Read Mitch McConnell's proposed rules for the Trump impeachment trial

CNN has the full 4-page organizing resolution for the Trump impeachment trial that Majority Leader Mitch McConnell sent to the Senate on Monday.

As CNN notes, the impeachment trial for President Bill Clinton gave the defense and the House prosecution committee each 24-hours — spread out over a maximum of 4 days — to make their opening statements. For the Trump trial, however, each side only gets 2 days to make their statements. But on any given day, the hearings don't begin until 1pm, and will thus drag on late into the night.

After the opening statements, the Senate will have a total of 16 hours to question the House Committee or the White House Defense. Only then will the Senate vote on whether or not to subpoena witnesses or other evidence.

The GOP's defense strategy becomes painfully clear in the structure set forward on those pages: make sure no one has a chance to say or reveal anything beyond what's already known by the public, then force a vote as soon as possible. Which is why I'm expecting the White House's opening statement to be a full-on Chewbacca Defense but with Bidens instead of Wookies.

Impeachment resolution shortens trial's opening arguments to two days per side [Lauren Fox, Manu Raju and Jeremy Herb /  CNN]

Image via the White House / Flickr Read the rest

Trump tried to read the Constitution but it was "like a foreign language"

Vanity Fair just published a new excerpt from A Very Stable Genius, the new White House insider book from Pulitzer Prize-winning Washington Post staffers Carol Leonnig and Philip Rucker. It explores the filming of the HBO documentary "The Words That Built America" at the White House, which took place shortly after the inauguration of President Donald Trump.

The idea of this documentary was to unite the country by presenting the words of the country's founding documents, as read by all living presidents and vice presidents, as well as other politicians and actors. Interestingly enough, it was directed by Alexandra Pelosi, who is indeed the child of the US Speaker of the House and frequent Trump nemesis Nancy Pelosi.

But according to the scene as relayed by Leonning and Rucker, Trump didn't know about or notice this familial connection:

Pelosi moved in to thank Trump for participating in this special history project, but he appeared to have no idea who she was, apparently not briefed on her political lineage or her role as the director. The president asked for some water, and with no staff bringing any to him, Pelosi handed him a bottle of Aquafina from her purse. “I’ve been into the White House,” Pelosi later said of visits to see previous presidents. “There are always protocols. Here there were no rules, no protocol.” She added, “There’s so much wrong with the whole thing. I’m thinking, Isn’t there someone who’s supposed to guard what he’s eating and drinking?”

Read the rest

Enjoy these unsolicited dik-dik pics

Dik-diks are basically tiny African deer whose name comes from the chirping sounds they make. And if that's not adorable enough, then just wait until learn that they mark their territory with their tears (okay technically it's a secretion from the preobital gland but still).

So here are some completely unsolicited dik-dik picks, courtesy of the UnsolicitedDiks Twitter page.

Top image via Sharp Photography / Wikimedia Commons Read the rest

Gun Violence Isn't a Problem — it's actually 5 Problems, with Different Solutions

I’ve written extensively on gun violence, spoken on international TV and radio on the subject, and even pursued a gun license in the strictest city of one of the strictest states in the country. Despite my first-hand experience, the most ardent defenders of the Second Amendment — like those who marched on Richmond, Virginia this weekend to protest "Jim Crow" gun laws — will still tell me things like, “We don’t need more laws! We need to enforce the laws on the books!” or “We can’t stop every shooting because that’s just the price of freedom.” Those same #2A Avengers will of course acknowledge that yeah, okay, maybe NICS has some problems, or maybe those Parkland cops should have done something earlier, and then swiftly retreat back into the same tribalistic mindsets that always prevent human progress.

So I wrote this essay, hoping to have a rational conversation. It was originally published on Medium in 2018, but it remains frustratingly relevant, so I'm posting it here.

Naming something gives you power over it.

That’s the basic idea behind all the magic in every folktale dating back for centuries, from “Rumpelstiltskin” to the Rolling Stones’ “Hope you guessed my name.” Ancient shamans didn’t practice “magic”; they just had knowledge, and names for things like “eye of newt” that no one else could understand. To name something is to know it, and knowledge is power.Think about the relationship between “spelling” and “spells” and you won’t be so surprised that Harry Potter has been all over the gun violence conversations lately, on both the Left and the Right—which makes sense, considering that they have a word you memorize and practice reciting in order to kill people. Read the rest

A new startup is disrupting the scrotum-washing industry

Ballsy is a new specialized scrotum soap that has somehow managed to from starting up to seven digits in sales in just seven months. From their website:

As with all good ideas, this one started in the shower. As I grabbed that same tired bottle of men’s drugstore body wash, and poured that neon blue liquid into my hand it hit me. Why am I using a $4 body wash that has more chemicals and words that I can't pronounce than I care to admit?

I deserve better, my body deserves better, my boys deserve better than this. And that’s when I decided to create a product that I wanted to start my day with, a product that makes me feel great and smells great in the process.

Don't just the founder's word for it; ask Hollywood's Pauly Shore, who is definitely a huge fan of this product and not just being paid to pimp it out on Cameo!

View this post on Instagram

Wiser words have never been spoken from The Weez! #paulyshore #keepyourjewelsjolly

A post shared by Ballsy (@ballwash) on Dec 26, 2019 at 8:17am PST

Don't get me wrong; the knockoff-Old-Spice-Guy marketing looks like the kind of made-to-be-viral sensation that would drive some VCs wild. I'm just genuinely surprised that so many people are actually spending $20-plus dollars on ball soap, and that the company already offers such a wide variety of products. There's a charcoal-activated bodywash; a "Nut Rub" cologne that comes in several different scents; a "sack spray" deodorant; some Goldbond-wannabe soothing cream; and a "Goodhead" shampoo and conditioner, which is presumably for your skull and not your pubes, but I'm not sure. Read the rest

FBI honors MLK Jr. Day by celebrating man they gaslit, surveilled, tried to drive to suicide

The time is always right to do what is right, that's true. But the timing of this is a pretty ugly retcon—especially after a new trove of FBI files on Martin Luther King, Jr. were just released six months ago, painting an ugly picture of frequent sexual misconduct. Read the rest

Healthcare choice in America is a scam, according to the people who came up with it

One of the most frustratingly incredible things about Corporate PR Con Artistry is that even when the chaos magicians behind it reveal their tricks, there are still people who will continue to insist that somehow, this makes the lie even more real. We've seen it before with climate change, and the bullshit connection between vaccines and autism.

And now, in a new op-ed from The New York Times, we can see this phenomenon happening in real-time with healthcare. Most rational-thinking people understand that the private healthcare system in America offers no more "choice" than the socialized, single-payer, or other government-subsidized systems in other developed nations. Yet that idea of "choice" — and the fantastical fear-mongering about wait times in Canada — has become a popular talking point with those opposed to healthcare reform. Which is precisely what it was designed to do, by people like Wendell Potter, a former vice president for corporate communications at Cigna. As he writes in the Times:

To my everlasting regret, I played a hand in devising this deceptive talking point about choice when I worked in various communications roles for a leading health insurer between 1993 and 2008, ultimately serving as vice president for corporate communications.

[…]

Those of us who held senior positions for the big insurers knew that one of the huge vulnerabilities of the system is its lack of choice. In the current system, Americans cannot, in fact, pick their own doctors, specialists or hospitals — at least, not without incurring huge “out of network” bills.

Read the rest

Watch the gloriously brutal trailer for Danzig’s horror movie directorial debut "Verotika"

Famed "Mother" crooner and former ex-lead-singer of the Misfits Glenn Danzig has finally directed his first film, and of course it's a horror anthology. The movie's called Verotika, and while I'm slightly disappointed he didn't name it Die Die My Darling, this absolutely bonkers minute-long trailer makes up for it.

The trailer doesn't really tell you what the movies about, per se, but it definitely gives you some gorey, self-indulgent, eerily terrifying B-movie vibes—though whether it's genuinely terrifying, or just terrifyingly bad, well, the reviews so far lean towards the latter. Alex McLevy at the AV Club caught the film last summer at the Cinepocalypse Film Festival in Chicago, and his review is a work of art in and of itself:

Within the first 60 seconds, a narrator pokes out a woman’s eyes with her fingers, and it works all too well as a metaphor for what this movie puts the audience through.

[…]

This wasn’t quite the willful misunderstanding of a Tommy Wiseau, but it wasn’t far off.

[…]

Glenn Dan-zigged where he should have Dan-zagged, and for that we should all be profoundly grateful.

Verotika will be available on Vimeo on-demand starting February 25, with a 3-disc collector’s set to follow in March. Read the rest

Happy 30th Anniversary to They Might Be Giants' iconic "Flood" album

I missed this earlier in the week, but Wednesday, January 15 was the 30th anniversary of They Might Be Giants' third album, Flood—their major label debut that brought Casio synths and drum machines and Triangle Man and Constantinople to the mainstream.

SPIN Magazine has a great retrospective on the album, speaking with artists from Mike Doughty to Chris Carrabba to Open Mike Eagle about the impact that it had on their lives.

My own exposure to TMBG came through their weird animated music videos on Tiny Toons. I started actively listening to them in high school because my friend Flood from Asbestos Records told Teenage Me that they had an album named after him. He was lying. But he did later convince me to start a They Might Be Giants tribute band. We played exactly one show, and we called ourselves Your Racist Friends, after a song from Flood.

In hindsight, that name may not have come across as tongue-in-cheek as I thought at the time.

They Might Be Giants’ Flood Turns 30: Musicians Extol the Landmark Album [Chris Harris / SPIN]

Image via Wikimedia Commons Read the rest

Review: "Don't Read The Comments" is a delightful YA antidote to GamerGate

Don't Read The Comments is the newest book by Eric Smith, a literary agent and author of The Geek's Guide To Dating and other books, as well as the owner of many adorable pets. (Full disclosure: Eric was also my editor many, many years ago on the Quirk Books blog, and we've remained friends since then.) It tells the story of two teens who meet and fall in love pretty much entirely online, with the help of a video massive multiplayer game called "Reclaim The Sun." Divya Sharma has managed to turn her love of the game into a popular streaming channel that brings in a little bit of revenue for her and her recently-divorced mother. Aaron Jericho is an aspiring video game writer whose parents want nothing more than for him to follow in their footsteps and go to medical school. A chance encounter in "Reclaim The Sun" helps these two isolated brown kids find solace in each other—but a well-orchestrated doxxing campaign from a group of racist, sexist trolls threatens to tear it all down.

On the surface, this is a perfect nerdy setup of star-crossed lovers coming together against all odds, with a touch of hyper-relevant social commentary. In execution, it pulls that off with plenty of delight. It's certainly not the most high-stakes story I've read—the only doomed kingdoms exist in a video game—but Smith manages to keep the characters' internal stakes on the edge the whole time. And that's realistic, because these are teenagers, for whom everything does feel the end of the world, even when it's not. Read the rest

The QAnon cult has started appropriating the Punisher skull logo, too

It's bad enough when police officers try to claim the skull symbol of the Punisher from Marvel Comics as their own. Gerry Conway, creator of the character, has spoken out about the absurdity:

It's disturbing whenever I see authority figures embracing Punisher iconography because the Punisher represents a failure of the Justice system. He's supposed to indict the collapse of social moral authority and the reality some people can't depend on institutions like the police or the military to act in a just and capable way. […] Whether you think the Punisher is justified or not, whether you admire his code of ethics, he is an outlaw. He is a criminal. Police should not be embracing a criminal as their symbol.

The Marvel corporation has also gone after weapons manufacturers and others who use their unlicensed IP in their designs. Even the Punisher himself has addressed it in the context of a comic book:

I'll only say this once: We're not the same. You took an oath to uphold the law. You help people. I gave that up a long time ago. You don't do what I do. Nobody does. You boys need a role model? His name is Captain America and he'd be happy to have you.

(This is also a reminder to read Nate Powell's brilliant comic essay on the fashion of fascism, if you haven't already)

But now the Punisher appropriation has taken a step further, with militia groups handing out flyers at QAnon rallies emblazoned with that familiar skull:

Read the rest

Professor Xavier is a total fuckboi. Let me explain, on the Fuckbois of Literature podcast.

My friend Emily Edwards has a delightful podcast called Fuckbois of Literature, that, well, pretty much explores exactly what it promises: fuckbois, in literature.

The characters of literature other readers exalt, but you hope never to meet. Maybe they screw everything that moves (and moos). Maybe they’ve locked their first wife in the attic. Maybe they’re the author of love poetry that’s screwed up our concept of romance for over 150 years. The literary fuckboi toys with your heart and leaves you hung out to dry. Join host Emily Edwards every week to discuss the most toxic characters, writers, and tropes of literature, folklore, myths, and legend. Topics include feminist literature, toxic masculinity, gender roles, and intersectional representation in books. These are the Fuckbois of Literature.

There are lots of great and insightful episodes, from comedian Sara Benincasa talking about the Bible, to my personal favorite one on David Foster Wallace. But Emily was also kind and/or foolish enough to invite me and one of my best friends onto the show to discuss the various fuckbois of the X-Men universe — but namely, that hedonistic bald manipulator Professor Charles Xavier, and his fickle, horny protege, Scott Summers AKA Cyclops.

I have been waiting a long time for an audience to let me indulge in my deeply serious literary analysis on sex and the X-Men, and I'm just so glad that there's more than one person in the world who cares to hear my rant about the cycle of abuse and patriarchal privilege that make Professor X and Cyclops alike both treat women like crap in the pursuit of their self-righteous goals. Read the rest

Check out these awesomely creepy puppets of microbial creatures

Judith Hope is a UK-based puppeteer who has created maneuverable art for theatre, festivals, parades, and more. Read the rest

This children’s book on the miracle of life is very graphic and very anatomically correct

Da solen stod op om natten, often translated as How a Baby Is Made or The True Story of How Babies Are Made, was originally published in 1972. Written by 1971 by Danish psychotherapist Per Holm Knudsen, it actually won a Danish Ministry of Culture Children's Book prize for its, uhh, highly accurate depiction of where, in fact, babies come from:

On one hand, this is uhhh, pretty graphic. On the other: well, maybe it's better that we stop lying to children and treating sex like some shameful secret. So in that case, it's pretty good. Just not in a creepy way.

But if that's the kind of thing you want to share with your kids, you can pick up a used copy on Amazon for around $50.

This ridiculous sex ed book demonstrates everything that was awesome about the 1970s [Jam Kotenko / Daily Dot]

Image via Wikimedia Commons Read the rest

House Dems release Lev Parnas's handwritten notes about the Ukraine scandal ahead of impeachment trial

While the GOP continues their struggle to come up with reasons why "not having witnesses at an impeachment trial" is somehow a good thing, the House Democrats have released some new evidence that will be included in the Articles of Impeachment they inevitably send to the Senate. Most of the documents were obtained by Lev Parnas, an associate of Rudy Giuliani who was born in the Ukraine and who has sold property for the Trump Organization and also helped to broker deals with Ukrainian oligarchs.

These documents include a handwritten note from Parnas reminding himself to "get Zalensky [sic] to Annonce [sic] that the Biden case will Be Investigated." Which  is, uhhh, pretty much exactly the issue that this impeachment investigation hinges on.

https://twitter.com/keithboykin/status/1217220632489971712

There are also some creepy notes about the obsessive attention paid to Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch, including some insinuations from Connecticut Congressional Candidate Robert Hyde that he was actively surveilling her.

What do you call a smoking gun when it's handwritten notes and text messages? Unfortunately, for most of the GOP, it's probably still a "Nothingburger."

House Dems release new impeachment evidence related to indicted Giuliani associate [Andrew Desiderio / Politico]

Image via House Intelligence Community Read the rest

There's a non-zero possibility that Iran has a fleet of Communist assassin dolphins

For better or for worse, humans have been training dolphins as soldiers of war since at least the 1960s; even to this day, the Russian government in particular has been known to enlist them in subterfuge.

But twenty years ago, the cash-strapped and crumbling Soviet Union sold a group of highly-trained aquatic assets to the Iranian government. Military.com (a subsidiary of Monster, apparently) has a good breakdown of the history, pulling largely from a BBC article published in 2000:

In 1991, after the fall of the Soviet Union, the dolphin unit was sent to the Crimean Peninsula from a base in the Russian Pacific area. There, the dolphins were trained to kill enemy frogmen using harpoons mounted on their backs. They would also swim at enemy ships in suicide attacks while carrying explosive sea mines, as they were able to distinguish between Russian and American submarines by the sounds their propulsion systems make underwater.

The highly trained killer dolphins were moved from the Black Sea to the Persian Gulf after Iran purchased them -- for reasons unknown. According to the Russian newspaper, Zhurid's work, which supposedly continued in Iran after the 2000 sale, was solely of a military nature.

It's a weird little factoid of military history. But here's the catch: dolphins can live for around 50 years. Which means that some of these dolphins could still be alive today. Which means it's not not impossible that a pod of these haggard soldiers is hanging around the coastal US, waiting for their retaliatory strike — though whether that would be against the country's foreign policy, or its oversights in regards to noise pollution from seismic testing, that's still up in the air. Read the rest

This ambient mix of a new sci-fi-themed Rentals song is a sonic trip to outer space

In my experience, most people haven't heard of the Rentals — and most of those who have heard of them only really know them as "that other band that Weezer's old bass player was in." Or the band who wrote "Elon Musk Is Making Me Sad."

That is all technically accurate. The group was started by Matt Sharp while he was still Weezer's secret weapon. And Elon Musk does make him sad. Since leaving that other band, Sharp has continued to release orchestral synth-y power-pop with a rotating cast of musicians under the Rentals moniker over the last 20 years. The group has included performers like Maya Rudolph, the Haden Sisters,  Joey Santiago from the Pixies, Patrick Carney from the Black Keys, and many others.

The spaced-out track above is an instrumental mix of a tune from the band's upcoming sci-fi-themed album, Q36. The band has been releasing a new track every 2 weeks, along with a corresponding limited-edition t-shirt and hitRECORD project. And while I liked the regular version of "Invasion Night," I absolutely love this ambient version of it. Sharp cut out all the the vocals, drums, and bass in order to focus on his synthesizer sounds and the guitar work of Nick Zinner (most famously of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs), and the result almost makes me feel like I'm in the head of Major Tom as he floats to his death.

The video that goes along with it was actually part of the Rentals' 2009 album Songs About Time, which included 365 photographs, 52 short films, and 3 EPs, all created in real-time over the course of a year. Read the rest

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