• Andrew Bird's new single, "I felt a Funeral, in my Brain"

    Check out Andrew Bird's new single, "I felt a Funeral, in my Brain," which features Phoebe Bridgers. The project is a collaboration with the Emily Dickinson Museum, and the video features handwritten transcripts along with footage of Emily Dickinson's lifelong home. 

    Bird forms the song around the lyrics of Dickinson's poem, which she wrote in 1861. Jonny Diamond, writing for Literary Hub, explains:

    Andrew Bird has recorded a collaboration with Phoebe Bridgers billed as a "reimagination" of the Emily Dickinson poem "I felt a Funeral in my Brain." According to Bird (whose latest album, Inside Problems, was released this past summer): "I came across this Emily Dickinson poem and found it to be the most vivid description of an inner world I've ever encountered—it became an inspiration for the songs on Inside Problems. Who better to sing it with than Phoebe Bridgers? I sent her a demo and so, here we are."

    Bird and Bridgers are an ideal duo for turning this poem into a song: as songwriters they are both masterful scene-setters, and inhabit the characters of their songs with almost eerie presence, as if haunting their own material. Bridgers is particularly suited for the spectral, otherworldly nature of Dickinson's poem, and when she comes in on the fourth verse—"As all the Heavens were a Bell"—it's an arresting moment, rich, beautiful, and just a little bit spooky.

    Andrew Bird often employs literary themes in his music. His single "Atomized," which was released in early 2022, was inspired by Joan Didion's essays about the atomization of life in mid-twentieth-century America. Stacy Chandler, writing for No Depression: The Journal of Roots Music, explains that Didion saw 1960s America as:

    a dark time in which society and she herself were falling apart. Didion was building on a famous line from the poet W. B. Yeats, who wrote in his World War I-era poem "The Second Coming": "Things fall apart; the center cannot hold."

    Here in 2022, Bird finds pieces flying too, with technology taking the blame for pushing us apart and making it harder to find our humanity. ("Things fall apart" gets a plum spot in the lyrics of Bird's "Atomized.")

    Bird also took up Greek mythology in his 2019 album, My Finest Work Yet, which features probably my favorite Andrew Bird song, "Sisyphus." Cameron Young, writing for The Student, states: 

    Bird comes closest to the mainstream indie-pop with tracks 'Olympians' and 'Sisyphus', both of which feature triumphant, accessible choruses. The latter grapples with the moral consequences that ensue if you "let the rock roll." Throughout the track, the Greek mythology figure Sisyphus is used as a metaphor for man's, and possibly Andrew Bird's, search for meaning in life. The lyric, "at the precipice pause" references a Camus essay discussing when Sisyphus is at the top of the mountain, hesitating and becoming conscious of the futility of his rock-rolling routine. The bleak subject matter is countered by Bird's 'Life of Brian'-esque whistling solo and buoyant piano line.

    I highly recommending jumping into some Andrew Bird if you're not already a fan. I was fortunate enough to see him right before the pandemic shut everything down, and it was probably one of my top five favorite shows of all time. He's extremely talented and incredibly engaging. He's touring now through April 2023—go see him if you can!

  • Pearl parties: The multi-level marketing scam that just won't die

    Welcome to the weird and wacky world of "pearl parties," an MLM (multi-level marketing) scam that's actually been around for years but is currently having a resurgence on TikTok. What are pearl parties? BuzzFeed News reporter Leticia Miranda explains the set up:

    A new twist on the old-school Tupperware party has been flooding Facebook timelines, with multi-hour live streams of people popping open oysters to reveal colorful pearls nestled inside. Pearl parties follow a basic formula: the host opens dozens of oysters, each of which was purchased by a party attendee. People typically pay around $20 per oyster, and get the pearl in return; some companies that run the parties charge anywhere from $29 to almost $200 to set the pearl in an item of jewelry.

    However, the viewers/buyers pay way more than the pearls are worth, and are often lied to about the supposed "appraised" value of the pearls. BuzzFeed News reveals the deception involved:

    But there's often a dose of deception mixed into these live streams, BuzzFeed News has found. In particular, industry experts say the way Vantel's party hosts appraise the value of the pearls their customers are buying is nonsense, misrepresenting the value of cheap grades of pearl that can sell in mass for less than a dollar.

    Party hosts working with companies like Vantel often cite an "appraised pearl value" chart to explain how much each pearl is worth. That chart suggests there is a standard way to value pearls based on their size and color, which the experts insist is not the case. And the chart says its valuations are based on data compiled by the National Pearl Association of the United States, which does not exist.

    The pearl party hosts keep their streams ticking along with raffles and giveaways — they might promise, for example, to raffle off a free pearl necklace if five people spend more than $150 during the party. Like other skilled livestreamers, they hustle to keep the audience engaged and participating for hours, hyping up every oyster opening and then gushing about the rare qualities of the pearl found within each shell.

    Despite the fact that the pearls are almost worthless, people can't seem to get enough of these parties—the hashtag "pearl party live" has 6 billion views on TikTok, and there's no shortage of companies you can buy into. A quick search led me to many such companies, including Pearl TimeAww ShucksPearls Gone Wild, and the Oyster Pearl Company. One of the original and biggest "Pearl Party" MLMs was called Vantel Pearls, which began hosting pearl parties in 1987. They were the subject of a class action lawsuit in 2017 and closed up shop for good in 2021. And in case you need reminding, research from the FTC reveals that 99% of the people who join MLMs lose money.

    If you want an example of what these parties are like, here's TikTok user Megan Reid, in one of the countless Pearl Party videos on TikTok. You can see her opening an oyster; upon finding three pearls inside, she explodes in excitement – she screams, rings a bell, and jumps up and down. I've watched a few pearl party videos and there's something about them that's sort of mesmerizing, which perhaps partly explains why so many people participate. If it were just for entertainment, I guess that would be one thing, but folks are losing lots of money both signing up for the MLMs and buying the pearls in the live shows. 

    One company, "Chic Mermaid Pearls," explains its business model. You can "start your own business today" with the "Chic Mermaid Pearls Consultant Starter Kit," which costs $175.00 plus tax and shipping. The company claims the kit value is $500.00. The kit comes with: "Oyster Keeper; Pearl Sizer; Pearl Display (2); Oyster Tray; 22 Oysters; Pearl Baggies; Jewelry Display (2); Pearl Towel; Pearl Jewelry Settings (5); Oyster Shucker; Chic Mermaid Pearls Gear Brand Shirt; (Starter Oysters include 2 oysters for practicing and for display in provided jewelry)."

    And what would you do as a Pearl Consultant for Chic Mermaid Pearls? The company explains:

    You will be hosting home and online parties for a live audience on Facebook, and other social media platforms, facilitating a fun and family-friendly experience for customers and followers to come and watch you open oysters to see what beautiful pearls are revealed. You control your own online store and make a 25 percent commission on every retail sale, excluding tax and shipping of your personal sales.

    While you are live, be sure to mention to your viewers how they can win free pearl jewelry settings. Viewers are asked to comment where you are watching from and comment on LIVE party and a form of party participate on. Please make sure your viewers have "Liked" and "Followed" the Chic Mermaid Pearls Facebook business page and the Independent Consultant's page. Sharing the Live Chic Mermaid Pearls party, enters viewer to win our free pearl and pendant setting. Drawings are done once a month. Feel free to share our live feeds on your personal profile.

    You will announce a winner. Winner will be randomly selected and announced at the beginning of each month viewer must to present to win.

    Pure Pearls, a website that sells legitimate, high-end pearls, also warns potential pearl party customers that they are being promised high value pearls when in reality the pearls are practically worthless. They state:

    Typically Freshwater pearls used in Wish Pearls will range in price from $0.02 to $5.00 per pearl, depending on its sizeshapesurface quality and luster. Pearls that have been dyed are usually lower-grade jewelry quality, chosen specifically to undergo a color-treatment process due to poor luster (which makes or breaks the pearl as a gemstone); the color-treatment process usually covers up chalky luster, and gives the pearl a bright, almost plastic-looking surface shine. I CAN tell you that Wish Pearls are currently wholesaling overseas for$1.00 to $2.00 per entire kit – that includes full packaging, submerged mollusk in tin, pearl, promotional materials AND pendant for the pearls. So what does that tell you??

    Pearlescence, another high-end pearl website, further explains the scam:

    The scam goes like this. The operator buys pickled oyster shells from either a wholesaler in the UK or America or direct from china. They are vacuum packed and dead. The poor things have had a random freshwater pearl shoved into them. The process is that the pearl is inserted into a live young akoya oyster shell which opens as it dies. The corpse is then dumped into a chemical bath which shrinks the adductor muscle so it slowly closes, and preserves it. Then it is vacuum packed or tinned and sold to one of the companies at the top of the supply pyramid.

    There is one company which has been recruiting sellers hard and promoting these parties, because they are selling the preserved shells and findings at a huge mark up and controlling the drilling and setting of the pearls. Big profit for them.

    And finally, pearl company Timeless Pearl asserts customers are being misled by pearl party MLMs about the pearls being saltwater (they aren't), high quality (they aren't), and valuable (they aren't). Other issues include:

    Saltwater vs. Freshwater: Oysters are mostly found in saltwater and they produce saltwater pearls. Freshwater pearls are produced in mussels. Most pearls used in oyster-opening parties are freshwater pearls, which are implanted into used oysters right before packaging. The pearls are real, but unfortunately, they are often misrepresented as being the more valuable saltwater pearls.

    Quality: Freshwater pearls used for oyster-opening parties are of regular quality and luster. The pearls would have been bought wholesale for anything between $0.10 and $3.50, depending on the mollusk type, and sold to party attendees at anything from $25 to $200.

    Colors: Freshwater pearls come in a wide variety of pastel colors such as peach, pink, purple, bronze, champagne, as well as white. Pearls are often dyed green, silver, black, or dark gold to meet market demand. Saltwater Akoya oysters, on the other hand, can produce exquisite pearl colors, such as silver-blue, but these are very expensive due to their high quality and scarcity. Party hosts attach a value to the pearls based on a chart where colors like blue-silver and black are appraised higher. Participants often have the false perception that they are buying high-value Akoya pearls for a bargain price, when in fact they are getting dyed freshwater pearls.

    Addictive nature: These parties can also be quite addictive. Say for example that the oyster you bought delivers one black pearl, which you would like to use for a pair of earrings. You might be tempted to buy more oysters until you find a similar pearl to complete the pair. The sad truth is that you can get complete earring sets of much higher quality and at lower prices in your desired color and design from a pearl jeweler.

    Oyster meat: This one is probably obvious, but worth a mention. The oysters used at these parties are not fresh, and therefore not edible. Oysters are often chemically treated to keep them from spoiling. Their meat is harmful if ingested.

    The bottom line is: avoid these pearl parties, and the MLMs associated with them! For more information on these pearl party scams, check out these videos from two of my favorite anti-MLM content creators, Cruel World Happy Mind and CC Suarez.

  • Gentleman shrieks about non-existent "election fraud" in Maricopa County

    Watch a very stable genius named Matt Baker yelling at the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors last week. He's one of many in Arizona crying "election fraud" despite evidence that both Maricopa County and statewide elections were fair and free from fraud.

     AZ Mirror explains:

    Nearly two dozen spoke during the public comment portion of the Wednesday morning meeting, most of them there to speak out against the way the election was handled. 

    Elections in Maricopa County are administered through a joint effort between County Recorder Stephen Richer and the board of supervisors, which both support the county elections department. Richer's office is responsible for early voting while the elections department manages Election Day voting, where there were problems with ballot printers and tabulators.

    "Once again, the eyes of the world are upon Maricopa County for another botched election," Matt Baker told the supervisors. "Am I here to accuse you of stealing the vote? Heavens, no, for that would make me a terrorist, wouldn't it?" 

    Baker spoke about tabulator issues that left voters who cast their ballots in person on Election Day with the choice to either place their ballot in a box named "door 3" to be tabulated later or go to another voting site. By the end of his comments, he was screaming at the supervisors, telling them, "You are the cancer that is tearing this nation apart!" 

    During the Nov. 8 midterm, around 70 of Maricopa County's 223 voting centers experienced issues with printers, meaning that some ballots could not be read by the on-site tabulators. Voters had the option of placing their completed ballots in a secured box at each site so it could be counted later at the county's election center or canceling their ballot and going instead to another voting center.

    None of the other speakers expressed their dismay as aggressively as Baker, but Supervisor Bill Gates did have to ask people in the audience to be quiet numerous times, as they clapped or cheered or attempted to speak over those they disagreed with, including some of the supervisors. 

    Maricopa County Supervisor Steven Gallardo is certain that the elections were "safe, secure, and accurate" — and researchers at PolitiFact who have studied the matter extensively agree. PolitiFact explains:

    We've debunked many claims seeking to undermine this [Arizona] contest's results, including false allegations about voting machines, printers and efforts to disenfranchise voters. 

    Voting machines at about 70 vote centers in Maricopa County temporarily stopped processing ballots on Election Day; some of the ballot printers didn't use enough ink, making the ballots unreadable by a tabulator's scanner.

    But voters weren't turned away. They could place their ballots in a secured slot so their votes would be counted after polls closed or they could go to different Maricopa County polling locations that had working tabulators.

    Another piece of misinformation that took hold: that the county — the state's most populous  — intentionally reduced polling places, suggesting a bigger disenfranchisement plot. 

    But Maricopa County had 48 more voting locations in the 2022 general election than it did in the 2020 general election. 

    Among other related claims we've debunked: that the social media followings of Lake and Hobbs suggest election fraud; that bags of ballots in Maricopa County are evidence of election fraud; that split election results show the race was rigged; that Hobbs was caught in a vote counting room; that there was no chain of custody for ballots at a polling site in Maricopa County; that the chain of custody was broken there; and that final, unofficial election results in Arizona were delayed because election officials there wanted "more time to cheat."  

    No evidence has emerged of widespread voter fraud in Arizona, just as it didn't in the 2020 election. 

    This isn't the first time Matt Baker has yelled nonsense. Here he is in Huntington Beach, CA, earlier in the pandemic, yelling against "Satan worshipping fools" and mask mandates. On his Twitter he describes himself as: "a freedom fighter and owner of slave2liberty clothing company fighting medical mandates and technocratic tyranny." And on his Instagram — which is filled with QAnon, pro-Trump, anti-mask, and anti-vaxx content, along with clips of his appearances on Alex Jones' InfoWars — he mentions "San Diego Board" and posts often about California. In one video he explains that "before the war" he was a glass blower, and his old Instagram states that he blows glass and lives in Ocean Beach, California. It's clear he doesn't even live in Arizona, he's just here promoting his Alex Jones-infused ideologies and his clothing line.

  • "Verified Blue" Twitter accounts promote right-wing politics, cryptocurrency, and porn

    A recent article in The Washington Post by Faiz Siddiqui and Jeremy Merrill presents data from a recent analysis of Twitter accounts that have subscribed to the $7.99 "Blue Verified" plan, unveiled in early November. The plan was only active for a few days before Elon Musk put it hold until November 29, 2022, to fix the many problems that quickly arose—including users creating fake accounts to masquerade as celebrities, politicians, and companies. During the short sign up period, about 150,000 accounts became Blue Verified, and an analysis of data compiled by a software developer revealed that many of those accounts promoted right-wing politics, cryptocurrency, and porn. The Washington Post breaks down the numbers:

    Only a smidgen of the 150,000 Twitter Blue subscribers are fake or joke accounts, according to data compiled from Twitter's public data feed for software developers. A large portion of the most followed accounts that got "verified" via Twitter Blue, according to the data reviewed by The Post, are from a few specific subcommunities on Twitter: pornography, cryptocurrency advocates and overseas accounts, particularly from the Middle East.

    The data was compiled by Berlin software developer Travis Brown and reviewed and verified by The Post.

    According to the data, most of the members of a list of some 135,000 Twitter Blue subscribers were ordinary users with a few hundred followers who had been on the site for more than six years. (It's not clear how many had subscribed to the earlier, pre-Musk iteration of the Twitter Blue program.)

    Read the rest of the article here.

  • New docuseries about Casey Anthony case

    A new three-part docuseries about the Casey Anthony case premiers on Peacock TV on November 29. The series, entitled "Casey Anthony: Where the Truth Lies," is based on a series of recent interviews filmmaker Alexandra Dean conducted with Anthony over a six-month period. Peacock TV describes the docuseries: 

    Considered one of the first "trials of the century" that polarized conversation in living rooms across America, the Casey Anthony case is one that still leaves more questions than answers. There have been several movies and documentaries made to fill in the gaps, and yet, the woman at the center of it all remains the biggest mystery. Throughout the exclusive three-part documentary series, Casey Anthony finally tells her side of the story and addresses the public that has made so many assumptions for the past 13 years.

    BuzzFeed News just published a deep dive about the docuseries. BuzzFeed News reporter Alessa Dominguez explains that in the docuseries Casey Anthony once again alleges that her father sexually abused her, which she states created an atmosphere of fear and dysfunction in the Anthony family, and helps explain why it took her so long to call the authorities when her daughter went missing:

    Everyone thinks they know Casey Anthony's story. But Where the Truth Lies explores the possibility that the familiar case was mediated by dysfunctional dynamics in her family.

    In the documentary, Casey says her father, George Anthony, an underemployed former cop, sexually abused her from the ages of 8 to 12. "He smothered me several times," she says. "I'd wake up the next morning or even hours later knowing that it had happened again." (George and Casey's mother, Cindy Anthony, released a statement in 2017 denying Casey's claims of sexual abuse: "George, who has continued to try and move forward from this tragedy and who was vindicated on multiple occasions, is once again forced to relive the hints, rumors, lies and allegations that are being made by Casey Anthony." They both refused to talk to Dean for the documentary. BuzzFeed News tried to contact Anthony through a lawyer and publicly listed information but has not yet received a response.)

    TMZ also recently wrote about the docuseries, explaining that Casey also accuses her father of being responsible for daughter Caylee's death:

    Casey Anthony blames her father for the death of her daughter, Caylee — going further than what she'd alleged about him in court … now reportedly linking him directly to the act.

    According to People mag, which has seen an early release of the new Peacock doc, "Casey Anthony: Where the Truth Lies" … Casey spills her guts on camera, accusing George Anthony of staging Caylee's death to make it seem like it was Casey's fault, all in an alleged effort to cover up what Casey claims might've been sexual abuse at his hands.

    In the documentary, Casey reportedly claims she fell asleep with 2-year-old Caylee on top of her on June 16, 2008 … only to be awoken by her dad in the middle of the night with Caylee missing and George asking where she was. Casey says it didn't make sense for Caylee to be gone, because she says the kid would never leave a room without telling her.

    She claims George eventually presented her with Caylee's dead body, which was soaking wet and cold and allegedly told Casey she had caused this. Casey then claims he took Caylee's body and disappeared … again, according to People's review.

    Crime reporter Nancy Grace, who has long disputed Casey Anthony's acquittal, has no patience for any of this. She was asked to participate in the docuseries and refused, and has recently called the docuseries a "money and fame grab" that won't provide any actual new facts about the case. 

    You can watch the docuseries on Peacock TV starting November 29. 

  • Top dog names and breeds for 2022

    Pet insurance company Trupanion has released its top 10 list of dog breeds and dog names. The top ten names are: 1. Luna, 2. Charlie, 3. Bella, 4. Daisy, 5. Milo, 6. Lucy, 7. Cooper. 8. Bailey, 9. Teddy, and 10. Max. WRAL explains:

    Trupanion, a leader in medical insurance for pets, has compiled a top ten list of the most popular dog breeds and names for 2022. The list consisted of 800,000 dog names and dog breeds of their insured dogs.

    Luna sits at the top of the list this year, moving up the ranks from the No. 2 spot in 2021. 

    Charlie, the second-place finisher this year, also moved up a spot finishing as No. 3 in 2021. Bella, the No. 1 finisher in 2021, fell to No. 3 in this year's ranking.

    The Labrador Retriever, Goldendoodle and Golden Retriever are the top three dog breeds for 2022. In 2021 the Goldendoodle breed was ranked third in 2022. The Goldendoodle moved up to the No. 2 spot in the rankings. The German Shepherd dropped to No. 6 in this year's rankings after being No. 4 last year. 

    Is your dog's name on the list? My sister's dog, a Yorkie named Luna, has the #1 most popular name and is the #9 most popular breed. Our rescue dogs, Henry Rollins and Jax, who might be some kind of terrier mixes but we really have no idea, didn't make either list. But that's ok, they're both #1 in our hearts!

  • COVID-19 misinformation on the rise at Twitter

    It's another sad day for public health. While COVID-19 continues to circulate with reckless abandon, because most people—encouraged by lackluster, minimizing, and purposely Pollyannaish messaging efforts at state and federal levels—have recklessly abandoned any mitigation efforts, the hits keep coming for public health experts who are still trying their best to educate people about the importance of vaccination, mask wearing, social distancing, and other useful tools.

    The latest bad news for public health is that due to a series of fumbles (to put it kindly), health misinformation—specifically about vaccines and COVID-19—is on the rise again on Twitter.  Melody Schreiber, writing for The Guardianexplains:

    As the troubled social media platform Twitter rolled out a paid verification system and laid off thousands of content moderators, health misinformation accounts on the social network began pushing their messages to a wider audience than ever. Under Elon Musk's new direction for Twitter, several anti-vaccine accounts with tens of thousands of followers are now verified by paying $7.99 a month for Twitter Blue. …

    Before the change in leadership, Twitter was working to remove some accounts that spread anti-vaccine disinformation. But "now it looks like Twitter's giving these accounts some legitimacy", said Peter Hotez, a vaccine scientist and dean of tropical medicine at Baylor College of Medicine. "It looks like now they're going to move in the wrong direction, and actually help promote groups that are touting anti-vaccine, anti-science disinformation."

    Honestly, the only reason I'm staying on Twitter (at least for the time being) is because it's been a reliable source of COVID-19 news up to this point. There are still some terrific public health experts on Twitter who I look to for COVID-19 news and facts, and I'll continue doing so until they leave the platform. If you want to follow some good sources of COVID-19 information, here are my recommendations: Dr. Elizabeth Jacobs, epidemiologist; Dr. Michael Osterholm, Director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy (CIDRAP); Dr. Eric Ding-Feigl, epidemiologist and health economist; and Dr. Eric Topol, Professor of Molecular Medicine.

  • Instead of Black Friday, try Buy Nothing Day!

    It's almost Thanksgiving in the United States, which means lots of turkey and football and such, but also copious amounts of shopping. Many consumer economists call the day after Thanksgiving "Black Friday" and count it as one of the busiest shopping days of the year, as well as the official beginning of the holiday shopping season. Historians Elizabeth Pleck and James Baker explore historical practices of Thanksgiving consumption through an examination of the origins of the Macy's Thanksgiving Parades that emerged in the 1920s but that have antecedents in the nineteenth-century "Antics" or "Fantastics" parades. In the 1920s, the Macy's parade marked the opening of the Christmas shopping season and helped established the current tradition of Black Friday. 

    According to Zippia.com, during 2021's Black Friday, 155 million shoppers were out spending money, and businesses made $30-40 billion in sales in this post-Thanksgiving festival of consumption. On this same day, though, activists across the globe were celebrating a different cultural holiday, Buy Nothing Day (BND), which began in 1992 in Vancouver, Canada and has spread to over 65 countries. BND brings together citizens who seek freedom from the manic consumer binging currently colonizing the holidays, and call attention to the ecological and ethical consequences of overconsumption. Examples of recent activities from BND include:

    • The "Space Hijackers," a group of activists in London, enacted the "Half Price Sale." Wearing t-shirts exclaiming "EVERYTHING IN STORE HALF PRICE TODAY!" they entered popular London retail stores and pretended to be employees, folding and straightening clothes and helping customers. They also paced leaflets explaining the philosophy of Buy Nothing Day in the pockets of the clothing items for sale. 
    • In Tokyo, activists collected free ad-carrying packs of facial tissue, which are typically given away in busy commercial shopping areas. Activists altered the ads and inserted Buy Nothing Day information sheets in the tissue packs before handing them out. 
    • In New York City, Reverend Billy and his Church of Stop Shopping held a Buy Nothing Day parade, which started at Macy's department store at 5 a.m. During stops along the parade route, Reverend Billy exorcized a cash register at Victoria's Secret and said an anti-consumption blessing in front of Old Navy.

    In some of my academic work, my colleague Jennie Stearns and I have argued that just as the traditional story of the mythic first Thanksgiving works to obscure the injustices done to Native Americans, the holiday continues to similarly conceal the various forms of violence and exploitation on which the abundance we celebrate depends. While we believe that rituals to express generosity and thankfulness are positive ways to reflect on our privilege and to reinforce relationships with community and family, we also argue that as we repay our obligations for what we "have received," this sacrifice makes it possible to fulfill this obligation without acknowledging where our debt really comes from—as is demonstrated in the "first Thanksgiving" story of the Pilgrims "thanking God" for the "Indians' help." And as Thanksgiving is increasingly tied to the shopping ritual of Black Friday, our enactments of generosity and thankfulness (which, in the case of Black Friday, entails generously buying gifts for others, even if as a means of expressing thankfulness for the ways in which we have been "gifted" with good jobs and families) continue to be tied to the forgetting of suffering. In the case of consumerism, this forgetting includes the suffering of exploited workers who produce cheap goods for our consumption, as well as of the environment that is quickly becoming unable to sustain our consumptive habits.

    If you're wanting to go the Buy Nothing Day route instead of your traditional Black Friday shopping, Adbusters has some ideas:

    Now the Buy Nothing meme has undergone a further mutation. In over 6,500 Facebook groups representing hyper-local communities across 44 nations, millions now live by its tenets not just once a year but every single day. Among themselves they share tools and utensils, clothing and food, toys and travel mugs, hand-made goods, hand-me-downs and everything in between. Buying, selling, trading and bartering are all strictly forbidden. It's a network of generosity, a "gift economy" whose members are bidden to "give from [their] own abundance." Welcome to a cashless, wireless, wasteless world, a version of Buy Nothing for the social-media era.

    COVID had no small part to play in its rise. Around the time of the Great Indoor Migration of 2020, Buy Nothing's Facebook-based offshoot saw a sudden surge in interest. Something about the intimacy of previously handled objects, about the gesture of fulfilling a fellow-resident 's need for baker's yeast or toilet paper made it a popular salve for the loneliness and strain of the pandemic season. Amid economic free-fall it also proved to be a refuge for solidarity, a place to foster fellow-felling among those similarly hard-up. For many, it was their very first glimpse of anything to do with Buy Nothing.

    Read more about Buy Nothing Day here.

  • A gallery of cool paper snowflakes

    It's that time of year again, when the weather's getting colder and people are anticipating the holidays. Some folks drink pumpkin spice lattes, and some are excited to break out their tunics and boots. But Will West—who describes himself as a "a public-school teacher, father of two, husband, photographer, and printmaker"—ushers in the season by creating paper snowflakes, and posting them on his website, Flaking Out. He explains:

    No, I'm not obsessed with paper snowflakes. Or, at least, I'm pretty sure I'm not obsessed with them January through October. I am, however, intrigued by the complexities that can arise from seemingly simple decisions. The simplicity of creating paper snowflakes is, for me, their greatest appeal. The only ingredients are scissors, paper, and choices.

    West has been cutting snowflakes for about fifteen years, and about six years ago was cutting about a hundred snowflakes a year between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Last year he upped that to over three hundred. He decided last year to start documenting his creations, and his website was born:

    I think it's fair to say that, while I am not obsessed with making paper snowflakes, I do love making the things. 

    If you like to create things, cutting snowflakes is a form of near-instant gratification.  I find cutting snowflakes helps me relax during a stressful stretch of the school year and, in the right hands, they make for excellent decorations.  I've been telling myself for years I needed some record of the hundreds of flakes I cut each year (at least of the better ones) as an archive and teaching tool.  This year, I resolved to start the site and document the snowflakes of 2021 before the year was up–even if it killed me.  I'll catch up on my sleep starting New Year's Day.

    On his website he also provides guidance on how to make your own snowflakes, and has a beautiful gallery of his creations, separated into categories such as asterisk, dandelion, halo, hexagon, trefoil, wheel, and my favorite, Cthuloid. He even has a gallery of profanities. I think my favorite snowflakes are found in the "pictures" gallery—the Squidflake and the Flake-topus. Go check out his site, and get inspired to cut some snowflakes of your own this year!

  • Enjoy these dogs enjoying their stuffed animals

    Squishmallows—those soft stuffed toys that were all the rage at the height of the pandemic—are still having a moment, it seems. They were launched in 2017 and rose to popularity during the pandemic, when children and adults were looking for comfort wherever they could find it. People collect the stuffed animals. Some have dozens, or more. And, while re-selling is apparently frowned upon in the community of collectors, that hasn't stopped people from buying up stock and reselling the toys at prices much higher than their retail value—especially the 'rarer' ones, including the coveted axolotl. Online, you'll find stories about the lengths people go to in order to build their collections, and about how the stuffed animals help collectors soothe their anxiety and OCD. You can also read about resellers jacking up prices and being doxxed and shamed online. The Squishmallow trend is still going strong—the hashtags #squishmallow and #squishmallows currently have 1.9 billion and 4.3 billion views, respectively, on TikTok, and the stuffies are ending up on all of the "hot toys of 2022" holiday lists that are currently circulating.

    That's all well and good, I suppose – none of that really caught my attention, and honestly I haven't thought too much about Squishmallows despite the craze happening all around me. However, I recently discovered the trend of DOGS enjoying Squishmallows and, well, suddenly I'm interested. I've compiled some videos of cute dogs enjoying their squishy friends, for your viewing pleasure. Here's RoxasEnzoLoki, Izzy, and Henry Rollins enjoying their Squishmallows! 

  • The fascinating, deadly pufferfish

    Check out these cool photos of a pufferfish skeleton at Deep Sea News. Deep Sea News explains:

    What you are looking at are the spines of pufferfish, composed of nanocrystalline hydroxyapatite,  protein(collagen), and water—the same materials as scales. Indeed, these spines are just modified scales. And like other scales, these spines originate during development, from the mesoderm layer of the dermis or the skin.

    Dr. Brian Sidlauskas, Associate Professor and Curator of Fishes at Oregon State University, notes puffers evolved from a group of fish (porcupines, molids, triggerfishes, and filefishes) that all possessed ctenoid scales, denoted by small teeth along their outer edges. "Filefishes actually feel fuzzy. So it isn't perhaps too surprising to imagine those scales expanding and getting more and more spiny."

    As you might expect, these spines evolved as anti-predator defense, similar to the ability of puffers to inflate. However, it looks like the inflation likely evolved before the spikiness.

    If you want to know more about the bizarre and extremely-cute-yet-simultaenously-terrifying pufferfish, here's an informative short video from Science Insider, called "What's inside a puffer fish?" The video explains that when pufferfish puff themselves up (when they feel threatened or are trying to fend of predators), they are filling themselves not with air, but with water. A puffer has special muscles in its mouth that allows it to inhale water and pump it into its stomach, which makes its body inflate up to three times its normal size. The stomach is capable of expanding without being hurt because it is made of tiny folds, like an accordion. Puffers also have specialized muscles in their esophagus, which act kind of like plugs, to keep the water inside the stomach when they want to remain puffed up. And the base of the stomach also contains special muscles to help pump out water when the fish no longer wants to be inflated. Puffers also don't contain ribs or a pelvis, because those would get in the way of their ability to inflate. Finally, these tiny beasts contain a neurotoxin called tetrodotoxin, which is 1,200 times more poisonous than cyanide—one pufferfish can kill approximately 30 adult humans!

    And yet, lots of folks around the world eat pufferfish as a delicacy. I've never had it, and I'm not sure I'd ever try it, given that, according to Delishably, around 100 people die from pufferfish poisoning every year:

    More than 100 people die annually from puffer fish poisoning. Almost all result from consuming the world's most deadly delicacy. Throughout history, thousands have met their demise from fugu poisoning, primarily in Japan and China where it is more readily found in sushi restaurants.

  • Artists disrupting facial recognition technologies

    Here are two fascinating projects that both seek to disrupt facial recognition technologies and resist the pervasive intrusion of our current surveillance society. 

    The first is called "URME Surveillance," by Leo Selvaggio. Selvaggio is an interdisciplinary artist whose work focuses on new media, public engagement, and the ways in which identity and technology converge. Selvaggio describes "URME Surveillance" on his website

    URME Surveillance is an subversive intervention that protects the public from facial recognition surveillance systems in a variety of ways. The principle method is by inviting the public to wear a photo-realistic, 3D-printed prosthetic of my face. When a user dons the prosthetic, camera systems equipped with facial recognition software identify that user as myself, thus attributing all of their actions to the identity known as "Leo Selvaggio." In this way, wearers of the prosthetic safeguard their own identities by performing my persona in surveilled areas.

    The next project is called "Facial Weaponization Suite," by Zach Blas, who is an artist, filmmaker, and writer whose work focuses on the intersections of film, computation, theory, performance, and science fiction. On his website he explains "Facial Weaponization Suite":

    Facial Weaponization Suite protests against biometric facial recognition–and the inequalities these technologies propagate–by making "collective masks" in workshops that are modeled from the aggregated facial data of participants, resulting in amorphous masks that cannot be detected as human faces by biometric facial recognition technologies. The masks are used for public interventions and performances. One mask, the Fag Face Mask, generated from the biometric facial data of many queer men's faces, is a response to scientific studies that link determining sexual orientation through rapid facial recognition techniques. Another mask explores a tripartite conception of blackness: the inability of biometric technologies to detect dark skin as racist, the favoring of black in militant aesthetics, and black as that which informatically obfuscates. A third mask engages feminism's relations to concealment and imperceptibility, taking veil legislation in France as a troubling site that oppressively forces visibility. A fourth mask considers biometrics' deployment as a security technology at the Mexico-US border and the nationalist violence it instigates. These masks intersect with social movements' use of masking as an opaque tool of collective transformation that refuses dominant forms of political representation.

    You can watch a fascinating 8-minute film about the project here.

  • Banksy: go steal some clothes!

    Banksy recently took to Instagram to encourage people to go to the GUESS store on Regent Street in London and steal clothes. He posted, "Attention all shoplifters. Please go to GUESS on Regent Street. They've helped themselves to my artwork without asking, how can it be wrong for you to do the same to their clothes?"

    Carys Anderson, writing for Consequence, further explains:

    Banksy's post includes a photo of GUESS' London shop, which features a window display of t-shirts and jackets adorned with the artist's Thug for Life bunny. Behind the clothes is a blown up print of Banksy's famous depiction of a man throwing flowers.

    According to the BBC, the collection was created in collaboration with Brandalised, a company with a license to sell Banksy's work to fans, so it appears GUESS' move was legal. When the company debuted the clothing line earlier this month, CCO Paul Marciano said, "The graffiti of Bansky has had a phenomenal influence that resonates throughout popular culture. This new capsule collection with Brandalised is a way for fashion to show its gratitude."

    Still, after Banksy's post, the London shop closed down, covered its window display of the collection, and hired security to guard the entrance.

  • All the canned fish of your dreams

    I recently discovered a subreddit, r/CannedSardines, that is totally devoted to the delicious wonders of canned fish, and I'm so excited to start trying all of the recommendations that users post. I'm a big fan of tiny fish in little cans – I grew up eating canned sardines, oysters, and mussels with my dad. It was our special lunchtime ritual, because my sister and mom hated the things and seemed pretty grossed out by them. But not me, I loved them all! The good folks on r/CannedSardines post photos of their scrumptious finds, and also document all of the delicious ways they prepare them. And don't let the name "Canned Sardines" fool you, the subreddit features all kinds of canned things well beyond sardines, including sweet cured mackerelstuffed squid in ink saucecod liversmoked scallops, and even related book recommendations!

  • Watch the short films that paved the way for some of your favorite full-length features

    Here's a great compilation of short films that were eventually made into full-length films or television series, including Marcel the Shell with Shoes On, Brian and Charles, Shiva Baby, Thunder Road, Pixels, Whiplash, What We Do in the Shadows, The Babadook, This is the End, Frankenweenie, District 9, Inland Empire, Napoleon Dynamite, Saw, Boogie Nights, Hard Eight, Bottle Rocket, True Romance, Reservoir Dogs, and Fatal Attraction

    Robert Lang of Deadline explains:

    Writing and directing a short is a potential passageway to creating a full-length feature film. Aspiring directors use this medium to create a proof of concept on a small budget that can go on to win on the short film festival circuit and be picked up by investors, leading to larger projects and paving the way to a career in Hollywood.

    I think my top pick of the bunch is the short film "Peluca," which led to one of my all-time favorite films, Napoleon Dynamite:

    The 2003 short film Peluca on which Napoleon Dynamite was based, shows a day in the life of super nerd Seth, starring Jon Heder, skipping school with his two friends, picking up a winning lottery ticket, and thrift shopping. Director Jared Hess made the proof of concept for the film which would go on to be a cult classic.

  • TikTok trend contributing to shortage of diabetes drug

    Thanks partly to folks on TikTok promoting the off-label use of the diabetes drug Ozempic for weight loss, there is now a worldwide shortage of the drug. Rumors are flying on TikTok that Ozempic is what Kim Kardashian used for her recent weight loss, and Elon Musk has gone on record stating his weight loss was due to "fasting and Wegovy" (Wegovy has the same ingredients and manufacturer as Ozempic, described below). CBS News reports:

    All over TikTok, you'll see weight loss journeys with exciting claims, and stunning before-and-after pictures. Influencers are bragging about losing weight thanks to a prescription medication that's become a viral trend.

    Ozempic is FDA approved for use to treat Type Two Diabetes. The medication can improve blood sugar and manage the risk of major cardiovascular events. But it's getting attention because it can also cause weight loss.

    Recently, the manufacture of Ozempic, Novo Nordisk, got FDA approval for another drug, Wegovy, that has the same main ingredient as Ozempic, semaglutide. Wegovy was approved for chronic weight management in adults with obesity. But some doctors warn that the claims of weight loss are too good to be true, and the widespread off-label use of the drugs are causing shortages. CBS News explains:

    "I would ask everybody to take this with a grain of salt," says Dr. Sadaf Mustafa of MedStar Health. "This medication should be used after you have a proper discussion with your provider."

    Dr. Mustafa is an obesity specialist and says off-label prescriptions have gone up. That's the unapproved use of an approved drug. Right now, there is a worldwide shortage of both Ozempic and Wegovy, which is expected to last into next year.

    Currently, #ozempic has over 275 million views on TikTok, and most of the Ozempic videos I watched feature women promoting the drug as the secret to their weight loss. But sprinkled among the fans are some skeptics, including Dr. Gary Motykie, who explains some of the downsides of the drug, including that it has to be injected with a needle, it doesn't result in permanent weight loss unless the person taking it also changes their diet and exercise habits, and it's expensive–it costs $170 to $350 per week. In general, he says he doesn't think medicine for weight loss is a great idea, and urges people to focus on diet and exercise instead. I'm not *that* kind of doctor, so I can't really give advice, but I'll add that it also doesn't seem like a great idea when using the drug for off-label purposes is resulting in shortages of the drug for people who actually need it for diabetes management.

  • She's wearing tunics now

    The good folks at McSweeney's just published this hilarious excerpt from Wendi Aarons' latest book, "I'm Wearing Tunics Now: On Growing Older, Better, and a Hell of a Lot Louder." Here are some gems:

    The word "tunic" most likely means something in another language, like Greek or Latin, but who gives a shit because in English, "tunic" means "suddenly, shopping at Chico's doesn't seem so gross anymore." Because much like death, Jesus, or one of those square buzzy things they use at the Chili's hostess stand, the tunic knows when your time has come. And baby, your time will come.

    Now that I'm wearing tunics, I've thrown away the regular shirts that have suppressed me my entire life. Regular shirts are straightjackets. Corsets. Regular shirts conceal nothing. Torso, upper arms, hips, all of that bullshit is displayed in a regular shirt, like slabs of ham in a deli case. But in my tunic? In my tunic, you can't see any of the middle part of my middle-aged body. I'm shrouded in mystery. I'm a stylish enigma. I'm a greying fortune cookie with a fortune inside it that says, "Fuck you, I was in shape in the eighties."

    And perhaps my favorite:

    In my tunic, I'm the Man Behind the Curtain. No, the Woman Inside the Curtain. And nobody knows what's going on inside the curtain. It hides every secret. Did I just do two thousand sit-ups, or did I just eat an entire Boston cream pie I found in the back of the freezer? Is my lower back bare, or is it inked in a regrettable tramp stamp that says "American Skank" in Chinese characters? Am I an apple bottom or a kumquat bottom? Is my stomach untouched, or is it covered in leeches because of some stupid holistic thing I'm testing out for my idiot brother-in-law Gary's new "wellness center"? Nobody knows. Nobody cares. Nobody can even imagine. Why? Because I'm wearing motherfucking tunics now.

    Wendi Aarons argues that "The tunic comes for all" and "When you're a woman over forty, a tunic wears you." I'm definitely in the correct tunic demographic. However, instead of tunics, I've found myself drawn to coveralls. Same sentiment, just a different outward expression. I'm wearing motherfucking coveralls now!

  • Are there wasps in your figs?

    Are there wasps in figs? I've heard this for years and always just assumed it to be true. I've never laid eyes on one, and have just sort of quietly hoped that the crunch inside the figs I've eaten were seeds and not wasps. The figs are always delicious, so I don't really care too much.

    But ARE there wasps in figs? I decided to find out. Bon Appetit says that the answer is "both yes and no." And How Stuff Works gives an answer akin to something like "sort of, but not really, and mostly no, but sometimes yes." Hmmm.

    While not all figs require wasps for pollination, some, including the Calimyrna, do. Female fig wasps play in important role for that pollination. They crawl into the fig, which is actually an inverted flower, and lay their eggs. However, the wasp gets stuck in the fig after she's crawled in, and can't crawl back out, so she and her wingless male offspring die inside the fig (the female offspring are able to escape, to repeat the process with other fig flowers). 

    But don't worry, the wasps aren't just hanging out in your figs, waiting to be eaten. Bon Appetit explains that the wasps are dissolved by an enzyme well before a customer buys and eats a fig:

    "There's no fig wasp in there by the time people are eating the fruit," says [Louise] Ferguson [extension specialist at UC Davis Department of Plant Sciences]. The female fig produces an enzyme that completely digests the exoskeleton before hungry humans can take a bite. To be clear: "The crunchy bits are seeds, not wasp parts," she adds.

    And How Stuff Works explains that figs do have "at least one dead female wasp inside," but reiterates that the wasp is no longer recognizable because the wasp has been broken down by an enzyme. Furthermore, fig farmers try hard to limit the number of wasps entering the figs to begin with:

    When a female wasp dies inside an edible fig, an enzyme in the fig called ficin breaks down her carcass into protein. The fig basically digests the dead insect, making it a part of the resulting ripened fruit. The crunchy bits in figs are seeds, not anatomical parts of a wasp.

    Fig farmers want to keep the number of wasps entering edible figs to an acceptable minimum. While the insect's cooperation is mandatory for the fig to ripen, too many wasps entering will result in over-pollination. Then this fig might be filled with so many seeds that the fruit-like syconium bursts open. While this is good for the plant, it hurts the finished harvest for farmers. To prevent this, farmers separate male and female trees over great distances. Farmers also supply a controlled number of new wasps, often delivered in paper sacks, to dictate exactly how many females have access to a given plant. This means fewer wasps inside when the time comes to harvest.

    Finally, How Stuff Works reminds us that even if bugs like wasps sneak into our food (and they do!), we really shouldn't be so persnickety about it:

    It's also important not to get too bent out of shape over the possibility of accidently eating the occasional insect. Even with the use of modern pest control, insects partially contaminate most agricultural products upon harvest and on the way to market. From canned corn to curry paste, from premium coffee to peanut butter, most foods contain insects. For example, when tomato ketchup qualifies for the highest USDA grade standard possible, it's required to contain no more than 30 fruit fly eggs per every 100 grams (3.5 ounces).

    So, go enjoy your figs—there probably aren't any bugs in them!

    Read more about the fascinating life cycle of fig wasps here and here, or watch a short video here.

  • Arizona MAGA losers go full meltdown

    Here's a great piece in the Phoenix New Times highlighting the MAGA meltdowns currently happening in Arizona after the so-called "red wave" failed to materialize. They are all delicious, but this one is my favorite:

    Tinfoil Hat Leader Wendy Rogers Discovers Self-Awareness

    Early this year, Arizona State Senator Wendy Rogers was censured by fellow Republicans for expressing her unabashed hatred for Jewish people.

    Her response: "Today is the day where we find out if the Communists in the GOP throw the sweet grandma under the bus for being white."

    The firebrand lawmaker from Flagstaff has made plenty more headlines this year. The state Senate opened an ethics investigation into Rogers after she mocked victims of the tragic school shooting in Uvalde, Texas, in May. She tried to meddle in the French presidential election in April, and even said she wanted to put 1.3 million Americans out of work, earning her the title of "Best Racist Blowhard" in this year's Best of Phoenix.

    Rogers isn't the alt-right extremist you'd expect to show grace and humility after mammoth Republican underperformance across a state that she has, for years, claimed is rife with election fraud.

    But that's exactly what happened on Monday. Rogers joined Phoenix-based youth MAGA leader Charlie Kirk, a founder of the conservative Turning Point USA, on his video podcast. Turning Point's last-ditch efforts to snag wins for statewide Republicans in competitive races proved to be detrimental in the end.

    An exasperated Kirk buried his face in his hands as he said, "Wendy, I gotta be honest. I mean, you know this state really well. You've been a grassroots activist for a while. The vibe on the ground was totally different than this, wasn't it?"

    In a moment of commendable self-awareness, Rogers replied, "Yes. We wonder now if we were in an echo chamber. I don't know. I'm just beginning to get some perspective."

    Better late than never, Wendy.

    Read more here about losers Kari Lake, Mark Finchem, Abe Hamadeh, and Kelli Ward.

  • Arizona election deniers starting to protest mid-term results

    And so it begins. MAGA election denier Mark Finchem, who just lost the race for Arizona Secretary of State to Democrat Adrian Fontes, is questioning the election results. He tweeted, "Polls had me winning Maricopa. No way we lost Maricopa." Suck it, Mark, you lost. Now I'm waiting to see Kari Lake's reaction to losing the gubernatorial race to Katie Hobbs. I'd go look at her Twitter but she blocked me months ago. No doubt she's about to launch a massive election denying smear-fest soon. Stay tuned!