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The tricky linguistic politics of telling this winter to suck a dick

IT’S HARD HATING WINTER as much as I do and expressing it in a way that’s consistent with my values. I have no moral objection to obscenity, profanity, or even graphic sexual imagery, but I worry that telling this winter to “suck my dick” is in some way homophobic or misogynistic: is telling something to “suck your dick” as an insult a way of degrading those that do suck dicks? Or does it imply that the act of sucking a dick, which is, if we’re being honest, a favor of the highest order, is actually an act of sad submission?

I can’t say “go fuck yourself,” because honestly, “go fuck yourself” has always seemed like a pretty mild thing to order someone to do. “Hey!” I’m basically saying, “Go touch yourself in a way that makes you feel incredibly good!”

No. I don’t want this winter to feel good. I want it to feel the cold I’ve felt. I want it to see the world in only three colors: black, white, and sludgy brown and feel vaguely lifeless because of it. I want this winter to slip endlessly on hidden ice and twist its ankles. I want it to take something that it values as much as I value the gorgeous beach on the edge of my town and cover it in gross, brownish-white snow drifts. I want it to have to dig a tiny, no-wheel-drive Honda Fit out of a 6-foot snow bank 4 times in a month using nothing but a discarded beer pail because its landlord is too negligent to buy a communal shovel. I want it to get fucked.

But no. That’s not quite it. If you’re getting fucked and not enjoying it, then that’s basically rape, and I don’t condone that at all, nor would I want to make light of it through my language. I would love — love – to call this winter a cunt. But no: there’s no equally offensive word for men, and thus, the use of the word is unfair, derogatory, and unnecessarily paints being a woman as an extremely negative thing.

I know a lot of people would say I’m being too PC. But the type of people who can dismiss taking care with your language as “Political Correctness” are the type of people who delude themselves into thinking that words don’t matter. And I’m not on board with that. So I have to keep slogging through my internal insult dictionary, much like I slogged to the bar through an atrocious, disgusting wintry mix last night, in order to find the adequate words to appropriately express how much I hate this winter.

Maybe I can flip the script and insult this winter like it’s a dude. It’s certainly fucked me over in a billion different tiny ways. It’s pissed on my plans, made me look bad, made me feel shitty about myself, and has sent me spiraling into a minor depression. It’s like the high school bully of seasons. It’s like the dumb jock of annual meteorological intervals. It’s like the patriarchy of Earth-to-Sun axial tilt orientations.

Okay. Let’s try that: Fuck you, Winter. You peaked too early, and now everyone is just going to remember you as a sad, ugly, cautionary tale. No one liked being with you, winter, not really: it’s just that they had to given the circumstances, since you absorbed so much of the attention and had the ability to make life living hell for those who didn’t want to play your shitty games. You’re just going to slowly fade out of people’s memories as they go on to bigger and better things, while you’ll be stuck in your singular moment in time, reliving the times where you briefly, mildly impressed the people around you, and then lost their interest when they realized what you really were. You’ll watch, impotently, as Spring slowly takes your place, and you’ll realize at the last that your power was fleeting, and that you were never able to truly inspire love through fear.

You’re going to be forgotten, winter. You left a trail of destruction in your wake, but all tyrants must die. Now go fuck yourself.

Featured photo by Alex Szymanek.

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Aliens made of fart gas might be a real thing

I’ve been reading science fiction for a really long time, but I’ve read it almost exclusively for the fiction, as I have zero understanding of science. But it has always struck me that, when scientists imagine other life forms, they assume that they would be carbon and water-based lifeforms like the ones found on earth. This has always struck me as strange. In an almost infinitely huge universe, shouldn’t there be a nearly infinite number of bases for life to form from?

Like, couldn’t life theoretically form from sentient evil? Couldn’t a particularly stinky cheese eventually gain self-awareness? Could not a fart learn how to play a piano?

This is why I am not a scientist. But this week, all of my dreams came true: scientists discovered that fart aliens could theoretically exist. I Fucking Love Science, a site that is infinitely smarter than this one, explained it thusly:

Nearly all living organisms on Earth have water-based structures around their cells called phospholipid bilayers. These keep water in (or out), and they shelter the insides of our cells from the rest of the world. Now, according to a study based entirely on computer modeling, small molecules in oxygen-free environments may be capable of forming compartments that resemble these lipid membranes. The findings, published in Science Advances last week, suggests that life—but “not as we know it”—is possible on worlds without oxygen. They just have to be comprised of methane-based cells.

It is here that I want to note that methane gas among humans who are not chemists or scientists of any stripe (i.e. me) is most commonly noted as one of the main gases present in flatulence — indeed, methane is a greenhouse gas, and cow farts are one of the worst contributors to climate change. IFL Science continues:

Astronomers looking for signs of extraterrestrial life (and places where mankind might colonize one day) focus on the habitable zone, a narrow area around the sun where liquid water can exist. However, if cells weren’t based on water but on methane—which has a much lower freezing point—could “life” exist in extremely cold worlds like Saturn’s moon Titan? The giant moon is spotted with seas of liquid methane and has no oxygen available for the formation of a lipid bilayer membrane.

There you have it: just a few planets away is a moon that is covered in fart-based lifeforms. Yes, I know it’s a jump from “theoretically they could exist,” to “FART ALIENS! EVERYWHERE!” but to paraphrase Dr. Ian Malcolm: “Farts will find a way.”

Let’s all take a moment to appreciate what a spectacularly diverse and weird universe we live in. And, for the inevitable oncoming war of colonization between our planet and their moon, let’s begin investing in a GasX-based defense budget.

Featured photo by Mibrant2000

 

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Dressgate Sends Blogger to Brink of Despair

LATELY I’VE BEEN READING some pretty bleak shit: The Conspiracy Against the Human Race by Thomas Ligotti, (which was the philosophical basis behind the incredibly misanthropic, pessimistic character of Rustin Cohle in True Detective), and a lot of H.P. Lovecraft, the nihilistic writer who created the Cthulhu Mythos, a literary universe which focuses on humanity’s cosmic insignificance (True Detective arguably is part of the Cthulhu Mythos, both in terms of its tone and in its references to staples of Lovecraft’s universe like the city of Carcosa and the so-called “King in Yellow”).

Point is, the shit is bleak, and it has one particularly annoying side-effect: it makes it difficult to be an internet writer. The internet runs on memes — brief, passing trends that the internet collectively picks up, examines, analyzes, jokes about, and then tosses aside — and for an internet writer, an attunement to these memes is essential. Good internet writers are able to take these memes and use them to address the broader themes of their work: it’s why that Kim Kardashian butt pic was able to turn into a discussion of racial politics.

It’s a classic bait and switch: while a million people are looking at something, you try and get them to look at this other, tangential thing. It’s why the news site Mic constantly uses the headline, “This one Tweet perfectly sums up [why vaxxers will inevitably cause the spread of the zombie virus/America’s prejudice against people with bunions/Obama].” It’s like snapping your fingers and waving around a Beanie Baby next to the camera lens to get the crying child to look in the right goddamn direction so you can have at least one fucking decent family picture.

The Goddamn Dress

As a writer, though, this can get exhausting, especially when your interests are super broad. “Okay,” you say, “What sociopolitical lesson can I extract from this white and gold/blue and black dress?”

Ah, the dress. If you’re reading this and it’s not Friday, February 27th, you’ve already forgotten about it. It’s a dress that someone took a picture of, and apparently it’s black and blue, but in the picture it looks white and gold. Optics!

Slate’s coverage was the most comprehensive, but Buzzfeed really made it take off after the dress got some traction on Tumblr. People had debates! #TeamWhiteAndGold was trending! So was #TeamBlackAndBlue! Listicles formed! Quizzes formed! Science sites broke down the optics behind the dress and why it was one while appearing to be the other!

When it hit last night, I was dicking around on my computer playing Civilization V. I usually play it for like, two hours straight. When I closed the game, my Facebook feed was entirely about the dress. I looked at it. It looked white and gold to me. “What can I do with this?” I thought, “What deeper message about humanity does this debate have to tell me?”

Photo by KAZ Vorpal

Photo by KAZ Vorpal

If I hadn’t just been reading The Call of Cthulhu a few hours earlier, I might’ve said what my friend Cory said, that it was a good thing that people were actually questioning how they perceive things. But I had been reading The Call of Cthulhu earlier, and so the lesson I took was this:

Rather than coming to terms with the horrors of the universe and our ultimate impermanence — both as individuals and as a species — in it, the world had decided to distract itself from it’s oncoming destruction and annihilation with endless debate about the color of a dress. But, I then thought, if the color of this dress is a meaningless debate and is just trying to distract us from our inevitable oblivion, then isn’t every other debate we’re having equally meaningless? Are our meager attempts to forestall climate change simply an act of prolonging the inevitable? Are our furious, angry ideological debates really just smokescreens for the bleak, angry nothingness that awaits us just beyond the moment of our death?

It’s at this point, as I sit in my easy chair and rant to Steph about the meaninglessness of everything, that she patiently walks over, kisses my forehead, and says, “Well, we love each other, and that means something.”

Well… fine. Okay. Fair point. The dress looks white and gold to me. It’s good to be reminded to question my perceptions. I can probably get a blog post out of that.

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The Tragedy of Penn State and the Dickishness of Olbermann

I went to Penn State from 2005 to 2009, so I had left before the Sandusky sex abuse scandal was a thing that most Penn Staters knew about. I was never that gung-ho about Penn State in comparison to most of my classmates, so when it came out that Joe Paterno had been negligent in reporting Sandusky to the police (and possibly complicit if not active in a cover-up), I was in favor of his firing.

This is not a common or popular opinion amongst alumni, but a mere 10 years earlier, I had been an unenthusiastic Catholic, and had seen the exact same scandal happen within my church. So I knew that any defense of those at fault was more about self-preservation than justice, and that this self-preservation instinct would ultimately backfire on the people who loved Penn State, just as it did with the Church. In both cases, it gave me an excuse to sever myself from a culture that I didn’t connect with in a particularly meaningful way. But I’m still sympathetic to my friends who have remained Catholics and/or Penn State fans. It’s tough to deal with fallen Gods.

Paterno, the Tragic Hero

I’m not being flip, by the way, by referring to Joe Paterno as a “fallen god.” Penn State culture is largely built around the football program, and it has all the trappings of a religion: chants, songs, rituals, myths, and a moral code. The moral code is especially prevalent in Penn State football, more than in other teams I’ve been a fan of: Penn State has always put an emphasis on the integrity of the brand, and Joe Paterno was the cornerstone of that ethos. He was one of the first college coaches to place an emphasis on the “student” of “student-athlete,” and he was known for being both generous to his community and for having a moral code. He was like an old, Italian, Omar Little.

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Unfortunately, what was hidden behind the moral code, the integrity, and the generosity was an obsession with legacy. He liked being so well-respected and revered, so when a possible blemish to that legacy — the sexual abuse of children under his care by one of his coaches — came out, he didn’t do what he should have. His pride was his downfall.

Yeah. There’s nothing remotely religious about that story at all.

The story of the fallen god is a common one, but less told is what happens to the god’s worshippers after the fall. Penn State’s response feels pretty similar to the Catholic response: long-term denial, scapegoating of certain figures who “had it out” for Paterno, the “few bad apples” speeches, and a willful obliviousness to the systemic nature of the problem. There were even riots when Paterno got fired.

From the outside, this response looks delusional, but if you, like me, have a foot in and a foot out of the culture, you can see what it really is: a desperate scramble to salvage something that has become immensely important in your life. There’s a lack of self-awareness to the response, yes, but this reaction happens whenever a worldview collapses.

Keith Olbermann wins the righteousness Olympics

Keith Olbermann, as everyone knows, is a strident commentator who seems to enjoy feeling morally righteous. One of the easiest ways to feel morally righteous is to position yourself against the sexual abuse of children. No one’s going to fight you on that. But on Monday, when a Penn State alum Tweeted an article at Olberman, he responded thus:

The correct response to “We Are!” in PSU world is “Penn State!” and the students had just raised $13 million for cancer research — which is what the woman had been cheering. She was baiting Olbermann, who has gotten his righteousness jollies from Penn State in the past, and Olbermann made the mistake of not clicking on the link, or of just being a dick.

Olbermann said he was targeting Penn State students in general, not kids with cancer, but as the AV Club put it in their coverage, “let’s face it, if you have to clarify that you’re not insulting kids with cancer, the conversation’s gotten away from you.”

So yeah. Olbermann’s a dick. We knew that already.

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Incidentally, though, THON is just as much a part of the Penn State culture that produced the football program. Like football, the culture around THON cannibalized the time and resources of other on-campus organizations. While at Penn State, I was the president of the campus’s chapter of Amnesty International, and there were many times that potential new members would skip our group because of a lack of involvement in THON. “Fighting cancer in children is a great cause,” I would tell them, “It’s just not particularly relevant to human rights. Unless you consider healthcare to be a human right, in which case we should be organizing politically to get the government to fund this research rather than doing it ourselves…” at which point the conversation usually ended.

Blaming the Culture

Student activism in any real sense was not encouraged under Graham Spanier (the President who would eventually be fired during the Sandusky scandal for his involvement in the cover-up). Spanier also liked to complain publicly about the lack of student activism, while simultaneously refusing to meet with student activists and, eventually, having them arrested. One of the ways of sucking energy away from groups that Spanier and the administration didn’t like was putting all of the emphasis on THON. And it’s really hard to argue against a cause that’s donating to child cancer research, even if it takes the form of a 48-hour pep rally that is mostly put together by the frats and sororities. So while Olbermann’s an asshole for painting the entire Penn State campus as Sandusky and Paterno apologists, he wouldn’t be totally wrong if he was seeing in THON some of the same culture that gave us Penn State football.

My guess is he was just being a dick, though.

The interesting thing is that if Olbermann wants to blame Penn State students and culture — as I believe he justifiably could — as providing an environment where Sandusky’s abuse and the subsequent cover-up could happen, then he would also have to place some of the blame on his network, ESPN, which has played no small role in making college football into such a massive money-making institution that, in the mind of people like Spanier and Paterno, would have been too big to fail. If you want to blame a culture, you have to blame the whole culture: the institutions that support it, the values it prioritizes, and the economy that guides it.

It’s important to point out that Penn State is barely the only school with this culture. Any other school could have been unlucky enough to have a predatory pedophile on staff, and could have had the confluence of factors (a too-mighty football program, unscrupulous administrators, cowardly coaches) that led to Penn State’s downfall. I grew up in Ohio, and I know that Ohio State’s football culture is similarly fanatical. It could just as easily have happened somewhere else.

But it happened to Penn State, and the people who knew nothing about the scandal when the events that caused it were actually happening became the ones scrambling to pick up the pieces of their culture after the scandal had blown through.

Blaming a culture for a crime usually seems unfair — this is why people tend to put so much emphasis on personal responsibility — but cultures set the conditions for crimes. Jack the Ripper, for example, was ultimately the man who eviscerated London’s prostitutes in 1888, but he would not have gotten as far as he did if Victorian England hadn’t had such extreme poverty that the entire East End of London was basically a brothel where misogynistic exploitation and violence could thrive.

Similarly, a sporting culture that values profit and apolitical coverage above all else is going to eventually to brush pedophiles, abusive husbands, and serial cheaters under the rug. Penn State’s culture is America’s sporting culture, and if Keith Olbermann wants to condemn one, he has to condemn both, or else be a bit of a hypocrite.

And a dick. Did I mention he’s a dick?

The “Penn State Experience”

When my friends would come to visit me at Penn State, my roommate would always try and give them the “Penn State Experience.” This involved football, lots of drinking, lots of parties, cheap pizza, high-quality ice cream, and a tour of the beautiful campus. His tours were always suffused with pride: pride at belonging to such a fun, happy community, pride at going to a pretty great educational institution, and pride at being able to show it off to friends from outside.

The cracks were already there, just beneath the surface, so when the cracks finally turned into chasms, it was easy for chronic non-believers and pessimists such as myself to sigh knowingly and to move on. But for my roommates, for my friends, and for my classmates, the collapse of their King was incomprehensible.

We’re used to the story of fallen Gods. But we’re used to the story from a distance: we’re used to the collapsed pedestal of Ozymandias buried in sand centuries later. We can see the collapse through the perspective of the God as he falls, undone, off of his pedestal.

But we cannot imagine the view from among the adoring crowd as they watch, horrified, as their god falls. Penn State is more than its football. It’s more than the Sandusky scandal. But Penn State culture is too busy trying to recover from its collapse to fully appreciate the former, and obtuse outrage junkies like Olbermann are too busy shouting to acknowledge the latter.

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Bad news: ISIS is actually more progressive than the United States on something

Today, the Atlantic published their cover story for next month about the ideology behind ISIS. I read it because until very recently, I thought ISIS was the name of the spy agency in Archer.1413034195030.cached
It’s worth reading on its own — ISIS is absolutely loathsome, but its ideology actually follows a weirdly consistent if murder-y fundamentalist logic — but here’s a bit of it that stood out:

…Abdul Muhid, 32, continued along these lines. He was dressed in mujahideen chic when I met him at a local restaurant: scruffy beard, Afghan cap, and a wallet outside of his clothes, attached with what looked like a shoulder holster. When we sat down, he was eager to discuss welfare. The Islamic State may have medieval-style punishments for moral crimes (lashes for boozing or fornication, stoning for adultery), but its social-welfare program is, at least in some aspects, progressive to a degree that would please an MSNBC pundit. Health care, he said, is free. (“Isn’t it free in Britain, too?,” I asked. “Not really,” he said. “Some procedures aren’t covered, such as vision.”) This provision of social welfare was not, he said, a policy choice of the Islamic State, but a policy obligation inherent in God’s law.

I mean, goddamn it, America. There is a single fucking thing that ISIS is more progressive about than us. Although one has to wonder why not-cutting-heads-off or burning-prisoners-alive doesn’t fall under God’s healthcare scheme and vision and dental do.

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#LikeAGirl is Sweet, But it’s Still Just Trying to Sell Maxipads

I was watching the Super Bowl from NBC’s live streaming last night, and they lied to me. They told me the live stream included the commercials, which is around 70% of the reason I watch the game, and it didn’t. It only included like, four of the commercials. So I had to follow the commercials on Twitter. When everyone got all worked up about Nationwide killing a 9-year-old boy, I had to YouTube it. When everyone got all touched by the Always #LikeAGirl commercial, I had to YouTube it.

Maybe it was because I was grumpy at missing out and watching all the fun vicariously through Twitter, but the response to the Always commercial kind of annoyed me. The commercial itself didn’t bother me — it’s got a great message, and it’s far preferable to the shitty sexist ads that all the other brands used to do (and which Carl’s Jr. still does) — what bothered me was all the praise being heaped on Always.

Always, which you wouldn’t know from the commercial, sells maxipads. They’re a necessary hygienic product, so there’s nothing wrong with what they sell nor, as far as I know, is there anything unethical about their work or product, but they don’t deserve credit for airing a progressive commercial. Because at the end of the day, what their ad department does not care about is improving the self esteem of young girls. They care about selling maxipads. Progressive commercials are just a means to that end.

This campaign could very easily have been put together by a misogynist like Don Draper who has his finger on the pulse of the internet’s feminist blogosphere, and on the increasing trend in American culture towards treating women like equals and not like subordinates. It was probably thought of by more of a Peggy type, but that’s beside the point: advertisements for corporations that double as PSA’s are still advertisements first. They chose to air that commercial because they believed it would connect with their target audience. And they were totally right.

Instead of giving Always praise they don’t deserve for creating a feel-good commercial that virtually anyone who isn’t a piece of shit can get behind, give it to the people who created a culture where feminism can finally be a marketable ideology.

Give credit to internet personalities like Lindy West and Anita Sarkeesian who are outspoken about feminism and, as a result, expose themselves to rape threats and attacks by internet trolls literally every day of the week. Give credit to sports stars like Martina Navratilova or Billie Jean King who had to endure tons of sexist abuse (not to mention homophobic abuse) while being better than their male counterparts. Give credit to Gloria Steinem, Margaret Atwood, Octavia Butler, Susan B. Anthony, Sojourner Truth or literally any other feminist ever before you give it to an ad for capitalizing on the world they created.

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When Criticizing Islam isn’t “Punching Up”

When I was at LSE, there was an anti-Islamophobia measure up for a vote in the Student Union. The measure had come about because some shitty things had been shouted at Muslim students on campus, a few racist things had been posted in online forums, and, in the LSE Atheist, Secularist and Humanist (ASH) Society private Facebook group, someone had posted a copy of the comic “Jesus and Mo.”

“Jesus and Mo,” if you haven’t read it, is a pretty mediocre atheist comic that is broadly anti-religious. The two main characters are Jesus an Mohammed, so obviously, it’s controversial because it depicts the prophet. I’ve never found it to be racist or explicitly anti-Muslim, I’ve just found it to be a pretty boring representation of the typical atheist arguments against religion.

But the new anti-Islamophobia measure would have made it illegal to post the cartoon online, and that’s what the ASH Society wanted to push back against. I’m an atheist and a writer, so I agreed that they should be allowed to post the comic, and I decided to help out with the messaging. The campaign culminated in a rally outside of the Houses of Parliament that was headlined by no other than famed atheist Richard Dawkins. After the rally, we all stuck around to talk to him. After five minutes, my stomach had totally left the fight.

Dawkins, it seemed to me, was an old school British colonialist and racist. He actually referred to Muslims as “backwards people” while talking to us. I have no doubt that he’s a genuine atheist, and I still think his arguments against religion are solid, but I no longer believed that his motivation against religion was coming from a place of pure rationalism.

As an aspiring satirist, I was horrified by the Charlie Hebdo attacks. I am unfamiliar with their work, but even if they were far-right – which they aren’t – I would be horrified. Satire and humor should be totally untouched by violence. They can and should be criticized, but the proper response to language is never violence. So I don’t mind jumping on board the “fuck those murderous assholes” train, and I get super irritated by the victim-blaming that came from much of the left after the attacks: “Well, if you publish purposefully provocative cartoons, what did you expect?” No: fuck that. No matter how offensive the illustration, there is no justification for murder.

With all of that said, there is an oft-unfollowed rule in comedy and satire that asks that comedians “punch up.” The idea is that if you’re going to make jokes about a controversial issue, the right thing to do is to attack the party with the most power in the issue. Always side with the victims and the oppressed. So if you’re going to make a rape joke, target the rapist, don’t target the victim. If you’re going to make a joke about race, target the racist, not the oppressed minority. It’s basically a rule that’s designed to make comedy less about supporting systems of oppression and more about defending the underdog.

The problem with cartoons of the prophet Mohammed is that the creator usually feels they are targeting people like the murderous, misogynistic assholes in ISIS, Boko Haram, or the Taliban. They are “punching up” at the violent thugs who shoot little girls who want to go to school, or at the assholes who massacre defenseless villagers.

But in reality, these cartoonists live in Western societies where Muslims are often the discriminated-against minority. Muslims in France have to deal with a rising extreme right wing, led by the racist fuckwit Marine Le Pen, and Muslims in the United States have to deal with police surveillance, right wing hysteria over the placement of their cultural centers, and violent attacks by racists. Since the Muslims who actually live in these countries are the ones who actually have to deal with anti-Islamic sentiment, they are the actual – if not the intended – targets of anti-Islamic satire.

None of this is to say that ISIS, Boko Haram, and the Taliban don’t deserve mounds of ridicule. But the ridicule should target the groups themselves, not the religion that the groups nominally belong to. Attacking Islam for something a small extremist Islamic sect is doing is like nuking a city to kill a single person. It’s lazy humor, and it’s targeting the victim more than it’s targeting the oppressor.

And this type of satire or language can be coopted by the racist or colonialist forces that the left supposedly wants to fight against. Look at Christopher Hitchens: the famous atheist spent his life speaking out against dictatorships and religious fundamentalism, and later in his life, he became one of the left’s biggest supporters of the Iraq War. His moral justification was that the West should be active in bringing about the downfall of dictatorial regimes and fundamentalism in the Middle East. It was a justification that was cynically used as a moral cover by an administration that had much different reasons for invading Iraq.

If we were really interested in fighting fundamentalism, we would start at home – targeting our own racists, misogynists, murderers, and sectarians – and then we’d enable our allies within other countries to do the same. It’s pretty much impossible to “punch up” when you’re not even in the system or culture, so we should leave that job to Muslim comedians, satirists, and journalists instead of stepping on their toes by ham-fistedly trying to do the job ourselves.

Here’s a place to start: Raif Badawi is a Saudi blogger who is being imprisoned and flogged a thousand times because of a website he set up. Write a letter to the King of Saudi Arabia and tweet your support for Raif here.

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Satire is Insanely Important

I write for a living. And with that as my job, it’s easy to get lost in the drudgery of the day-to-day: editing, working through writer’s block, coming up with new ideas, trying to convince myself to turn off Netflix, etc. It’s not often that I think to myself, “This shit matters.”

With the attack on the leftist and anti-religion satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo in Paris and the recent hacks on Sony over the release of The Interview, though, it’s hard for me to think otherwise: Satire — and writing in general — is insanely important. Language is the only true magic in the world, the only tool we have with which we can truly change another person’s mind, or to get masses to act as one, or to destroy and humiliate bloated demagogues or systems of power and oppression.

Alan Moore, the famed comics writer, believes that our concept of magic came about as soon as we discovered language. “Magic has quite a lot in common with fiction and with fantasy,” Moore says. “We almost get into the notion that the two are pretty well interchangeable.”

“The idea of a grimoire — a book of spells. Grimoire is simply another way of spelling ‘grammar.’ According to [famed occultist Aleister] Crowley, to cast a spell is simply to spell.”

In the movie A Knight’s Tale, (yes, I’m quoting A Knight’s Tale), Geoffrey Chaucer, the famed English writer, says to a couple of thugs who cheated him out of his gambling money, “I will eviscerate you in fiction. Every pimple, every character flaw. I was naked for a day; you will be naked for eternity.”

Satire, then, is the only true curse. Never mind the quality of the satire: I haven’t seen The Interview yet, but my guess is that it’s not great. What matters is that Kim Jong Un was made to look ridiculous, like his father was in Team America: World Police. Satire sticks. It stays with us for eternity. Their legacy is eternally tarnished by a pair of silly films that they weren’t able to quash.

The same can be said of the attack on Charlie Hebdo: the type of people who would attack a satirical magazine are the type of people who realize what a threat humor and satire is to their fundamentalist vision of life. Never mind that there’s a simple counterspell to the satirical curse: all you have to do is laugh at yourself, and the curse harmlessly flits away. No one remembers a simple self-deprecatory joke, especially if it’s taken in a good-natured manner.

Our written words always outlive us. But by killing the satirists and cartoonists at Charlie Hebdo, the terrorists have guaranteed that they will eternally be villains. They are tarnished forever. And in that sense, the murdered satirists have won.

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The Biggest Impediment to Your Physical Fitness is Bottomless Despair

Did you know there are toxins inside you? You get them when you eat stuff that contains toxins and then they’re inside you, and you can only get rid of the toxins through yoga or pooping. Yoga and pooping are the two main elements in a “detox” diet (there’s an occasional third element called “kale,” which is a type of grass that tastes like a Communion wafer rubbed with lawn mower clippings) and if you do a detox diet, not only will you lose weight, but you’ll no longer have toxins inside you. That’s what science said until two days ago, when the Guardian pointed out that “detox” diets are a myth. It’s upsetting for those of us who have been wasting time on yoga and pooping for years now.

The Detox diets – also called “cleanses” by people who don’t associate that word with Serbia circa 1994 – are the latest “fad diet” to become a thing. And now, like the Atkins Diet, the Caveman Diet, the Milksteak Diet, and the Traumatic Blood Loss Diet before it, Detox Diets are becoming a thing of the past.

I’ve always had trouble with fad diets. I haven’t trusted any sort of fad since the Pog bubble burst back in ’94 and my $900-value portfolio of slammers depreciated to a net worth of about 46¢ in the course of a single recess. The bubble burst because Mrs. Metzger said that Pogs were a type of gambling, and because gambling was un-Christian. I don’t know if Mrs. Metzger’s still alive, but seaweed enemas strike me as un-Christian, and I wouldn’t put it past her to ban them and pop the detox bubble as well.

This, of course, has meant that I’ve never totally learned how to gain or lose weight. The process is baffling to me. I’ve heard “eat less and exercise,” but both of those things sound terrible. I’d do those terrible things if I was guaranteed a long and happy life in exchange, but as far as I can make out, certain death lurks around every corner. Global warming is going to flood my lovely Jersey Shore town, and I’m going to drown because of tsunamis and acidified seas. Or maybe New York gets hit with a nerve gas attack just as a Nor’easter is hitting, and the nerve gas blows down to Asbury Park and kills me.

Maybe I’ll be killed by a drunk driver or a sudden brain aneurysm. Maybe after the economic collapse of 2018 I’ll be cooked rotisserie-style by bands of roving cannibals. Maybe my slowly-dying Christmas tree will catch on fire and I’ll die of smoke inhalation. Maybe a comet will be about to hit earth and Ben Affleck will be too busy on the next Batman movie to save us. Maybe Cthulhu awakes from his eternal slumber and sends the world spiraling into a new age of madness and despair.

All of this is totally within the realm of possibility. And it makes it really hard for me to justify working out. On top of this, what if there really is no such thing as God? What if right and wrong don’t exist on an individual level? If that’s the case, isn’t the only true “right” whatever makes me happy? And how do I balance the happiness of eating a pizza and watching old episodes of Always Sunny now with the hypothetical happiness I’ll feel if I survive to the age of 96?

The only thing I’m trying to say is that it’s really hard to pick a proper health regimen when a) there’s so much conflicting information out there, and b) I’m paralyzed by my own insignificance. Now if you’ll excuse me, now that I know toxins aren’t real, I’m going to go have a glass of scotch.

Photo by Pete Kraynak

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All Your Favorite Holiday Specials are Anti-Capitalist

1) A Christmas Carol

Scrooge is a capitalist. He is the type of person who would be called a “job creator” today. He makes a ton of money and he hoards it. He’s basically a caricature of an Ayn Rand character (because Ayn Rand’s characters totally aren’t caricatures already), written 62 years before she was even born. He’s so rapaciously capitalist that it was probably inevitable that Disney turned him into a hero.

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After Scrooge has been haunted by the ghosts of Christmas Present, Past, and Future, what does he suddenly become concerned in? Higher workers wages. Healthcare for the families of his employees. Giving out free meals to the poor. In essence, Socialism. God would bless us, every one, if God wasn’t a creation of the bourgeoisie to keep the proletariat in check, Tiny Tim.

2) A Charlie Brown Christmas

This anarcho-Christian fable shows children acting like rapacious capitalists. Sally wants “tens and twenties” for Christmas. Lucy wants “real estate.” As Charlie Brown and Linus leave the school play to shop for Christmas trees, everyone demands fake, gaudy aluminum trees. This line even gets busted out:
tumblr_mxpq6xsKbV1r9a32bo4_250Linus, the story’s left-wing hero, explains that “Christmas has not only gotten too commercial, it’s gotten too dangerous.” He then gives a speech about the true meaning of Christmas. This shouldn’t be called A Charlie Brown Christmas. It should be called The Kingdom of God is Within You, Charlie Brown!

3) It’s a Wonderful Life

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I mean, the main villain is a capitalist banker who is trying to destroy the protagonist’s dream of building a housing project. Next.

4) How the Grinch Stole Christmas

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The point is that Christmas isn’t about presents, and that ultimately, human company is more important than material things.

5) Home AloneHome Alone 2

tumblr_ngr4rmw9iN1sjfljfo1_500Far be it from me to suggest that these movies are one and the same in terms of structure or plot, but they both carry the same message: adults – i.e. “the man” or “the system” – are incompetent, dumb, or criminal, and children – i.e. anarchy and chaos – will inevitably win the day.

6) A Christmas Story

tumblr_ngqoc0sOyF1tmzlb4o1_500One of the most chilling anti-capitalist fables is A Christmas Story, a cautionary tale in which a middle class family’s constant grasping for material things – leg lamps, Zeppelins, Red Rider BB Guns – is disrupted by their lower class neighbors starving dogs. The allegories in this movie just keep coming: Santa – the capitalist symbol of Christmas – is portrayed as demonic and uncaring. The Father futilely grasps at a higher standing in life, not recognizing that his status symbol, the leg lamp, is gaudy and obnoxious, and was doomed from the beginning. Ralphie is conned into believing that his mindless radio entertainment was ever anything more than just a cynical attempt to sell him Ovaltine. A grim reminder if there ever was one that underneath the shiny facade of capitalist society lies a dangerous, violent world of bullying, greed, and shattered dreams.

7) Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer

A more lighthearted communist tale, Rudolph admits that sure, materialism is nice, but it deftly points out that those outside or beneath the capitalist system are callously cast aside to the so-called “Island of Misfit Toys.” Those misfits (shall we call them a “vanguard”?) then save the day when a climate related disaster of excessive fog causes the fragile, materialistic holiday to collapse. Is it a coincidence that Rudolph’s nose is red? You be the judge.