Monday Reads: In Other News

dancing-skeletonsHappy Halloween!

I thought I’d cover a few interesting stories in lieu of dragging too much of this crazy election into your feeds.  I thought I’d first focus on some interesting women’s news since we’re about to shatter the ultimate glass ceiling here in the USA.  Bill Moyers recommends this study by the VERA Justice Institute on Women and Jails in an era of reform.

Since 1970, there has been a nearly five-fold increase in the number of people in U.S. jails—the approximately 3,000 county or municipality-run detention facilities that primarily hold people arrested but not yet convicted of a crime. Despite recent scrutiny from policymakers and the public, one aspect of this growth has received little attention: the shocking rise in the number of women in jail.

Women in jail are the fastest growing correctional population in the country—increasing 14-fold between 1970 and 2014. Yet there is surprisingly little research on why so many more women wind up in jail today. This report examines what research does exist on women in jail in order to begin to reframe the conversation to include them. It offers a portrait of women in jail, explores how jail can deepen the societal disadvantages they face, and provides insight into what drives women’s incarceration and ways to reverse the trend.

largeReuters reports that Abortion by prescription is now used as much as surgical prescriptions.  What does this mean to our right to privacy and protection of our constitutional right to decide for ourselves?

American women are ending pregnancies with medication almost as often as with surgery, marking a turning point for abortion in the United States, data reviewed by Reuters shows.

The watershed comes amid an overall decline in abortion, a choice that remains politically charged in the United States, sparking a fiery exchange in the final debate between presidential nominees Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump.

When the two medications used to induce abortion won U.S. approval 16 years ago, the method was expected to quickly overtake the surgical option, as it has in much of Europe. But U.S. abortion opponents persuaded lawmakers in many states to put restrictions on their use.

Although many limitations remain, innovative dispensing efforts in some states, restricted access to surgical abortions in others and greater awareness boosted medication abortions to 43 percent of pregnancy terminations at Planned Parenthood clinics, the nation’s single largest provider, in 2014, up from 35 percent in 2010, according to previously unreported figures from the nonprofit.

Jonathan Chait–writing for NYMag–begins the dissection of what this dose of authoritarianism we’ve seen this year means for the future of the GOP.

Approaching the 2016 election from this historical perspective, in which Trump’s every boast, tweet, and threat disappears into the ether, may at first blush sound like a relief. It is the opposite. Trump is an extreme event, but Trumpism is no fluke. Its weaknesses are fleeting, and its strengths likely to endure. Far from an organization that is “probably headed toward a civil war” — as the Washington Post recently put it, summing up a rapidly congealing consensus — the Republican Party is instead more unified than one might imagine, as well as more dangerous. The accommodations its leaders have made to their erratic and delirious nominee underscore a capacity to go further and lower to maintain their grip on power than anybody understood. More consequentially, the horrors Trump has unleashed are the product of tectonic forces in American politics. Trump has revealed the convergence of two movements more extreme than anything in the free world that may yet threaten the democratic character most Americans take as their birthright.

h8We’ve not only seen a pungent form of authoritarianism but we’ve also seen racism and misogyny on levels that are hard to take.  An autistic, black young teen accidentally veered off a race in NY and was treated to nightmare.

Chase Coleman, an autistic ninth-grader at Corcoran High School, was running in a cross country race in Rochester when a middle-aged stranger attacked him.

The man got out of his car, shoved Chase down in the road and yelled “get out of here” before driving off, according to witnesses.

A few days after the Oct. 14 incident, the nonverbal 15-year-old runner handed his uniform back to his coach and quit the team.

Now Chase’s mother, Clarise Coleman, wants to know why Rochester authorities refuse to press charges against the man who admitted pushing Chase.

She fears the answer is this: Chase is black and disabled, and his attacker was white.

Whatever the reason, 57-year-old Martin MacDonald of suburban Pittsford was not charged. Rochester City Court Judge Caroline Morrison denied a requested arrest warrant charging MacDonald for second-degree harassment, despite Coleman’s desire to press charges.

The harassment charge is only a violation, with a maximum jail sentence of 15 days. But Coleman is outraged that authorities won’t seek at least that much justice for her son.

“If that man had been black and Chase had been white, and that (police) report went in, he’d have been in jail,” she said.

We’ve got our own Nightmare before Halloween here in Sabine Parish, Louisiana.  The KKK is actively getting out the vote.  This is from Lamar White, Jr. and his blog CenLamar.images

Shortly before midnight on Saturday, Oct. 29, 2016, members of the largest white supremacist hate group in the country, the Loyal White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, distributed small zip-locked packets on the windshields of vehicles parked along the sleepy streets and in the driveways of Many, Louisiana.

Many, the seat of Sabine Parish, is a tiny town of less than 3,000 residents tucked away in the farthest corner of West Central Louisiana, within shouting distance of the Texas border.

According to the most recent Census, the town’s racial demographics are split almost evenly: 48.18% white and 47.42% African-American, and their most famous hometown hero is Charlie Joiner, an African-American and a record-breaking NFL wide receiver who was inducted into pro-football’s Hall of Fame and who was once praised by Coach Bill Walsh as “the most intelligent, the smartest, the most calculating receiver the game has ever known.”

Two days ago, members of a Ku Klux Klan organization (it’s not worth using the adjective “fringe,” because all KKK groups deliberately embrace their fringe identities) targeted Charlie Joiner’s hometown and, during the dead of the night, distributed these packets, according to multiple sources in Many and in the surrounding area:

Some highly inappropriate Halloween costumes have been rocking universities this weekend. An Arkansas college student was expelled over a black-face Bill Cosby costume.   Fans at a football game between Wisconsin and Nebraska used lynching to display their dislike of Clinton and the President Obama and support of Trump.  That was extremely appalling.

Wisconsin hosted Nebraska in Madison on Saturday night. In the stands at Camp Randall Stadium, one fan dressed in a Donald Trump mask, and that fan’s companion dressed in two masks: one for Hillary Clinton, one for President Obama.

The fan in the Trump mask appears to have depicted himself lynching his partner in the Obama and Clinton masks.

This election year seriously needs to be over ASAP.

Here’s some links for those of you interested in following the latest hooplah with the FBI and the bomb thrown by Senator Harry Reid yesterday.

From Politico: Poll: Comey’s bombshell changes few votes vintage-halloween-postcard-image-graphicsfairy

The race for the White House is tight, but it has not been radically changed by the FBI director’s bombshell announcement last week.  —  Hillary Clinton has a slim three-point lead over Donald Trump one week before Election Day …

From HillaryClinton.com:  An open letter from Former Prosecutors and other high ranking Justice officials.

It is out of our respect for such settled tenets of the United States Department of Justice that we are moved to express our concern with the recent letter issued by FBI Director James Comey to eight Congressional Committees.  Many of us have worked with Director Comey; all of us respect him.  But his unprecedented decision to publicly comment on evidence in what may be an ongoing inquiry just eleven days before a presidential election leaves us both astonished and perplexed. We cannot recall a prior instance where a senior Justice Department official—Republican or Democrat—has, on the eve of a major election, issued a public statement where the mere disclosure of information may impact the election’s outcome, yet the official acknowledges the information to be examined may not be significant or new.

Director Comey’s letter is inconsistent with prevailing Department policy, and it breaks with longstanding practices followed by officials of both parties during past elections.  Moreover, setting aside whether Director Comey’s original statements in July were warranted, by failing to responsibly supplement the public record with any substantive, explanatory information, his letter begs the question that further commentary was necessary.

From The Hill :  Reid: FBI has ‘explosive information’ about Trump, Russia

Harry Reid is alleging that the FBI has “explosive information” about a connection between Donald Trump  —  and the Russian government, suggesting that federal investigators have unveiled damning new information about the Republican presidential nominee.

I’m sure there’s a lot to be said still about all of this and the details coming out from the victim who alleges Trump raped her at 13.   

Remember, tis the season for Nasty women!  And Nasty women vote!!  Bad Hombres need to vote too!!!!

What’s on your reading and blogging list today?


Friday Reads and a Penchant for the Macabre

Good Afternoon!161027_cbox_diabolique-jpg-crop-promo-xlarge2

So, those of you that read my occasionally weirdish posts know that I have a thing for old grave yards and historical sites that are mysterious and ookie. There’s a distinctly granular feel to these places. It’s in the air and it’s in the dust that kicks up when you walk around. Bits and pieces of the past can be tangibly felt. I like the feel of the tingle and chill. I came to the realization that I love horror movies a little bit late in life but now I relish this time of year more than any.  Maybe it’s because I can feel the power surge of my inner crone. Maybe because I know that there is no dearth of places to indulge my need to feel creeped out by imaginary things.

I’m not alone in this fascination with how humanity deals with its mortality. Not by a long shot. Stories, art, and the entire religious thing have always dealt with such topics.  We created burial rituals and tools to cope with life and death early on.  October Horror movie binges just go right along with the roots and rites of our cave dwelling ancestors who lit fires and counted on the stars to help them.  My friend and fellow blogger Pete shared this link to Donald Fagan describing his early fascination with those black and white horror movies that rocked Saturday matinees back in the day of double features and bad special effects.  I thought I’d pass it on.

Fair Lawn, New Jersey, late ’50s. I must have been 9 or 10 when my Uncle Al surprised my cousin Jack and me by announcing his intention to take us to a midnight showing of Diabolique, the French thriller. The choice seemed odd, since Al, a burly luncheonette operator from Passaic, wasn’t the type you’d expect to harbor a taste for French cinema. Then again, it was no secret that an intermittently active strain of sadism ran in Al’s branch of the family. I guess he didn’t want to miss out on a rare opportunity to watch the kids squirm.

Shot in cadaverish black and white, Diabolique is about these two hot babes, the wife and mistress of a cruel boarding school headmaster, who conspire together to murder their tormentor. They drug him, drown him in the bathtub, and dump his body in the swimming pool. When the pool is drained, though, there’s no corpse to be found. The two women freak out for the rest of the movie. At the end, there’s a scene where the (supposedly) murdered headmaster inexplicably rises out of the bathtub with only the whites of his eyes showing. That’s when I started screaming. Jack, his body quaking from head to toe, slid off his seat and ended up on the sticky theater floor in tears. When we got home, Uncle Al, who’d had a merry old time, had to endure a tongue-lashing from my aunt for permanently damaging our heretofore immaculate sensibilities. We both had nightmares for weeks.

But movie terror is seriously addictive. As soon as we were sufficiently recovered, we started taking the bus to the HyWay Theater every Saturday afternoon to see the horror double feature. At 50 cents plus the price of the popcorn (or a bit more if you wanted a box of the race-regressive Chocolate Babies), it was a bargain.

I started out on the Addams Family and the Munsters and tamer fare.  But, TV in the 1960s and 70s also included its Friday night horror shows and that’s where I got exposed to the good stuff.  BTW, the “cool ghoul” has passed for any of you that might know the work of Joe Zacherle. Every big city had its horror host back in the day.

The great John Zacherle, known to generations of horror fans as Zacherley, “The Cool Ghoul,” has passed away at 98. The news came tonight as author Tom Weaver, a close friend of the Zacherle family, began informing colleagues of the the sad news, and an outpouring of tributes has already begun across the internet.

A veteran of World War II, Zacherle started working at WCAU in Philadelphia in 1954, and in 1957, he got the job of being Philly’s first late night horror movie host on Shock Theater, creating the character of Roland (pronounced Ro-LAND), who talked to his dead wife in her coffin. An association with Dick Clark, whose American Bandstand was based in Philadelphia, led to the recording of “Dinner With Drac” in 1958. He moved to New York’s WABC in ’59, became known as Zacherley and his show was renamed Zacherley At Large. He later hosted the Newark teenage dance show Disc-O-Teen, and was a DJ on WNEW and then WPLJ, where he stayed for ten years.

Considered by many to be the greatest TV horror host of all-time, Zacherele has spent the last several decades appearing on TV, radio, and film and making personal appearances at conventions and special events.

His horror-themed novelty records have remained perennial Halloween favorites, and you will surely hear them played on WFMU and elsewhere over the course of the next week. So, instead of posting those, I’ve decided to share the REAL DEAL, actual episodes of Shock Theater and Zacherley at Large as they were originally broadcast in the late 1950s. What we have here are three classic poverty row horrors: two Bela Lugosi features – The Devil Bat and Bowery At Midnight, and Rondo Hatton as The Creeper in The Brute Man. This is how original Monster Kids in the Northeast first saw these movies, and I’d recommend taking them all in for a great Halloween triple feature this weekend, just make sure you raise a glass of blood in honor of the Cool Ghoul himself before you’re done.  He gave his all!

 

annex-adams-julie-creature-from-the-black-lagoon_01Now, I’m totally enjoying SYFY channel that  really rocks October. My current favorites are ZNation and the ubercreepy Channel Zero.  I think what I like best about this season of the year as we head towards Halloween, the election, and my birthday is that movie horror can be so obviously campy and fun that it gives you a sense of control over the real nightmarish fiends and ghouls.  Of course, this is a Donald Trump reference.  It had to be.   Horror movies spin yarn and tales but not quite the way Trump does.

Donald Trump actually said this on the campaign trail late yesterday:

“What a difference this is. Just thinking to myself right now, we should just cancel the election, and just give it to Trump, right? What are we even having it for?”

Whether or not Trump was joking, his supporters greeted that remark with lusty cheers. But here’s the thing: Even as Trump supporters continue to lap up his various suggestions that the only legitimate outcome of the election would be a Trump victory, the broader American public is completely rejecting the story he’s telling.

Indeed, there’s new evidence this morning that Trump’s ongoing effort to undermine faith in our democracy has been accompanied by a strengthening of confidence in it. And there’s also new evidence that majorities see Trump as fundamentally disrespectful of our democratic institutions.

The new Washington Post/ABC News tracking poll finds Hillary Clinton leading Trump by four points nationally. (There may be a tightening, but that would not be surprising; it probably represents Republicans who had been alienated by the awful headlines about his sex tape and allegations of unwanted advances coming back to him).

Now that’s a suggestion that really should strike terror in the souls of all peace and democracy-loving people.  

I’m glad our national nightmare will soon be over but we should take nothing for granted.  First Lady Michelle Obama gave another inspirational and wonderful speech yesterday along side Secretary Hillary Clinton.  All of her words were wonderful but I really want folks to take this message to heart.

Because here’s where I want to get real. If Hillary doesn’t win this election, that will be on us. It will be because we did not stand with her. It will be because we did not vote for her, and that is exactly what her opponent is hoping will happen. That’s the strategy, to make this election so dirty and ugly that we don’t want any part of it.

So when you hear folks talking about a global conspiracy, and saying that this election is rigged, understand that they are trying to get you to stay home. They are trying to convince you that your vote doesn’t matter, that the outcome has already been determined, and you shouldn’t even bother making your voice heard.

They are trying to take away your hope. And just for the record, in this country, the United States of America, the voters decide our elections, they’ve always decided, voters decided who wins and who loses, period, end of story.

(APPLAUSE)

And right now, thankfully folks are coming out in droves to vote early. It’s amazing to see. We are making our voices heard all across the country. Because when they go low…

AUDIENCE: We go high!

OBAMA: And we know that every vote matters. Every single vote. And if you have any doubt about that, consider this. Back in 2008, and I say this everywhere I go, Barack won North Carolina by about 14,000 votes.

(APPLAUSE)

Which sounds like a lot, but when you break the number down, the difference between winning and losing this state was a little over two votes per precinct.

See, I want you all to take that in. I know that there are people here who didn’t vote. Two votes. And people knew people who didn’t vote. Two votes. If just two or three folks per precinct had gone the other way, Barack would have lost that state and could have lost the election.

And let’s not forget back in 2012, Barack did actually lose this state by about 17 votes per precinct. 17. That is how presidential elections go. They are decided on a razor’s edge.

So each of you could swing. In this stadium, just think about it. Each of you could swing an entire precinct and win this election for Hillary, just by getting yourselves, your friends and your family out to vote.

(APPLAUSE)

That’s me at St Louis #1 for a funeral a few months ago. See, I do actually live by some historically creepy cemeteries. We love and cherish them down here in Swampland.

The Season of Horror should end here in October except on my favorite TV days.  Let’s all get every one out to vote so we can look forward to a New Year and a New Day with Madam President.

What’s on your reading and blogging list today?


Thursday Reads

twitter-zombies

Good Morning!!

Tomorrow is Halloween, but the real horror will probably come next Tuesday when Republicans are predicted to take control of the Senate.

What will happen after that? Will they actually accomplish something, or will they just keep blocking everything President Obama tries to do? Even more horrifying, we may not know the makeup of the Senate for sure until next year, because two close races–in Georgia and Louisiana–will likely end up in runoffs.

Steven Brill at Reuters: Why Election Day won’t hold the answer to who will control the Senate for the next two years.

I’m not only thinking about the possibility that two close races — in Louisiana and Georgia — could end up requiring runoffs. If candidates do not get more than 50 percent of the vote because fringe opponents siphon off votes from the pair running neck and neck, Louisiana’s runoff would be in December and Georgia’s not until Jan. 6, 2015.

The uncertainty that’s more intriguing is that even after those runoffs, if they happen, there might be three independent senators who could swing the majority to one party or the other.

One, Vermont’s Bernie Sanders, is a staunch liberal who will certainly cast his lot with the Democrats, as he has in the past. But Maine independent Angus King has not said for sure that he will continue to caucus with Democrats. And Kansas’s Greg Orman, an independent businessman who is locked in a tight race with incumbent Republican Pat Roberts, has steadfastly refused to say which party he would vote with.

Another longer-shot wild card is former Senator Larry Pressler of South Dakota. He is also running has an independent, but his rise in the polls has subsided recently.

One can only imagine what Orman and King will be promised by both sides if one or both become swing votes. Beyond that, there is a Democratic senator in a red state (John Tester in Montana) and even one or two moderate Republicans in a blue state and a swing state (Mark Kirk in Illinois and Susan Collins in Maine) who might be persuaded to flip.

But most of the so-called experts are predicting we’ll ultimately be stuck with a Republican-controlled Congress. Larry Sabato, Kyle Londik, and Geoffrey Skelley write at Politico: Bet on a GOP Senate.

While many races remain close, it’s just getting harder and harder to envision a plausible path for the Democrats to retain control of the Senate. Ultimately, with just a few days to go before the election, the safe bet would be on Republicans eventually taking control of the upper chamber.

Generally speaking, candidates who have leads of three points or more in polling averages are in solid shape to win, but in this election five states—Republican-held Georgia and Kansas, and Democratic-held Iowa, New Hampshire and North Carolina—feature a Senate race where both of the two major polling averages (RealClearPolitics and HuffPost Pollster) show the leading candidate with an edge of smaller than three points.

 What makes the Democrats’ situation so precarious is that Republicans have polling leads of more than three points in five other states, all of which are currently held by Democrats: Arkansas, Louisiana, Montana, South Dakota, and West Virginia. Two others, Democratic-held Alaska and Colorado, show Republicans leading in both averages, but by more than three points in just one. (These averages are as of the afternoon of Oct. 29.)

Citizen-Kang_458

Read it and weep folks. On the other hand, Tarini Parti, also at Politico, points out that this is “[t]he most wide-open Senate election in a decade.”

It’s the largest and most wide-open Senate battlefield in more than a decade: ten races, all neck-and-neck affairs headed into the final days of the campaign.

And it’s not only that there are more competitive races this time around; it’s how close they are that has made the 2014 midterms different from previous cycles. The 10 close contests this year are all separated by 5 points or less, according to RealClearPolitics polling averages as of Tuesday….

Republicans have an edge in more than half of the competitive races, based on RCP averages, and are favored to gain control of the Senate. But many races across the country remain too close — with more contests coming down to the wire than in recent election cycles.

Based on interviews with a dozen operatives on both sides of the state of play, some of these tight races do lean toward one party or the other. Republicans — who need a net gain of six seats to win control of the chamber — are perhaps most confident about their chances in Arkansas, largely dismiss any trouble in Kentucky and remain somewhat nervous about Kansas. After a brief moment of panic in South Dakota, the state, along with West Virginia and Montana, is back to being considered safe for the GOP, as Virginia, Oregon and Michigan are thought to be solid for the Democrats.

At the outset of the cycle, Democrats saw Colorado, Iowa and North Carolina as their firewall against a GOP takeover. Today, those races are neck and neck — and Republicans are even bullish about their chances in New Hampshire. There remains some uncertainty among Republicans about Alaska, despite Republican Dan Sullivan’s edge in polls, because of a superior Democratic ground game and the difficulty of polling the state.

It all adds up to an unusually jumbled puzzle less than a week before Election Day. In 2010, Republicans won just three of the eight tight races — despite their national wave. But in 2006, Democrats won all five of the closest races.

It’s really going to come down to turnout, and Democrats are traditionally better at that. So there’s always a chance. Let’s face it, Republicans have done very well at blocking Obama’s initiatives and appointments throughout his presidency. No matter what happens on Tuesday, we have to elect a Democrat to the White House in 2016.

Finally, Reid Wilson at The Washington Post writes that this “[e]lection could tip historic number of legislatures into Republican hands.”

Again, what will a Republican Senate accomplish? The consensus of the pundits seems to be that they’ll do very little. A few predictions:

John Dickerson at Slate: “Republican victories will prove the president is unpopular. They won’t give Republicans a mandate to govern.”

Danny Vinik at The New Republic: Republicans Have Big Plans for a GOP Senate. Here’s What Will Come of Them: Nothing.

Paul Waldman at the WaPo: Republicans will probably take the Senate. Here’s why it will be a nightmare for them.

Republican Zombies and Democratic Vampires

On a lighter note, I came across some Halloween-themed comparisons between Democrats and Republicans from a few years back. From a blog called Entertained Organizer, Movie Monsters and Political Parties: A Spotters Guide to America’s Psyche.

A good friend and colleague of mine recently sent me a link to the Cracked.com article “6 Mind-Blowing Ways Zombies and Vampires Explain America.”  Basically, the article looks at the bizarre fact that Zombie movies are more likely to be made under Republican Presidents and Vampire movies are more likely to be made under Democratic Presidents, and argues rather persuasively it’s that each monster represents the cultures fears of the Party in power.  Here’s a chart from the original article at Cracked.com.

Chart zombies and vampires

 

The Cracked.com articles argument for why Zombies embody the country’s worst fears of Republicans is pretty simple.  They’re mindless killing machines (see President George W. Bush).  They have a rabid pack mentality leading them to consume (see anyone who seems to believe “The Free Market” and “God” are synonyms).  And they’re bent on destroying minorities (the living).  Now of course I have absolutely no idea where any of those ideas about Republicans came from, and am frankly shocked that anyone might think those things about our Conservative Opponents.

Cracked.com’s argument for why Vampires pique conservatives fears of Democrats is even simpler.  Vampires are murderous immigrants from foreign sounding places like Transylvania (or Mexico).  Once they arrive, vampires start seducing everyone pretty much indiscriminately as symbols of carnal lust (you think they tried to impeach Clinton over an affair? Nope, Vampire).  And of course, more than anything, Vampires are leeches.  Sure Dracula is after your blood and Democrats are after your tax dollars but in the Howard Jarvis Republican Party, I’m pretty sure taxes are scarier than bleeding out.

evil-republicans-pic

The author then goes on to identify other parties by the movie monsters they represent: Green Party = Werewolves; The American Independent/Constitution Party = Pod People; Lyndon LaRouche Supporters = The Creature from the Black Lagoon; Libertarians = Mummies.

And did you know that horror writer HP Lovecraft had some choice words for the Republican zombies? From Before It’s News:

“As for the Republicans—–how can one regard seriously a frightened, greedy, nostalgic huddle of tradesmen and lucky idlers who shut their eyes to history and science, steel their emotions against decent human sympathy, cling to sordid and provincial ideals exalting sheer acquisitiveness and condoning artificial hardship for the non-materially-shrewd, dwell smugly and sentimentally in a distorted dream-cosmos of outmoded phrases and principles and attitudes based on the bygone agricultural-handicraft world, and revel in (consciously or unconsciously) mendacious assumptions (such as the notion that real liberty is synonymous with the single detail of unrestricted economic license or that a rational planning of resource-distribution would contravene some vague and mystical ‘American heritage’…) utterly contrary to fact and without the slightest foundation in human experience? Intellectually, the Republican idea deserves the tolerance and respect one gives to the dead.”

Street Harassment Follow-Up

A couple of days ago a video of a woman being harassed on the streets of New York City went viral. Dakinikat posted it in a comment on Tuesday, and JJ put it in her post yesterday. I found some interesting follow-up articles about the video that I want to share.

Here’s the video again:

At Slate, Hanna Rosin called attention to something I wondered about while I was watching the video. Where were the white men?

On Tuesday, Slate and everyone else posted a video of a woman who is harassed more than 100 times by men as she walks around New York City for ten hours. More specifically, it’s a video of a young white woman who is harassed by mostly black and Latino men as she walks around  New York City for ten hours. The one dude who turns around and says, “Nice,” is white, but the guys who do the most egregious things—like the one who harangues her, “Somebody’s acknowledging you for being beautiful! You should say thank you more,” or the one who follows her down the street too closely for five whole minutes—are not.

This doesn’t mean that the video doesn’t still effectively make its point, that a woman can’t walk down the street lost in her own thoughts, that men feel totally free to demand her attention and get annoyed when she doesn’t respond, that women can’t be at ease in a public space in the same way men can. But the video also unintentionally makes another point, that harassers are mostly black and Latino, and hanging out on the streets in midday in clothes that suggest they are not on their lunch break. As Roxane Gay tweeted, “The racial politics of the video are fucked up. Like, she didn’t walk through any white neighborhoods?”

Here’s the supposed explanation:

The video is a collaboration between Hollaback!, an anti-street harassment organization, and the marketing agency Rob Bliss Creative. At the end they claim the woman experienced 100 plus incidents of harassment “involving people of all backgrounds.” Since that obviously doesn’t show up in the video, Bliss addressed it in a post. He wrote, “we got a fair amount of white guys, but for whatever reason, a lot of what they said was in passing, or off camera” or was ruined by a siren or other noise. The final product, he writes, “is not a perfect representation of everything that happened.” That may be true but if you find yourself editing out all the catcalling white guys, maybe you should try another take.

But Rosin notes that Bliss has had similar issues in the past.

This is not the first time Bliss has been called out for race blindness. In a video to promote Grand Rapids, Michigan, he was criticized for making a city that’s a third minority and a quarter poor look like it was filled with people who have “been reincarnated from those peppy family-style 1970s musical acts from Disney World or Knott’s Berry Farm,” as a local blogger wrote.

Activism is never perfectly executed. We can just conclude that they caught a small slice of catcallers and lots of other men do it too. But if the point of this video is to teach men about the day-to-day reality of women, then this video doesn’t hit its target.

Jessical Williams

Rosin recommends a video from Jessica Williams of The Daily Show. I watched it, and it’s terrific–plus it’s funny. Check it out.

On a more serious note, CNN reports that the woman in the viral video has been getting rape and death threats.

What started as an expose of the harassment women face in public has turned into fodder for death- and rape threats against the woman in the viral video….

“My nonverbal cues were saying, ‘Don’t talk to me.’ No eye contact. No friendly demeanor,” she said. “But they were ignoring my nonverbal cues.”

Roberts said the video is an accurate depiction of what she faces daily. For instance, there was a time when her grandfather died “and someone told me that they liked the way I looked.”

“It is all day long. It is every day,” she said. “That’s a typical day… It doesn’t matter what you wear.”

The 10 hours of footage was edited down to a 1:56 public service announcement for the anti-street harassment group Hollaback! It was shot by filmmaker Rob Bliss, who was wearing a hidden camera in his backpack.

“I have multiple experiences of sexual assault, which is why I wanted to be involved in this project,” Roberts said in a separate interview with HLN.

Also at CNN, Todd Leopold sort of misses the point, and wonders how men should approach women on the street. He quotes a 2010 piece by a woman named Katie Baker:

“There’s a huge difference between harassing a woman and trying to start a conversation,” she wrote. “Here are some tips: talk to her, not at her. Treat her with respect: be aware of her personal space, ask her how she’s doing or what she’s reading instead of commenting on her body parts, look at her face instead of her chest. If she ignores you, drops eye contact, or walks away, back off.

“It wasn’t rude of you to approach her, but she’s not being rude if she doesn’t want to keep talking to you, especially if you initiated conversation while she was running an errand, waiting for the bus, or on her computer at a coffee shop.”

But why do men feel they need to approach strange women at all? What if women did that to men?

Leopold also calls attention to a different kind of street harassment.

On the Reddit thread, which has drawn more than 6,500 comments, one man observed that lack of respect knows no gender.

“As a fat guy who once walked around NYC for a day sightseeing I got so many comments,” he wrote. “‘Lose weight, ass***e!’ ‘Hey fatty want me to buy you a hot dog?’ ‘Hey kill yourself you fat f***’ I would have been happy with just a ‘good morning.’ “

 Personally, as I love to say “hello” to strangers out in public. I’m a Midwesterner by birth, and that’s just how we are–friendly and open. Usually they seem to like it, but if people ignore me, I don’t take offense.

So . . . what stories are you following today? Please share your links in the comment thread, and have a nice Thursday and a great Halloween!


Lazy Saturday Reads: The Psychology of Horror

Boris Karloff

Good Morning!!

This is the time of year when lots of people get the urge to watch old horror movies, and I’m one of them. Actually, I love horror movies any time of year, but October is when the TV programmers provide the most opportunities for horror fans to indulge their cravings.

I love to watch old Hitchcock movies like Psycho and The Birds. They never seem to get old. And then there are the cheesy slasher movies like Halloween and Friday the Thirteenth that are still kind of fun to sample this time of year.

I love George Romero’s classic zombie films like Night of the Living Dead and Dawn of the Dead, and dystopian films from the 1950s like Invasion of the Body Snatchers. I’ve enjoyed more recent zombie classics too–28 Days Later comes to mind. Old creature features are fun too–have you ever seen Them? It’s a 1954 film about giant ants in the New Mexico desert created by radiation from atomic tests.

Of course there are plenty of new horror offerings these days too. Dakinikat recommended a couple of TV shows that I plan to try over this long weekend: American Horror Story on FX and Z Nation on the Syfy Channel. These days there is plenty of real-life horror going on, so I don’t know why so many people like to escape into horror films and TV shows, but it seems they do. There’s also The Walking Dead on AMC. I watched the first season, but kind of lost interest after that because I find the characters so unlikable.

It’s interesting that zombies and vampires have been very much in vogue in the 21st Century. Why is that? Do they somehow reflect our culture like the movies of the 1950s and ’60s seemed to comment on the cold war and fears of nuclear disaster?

Anyway, since it’s Saturday and long weekend (Monday is Columbus Day, a horror story in itself), I’m going to devote this post to the psychology of horror–why are some of us so drawn to it? Believe it or not, psychologists have systematically studied this. Here’s a survey article published in The Psychologist, a UK psychology magazine: The Lure of Horror (pdf). There’s an easier-to-read version here.

Fear coils in your stomach and clutches at your heart. It’s an unpleasant emotion we usually do our best to avoid. Yet across the world and through time people have been drawn irresistibly to stories designed to scare them. Writers like Edgar Allen Poe, H.P. Lovecraft, Stephen King, and Clive Barker continue to haunt the popular consciousness. Far longer ago, listeners sat mesmerised by violent, terrifying tales like Beowulf and Homer’s Odyssey.

‘If you go to your video store and rent a comedy from Korea, it’s not going to make any sense to you at all,’ says literature scholar Mathias Clasen based at Aarhus University, ‘whereas if you rent a local horror movie from Korea you’ll instantaneously know not just that it’s a horror movie, but you’ll have a physiological reaction to it, indicative of the genre.’

hitchcock-reads-book

So horror is a universal language recognized by our brains?

Clasen believes the timeless, cross-cultural appeal of horror fiction says something important about humans, and in turn, insights from evolutionary psychology can make sense of why horror takes the form it does. ‘You can use horror fiction and its lack of historical and cultural variance as an indication that there is such a thing as human nature,’ he says.

This nature of ours is one that has been shaped over millennia to be afraid, but not just of anything. Possibly our ancestors’ greatest fear was that they might become a feast for a carnivorous predator. As science writer David Quammen has put it, ‘among the earliest forms of human self-awareness was the awareness of being meat’. There’s certainly fossil evidence to back this up, suggesting that early hominids were preyed on by carnivores and that they scavenged from the kill sites of large felines, and vice versa. Modern-day hunter-gatherers, such as the Aché foragers in Paraguay, still suffer high mortality rates from snakes and feline attacks.

Such threats have left their marks on our cognitive development. Research by Nobuo Masataka and others shows that children as young as three are especially fast at spotting snakes, as opposed to flowers, on a computer screen, and all the more so when those snakes are poised to strike. Modern-day threats, such as cars and guns, do not grab the attention in this way. That we’re innately fearful of atavistic threats is known as ‘prepared learning’. Another study published just this year by Christof Koch and his team has shown how the right amygdala, a brain region involved in fear learning, responds more vigorously to the sight of animals than to other pictures such as of people, landmarks or objects.

Viewing the content of horror fiction through the prism of evolutionary evidence and theory, it’s no surprise that the overriding theme of many tales is that the characters are at risk of being eaten. ‘Do we have many snakes or snake-like creatures or giant serpents in horror fiction?’ Clasen asks. ‘Yes we do: look at Tremors – they were really just very big snakes with giant fangs’. In fact, many horror books and movie classics feature oversized carnivorous predators, including James Herbert’s The Rats, Shaun Hutson’s Slugs, Cat People, King Kong, and the Jaws franchise, to name but a few. Where the main threat is a humanoid predator, he or she will often be armed with over-sized claws (Freddie Krueger in Nightmare on Elm Street) or an insatiable taste for human flesh (e.g. Hannibal Lecter in the 1981 novel Red Dragon).

Vince Price reads

Still, horror is a minority taste. Why are some people–like me–so attracted to it, while others are simply grossed out?

Who are these people who pay out money to be scared? A meta-analysis of 35 relevant articles, by Cynthia Hoffner and Kenneth Levine published in 2005 in Media Psychology, highlights the principal relevant traits: affective response; empathy; sensation seeking; aggressiveness; gender; and age.

The more negative affect a person reports experiencing during horror, the more likely they are to say that they enjoy the genre. Media experts like Dolf Zillmann make sense of this apparent contradiction as a kind of conversion process, whereby the pleasure comes from the relief that follows once characters escape danger. This explanation struggles to account for the appeal of slasher films, in which most characters are killed. Part of the answer must lie with meta-emotion – the way we interpret the emotional feelings we’re experiencing, with some people finding pleasure in fright. Another possibility is that, for some, pleasure is derived from the sense that film victims are being punished for what the viewer considers to be their immoral behaviour. Consistent with this, a 1993 study by Mary Oliver found that male high school viewers who endorsed traditional views on female sexuality (e.g. ‘it’s okay for men to have sex before marriage, but not women’), were more likely to enjoy horror movie clips, especially if they involved a female victim portrayed with her lover.

Other findings: people with low self-reported levels of empathy and younger people tend to be more attracted to horror. Neither of those explains my interest–I score high on empathy, and I’m an old lady. So what’s my problem?! Maybe I just never really grew up?

Read much more at the link. Since it’s a scholarly article, there are references to research articles too.

Here’s another interesting article at Filmmaker IQ: THE PSYCHOLOGY OF SCARY MOVIES.

There’s something about horror that speaks directly and instinctively to the human animal. Millions of years of evolutionary psychology have ingrained in our minds certain fear triggers – a survival instinct – Fear of the Dark where predatory animals might be laying in wait – Fear of animals with large sharp teeth who would make a quick meal of us. Fear of Poisonous Spiders who can kill with one bite. So ingrained into our developmental psychology that research done by Nobuo Masataka show that children as young as three have an easier time spotting snakes on a computer screen than they do spotting flowers. Research by Christof Koch show that the right amygydala, the portion of the brain associated with fear learning, responds more vigorously to images of animals than to images of people, landmarks or objects even though those are much more dangerous in our civilized world.

This may explain the shape of our movie monsters: creatures with sharp teeth or snake like appearance. The fear of being eaten alive also explains the cannabilistic traits of human monsters like Dracula and Dr. Hannibal Lecter.

But brain scan research in 2010 by Thomas Straube at the Friedrich Schiller University of Jena show that scary movies don’t actually activate fear responses in the amygdala at all. Instead, it was other parts of the brain that were firing – the visual cortex – the part of the brain responsible for processing visual information, the insular cortex- self awareness, the thalamus -the relay switch between brain hemispheres, and the dorsal-medial prefrontal cortex – the part of the brain associated with planning, attention, and problem solving.

So we’re not really being scared at the movies – at least not necessarily in the brain chemistry way… what’s going on?

dracula reads

Three things, according to Dr. Glenn D. Walters.

The first is tension – created through mystery, suspense, gore, terror, or shock. This is pretty straight forward elements of horror, the craft and technique of filmmaking.

The second factor is relevance. In order for a horror film to be seen, it has to be relevant to potential viewers. This relevance can take the form of universal relevance – capturing the universal fear of things like death and the unknown, it can take on cultural relevance dealing with societal issues. Audiences can find subgroup relevance – groups like teenagers which many horror films are about. Lastly, there’s personal relevance – either in a way that identifies with the protagonist or in a way that condemns the antagonists or victims to their ultimate fate.

The last factor, which may be the most counter intuitive is unrealism. Despite the graphic nature of recent horror films, we all know at some level that what we are watching is not real. Haidt, McCauley and Rozin conducted research on disgust, showing students in 1994 a series of gruesome documentary videos… few could make it to the end – and yet these same students would pay to see even worse acts conducted on a movie screen. Why? Perhaps its because when we walk into a theater we know what we’re seeing on screen is fabricated reality. Movies are edited from multiple camera angles with soundtracks and sometimes horror is tempered and made palatable with black humor – a sly wink that what you’re seeing on screen isn’t real. This also explains why we all remember that scary movie we saw when we were way too young but looks hokey now. Children have a harder time separating reality and fiction especially when its on a movie screen.

There’s much more to the article, including a brief summary of “8 incomplete theories on our attraction to horror.”

One eminent psychologist, Joseph LeDoux, a professor at NYU, has a particular interest in emotion and the brain and more specifically fear and the amygdala. Here’s the intro to a brief interview with him at Cognitive Neuroscience:

With Halloween around the corner, fear may be on your mind. As a basic emotion, fear develops when we react to an immediate danger.

Understanding exactly how our brains detect and respond to such danger has been a goal of Joseph LeDoux of the Center for Neural Science at New York University for much of his career. His pioneering work on “fear conditioning,” which he now calls “threat conditioning,” revealed the neurological pathways through which we react to threats.

This Pavlovian-type conditioning uses a neutral stimulus like an auditory tone at the same time as a painful event, and over time, this tone becomes associated with the discomfort and can trigger a fear response in the brain, specifically the amygdala. The neural processing in the amygdala causes chemical processes in the brain cells that lead to our natural defenses in the face of a threat – whether a spider or a robber.

LeDoux’s work has not only contributed to our understanding of these processes but also to ways we can work to overcome pathological fears, including through work on memory and fear.

Read the interview at the link. And here is an audio interview with LeDoux at ConstructingHorror.com.

died laughing

LeDoux told the LA Times in October 2013 that intense emotions like fear stimulate the brain.

Arousing situations, “whether joyful or frightful, juice up the brain,” says Joseph LeDoux, a neuroscientist and director of New York University’s Emotional Brain Institute and author of “The Emotional Brain.”

Horror movies energize the system: Hearts pump faster, blood pressure rises and dopamine releases, as does norepinephrine (which readies the body for flight-or-fight response) and endorphins (which kill pain), Fanselow says.

But experts agree that children’s brains are too vulnerable for scary movies.

And some adults are vulnerable too. “There have been case reports of people having stress symptoms after watching ‘The Exorcist,’ ” says Richard J. McNally, a Harvard psychology professor. “But these folks already had histories of mental disorders and thus were vulnerable.”

And many people want nothing to do with Halloween frights. “Genetics, epigenetics, upbringing and all the other individual experiences they’ve had probably all contribute,” LeDoux says. “It’s a matter of degree.”

Read more about the effects of horror on the brain at the LA Times link.

A few more horror links:

The Atlantic, Horror-Movie Marathon: The Brilliant, Not-So-Scary Classics.

The Atlantic, How Clowns Became Terrifying.

People Magazine, From It to American Horror Story: 13 of the Creepiest Clowns in Pop Culture History.

What Culture, 10 Best Horror Movies Of 2014 Ranked.

Rolling Stone, Readers’ Poll: The 10 Best Horror Movies of All Time.

The Washington Post, The sums of all fear: Horror makes a Hollywood comeback.

The Verge, Check out this gorgeous limited edition art for 13 classic horror movies.

So . . . are you a horror fan? If so, what are your favorite horror movies and books? Why do you think you enjoy them? If you’re not a fan, why do you think that is?

Of course you should feel free to post links to real-life horrors or even good news stories if you can find them!

 

 

 

 


Thursday Reads: Halloween History and A Little News

black-cat

Happy Halloween Everyone!!

Last year at this time, Hurricane Sandy hit the East Coast, and this year a lesser but still “Monstrous Halloween storm” will “pelt the central US” from Texas up to the Midwest. My mom said authorities in Indiana have moved the official day for trick-or-treating to the weekend. Towns in Kentucky and Ohio are doing the same thing, according to USA Today.

Torrential rain, heavy thunderstorms and howling winds are forecast on Halloween all the way from Texas to the Midwest and interior sections of the Northeast, according to AccuWeather meteorologist Andy Mussoline.

Almost 42 million people could contend with severe thunderstorms Thursday, the Storm Prediction Center warns, with cities such as Cincinnati, Indianapolis, Louisville, Memphis, Nashville and Houston all at risk.

“Damaging winds and some tornadoes will be possible with what should be a complex and potentially messy storm,” according to an online forecast from the prediction center.

“The best costume in Houston for Halloween probably involves a garbage bag to keep dry,” reports WeatherBell meteorologist Ryan Maue, who adds that it could be the wettest Halloween ever in some spots.

Read more at the link.

I have a few articles on the Halloween history and traditions for you. From National Geographic: Halloween 2013: Top Costumes, History, Myths, More.

Halloween’s origins date back more than 2,000 years. On what we consider November 1, Europe’s Celtic peoples celebrated their New Year’s Day, called Samhain (SAH-win).

On Samhain eve—what we know as Halloween—spirits were thought to walk the Earth as they traveled to the afterlife. Fairies, demons, and other creatures were also said to be abroad.

In addition to sacrificing animals to the gods and gathering around bonfires, Celts often wore costumes—probably animal skins—to confuse spirits, perhaps to avoid being possessed, according to the American Folklife Center at the U.S. Library of Congress.

By wearing masks or blackening their faces, Celts are also thought to have impersonated dead ancestors.

Young men may have dressed as women and vice versa, marking a temporary breakdown of normal social divisions.

In an early form of trick-or-treating, Celts costumed as spirits are believed to have gone from house to house engaging in silly acts in exchange for food and drink—a practice inspired perhaps by an earlier custom of leaving food and drink outdoors as offerings to supernatural beings.

Samhain was later co-opted by the Catholic Church when the Church moved “All Saints Day” from May to November 1. Scots-Irish immigrants brought Halloween customs with them to America in the 18th and 19th centuries.

Award-winning_jack_o'_lantern

The History Channel has a more detailed article on the history of Halloween:

The Celts, who lived 2,000 years ago in the area that is now Ireland, the United Kingdom and northern France, celebrated their new year on November 1. This day marked the end of summer and the harvest and the beginning of the dark, cold winter, a time of year that was often associated with human death. Celts believed that on the night before the new year, the boundary between the worlds of the living and the dead became blurred. On the night of October 31 they celebrated Samhain, when it was believed that the ghosts of the dead returned to earth. In addition to causing trouble and damaging crops, Celts thought that the presence of the otherworldly spirits made it easier for the Druids, or Celtic priests, to make predictions about the future. For a people entirely dependent on the volatile natural world, these prophecies were an important source of comfort and direction during the long, dark winter.

To commemorate the event, Druids built huge sacred bonfires, where the people gathered to burn crops and animals as sacrifices to the Celtic deities. During the celebration, the Celts wore costumes, typically consisting of animal heads and skins, and attempted to tell each other’s fortunes. When the celebration was over, they re-lit their hearth fires, which they had extinguished earlier that evening, from the sacred bonfire to help protect them during the coming winter.

On Halloween traditions in the US:

In the late 1800s, there was a move in America to mold Halloween into a holiday more about community and neighborly get-togethers than about ghosts, pranks and witchcraft. At the turn of the century, Halloween parties for both children and adults became the most common way to celebrate the day. Parties focused on games, foods of the season and festive costumes. Parents were encouraged by newspapers and community leaders to take anything “frightening” or “grotesque” out of Halloween celebrations. Because of these efforts, Halloween lost most of its superstitious and religious overtones by the beginning of the twentieth century.

By the 1920s and 1930s, Halloween had become a secular, but community-centered holiday, with parades and town-wide parties as the featured entertainment. Despite the best efforts of many schools and communities, vandalism began to plague Halloween celebrations in many communities during this time. By the 1950s, town leaders had successfully limited vandalism and Halloween had evolved into a holiday directed mainly at the young. Due to the high numbers of young children during the fifties baby boom, parties moved from town civic centers into the classroom or home, where they could be more easily accommodated. Between 1920 and 1950, the centuries-old practice of trick-or-treating was also revived. Trick-or-treating was a relatively inexpensive way for an entire community to share the Halloween celebration. In theory, families could also prevent tricks being played on them by providing the neighborhood children with small treats.

jack o lanterns1

In Europe jack-o-lanterns were made of turnips and other vegetables, since pumpkins were found only in the Americas. On the custom of “trick or treating” in the US:

The American Halloween tradition of “trick-or-treating” probably dates back to the early All Souls’ Day parades in England. During the festivities, poor citizens would beg for food and families would give them pastries called “soul cakes” in return for their promise to pray for the family’s dead relatives. The distribution of soul cakes was encouraged by the church as a way to replace the ancient practice of leaving food and wine for roaming spirits. The practice, which was referred to as “going a-souling” was eventually taken up by children who would visit the houses in their neighborhood and be given ale, food, and money.

The tradition of dressing in costume for Halloween has both European and Celtic roots. Hundreds of years ago, winter was an uncertain and frightening time. Food supplies often ran low and, for the many people afraid of the dark, the short days of winter were full of constant worry. On Halloween, when it was believed that ghosts came back to the earthly world, people thought that they would encounter ghosts if they left their homes. To avoid being recognized by these ghosts, people would wear masks when they left their homes after dark so that the ghosts would mistake them for fellow spirits. On Halloween, to keep ghosts away from their houses, people would place bowls of food outside their homes to appease the ghosts and prevent them from attempting to enter.

A few more interesting links to explore:

National Geographic: First Halloween Costumes: Skins, Skulls, and Skirts

The Boston Globe: Seven Books About the History of Halloween

Deseret News: Halloween trivia: From top costumes to carving turnips instead of pumpkins

Washington Post: It’s time to take the sexy out of Halloween and return the holiday to kids

Amanda Hess at Slate: It’s Irony, not sexy, that’s ruining Halloween

Amanda Marcotte at Raw Story: Obligatory Halloween Post On Skimpy Costumes

in other news2

In other news . . . 

In the wake of the Travon Martin killing, Sanford FL has banned neighborhood watch volunteers from carrying guns.

SANFORD — More than a year and a half after Trayvon Martin was shot and killed by George Zimmerman, the city of Sanford is making major changes to its neighborhood watch program, including banning volunteers from carrying guns while on patrol, and forbidding them from pursuing anyone in their neighborhoods.

Sanford’s new police chief, Cecil Smith, said the neighborhood watch program as it was operated while Zimmerman was part of it was dysfunctional and had no accountability.

“In this program, it is clearly stated that you will not pursue an individual,” Smith explained. “In this new program, it clearly indicates that you will not carry a firearm when performing your duties as a neighborhood watch captain or participant.”

Smith said when he took over as Sanford’s chief of police in April, the neighborhood watch program Zimmerman was part of was still operating the same way it was when he shot and killed 17-year-old Trayvon Martin more than a year earlier.

Sounds like an excellent idea.

The NSA is “firing back” after an article in the Washington Post claimed that the spy agency “infiltrates links to Yahoo, Google data centers worldwide.” From Politico:

The program, exposed through Edward Snowden’s leaks, relied on a broad, decades-old executive orderand allowed the NSA access to data-center connections in secret outside the United States, according to The Washington Post, which broke the story. Asked about the leak, Gen. Keith Alexander, the NSA’s leader, said earlier Wednesday he was unaware of the Post’s report — adding the NSA is “not authorized” to access companies data centers and instead must “go through a court process” to obtain such content.

The NSA, meanwhile, emphasized it hadn’t tried to circumvent U.S. law under the executive order, known by its numerical designation, 12333. “The assertion that we collect vast quantities of U.S. persons’ data from this type of collection is also not true,” a spokeswoman said. But the NSA aide declined to discuss further whether the agency — perhaps under other authorities — had infiltrated data center connections at all.

Google and Yahoo both told the Post it hadn’t granted the NSA access to its data centers. Both companies did not immediately comment for this story.

Based on past history of Glenn Greenwald and other reporters neglecting to report that NSA surveillance requires individual warrants, I’m going to assume that this is another instance of this kind of melodramatic “reporting.” I guess it will all come out eventually, since Congress is now investigating and the drip drip drip of leaks continues.

Meanwhile, “progressives” who are panicking over NSA spying continue to ignore vitally important issues that affect millions of Americans–poverty and hunger for examples. From MSNBC: America’s new hunger crisis.

In the 22 years that Swami Durga Das has managed New York’s River Fund Food Pantry, he has never seen hunger like this. Each Saturday, hundreds of hungry people descend on the pantry’s headquarters, an unassuming house on a residential block. The first people arrive around 2 am, forming a line that will wrap around the block before Das even opens his doors.

“Each week there’s new people,” Das told MSNBC.com. “The numbers have just skyrocketed.”

The new clients are diverse—working people, seniors, single mothers—but many of them share something in common: they represent the millions of Americans who fell victim to food insecurity when the Great Recession hit in 2009, but didn’t benefit from the economic recovery.

And the worst may be yet to come.

Food activists expect a “Hunger Cliff” on November 1, when automatic cuts to food stamp benefits will send a deluge of new hungry people to places like the River Fund Food Pantry, which are already strained.

“I thought we were busy now; I don’t know what it will be like then, because all of those people getting cut will definitely be accessing a pantry,” said Das. “It definitely will be a catastrophe.”

Please go read the whole thing.

Finally, here’s an interesting article about Ted Cruz by David Denby of The New Yorker: THE MASK OF SINCERITY.

When Ted Cruz lies, he appears to be praying. His lips narrow, almost disappearing into his face, and his eyebrows shift abruptly, rising like a drawbridge on his forehead into matching acute angles. He attains an appearance of supplication, an earnest desire that men and women need to listen, as God surely listens. Cruz has large ears; a straight nose with a fleshy tip, which shines in camera lights when he talks to reporters; straight black hair slicked back from his forehead like flattened licorice; thin lips; a long jaw with another knob of flesh at the base, also shiny in the lights. If, as Orwell said, everyone has the face he deserves at fifty, Cruz, who is only forty-two, has got a serious head start. For months, I sensed vaguely that he reminded me of someone but I couldn’t place who it was. Revelation has arrived: Ted Cruz resembles the Bill Murray of a quarter-century ago, when he played fishy, mock-sincere fakers. No one looked more untrustworthy than Bill Murray. The difference between the two men is that the actor was a satirist.

Cruz is not as iconographically satisfying as other American demagogues—Oliver North, say, whose square-jawed, unblinking evocation of James Stewart, John Wayne, and other Hollywood actors conveyed resolution. Or Ronald Reagan—Cruz’s reedy, unresonant voice lacks the husky timbre of Reagan’s emotion-clouded instrument, with its mixture of truculence and maudlin appeal.

Yet Cruz is amazingly sure-footed verbally. When confronted with a hostile question, he has his answer prepared well before the questioner stops talking. There are no unguarded moments, no slips or inadvertent admissions. He speaks swiftly, in the tones of sweet, sincere reason. How could anyone possibly disagree with him? His father is a Baptist, and Cruz himself has an evangelical cast to his language, but he’s an evangelical without consciousness of his own sins or vulnerability. He is conscious only of other people’s sins, which are boundless, and a threat to the republic; and of other people’s vulnerabilities and wounds, which he salts. If they have a shortage of vulnerabilities, he might make some up.

Read the rest at the link.

Now it’s your turn. What stories are you focusing on today? And what are you doing to celebrate Halloween? Please let us know in the comment thread.


Happy All Hallow’s Eve!

It’s Samhain!!

 The Celts called it Samhain, which means ‘summer’s end’, according to their ancient two-fold division of the year, when summer ran from Beltane to Samhain and winter ran from Samhain to Beltane. (Some modern Covens echo this structure by letting the High Priest ‘rule’ the Coven beginning on Samhain, with rulership returned to the High Priestess at Beltane.) According to the later four-fold division of the year, Samhain is seen as ‘autumn’s end’ and the beginning of winter. Samhain is pronounced (depending on where you’re from) as ‘sow-in’ (in Ireland), or ‘sow-een’ (in Wales), or ‘sav-en’ (in Scotland), or (inevitably) ‘sam-hane’ (in the U.S., where we don’t speak Gaelic).

Not only is Samhain the end of autumn; it is also, more importantly, the end of the old year and the beginning of the new. Celtic New Year’s Eve, when the new year begins with the onset of the dark phase of the year, just as the new day begins at sundown. There are many representations of Celtic gods with two faces, and it surely must have been one of them who held sway over Samhain. Like his Greek counterpart Janus, he would straddle the theshold, one face turned toward the past in commemoration of those who died during the last year, and one face gazing hopefully toward the future, mystic eyes attempting to pierce the veil and divine what the coming year holds. These two themes, celebrating the dead and divining the future, are inexorably intertwined in Samhain, as they are likely to be in any New Year’s celebration.

As a feast of the dead, it was believed the dead could, if they wished, return to the land of the living for this one night, to celebrate with their family, tribe, or clan. And so the great burial mounds of Ireland (sidh mounds) were opened up, with lighted torches lining the walls, so the dead could find their way. Extra places were set at the table and food set out for any who had died that year. And there are many stories that tell of Irish heroes making raids on the Underworld while the gates of faery stood open, though all must return to their appointed places by cock-crow.

As a feast of divination, this was the night par excellance for peering into the future. The reason for this has to do with the Celtic view of time. In a culture that uses a linear concept of time, like our modern one, New Year’s Eve is simply a milestone on a very long road that stretches in a straight line from birth to death. Thus, the New Year’s festival is a part of time. The ancient Celtic view of time, however, is cyclical. And in this framework, New Year’s Eve represents a point outside of time, when the the natural order of the universe disolves back into primordial chaos, preparatory to re-establishing itself in a new order. Thus, Samhain is a night that exists outside of time and hence it may be used to view any other point in time. At no other holiday is a tarot card reading, crystal reading, or tea-leaf reading so likely to succeed.

Samhaim–which is technically tomorrow–is a celebration of the end of summer.  Like many holidays, it was co-opted by Romans trying to bring Roman influence, culture, and religion to regions in Northern Europe.

At sunset on October 31, clans or local villages begin the formal ceremonies of Samhain by lighting a giant bonfire. The people would gather around the fire to burn crops and animals as sacrifices to the Celtic deities. It was a method of giving the Gods and Goddesses their share of the previous years herd or crops. In addition these sacred fires were a big part of the cleansing of the old year and a method to prepare for the coming new year. During the celebration, the Celts wore costumes, and danced around the bonfire. Many of these dances told stories or played out the cycles of life and death or commemorated the cycle of Wheel of Life. These costumes were adorned for three primary reasons. The first was to honor the dead who were allowed to rise from the Otherworld. The Celts believed that souls were set free from the land of the dead during the eve of Samhain. Those that had been trapped in the bodies of animals were released by the Lord of the Dead and sent to their new incarnations. The wearing of these costumes signified the release of these souls into the physical world. Not all of these souls were honored and respected. Some were also feared as they would return to the physical world and destroy crops, hide livestock or ‘haunt’ the living who may have done them wrong. The second reason for these traditional costumes was to hide from these malevolent spirits to escape their trickery. The final representation was a method to honor the Celtic Gods and Goddesses of the harvest, fields and flocks. Giving thanks and homage to those deities who assisted the village or clan through the trials and tribulations of the previous year. And to ask for their favor during the coming year and the harsh winter months that were approaching. In addition to celebrations and dance, it was believed that this thin veil between the physical world and the Otherworld provided extra energy for communications between the living and the dead. With these communications, Druid Priests, and Celtic Shamans would attempted to tell the fortunes of individual people through a variety of methods. For a people entirely dependent on the volatile natural world, these prophecies were an important source of comfort and direction during the long, dark winter.

Today, we celebrate the holiday as Halloween quite commercially since it’s also been co-opted by many businesses in their attempt to ring up their cash registers.  Well, everybody takes it more seriously as Halloween except Henri the Extensional Cat.

I still remember this from being a kid and I love the image of Linus waiting for the Great Pumpkin.  I love playing the song on the piano still.  No matter what time of year I gig, this song awakens the kid in a lot of people. It’s fun to stick it in the middle of a set an watch people perk up!

It’s also the end of the season for watching a bunch of great movies and switching to nasty movies, horrid shopping conditions, and generally harassment as once again I take up arms in the war against christmas where the Roman’s morphed from Mithras’ birthday and story into yet another way to wipe out ancient cultures and myths.  However, tonight, I can still watch old horror movies and watch the fun.


Friday Nite Lite: Scary Republicans

Good Evening!

You know, I’ve always thought that certain members of congress were scary looking, their policies make them frightening as hell.

I mean, look at them!

Which brings me to our first cartoon…

Cagle Post – Political Cartoons & Commentary – » Scare the Girls

Scare the Girls © Bruce Plante,Tulsa World,political halloween,halloween 2012,murdoch,akin,rape,comments

For a few more on Halloween:

10/26 Mike Luckovich: Boo! | Mike Luckovich

102612-toon-luckovich-ed

10/28 Mike Luckovitch: Trick or Treat | Mike Luckovich

102812-toon-luckovich-ed

Cagle Post – Political Cartoons & Commentary – » East coast monster storm

East coast monster storm © Dave Granlund,Politicalcartoons.com,Hurricane,Sandy,October storm,Halloween storm,perfect storm,damage,2012,wind,flooding,coastal flooding,surge,east coast, frankenstorm

Cagle Post – Political Cartoons & Commentary – » IMPENDING SNOWSTORM

IMPENDING SNOWSTORM © Randy Bish,Pittsburgh Tribune-Review,SNOWSTORM,SNOW,HURRICANE SANDY,STORM,WEATHER, frankenstorm

Cagle Post – Political Cartoons & Commentary – » Trick or Treat Mitt

Trick or Treat Mitt © Pat Bagley,Salt Lake Tribune,Mitt,Romney,Trick or Treat,Campaign,Etch-a-Sketch,Moderate,Conservative,Severely Conservative,Election,2012,Halloween

I’ve got a few on the election:

Cagle Post – Political Cartoons & Commentary – » Ohio Vote

Ohio Vote © Kirk Walters,Toledo Blade,ohio,key,swing,voters,state,ohio-voters

Cagle Post – Political Cartoons & Commentary – » Vote Obama

Vote Obama © Zapiro,obama reelection,change,hope,vote

Cagle Post – Political Cartoons & Commentary – » Animal Nuz 114

Animal Nuz 114 © Eric Lewis,Animal Nuz,stimulus,bernanke,america,global,romney,meeting

Cagle Post – Political Cartoons & Commentary – » Foreign Policy

Foreign Policy © Steve Benson,Arizona Republic,foreign policy,debate,romney,message,obama,foreign-policy-debate

Cagle Post – Political Cartoons & Commentary – » Polls

Polls © Cardow,The Ottawa Citizen,Gallup,poll,election,2012,romney,obama,election polls,big bird

Cagle Post – Political Cartoons & Commentary – » Political snake handling in the pulpit

Political snake handling in the pulpit © J.D. Crowe,Mobile Register,politics, religion, snake handling

Cagle Post – Political Cartoons & Commentary – » Zingers

Zingers © Sorensen,Slowpoke,obama,romney,zingers,final-election-countdown,romney-zingers

And a one that is not on the election:

Cagle Post – Political Cartoons & Commentary – » Beluga Whales Can Talk

Beluga Whales Can Talk © Steve Breen,The San Diego Union Tribune,beluga whales,talk,rush limbaugh,global warming

Well, that is all I’ve got…today I did something I thought I never would do…and that was vote for Obama.  What have you all been up to today? Getting ready for Sandy?

This is an open thread!