Live From The Comments Section

Every six years on this blog we like to show our gratitude to loyal readers by showcasing a select comment that best exemplifies the spirit of discursive dialogue that we hope to engage with on this site.

Today that honor belongs to John Kabel of Internetland, who has this to say about my latest post:

Get a mentor. NOT a dating coach or pickup teacher. Find something difficult but rewarding to learn and someone to teach you–NOT your equally rudderless friends. What you need to learn is manhood, which has to be taught and too often isn’t.

Dating is a part of a man’s life, but not the majority of it, and certainly not something you should need to obsess about. Learn about the rest of it and put dating in perspective and you’ll wonder why you worried about it.

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First of all, thank you John for specifically ruling out PUAs, because if I couldn’t bring myself to listen to Korean language CDs, I definitely can’t be bothered to listen to endless advice on social interactions (“its all about them! non-verbal cues!”) as filtered through the words of a sexist douchebag.

I’m a little concerned, however, about how well you know me and my friends. It’s true, they are a bit rudderless, aren’t they? I’m pretty sure some of my friends have never even been on a boat, and to a man (or woman) they most definitely don’t own a yacht. It’s possible Adam Augusiak Boro will be able to purchase one soon, but he doesn’t read this blog so he won’t even know I was talking about him.

But I do really like the idea of learning how to either build a boat from piles of lumber of learning how to be an expert oarsman. This are fairly unique skills and definitely useful, as the world is not short on streams and rivers. The potential to take women on exotic and romantic dates increases as well, and once I take them out to the middle of the river, or even the ocean, there isn’t much competition for attention, so I’ll be able to woo them at my leisure.

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One question, John: should I learn how to catch fish as well? There is that old saying: show a woman you can catch a fish and she’ll fuck you in the middle of the river in your sex boat, but teach a woman how to fish and she’ll catch a fish too and you can both play with fish while you’re having sex, forever and a life time.

Speaking of things that are elusive and slippery, MANHOOD is most certainly a difficult to even grasp conceptually, let alone allow into your daily affectation. Right now I’m still working on BOYHOOD, but once I beat level 12 I’m going to definitely look into the expansion packs. I’m excited, as I figure manhood involves some combination of the following: shooting animals, taking fewer showers, eating potatoes, spanking women, teaching bartending courses, buying a gun, taking over a large tract of federally-owned land and claiming it as your own, having sex with another man’s wife at a swinger party, having sex with another wife’s man at a different swinger party, taking part in an orgy inside a restroom stall on an interstate highway, showcasing a startup company on “Shark Tank”, killing a man at a poker table, going to jail, buying a horse, and finally coaching girl’s lacrosse at the local high school. This is going to be an exciting new episode of life. 020

Now that I’ve put dating in perspective, I’m wondering why I ever worried about it.

Thank you, John. And please keep up your valuable contributions to this website.

 

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Sad Clowns of OK Cupid

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I dislike online dating. And I think the initial stages are weighted heavily against men. Don’t believe me? Click here.
But how do I write an article complaining about online dating without sounding like a hater? How about by identifying it as part of a larger problem of online interaction and communication? A poor and pathetic substitute for real life? And with different rules to boot?
I’m not a maninist. Guys send women some pretty shocking offensive and dumb messages, and once Phase 2 of the dating process commences the deck is stacked heavily against women. You already know all the crap girls have to deal with so I won’t rehash it right now. Back to complaining:
With online dating, everybody loses. Unless you win. But if you did, it was an  exception. 
I recently came across a hilarious comic series called OKComix where the woman took the most drawable offenses against her search for a mate, and turned it into deliciously punitive art. Many savvy internet goers have by now heard about or glanced through “straight white guys texting”, which is a collection of the best–or worst–come ons, one-liners, canned wittiness and pretenses to lame sex aimed at women.
Try it yourself!: do a google search of “OKCupid problems” or “men” or “nice guys of okcupid” and you are sure to run into some of the endless commentary about how disgusting men are online.
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My online dating experiences have not been good.  From a certain point of few, online dating provides an insightful and very beneficial buffer for women against having to engage or encounter the most aggressive wooers in the ‘real’ world. To the extent that it could allow some women to see what (some) men are ‘really’ thinking without being put in a physically uncomfortable situation is not, well, ‘good’, but its several degrees less traumatic, and thus a potentially beneficial gate-keeping mechanism.
For awkward men like me, however, this one-way street can be difficult and confusing to navigate. Picking up the rhythm of an online courtship can be confusing and non-intuitive.
Film Title: 40 Year old Virgin.
For instance, what should you put in the opening message? How long should it be? There are some obvious rules that seem to have been laid out and algorithms which claim to have answered these questions, but we’ve already internalized and adapted those to the point where its not so difficult to sniffed out canned opening lines, and nobody is going to respond to such dopiness. If you get a response, how long should you wait before asking them out on a date? How can you tell for certain your online chat is going well? How do you interpret stalled responses? How much can you take at face value? (for instance,  if they have to cancel the date, should you try to reschedule? Is it just flaking out? Did they change their mind?)
The big question I’ve been leading towards: What if men’s gross and inappropriate dialogue is not a cause but a symptom of the terror of online dating?

Are there guys who are less hesitant to be their obnoxious, hateful selves online, just looking to have bad sex, and ready to be rude because they just need 1-in-1000 odds to say yes? Possibly.

But everyone desires some combination of intimate physical/platonic relationship and so let’s temporary ignore entitled bros and pickup artists and the rest of the community of privileged assholes, instead focusing on the fact that As the above study showed, undesirable males who receive something like fives times less responses than the least desirable woman, are still likely to be mocked for even trying.

So here’s my thing: if as a man, you are ignored for sending the ‘perfect’ message, and you are ignored for send the most ‘imperfect’ one, then the end result should rather understandably be neurosis. And neurosis cannot but lead to anything other than more strange messages. It’s a vicious cycle until you finally just give up, which doesn’t exactly solve the problem you were trying to solve with online dating.
This again is not to say that many men wouldn’t be equally harassing in real life should they get the chance. But the infinite one-way man parade that is the online dating world is tailored as a conduit to forced errors on the part of men. And such nonsense only re-enforces the sad sexist paradigms that govern social interaction. And it only exacerbates the sexual confusion and
The internet has helped mobilize feminists and minority groups, giving them a voice and an ability to coordinate a progressive message. But the internet has also ignored and distorted the realities of gender dynamics and healthy understanding about sex and the sexes. (incidentally, this is why I hate porn and find it very unstimulating) In other words, the internet is good at prescriptive battles (beating down the men’s rights movement, calling attention to racist cops murdering people, et al), but terrible at preemptive ones (sex ed, and even a basic knowledge of the biologic processes underpinning and motivating our drives and interactions, or how to stimulate another person pleasurably).
I also wonder how LGBT dating experiences compare, or if there are a completely different set of paradigms and pitfalls.

The Case Against Veggie Dogs

After careful contemplation, I can’t really think of a more disingenuous attempt at food than the veggie dog.

For a long time, I’ve felt a moral confusion over the concept of imitation meat; even as someone who has made a slightly more concerted effort at switching to eating things like seitan and soy and sunflower seeds, the idea of mystery mush processed in the uncanny valley of grillable animal bits upsets me.

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What’s the point? Just to fit in? If you are a vegetarian, aren’t you striving to be better than this? Why would you bring vegetables down the sad level of a hot dog? A slab of meat may or not be better put through some impressive machinery and transformed into malleable slop, but a head of broccoli? Not so much. Does anybody actually like veggie-meats? I must say, I’ve had veggie burgers that were almost palatable, as chickpeas can be crushed to the consistency of ground beef and similarly spiced, but never have I ever had a veggie dog that wasn’t a vomitous affair.

This is also largely the fault of the hot dog as a concept as well. A hot dog is an imitation of an imitation; for people too lame for a real Italian sausage. And if you can’t stomach the thought of that being made, how do you live with the knowledge that hot dogs exist and have passed through the stomachs of 87 percent of Americans (I made that statistic up). june-supper-club-003

And then a veggie dog, poorly pretending to be a dick-shaped casing of slimy pork snouts, is an imitation THREE TIMES REMOVED from an actually edible food. That’s more or less the nadir without becoming something that can no longer be eaten–I suppose you could mash together some sawdust to make an imitation veggie dog. But it might not make it out the other end.

Full disclosure: this affects me personally. The other day someone tried to feed me a veggie dog. This is because there is a cruel rule that if children as served hot dogs, and you as an adult cannot eat neither meat and/nor hot dogs on principle, that the vegetarian substitute needs must be a veggie dog. And then someone got mad at me for refusing both hot and veggie dog. Because that was offensive to the kids, to the kitchen staff and to the person who was watching me refuse to eat both. But I’d rather come across as a miserable than have to suffer the consequences of putting it in my mouth. morning-star-veggie-dog

Because food is more than just a meal. Food changes you. It becomes you and informs a part of who you are. I don’t want even a fraction of a percentage of me to be composed of whatever goes into either hot or veggie dogs. I’m better than that. And, the thing is, so are you. My refusing a veggie dog is not meant to demonstrate my superiority, but to lead by example, to show everyone a better way.

A (Brief) Tour of Roadside Garbage in Dennisport, MA.

It’s almost summer on the Cape!

But right now I’m sitting in a strange bed in Colebrook CT, with either the flu or metal fume fever, so it’s a great time to talk about all the garbage I’ve been finding while wandering around the beaches and backwoods of West Dennis. (our g

During the first week as a nature instructor, I taught a class on garbage, which was mostly a scavenger hunt for ADD children out behind the train tracks, where a freight truck carries garbage from the Cape to the mainland. We found so many fascinating things: a broken television set. Rusting cans. Rubber things. Styrofoam. A wooden pylon with nails sticking out. Probably some cigarettes. The kids loved it.

More exciting things were found during a sweep of the campsite we work out of. A plastic bottle rocket and several breakfast cereal packages had joined the ducks and frog’s of Elisha’s Pond. Half buried in a garden was a punctured volleyball; it looked like Pac-Man. A few dozen glowsticks from the school visit prior were hiding out on the grounds.

Lesson Learned: finding garbage is easy. The neighborhood where I lived in Washington DC was filthy too, but that’s because it was in a city. Dennisport is a sleepy town with one intersection that features an Ocean State Job Lot, laundromat, liquor store and Buckies Biscotti.

On my way back home I took pictures of the garbage along the side of the road. I was going to write up little write-ups for each photo…but instead I think I will let the trash speak for itself. This is now a Photo ESSAY. Each pictures is worth 1,000 words so you’re getting 16,000 words on Cape Cod Garbage. You’re welcome.

Is Zack Snyder Worse Than Michael Bay?

Yes.

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But I’ll try to explain why.

Michael Bay is the Donald Trump of filmmakers; his movies are big and loud and dumb on scales previously unimaginable. The Transformers franchise contains overt racism, misogyny and even a little bit of incestuous longing sprinkled on top…and yet they are among the highest grossing films of all time, a franchise whose insane popularity raises uncomfortable questions about what ‘the people’ want.

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And yet Bay has some sense of self. If he’s not introspective, then he’s at least clear about what he wants: to make money. Other fools label him an auteur, but Bay himself gets extremely defensive when his movies are attacked for being stupid or mean or poorly edited; all of that, to him, seems to irrelevant. His movies are popular and Bay himself has said at times “I make movies for teenage boys.” To him, there is nothing higher, or lower, at play.

But Zack Snyder is different. If Bay is Trump, Snyder is Ben Carson: wholly aloof and unaware, seemingly sleeptalking through interviews and public appearances, Snyder yearns to be thought of as an ‘intellectual.’ The meta-text of all his superhero schlock is that his films are important and he’s thought and felt very deeply about all the comic books he’s been reading. Superhero stories aren’t fluffy or fun, they have significant significance. Like a thirteen-year-old smoking pot for the first time, Snyder blows his own mind with the new thoughts he generates–What if Superman was REAL? What if we had to burn down the farm to save the village?–and expects these epiphanies to astonish other people as well.watchmen-zack-snyder-director

That’s why he’s now made his version of Watchmen, considered by some (NOT ME-I did not like the “Graphic novel” or the film) to be the greatest, most introspective superhero story ever told, not once, not twice, but thrice. His adaptation of that comic, and the two Superman films he’s made, all revolve around similar themes and concepts, most notably what responsibility superheroes have to the plebes (Superman goes back and forth on this! He’s conflicted! There are no easy answers! It’s deep!) and how much crowd-pleasing wanton destruction (and death) is justifiable.

Christopher Nolan also makes movies about heroes and takes himself too seriously, but he’s pretty smart. Snyder thinks he can one-up everyone with his crazy shit sandwiches. He tried to Dark Knight Superman, placing the Man of Steel in a gritty post-9/11 environment, seemingly without once questioning whether an outer space alien who speaks English, looks like a slice of British Beefcake and lives in a giant crystal place is the right character to place in this context (compare this to the pulpy Superman II with Terrence Stamp’s glamor-fab General Zod shown at right). general-zodHis one “original” film, Sucker Punch, is an exercise in convoluted world-building and pointless “layers” of story-telling so empty and ridiculous it is almost unfair to compare it to Inception, yet that’s what Snyder is aping with his dreams-within-dreams-within-dreams-within-dreams-within-dreams approach to what amounts to a creepy fetish fantasy. Sorry, I meant an “empowering”, “feminist“, “deconstruction”, of…something.

Snyder is the worst kind of stupid. He’s an idiot who fancies himself an artistic genius. Michael Bay doesn’t ruin properties. He takes ideas that were already dumb and keeps them that way. No ‘better’ director would have taken on Transformers. Or Benghazi. Or a film that celebrates roid culture. That’s bayhem and nothing else. But Zack Snyder has taken artistic control, at least in the medium of film, of some of our modern culture’s most beloved icons: the men and women who comprise the Justice League. And there are plenty of people who believe he completely mangled the integrity of Watchmen (even though he used the graphic novel for storyboards? But I digress…). Hell, for someone who is supposedly a master of visual composition, a lot of his work–Superman, Watchmen, 300, that movie about owls–is basically paint-by-numbers transcriptions of comic book art.

But let’s give Snyder the benefit of the doubt on his skills with the canvas of the camera, a man who can construct beautiful shots and even scenes. That’s why he gets all these projects he doesn’t deserve; he’s has VISION. The trailer for Watchmen even said so: it was brought to you by “visionary director of 300.” In this way, he is exactly like Ben Carson, a self-promoting huckster whose narrow skills are oddly combined with a worldview which ought to undermine them. It is possible that Ben Carson is just as skilled with the knife as Snyder is with his cutting tools in the editing room.

But I wanted to compare Snyder to Michael Bay! The Snyderian worldview is just as ugly as as Bay’s, but he doesn’t know it. It also has a somewhat sharper focus. Snyder seems hell-bent on presenting his version of Objectivism. He even promises us his own remake of The Fountainhead at some point, maybe after Warner Brothers take shim off the Justice League project.sucker-punch-snyder2

Bay just follows his nose to the ID of the worst impulses of modern culture. The stupid white man wants boobs, so he gives them boobs. They want explosions, so he gives them that. Robots. Vulgarity. Racism. Military fetishism. It’s all there, smashed together on the screen.

Snyder’s films are also sexist. But he thinks he’s promoting feminism. His films are also violent and vulgar. But that’s not just because the thinks violence is fun. He also thinks its more serious. Dark. Edgy. And it helps him prove his point. Which is that special people are special. People like King Leonidas (as cartoonized by idiots). Like Superman (blech). Like the Watchmen. Like Zack Snyder!!!

It seems as if all his films are trying to prove that heroism is not defined by doing things to help others, or to make difficult choices, or having principles. No, heroism is just about being awesome. And not letting others get in the way of that. In 300, Gerard Butler rebuffs a cripple from joining the all-star team, because cripples are ugly. In Watchmen, the heroes are either aloof, psychotic, fascist, plotting to blow up Manhattan, or worst of all, impotent, and this is all in the name of “deconstructing” what it means to be a superhero. And his version of Batman, Superman and even Wonder Woman are simply godlike creatures who answer to nobody and whose attempts to save people from themselves never work so why bother?

In other words, Bay has a funhouse mirror that shines our stupid back at us. It’ll go away when we do. But Snyder, knowingly or unknowingly, keeps some really unpleasant and wrong theologies in circulation. Yes, there are absurd think pieces about Bay’s bombast, weakly pushed by his alma mater (Wesleyan) and the Criterion Collection. But nobody seriously gets into an argument about Bay’s contribution to culture. Nobody argues that Transformers is a movie that empowers young girls.

But Sucker Punch? Wonder Woman? Do we not know the difference between strong female characters and weak female characters who are physically strong (or not even)? Do we not know the different between superheroes and super-powered sociopaths? Maybe we do, maybe we don’t. But here’s hoping sooner or later Snyder’s toxic brand of pseudo-intellectualism makes its way to the C-list Circle of Hell. e

Game of Thrones Ripped Off Thomas the Tank Engine (2016 Update)

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Author’s Note: Several years ago I wrote a post comparing the two classic British (accented) television shows. This is an updated version. 

I knew there was a reason why Game of Thrones felt so familiar. I experienced the same emotions, learned the same lessons, eye-rolled at the same gratuitous nudity, lived vicariously through the same characters twenty years ago. Except back then, I wasn’t following the front lines around the country of Westeros, I was rolling along the branch lines of the Isle of Sodor.

Game of Thrones is a blatant rip-off of Thomas the Tank Engine and Friends, the British TV show which was filmed using narrow-gauge model trains and featured the sturdy yet subtle voice-over narration of Ringo Starr.

You won’t win this argument, but if you dare try, here are the clinching irrefutable facts:

ONE: Like Game of Thrones (abbreviated hence forth to GofT), Thomas the Tank Engine and Friends (abbreviated hence forth to TtheTEandFbitchez) takes place on a fictional island that is vaguely meant to represent Great Britain. Yes, technically Sodor is meant to be between GB and the isle of Man but really its meant as a fictional fantasy-land copycat of the real place. And Sodor’s topography, geography, demographics, history, rail map, etc etc, is all inspired by the history of the British Isles. So forgive me if I’m not impressed that you know can point out King’s Landing out on a map. You don’t know shit if you can’t tell Culdee Fell from Ffarquhar.

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At least the great Rev W Awdry was from England. George RR Martin is just some dude from New Jersey.

TWO: I watch GofT for one reason and one reason alone: amazing special effects I want to know who is going to win the game! Who is going to get their head cut off? Who is going to mount an assault on the capital? Who is going to buy a slave army? The machinations of all these crazy houses and noble families is titillating to the maximum. It’s well written, sure, but it can get a little campy. A little gratuitous.

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And that’s also why I wanted to watch Thomas.  Like GofT, Thomas and Friends offers a decentralized world of industrious and ambitious engines fighting to maintain control of their various branch lines, often at the expense of one another. They are both soap operas at heart. The title character doesn’t even appear in most of the stories; it’s usually the big engines like Gordon or Henry who are fucking up and causing trouble and dumping on each other. And when these engines fuck up, it’s an awesome shit show. The best episodes are the ones where an engine does something stupid and gets derailed into a mine pit or the ocean or something.

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Okay, so the engines never “die” in “The Railway Series”, but characters come back to life in GofT too! There’s that priest character who’s been cut seven times. And all those zombies north of the wall who’ve been reanimated.

Update-And Jon Snow, who is “dead” but he’ll be back someday soon because if he isn’t, his lame narrative will be nothing but a “deconstruction” of the epic hero quest, which is to say it’s just a badly written character who was killed off to shock fans. But they won’t let that happen. So he’ll be back. 

In both universes, it is often difficult to discern some kind of overarching plot arc. Moves are simply behind made, wheels being turned, until winter comes or diesel power replaces steam power as the main source of locomotion.

George RR Martin is a true fan of history, and that’s where many of his storylines come from. Supposedly he based the battle of the Starks and the Lannisters after the fight between the Lancasters and the Whatevers in ye olde timey England. The good Reverend Awdry liked history too. And trains. He liked train history. Almost all the trains in his original stories are based on real trains, although the real ones don’t have faces or talk.

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March 2016 Update: It is fairly clear now that not only is George RR Martin pulling his storylines from the pages of “The Railway Series”, he’s also stealing characters as well. The sad saga of Stannis Baratheon is beat-for-beat the same as that of Henry the Green Engine, a noble 4-6-0 steam locomotive done in by cruel gods and tragic hubris.

Always second fiddle to the biggest engine (Gordon), Henry’s lays claim to the turntable, which is similar to the iron throne, in that it is possibly made of iron as well. Unfortunately he is plagued by misfortune at every turn, including a dour personality which gets him stuck in a tunnel for months, a pessimistic outlook on his routine, and a bad coal box. In “Game of Thrones”, Stannis makes a terrible sacrifice to bring about favorable weather conditions, only to see his army abandon him. Henry makes a similar gambit by stealing another engine’s tenders (coal boxes), only to realize too late that they are filled with boiler sludge. And then he crashes spectacularly carrying a special freight load known as the “Flying Kipper.”

THREE: This is a man’s world. Both offer a complex and sometimes contradictory take on the role of women in their respective societies. GofT is a world full of wenches and whores and rich girls doing their hair, but it also has a dragon lady and a warrior woman and a wise cracking grandma. Some of the women get good lines and reflect on their plight in society, and yes sometimes the women have to do things to the men to get power but that’s just “the way things were back then.” And at the end of the day there are plenty of women pulling the strings in various parts of Westeros and the outlying lands. I think the character of “Margary” is my favorite since she so obviously is now pulling the strings on evil Joffrey (who is now dead).

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In “Thomas” there just aren’t many ladytrains. There is a caboose passenger coach named “Henrietta” that doesn’t have a face and doesn’t speak, but I’m assuming that might be a lady train too. New “Thomas” stories have added a “main character” named “Emily” to try to be more politically correct but that doesn’t count, since those stories were written after 1990.

The two that get story lines are both diesel engines, so by their very nature are more important and powerful than the other trains. Daisy the trolley diesel railcar is kind of like Cersei Lannister; she’s not nearly as smart as she thinks she is and both characters got this major attitude/chip on her shoulder since they don’t want to be stereotyped as a “woman” but then they don’t assert themselves or transcend gender politics.

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Mavis the tram diesel is more like Danaerys; at first Mavis starts out as a dainty waif engine but gradually comes into her own as she learns to work with the other engines and become the most important train on Thomas’ branch line.

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Also you never hear any of the women in “Thomas” talk about “boys” or complaining about their periods or taking time out of scheduled journeys to “go shopping.” When a lady train is running on all cylinders, that lady train is judged on her own merits, same as the guy trains. Come to think of it all of the trains on Sodor are too busy with business to get down to any kinky business.

So both worlds are very obviously being told from a “male gaze”, but they at least half-ass an attempt at fully realized characters of both sexes.

FOUR: A well-established hierarchy and social order. Every engine knows his make and model and place in the world. Status is everything. In GofT are you a Lannister or a Karstark or a wilding or a whore or a butcher’s boy? In “Thomas”, better to be a tender engine (and by tender I mean the thing on the back with coal that couples to the rest of the train, not a gentle loving nature) than a tank or tram engine, or even worse…a freight truck! As GofT has its troublesome eunuch army, “Thomas” has its troublesome trucks who can’t even move on their own but almost universally resent their inferior anatomy. They are always just a bunch of assholes.

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I could go on about how some characters get “direwolves”, some trains get to pull the passenger coaches, some characters get henchman or guards, some trains get personal break vans, some characters get their own personal castle, some trains get their own branch lines, some characters are twins, some trains are twins, some characters who are twins have incestuous relationships…but I don’t need to go on. I think my point was very well made.

FIVE:  The looming threat of ultimate doom. The meta-narrative of “Game of Thrones” is that all the petty squabbles among houses and spouses is a dangerous distraction from the real enemy, the White Walkers. It’s a cool thread, and props to George RR…until you realize that like everything else in his universe, its cribbed again from “The Railway Series.” In the Rev WW Awdry’s epic saga, the narrow-minded gamesmanship of the engines to curry favor with the fickle God of the Rails, The Fat Controller, is all for naught when the diesel engines reach Sodor.

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The threat of built-in obsolescence is palpable among the engines of Sodor. The steam engines are no match for diesel power, they know it, and so do the diesels. Their only hope is to continuously appeal to the Fat Controller’s misguided sense of loyalty and nostalgia, despite the fact that all readers know eventually the laws of economics and progress will force his hand, and Thomas and Friends will either be scrapped or sold to China. But nine decades and hundreds of books in, this hasn’t happened yet.

4102641915_5ec6f7a9d7_zHowever, where “Game of Thrones” makes the Nights’ King a complete cipher (for now), in the “Railway Series”, the leader of the diesels, Diesel, is a real SOB. He’s smarmy and self-righteous and secretly (or not so secretly) ‘racist’ against the other engines who he begrudgingly works with, envisioning a time when the Diesels/Aryan master race with “rule” the tracks and all the steam-powered engines are lying in a scrap heap somewhere. He also has a nasty temper that he can’t control. He’s one of the few trains with a square face instead of a round one. That’s spooky. I used to have nightmares about this train running me over, or trying to.

SIX: Dragons

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SEVEN: George RR Martin wears a cap just like Mr. Conductor. (except really Martin is like GofT’s “Fat Controller” in terms of his ability to manipulate the narrative)

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FUN FACT: GofT was originally going to be called “Peter Dinklage the Sexy Dwarf and Friends” but they were worried about copyright infringement.

Nobody knows whether or not “Thomas the Tank Engine” was originally going to be called “A Trance of Trains” or “A Feast of Freight.”

2016 Candidates As Disney Princesses

There was a debate last night!

Although celebrities like Kim Kardashian carry the bloodline of American royalty, our cadre of nutty politicians are the next closest thing. With the help of the courageous media, our primary season has ‘exposed’ the Presidential field as a group of spoiled, pretty people. So why not compare them to our ideal fantasy of entitlement and royal virtue, the fairest of them all, the Disney princesses?

If you like Disney, and you like gotcha! politics, this is the clickable comparison for YOU:

Jeb! Bush- (Princess) Tinker Bell

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Poor Jeb!, no matter how loud he shrieks and sprinkles pixie dust on the electorate, nobody hears him. His presence in this election has been so tiny, so unnecessary, but it hasn’t been for lack of trying. Not that he deserves our attention; when you look closely at what he says, he’s really just kind of an obnoxious bitch.

I guess it’s true what they say: every time a GOP voter says “I don’t believe in Bushes”, there’s a little Jeb! somewhere that falls right down dead.

 

Ben Carson- Princess Aurora

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Otherwise known as Sleeping Beauty. That was easy.

Hilary Clinton- Princess Elsa

disney-princess-elsa-copyHillary Rodham Clinton

Yeah, I think she’s a bit of an ice queen. That’s not all bad. Princess Clinton’s got impressive skills! She’s also gotten an unfair rap in the past from the kingdom at large, and she’s mostly taken it in stride. This election season Hilary’s been willing to “let it go” and freeze all of her would-be opponents with phantom debates on a Saturday night, and a strong sense of entitlement to boot. She’s played the cynical older sister to Bernie’s naive waif (more on that below), which is…well, it’s disappointing.

Chris Christie- The Red Queen

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A nasty bully who makes ridiculous threats. Sentence first, verdict afterward: Christie would blow up Russian planes before risking not starting World War III. We’re already in World War III! Paint all the states red! Not really a Disney princess, but then again, Christie is not really a Presidential candidate.

Ted Cruz- Princess Ariel, The Little Mermaid

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An extremely vain creature, Cruz longs to be human but something is missing. But he’s certainly the most theatrical of the Presidential candidates; everybody agrees his obnoxious voice is a…quality of some kind. Prone to temper tantrums, his cleverness is undermined by a radical solipsism (says the NYT) which has all of his sisters in the GOP leering with hatred (and jealousy). And I guess in this metaphor King Triton is…Mitch McConnell? Yuck.

Jim Gilmore- Princess Kidagakash
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Yup, that’s a real princess!

Jon Kasich- Princess Megara

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Kasich seems to have made a foolish Faustian bargain in his bid for the Presidency, begrudgingly adopting GOP policy points he probably doesn’t believe in (here he is waffling on climate change) and its made him bitter and cynical. He’s better than this and he knows it. But that won’t help him win. In this sense he is a tragic figure and that only makes him more beautiful.

Martin O’Malley- (Princess) Alice

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Just kind of an observer to the whole nutty affair.

Rand Paul- Princess Jasmine

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Rand Paul is NOT a prize to be won!…but only because not enough people like him. Feisty and combative on the debate stage, Randy Rand secretly longs for America to sweep him off his feet on a magic carpet ride to the White House. His father, who people consider a well-meaning libertarian sultan, nevertheless has a nefarious voice in his ear telling him stupid things about the Gold Standard and such. Also like his father, sometimes Princess Rand likes to dress up like a commoner and say agreeable things about foreign policy, enough that if you’re not paying attention, you might even fall in love.

Marco Rubio- Princess Leia in a slave bikini

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Marco Rubio was supposed to be the future of politics or something, but it turns out he’s just a slave of the corpulent 1%, chained to the slobbering menace of the Koch brothers and their ilk. However, you get the feeling that this pin-up candidate secretly likes playing the submissive, pouty eye-candy of the GOP. Reciting lame stump speeches and talking points suits him a little too well.

From the way they talk about Rubio and the “Gang of 8”, you’d think those guys blew up the Death Star. But, no, they just tried to legislate a path to citizenship. Carrie Fisher could do much better.

Bernie Sanders- Princess Ana

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Bernie is considered the lesser Princess of the Democrats because he doesn’t have superPAC powers like his crazy-face ‘sister’ in the race. But while Hilary warns of threats abroad, Bernie asks us if we want to build something. They say he’s naive, that the political coalition he hopes to marry into will turn their back on him. Is his liberal optimism beautiful or worthy of ridicule? Maybe we ‘need’ Princess Elsa, but we ‘want’ Princess Ana. Without Bernie, the Presidential race would feel a little soulless.

Rick Santorum- Princess Snow White

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An outdated, bleached and bland Princess of yesteryear who hangs around by virtue of being codified into the established royalty of the GOP. Not much personality, not much charisma, but he’s re-released for public consumption every election cycle to drum up some revenue and make people feel nostalgic.

Donald Trump- Princess Cinderella

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Donald Trump’s American Dream is a noise your fart makes.

You can fool some of the people all of the time; people figured a trashy celeb sweeping up the garbage ratings of reality TV wouldn’t be taken seriously as anything other than a bad SNL sketch, but before you can say “bippity boppity boob”, he’s a Presidential Princess! Before the clock strikes midnight on November 8, enough people might continue to see a tough Alpha male who speaks his mind and gets things done. Just don’t forget to ask him how he’s doing in the polls. So this is love. The rats who run his campaign are counting on a wave of anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant fervor to seize the silent majority. You can already see the cracks forming on those glass slippers; he gets irritable.  Judging by his toupe, he really doesn’t have far to go to turn back into a pumpkin. Any minute now. Any minute………

AND DON’T FORGET:

Sarah Palin- Fairy Godmother

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She makes stupid feel like magic.

CONCLUDING THOUGHTS:

Nobody is Belle. Which is a shame since Belle in her golden gown is the prettiest princess. But if I had to pick someone (and I kind of hate myself for this…)

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“Star Wars” vs “Go Set a Watchman”

Comparing the two most hotly anticipated reboots of 2015

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In the year 2015 we saw an amazing phenomenon: a world-renowned artist sold their intellectual property under dubious circumstances and an exciting sequel was released which takes place several decades after the original story, promising a fresh look at familiar characters. A shocking twist was guaranteed.

But am I talking about “Star Wars” or am I talking about “Go Set a Watchman”???????

Although I have not actually read the sequel to “Mockingbird”, that isn’t going to stop me from offering some essential critical commentary about the ‘year of the sequel’ and these two very similar but very different stories. Let’s take a look!

The “Fresh Take”

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Let’s be cynical here for a moment. This is about two very popular twentieth century films (or books) being strip-mined for nostalgic moneymaking purposes even long after there is no story to tell. People may have wanted another Star Wars movie but where do you go (other than backwards) from the redemption of Darth Vader and the heroic ascent of Luke Skywalker? And I don’t think there were many clamoring for the further adventures of Jean Louise Finch (although did we even know that was a possibility)?

The ultimate results seem to bear this out. However, both sequels did promise to offer a new or different look at what came before. JJ Abrams says he was moved to direct Episode 7 by the tantalizing existential question “Who is Luke Skywalker?” and Harper Lee…didn’t say anything because she’s kind of old and not paying much attention to the world around her these days. But her publisher promised readers the exciting discovery of a long-lost manuscript which would expand and deepen our understand of the principle protagonists of “Mockingbird.”

Here’s some confusing irony: although “Watchman” was written as a draft before “Mockingbird”, it “The Force Awakens” didn’t even use Lucas’ story pre-written story treatments–Abrams and Lawrence Kasdan slapped together a screenplay in six weeks. And yet what they came up with is nearly beat-for-beat the same story as the original “Star Wars”, including an obnoxious planet destroying weapon which must be vanquished. There are “twists” in terms of familial relations and tragic deaths and whatnot but overall the plot and characters are back to square one. No evil Luke Skywalker (more on that below), no intergalactic cold war post-Vader, just bad guys fighting good guys without much context. Only this time the hero is a…

Female Protagonists

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…pretty lady! Hooray for female protagonists. And “boo” on people for calling Rey _____ a “Mary Sue” character. It’s not her fault JJ Abrams wrote her dialogue! Daisy Ridley is very likable and I don’t mind she (spoilerspoilerspoiler) easily beat Kylo Ren because that guy is a stupid asshole. But is she as likable as…Scout Finch?

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Scout is a great literary heroine and has the added benefit of being semi-pseudoautobiographical. In “Mockingbird”, she’s a snappy tomboy who learns how to open her mind to alternate perspectives and sympathies, culminating in the scene with Boo Radley.

Rey is a tomboy as well, although she’s kind of a babe. I suppose it’s to the film’s credit that she’s never positioned as a romantic interest, although as Mr. Plinkett noted of Padme and Episode II, shouldn’t these women be on the prowl? But if it means avoiding some dopey Liam Hemsworth side-character beefcake, that’s probably for the best. Her scene with Maz Kanata passes the Bechdel test, but fails the bullshit-plot-contrivance test, so that’s a bit of a wash.

In “Go Set a Watchman”, Scout gets a boyfriend, and…actually I don’t know. This is point at which I admit I haven’t read the book and just barely skimmed through the wikipedia summary. I’ve read at least a half dozen articles about the bizarre publication of the book, and potential reasons why, but as far as Scout goes I don’t really know what I’m talking about. Please forgive me. None of the reviewers cared about Scout anyway. They all wanted to talk about Atticus Finch.

Luke Skywalker vs Atticus Finch

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Who knows what Harper Lee wanted, but the publisher of “Watchman” and producer of “Star Wars” were far more interested in milking the intrigue of a ‘fresh take’ on two of the greatest heroes of the twentieth century. They each do so in opposite ways. Which is kind of interesting.

“Watchman” sells itself by twisting our understanding of Atticus Finch on its head; the man who we thought was a paragon of moral virtue grows, in his old age, to become a ranting racist lunatic, attending Klan meetings and supporting continued segregation. How is this even possible? Supposedly that is the crux of the new book, which explores how a grown adult reconciles the sad reality of her father with the idealized image she had of him as a child. Which makes her a surrogate for the reader.

(fun fact, if you haven’t clicked the links above: “Watchman” was the ORIGINAL draft of “To Kill a Mockingbird” and Harper Lee’s editors told her to take what was just a small part of that book–memories of the trial–and turn that into a full-fledged novel, which she did)

I don’t like this take at all, but mostly for the meta-reasons that it seems like a cynical strategy to push readers’ buttons.

If Atticus, in the book and film, is an ‘unrealistic’ role model, that’s fine. I don’t care. Generations of readers haven’t seemed to care either. As evidenced by the successful campaigns of Donald Trump and the irrational hatred of Barack Obama and lots of other things, racism is alive and well in America and a “white ally” like Atticus Finch is an important model as a champion against irrational bigotry. There’s also–and this is key–not a whole lot in the original story that would indicate this is a man who, in his later years, would “turn to the dark side.” Gregory Peck plays him like a thoughtful and righteous individual, someone with measured and careful opinions. It’s very difficult (without having read the book) to even understand the motivations for why someone would fall back on communal prejudices after fighting the good fight for most of his life.

He’s also not someone you really want or need to see become “evil” (or bigoted). That in and of itself may make for a provocative reason to do exactly that, but it says more about our REAL culture than it does about racism in the book itself (or so I hear). As evidenced by the “dark”, “gritty” post-911 bent in popular film, the trend is towards tearing down our heroes. You can’t trust the government. You can’t trust anyone. There are no heroes. Everything must be deconstructed. It’s a very cynical, bleak look at the world.

This is why, somehow, some way, I’m actually quite pleased at how “Star Wars” avoided this trap (so far). Many speculated that Luke Skywalker was missing from promotional material and trailers because the big reveal of “The Force Awakens” was that he had turned evil. But not so! The reason that Luke Skywalker was missing from the toys and trailers and posters was because he was missing from the movie! He (spoiler spoiler) shows up for a non-speaking cameo at the end, teasing a Yoda-like role as mentor to Rey in the upcoming films.

The idea of archetypal heroes as “missing” rather than “turnt” from our modern age is far more compelling to me. Luke’s redemption in the new trilogy will not come from some heinous, unconvincing character betrayal, but rather from the difficulties and challenges faced from the cold, cruel galaxy. The new film contends that rather than bringing on a new age of Jedi Knights, Luke was foiled by his own nephew and essentially feels responsible for creating a new Darth Vader. There’s also rumors that the new iteration of Luke Skywalker feels more ‘powerful’ than ‘wise’ and is uncomfortable with his role as sole champion of the Force. This all feels like a genuine and ‘correct’ way to continue Luke’s storyline.

Boring Conversation Anyway: The Stupid Internet Controversies Around “The Force Awakens”

This is the first of several posts I wanted to write about “Star Wars.” This one will hopefully come out relatively positive about the new movie, but maybe not. I won’t give a full review here, because I don’t think anybody cares, including myself, but I will say that I saw the movie twice on Friday and enjoyed it immensely.

The following MIGHT contain spoilers; I haven’t really outlined what I’m typing but I’m not going to go out of my way to avoid talking about plot points in the film.

read at your own risk…

Okay, anyway I’ve read lots of interesting commentary on the new film, the more interesting bits are those that have been critical of the movie, or meta-critical of the hype and marketing buildup surrounding the film. I consider myself a big “Star Wars” fan but especially after reading posts on reddit and other sites for well over a year I’m definitely leery of other fanboys (and some, although not many, fangirls) who definitely deserve the derogatory term. Not that I myself have matured much beyond the early teens but at some point in your sad adulthood you are faced with the choice to either accept your imposter syndrome or double down on their immature fantasies, adding sex and violence and obsessive world-building and strict adherence to canon on top of their favorite franchise.

This is why “Game of Thrones”, and to some extent the “Force Awakens” are best enjoyed as guilty pleasures (although Star Wars is much more fun and less pretentious). And the most devoted fan bases of each approach a kind of religious fanaticism (and righteous anger) in their attempt to protect and defend such properties. When you combine extreme escapism with further prejudices against the Real World, you get:

Black Stormtroopers and Black Hermione

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For some reason it was a “controversy” that Finn was a black man. I guess because some really dumb racists were complaining on the internet last year. They should have been ignored. Raising their discourse to the level of “controversy” only emboldens internet trolls and basement-dwelling racists. It empowers them by throwing their sad rants into the marketplace of ideas and by extension making the rather innocuous casting decision look like progress, which it is only if seen through the lens of a grossly racist science-fiction/fantasy fanbase, a group which although majority white are not racist.

Or are they?

Here comes the next stupid internet “debate”, the casting of a black woman as Hermione in a Harry Potter play. The easy reductivist argument, and really the only way to look at this, is that the director casted who he thought was the best actress to play a role in a theatrical production based in a fictional Universe. If anything, we should be celebrating the strong and flexible narrative of the “Potterverse” one which is popular enough to allow for color-blind interpretation of characters.

This is exactly what a commentator said to me on BBC radio yesterday. But then some dufus called in, from the United States of course, to argue that “canonically” Hermione was white, as depicted in the American cover and chapter illustrations and some random comments Rowling made off-hand at some point, some time. Another called (again from the US) argued that since Emma Watson is the most famous (only) actress to depict Hermione, Hermione is white.

Some questions these people should ask themselves:

  1. Why does “Harry Potter and the Curse Child” need to take place in the same canonical Universe as the (mediocre) films, or even the books?
  2. What would these same people say if Lee Jordan was portrayed by a white man? Or Kingsley Shacklebolt? Or Nick Fury? Or Lando Calrissian? Or Blade? Or Kazaam?
  3. Why is nobody equally upset that a non-ginger was cast to play Ron Weasley? Poor Ron can barely stir up the ghost of an internet argument.
  4. Does anyone (or group of fans) “own” the rights or ability to control the “true” canon of Harry Potter? If JK Rowling doesn’t care about the fixed racial identities of her characters, why should the fans? (you won’t like my answer)
  5. Time travel back to before the casting news. Somebody asks you to name Hermione’s most important traits. How many do you name before her race? Five? Ten? Do you even mention she’s white?

So that’s that.

Is Rey a Mary Sue? 

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Now back to “Star Wars” and the dumbest “controversy” of them all: the debate over whether or not Daisy Ridley/Rey is a “Mary Sue” and why we should care?

My first reaction to both of these is: As written yes but Daisy Ridley is so charming she outacts and overcomes the bad screenwriting. and Not really.

But let’s dig deeper.

I saw this discussion in the comments section of an article on Badass Digest, one of the few sites who hasn’t tried to unconditionally heap praise on the new films (they and Salon.com have offered the best commentary I’ve seen, although I haven’t look that hard and it’s still early). Users on that site were upset that Rey was a “Mary Sue” character, or someone who was overpowered and seems to easily defeat all her enemies and all obstacles she faces.

This would indeed make for a weak character, were it true; but the sloppy storyline which sees her over-qualified to fly the Milennium Falcon and fight wannabe Siths without any kinds of training says more about the script than the character as portrayed by Daisy Ridley, who shows enough charm and nuance for us to identify with. Although plenty tough, Rey’s need and anxiety over her parents’ potential return is both a strength (of compassion) and a weakness, in theory keeping her from leaving Jakku or embracing her destiny (the film could have done a lot more with this but just sort of gives up because there’s no time or place for organic-“Organaic”?-development). She also is clearly overmatched (at first) by Kylo Ren, and you could say she was able to defeat him at the end only because he had a lot going on-he’d just killed his father, had a protracted battle with a “traitor” and then a huge cliff opened up and separated them. Also, we don’t know their actual relationship so we don’t know what Kylo Ren wants from her, much like Darth Vader’s dilemma with Luke. Does he want to kill her? Does he want to “teach” her (kinky!)? We don’t really know!

Also, Rey apparently doesn’t shower or wear different clothing, which is kind of gross I guess. But she’s still lovely.

Anyway, you have to project an awful lot onto her character from the actress and our own expectations, filling in the gaps that JJ Abrams and Lawrence Kasdan left behind in the script. That’s Abrams’ “strength” as a director- he casts great people like Ridley and Oscar Isaac who bring a lot of personality into the film beyond what the script or story itself calls for.

But because not everyone sees it as such, the “Mary Debate” gets a lot dumber. Most responses to the “Mary Sue” complaint have not been that she isn’t a “Mary Sue” but that this isn’t a problem, because men get their “Mary Stus” like James Bond so AT LAST women get a stupid, overpowered stand-in to identify with. Which is ridiculous. Not because they’re wrong-James Bond is a blank slate of a character, or has been in the past.

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Also, perhaps Rey was written as a female version of a male superhero, with all of the requisite flaws, because her character was written by two men, neither of whom has necessarily demonstrated an ability to write above a very very masculine frame of reference.

Why do we need or want such characters? It’s like saying “at last, women have a stupid, poorly conceived character with which we can live out our own absurd power fantasies!” As said above, I’m not even sure if Rey qualifies as such. But this argument is horrible. If James Bond or Han Solo or whomever provide detrimental models for young men to identify with, then why is it “good” to try to do the same with young girls? You might say this is apples and oranges, that women need blanket presentations of sexual power, political power, superheroic power, etc…but you would be wrong.

Okay that’s it.

 

Unknown Unknowns Worse Than ISIS

Americans have always had a healthy sense of fear.

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As one of the founding fathers said, “those who would trade security for even a bit of liberty probably never read Scary Stories to Tell in The Dark when they were a young child.”

Lately, however, I fear that our fear has become displaced. Not that refugee grandmas or Mexicans invaders aren’t valid reasons to stay up late at night quaking in your bed, clutching your gun to your breast. But they don’t hold a candle to the real problems we face. Most likely out of ignorance, people ignore the true threats to western democracy. For instance, the terrorists could kill you, but can they eat your soul?

The following nightmare scenarios have the power to turn Fortress America into Institution America. That’s how extremely scary they are. You should be afraid. And you should be informed.

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  1. Floating Disembodied Heads– When I was very young I used to be very afraid of this picture. I became convinced that this horrible, strange image would surprise and attack me by waiting in all the dark corners of my world. Maybe it was in the mail box. Maybe in the dining room when the lights were out. Or it was slowly making its way to me as I sat at my fourth first grade desk. What would happen to me if I ran into this floating head? Well, in the story a dog sees it and dies, so that’s pretty bad. But I’m pretty sure something pretty terrible; probably, it would go ahead and eat my soul. So far, about twenty years later, I haven’t had an encounter yet so this hasn’t happened. Which only means one thing; the head is overdue. And when it’s done with me, it will come for you.                             Ghost-train-by-karola-j-on-deviantART-Google-Chrome_2012-11-13_12-42-19_thumb                             
  2. Ghost Trains – A major problem plaguing the countryside in Britain, ghost trains are a menace wherever there are rails. Hundreds of people die in rail accidents each year, but what the government doesn’t want you to know is that 79 percent of those accidents are probably from ghost trains. I tend to envision a ghost train encounter like the opposite version of the polar express; if you’re waiting at the station and a ghost train pulls up, you probably have a ticket to one of the hotter circles of hell. So it’s less like eating your soul so much as AmTrakking your soul to somewhere very very bad. And ghostly. Some fast facts: A motorist is almost twice as likely to die in an accident involving a ghost train than in a collision involving another moving vehicle of this realm. Also, apparently there’s a ghost train of the Lincoln Funeral Procession that runs from Washington DC to Springfield, IL. Spooky!pet-shop-boys-3
  3. Time Travelers From the Future– Thanks to the clever work of our government, most people believe that the Roswell crash in 1947 was a cover-up involving extra-terrestrials. However, by pretending to cover up the truth in typical nefarious-yet-incompetent manner, the government was able to cover up the real truth that the crash actually involved human time travelers from the future. Why are these people scary? Well, for one, they are among us. Watching. That alone should give you the creeps. And think about the implications. They know the future. That means that every move you make, they not only anticipate, but they know it happened. And they’re from the future. That means they have all sorts of future technology to read our minds or eat our souls. One thing that should be clear is that they are not here simply to observe. They probably come from some future corporate-fascist dystopia and are the great fixers of history, guiding society towards its inevitable and desired demise. Be hopelessly afraid.                 trypanophobia-phobias
  4. Sentient Needles What hates your freedom more than Al Qaeda? Free-moving, sentient nanobot needles. Whose only goal is to hover through the air until they find you. They will stab you, inject your body with hostile chemicals and puncture you continuously until your soul bleeds out. Spooky. exploding_sun_by_twister3010
  5. Spontaneously Collapsing Sun– There is nothing more terrifying, yet more certain, than the death of the sun. Most of us are able to live out the day without fear that something will happen to the sun and destroy us all, but that is because most people aren’t fixated on the uncertainties of science. We know that the sun is the giver of life, the giant nuclear furnace which sustains our planet and civilization, we know if the sun exploded it would only take seven minutes for the light to arrive and inform us of our imminent destruction. But we don’t know when it will happen. Most scientific models predict the end of the sun will naturally occur 5 billion years from now, but what about unnatural probabilities? What happens when we incorporate disembodied floating heads or future time travels into the scientific models? If an artery can rupture on a whim, if a bridge can collapse without advanced notice, than so too can a sun explode. And it takes a good man with a gun to stop a bad sun when it does it will make nuclear holocaust look like fireworks going off in your neighbor’s backyard.  (fun fact- if the sun went supernova tomorrow, the side of Earth facing it would boil away completely)

One Final Question: Is there a safe space? 

no.