74-time Jeopardy! winner Ken Jennings creates a weekly news quiz for Slate featuring “12 challenging questions on the week’s news events, big and small, including happenings in science, sports, politics, and culture both high and low.” I happen to enjoy taking this quiz in order to compete against a good friend. But this week, Jennings went off the rails. See if you can spot the problem below:
2016 hopeful Chris Christie made headlines a week ago when he was spotted embracing Cowboys owner Jerry Jones in that franchise’s owner’s box. While that sight provoked a response of pity or disgust — or a mixture of both — among many observers, it provoked in me a question: which of those two detestable men would I prefer to become the next President of the United States?
I want to briefly address another story that recently made the rounds, best expressed in this headline from Vox: “The perfect response to people who say all Muslims are violent, in one tweet“.
By ‘people who say all Muslims are violent’, the headline is responding to (inter alia) HBO comedian Bill Maher, who argued on his show that members of “the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) are actually not extremist outliers but represent the inherent violence and intolerance of Islam itself, and by extension its 1.6 billion followers.”
Vox counters by citing this tweet and subsequent explanation:
Stephen Colbert has been described as “the Best Thing to Ever Happen to Science on TV” and Slate speculated that his departure to CBS “could be a big loss for television coverage of science.”
Jon Stewart, not so much — and hopefully, you’re about to see why.
Last Thursday’s The Daily Show included a segment on the political scandal that brought down Virginia Governor and potential Presidential hopeful Bob McDonnell (“The Giving Spree“). The scandal revolved around allegations of influence-peddling by a Virginia businessman who enlisted the governor to promote his tobacco-based nutritional supplement. That’s when Stewart went off the rails:
Kim Jong-un is not happy (and probably a little lonely).
After Seth Rogen and James Franco released their first trailer for The Interview, in which they play journalists charged with assassinating the North Korean dictator, Kim’s lackeys promised “merciless” retaliation:
I have better things to be doing, and I’m really behind on a lot of serious topics I want to write about, but Facebook doesn’t give its users fifty six different ways to describe their gender identity every day. My first pass, titled Are Facebook’s relationship status options a little bit sexist?, garnered the following comment on — appropriately enough — Facebook:
Let’s be real here: what the author’s upset about is the third gender, and is using the widow thing as a pretense B)
I wasn’t sure if this was a fair characterization, so I took the opportunity to interview the author and evaluate his true intentions for myself. As it turns out, the widow thing was, indeed, a pretense – however, the commenter got the rest of his/her/variant assertion wrong. The author is not upset that Facebook added a “third” gender — assuming he is “upset” at all — but simply miffed that the service deigned to limit its options to a mere fifty six.
Since when does Mark Zuckerberg get off on being the arbiter of what qualifies as a legitimate gender identity? The author’s point, he told me, is that if Facebook can give fifty six options for gender, why not do the same for relationship statuses? Better, why straightjacket us into those preselected categories? Why not just let everyone choose whatever the hell gender they want?
In the course of our interview, the author admit that he felt a shred of remorse about the article — not because he felt it belittled or diminished the tremendous achievement of the gender-interested community, but because his focus on relationship statuses as a foil to gender was a strategic and rhetorical blunder. A better option would have been to highlight the strict binary Facebook foists upon its users when it comes to their sexual preferences:
While some are looking to tomorrow’s special event as some sign of apocalypse, I’d be the first to admit that I’m pretty excited for the coincidence of Thanksgiving and Chanuka. What better way to celebrate Thanksgiving than by encroaching upon its native turf? (Zing.)
This post was prompted by a recent email that turned up in my inbox, with a deceptively-simple subject line — one word: “Thanksgivikah.” I didn’t think much of it as I got to typing my reply, but the moment I pressed send, I noticed something a little off. You see, I had concluded my email in kind, by wishing the recipient a “Happy Thanksgivvukah!” and couldn’t help but do a double-take at my own spelling of the word: Two v’s? That couldn’t possibly be right.
Or could it?
Two years ago, this blog thoroughly covered the debate over the proper spelling of Hanuka/Chanuka/Hanukah/Chanukah/Hanukkah/Chanukkah/Hanukka/Chanukka in a post titled Google’s War on ‘Chanuka’. One of the highlights of that post was Avidan Ackerson’s deterministic finite automaton that helped define all of the possibilities (for Google to declare war against).
This year, Avidan and I have again teamed up to compile all the possible spellings of the seemingly-simple but deceptively-diverse portmanteau of Thanksgiving and Chanuka. Behold, DFA v2.013:
This evening, Macklemore performed at fake Spring Fling in New Haven. I did not attend, but the specter of the Thrift Shop rapper performing before hundreds/thousands/[insert official police estimate here] of adoring fans inexplicably called to mind an article that showed up in Slate back in February, “Macklemore NBA ad with Wings: Is the rapper a sellout?” Slate has since changed the article to “Macklemore’s Strangely Self-Censored NBA Promo”, but the original title is still visible in the url, or through the Google if you don’t believe me.
In case you didn’t come across the article when it first came out, Jordan Teicher used it to compare the original lyrics of Macklemore’s Wings with the truncated version that appeared in the NBA’s All-Star Weekend Preview:
You’ve heard by now that thieves stole 11,000 pounds of Nutella from a trailer in Germany yesterday. The total value of the haul is estimated at $20,000, so one is forced to imagine the thieves would be lucky to break even after accounting for the cost of shipping, storing, and unloading their loot on the black market.
Which begs the obvious question: why would anyone do this? Aside, of course, for an intense love of chocolate hazelnut spread?
You might think the obvious solution is to ask the people who did it, but unsurprisingly — unlike terrorists — the thieves don’t seem to be in much of a rush to step forward and claim responsibility. But I have my suspicions.
I always have my suspicions.
The clue that helped me unravel the mystery is buried in the location of the heist. The robbery took place in the German town of Bad Hersfeld. Having spent some time in Germany two summers ago, that sounded like a perfectly plausible pair of German words, but I found myself wondering what they meant.
And I don’t just mean in the sense of their plain meaning as words one might translate from German to English — I mean their broader significance. The straight translation was in fact quite easy to come by, thanks to my expertise in German (and some help from Google). “Bad”, I already knew, means bath. But to translate “Hersfeld”, I turned to Google Translate.
And as it turns out, Google Translate isn’t always all that helpful. “Hersfeld” was translated into English as “Hersfeld”. So I next tried breaking the word up into pieces. “Feld”, I also knew, means field. But “Hers”? Google Translate translated it into English as “Hers”.
Which left me with one inescapable conclusion: the word in German is the same as the word in English. Hers simply means, as it does in English, “something belonging to her”.
But why “hers”? Why not “his”? What in the name of gendered possessive pronouns is going on here?
And that’s when it hit me: the culprit has been hiding in plain site all along. She’s got a history of Nutella-filching, and she’s basically synonymous with gendered possessive pronouns.
I refer, of course, to the Barnard student body, which made headlines about a month ago when news broke that after Columbia introduced Nutella in one of its dining halls, students were going through 100 pounds of the stuff today — a pace some speculated would cost the University $250,000 a year.
Sure, the story turned out to be somewhat less than entirely accurate. Less than a day later, Columbia released a statement claiming that “the ongoing weekly cost of Nutella supply is actually less than one-tenth the purported amount originally reported on a student blog and quickly picked up by other media.”
But was the cost “less than one-tenth” because Columbia students were actually going through less Nutella than originally thought? Or perhaps the abrupt reduction in costs can be attributed to an ingenious scheme [Update, 10PM: as suggested by Slate (sort of)] to defray costs by “importing” a fresh supply from Germany?
As Exhibit A, I submit that the statement didn’t actually say people had stopped “filling cups with Nutella in one dining hall and taking “full jars” from another” — simply that “the actual cost was only about $2,500, and quickly went down to $450 per week.” So it really is just the cost.
I think we have our answer.
Slate’s XX blog published a post by Amanda Marcotte on Friday – Jake Davidson Asking Out Kate Upton Isn’t Cute. It’s Creepy. – the crux of which goes something like this:
The lesson learned: You may be a rich and famous model, but any random man can, just by making a video, force you to do a little song and dance about how delightful his attentions are. Instead of applauding Davidson for this, adults should be appalled. All that’s been taught here to young men is that they are entitled to women’s attention simply because they ask for it.
This entitlement we teach men crops up all the time for women, and it’s rarely as cute as a silly comedy video: When a man demands that you stop on the street to entertain his proposal of going back to his place and then follows you for blocks because you pretended not to hear him. When a rape victim is told that if she didn’t want to have sex, she shouldn’t have gone to the rapist’s hotel room. When a woman files for a restraining order because she’s afraid her abusive husband means it when he says that if he can’t have her, no one can.
Taking XX’s allegations at face value for a moment, it doesn’t sound like Marcotte thinks Davidson’s video is creepy — it sounds like she thinks it, and everything it represents about male entitlement, is downright dangerous.
I can’t say I found Davidson’s video all that delightful or wonderful or charming, but I also think this reaction is a little bit of an over-reaction. And not just because the idea that Kate had to respond is a bit of a stretch, or that the fact she did has any broader societal significance. After all, there’s no shortage of marriage proposals (that’s five) to T-Swift on Youtube and elsewhere, and to my knowledge, she hasn’t felt compelled to respond to a single one of them (though I suppose there might be a song lyric out there just waiting to be decoded).
Obviously, street harassment, rape, and abusive husbands are not something we should be encouraging.* But I don’t see how this incident – or at least, Davidson making his video in the first place — is going to do anything to encourage those things. Creepy, maybe. Dangerous, probably not.
*The fact that I had to write that sentence might be a good indication this is probably not a topic I should be writing about.
And I don’t think Slate truly believes it is either. I searched the website’s archive and confirmed that XX had nothing to say about that time Justin Timberlake famously got asked out, also via Youtube. Sure, the Marine Corps Ball is hardly Jake Davidson’s high school prom – or as Slate put it, “one of the most awkward and embarrassing nights of your life, where you have to socialize with teenagers while being paraded around like a show pony” – but I don’t imagine Slate would take the position that street harassment and rape are OK as long as they’re perpetrated by Justin Timberlake or Jon Hamm and not pimply teenaged Jake Davidson.
Indeed, speaking of Jon Hamm, XX published another interesting piece on Thursday – the day before the Kate Upton piece – with a title that speaks somewhat less for itself, Jon Hamm Is Being Treated Like an Actress. He Hates It. As usual, I have extracted for you the crux: