Monthly Archives: November 2014

Homophobic Mall Santas Are Furious at a Documentary That Features a Gay Santa

Homophobic Mall Santas Are Furious at
a Documentary That Features a Gay Santa

By Mike Pearl

There’s a new documentary out, I Am Santa Claus, about how mall Santas do their jobs and what they get up to when it’s not the Christmas season. It features WWE wrestling superstar Mick Foley transforming himself into a Santa and is actually a surprisingly touching movie about a bunch of guys who are really dedicated to creating little moments of magic for kids, and not in any way a controversial film.

Oh, but one of the Santas,  Jim Stevenson, is gay.

Naturally, the ubiquitous YouTube goblins latched onto the gay thing, offering  ​comments like, “So, Santa Fag makes his film debut? How disgraceful! We, as a society, have become TOO accepting of immoral lifestyles. Fags need to be shamed not paraded around.” No surprise there. YouTube comments are the dingleberries of the internet.

A prominent Santa (name redacted) reacting to the movie

What was unexpected was that prominent Santas denounced the film publicly. They took to Facebook, calling it things like “an abomination to real bearded Santas.” One wrote, “Only in American (sic) can you make a mess of Santa and get away with it, they are all on my very, very, naughty list and they won’t be getting off of it anytime soon either. Very bad writers, directors and actors as well, bad very bad!!!”

The homophobia reached all the way to Mick Foley’s personal Facebook account. He told ​the Mary Sue, “The hate I was getting from Facebook started to cancel out the joy I should have felt from the film.”

I talked to director Tony Avallone about the ugly reaction to a film that was only meant to give you something to watch with your parents during the holidays other than Home Alone.


VICE: Hi Tommy. Why’d you make a movie about Santas?

Tommy Avallone: Me and my wife were walking around the Cherry Hill Mall in New Jersey one day and we saw Santa Claus and I was like, “I wonder what life that guy goes home to.” Like, what family is waiting for him December 26? And that was the seed that I needed to start the movie.

How’d you find them?
​ We found that Santa Clauses exist on Facebook and we would send a message to them like, “Hey, you look pretty interesting, what would you think about being in this documentary? We’d love to talk to you!”

So the big homophobia blow-up happened when you released the trailer. What were they saying?
[The Santas] couldn’t actually say what they were upset about, because they didn’t want to seem like blatant homophobic people, they would just say they don’t feel that we should “ruin the magic” of Christmas. We got called the armageddon of Santa World, we got told we were going to be on the “very naughty” list and that we would stay there for a very long time.

And then the harassment got pretty constant?
I’ll post something that like, “Hey check out I Am Santa Claus on iTunes! DVD! Blu-ray!” and this one Santa from New York was like, “Don’t waste your money!” and I’m like “Aaand, delete!”

You didn’t engage, or try to argue with them online?
​ These guys are older men that don’t quite understand the technology of Facebook and sometimes they like to fight, and I don’t fight.

Not to stereotype older people…
​ No. Our Santa Claus who is gay is 73. It’s all about where you’re from. Where he lives in Dallas, they’re very open to everything.

And he’s also a bear. Are there a lot of bear Santas?
I just think a bear is usually a hairy, heavy man, so it’s likely that some of them would want to play Santa. I don’t think it’s a thing though.

Negativity wasn’t the only reaction you got from Santas, right?
Oh, any Santa Claus who actually took the time to watch the movie loved it. Because what we do is show that these are real men. We never said we were going to make a movie about Santa Claus. We’re going to make a movie about the people who portray Santa Claus.

At the end of the day, they’re grandpas and they’re good people.
They just have strong opinions.

I Am Santa Claus can be streamed on ​Netflix, downloaded off ​iTunes, or ​purchased in a hard-copy format.


This Is The Dystopian World We Are Leaving For Today’s Teenagers

This Is The Dystopian World We Are Leaving For Today’s Teenagers

by Ari Phillips

A new report from the World Bank has determined that warming of around 1.5°C (around 2.7° Fahrenheit) by mid-century is already locked into the atmosphere but that further warming beyond 2°C — and some of the worst projected impacts — is avoidable with immediate action. The report also warns that without coordinated efforts to transition to low-carbon energy sources, there is an increasing likelihood that temperatures could rise by 4°C or more “by the time today’s teenagers are in their 80s.” This would have drastic consequences on many of the developing countries where the World Bank operates — many of which have very young populations.

“The good news is that we can take action that reduces the rate of climate change and promotes economic growth, ultimately stopping our journey down this dangerous path,” said Jim Yong Kim, president of the World Bank. “World leaders and policy makers should embrace affordable solutions like carbon pricing and policy choices that shift investment to clean public transport, cleaner energy and more energy efficient factories, buildings and appliances.”

Prepared for the World Bank Group by the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research and Climate Analytics, this is the third such report focusing on climate impacts in areas where the Bank operates, including Latin America and the Caribbean, the Middle East and North Africa, and Eastern Europe and Central Asia. Called “Turn Down The Heat,” the report warns of a “new climate normal” that will create a world of increased risks and instability. This will add substantially to the already daunting challenges of global development and poverty reduction, as crop yields would decline, water resources dwindle or shift, ocean acidification accelerate, and sea levels continue to rise and disrupt heavily-populated coastal regions.

In Latin America and the Caribbean, these heat extremes and changing rain patterns could lead to a 70 percent fall in soybean crop yields and up to 50 percent for wheat by 2050 without further adaption efforts. In the Caribbean, tropical storms and sea level rise will impact everything from tourism to security.

Across the Middle East and North Africa, scarce water resources will be further stressed, which could increase the outbreak of conflicts in the already fraught region. Similar challenges with water availability and food production are expected in Eastern Europe and Central Asia.

“The report makes crystal clear that we cannot continue down the current path of unchecked, growing emissions,” said Rachel Kyte, World Bank Group Vice President and Special Envoy for Climate Change.

The Bank is backing up these statements with a policy that avoids funding coal-fired power plants except in circumstances where no other baseload power sources are economically viable.

“It will only be in circumstances of extreme need that we would contemplate doing coal again,” said Kyte. She went on to say that the Bank’s focus is on accelerating lending for all forms of renewable energy, including “everything from all sizes of hydro through to wind, to solar, to concentrated solar, to geothermal.”

The Bank is encouraging country leaders to do away with fossil fuel subsidies that create unnaturally low prices for oil, gas and coal.

A major global report in September found that governments can grow their economies and reduce their GHG emissions at the same time. This is especially true in developing economies where energy systems are not locked-in and infrastructure investments are rapidly growing. The New Climate Economy report found that by 2030, about $90 trillion will be invested in cities, agriculture, and energy systems across the world. If this financing is directed toward low-carbon projects, it could mark a major turning point in climate change mitigation and adaptation efforts.

World leaders will gather in Lima, Peru next month for a major round of negotiating sessions before next year’s U.N. climate summit in Paris where hopes for a new global agreement to reduce carbon emissions are high. There have been several promising developments in recent weeks, including a U.S.-China pledge to limit emissions and a G20 communique demanding efforts to reduce GHGs and fund clean energy.

Can Tarzan of the Apes Survive in a Post-Colonial World?

Can Tarzan of the Apes Survive in a Post-Colonial World?

by Ted Gioia

One hundred years after Edgar Rice Burroughs’s first Tarzan novel appeared, the
famous ape-man has turned into an awkward symbol of political incorrectness.

Old heroes never die. They just get remakes and sequels.Almost every fictional hero of my childhood has come back to life on the big screen in recent years.  Sherlock Holmes is a new millennium sex symbol with books, movies, and TV episodes introducing him to a new generation of fans. Comic book heroes are even hotter—Spiderman and Batman probably earn more money nowadays than Warren Buffett and Bill Gates. Gandalf and Aslan refuse to die. Luke Skywalker and Han Solo are ready for a comeback. Even Godzilla, the ugliest star attraction of them all, is bigger than ever, both at the box office and in sheer monstrous height.


But then there’s poor forgotten Tarzan.

2014 marks the hundredth anniversary of the first Tarzan book, but you would never guess it from the lackluster celebrations. How far the mighty ape-man has fallen! He once was a huge star—in the 50 year period from 1918 to 1968, 14 different actors played Tarzan in around 40 films. These grossed more than $500 million dollars.

But nowadays Tarzan is out in the cold. When Constanin Film released its 3D computer-animated Tarzan feature last year, it booked no theatrical showings in the U.S., and the film went straight to the DVD bin. Warner Brothers’ forthcoming Tarzan movie has been stalled for more than decade, and even if it reaches theaters next year, I am skeptical of the response.

I suspect that the new Tarzan will run into the same problems that beset the recent Lone Ranger remake. This film tried very hard to adapt the character Tonto to modern sensibilities, but this had about as much effect as a Washington Redskins logo redesign  in averting criticism. It was revealing that protests began even before the film was released. This might stem partly from the decision to cast Johnny Depp (who “guesses” he is part Native American, but is vague on the details) in the role, but I suspect reasons for opposition ran much deeper. Many critics probably felt they had seen enough of Tonto in the past, and found something inherently offensive in any portrayal of a loyal “Indian sidekick” to a masked Texas Ranger.

How can we expect Tarzan to fare any better? In case you’ve forgotten, this hero is the son of an English lord raised in the jungle by great apes. But genes trump everything, even parenting by furry primates. Below his rough surface, Tarzan is still a noble Caucasian, destined to bring paternalistic wisdom and white man’s justice to everything he surveys. Think of him as a kind of Cecil Rhodes in a loincloth and with bulging muscles.

Frankly, Tarzan’s relationship with the ladies is just as likely to raise hackles nowadays. No, he never actually said “Me Tarzan. You Jane!” in the original Edgar Rice Burroughs books, but the relationship between this famous couple has evolved into a familiar symbol of dysfunctional marriage, a pop culture glamorization of the subservient wife and domineering husband. When journalist Helen Franks published a book on the role of men in a post-feminist world, no one needed an explanation of why she had entitled it Goodbye Tarzan.

I say all this with a heavy heart. Around the age of 12, I was a Tarzan devotee. I owned all 24 Tarzan books authored by Edgar Rice Burroughs, and read them with enthusiasm—although also reluctantly because I wanted to keep each copy in pristine mint condition. I watched Tarzan movies and the short-lived Tarzan TV series. I bought Tarzan comic books, and even had a few issues of ERB-dom, a mimeographed fanzine devoted to the works of Burroughs. I never actually tried to swing from tree vine to tree vine, but I did consider it.

Even today, I find much to admire in these books. By any measure, Burroughs ranks among the finest adventure story authors of modern times. He took the techniques of H. Rider Haggard and Jules Verne and brought them into the 20th century. His stories were constructed with ruthless narrative efficiency. Conflicts and resolutions were staged with the skill of a chessplayer working out new endgame strategies.  I am reminded of the kind of propulsive storytelling that Steven Spielberg brings to his action films, in which heroes may be little more than stick figures, but they possess a double dose of stage presence and charisma, and we get to know them via an endless series of daredevil exploits. Burroughs was doing all this a century ago, only in print form. More than anyone he set the stage for the dazzling dominance of genre narratives in our own time.

But all this skill can’t hide the fact that Tarzan is the odd man out in a post-colonial world. There’s no way of sugarcoating passages such as this one from The Jungle Tales of Tarzan, which describes the ape-man’s encounter with an African tribe:

“These black fellow danced and sang … Tarzan never tired of spying on them, and from them he learned much more than he realized, though always his principal thought was of some new way in which he could render their lives miserable. The baiting of blacks was Tarzan’s chief divertissement.”

Can Tarzan ever recover? Is there a 12-step program for politically incorrect protagonists? Certainly I can imagine ways of giving this jungle hero some up-to-date progressive attitudes. He could be remade into a defender of the environment, a preserver of habitats and champion of rainforest ecology. In fact, the original Burroughs books possess a clear “green” streak that now seems quite prescient. Or a modernized Tarzan might lead African miners on strike against unscrupulous multinationals. He could even decide to stay at home with Boy (in case you didn’t know, that’s his son’s name in the Hollywood movies), and let Jane swing on the tree vines for a change. Cast Angelina Jolie in that role with Brad Pitt as the cave hubbie, and maybe we have a blockbuster in the making.

But I fear that it may be too late for a Tarzan makeover. He’s like Tonto—we know him too well. A leopard doesn’t change its spots, and an ape-man doesn’t change into a postcolonial hero. But I don’t expect Hollywood to give up on the effort, if only because there’s more than sense and sensibilities at stake here, namely a mega-million-dollar brand franchise. He’s still a sexy beast, isn’t he? And in the context of a film industry that loves cashing in on old heroes, the upside of turning Tarzan into a 21st century fox may just be too tempting to resist.

The Turkey Hunger Games

The Turkey Hunger Games

by Zachary Crockett

Every November, deep in the White House’s rose gardens, the President of the United States selects a lucky turkey, raises his hand above its head, and gives it a Presidential pardon.

The act ensures the bird a life free from the shackles of Thanksgiving dinner — a life of aimless roaming, gobbling, and other turkey activities.

But the “tradition” comes with a dark side. Pardoned turkeys are bred from birth to be especially obese for the cameras. They’re sent through a rigorous media boot camp, preparing them for flashbulbs, large crowds, and stressful situations — and all the while, they’re treated like small, feathered kings. Then, as a result of their priming, they die at tender ages, a shadow of what they once were.

The tradition’s unofficial roots extend back to Abraham Lincoln, who, in addition to being our nation’s sixteenth POTUS, was a fanatical animal lover.

Lincoln maintained a healthy stable of White House pets, and he treated them like royalty. His two goats, Nanny and Nanko, routinely joined him in the Presidential carriage. Once, after being scolded by his wife for feeding one of his cats with an ornate utensil, he stood at the dinner table and proudly declared, ““If a gold fork was good enough for former President Buchanan, it’s good enough for my Tabby!

This enthusiasm didn’t wane when it came to turkeys.

In November 1863, in the midst of the Civil War, Lincoln officially proclaimed Thanksgiving Day a national holiday. Shortly thereafter, he selected the annual White House turkey — a brilliant, broad-breasted white bird. Lincoln’s son, Tad, was instantly smitten, and named the creature “Jack.” After the two inevitably became best buds, the boy begged his father to grant the turkey a stay of execution.

When Lincoln got word of his son’s temper tantrum over the Jack’s impending slaughter, he ducked out of a cabinet meeting and issued the bird “an order of reprieve,” sparing Jack’s life.

Over the next year, the turkey became a member of the Lincoln family — and an endless source of entertainment for the President and his cabinet. On Election Day 1864, there were voting booths set up in front of the White House for soldiers to cast their votes; suddenly, the ever-cocky Jack strutted into one of the booths.

“Why is your turkey at the polls? Does he vote?” Lincoln asked his son, after observing the scene from his office.

“No,” replied Tad. “He’s not of age yet.”

Starting in 1873, with the Grant administration, it became a customary tradition for the president to be presented a turkey. For nearly 45 years, one man — a Rhode Island poultry farmed named Horace Vose — was responsible for “selecting the noblest gobbler in all that little state” for the White House. In 1947, the National Turkey Federation became the President’s supplier; today, it retains the duty.

For some time, historians surmised that the official pardoning tradition began with Harry S. Truman that same year. In a famous photo, he lingers over his fowl with a smile, seemingly granting it immunity from the dinner table. But archivists at the Harry S. Truman Presidential Library say the photo was nothing more than a publicity stunt for turkey farmers.

Harry S. Truman greets his turkey

Lyndon Johnson, thinking
about cranberry sauce

“The Trumans,” a historian told The Washington Post, “were not animal people” — and it’s likely that his look of adoration here is nothing more than him fantasizing about slathering the bird in cranberry sauce and stuffing his face.

When the ever-gracious John F. Kennedy was presented with a rafter of turkeys in 1963, he pointed to the largest one — a 55-pound whopper — said “we’ll just let this one go,” and send it off to a petting farm in Washington. But, like Lincoln’s sparing 100 years earlier, it was a one-off: subsequent Presidents didn’t seem to maintain any compassion for the meaty fowl.

So, when did this “timeless American tradition” officially start? Not long ago, it turns out.

Standing before the monstrous bird presented to him on November 14, 1989, President George H.W. Bush became the unintentional father of the turkey pardon. “He looks understandably nervous,” joked Bush, “but let me assure you (and this fine tom turkey) that he will not end up on anyone’s dinner table — not this guy. He’s granted a presidential pardon as of right now.” The bird was sent off to a Virginia farm, presumably to live the rest of his life away from the spotlight.

After Bush’s joke, subsequent Presidents carried on the custom — most expressing total disinterest in the act. “They bring me a big turkey and we let one go so we can eat all the others,” Bill Clinton told the press in 1999.

And they certainly brought a big one:

Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama started a new trend: pardoning not one, but two turkeys — though often begrudgingly. “Courage will also be spared this terrible and delicious fate,” Obama said in 2009, “[But its only] thanks to the intervention of Malia and Sasha – because I was ready to eat this sucker.”

The Life of a Pardoned Turkey

The turkeys selected for Presidential pardons aren’t just your run of the mill birds — they’re bred from birth to fit the role.

The National Turkey Federation typically selects around 80 newly-hatched turkeys to be considered for the ceremony. They’re then fed a “grain-heavy diet of fortified corn and soybeans” to bulk them up, with the end-goal in the 50-pound range (more than the weight of most dog breeds).


From there, the flock is narrowed down to the “20 largest and best-behaved,” and they embark on their next phase of training: preparing for fame.

A pardoned turkey must be well-attuned to the rigors of the spotlight, and must handle its 15 minutes with grace and regality, so they are put through an extensive course of scenarios — flash photography, large crowds, and loud noises — to gauge their behavior. Usually, it comes down to two birds, ultimately hand-picked by the White House staff.

Leading up to the ceremony, the two turkeys are royalty. This year’s cluckers, two birds from Ohio named Mac and Cheese, were treated to their own room at Washington’s Willard InterContinental Hotel to the tune of $350 a night. The floor was caked in wood shavings, grains, and feathers as the goliath fowl gobbled their way between the queen sized beds and in-room bar.

But life after the pardon — when everyone’s forgotten them — is historically grim.

Lights, camera, turkey: 2013’s
pardoned turkeys prepare for
their close-ups

Obama pardons Popcorn in 2013
(he died 7 months later)

For years, they were sent to aptly-named Frying Pan Park in Virginia; in 2005, they were shipped off to Disneyland Resort in California, or farms in Virginia, where they became a spectacle for incredulous tourists. When ABC News visited one such farm in search of past pardoned turkeys, they learned the disappointing truth: “we usually just find ‘em and they’re dead,” a breeder told the crew. “Their flesh has grown so fast, and their heart and their bones and their other organs can’t catch up.”

It’s a sad truth. Because pardoned turkeys are bred to be robust showmen, they often live incredibly short lives. Their complications are not unlike those encountered by obese humans — heart disease, joint damage, respiratory failure — and they rarely reach the five-year average age of their wild counterparts.

Of the past eight turkeys selected for pardoning, seven met their end less than a year after the ceremony.

Though celebrated as a kind-hearted gesture, the Presidential turkey pardon is something of a Hunger Games-esque nightmare for the fowls involved, where the “winners” aren’t really winners at all.

On that note, Happy Thanksgiving!

Ancient Egyptian ‘Handbook of Ritual Power’ decribes love spells and exorcisms

Ancient Egyptian ‘Handbook of Ritual
Power’ decribes love spells and exorcisms

by Owen Jarus

Researchers in Australia have deciphered an ancient Egyptian handbook, revealing a series of invocations and spells. Among other things, the “Handbook of Ritual Power,” as the book is called, tells readers how to cast love spells, exorcise evil spirits and treat “black jaundice,” a sometimes fatal bacterial infection that is still around today.

The book is about 1,300 years old, and is written in Coptic, an Egyptian language. It is made of bound pages of parchment — a type of book known as a codex.

“It is a complete 20-page parchment codex, containing the handbook of a ritual practitioner,” write Malcolm Choat and Iain Gardner, who are professors at Macquarie University and the University of Sydney, respectively, in “A Coptic Handbook of Ritual Power.”

The ancient book “starts with a lengthy series of invocations that culminate with drawings and words of power,” they write. “These are followed by a number of prescriptions or spells to cure possession by spirits and various ailments, or to bring success in love and business.”

For instance, to subjugate someone, the codex says, you have to say a magical formula over two nails and then “drive them into his doorpost, one on the right side (and) one on the left.”

Researchers believe that the codex may date to the 7th or 8th century. Many Egyptians were Christian during that time, and the codex contains a number of invocations referencing Jesus.

However, some of the invocations seem more associated with a group that flourished in Egypt during the early centuries of Christianity and held Seth, the third son of Adam and Eve, in high regard. One invocation in the codex calls “Seth, Seth, the living Christ.”

The opening of the codex refers to a divine figure named Baktiotha whose identity is a mystery, researchers say. The lines read, “I give thanks to you and I call upon you, the Baktiotha: The great one, who is very trustworthy; the one who is lord over the forty and the nine kinds of serpents,” according to the translation.

“The Baktiotha is an ambivalent figure,” Choat and Gardner said at a conference before their book on the codex was published. “He is a great power and a ruler of forces in the material realm.” Historical records indicate that church leaders regarded the Sethians as heretics, and by the 7th century, the Sethians were either extinct or dying out.

This codex, with its mix of Sethian and Orthodox Christian invocations, may in fact be a transitional document, written before all Sethian invocations were purged from magical texts, the researchers said. They noted that there are other texts that are similar to the newly deciphered codex, but they contain more Orthodox Christian and fewer Sethian features.

The identity of the person who used this codex is a mystery. The user of the codex would not necessarily have been a priest or monk. “It is my sense that there were ritual practitioners outside the ranks of the clergy and monks, but exactly who they were is shielded from us by the fact that people didn’t really want to be labeled as a ;magician,’ ” Choat said.


Baktiotha: The Origin of
a Magical Name in P.Macq. 
by Korshi Dosoo

Many authors in the area of ancient magic, have, for good reason, pointed to the dangers of attempting  to read meaning into the obscure names and formulae which often appear in ritual texts. With a little creativity it is possible to find and justify many possible meanings for a single word, but there is no guarantee that any of these is the ‘correct’ one. The word might have come from a lesser-known or lost language, or it might have been distorted beyond recognition from its lexical root. It might have have been created merely as a euphonious collection of sounds, whose meaning the original or later scribes who recorded it never considered or knew.

 Despite this cautionary note, it is sometimes irresistible to speculate on the origins of a magical name, and such is the case with ⲃⲁⲕⲧⲓⲱⲑⲁ and its variants, which appear in a single invocation attested, in slightly differing versions, in three Coptic manuscripts: P. Macq. I 1, P. Berl. 5527 and P. Lond. Copt. I 1008. In their recent edition of the previously unpublished Macquarie codex, Choat and Gardiner list four possible etymologies, and it is my intention here to add yet another.

Before discussing this new etymology, it is worth briefly summarizing the sections of the invocation which relate to Baktiotha. He is described as being both ‘great’ (ⲛⲟϭ) and ‘very trustworthy’ (<ⲛ>ϩⲟⲧ ⲉⲙⲁⲧⲉ), as being lord over 49 kinds (ⲅⲉⲛⲟⲥ,ⲫⲩⲗⲉ) of serpents who are servants (ϩⲉⲙϩⲁⲗ) to him. These serpents are described as being in the abyss (ⲡⲛⲟⲩⲛ) and the air (ⲡⲁⲏⲣ), deaf (ⲕⲟⲩⲫⲟⲥ,ⲕⲟⲩⲗ) and blind (ⲃⲉⲗⲉ), seeing and hearing, known and unknown; his fear is over them all (ⲧⲉ[ϥ]ϩⲟⲧⲉ ⲧⲉⲧϩⲓϫⲱⲟⲩ).

Despite the brevity of this description, it is clear that Baktiotha is an important figure within these  texts, and part of an elaborate mythic schema.

The Serpents
The decans were a series of 36 stars or constellations located close to the ecliptic whose risings, or later, transits, served to keep track of hours, ten-day periods, and ultimately years; the decans were positioned so that a new one rose or transited at intervals marking the hours. During the period in which they served to tell the hours of the night they were said to be ‘working’, thus earning them their designation, ‘those who work’. Twelve such hours would typically pass each night, and over a period of ten days each decan would rise and transit one hour earlier. The whole cycle would take a year to complete, beginning once more with the heliacal rising of the decan Sothis (Sirius), signalling the inundation.

The decans accumulated a great deal of mythological associations over the centuries, and from the Ramesside period an iconographical development took place whereby they began to be depicted as leonine, or more commonly, serpentine deities. This connection between decans and other astral deities, and serpents, is most explicitly stated in the
 Book of the Heavenly Cow, where it is said that “the souls of all the gods [i.e. the stars] are in the snakes.”

 Closer to our period, we find hundreds of amulets depicting the decan knm.t (Χνουμη etc.) as a lion-headed serpent.
 That this association between the decans and serpents carried on into Coptic times is suggested by a passage in the Resurrection of Jesus Christ , in which the sons of Death are described as decans ‘in the form of winding serpents. 

See the entire article unabridged at the link below:

A Sex Researcher At A Furry Convention

A Sex Researcher At A Furry Convention

By Neuroskeptic

A report in the journal Archives of Sexual Behaviour describes an unusual field trip made by Canadian researcher Debra W. Soh – to a furry convention, expecting to witness some kind of sexual free-for-all (or free-fur-all).

Soh opens by saying that

I couldn’t wait to meet a furry, someone who adopts the identity or persona of an anthropomorphized animal in social – and often sexual – interactions.

Since first discovering their existence two years ago while working as a research assistant in a sexology lab, whenever people ask me what I do, I respond with a question of my own: “Have you ever heard of furries?”

Thus, she went to Furnal Equinox, an annual Toronto furry convention, along with over 900 other attendees.

I hoped to learn as much as I could about ‘‘the fandom’’ and uncover the answers most sexologists are dying to know: Is it a genuine paraphilia [sexual disorder]? Or are the media exaggerating? Is it even about sex at all?

Many of the convention-goers were dressed in the elaborate fursuits that make their community famous, but Soh was in civilian attire; she says that

I had thought about renting a fursuit of my own, but with one day’s notice, and no idea where I could rent such a thing, I decided to brave it in my usual streetwear.

Soh says that upon walking into the hall, she had expected to find herself in a dimly-lit orgy “filled with couples – or groups – of costumed folks engaging in kinky sex” but she saw nothing of the kind. In fact, she saw nothing sexual at the whole convention except some erotic anthropomorphized fan art that was on sale.

Instead, the furries were chatting, playing board games, smoking, and so on. And showing off their fursuits:

I learned the most popular choices were foxes, wolves, and dogs. More recently, the selection of animals had evolved to include hybrids that did not exist in reality, including those blended with mythical creatures (e.g. a dragon mixed with a wolf)…

There is an important distinction between fursonas and fursuits, as almost all furries have a fursona, but only a small proportion wears a fursuit.

Why do they do it? Soh concluded that Each member of the community felt they had something that made them different and ill-fitting in mainstream society, such as Asperger’s syndrome or a facial tic.

They found some aspect of childhood, such as cartoon characters or stuffed animals, to be comforting, and this appreciation continued on into their adult lives. The fandom gave them a safe venue in which to express themselves and to feel accepted by others who feel similarly.

She even met a furry neuroscientist. One attendee observed that “there is a large proportion of furries studying the hard sciences.”

Soh concludes that the furry community is about much more than just sex and praises them for being so open and welcoming to a non-furry.

The second author on the paper is James M. Cantor, known for his research on paedophilia and transsexuality. This is the second paper about furries in the biomedical literature. The first furry PubMed hit was this one from earlier this year, which studied ‘Biological essentialism in a stigmatized fan community’. Google Scholar, which includes a wider range of sources, reveals dozens of hits.


Colosseum To Come Alive Again 2,000 Years After The Gladiators

Colosseum to come alive again
2,000 years after the gladiators

by Nick Squires

Italy’s culture minister gives the green light for cultural
events once again being held within the historic arena

Two millennia after sword-wielding gladiators fought to the death on the blood-soaked sands of the Colosseum, Italy’s culture minister has given the green light to cultural events once again being held within the arena.

Dario Franceschini has thrown his weight behind a proposal to rebuild the wooden floor that once covered the arena and provided the setting for wild animal hunts and gladiatorial combat.

Currently only a small portion of the arena is covered by wooden boards, with the rest exposed to the elements – visitors are able to peer into the labyrinth of narrow tunnels and cramped stone cells that once housed caged animals and gladiators before they emerged into the arena via a network of lifts operated by slaves.

There are no plans to recreate mock gladiatorial battles or fights with lions, leopards and bears.

The minister said that only concerts and other cultural events would be held, insisting that ancient Rome’s monuments should not be turned into a cultural Disneyland.

Occasional concerts are held inside the Colosseum but the rebuilding of the arena’s wooden flooring would allow more frequent events.

“I’m convinced that with the intelligent reconstruction of the arena in the Colosseum, the monument that is a symbol of Italy could become even more attractive to tourism,” Mr Franceschini said at a press conference in Rome on Friday.

He knocked down previous suggestions that football matches could be held in the ancient arena.

Instead there would be classical music concerts and plays. “We’re not going to be hosting a match between Roma and Bayern Munich,” he said.

It was a project that would require “resources and vision”.

“It’s not something that you can do in two minutes. But the debate is open and it’s going to be very interesting,” he said.

Italy could increase tourism by “adding value” to its unparalleled cultural heritage, he said.

Ancient monuments needed to be “brought alive” for visitors from around the world.

The idea of restoring the arena was first mooted during the summer by an archaeologist, Daniele Manacorda, from Roma Tre university.

Some cultural heritage experts have criticized the idea, saying it would cheapen the monument and could damage its stone structure, which has survived earthquakes, pilfering of its stone for other buildings and traffic pollution.

But many of Italy’s other ancient monuments are used for concerts and opera performances, including the Baths of Caracalla in Rome and Verona’s Roman amphitheater.

Life on Mars was ‘destroyed by nuclear attack’, says physicist – and we could be next

Life on Mars was ‘destroyed by nuclear
says physicist – and we could be next

by Rob Waugh

A respected physicist and author, John Brandenberg, has claimed that intelligent life once flourished on Mars – but was annihilated by a nuclear attack so intense it left the planet cold and lifeless.

The author has urged that a human mission to the planet be mounted immediately – in case we are in danger from the attackers who ‘killed’ Mars.

Brandenberg said that many of the nuclear isotopes in Mars’s atmosphere ‘resemble those from hydrogen bombs on Earth’ and hypotheses in a new book, ‘Death on Mars’, that a humanoid race once lived there but was wiped out.

‘This Martian civilization apparently perished due to a planet-wide catastrophe of unknown origin,’ he writes, citing craters visible on the surface near the Curiosity Rover. ‘Was it a massive nuclear attack?’

Many physicists believe that an event such as an asteroid strike may have robbed Mars of its magnetic field, and thus its atmosphere, in the distant past – but Brandenberg believes that the planet may have been killed by another civilisation or even a rogue artificial intelligence.

He also warns that we could be next.

Brandenberg claims that craters in the planet's surface could be evidence of a long-past nuclear war (Picture: NASA)
Brandenberg claims that craters in the planet’s
surface could be evidence of a long-past nuclear war

Brandenberg suggests that the reason we have never heard any signals from intelligent civilisations – known as the Fermi Paradox – is that they are being wiped out. He warned that Earth may be on the cusp of being ‘noticed’ – and exterminated by the same forces.

‘The Astronomer Edward Harrison suggested one major factor cutting short the lifetime of civilizations was older predatory civilizations who would wipe out young civilizations once they became detectable through radio broadcasts. The motivation for such genocidal actions would be to avoid later competition,’ he writes.

The strange traffic light shaped rock snapped by the Mars rover Curiosity. See SWNS story SWMARS; Space enthusiasts watching the Mars rover roam the surface of the red planet were stopped in their tracks after the explorer spotted -- a TRAFFIC LIGHT. Nasa has been beaming photos from space since their mobile robot Curiosity landed on the 'red' planet in August 2012. Keen-eyed Joe Smith, 45, noticed a chuck of rock in the corner of footage which looks bizarrely like a set of traffic lights. Joe, a space video journalist, from Bristol, said: "I have been following the images from Nasa since the start and I flick through them on the Nasa website every day.
Brandenberg claims that ‘structures’ seen on the
surface of Mars could be evidence that civilisation
once thrived there (Picture: SWNS)

‘It is possible that our interstellar neighborhood contains forces hostile to young, noisy, civilizations such as ourselves. Such hostile forces could range from things as alien as AI (Artificial Intelligence) ‘with a grudge’ against flesh and blood.’

The most dangerous thing to intelligent life, Brandenberg suggests, may be ‘other intelligent life’ – but learning this may be an opportunity to survive an attack from whatever force destroyed Mars.

‘The discovery of dead civilization on Mars, whose end was apparently catastrophic and due to unknown causes, reinforces our understanding that the cosmos can be a dangerous place and requires a vigorous response from the human race, to reduce the probability that we will perish the same way.

‘The most likely cause of the Cydonian demise, the large asteroid impact from the Lyot impact basin, causing collapse of a Mars greenhouse system, is a hazard of the cosmos that we were aware of.

‘However, the second possible catastrophe, a pair of large and anomalous nuclear events, centered apparently near Cydonia and also near Galaxias, and leaving no craters, is much more difficult to understand. For this reason we must maximize our knowledge of what transpired on Mars, and this requires an international human mission.’

Nigel Watson, author of the Haynes UFO Investigations Manual, says, ‘John Brandenberg is not the first person to suggest that Mars was ‘murdered’ by nuclear explosions. Writers who have promoted the idea that ancient astronauts visited and lived on the Earth thousands of years ago, claim that sacred texts like the Bible recount stories of nuclear explosions.

‘They point to accounts like this in Genesis, ‘the LORD rained upon Sodom and upon Gomorrah brimstone and fire from the LORD out of heaven’. Fragments of melted glass in the deserts of Libya are also thought to be evidence of nuclear warfare or accidents 28million years ago. They also think that the legendary civilisation of Atlantis was destroyed by atomic warfare.

The Mars rover Curiosity. See SWNS story SWMARS; Space enthusiasts watching the Mars rover roam the surface of the red planet were stopped in their tracks after the explorer spotted -- a TRAFFIC LIGHT. Nasa has been beaming photos from space since their mobile robot Curiosity landed on the 'red' planet in August 2012. Keen-eyed Joe Smith, 45, noticed a chuck of rock in the corner of footage which looks bizarrely like a set of traffic lights. Joe, a space video journalist, from Bristol, said: "I have been following the images from Nasa since the start and I flick through them on the Nasa website every day.
Brandenberg says there are craters which could
originate from nuclear explosions near the area
explored by the Mars Curiosity Rover

‘In the wilder fringes of speculation, it is believed that there was a planet called Maldek that orbited between Mars and Jupiter. Its population became selfish, lazy and lusted for power.

The consequence was, according to the Aetherius Society:

‘They exploded a hydrogen bomb and completely destroyed the planet Maldek and murdered the whole populace in one blinding flash of searing flame. All that is now left of that beautiful planet is the asteroid belt.’

‘Although Brandenburg’s theory is on more solid ground, it still amounts to speculation based on our present day awareness of the power of nuclear weapons and our fear of its misuse. It is a warning that we could do the same to our own planet, and underlines the belief of many scientiststhat we have not detected intelligent life elsewhere in the universe because at some point civilisations will become extinct either through catastrophe or self-destruction.’

Where Is America’s Real Youth Rebellion?

Where Is America’s Real Youth Rebellion?
By Stephen Marche

Never has a time been more ripe for protest. Never
has a generation seemed so ambivalent about it.

The dream of wild rebellion rises and falls like clockwork. In every generation, the youthful cries for personal freedom coalesce, at one moment or another, at one place or another, into a collective howl of hope and defiance, and a desperate dream of overturning the old order is born. Today that revolutionary impulse survives mostly on screens or in the pages of books. The escape from or destruction of an overly regulated, overly controlled society is, in a sense, the adolescent story proper, and recently it has been everywhere in the massively popular genre known as YA: It’s in the destruction of the Ministry of Magic by a ragtag bunch of kids in Harry Potter;

in the flight from “the Sameness” in The Giver; and most clearly in girl-on-fire Katniss Everdeen’s leading of the peoples of the Districts against the overlords in the Capitol in The Hunger Games: Mockingjay—Part 1, out this week. A dispassionate outsider anthropologist confronting this glut of popular material promoting the violent youthful overthrow of corrupt adult hierarchies might assume that a grand upswell from below was imminent—that the streets would soon be teeming with wild youth. Of course, nothing could be further from the truth. The dream of youthful rebellion is so intense and so ubiquitous exactly because actual youthful rebellion has never been so dead.

Those currently under thirty constitute the most obedient, the most docile, and the best-behaved generation in recent American history. Today, less than half of American teenagers have had sexual intercourse, compared with 54 percent in 1991, when the Centers for Disease Control first started measuring the statistic. The teen birthrate has been plummeting for fifty years, declining from 89.1 women per 1,000 in 1960 to 26.6 in 2013. Contraceptive use is up. Drug and alcohol use are down. Since 1980, there has been a dramatic decline in high school seniors’ consumption of alcohol, marijuana, cocaine, and cigarettes. Sex and drugs are so over. As for rock ‘n’ roll, its inherent rebellion was co-opted long ago by corporate fantasies. The angry shout of hip-hop has devolved into a celebration of pure consumerism: “Make money.” On the awards shows and in social media, there remain certain brands of faux-bellion at work, but all are transparent. The rebellion of Nicki Minaj is turning herself into a more effective sexual commodity; the rebellion of Lady Gaga is a facsimile of Bowie’s and Madonna’s; the rebellion of Taylor Swift is being really, really nice to everybody.

The elites are those who follow best, and not just in popular culture. In all forms of work and all forms of power, the ones who fit in and who learn to obey the codes subsequently triumph. William Deresiewicz’s Excellent Sheep, a sharp critique of the “credentials race” at Ivy League institutions, has implications far beyond the narrow confines of top-flight universities. Deresiewicz’s book is full of examples of young people who basically have destroyed all aspects of their individuality—their health, their critical intelligence, their sense of any moral purpose whatsoever—to be attached to an Ivy League school name. And these are the people who will eventually run all the institutions, both major and minor, in America, if not the world. The loop feeds on itself, “exacerbating inequality, retarding social mobility, perpetuating privilege, and creating an elite that is as isolated from the society that it’s supposed to lead—and even more smug about its right to its position—as the WASP aristocracy itself,” Deresiewicz writes. The portrait that emerges from Excellent Sheep is of a generation so desperate to fit in that its very humanity is in danger.

It’s easy to judge, though, when you’re past the point at which rebellion has consequences. The truth is that the obedience of today’s young adults—they even exercise more than they used to—is simply a response to stimuli. It’s not just that the followers succeed more than ever but also that the deviators are punished more savagely. To catch your finger in the machinery of American “youth justice” is to have your whole body and soul consumed. The thin blue line has become a thick blue chasm; American police increasingly resemble occupying forces. Even among those who are comfortably middle class, the economic reality is that nobody can afford rebellion. To go to college to get a decent job puts you in a financial hole you must spend the entirety of your early adulthood scrambling out of. To miss even a single hurdle is to take yourself out of the race entirely, and that race goes on to the death. There is no outside the race. The real rebels of our moment are the ones who simply step away from the system altogether, but you never hear about them. They are willfully marginal, off the grid, self-silenced. Their rebellions may as well never happen.

The death of youthful rebellion is a mixed loss, it has to be said. When the spirit of revolution does enter the world, it is one of the most unpredictable of political forces. Across the Middle East, youth movements have overturned evil and sown chaos in its place. In warm, comfortable, safe, anxious, systematic America, the last real-life movement to indulge the aesthetic of revolution, Occupy Wall Street, was an utter failure, having little more impact on the actual forces at work in the world than a half-forgotten dream—like a book you once read or a movie you once saw. And yet the dream of rebellion survives—it survives because the world we live in, the one the elders rule, is corrupt and restrictive and careening toward self-immolation, and the youth, the rule-abiding, educated, sober, well-behaved youth of our time, know it.

There is no more appropriate time for revolution than now. The democratic institutions, bought and sold like any other corporate interest, are totally ill-equipped to deal with the problems of our time: the burgeoning inequalities of race and class, the accelerating environmental crisis. The ember of hope for a better world, lurking beside bedside tables and in the movie theaters filled with superstressed, overprepared kids, keeps burning despite the constriction, the marketing, the exclusion. It will flare up again, inevitably, and the youth on fire won’t just be in the movies—that is, if they aren’t utterly exhausted just trying to keep up.

Skullture: A History of People Reshaping Their Heads

Skullture: A History of
People Reshaping Their Heads

by Alexandra Ossola

My bus tour through the Andes of southern Peru took an unexpected stop. We were in the cold, dry highlands, less than 100 miles from Arequipa, when the tour guide insisted that my fellow travelers and I get off the bus “to take a small hike.” We walked through a small farm with some rocky ruins of indeterminate age. But then the guide pointed to a big rock positioned over a hole and told us to look inside.

Image: Alexandra Ossola

There were a number of skulls in the hole, and they didn’t look quite right. The crown was too dome-shaped, taller and more cylindrical than usual, it seemed. The guide said these skulls were made to look this way intentionally; these individuals wore bandages wrapped tightly around their heads up until about age five, while their skulls were still soft.

Artificial cranial deformation—or the practice of intentionally changing the shape of a person’s skull—has been practiced by Neanderthals of 40,000 years ago until very recently, maybe even still today. People on every continent except Antarctica have done it, making heads more cylindrical, cone-shaped, ridgier, bumpier or flatter depending on the region. The reason, most archaeologists believe, was pretty much the same reason we modify our bodies today: to show an association with a particular social group.

“Cranial deformation had to do with ideas of beauty, what would be socially acceptable and desirable to look like, and that differed between groups around the world,”  Mercedes Okumura, an anthropologist at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro in Brazil, said in an interview.

Since cranial deformation was so widespread, archaeologists don’t think it originated in just one place. “In a small region like the Andes, it’s easy to see how the practice could spread from one group to the other,” Okumura said. But when scientists find evidence of skull deformation in Australian aborigines from 30,000 years ago and eastern Europeans from 5,000 years ago and Melanesians from a generation ago, it’s harder to pinpoint just how the practice could have traversed so many barriers.

The first cranial deformations may have been by accident. Babies are born with lots of different bones in their skulls, which enables them to exit the womb more easily and for their brains to grow. By age five, the gaps between the bones start to fuse together to make the skull more contiguous, like we see in adults. It’s easy to imagine that a baby with a soft skull that lays for a long time while his mother is working would get a partially flattened skull as a result, Okumura said.

In fact, one of the methods used to deform the skull among Native Americans when was essentially a cradle that had one piece of wood that rests under the infant and another that came out at an angle on the other side of the skull. “Native Americans strapped infants to a board so the kid isn’t flopping around while you’re working, and over time that flattens the head,” said Carl Feagans, who is now an archaeologist for the U.S. Forest Service in Grand Prairie, Texas but published on artificial cranial deformation as a graduate student.

Okumura agreed: “With those [cradle board] deformations,
we don’t know if they’re intentional or an accident.”

A painting from around 1850 of a Chinook
woman with her child. Image: Paul Kane

Different cultures used different methods to shape the skull, which archaeologists know from some of the historical documentation that various cultures left behind. In the Andes, bands of cloth bound tightly around the widest part of the skull gave it a more cylindrical shape. In Europe, the same method was used to create a series of bumps and ridges along the head.

Skulls deformed for the sake of fashion. Image: Popular Science Magazine, 1880.

Other cultures, like the Maya, attached wooden boards to children’s heads. Some other methods that would have less dramatic results included manual manipulation (where the baby’s parents would press the head with their own hands) or putting large stones around the child’s head in the cradle. “But most of the research and most of the cranial deformation has been focused on wooden boards and bandages. That’s when you get the most extreme deformation,” Okumura said.

Even within the Andes, the shape of the skull varied widely by region and by group affiliation. Researchers aren’t sure if deformation was used to show socioeconomic class based on the objects people with deformed skulls had in their graves, but they are doing more work now to assess whether those with deformed skulls had better nutrition (an indicator of better health and higher class) than those who did not.

Mayan methods for skull deformation. The two
heads on the right were shaped with wooden boards.

Sometimes the deformation wouldn’t go as planned. “Sometimes you would see bone necrosis, which happens when the bone lacks blood. Then the bone sort of rots—it’s quite ugly,” Okumura said. “In the Andes, especially because we have a lot of mummified remains, you can see infants with this, they would die from it.” It’s hard to tell how often this happened—or, for that matter, what percentage of people in any given community had their skulls deformed.

Surprisingly, all this manipulation probably didn’t have an impact on how well the brain worked. “The skulls [anthropologists] are finding are fully functional adults,” Feagans said. “You would think if there was any neurological damage done, the practice would die out.”

Okumura agrees, although she notes that it’s impossible for researchers to test today other than in simulations, for ethical reasons. “The cranial bones and the brain will grow and accommodate themselves according to the desired shape. Most researchers agree that these deformed people would be normal in neurological terms,” she said.​

Skull deformation in France, which
was practiced through the 1800s.

Of course, understanding all of these practices and methods leads to one big question: why? “It has to do with the identity of the group,” Okumura said. Humans are very social—we constantly feel the need to be included and to feel like we belong, even just to survive, she said. “The social part really played a role in terms of identifying yourself with the rest of your family and social relations.”

The question of how cranial deformation went out of fashion is more complicated. Okumura theorizes that new cultural influences or the destruction of the previous social order could have been the cause. She noted that when Europeans arrived in the Andes, the Incas saw their cities destroyed, their population ravaged, and their social structure totally upended. “In a situation like that, it’s quite common to have an interruption of many cultural practices, and artificial cranial deformation could have been one of them.” Sometimes, though, cultural conquest can be less dramatic. No one is really sure if cranial deformation continues today; Melanesians are wearing Polo shirts, Feagans said, but this particular practice may still live on.

People who had a reaction like mine—that this is simply not how skulls should look—may find it hard to see artificial cranial deformation just for what it is. But imposing our modern perceptions of beauty and ethical practices don’t give us a fair assessment; we modify our bodies in all sorts of ways today, from plastic surgery in Brazil to sharpened teeth in various African countries to the bagel heads of Japan to foot-binding in China. Surely some of those would be horrifying to future (and, in some cases, present) cultures.

“The sense of what is acceptable to perform on your kids changes across cultures,” Okumura said. “Plastic surgery is horrible but we really don’t care, no one gets really horrified by it even though you are really cutting and taking out chunks of a person or putting things in. The concept of beauty varies across groups, so does the idea of what is acceptable or horrible also varies.”

In order to better understand artificial cranial deformation, archaeologists need to find new specimens. “Time is the enemy of the researcher. The longer we wait, the harder data will be to find, and the less data it’s going to be,” Feagans said. Specimens are disappearing for natural and human reasons, he said, from natural decay to bulldozers making way for development around the world.

But without more data, archaeologists can’t make more comparisons between cultures, to bring a fuzzy picture of the past into better focus. “The question will always be why—why did they start and stop, what was different between one culture and another, and why was it so pervasive,” Feagans said. “It’s just a strange thing.”