowdys -- Trey Gowdys, who get $174,000 for working one out of every three days, not doing much of anything I can see. Plus which I'm a poet: I just want to say "Trey Gowdy" over and over again. Trey Gowdy is adorable: he believes he lives in a rich country, one where poets just put in a smidgen of time at some magical health-insurance-giving job, and spend the rest of their hours writing sonnets. I'm an American poet, and I am here to say "Oh, Trey Gowdy: I wish."
12 Feb 21:46


12 Feb 20:40


Russian Sledges

via billtron

12 Feb 16:52

Creator cites addictiveness, discomfort in pulling down Flappy Bird

by Kyle Orland
Russian Sledges

via overbey

In a rare interview, Flappy Bird creator Dong Nguyen has elaborated on his surprise decision to take down the No. 1 app on both the iOS and Google Play app stores over the weekend, saying he worried about the effect the game was having on his life and the life of its players.

"Flappy Bird was designed to play in a few minutes when you are relaxed," Nguyen told Forbes in his first interview since the app came down. "But it happened to become an addictive product. I think it has become a problem. To solve that problem, it’s best to take down Flappy Bird. It's gone forever."

That sentiment echoes some tweets Nguyen made as the game went from unknown app store also-ran to worldwide phenomenon in the space of a month. "They are overusing [the game]" Nguyen said about obsessive players at one point. "People are overusing my app :-(" he worried in another tweet.

Read 3 remaining paragraphs | Comments


12 Feb 16:17

WTF Revelation of the Day: Shirley Temple’s Daughter Used to be the Bassist for the Melvins

by Axl Rosenberg
Russian Sledges

via multitask suicide

12 Feb 16:12

The Last Twentieth Century Book Club: Carman

by Kali Handelman
Russian Sledges

via overbey

Carman autoreshare

By Don Jolly 

VHS tapes are an alienated, and alienating, technology. They have the aesthetic of a Phililp K. Dick creation from the early seventies: dour, blue-black petrochemical rectangles with two ghost-white “eyes” in the rear of their casings, “played” by being fed into clacking machines whose guts (temporarily exposed in the act of loading) bristle with odd spindles and chrome. They are occult objects, a media that keeps its secrets.

 Image A


I found “The Standard” last Christmas, in a Goodwill in Texas. Since that time I’ve done a lot of research. I now know, for instance, that Carman Licciardello, the artist behind the tape, was a major player in Christian Contemporary Music, or C.C.M. circles during the nineteen eighties and nineties. I know he was twice named artist of the year within that genre by Billboard magazine. I know, thanks to his website []  that his show at Dallas’ Texas stadium show packed in more bodies than appearances by Paul McCartney, Pink Floyd, and U2 at the same venue. I know that a marketer for the Carman camp, Chris Estes, when speaking to the Huffington Post last year, described the artist as “the Michael Jackson of Christian music in the 1980s,” at least in terms of scope and theatricality. I know, too, that on February 14th, 2013, Licciardello was diagnosed with terminal cancer of the blood and bone marrow. He went to Kickstarter, raising money for an expansive nation-wide tour. Thanks to a series of disarmingly personal “Countdown Diaries” [] released through Carman’s Youtube channel, I know some portion of his subsequent struggles with money, music and personal faith.

I know, also, that every ex-evangelical I’ve spoken Carman’s name to in the run-up to this column has been overpowered, sometimes for as long as half an hour, by a kind of intense, embarrassed nostalgia. Many of them didn’t even experience his music directly — one former Baptist used to suffer through preaching against the artist. Even so, Carman held a deep and difficult to identify significance for him. The question I’ve been asking since I first fed “The Standard” into the clunking toad/slide-projector of my VCR is what, precisely, that significance is.

“The Standard” tape is representative Carman. Released in 1994, it features music videos drawn from his album of the same name, issued the previous year. These songs share nothing in terms of either genre or style — there’s bombastic hip-hop, celebratory pop-country and even earnest political soliloquizing over yankee-doodle flute and percussion. What they do share is Carman himself, who commands the central space of each video with an easy, if somewhat affected, charisma. They also share a broadly Christian message with an occasional edge of right-wing activism.

The difficulty in addressing “The Standard,” however, is that summarizing its parts as an aesthetic or ideological wholes is deceptive. They’re music videos, and each of the six has some kind of internal consistency, but like many pop videos from the early nineties that consistency is sidelined in the favor of constant, jarring cuts from image to image. The eye never rests on one subject long enough to understand it fully. When the eight minute medieval epic that closes the tape, “Great God,” concludes, viewers are left sifting through a subliminal payload of fashions, dance moves, special effects and shouted theology. It’s a synecdochic work, where quick cuts and individual lyrics overpower the whole, muting “The Standard’s” religious content.


Take the video that opens the tape, “Who’s in the House?” Carman bounces through this one as an early-nineties rapper, dancing and strutting across a stage in a harmlessly dilapidated warehouse, answering the title’s question with repeated chants of “J.C.!” While Jesus is a preoccupation of the lyrics, the driving cuts focus on Carman alone: Carman in his purple shorts, Carman being leapfrogged by an enthusiastic dancer, Carman bumping fists with a nearly-unseen black man, scowling smugly, in a bizarre simulacrum of street cred. Visually it is Carman himself, rather than his faith, that is at the center of the piece. This makes “who’s in da house?” into a strangely ambiguous question.

This ambiguity continues in the tape’s second song, “Sunday School Rock,” a black and white tribute to 1950s teen-music showcases. Here Carman, as “Major C,” commands the frame with an incongruous tough-guy persona, running through Sunday school lessons in basic Christian practice. “To fear the Lord is wisdom,” he sings, “to serve the lord divine — but to really break it down just repeat these words of mine.” A dance party breaks out, of course, complete with screaming teenage girls —shades of the Beatles on Ed Sullivan. Carman’s persona, and the theological content of the lyrics, end up giving the video a similar arc to Nirvana’s kinescope video for “In Bloom,” [] where the 1950s aesthetic is contrasted both lovingly and ironically by the ideology of the performance. Given the contemporaneous releases of the two (“In Bloom’s” video was released two years earlier in 1992) I think the case for direct influence is strong.


Which highlights the cross-pressures at play in “The Standard.” Each of Carman’s videos are technically sophisticated mimics of American pop music, to the point where calling them “mimicry” seems inaccurate. The best comparison I can think of is the parodist Weird Al Yankovic, whose videos often replicate, exactly, the forms and conventions of the songs they’re meant to spoof, with the simple substitution of subject matter for humorous effect. Yankovic, in his “Smells Like Nirvana,” takes the aesthetic beats of the band’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” and turns them into a paean to lyrical unintelligibility. Carman, in “Sunday School Rock,” does the same, using the aesthetic hits of his 1950s source material as a vehicle for communicating love and devotion to the personal salvation of Christ. The problem is that these adopted aesthetics make Carman, as the charismatic musician, into the focal point of the video, blunting its salvific message.

To a degree, this personal focus makes sense. Carman’s early success as a Christian musician occurred in Tulsa Oklahoma in the early 1980s, where he was part of the circle surrounding the Pentecostal minister and singer Carlton Pearson. In this context, as in evangelicalism as a whole, a charismatic approach to ministry would have been natural. The question Carman poses, through “the Standard,” is to what degree such charismatic ministry is compatible with the aesthetics of pop.

This tension is especially visible in the tape’s finale, “Great God.” The video’s narrative begins with a soft-focus close up of a young, heavily made-up high-school blonde. A hand snaps in front of her face, waking her from a daydream. We pull back, finding her in class. Her teacher, played by Carman, wants to know what she has learned about the “dark ages.”

“As the Grand Inquisitor would say ‘come lassie, tell us, what is your doctrine?” he intones, adopting a Scottish accent. The girl shakes her head, admitting ignorance, which prompts Carman to give a last-minute lecture about the infiltration of the medieval Catholic Church by “evil spiritual forces,” in preparation for “the big test.” During this speech, the girl drifts off into another daydream. At this point the video switches gears, becoming a fantasy of castles and wicked Catholics. The girl finds herself chained to a dungeon wall and dragged before an inquisitor. Carman reappears as a muscular, attractive ur-protestant, defeating a crowd of evil bishops with a Bible that, in an embarrassing special effect, transmutes into a sword. At the story’s end, the “evil spiritual forces” vanquished, Carman embraces the girl against a romantic backdrop of fiery skies and smashed castles. Back in the classroom, the girl enthusiastically finishes her test. A blade of straw, carried from the dungeon, falls from her hair. It was all a dream — or was it?


While “Great God” contains intriguing nubs of religious and historical arguments about the relationship between Catholicism, the Reformation and theodicy, its overpowering visual topic is, again, Carman. Carman dominates the classroom framing device as a wise, well-liked and charismatic teacher. He distinguishes himself in the fantasy as a cinematic sword-fighter, a grimy masculine ideal and, most uncomfortably, as a romantic interest for a girl half his age. None of this is to suggest ego on Carman’s part — rather, each of these elements is clearly drawn from “Great God’s” larger cultural milieu.

If we start by considering Michael Jackson as “the secular Carman,” we see an extremely prominent theme, within his video output, of singular, sharply dressed crusaders intervening against mobs. “Great God,” is, essentially, a riff on work such as Jackon’s “Smooth Criminal,” albeit with a sense of style more Lady Hawke than Maltese Falcon and, once again, religious content largely substituted for the romantic. Like “Smooth Criminal” or “Bad,” Carman’s “Great God” is an absorbing, cinematically realized video with a clear, if simple, narrative arc focused on a supernaturally cool protagonist. What’s different between the two is that one exists in a “buffered,” or “secular” space — a visual world where Jackson is allowed to be the ultimate example of “bad” because there is no diegetic evidence to argue the point. Carman, by opening his videos to God, and focusing their lyrical content on directing one’s devotional energies beyond the self, makes his personal dominance of the visuals difficult to parse.   It’s Carman, not God, who turns the Bible into a sword. It’s Carman who gets the girl. It’s Carman, at the end of the daydream, who controls the classroom. It’s an uncanny effect, and it’s tempting to read it as cynical. A similar problem occurs in Carman’s rhyming patriotic hymn, “America Again,” where right-wing talking points about prayer in school are intercut with footage of gay pride parades, African Americans sitting on street corners and protesters getting pummeled by police. These videos seem to indicate a reality beyond themselves without acceding Carman’s command of the visuals. My Baptist friend, the one whose preacher spoke out against Carman, detected many of these same problems. The dancing in “Sunday School Rock” was “too worldly,” he said, as was the “downbeat” construction of just about every song. Only the milquetoast piano ballad “Serve the Lord” passed muster for my friend as something that would have had a place in the church of his younger days.  Carman’s approach to C.C.M., using immaculate pop aesthetics to convey religious themes, only works if one assumes that these aesthetics do not compete or contradict in any way with the intended message.

This tension may be heightened by the video format. Carman’s live events, half expansive stage show and half tent revival, are defined by the moment where the performance stops and the audience streams to a “counseling center,” ready to be saved. According to his website, sometimes as many as 5,000 a night are moved in this way. For these young Christians, Carman’s aesthetic poses no problem. In fact, it offers a solution — directing them towards a singular religious experience, and a stronger identification with Christ, all through the precise deployment of pop theatricality. As I said, this is a significance that I find opaque. My experience of pop is different — more compartmentalized, more disposable, more grossly material. Carman approaches the same subject with different eyes.

VHS tapes are occult objects. They were expensive to produce, light on background materials and, with the exception of movies designed for the rental market, they have a tendency to present themselves matter-of-factly, with the implicit understanding that anyone considering a purchase will know what they are purchasing. “The Standard,” doesn’t explain itself — it just gives us Carman, and lets the audience decide what comes next.

For my part, I find that “The Standard” has left me with more questions than answers. I want to know where Carman places the line between “religious” and “secular.” I want to know how this division is operative in the lives of his fans. Most of all, I want to understand the complicated significance he seems to hold for those who have encountered him.

Luckily, this isn’t his only VHS.


Next month: “You’re breaking God’s heart, and a condom isn’t going to fix that.”

next month teaser


Don Jolly is a Texan visual artist, writer, and academic. He is currently pursuing his master’s degree in religion at NYU, with a focus on esotericism, fringe movements, and the occult. His comic strip, The Weird Observer, runs weekly in the Ampersand Review. He is also a staff writer for Obscure Sound, where he reviews pop records. Don lives alone with the Great Fear, in New York City. 

Jolly will be presenting at The Observatory on February 21st on one of his primary research interests, the Church of Scientology. More information on his “illustrated lecture” can be found hereDoors at eight, admission eight dollars. 

12 Feb 14:01

A Couple American Dudes. Clark Gable and Burt Lancaster, 1958.

Russian Sledges

via multitask suicide

A Couple American Dudes.

Clark Gable and Burt Lancaster, 1958.