New job, less blogs (maybe)

I’m pretty boring. The only possibly interesting thing about my presence on this network is the fact that I work in child welfare. Due to my perspective, I’ve been meaning to write about it, but for various reasons haven’t. For the past 10 years I’ve worked in the field both directly with families as well as more behind the scenes. Guess which pays better. The paradox of all social services work is that the more money one makes, the less direct interaction there is with those they hope to help.

Working in child welfare has only cemented my non-belief in a kind and loving god. Such a god who doesn’t stop the horrors perpetrated against children that I’ve been confronted with on a daily basis is beneath contempt. I have intimate knowledge of some the worst things in the world – specific stories of abuse, neglect, violence, child sex trafficking, etc. Each story is different in it’s own heartbreaking way. Every person in the field needs the ability to compartmentalize. In my case this has led to numb feelings of desensitization, which is a depressing coping mechanism.

This is one of the reasons I’ve been long been ambivalent to shit like presidential elections. No matter who’s in office (federal, state, local), the workload of child welfare workers generally remains the same. The plight of abused and neglected kids, an extremely large proportion of which grow up in poverty, are mere talking points by asshole politicians who don’t do shit. Any attempts to mitigate poverty and institutionalized racism are band-aids applied to gaping wounds, and the children are the ones who suffer the greatest. It’s a fucking race to get ahead in the hyper-competitive developed world, and these kids are held back and getting lapped by the more privileged.

***

Social services workers are almost always overworked, underpaid, and very unappreciated. There are no TV shows or movies celebrating what we do (or are there? I don’t really have an encyclopedic knowledge of the entertainment field). If we’re ever portrayed it’s always as exhausted and mildly incompetent, with the latter being a direct consequence of the former. Compared to other public servants, such as firemen, nurses, and even teachers, we’re largely invisible, little thought of, and certainly not worthy of fetishization by popular culture, as opposed to the aforementioned.

The only time the general public is aware of anything relating to child welfare, to pick the aspect of social services I’ve been involved in, is when something horrible happens – a child dying in foster care, a social worker clearing a family for child abuse or neglect only for the worst to happen. At the same time there is a nagging, and not entirely undeserved perception of child welfare workers breaking apart and ruining families – after all, we are paid representatives of sociopolitical structures that have historically oppressed people unluckily born into bad situations.

None of this is to excuse the fuck-ups, of which there are countless in child welfare and other areas that comprise the field. There are wide systemic problems in the delivery of services to vulnerable populations. That we are a largely reactive industry that confronts systemic societal problems certainly doesn’t help. Also not helping: there’s little sign that systemic societal problems show any meaningful signs of abatement. A professor once told me that there will always a need for work in human services, and that’s proven to be right in my experience. But as I wrote, the work is low paying, hard, and little appreciated. Turnover is high on and just behind the frontlines, and there’s stiff competition for mid to upper level management. Often this necessitates prohibitively expensive higher education, a risk in any field that may or may not pay off financially.

***

Anyways, it’s not all bad. I’m just feeling a bit melancholy about it all because I’m about to start something completely new. While I’m still with the same organization, I will now be performing quality assurance related duties. It’s hard to say how often I’ll be able to blog, as I’ll need to devote more brainpower to an area I’m relatively unfamiliar with. It doesn’t help that I write slow and scattered – it takes much more time than I’d like for my thoughts and words to coalesce. So we shall see.

Crows!

Here is an awesome short about crows wrecking shit:

Here are some internet things about crows:

Crows Understand Analogies

Stop Picking On Crows: Study Reveals the Birds Aren’t Evil Predators

Do Crows Hold Funerals for Their Dead?

6 Terrifying Ways Crows Are Way Smarter Than You Thinkl

Solitary Crow On Fence Post Portending Doom, Analysts Warn

Here are some books about crows:

Gifts of the Crow: How Perception, Emotion, and Thought Allow Smart Birds to Behave Like Humans, By John Marzluff

Crow Planet: Essential Wisdom from the Urban Wilderness, by Lyanda Lynn Haupt

Mind of the Raven: Investigations and Adventures with Wolf-Birds, by Bernd Heinrich (mostly about ravens, but there’s some crow talk)

Crows are great and I welcome any cool crow stories. Crow negativity will not be tolerated.

ETA: A few years back I was walking from the house to the garage when  something hit me on the head. It was a chunk of bread. The weird thing was, it felt like it came straight down – the house was on my immediate left (it seemed unlikely someone from that direction threw it on a high enough arc that had an endpoint at my position), and I couldn’t see anyone in my field of view to the right of me. Sure enough, I look up and there’s a crow looking down at me from a wire. Well played, I thought.

Fucking gross

It never fails. After every episode of Full Frontal with Samantha Bee, I get an increase in traffic towards a post I wrote 4 months ago. Briefly, Samantha Bee and her husband Jason Jones were resisting desegregation efforts in their district, something I feel is extremely shitty and hypocritical.

Sometimes I can see where it’s been linked.

One website, apparently some kind of message board for Nike shoes, quoted a quote I used, and nothing else:

Samantha Bee is a liberal, right up until she thinks about her children having to go to school with black kids. Then, she turns into Strom Thurmond.” [from the comment section of a Slate article]

That was it, no context given. The take-home message the person received was that Samantha Bee=Strom Thurmond, which was used in a bewildering discussion sequence that hurt my brain.

Yesterday, to my horror, it turned up on a Reddit board for Opie and Anthony. If you don’t know them, you’re not missing anything. Unless you like terrible things. The person that linked to my post used a racial slur, and the rest of the thread consists of assorted, bigoted trash. So my blog was used as evidence for liberal hypocrisy by a trash person in his (it has to be a him) discussion with other trash people.

Unfortunately, that wasn’t all. Later on, it was linked on a thread on the fucking Trump Reddit. Fucking gross.

Regardless, I still stand behind everything I wrote and have no issue pointing out hypocrisy by beloved liberal superstars. If my interpretation is incorrect I’d certainly issue a mea culpa, but I’ve seen no evidence to the contrary. Anyways, this sucks and it feels weird.

So if you happen to see this, and found my blog via bigot Reddit threads, go fuck yourself.

Doom and gloom

In the late 90’s one of my best friends started on the slippery slope to full immersion into fundamentalist Christianity. By this time, we were in different colleges and communicating less and less, usually via AIM (rememeber that?!?). Whatever denomination he settled on, it was one of the sects that believed we were living in the end times. This was preposterous to me. One of his primary arguments was the recent increase in war and natural catastrophes. Nonsense, younger me countered, this shit’s been going on forever and it’s probably not getting appreciably worse. At the time, I had no idea if my rebuttal was true or not, but I was absolutely certain that a divinely prophesied apocalypse was nothing to be taken seriously.

My argument was made with the naive, myopic conceit that things will generally stay the same. Things (vaguely) would get a little better or worse, technology would continue to increase, benefiting some more than others. Basically, my bubble of a life as a middle class, straight white dude would maintain a sense of equilibrium. I’ll get up in the morning, go to work, go home and relax, or do something. Tomorrow will be pretty close to yesterday. Next week will look similar to the previous week. Work will mostly suck, but I’ll have a place to sleep, food to eat, and clean water to drink.

I constantly think about how extremely narrow my life experiences are, and that life looks completely different to different people in different times and different places. What’s normal to me is shared by relatively few people that have ever existed. Most people weren’t born into a white, Roman Catholic, middle class family in the rust belt in the early 80’s. Even within that subsection, things can look and feel wildly different based on any number of environmental factors.

***

In an interview with The Concourse, Walter Scheidel, Professor of Classics and History at Stanford, discusses his new book The Great Leveler which 

draws on thousands of years of history in civilizations across the world, and reaches a rather staggering conclusion: Extreme violence, plague, or total social collapse are the only things that have ever successfully leveled out inequality in societies. ‘Four different kinds of violent ruptures have flattened inequality: mass mobilization warfare, transformative revolution, state failure, and lethal pandemics,’ he writes. ‘I call these the Four Horsemen of Leveling.’

The interview is definitely worth reading in full and I intend to get the book at some point. Scheidel manages to inject a little optimism that is shot down in a way that’s darkly humorous:

Is there anything hopeful or constructive that people concerned about inequality can take from these findings?

Scheidel: That’s what the history is, whether we like it or not. It doesn’t mean that it always has to be this way. It doesn’t mean that there’s no alternative way of improving things, it’s just we haven’t found it yet… History doesn’t determine the future. It just gives a sense of what’s easy and what’s hard.

And yet, this is the line from your book’s conclusion that jumped out at me: “Only all-out thermonuclear war might fundamentally reset the existing distribution of resources.”

Scheidel: Which is technically true. [Laughs]

Income inequality has been getting worse and worse for some time. How long are the socioeconomically disadvantaged, unluckily born into less privileged situations, going to remain relatively docile, as income inequality continues to increase? A reckoning may be on the way if the ruling classes aren’t able to find ways to pacify the masses, with increasing numbers of families sliding out of the middle class. Sports, entertainment, and mind-altering substances have been useful distractions alongside the ever-present need to secure shelter, food and water. I wonder if a tipping point will be reached and what that will look and like.

***

The religion-based doom and gloom believed by my old friend may have a factual basis, but obviously not in the way he thinks. The prospect of numerous apocalypses divorced from religion are ubiquitous, and eschatological preachers no longer have a monopoly in that area. There are innumerable shapes it could take: climate change, gamma ray blast, impact event, supervolcano eruption, nuclear war, famine, plague, and as described above, societal collapse caused by untenable income inequality.

The secular evangelizers are not spewing the inane blather of manipulative purveyors of dogmatic faith. They are individuals who dedicate their lives to studying long term historical trends and empirically investigating the secrets of the cosmos. Or, if not them directly, then the journalists, writers, reporters and bloggers who summarize their premonitions.

I’m loathe to mention our glorious leader and I’m purposefully trying to limit his mentions in my blog, but it’s obvious income inequality, not to mention the other listed apocalypses, isn’t on his radar (except, perhaps, for his venerable adviser’s hard-on for war with Islam). No, foremost among his list of things worth throwing money at is our already bloated as fuck military, a useless wall, and god knows what else.

I haven’t had to deal with any of the phenomena that evoke the idea of impending personal, societal, or global apocalypse. Again, I wonder what that would look and feel like. My interest is not in the minority: we are culturally obsessed with the idea. Hollywood blockbusters are the the most saccharine manifestations of this, portraying collapse in the form of easily digestible entertainment with little constructive thinking required. Such cultural representations are largely ephemeral in our consciousness, and not likely to cause much more than a small amount of cognitive dissonance – after all, collapse may not even occur and, if it does, it will be in the undetermined future. We’ll go on consumed with our daily lives, but there are storm clouds on the horizon that we are only dimly aware of. One day the clouds, perhaps soon, perhaps later, will arrive.

Hey! check out this pair of BFF’s:

I don’t really give a shit about Jeff Sessions committing perjury

The Russia/Trump campaign connections will be, if they aren’t already, the left’s Benghazi. One side will scream for blood, the other will think it’s not that big a deal. For the duration of the presidency this will hound and annoy him, but nothing short of leaked audio purporting to be Trump and Putin collaborating to steal the election will matter. Even then, they’ll probably just resort to the now familiar fake news claim. Shitbags like Paul Manafort, Michael Flynn, and perhaps Sessions will be sacrificed here and there, but that will likely be the extent.

It’s hard to predict what, if anything, could be bad enough to completely derail Trump’s presidency [1]. Trump-haters (like me!) will continue to loathe everything about him and need little ammunition. On the other side, the old guard neocon branch of the Republican party will have no choice but to let go of their Russia-hatred, as their constituents prove to not give a fuck. Seeing those spineless cowards helplessly wring their hands at Trump’s embrace of Putin and Russia has been simultaneously amusing and pathetic [2]. While their party was hijacked by a reality TV star, they failed to realize Russia hasn’t been our national bogeyman since 9/11. They will adjust accordingly to save their own asses.

Every day, Trump, denizens of his administration, and his fawning media sycophants will say and do horrible things. To me, the Russia angle is a red herring. He already won, and, just my opinion here, would’ve won without Russian help. To the extent that Russia influenced the outcome doesn’t matter.

The horrifying results of November’s election notwithstanding, I can’t help but smirk at the idea of another country daring to manipulate our hallowed political institutions. Hopefully those most upset are aware of our rich history of doing the same thing.

Aside from our national nightmare, there will obviously be geopolitical ramifications. At best, a new cold war may be avoided if Trump and Putin continue fawning over each other. But Russia is already starting to get nervous with hitching their wagon to a petulant, thin-skinned man-child. to At worst, The Baltics, Georgia, and Ukraine are fucked, and another large area of the globe will be thrown into chaos. Fun times.


[1] Maybe, just maybe Tom Arnold will be the source of our salvation

[2] It certainly is weird that the right is totally cool with white, authoritarian strongmen. *insert thinking emoji

***This post is way too short to have footnotes and I’m disappointed in myself for using them

The frustrating genius of South Park

As an impressionable 16 year old, I was instantly hooked when South Park debuted in 1997 and have generally loved it ever since. Though my interest waned significantly from roughly 2009-2014, I’ve literally seen every episode. I had long since given up on the other long-running adult-oriented cartoons – Family Guy and The Simpsons (2007 for the former, 1999 for the latter), and was considering letting go of South Park. But Trey Parker and Matt Stone managed to inject new life into the show by introducing serialized episodes in 2015.

Attempting an analysis on 20 years worth of episodes is hard, especially for a show that has something to say about everything. To distill its ethos to it’s essence: both the left and right are full of shit [1], and PC-culture is abominable. The latter runs parallel to the stereotypical comedian’s belief that nothing should be off-limits, and any criticisms are the products of unwarranted hysteria. Moreover, it’s pretentious to care about things that don’t concern you, especially if you’re a celebrity.

This has served them well and ensures there’s something for everybody. Not so much from the perspective that one agrees with any specific character in any specific episode, but more to the extent that they will inevitably skewer ideologies and beliefs that one detests [2]. Individual episodes have received favorable coverage all over the internet, from Salon, The Atlantic, and Slate, to dumpster fire websites like Breitbart and The Daily Caller (not linking to them). Whether their widespread appeal was intended with a diverse audience in mind or not misses the point – this is a pretty ingenious way to ensure a large amount of people across the political spectrum can laugh at the caricatured absurdities of those they disagree with.

imgres imfghgres

Parker and Stone’s political beliefs can be best described as pre-Tea Party libertarianism, with an emphasis on free-market economics combined with a socially liberal live-and-let-live attitude. Parker described himself as one in 2001, while Stone has never, to my knowledge, claimed adherence to any political party. As an example of how this is manifested, consider Big Gay Al. Very early on (in 1998) they had the keen insight to allege that being gay is okay. However, a few years later Al makes an impassioned plea to respect the rights of private organizations to discriminate with impunity. The liberal elite, represented by Gloria Allred, predictably turn on him, calling him a homophobe, because of course those silly, stupid, hypocritical liberals would do that. Non-homophobes could cheer gay acceptance, while assholes could delight in the idea of keeping government out of where it doesn’t belong or, less charitably, legitimizing their bigotry.

Many times, what’s being made fun of and what, if anything, the creators are trying to say can be open to interpretation. For example in “The Jeffersons,” one of the main plot points used for comedic affect is South Park’s extremely racist police department trying to frame Michael Jackson. When it aired in 2004, I remember laughing at the cops because I generally think cops suck, and the show apparently agreed. But now I’m pretty sure that’s not the case – the racism and cruelty displayed by the police was too over-the-top. More likely, it should be interpreted as a critique of people who denigrate the hardworking, usually noble police and imagine wildly implausible race-based conspiracies. This theme can also be seen in a 2015 episode, “Naughty Ninjas“. Officer Barbrady, a relic from the earliest seasons, ineptly shoots a kid, leading to vehement anti-police actions. Later in the episode, the townspeople are forced to grovel to the now hated cops for help which is vindictively refused. Broadly, systematic racism and police violence is trivialized and the hypocrisy and stupidity of police-hating morons is emphasized.

The above examples are just two of countless issues tackled by Parker and Stone. Many characters say many different things and it’s damn near impossible to pin down what they actually think after 20 years of providing social commentary disguised as jokes. Therein lies the difficulty of gleaning insight into what the creators are trying to say. It certainly doesn’t help that they think all proponents of any issue, religion, and political belief is full of shit, pretentious, or both. That the characters are tethered to the plot means anyone at anytime can say or do something if the story calls for it.

***

For all the cruelty, nihilism (which I think the creators would object to), and gross-out humor, there is a heart to the show. Nothing, of course, is off limits, but themes of friendship and caring are abundant. Take Kenny’s interaction with his sister while in the guise of his superhero alter-ego Mysterion, after they had been placed in foster care:

Karen: Oh, it’s you. I was wondering when you’d appear. You always come when I’m sad.
Mysterion: You are going to be okay, Karen! You have to keep believing that!
Karen: Why did my mommy and daddy go to jail?
Mysterion: [thinks a moment] Sometimes, people do stupid things. Sometimes they don’t realize what should have come first. Until it’s too late.
Karen: But I’m all alone now.
Mysterion: You are not alone. No matter where you go, no matter what you do, I will always be here! Do you understand?
Karen: I’ll try, guardian angel.
Mysterion: Don’t try, Karen. Do.

It almost brings me to tears every time I see that part. As an aside, the perplexing depiction of the foster family as militant agnostics was a complete failure. One gets the idea that they were grasping at straws to find a group of people they had yet to satirize.

There are also characters that are almost always treated with respect by the creators. Wendy Testaberger is the foremost example. Earlier depictions aside, before the shows characters crystallized into their current recognizable forms, she is shown to be intelligent, principled and caring – the feminist foil to Cartman. If she says something, it isn’t something to be mocked except by assholes, such as Cartman, with the joke always being on Cartman rather than Wendy. This season, Wendy led a group of cheerleaders sitting for the national anthem due to online bullying, obviously paralleling Colin Kaepernick. This ended up going nowhere (see below), but the girls at no point were portrayed as being in the wrong.

Another example is Butters who is exceptionally kind-hearted. While he is perpetually shit on, it is primarily due to his limitless gullibility coupled with the brutality of other characters, rather than for being a decent kid. That doesn’t mean he’s immune to acting out, as evidenced by becoming a Men’s Rights Activist after being dumped, and somewhat vindictively telling off his cruel and abusive grandmother:

Grandma? I did it, Grandma. I finally stood up for myself. I got real mean and I beat the snot outta Dr. Oz. I can’t lie, it felt kind of good. At first. But since then all I have is just… a kind of dark, empty feeling. Then I realized… that’s how you must feel. All the time. Poor old Grandma. You know, I’ve been gettin’ lots of advice how to deal with you. Stand up to you, tell on you… But I kind of realize there’s just people like you out there. All over the place. When you’re a kid, things seem like they’re gonna last forever. But they’re not. Life changes. Why you won’t always be around. Someday you’re gonna die. Someday pretty soon. And when you’re layin’ in that hospital bed, with tubes up your nose, and that little pan under your butt to pee in, well I’ll come visit ya. I’ll come just to show you that, that I’m still alive and I’m still happy. And you’ll die. Bein’ nothin’ but you. ‘Night Grandma.

Overall, Butters is a sympathetic character and serves as another moral anchor to the show. But the above quote is another typical South Park theme: there are horrible people in the world, and the onus is on you to stoically deal with it.

That South Park does have a heart should not be seen as an excuse for the many, many examples of cruel, offensive comedy. In no way am I insinuating that those offended by South Park are wrong. For example, body shaming, particularly towards females and transgender peoples, is rampant. Women are frequently mocked for personal appearance, from Jennifer Lopez’s ass, to Sarah Jessica Parker’s supposed equine features. Caitlyn Jenner is portrayed as a walking plastic surgery disaster. Why they felt the need to do this is beyond my comprehension, except perhaps to show they can still be offensive and “edgy.” Even more perplexing was that Jenner’s appearance occurred after their very well received episode that tackled the bathroom uproar in a fair and enlightened manner. Moreover it showed pretty substantial growth from their hit or miss (mostly miss) portrayals of Mr. Garrison’s continually evolving gender questioning and sexuality [3].

The point is, Jenner’s portrayal was completely unimaginative and gratuitously cruel. Perhaps more galling is that they refused to do the same with more odious figures like Chris Christie and Steve Bannon. All of that being said, I laughed pretty hard each time Jenner smashed her car into people. Such humor poked fun at something Jenner did, rather than fundamental aspects of her being. But I digress – if you are offended by anything on South Park, nothing I write should be construed as telling you to “get over it.”

***

This past season, the second of their serialization project, they fucked up. Broad, season-long plots failed to coalesce into anything resembling a coherent conclusion. By mixing real-world events of the previous week into the already existing plots they undertook a huge risk that relied on Clinton winning the election. That the election happened the day before episode 7 out of 10 certainly didn’t help [4], and the final episodes reflect a team of writers scrambling to adjust. Some plots were disregarded, and the final episode, appropriately titled “The End of Serialization as We Know It,” fell flat.

There was a very meta aspect to one of the plots, which is something I think South Park does extremely well [5]. Briefly, Kyle’s dad Gerald is a secret online troll. His trolling leads to the suicide of a Danish citizen. The Danish are pissed and begin work on a system to reveal every persons’ online history – something that causes mass destruction as everyone’s anonymous internet persona is unmasked. It’s revealed the leader of the project is a master troll who, rather than giving a shit about outing trolls on moral grounds, undertook the project to cause mass chaos. Early on in the season, I felt that Gerald represented the decades of trolling that South Park has done and this is, more or less, confirmed with a final showdown between Gerald and the Danish troll. The Danish troll is the devil’s advocate for Parker and Stone’s entire career, as represented by Gerald:

Bedrager [the Danish troll]: What I’m doing is wrong? How is getting millions of people to kill themselves different from getting one person to?
Gerald: It’s completely heartless and malicious!
Bedrager: You can honestly stand there, as a troll, and tell me that what I’m doing isn’t hilarious?
Gerald: No! Its not! Hacking the world to show that most people act differently online isn’t even technically satirical.
Bedrager: How is not satirical?

Gerald: Okay, okay, look. What you’re doing is just trying to prove that everyone is either a bad person or a snoop, right? So how is that funny?
Bedrager: That’s not what I’m doing. I’m showing everyone that all this stuff that they freak out over doesn’t even matter.
Gerald: No, but see, that’s just nihilism.
Bedrager: Oh, come on!
Gerald: That is!
Bedrager: So–so wait! If you do some big, outrageous, offensive thing with a positive attitude, you’re a satirist, but if you’re cynical about it, then you’re a nihilist? That’s fucking ridiculous

Gerald: You’re trying to get people to go to war and kill each other.
Bedrager: So maybe this is like the new post-funny era of satire. [6]

At this point, Gerald kicks Bedrager in the nuts and exclaims: “Ha! Fuck you! What I do is fucking funny, bitch!”

Humor is the highest ideal, and is differentiated from nihilism by actually being, you know, funny. Or, humor that causes actual real world destruction is the line they will not cross, at least intentionally. While I agree that the show’s trolling can and has been funny, the showdown’s conclusion came off as hollow. Gerald’s trolling was extremely vicious and not even remotely satirical. He received no tangible comeuppance. To the show’s credit, however, when Gerald is reunited with his family, Kyle and his brother Ike give him withering stares: they know he’s an asshole who’s full of shit. That he’s acknowledged as such is quintessential South Park – the creators allow that they too are not immune from the criticisms they’ve dispensed over the years.

***

Recently Parker and Stone discussed scrapping serialization completely and have deemed Trump to be beyond satire. In an interview with ABC Australia, Stone said:

People say to us all the time, ‘Oh, you guys are getting all this good material,’ like we’re happy about some of the stuff that’s happening. But I don’t know if that’s true. It doesn’t feel that way. It feels like they’re going to be more difficult. We’re having our head blown off, like everybody else.”

Watching the interview, it’s not unreasonable to conclude that he is more upset about Trump’s presidency, rather than the death of political satire [7]. But then, of course, I may be hearing something that isn’t there.

It bears noting that in 16 years of Bush and Obama, they’ve largely resisted making fun of them. Both appeared in episodes, but were almost never the butt of any jokes [8]. Now they’re faced again with the choice to pick a side. Only at this point in time one side has mutated into a cesspool of bigotry, anti-intellectual fervor, and a shameful disregard for human suffering. Despite the above quote, I don’t think they’ll be able to resist political commentary. And if I’m right, I wonder if they’ll incorporate unfavorable depictions of Trump opposition. I could see the kids joining a black bloc – I don’t believe anarchists have been mocked yet. This is not surprising since they’ve been invisible in the US since the “Battle of Seattle.” Or maybe Kyle will punch Cartman, the literal Nazi, causing an uproar (as opposed to the many times he’s done it in the past). I cringe at the thought of the mockery of, in Stone and Parker’s mind, outrageous Trump/Hitler comparisons taken to absurd levels. Or alleging Nazi-punchers are as bad as Nazis. Hopefully they’ve evolved since 2004, when Parker stated:

[p]eople on the far-left and the far-right are the same exact person to us.

That is fantastically douchey. The more I think about it the more I think they’ll stay the course, while perhaps dumping the serialized format. This may prove to be unfortunate, as some of the best episodes are apolitical and only tangentially related to any specific social or political issues, if at all. So getting rid of politics shouldn’t be seen as necessarily a bad thing. On the other hand, their injection of social commentary has enabled their relevance for much longer than their contemporaries. I don’t think many people give a shit what The Simpsons or Family Guy is trying to say. If they do, they shouldn’t, because they both blow.

Underlying all of this, I find the show consistently funny in tons of different ways. The show is watched by millions and is an indelible part of our culture, for better or worse. It’s generated ample material that warrants analysis. For some, it’s just humor. For others, it reinforces worldviews, primarily through negative portrayals of people and ideas one doesn’t agree with. And that is the big question heading into Season 21 – will they maintain the status quo by negatively depicting the rich panoply of Trump-haters, all in the interest of maintaining their “both sides are bad” ideology? If so, it will only give unneeded ammunition to the aforementioned cesspool denizens. I’d like to think Parker and Stone wouldn’t want any part of that.


[1] Parker infamously stated

I hate conservatives but I really fucking hate liberals.

[2] In an interview with The Huffington Post in 2010, Parker said

everyone sees their own thing in it. A lot of our shows where even we think we’ve taken a very deliberate stand, liberals say, ‘That’s awesome, you took on the conservatives’ [and for the] same show conservatives say ‘That’s awesome, you took on liberals.’

[3] He has been portrayed at varying lengths of time as heterosexual cisgender male, homosexual cisgender male, heterosexual transgender female and homosexual transgender female. In earlier seasons he attempts to meet a young child on the internet (Cartman, unbeknownst to him), fucks a pig, and is extremely distraught that his father didn’t rape him as a child. He is currently the show’s literal stand-in for Donald Trump who wants to “fuck them all to death.”

[4] The episode was titled “First Gentleman,” referring to Bill Clinton, and remained the title displayed on my cable information screen.

[5] One of the most poignant meta moments has Cartman, defeated by PC Principal (a funny but nonsensical character whom deserves a level of scrutiny I don’t feel like doing) saying: “We’re two privileged, straight white boys who have their laughs about things we never had to deal with.” I mean, it FEELS meta, but it very well may not be – after all, it’s coming from Cartman. It’s usually not wise to rely on Cartman as the show’s conscience. For example, MRA type shitheads crowed about Cartman supposedly lampooning Amy Schumer’s vagina jokes, when it’s pretty obvious she is not what’s being made fun of. If that interpretation is incorrect, it’d be especially galling, seeing as South Park has a rich history of genital-related humor.

[6] This is a great and chilling line. I’m very tempted to believe that this is a shot at the destructive troll-humor of 4chan (i.e. Pizzagate) and Milo Yiannopoulos-types, but I’m not sure.

[7] Overall, Garrison/Trump is almost always shown in a negative light, somewhat hilariously leading to Reddit discussions with titles like “Is it just me or has South Park gone full cuck?” In a 2015 episode, a Trump-like figure was elected in Canada which proved to be prophetic and, in retrospect, terrifying:

Nobody ever thought he’d be president! It was a joke! We just let the joke go on for too long. He kept gaining momentum, and by the time we were all ready to say, ‘Okay, let’s get serious now, who should really be president?’ he was already being sworn into office.

[8] I only recall one instance of Bush being unambiguously mocked for his poor speech habits. For Obama, any humor related to him derived from Cartman or others saying racist things – in other words, Obama is not the joke, racism is. Clinton, on the other hand, was mocked early on (and recently) for being a sexual deviant.

 

Melissa McCarthy’s terrible Kia ad

Obviously greenwashing isn’t new. I first recall hearing about it over a decade ago, and it is, depressingly, still going strong. Also not new is humor aimed at the idea of tree-huggers saving the environment. In general, I’m not opposed to this. Of course, subjectively, some do it better than others. But combining humor with selling a product directly implicated in environmental destruction [1], not to mention climate change, is pretty reprehensible.

This can be seen in the new Kia/Melissa McCarthy commercial, which I will neither link to nor embed. For those blissfully unaware, Melissa McCarthy finds herself in some pretty hilarious situations in her role as eco-warrior. And it’s a hit! I’m sure Kia’s shareholders are stoked, as is the natural world which can now breathe a sigh of relief. In general, car commercials are some of the most cloying examples of environmentally harmful companies attempting to manipulate one’s emotions with maudlin drivel (“Love. Its what makes a Subaru, a Subaru.” Puke.).

Let’s see what the CEO of Kia has to say:

People will go to great lengths to support the causes they are passionate about, and the Niro is a “smarter kind of crossover” for those looking to go green without making sacrifices…The Niro is like nothing consumers have seen before, and with an audience of over 100 million people tuning in, Melissa McCarthy is the perfect partner to tell the world about Kia’s uniquely alluring yet practical new crossover.

The last thing I’d want to do in my personal efforts to save the world is make any kind of sacrifice. Like, if doing anything beneficial for the planet involves sacrifices I say fuck that. I know when I’m driving a car I need that extra UMPH to make me feel like a STRONG MAN. And not only just a STRONG MAN, but one who CARES about things.

McCarthy, from the same article above, had this to say:

For years, I’ve been trying to find the perfect project that combined the real threat of me breaking every bone in my body, with my desire to help save the environment. Thanks Kia!!!  XOXO Love, Melissa.

For the first time in a long time, I think we’re on the right track. I’m just glad that doing my part to save the planet is as easy as running over to my Kia dealer and buying a brand new $23K car. The fact that I can laugh about a funny lady slamming into the side of a boat and being chased by a rhino is icing on the cake.

World=Saved.


 

[1]

Historian Mark Foster has estimated that “fully one-third of the total environmental damage caused by automobiles occurred before they were sold and driven.” He cited a study that estimated that fabricating one car produced 29 tons of waste and 1,207 million cubic yards of polluted air. Extracting iron ore, bauxite, petroleum, copper, lead, and a variety of other raw materials to process steel, aluminum, plastics, glass, rubber, and other products necessary to construct automobiles consumes limited resources, uses great amounts of energy, and has serious environmental repercussions. In recent years, for example, the automotive industry in several developed countries was a major purchaser of iron and steel (30 percent), lead for batteries (46 percent), aluminum (23 percent), and platinum for exhaust fume control (41 percent). Approximately 75 percent of the cost of the industry’s power comes from electricity, but the auto industry also consumes natural gas (15 percent of energy expenditures), and coal and coke (over 8 percent), as well as steam, oil, and propane.

Muhammad gave cats their “m”

One of these days I will see “Nine Lives: Cats in Istanbul,” and cease to exist because I will melt into a pile of goo. Watching the trailer, I thought about cats and Islam. Turns out, it’s kind of a thing:

According to legend, Abu Hurairah’s cat saved Muhammad from a snake. In gratitude, Muhammad stroked the cat’s back and forehead, thus blessing all cats with the righting reflex. The stripes some cats have on their foreheads are believed to mark the touch of Muhammad’s fingers.

The “stripes” refer to the nearly ubiquitous “m” that many cats have on their foreheads. That story fucking rules. Other articles on the first page of a Google search for “cats and Islam” include: “The Sunnah and Blessings in Healing effects of Cats,” and “Deen islam -Secrets and Blessings of cats.”

Since Islam is the sworn enemy of the apocalypse yearning madmen currently running America, I thought it prudent to examine their chosen religion’s relationship to cats. If one googles “Christianity and Cats” not only is there not a Wikipedia page, but literally the first listing is titled “Ten reasons it’s okay for Christians to hate cats.” The other website titles are similarly shitty (another: “Are Cats For True Christians?”). Fucking weak. But then, what should I have expected from a religion whose incarnated deity forced a bunch of pigs to commit mass suicide?

In the interest of providing all sides to the story, I thought I’d see what good ol’ science has to say in terms of the “m.” Perhaps my googling skills are lagging, but I couldn’t find anything pertaining directly to it. As far as cat coat patterns:

The conclusion, then, is that the patterns of cat coats reflect, in large degree, selection for camouflage in their natural habitats. This camouflage almost certainly evolved to hide them from prey, and, in smaller cats, predators as well.

But no word on the “m.” The deafening silence forces me to conclude that, indeed, Muhammad gave cats their “m.”

 

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Carrie, Hester, and their “m’s”

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Patches doesn’t have an “m” but it wouldn’t be fair to not have a picture of her. Note that science also doesn’t have an explanation for mer-cats

 

HIS DARK MATERIALS SEQUEL IS HAPPENING!

Via NPR:

The Book of Dust will return to the world(s) and characters of His Dark Materials, [Philip] Pullman said, and Lyra will be integral to the new story — but not in the way she was before. The first volume will take place a decade before the events of His Dark Materials, when Lyra is an infant. The second and third volumes will be set ten years after the original trilogy’s conclusion, and will follow Lyra as a young woman.

Pullman began work on The Book of Dust in 2005. I read HDM in 2007 and, when finished, voraciously searched for any information about a follow-up. By that point, Pullman thought it could be ready by 2009. As the years passed, I all but lost hope and assumed it wasn’t happening. It’s unfortunate that this hopeless waiting hasn’t lessened the despair for other authors taking forever *cough* George RR Martin *cough*.

I first learned about HDM after the first book in the series, The Golden Compass, was made into a movie. I knew nothing about it until I came across an interview with the author. Pullman’s disdain for The Chronicles of Narnia (which I still love because I loved it as a child, though to say it hasn’t aged well is quite an understatement), and the descriptions of HDM as the anti-Narnia piqued my interest.

If you’ve only seen the movie and rightfully thought it terrible, please know the book is so much better. Had I seen it first I probably wouldn’t have bothered with the books. The fact that they watered down the blatant anti-Christian overtones was the least of its problems if I recall correctly.

Anyways, this is great and I think this might be the first time I’ve posted something I’d consider good news. So yay!

Our crumbling infrastructure

As a culture, we are fantastic at living in the moment. In the event we plan for the future at all, it is typically with ourselves and immediate family in mind. I do this too – I try to focus on things I have a tenuous degree of control over. The big questions of impending doom related to climate change and infrastructure failures are delegated to professionals – the government, private companies – and activists. It doesn’t seem to be working very well.

You’ve probably heard of the Oroville Dam clusterfuck. It’s pretty bad, and there’s more to come:

According to the Association of State Dam Safety Officials (ASDSO), the U.S. had 173 dam failures and 587 incidents between January 1st, 2005 and June 2013. (“Incidents” are defined as “episodes that, without intervention, would likely have resulted in dam failure.”) A majority of those failures were attributed to extreme weather.

Lori Spragens, executive director of the ASDSO, told Gizmodo that it’s possible there are more incidents that have gone unnoticed or unreported. There’s no across the board rule about reporting incidents, she said. “It just depends on the state. Some states only regulate high-hazard dams, some regulate all three levels of hazard,” low, significant, and high, according to the ASDSO.

A 2013 report card by the American Society of Civil Engineers gave the United States’ overall infrastructure a letter grade of “D+,” meaning poor. The score was even lower for the 84,000 U.S. dams, which received a “D.” (It’s also worth noting that the average age of the failed dams was 62 years old, just 10 years older than the national average.)

Out of all those dams, the most immediately worrisome are the 2,000 that have been categorized as “deficient high-hazard” dams. High-hazard dams are anticipated to cause loss of human life if they fail. Many of these were initially built as low-hazard dams, but as populations grew and development proceeded, people have increasingly found themselves in the danger zone.

You might be thinking, “holy shit, this sounds like it would be really expensive fix.” If so, you’re right!

As politicians campaign on rebuilding our crumbling infrastructure, we’ve mostly been engaged in half-measures that require little sacrifice. As one of his final acts as president, Obama authorized the Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation Act, which allocated $12 billion dollars to a range of projects related to the nation’s water supply. But only a portion of the money is intended to improve the federal government’s high-hazard dams. The Association of State Dam Safety Officials estimates it would take over $57 billion to rehabilitate all of the nation’s dams.

It’s yet to be seen what our new president will do—the infrastructure plan he floated before the election would rely on tax incentives for private companies—but the clock is ticking.

You might be thinking “hmm, maybe it’d be better to use the wall money for something like this.” That’s an idea I only grudgingly think about, largely from the perceptive that the wall idea is asinine and the money could be put to better use. I don’t like dams. However, I guess I’m more agnostic to fixing pre-existing dams, the failure of which would endanger lives. But maybe we should just take them down. In a very recent article in Science FindingsGordon Grant, professor at the College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences at Oregon State University, concluded that there is

sound empirical basis for dam removal as a rational, workable strategy to improve fluvial connectivity, reduce environmental hazards associated with aging infrastructure, and promote recolonization by fish and other aquatic organisms in previously blocked reaches.

Sounds good to me. But one drawback of the study is that it acknowledges there is limited data on large dam removal:

Unfortunately, we don’t have enough examples of big dam removals to get a good sense of the full range of possible responses.

Moreover, there is no discussion of impacted human communities downstream. As a rabid, human-hating environmentalist, it’s admittedly not the most important thing to me. But it would be essential for dam removal proponents to address this in ways that people care about (i.e. how humans are affected).

My views aside, we’ll probably neglect the issues at hand until juuuuust before it’s too late. Then, we’ll throw money and technology at the problems in order to, again, kick the can further down the road.