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.

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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.

 

Meteor!

A meteor was seen by many in the Upper Midwest. Or, as the American Meteor Society calls it, a “bright green fireball,” which is way cooler.

Several friends on social media noted a bright flash and a loud bang. I slept through it – I neither heard a bang, nor saw a flash 🙁

 

 

Leave Kellyanne alone

I’m going to give Kellyanne Conway the benefit of the doubt on misspeaking “one word.” Because who could be intellectually dishonest enough to allege a nonexistent massacre and subsequently claim her mistake was no big deal? Who among us hasn’t said “massacre” while intending to say “terrorists?” It’s an easy mistake.

But maybe, due to lamestream media bullying and SJW ridicule, she’s too ashamed to admit she misplaced her massacre by roughly 200 miles and 235 years. Indeed, there was a massacre near present day Bowling Green. The perpetrators, however were not Muslim immigrants or refugees, but American militiamen (almost certainly Christians, all). The victims were pacifist Christianized Native Americans living outside of the boundaries of the nascent United States of America:

In early March 1782, the Lenape were surprised by a raiding party of 160 Pennsylvania militia led by Lieutenant Colonel David Williamson. The militia rounded up the Christian Lenape and accused them of taking part in raids into Pennsylvania. Although the Lenape denied the charges, the militia held a council and voted to kill them.

After the Lenape were told of the militia’s vote, they requested time to prepare for death and spent the night praying and singing hymns. They were held in two buildings, one for men and one for women and children.

The next morning on 8 March, the militia brought the Lenape to one of two “killing houses”, one for men and the other for women and children. The militia tied the Indians, stunned them with mallet blows to the head, and killed them with fatal scalping cuts. In all, the militia murdered and scalped 28 men, 29 women, and 39 children. Two Indian boys, one of whom had been scalped, survived to tell of the massacre. The bodies were piled in the mission buildings and burned the village down. They also burned the other abandoned Moravian villages.

The militia looted the villages prior to their burning. The plunder, which needed 80 horses to carry included everything which the people had held: furs for trade, pewter, tea sets, and clothing.

In 1810, Tecumseh reminded future President William Henry Harrison, “You recall the time when the Jesus Indians of the Delawares lived near the Americans, and had confidence in their promises of friendship, and thought they were secure, yet the Americans murdered all the men, women, and children, even as they prayed to Jesus?”

Maybe Conway will find the courage to clarify her initial comments and educate the masses about their heritage. I suppose I shouldn’t hold my breath.

 

 

 

 

Do what you’re told

The stories are trickling in regarding Trump’s immigration restrictions. It’s almost startling how fast these restrictions were implemented, or at least it would be if we had any reason to expect things to not be shitty. The president gives the order and immediately his demands are carried out. He says jump, and the federal, state, and local authorities comply, from office workers to the security officers on the front lines – spineless cowards, all of them. It’s something important to keep in mind.

A culture that deifies [1] authority figures gives unwarranted truth to the lie that they can do no wrong. They’re just following orders after all, whether they agree with it or not. For every terrible thing Trump orders there are underlings who have to decide whether or not to carry it out, as it filters through the institutional hierarchy. I have nothing but contempt for those that do, even if they have reservations or concerns. I guess it’s easy for me to say, since I generally don’t work at places I consider ethically compromising (though I was in debt collection for a minute and it was exceptionally soul destroying).  If you won’t quit because you need the job or can’t find a new one, well, I just don’t really care. With the ubiquity of horrors in this world, my empathy rations are running thin and don’t extend to such people. I hesitate to reference “Eichmann in Jerusalem,” by Hannah Arendt, but fuck it:

[T]he murderers were not sadists or killers by nature; on the contrary, a systematic effort was made to weed out all those who derived physical pleasure from what they did. The troops of the Einsatzgruppen had been drafted from the Armed S.S., a military unit with hardly more crimes in its record than any ordinary unit of the German Army, and their commanders had been chosen by Heydrich from the S.S. élite with academic degrees. Hence the problem was how to overcome not so much their conscience as the animal pity by which all normal men are affected in the presence of physical suffering. The trick used by Himmler — who apparently was rather strongly afflicted by these instinctive reactions himself — was very simple and probably very effective; it consisted in turning these instincts around, as it were, in directing them toward the self. So that instead of saying: What horrible things I did to people!, the murderers would be able to say: What horrible things I had to watch in the pursuance of my duties, how heavily the task weighed upon my shoulders!


[1]. “Whites have consistently been shown to appear in a “hero” role on television news, being overrepresented as both officers and victims. In the past, authors have produced multiple alternative explanations for distorted race and crime portrayals. Three specific perspectives should be highlighted: (1) ethnic blame discourse, (2) incognizant racism, and (3) structural limitations and economic interests.”

 

Pipelines

To my shame, I’ve never had much more than a tenuous grasp on what presidents can or can’t do. Which is why I was confused about the executive orders signed by Trump regarding the Keystone XL and Dakota pipelines. Can he just make these projects happen with the stroke of a pen? Thankfully, at this point, the answer is no.

For the Dakota pipeline he’s merely requesting the Army Corps of Engineers to hurry the fuck up and approve it. From The Atlantic

[T]he executive orders seemed to be written in a typical way. Instead of commanding agencies to ignore congressionally passed law, the orders request that they expedite or reconsider previous judgments. “Executive orders are legal orders—they’re law—but they can’t contravene legislative enactments. So an executive order can’t say, ‘Ignore the (National Environmental Policy Act) and give me a pipeline,’” [Sarah Krakoff, a professor of tribal and resources law at the University of Colorado Boulder] told me.

“If the federal law gives decision-making authority to a particular official, that official has to make the decision,” said John Leshy, a professor of real property law and a former general counsel to the U.S. Department of the Interior. “But there’s some murkiness about what the president can do. The decision maker can say no, and then the president can fire them and replace them with someone who would. But that takes time.”

Krakoff added that it would attract judicial suspicion if the Army Corps of Engineers suddenly decided that it didn’t have to make an environmental-impact statement for the Dakota Access pipeline after saying that it did just weeks ago.

“It would be hard for them to turn around on a dime and say, ‘We got this piece of paper from the president and now we don’t think that’s necessary,’” she said. “If the agency were to take a different route, legally, now, I would strongly suspect that that would be subject to litigation.”

There is less in the way of getting the Keystone XL pipeline off the ground. Ominously, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (isn’t he supposed to be a totally cool and awesome liberal heartthrob???) is welcoming the opportunity for TransCanada to re-submit its application:

Canadian diplomats had spent years attempting to convince Obama to let Keystone proceed. Trump’s decision was applauded by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Alberta Premier Rachel Notley.

“I’ve been on the record for many years supporting it because it means economic growth and good jobs for Albertans,” Trudeau said at a Liberal cabinet retreat in Calgary.

To sum up where we are now in regards to the pipelines, (again, from The Atlantic article):

Experts seemed to think the Keystone XL pipeline would be easier to restart, at least from a legal perspective. The obstacles to that pipeline originated in the federal government and not an ongoing legal challenge. But in a way, that highlights the paradox of the two pipelines: While it may be easier to restart Keystone XL legally, none of that project is built, and there’s no guarantee that it ever will be. The Dakota Access pipeline, meanwhile, sits idle at 80-percent completion. It is closer to being done. It also has, legally, much further to go.

Our primary hope appears to be sweet, sweet labyrinthine bureaucracy, as well as the fact that not all executive orders yield their desired results. The Atlantic article notes this and concludes with an outline of Obama’s inability to follow through on his 2009 executive order to close Guantanamo. It would be obscene and demoralizing if Trump’s authoritarian bullying succeeds in attaining environmentally destructive goals, while Obama’s eloquence and diplomacy failed to achieve his comparatively noble mission to close an ongoing human rights disaster.

On badly named college papers, state violence, and resistance

1984: Satire or Reality?

This is the cringeworthy title of a paper I wrote for an English 101 class in 1999, at the age of 18. I came across it a couple years back, though was too embarrassed to read the contents. It was likely naive and alarmist, as only a college freshmen English paper on the topic of totalitarianism could be. Basically, it could’ve been the subject of an Onion article.

This past weekend I, and doubtless many others, couldn’t help but think about 1984 as Sean Spicer spewed a bunch of nonsense that was obviously and demonstrably false, and be scared. Politicians lie. They’ve always lied. [1] But this just feels different, an ominous harbinger of what’s to come. It’s one thing to blatantly lie and fly off the handle about unimportant minutia during a campaign that was more akin to a surreal reality show, but this was the second fucking day of actually being president. Just wait until they start to lie about things that actually matter. Of course they’ve been lying for months, but now they’ll have the whole weight of the federal government behind them, and all that that entails.

I think it gives the Trump administration too much credit to suggest Spicer’s inauguration crowd related briefing was done to deflect attention from Saturday’s protests. Why deflect that attention to a topic that makes him look petty and delusional? Any shift in awareness would have been an unintentionally happy byproduct – there’s no reason to believe that Trump didn’t want his version of the truth about this very important matter to be completely accepted.

If I can take solace in anything, it’s that the millions who participated in the Women’s March showed that there are a large amount of people that aren’t ignorant enough to believe the facile lies coming from Trump and his mouthpieces. He should now know to expect resistance. If (probably when) he starts doing terrible things (starting a war, rounding up Muslims, punishing the media (whatever that will entail), etc.), people will again take to the streets. Trump is a man who does not take criticism well, and he openly encouraged violence against dissenters during his campaign. He is now in charge of a dangerous, powerful, multifaceted security apparatus. If he gives the order for violence against civilians, how will the foot soldiers of the state respond?

In 1789, during the waning days of the Kingdom of France, women, angered over bread prices and food shortages, fucked shit up. Juxtaposing women’s roles in the French Revolution and the Saturday marches, Micah White at The Guardian writes

The lesson here is that protesting grandmothers, daughters and mothers have the unique power to do what male protesters cannot – such as break through a line of national guard bayonets without being fired upon. And for this reason, women will always play a foundational role in the great revolutions to come, but only when they take matters into their own hands, act unexpectedly and viscerally, and focus their collective energy on the only target that matters: concretely establishing the power of the people over their governments.

I don’t know how much I buy that, as it rests on powerful men (well, mostly men) backed by state power being too squeamish to react violently towards a large crowd of women. God knows men haven’t been shy about perpetrating violence against women for, I dunno, the past 10,000 years? [2] But perhaps they’ll be more apt to show reluctance, whether that’s out of enlightenment, guilt, or the fear of being filmed. And while Saturday was, by all accounts peaceful – with smiling faces, boundless positivity, and selfies galore – it’s unclear how peaceful subsequent protests will be in the future. Also very unclear is to what extent peaceful street protest in the modern era will actually achieve its intended goals, as vague and open to interpretation as those goals may be.

On the other side of the spectrum, more than 60 million people are more than happy to consume oceans of bullshit from their hero. While many of them are too far gone, the younger generation needs to know that Trump’s terrible beliefs, worn like badges of honor by him and his claque, are not okay. We have our work cut out for us:

When it comes to explicit prejudice against blacks, non-Hispanic white millennials are not much different than whites belonging to Generation X (born 1965-1980) or Baby Boomers (born 1946-1964). White millennials (using a definition of being born after 1980) express the least prejudice on 4 out of 5 measures in the survey, but only by a matter of 1 to 3 percentage points, not a meaningful difference. On work ethic, 31 percent of millennials rate blacks as lazier than whites, compared to 32 percent of Generation X whites and 35 percent of Baby Boomers.

One might even go so far as to say that 1984 is already a reality for the aforementioned 60+ million bootlickers [3] (please know that my tongue couldn’t be further inside my cheek). Whether their numbers increase or decrease is going to be pretty important.


[1] To pick one, GWB was obviously lying about the official rationale for attacking Iraq, framing it as a war for liberation against a despot. That should have made one wonder why we were cool with, for one example among many, Turkmenistan’s recently deceased dictator boiling people alive. But a fuckload of people probably never even heard of Turkmenistan, or constructively thought about or sought information about why GWB’s noble warmongering propaganda was on faulty ground. What I’m saying is, fine, I can see why people swallowed lies from that asshole. His lies were at least plausible. Then again, I’m probably just misremembering the relative innocence of the early to mid aughts. At any rate, as mentioned by Aziz Ansari on SNL, Trump might be the best thing that happened to GWB.

[2] On the origins of gender role disparity:

Mark Dyble, an anthropologist who led the study at University College London, said: “There is still this wider perception that hunter-gatherers are more macho or male-dominated. We’d argue it was only with the emergence of agriculture, when people could start to accumulate resources, that inequality emerged.”

The study suggests that it was only with the dawn of agriculture, when people were able to accumulate resources for the first time, that an imbalance emerged. “Men can start to have several wives and they can have more children than women,” said Dyble. “It pays more for men to start accumulating resources and becomes favourable to form alliances with male kin.”

Soon enough, early agriculturalist men begin to see women as wholly subservient, and humanity started down the path towards institutionalized patriarchy.

[3] “The Party told you to reject the evidence of your eyes and ears. It was their final, most essential command.”