Brigid Daull Brockway is technically a writer

Brigid Daull Brockway is technically a writer

A blog about words, wordplay, and etymology, with slightly more than occasional political rants.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

"We're only as sick as our secrets" ~ Carrie Fisher

Can we talk about Princes Leia for a sec? And what a massive bad ass she was? There she is on the Death Star surrounded by the most terrifying men in the galaxy, this tiny little thing alone and unarmed. Tarkin threatens her life and she doesn't blink. He threatens her planet and she has the presence of mind to find a convincing lie. Alderaan is destroyed and she doesn't even give her enemies the satisfaction of seeing her break down. 

  Every time we see her face from her first frame to her last, she is getting shit done. While her brother is whimpering and whining his way through his adolescence, she's risking everything for the rebels. Jabba tries to make her a slave and she strangles him with the chain he bound her with. She never stops fighting.
When we see her again as General Organa The Force Awakens, she's still getting shit done. When Leia's son turns to the dark side, her brother buggers off to some ocean planet to stare at some rocks for years. Her lover disappears to play space pirates and aliens like he's having some long-delayed mid-life crisis. And Leia? She puts on her big girl pants and gets shit done. 
Carrie Fisher wasn't nearly as perfect as the princess turned general she played on screen, but she was damn sure as brave. Even as a twenty-something actress in the throes of a drug addiction that nearly killed her, she had the guts to tell the great ego George Lucas when his dialogue wasn't working and how he could make it better. She did a lot of that, actually, throughout her career. All through the 80s and 90s when people were calling her a washup and a has-been, she was rewriting some of the most famous movies Hollywood put out - without getting any credit. Fisher served as script doctor for The Blues BrothersSister ActHook, even the Star Wars prequels (though we'll forgive her for that). 

And that's despite the severe mental health problems she battled her entire life. Fisher was always candid about her addiction and recovery, but she later began speaking publicly about her bipolar diagnosis at a time when that still was not done. And people gave her hell for it. An article on once called her post Star Wars career unimpressive, saying she was best known now for talking publicly "about her personal problems," as if this were a filthy, shameful thing to do. People privileged with perfect mental health just can't comprehend how incredibly important voices like Fisher's are to people like me. Every time someone amazing like Carrie Fisher comes out of the closet with their mental illness, the stigma lifts just a little bit off the rest of our shoulders; every time someone as beloved as 
Fisher admits to her struggles, it gives the rest of us hope that we're lovable, maybe even laudable too. 

What made Fisher remarkable wasn't so much the way she spoke openly about her bipolar disorder when she was doing well; she spoke about it when she wasn't doing well too. For a lot of people, the decision to undergo electroconvulsive therapy is a private, shameful thing. Fisher changed her outgoing voice mail to note that because she was suffering memory loss following the procedure, callers would have to remind Fisher how she knew them if they expected a call back. When trolls on social media scorned the actress' appearance in The Force Awakens - she was too fat, too old - she didn't pretend it didn't bother her. She admitted that those words hurt her, but she stood strong anyway, and told other women to do the same.

Carrie Fisher had an advice column in The Guardian, and a young fan recently wrote in to ask her about how to function, how to live with a mental illness. That's where she said some words I'm planning to keep close to me as I navigate my own path with mental illness.

"Think of it as an opportunity to be heroic... An opportunity to be a good example to others who might share our disorder."
"You don’t have to like doing a lot of what you do, you just have to do it... Move through those feelings and meet me on the other side. As your bipolar sister, I’ll be watching. Now get out there and show me and you what you can do."
Fisher chose to be strong when she felt weakest, to be defiant when she felt the most shame. She chose to speak out when the sensible, safe course was to be silent. And she chose to do all that stuff in the public eye, for the benefit of people who were going through the same. And for that, I am utterly at a loss for words to express my gratitude. Godspeed, Leia Organa, and thank you, Ms. Fisher, for all the hope you've given me.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Heavenly Peace

"The War on Christmas - when did that start?" Begins Helen Zaltzman, host of The Allusionist.  "Upon the birth of Jesus Christ himself, when King Herod ordered all the baby boys in and around Bethlehem be killed? In 1644, when Oliver Cromwell’s Puritans passed an ordinance prohibiting Christmas celebrations? In 1659, when the Massachusetts Bay Colony Puritans managed to get Christmas banned for 22 years for being a pagan festival?"

No, according to a lot of people in the UK, the war on Christmas began when the city of Birmingham, England, renamed Christmas "Winterval." This was an atrocity! This was political correctness gone mad! They'd rebranded the day from one in which we celebrate the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and all so as not to offend those insidious Muslims.
"And verily," says Zaltzmn, "...Christmas was banished. Now we sing Winterval carols and wear ironic Winterval sweaters; we hang up our Winterval stockings for Father Winterval to fill with Winterval gifts..."
Thing is, actually, Birmingham never tried to rename Christmas. The city council came up with the name Winterval to refer to the 41-day long festival of events beginning a few weeks before Christmas and ending a few weeks after. Christmas was still Christmas; Winterval was just a cutesy marketing term for a bunch of different celebrations only some of which were Christmas related.
So if this whole story about how the Brits stole Christmas is provably false, and if the last Winterval was 20 years ago, why do people still rant and rave about this as if it's the Christmapocolypse? Helen Zaltzman thinks maybe people just want to feel like underdogs, want to feel like heroes for leaping to the defense of a holiday. I wonder if it's something more than that.
Today I ventured out for some Christmas errands. I slogged through this horrendous precipitation situation that I literally can't even think of a word for - it was kind of like it snowed, and then a slushy machine exploded, and then it all froze, making everything like, deadly slippery and wet and friggin miserable. I'm getting over being sick, so I'm exhausted, I'm going through that whole drama of working up a sweat in the store only to have all the sweat turn to ice as soon as I walk out of the place, it's crowded, it's loud, it's overwhelming. Then I get home to a house that looks like it's been trashed by a hoard of Christmas elves turned vandals and find a cat calmly eating my damn wrapping paper, and I was about ready to snap that obnoxious little bastard's tiny neck.
That's the thing about Christmas. It's supposed to be the most wonderful time of the year, but at the same time, it's kind of like a month long panic attack. Stores, gifts, cards, food, parties, family: it's all one big stress fest. We know we're supposed to be happy and full of the Christmas spirit, but we're constantly one string of Christmas lights away from snapping. So we take it out on the heathen behind the counter at Target who dares blaspheme against Christmas by wishing us a happy holiday. We rant online over stupid shit like black Santas and season's greetings. How dare people not appreciate the holiday that I baked 9 pies to celebrate? How dare you cheapen my orgy of materialism with your Hanukkah and your Divali and your Winterval. This is the most wonderful time of the year, goddamnit, and if you don't celebrate it exactly the same as I do, I will effing cut you, lady at Taco Bell who just told me Feliz Navidad. 
Guys, this Christmas, practice some self care. Hustle and bustle but get a massage and take a bubble bath too. Your kid will survive the Hatchimals shortage, and nobody cares if your pie crusts are store-bought. Say happy Christmas or joyous Winterval or io Saturnalia or nanu nanu or blathering blatherskeit or don't say anything at all. But don't be a dick, man. It's the most wonderful time of the year, after all. 

Oh and dude? Seriously quit with this whole "Christmas is only for Christians" nonsense. Just about every Christmas tradition you know and love predates Christ. We got Christmas trees from the Chinese, Egyptians, and Romans (in fact, the bible specifically forbids having a tree indoors), wreathes from the Etruscans, mistletoe and holly from the Druids. If anything, most of what we call Christmas belongs to the pagans. They're happy to let you borrow it, but don't Bogart it, it's bad form. 

Friday, December 9, 2016

Double Trouble

Christmas came early for news organizations this week when Santa Claus brought 22 very stupid men and their ill-advised Mannequin Challenge. 
So the Mannequin Challenge is pretty cool. You get a big group of people together, everybody freezes, and somebody films the whole thing while, randomly, Black Beatles by Rae Sremmurd plays. It was started by some high school kids, and then it exploded. 
Widely considered the original


These guys fail. That fire is clearly moving.
And then there's these idiots...
The video went viral, the cops got wind of it, got a search warrant, and it turns out some of the dudes were felons, who aren't allowed to possess firearms.
Okay, okay, these guys are idiots, all around. They pretty much did these cops' job for them. 
And I assume the cops totally investigated these guys too...
And these guys for sure, right?
Because if not it almost might seem like...
...there was some kind of double standard.

Yeah, yeah, cops were right to investigate the guys they did. I don't feel even a little bit bad for the guys who were arrested. They did society a big favor by being big fat idiots. But white folks - hunters, collectors, enthusiasts - post pictures of themselves with guns all the hell over social media and nobody bats an eye. And the why of that is worth pondering.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Come ye thankful people come

I don't know much about Native Americans, other than to know that most things I know about them are nothing but fairy tales. I know I didn't learn in school the population of America may have been larger than the population of Europe at the time, but that in the decades between Columbus' voyage and the pilgrims' landing, over 90% of the native people of our country were gone; victims of the most successful genocide in history; the first weaponized plague. 
I know I learned in school that Indians were a noble people who lived as one with the earth, primitive, pagan. I didn't learn that they had cities that Europeans took over, that they had monuments that Europeans tore down.
I learned in school that the atrocities committed against Native Americans were history. 
I didn't learn that, statistically, Native Americans are more likely than any other group to be shot by cops; statistically more likely to experience police brutality. I didn't learn in school about starlight tours, the non-sanctioned police practice of taking an Indian troublemaker out into the wilderness and leaving him there to find their own way home, if hypothermia doesn't kill him first. I didn't learn that many folks on Indian reservations don't have access to water in their homes - the infrastructure isn't there. I didn't learn that the federal government owns Native American lands, making it hard for Indians to mortgage their properties to get business loans. 
I didn't learn that the process of energy development on Native American lands requires four federal agencies and 49 steps, far more than energy development off-reservation. Shawn Regan writing for says:
It’s not uncommon for years to pass before the necessary approvals are acquired to begin energy development on Indian lands—a process that takes only a few months on private lands. At any time, an agency may demand more information or shut down development. Simply completing a title search can cause delays. Indians have waited six years to receive title search reports that other Americans can get in just a few days.
I didn't learn that federal regulations make it much harder for Indians to use or sell the natural resources on their own land.
Right now, many Indian tribes whose land might be affected by the construction of the planned Dakota Access Pipeline say that the pipeline is a threat to their land, their water, and their safety. They say that the pipeline will harm land that is sacred to them, will destroy sacred religious and cultural sites.There's a whole lot of science and legal and engineering stuff at play here that I just don't understand, but I do understand that the government's response to the Indians protesting the pipeline has been brutal. Hundreds of peaceful water protectors have been arrested and hundreds more have been doused with water in freezing temperatures, leaving many with serious hypothermia. There have been tear gas attacks, rubber bullets, and concussion grenades. The cops say they're quelling a riot, but there are hours upon hours of videotape recordings showing police attacking peaceful citizens. The evidence of police brutality here is so concrete that the UN has condemned it. 
Look, our government is using our tax dollars to brutally attack our fellow Americans, and they say they're doing it on our behalf. I can't live with that. Here are some ways you can help. Here are some more. I chose to donate to the Standing Rock Medic + Healer council's Amazon Wish List. Plus I was able to use reward points and gift cards to make my donation go further. 
Even if you think the water protectors are wrong, that the government is telling the truth and the pipeline is as safe as a baby kitten; even if you think the government is telling the truth when they claim the protectors at Standing Rock are rioting; even then it is still the case that injured people deserve adequate treatment. It is still the case that our fellow Americans are suffering. It is still the case that we should help however we can.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

On empty gestures and impotent guilt

Within a day of Trump's election, articles and social media posts went up urging people to wear safety pins as a show of solidarity and to demonstrate that marginalized people can feel safe around you.
And about fifteen minutes later, articles and social media posts went up telling people that their safety pins are empty gestures that make them look like idiots. The Huffington Post published an article called "Dear White People, Your Safety Pins Are Embarrassing" by Chris "More-Woke-Than-Thou" Keelty. Keelty, who is white, points out that white people are responsible for Trump's election. He says "You need to sit in your guilt right now. You need to feel bad. So do I, so do all of us."
You know what? Screw you, buddy, and the sanctimonious, condescending horse you rode in on. Safety pins are not an embarrassment, and here's why. 
Following Brexit, reports of racist and anti-immigrant hate crimes soared in England, making many folks feel scared and helpless. A Twitter user who goes by @cheeahs, an immigrant herself, suggested that people who oppose the hatred wear safety pins to let members of marginalized groups know "you're safe with me." She picked safety pins because she wanted something that most people already had on hand, something simple. She didn't men the safety pin as an end unto itself; without actions, the pin alone means "jack shit." The pin is a way to reach out, to bridge gaps, start a conversation - and serve as a reminder for people to listen to each other and speak out together.
Now, since the whole pin thing started, I've seen a number of blog posts and editorials from people, both Black and white, making really good points about the hollowness of the gesture. And I've seen a bunch of white people get super self-congratulatory about their decision to put a pin on it, like that in itself made them freedom fighters. I read one article, which I unfortunately can't find now, from a woman of color who questioned the sincerity of pin wearers on Facebook and faced a tidal wave of hatred from offended white people. White people telling her she was part of the problem, white people telling her she should be grateful; one white lady even tried to get the writer fired from her job for her comment and then bragged about doing so on social media. So obviously, there are a lot of people running around with safety pins who wouldn't know a real ally if one pinned them in the ass. 
But it simply isn't fair to paint everybody who finds the symbol meaningful the same way. Especially since this isn't just about Black and white. I've noticed a lot of folks in the queer community have really taken to the symbol. Our current administration is the first to ever fully recognize gay rights. Our incoming Vice President doesn't even believe that gay people have the right to exist. Members of the queer community are feeling super scared and marginalized too. 
So here's my take. People shouldn't wear a pin unless they're willing to earn it. If you haven't done a single other thing to stamp out hatred or oppression, then you're not a real ally and have no business proclaiming yourself one. If you expect people to be impressed, be grateful that you're wearing a pin, then you've got no business wearing it. And, this one is really important, if you think all Black people should feel the same way about your gesture, you need to put that pin back in the drawer until you figure out exactly why that's a terrible thing for you to think. I've got a hint for you: you're going to kick yourself once you've figured it out.

And on that note, guys, let's try to be nice to each other. It has been a shitty year and a shittier month, and we're all angry and scared and grieving and exhausted. I know I haven't been my best self for the past week, and I think a lot of others would say the same. But we who are standing on the side of love need to stick together now more than ever. We need to listen to each other more and talk at each other less. We (I'm looking at you, fellow white people) need to not unleash a tsunami of righteous indignation whenever someone tells us we could be doing better. And we (I'm looking at you, Chris "I'm-a-better-helper-whitey-than-you-are" Keelty) can tell other people to do better without being sanctimonious assholes about it. 
Behold! The 10,000th stock image of a safety pin you've seen this week.

Saturday, November 12, 2016

In defense of fear

When Jeremy woke up Wednesday morning, I told him Trump had won. He didn't swear or rant or curse. He just put his arms around me and held me.
It was cold and rainy in Ohio. Everyone at work was walking around looking shell-shocked, like they couldn't believe it had come to this; even the people who voted for this travesty were somber, like they were at a funeral. I felt like I was on the verge of tears all day. It reminded me of the mood on 9/11. I felt gutted, devastated. Guilty because I hadn't done enough, enraged at the people who were too lazy to get off their couch and vote, but mostly just helpless and scared.
After a couple days, cooler heads on social media began to emerge. It is what it is, they said. There's nothing we can do about it now. We have to roll with it. It will be all right. Fear won't solve anything. We should not be afraid.
I beg to differ. When white supremacists are literally out celebrating in the streets, we should  all be afraid. 
Fear's an underrated emotion. Fear is what tells the zebra to run from the lion. Fear keeps us from playing in traffic or setting our hair on fire. And fear is what's gonna keep us from rolling over and letting a racist demagogue and his army of hateful drones have their way with our country.
I'm afraid because Trump won't take office for months but already racists feel emboldened and empowered. They've crawled out of the holes where they've been hiding, started acting out their hatred. Social media is overflowing with stories from people of color telling stories of violence and harassment. Black people being told that Trump's going to send them back to Africa, Latinos/as report being physically intimidated. Muslim women report having their hijabs violently ripped from their heads.
Folks will say that these stories are made up, are exaggerations. But we have pictures, videos, corroboration. Schools admitting, against their own interests, to racist incidents in the hallways. People of color, non-Christians, queer folks are threatened and those of us with privilege don't get to tell them how to feel about it. 

I'm afraid because the Southern Poverty Law Center reports that leaders of racial hate groups are actively encouraging their members to harass minorities. As Neo-Nazi leader Andrew Anglin has said, “Our Glorious Leader has ascended to God Emperor. Make no mistake about it: we did this.” 
I'm afraid because women I care about depend on Planned Parenthood for their health care. I'm afraid because if Trump and congressional Republicans succeed in de-funding Planned Parenthood, it will mean fewer women with access to affordable birth control, fewer women with access to STD testing, fewer women with access to cancer screenings, fewer women with access to low-cost prenatal care. 
I'm afraid for my queer friends, who feel less safe, who are already being harassed by bigots. I'm afraid because the the vice president and many of the folks whose names Trump has dropped for cabinet positions are rabidly anti-gay, have promised to strip away every right queer folk have fought and died for. I don't know how much success they'll have, but I do know that our country will be in the hands of folks who want to strip our rights away and that's reason to be afraid.
I'm afraid for the planet. Trump probably doesn't have the power to dismantle the EPA, but he can sure as hell appoint people who will try to tear it apart from the inside, who will fight environmental regulations as long as they have breath.

I am afraid. But fear is a call to action, after all. Fear is useless if we don't run from the lion, if we play in traffic anyway, if we do nothing in the face of a government conceived in hate and dedicated to the proposition that that some people's rights are more important than others. 

Consider checking here for Planned Parenthood volunteer opportunities, or calling your local Planned Parenthood to thank them for what they do and ask how you can help. Preventing pregnancy is the best way to prevent abortion. If you don't have time to volunteer, maybe donate? Fun fact: you can make your donation in honor of Mike Pence and they'll send him a lovely certificate :).
Consider visiting the RAINN website to look in to volunteer opportunities; you could volunteer to work sexual assault hotlines or help the organization educate folks in your community about sexual assaults.
You could become a member of the Sierra Club, in hopes of helping combat the rising tide of motivated climate change deniers who will fight tooth and nail to prevent further research into renewable/sustainable energy.
Here's a list of other anti-hate, pro-planet charities you can give to or volunteer for if you want to harness your fear.
But mostly, listen. Listen to folks who say they're scared and let them know you've got their back. An artist called Maeril has made some awesome comics describing how you can be an ally without making a bad situation worse. You should share them all the hell over social media. Follow folks like Ta-Nehisi Coates, Feminista Jones, and Kimberly Ellis on social media, and answer their calls to action. 
I am scared for my country. I'm more scared than I can ever remember being. I'm scared because racists are out in the open and they're less afraid than ever to preach their message of hate. I'm afraid. And I'm not going to stop being afraid. And it's that fear that's going to keep me from just sitting by while bigots and demagogues try to tear our country away from us.
And for the love of God, people, please don't call it "Trump's America." This is our America. We have to fight to keep it.

Also, can I just say that preparing and singing Hallelujah live with literally a day's notice when you're not a professional musician is just ridiculous? Is there anything Kate McKinnon can't do?

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Head in the clouds

You may have read recently that scientists have uncovered new evidence in Amelia Earhart. Scientists have compared an arm bone from a skeleton found on the tiny island of Nikumaroro with a photograph of Earhart's arm and determined they match. 
This adds more evidence to the compelling case that Earhart and her navigator Fred Noonan got off course and crash landed on Nikumaroro where one or both survived for a few days. A distress signal emanated from the island immediately following Earhart's disappearance, but rescuers were unable to locate the pair. However, just three years after the disappearance, a partial skeleton belonging to a woman of European descent, about Earhart's height. Found nearby were a buck knife, a woman's shoe, a sextant box, and bits of an airplane. All signs point to this being Earhart's fate, and CNN, the Discovery Channel, and tons of major news outlets are reporting this all as fact. 
But not so fast. Back when the skeleton was found in 1940, Dr. David Hoodless, principal of the Central Medical School of the South Pacific on Fiji, examined it. He stated that the pelvis "definitely" belonged to a man. The skeleton then promptly disappeared, and all subsequent study of it has been based on Hoodless' notes and drawings of it. 
As for the detritus found on the island? There's no good reason to believe that the stuff belonged to Earhart. Pearl divers frequently used the island as a base of operations, and the island was home to a British colony just a couple years after Earhart's disappearance. The assorted bits and bobs floating around the island could easily have come from any of those individuals, or have washed up on shore from nearby islands and ships.
Then there's the matter of the distance. Shortly before the disappearance, Earhart was in radio contact with the island she meant to land on, Howland. We know she was very close to Howland because the radio wasn't that strong. It is almost certain that as of her last transmission, she was in the immediate vicinity of Howland, but unable to land due to equipment malfunction.
Nikumaroro is 400 some miles from Howland, and Earhart's last transmission mentioned they were nearly out of fuel. She simply would not have had enough fuel to make fly that distance; in fact, to make it from Lae in Papua New Guinea, where they last took off, to Nikumaroro would have taken every last drop of fuel her plane could hold, and she'd have had to fly directly there - she could not have flown to within radio contact of Howland, then taken a sharp turn and flown hundreds of miles in the wrong direction - there simply was not enough fuel. 
As for the radio transmissions? The last transmission anyone is sure of came at 8:43 AM. There were subsequent signals, some of which came from near Nikumaroro, but there's no evidence those signals came from Earhart or Noonan. In fact, the captain of the USS Colorado, one of the battleships out looking for Earhart, says "There was no doubt many stations were calling the Earhart plane on the plane's frequency, some by voice and others by signals. All of these added to the confusion and doubtfulness of the authenticity of the reports."
On top of which, in order for the plane to transmit signal from Nikumaroro, the radio couldn't be submerged, meaning that the plane would have to have crash landed on the island, and the Navy didn't find any plane when they searched the island just days after the disappearance. 
Nature abhors a vacuum and humans abhor loose ends. That's why it's so much easier to believe the Nikumaroro theory than to believe what the vast majority of researchers do: that Earhart and Noonan ran out of gas and ditched at sea. But that conclusion is well supported by her last transitions alone - she knew she was on the island, she knew there was an equipment failure, she knew they were almost out of gas. Where's the plane now? At the bottom of the ocean somewhere near Howland. It's not a satisfying theory, to be sure. And searches for the plane in the area have turned up nothing. But the plane is small and the ocean is big and the ocean is deep, and the fact that the plane isn't easily found in one place doesn't mean it's somewhere else hundreds of miles away.
The Nikumororo theory is championed primarily by one guy, Ric Gillespie, principal of the The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery. And he really, really wants his theory to be true. Gillespie's really good at taking a few scraps of evidence that aren't very strong and weaving this really satisfying story, one he wholeheartedly believes. Every couple of years, he'll put out press releases or do an interview with "new" evidence, such as this whole arm bone thing, but the evidence isn't new at all. Gillespie, or one of his adherents, found a picture of Earhart in which her arm looks like it might possibly be the same length as the sketch of the arm of a skeleton that probably belonged to a man and has been missing for three quarters of a century. 


Monday, October 24, 2016

We all float down here

I'm sorry it has been so crazy long since I posted - turns out this whole grad school thing is kind of a time-suck. I'm so happy I'm in school, though. I mean, so happy. It's the weirdest thing - I was the world's worst procrastinator all through my undergrad, and now I don't procrastinate at all. I want to be reading and writing and interacting with my class, and I wasn't quite expecting that. But it's good news, as I'm way too old for last-minute all-nighters. 
Since Halloween's coming up, monsters, ghouls, and blood-suckers are out in force. But enough about Donald Trump. And just in case you're sick of being kept up at night by thoughts of a Trump presidency, here's some different nightmare fuel.
Creepypasta is a neologism describing scary myths and urban legends shared and re-shared online, often being passed off as true. The term is related to the term copypasta, a general term used to refer to stores shared and re-shared on social media - the term's a portmanteau of copy and paste. Here are some of my favorite examples:

  • In 1922, citizens in a small German farming town noticed the Gruber family seemed to be missing. When they went to the Gruber house to investigate, they made a ghastly discovery. The entire family had been hacked to death with an ax, and the killer had lined their bodies up neatly in the barn.
    But that's not the most terrifying part. A few days before the murder, Mr. Gruber mentioned to his neighbor that he'd found a set of footprints in the snow leading from the woods to his house, but no footprints leading away. For months things had been going missing from the home, and more disturbingly, things that didn't belong to the family had been showing up. The family had been hearing noises in the attic that they were sure were just the house settling, but sounded for all the world like footsteps.
    Investigators believe the killer, who was never caught, had been lurking in the house for weeks or even months, unbeknownst to the family.
  • Ten years earlier and a thousand kilometers to the southeast, there lived a man called Béla Kiss. Kiss was a tin smith in a town near Budapest, quiet, but well-liked. He seemed a lonely man, and in fact had placed marriage ads in some local papers, but he never seemed to hit it off with the ladies he met through the ads, and they never stayed around long.
    In 1914 Kiss was conscripted to fight in the Great War. A couple of years after that, Kiss' landlord came upon several large metal drums. Remembering that Kiss had said he was using the barrels to store gasoline in case of war rationing, the landlord alerted the constable who offered the barrels to some soldiers stationed locally. What the soldiers found when they opened the first drum, however, wasn't gasoline.
    After finding the first drum to contain the rotting corpse of a young woman who had been strangled, police searched the barrels and the house, a search which yielded the bodies of 24 women in total. All had been strangled, all had been exsanguinated, and all had two puncture wounds - bite marks - on their necks.
    Police began a massive man hunt for Kiss, and in October of 1916 received word that Kiss could be found in a Serbian hospital. The detective investigating the case rushed to Kiss' bedside, only to find the corpse of a different man entirely. The real Kiss was never found.
  • The Cecil Hotel was a palace of marble, alabaster, and stained glass when it was built back in 1924, but it didn't remain the home away from home of the rich and famous for long. During the Great Depression, the Los Angeles neighborhood in which it was located went all to hell - a hell that soon became known as Skid Row.
    In the 1950s and 1960s, the hotel saw a rash of suicides. One woman who threw herself from the 9th floor window landed on a man, killing him as well. In the mid-1960s, a transient woman was murdered in her room. In the 1980s, the Cecil became home to the Nightstalker serial killer. In the 1990s, a Cecil guest killed three local sex workers.
    But the strangest thing to take place in the Cecil Hotel happened in just 2013. For days, hotel residents had been complaining about water pressure - and about the fact that the water that did come out was discolored and funny tasting. When a maintenance worker finally went to the rooftop water tanks to see what was the matter, he found the body of Elisa Lam, who had apparently been rotting there for weeks. Surveillance camera video from the elevator showed Lam behaving strangely the day she went missing, glancing around nervously while pressing all the buttons on the panel, flailing her arms, and eventually apparently trying to hide in a corner. No one knows how she got through the locked door to the roof, or why the alarm on the door didn't sound. They don't know how she climbed to the top of the tank, and they don't know how she got the lid open. They only know she drowned and was, as near as anyone can tell, alone. 
  • And here's the creepiest of all the pasta so far. All of the stories above are true. No legends here.

Sources: Lore Podcast, the "Urban Legends That Happen to be True" series.

Friday, October 7, 2016

Just hear me out

This isn't for people who've already made up their minds to vote for Trump. If you're for Trump, you're either a bigot or you're willing to throw minorities under a bus, and I don't even know what to say to you.
This is for people planning to vote third party. This is for people who are thinking of sitting this election out. Please, please hear me out.
The doomsday clock read seven minutes to midnight, but in October of 1962 it seemed we were in the final countdown. The Soviets were deploying ballistic missiles to Cuba, just 90 miles south of the US. The only thing standing in the way of nuclear annihilation were a couple of red buttons. But "Kennedy didn’t see the Cuban crisis as a test of his manhood," as Chris Matthews put it. He brokered a deal with Khrushchev, and that's likely the reason we're alive.
This could have been Manhattan. 
Hiroshima before and after

This could have been your mom or my dad.

This could have been the new face of humanity.

Trump wants to know why we have nuclear weapons if we don't plan to use them. Trump thinks it's important to be "unpredictable" when it comes to nuclear weapons. He's not going to rule out using nuclear weapons in Europe. He says "the devastation is very important to me."
Prominent Republican leaders say that the thought of Donald Trump with the nuclear launch codes keeps them up at night. The thought of Donald Trump with the nuclear launch codes keeps me up at night. The thought of Donald Trump with the nuclear launch codes should terrify you too.
Who do you think is more likely to bring about a nuclear holocaust? It's Trump. You know it's Trump. He couldn't stop himself going on a three AM Twitter rampage about Alicia Machado even though all of his advisers warned him to cut it out. He couldn't stop himself badgering and badmouthing Khizr and Ghazala Khan even when his employees and members of his own camp publicly disavowed his statements. The man has no impulse control, no ability to drop his own petty grudges for the sake of his campaign; he cannot stand to have his power challenged, his manhood questioned. We cannot allow him to be the man with his finger on the button.

As odious as the thought of a Clinton presidency might be to you, you know, you know, Clinton's not gonna hit the red button on some psychopathic whim. 
It's 1963 and Lyndon Johnson has inherited a mess in Vietnam. "The battle against communism," he said "must be joined ... with strength and determination." Maybe he was right and maybe he was wrong, but he sent troops to Vietnam without a declaration of war from Congress. 58,000 of our men died, and hundreds of thousands more were injured or missing or prisoners for god knows how long. If not for that war, which Congress never fully supported, there wouldn't be Vietnam vets sleeping on grates in the freezing cold and begging for pennies because they came home from Vietnam, but they didn't come home the same. I don't know if LBJ might the right call or the wrong call, but I do know that this one man's actions changed the face of America and Congress couldn't stop him.

Of course, after Vietnam, Congress passed the War Powers Resolution, which was meant to limit the president's ability to send troops into battle, but there are loopholes, plenty of loopholes for a charismatic psychopath to exploit. Can we really afford to take a risk on a man that Holocaust survivors have compared to Hitler?
The president is responsible for preparing the US budget; Trump has run more businesses into the ground than we can count. The president appoints Supreme Court judges, and although Congress probably won't confirm whatever Neo-Nazi flat-earther Trump wants to appoint to the job, you can bet whoever does get confirmed won't be friendly to women, minorities, or the poor. 
The man surrounds himself with Holocaust deniers, Neo-Nazis, climate change deniers, racists, misogynists, and criminals. Which is a problem because as president he'd have the power to unilaterally appoint over 300 people to various positions in the federal government. 

Look, I know I'm not gonna convince you that Hillary Clinton is a good choice for president. But I really hope I can convince you that America can't afford a Trump presidency, that the stakes are too high to sit this election out or vote for a candidate who cannot win. Vote for Clinton on November 8th and start demanding her impeachment on November 9th if you've got to. But please, please vote for Hillary Clinton for president of the United States of America. 
Please re-post if you're so moved.

Monday, October 3, 2016

Caveat Donor

So breast cancer awareness month is upon us, and the pink explosion has begun. I'm a cancer communist myself - I prefer to donate to the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center and let them distribute funds where they're needed. There are lots of types of cancer, and it seems unfair to me that research into men's cancers receives so little funding comparatively. But if you do want to donate to a breast cancer charity, here are some things to know:

  • We tend to assume that products that go pink for breast cancer during October donate a portion of their proceeds to cancer research, but that isn't necessarily so. Anybody can slap a pink ribbon or label on their product. 
  • It's also worth noting that companies that do send a portion of their proceeds off to charity make a whole lot of money doing this and only give a tiny percentage of that to charity. 
  • Susan G. Komen is the largest and best funded breast cancer charity in the United States. However, your donation dollars might not fund what you think.
    • Only 21% of proceeds go to fund breast cancer research, and only 13% go to fund health screenings. 40% goes to "awareness," which seems like a lot of money for a disease that pretty much the entire population of the country is already aware of. 
    • The CEO makes a ton - well over $600,000. This is rated as extremely high by Charity Navigator, which gives the organization only 2 out of 4 stars.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

On boobs and booth babes

Sorry for the long delay, kids. Turns out going to school and working full time is way harder without the benefit of mania. 
So I just had my first big assignment, and man, grad school is weird - I finished the thing, and if I'd had time, I would have scrapped everything and started all over. It's not that I hate what I wrote, it's just that I'm much better qualified to write the thing now that I've already written it. 
So the piece was about misogyny in the comics community, a subject I've got a hard time getting my brain around because first, I've personally never once felt anything but embraced by the geek community. And second, most of us geeks have been bullied and excluded for being weird; we should damn well have some empathy.
One of the most mind-boggling things i found in my research was all the men, including writers and industry insiders, bitching about female cosplayers. I read this CNN article where some wanker called Joe Peacock complained about fake geek women prancing around in sexy costumes to "satisfy their hollow egos." He's not objecting to real geek girls dressing sexy, he says, "I'm talking about an attention addict trying to satisfy her ego and feel pretty by infiltrating a community to seek the attention of guys she wouldn't give the time of day on the street."
This guy, and the many, many guys who agree with him, are so the center of their own universes that they believe that women who aren't interested in geek culture would spend hundreds of hours and hundreds of dollars crafting a dreadfully uncomfortable costume, then pay to get into a con and be surrounded by men they don't like, all for some attention. Even the picture that accompanies Peacock's article demonstrates his complete lack of logic. The woman on the right dressed as a gender swapped Loki? Check out her helmet. Loki's horned helmet was clearly designed with a total disregard for physics - it's way too front-heavy to exist in real life. I literally don't know how that woman is keeping that thing on her head. But I can tell you this - no woman makes or buys a two-foot tall migraine-inducing, physics-defying big ass helmet just to get some attention from dudes they're not actually interested in.
Peacock refers to these supposed fake geek girls as "6 of 9s" - in the real world they'd be sixes, but at cons they seem like nines. Here's the thing, Cock. Do you mind if I call you Cock? You don't need a multi-hundred dollar costume to get male attention. You just need to put on a short skirt and walk into a bar. If you think the ladies in your picture are sixes, then you'd probably consider me a three on my best day. And I have never wanted for male attention. The attention might not come from the kind of men from whom I'd ever want attention (once when I was 15 some old guy told me that if I came to his house he'd let me drink wine as long as I promised not to tell my mother), but Cock says himself that these fake geek girls don't actually want to date convention geeks. According to him, they're just dressing sexy to satisfy their hollow egos. (In related news, what the holy hell does "hollow ego" even mean?)
Anyway, it just depresses the crap out of me that some men in the community that has always shown me so much love have such a disdain for women that they complain bitterly, and at length, about being forced to be in the presence of attractive, scantily clad women. I just... I grew up believing that the end of racism and sexism were inexorable. I grew up believing that all the bigots I met were an endangered species bound for extinction, that society was now on the right track. And now geek women who speak their minds are victims of literal terror campaigns. A comics editor named Janelle Asselin wrote a review of a Teen Titans cover and pointed out that maybe having a teenage character with barely covered boobs the size of her head was inappropriate. And she was literally driven from her home by very graphic and specific rape threats. 
  And now half the damn country is rallying behind an openly bigoted misogynist because they're sick of "political correctness." Half the country. Half of the state I live in. Half of my neighbors and half of the people I meet each day and half of my coworkers. And a significant number of members of the community that taught me I wasn't alone, that women could be strong.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Mea culpa

Lots of folks are saying the world has gotten "too PC." Lots of folks are saying that you can't say anything at all these days without being accused of racism. Lots of folks are saying that the pendulum has swung too far and lots of folks are saying that accusing white people of racism is "reverse racism," whatever that means.
Well I've got a long and storied history of saying stupid, hurtful things without even thinking about it. I've got a long history of hurting people's feelings and doubling down, or weaseling, or getting mad when confronted about it. And it took me a long time, but I have learned some things.
It's okay to apologize for saying something stupid.
No one will be impressed by my excuses or my denials.
It's okay to say something dumb, realize that was a dumb thing to say, and then admit that it was a dumb thing to say.
It's okay to apologize even if I think someone's being oversensitive.
It's even okay to apologize for hurting someone's feelings, even if I don't think what I said was wrong. 
It's not up to me to decide whether someone else's feelings are hurt.  
It doesn't make sense for me to assert my right to say something by telling others that they're wrong for asserting their right to disagree with what I've said. 
I'm not gonna convince anyone I'm not being insensitive by insisting I'm not insensitive. 
If I get accused of being insensitive, I'm not a persecuted victim of the PC police; I'm a person who got accused of being insensitive.
It's better to ask what's wrong with what I said than to argue that nothing's wrong with what I said; sometimes I don't know I've said something dumb because I didn't know the whole story.

It's okay to have an opinion and keep it to myself.
It's okay to have an opinion and not blast social media with it 9 times a day.

It's okay to shut up and listen.

Look, I recognize that policing language for political correctness can stymie the flow of constructive dialogue. And I do acknowledge that it really sucks to be called racist even when you know you're not. But someone once said "when you're accustomed to privilege, equality feels like oppression." 
And if none of that flies for you, chew on this. White people have spent centuries taking away the voices of people of color, often using whips and knives and nooses. And that's not my fault and that's not your fault, but I think it's time we made peace with the fact that we don't always get to have the floor. 

Saturday, September 3, 2016



  • The amount of time Ice Ice Baby remained on the charts.
  • Every one of Elizabeth Taylor's 8 marriages.
  • William Hung's music career.
  • The amount of time Joanie Loves Chachi remained on the air.
  • The amount of time Home Alone remained #1 at the box office.
  • Theatrical run of Spider-Man: Turn off the Dark.
  • Lifespan of Mike the Headless Chicken - after his head was removed. 

What are some things that go on longer than Brock Turner's jail stay?

What crimes are worse, in the eyes of the justice system, than dragging an unconscious woman behind a dumpster and digitally raping her?



What's the difference between the following three folks and Brock Turner?
  • On the other hand, there's Frank Lee Smith. One woman's eye-witness testimony put him in jail for a rape he didn't commit. DNA evidence exonerated him 15 years later, but it was too late; he was dead. The eyewitness later stated that she'd told police she wasn't sure he was the right guy, but she'd been pressured not to mention that at trial.
  • There's also Habib Wahir Abdal. In the 1980s, a woman was raped by a black man about 5'9" with a gap between his teeth. Habib Wahir Abdal was 6'2" with no gap, but he was convicted of the crime after a forensic analyst gave inaccurate testimony on the stand. Abdal served 16 years before being exonerated.
  • Paula Gray made a false confession under duress when she was accused of being involved in the kidnapping, rape, and murder of a young couple in 1978. She recanted her confession, but still spent 24 years in prison for the crime before DNA exonerated her.


They were probably lousy swimmers. 
Just kidding. Race. It's race. 

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Phenomenal woman

We should all be appalled, but should not be surprised by the hate campaign being waged against Comedian Leslie Jones. Jones, who has been making racist man-children cry bitter white tears over her role in the all female Ghostbusters reboot, has faced an organized campaign of cyber-terror in recent weeks. This week, hackers took psychopathy to a whole new level when they hacked her website and iCloud account. They got into her personal photos and published the most intimate ones. They flooded her page with racist memes comparing her to a gorilla. They even posted screen grabs of her passport and driver's license. 
And we shouldn't be surprised. Leslie Jones is everything sexist douchbags want women to be ashamed of, and she is beautifully unapologetic. She is big in a culture in which women are ordered to take up as little space as possible. She doesn't hide her size by slumping or slouching or wearing flats. She doesn't hide her figure under mumsy gowns that scream flattering and sensible - she slays in custom Christian Siriano.
Leslie Jones is a loud voice coming through the televisions of men who think women should sit down and shut up. Her hilariousness makes liars of men who insist that women just aren't as funny as men. She's older in an industry that worships youth, she's openly opinionated in a society that prefers its women, and its people of color, meek and mild. And worst of all, she doesn't care what you think about it.
Leslie Jones doesn't care if you think she's pretty. Leslie Jones doesn't care if you think she's funny. She doesn't care how many bitter white tears you cry over a damn movie remake. She's busy going to movie premiers and covering the Olympics for NBC and performing at feminist events. Leslie Jones is busy being Leslie Jones and the racist, woman-hating weasels of the Internet can't handle it. 
So they tried to chase her off Twitter, even succeeded for a moment, but then she came back to tweet the Olympics - and so well, apparently, that NBC flew her down to cover it live. But the sniveling man children could have that - it was no fun hating her when she couldn't be bothered to care. So they got her attention - and they did it in the most cruel, dehumanizing, and menacing way they could. Congrats, trolls, you've got the news media to stand behind her. Got half of Hollywood standing up for her. Gotten people who didn't even know about her to care about her.
I can't even imagine what holy hell Jones is going through right now. I can't imagine how sick and devastated and violated she is feeling. It is an incredibly shitty time to be Leslie Jones, but I've got a feeling she's gonna rise up and when she does, the whole world's gonna be cheering her on.

Monday, August 22, 2016

and your unpunchable face

Well, it's back to school time, and you know what that means! Time to teach our nation's young girls how to keep from distracting the boys and getting themselves raped and sexually harassed! Recently, a Facebook friend shared a social media post about a school that recently got in hot water when it was found that boys were taking intimate photos of their female classmates without their consent, and then posting those photos on social media. Luckily, the school took quick and decisive action, placing the blame right where it belongs - on the girls, of course!
The school introduced a new dress code policy that requires female students to cover up their filthy bodies so as not to tempt boys into photographing them. Everybody knows that teen boys are completely unable to control their behavior with a shoulder or a thigh in plain view - and it's unfair to ask them to. Girls who wear skirts that don't come down to their knees are a distraction to boys - and male teachers - and it's just not fair. 
I know there will be those among you who think this is "victim blaming" or "body shaming," but this is the safety and integrity of our girls we're talking about. I for one don't think the school's policies go far enough. 

Might this also be a great solution to the problem of bullying? Schools could pull all the unpopular kids aside and give them some guidelines on how to not get beaten up by the popular kids. Everybody knows that popular kids just can't help themselves in the presence of a nerd or a loser, and having to look at nerds and losers is really an unfair distraction. These social lepers can help solve this problem by simply having less punchable faces. 
No one beats this guy up anymore!
Yes, I believe schools should amend their dress codes to require that freaks and geeks hide their faces at all times. I know it seems "cool" and "fun" to go flaunting one's face in public, but honestly, these losers need to have a little self respect and pull on a nice respectable ski mask. Or maybe a snazzy balaklava. Heck, even a clown mask! Sure, it seems unfair that a kid should have to go to such lengths to not get punched in the face, but it's really the only option. You can't exactly expect popular kids to be responsible for their own actions, can you? Preposterous!
Schools need to take a stance against bullying. That's why they should pull the unpopulars aside and measure the eye holes on their masks, just to make sure they're not showing off too much nose or forehead. Losers who don't conform to this dress code can go home or they can wear a school-supplied plastic garbage bag over their faces for the day. Their choice! Everybody wins!
I never leave home without
my purrtection!

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Whistling Dixie

I was passing through the downtown shopping district of a small town once. It was one of those pretty little places with brightly lit toy stores and fragrant popcorn shops and grinning shopkeepers and friendly pedestrians. And then I passed a storefront that proudly displayed a Confederate flag in the window. 
Now keep in mind, I live in Ohio. Anybody around here who waves a Confederate flag is doing it for a reason, and that reason is not their war hero of a great grandpappy. And the one word that came into my head when my eyes landed on that flag was unkind. Pretend for a minute that that symbol isn't meant as a star-spangled middle finger in the face of any brown person who drives through town. It is still so damn unkind. Sure, you've got a right to be unkind. Your constitution promises you the right to your unkind words and signs and store displays. But why the hell do you want to expend all that energy on being small and mean and hurtful? What's the point in making a point to be unkind?
To be kind in an unkind world, to be kind when when others are cruel, to be kind when doing so puts you in danger, to be kind and not count the cost... that's heroism. Kindness is the quality I admire most in my folks, my ancestors. That's the kind of flag I want to hang in my window.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Comparative equine dental hygiene

Today I read a blog post subtitled "The 'sibling gift' trend is turning our kids into spoiled brats," in which the author complains about people giving gifts to her children. The author was having a shower for her second child, you see, and objected to the fact that one of the guests bought a gift for her first child, then a toddler.
Now I know exactly two things about the rules of etiquette - one involves forks, and I've never been at a party fancy enough to use it. The other is that you do not get a shower for your second kid. I don't give a crap from etiquette, but I do think that if you're getting showered with gifts when etiquette dictates you shouldn't, you've got no business complaining when some of those gifts splash onto the wrong kid. A beef I'd probably not consider blog-worthy had it not been for this sentence.
Still, the perpetrators of this offense typically don’t have kids of their own and I can’t possibly expect them to see things from my perspective if I am not going to explain it to them.
You have no idea how insulting it is to tell an intelligent, well-meaning person that they are deficient, incomplete just because of her reproductive choices. As if shoving a human being from your nethers gives you some special magical wisdom that those of us without children can never have.  
This woman isn't just looking a gift horse in the mouth, she's sharing pictures of her free horse's teeth on the internet so she can flaunt how much more special and wise she is compared to her poor kid-free friends. She could quite easily say "please don't give my kids gifts because I think it spoils them," but instead she chose to make examples of them online. 
I don't think the children are the spoiled ones in this scenario. The woman's blessed with a bunch of friends and family members who want to do nice stuff for her kids, and she's bitching about how terrible it is.
And here's a little bit of etiquette I do care about: never, ever tell a person that they can't understand something because they're not parents. Recently someone tried to justify her casual bigotry to me using the old "you'd understand if you had kids." And all I could think was that this lady didn't know me. I'm kid-free by choice, but she didn't know that. She didn't know if I was struggling with infertility or if I'd had miscarriages. She spat those words out without knowing a single thing about my story.
Look, gift horse lady, maybe your friends are spoiling your kids because they don't have kids of their own to spoil. Or because they found something they knew your kid would love and couldn't wait to give it to them. Or because they had some beloved aunt who did sibling gifts and they want to carry on the tradition. You're free to ask them not to do it, but don't assume that their decision to buy your kid a gift is the result of some fundamental foolishness or inadequacy. It is rude and insulting.