“Mysticore” is the New Norm: Inside the trend that’s casting its spell over the culture

Fortune Teller

(Credit: Jaroslaw Saternus via iStock)

Welcome to the season of the witch. Recently, the Brooklyn Academy of Music hosted a Witches Brew film festival, which included the acclaimed new film “The Witch.” Lately it isn’t uncommon to see glossy magazines like Nylon with headlines that start “The Witches’ Guide to…”, while new publications like Sabat, an aesthetically driven magazine that explores contemporary witchcraft, are attracting attention from readers and design snobs alike.

Stores specializing in metaphysical sundries (think ritual candles, blended oils, sacred herbs) like Spellbound Sky and House of Intuition in Los Angeles, while not brand-new, are suddenly crowded. In Brooklyn, Witches of Bushwick has evolved from a venue on the underground party circuit to a social collective that celebrates witchcraft as a feminist art and collaborates with fashion companies like Chromat. Of course, for those who prefer whipping up potions at home, several new witch- and occult-themed subscription boxes deliver the magical arts to the doorstep. 

Not just witches are enjoying a cultural renaissance, though. All manner of magic is in the air, as the New Age movement’s lighter granola-and-Zen fare has given way to the practice of a more modern mysticism, where conversations about conjuring, personal shamans and powerful potions can be intense as they are ubiquitous. While social media and feminism have brought witchcraft to the fore, the new kaleidoscopic array of spell casting, ritual observing (from pagan holidays to full moons) and crystal charging draws from traditional mysticism, magic and paganism. Served buffet style to an eager audience of open-minded converts, it’s shining a white light on everything from fashion and health to politics.

This may be the most prevalent, hidden-in-plain sight trend that you couldn’t quite put a finger on since “normcore.” Last fall the folks at trend-forecasting firm K-Hole — which coined the term “normcore” — looked into the cultural crystal ball to release a paper dubbed “A Report on Doubt.” Normcore, that infinitely hashtag-able trend that tapped into a “post-authenticity coolness that opts into sameness,” stood against style clichés and aggressive street-style peacocking — it promised freedom through assimilation. After an endless stream of articles about how wearing dad jeans was indeed the ultimate hipster power move, time had come for the cultural pendulum to swing. K-Hole’s new prediction was that logic and “sameness” were becoming relics and people were about to head into the mystic.

Call it post-reason or pro-intuition, this new phase rejects the positively beige normcore values in favor of highly personal, emotional responses to fashion, culture and politics. (Donald Trump’s rise certainly reads as more of a manifestation of personal desire than a reasonable course of action paved by logic and solid judgment.) Dubbing this new philosophy “Chaos Magic,” a term that’s been bantered about in the postmodern Magick community for decades), K-Hole prophesied, “The fundamental element of magic is the ability to manifest or sublimate things.”

Plus, K-Hole observed, “Chaos Magic lives in the same realm as the cult of positive thinking. But it goes beyond making mood boards of high end apartments you’d like to will into your possession. . . . You opt into whatever belief system you think will help you reach your intended goals.” Put simply, K-Hole’s version of Chaos Magic is the antidote to overthinking, a means of manifesting individual desires onto the universe — a “radical DIY.”

The report has been cited by Vogue, which found Chaos Magic in the personal imprints of designers like Nicolas Ghesquière (who penned a letter to accompany his debut Louis Vuitton show) and of Riccardo Tisci (who for Givenchy’s spring 2016 show brought in Marina Abramovic to craft a spiritual mood). Meanwhile, designer JW Anderson has evoked the trend more literally, sewing celestial symbols into his knitwear.

Check social media: A search for #witch on Instagram yields about 2,375,000 posts — whereas one for #kardashian scores only 1,630,000. Search next time at a boutique: Tarot decks are coming back in high style, thanks to retailers like the Wild Unknown — its artful cards are in stores across the country, from upscale meccas like ABC Home in New York City to indie hot spots like Skylark in Venice Beach, California. K-Hole was right, “mysticore” is the new norm.

But why? In an editorial earlier this year, N+1 recalled the postwar era’s suspicion of New Age thinking, heralded by Theodor Adorno’s criticism of horoscopes, based on his reading of the Los Angeles Times’ astrology column in 1952. In Adorno’s mind, astrology was a superstition that encouraged political passivity. 

Maybe he was onto something. Consider the simple maxim: In uncertain times, people turn to religion to make sense of the world around them.

Today, however, as doors are closing on traditional Western religion (a recent Pew survey found that as of 2104, fewer adults — especially millennials — describe themselves as religiously affiliated), mysticism, witchcraft and magic are stepping in to fill the spiritual void.

“It correlates with nature, clean living movements, and earthy values,” said Elisabeth Krohn, Sabat’s founder and editor. “Whether you blame it on Trump, global capitalism or Internet culture, I feel many crave a less cynical world, something non-linear, even mystical.”

The current surge of mystical thought is also directly tied to the sense of personal empowerment that modern feminism works toward. “The witch as an icon is resonating right now because we’ve entered a fourth wave of feminism,” said Pam Grossman, author of What Is a Witch and co-founder of the Occult Humanities Conference at New York University. “We are redefining what power, leadership, beauty and value look like on our own terms.  And the witch is the ultimate symbol of female power. Doing witchcraft is a way to connect to that energy, which is so needed right now, as we’re beginning to collectively course correct thousands of years of sexism and oppression.”

A visit to the temple of Instagram (and Tumblr and Snapchat) makes it easy to see how mysticore appeals to the generation of internet autodidacts that grew up on Harry Potter. In social media, the idea of tapping into something ancient is suddenly accessible, personal and highly individualized, which is very much in line with the idea of Chaos Magic itself (even in its original, non-trend-spotting incarnation).

“I don’t believe that those who dabble in mysticism because it’s a trend or passing curiosity actually take anything away from more ‘serious’ practitioners,” Grossman said. “For some people, that tarot deck that they bought just might be the gateway to a road of deeper inquiry. Or it may be something they toss aside in a month. It doesn’t hurt anyone in either case.”

Whether individuals are searching for obscure Aleister Crowley texts while planning an equinox ritual or just matching their nail color to the crystals the choose-your-own adventure nature of mysticore gives it a flexibility almost unmatched in the world of trends — except for maybe athleisure, which is flexible by nature. And for those looking for a place to start, the Hoodwitch’s Bri Luna, another Vogue favorite, recently collaborated on a nail-polish line with Floss Gloss.

Grossman, for one, doesn’t see mysticore going away anytime soon. “Magic is a shape-shifter,” she said. “It doesn’t care what form it takes. It just wants to flow and be known.”

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BREAKING: “Don’t believe the others! ‘Twas I who really killed Gawker!” says The Greatest Living American Writer

Gawker Tombstone

(Credit: Christian Carroll via iStock/Salon)

I’ve been the Greatest Living American Writer across countless decades and time zones. Ernest Hemingway once said to me, “you’re in my seat, you son of a bitch.” But of all my literary accomplishments, none caused the world to quake quite like the time I spent as an editor at Gawker.com.

It’s hard to envision now, given that all of its other editors are now being forced into government-sponsored First Amendment re-education camps, but for the last decade, there was no better place on Earth to work than Gawker. I’ve spent decades writing for every English-language publication, and most French-language ones, on both sides of the Atlantic. Gawker was definitely the best, as I’m sure all its former employees who might someday throw me an assignment would agree.

The work I did there—outing several closeted gay men, stuffing several straight men back into the closet, destroying the lives of dozens of unknown writers, mocking wedding announcements, publishing the names of CEO mistresses, and just generally committing a bushel of ass-shittery every day—stands as the highlight of my superlative career, even greater than the six consecutive Pulitzer Prizes I won in the 1970s. My 2,700-word Gawker post On Sleaze: Why The Tabloid Media Is The Rent Boi Of the Apocalypse stands as the best piece of nonfiction writing by anyone, anywhere, at any time, a massive cri de coeur, the Slouching Toward Bethlehem of a generation of narcissistic vipers.

We had career ambitions that sometimes led to unexpected places and, yes, hastily concealed crimes. It happens. But mostly, we did it all for our readers, who smugly imitated us in the comments and then tried to destroy us on their own blogs. What a clusterfuck we created, a forest of semi-anonymous snark to soak up the smarmy deluge of a world full of hypocrites and liars. The next time you need a Gawker, we won’t be there. You’re going to miss us. Just like we’re still going to hate you.

I owe it all to Nick Denton, who gave me a chance, then took that chance away, then gave me another one. He played footsie with my career until he expelled me into the wilderness, a fate I fatefully deserved. Those were the days of illegally published dick pics and roses.

My time at Gawker was filled with ambition, experience, alcoholism, and debt. Here’s how it came about: In the early part of the last decade, I found myself out of work. My editor from Esquire had come down with a rare case of “gluteal gout” while on a bourbon junket, and was forced to abscond to Shelter Island, where he would heal in shame. My liquid assets were running low, as was my liquor cabinet. I needed a gig.

One night, a raven visited me. I shuddered as I prepared for him to squawk the name of my once-great love, Wally Trumbull, whose athletic limbs had been blown off long ago at Guadalcanal. But instead, the bird bore a message, with a Soho address. “Your presence is requested tomorrow night at 7:30 pm. Career opportunities will be discussed. Best, ND.”

I wondered who this “ND” was. Perhaps, I guessed, it had been a typo, and it was actually Nadine Gordimer who awaited me in Soho, hoping to rekindle our once smoldering love. But nothing smoldered save the fires of media bitterness and envy, which I would soon ignite.

I went to Soho as summoned, and entered a natty, modern, expensive loft. There was a long wooden box at the center of the living space. Nick Denton emerged from it looking trim and relaxed.

“Were you tanning?” I asked.

“Yes,” he said. “Tanning. That’s right.”

“I’ve admired your writing for a long time,” Denton said. He told me that since my days as Spy Magazine’s fake theater critic, where I wrote under the pen name Louis Pastiche, he’d kept me on his short list. He hoped to bring me aboard to this relatively new Internet publication, Gawker.com.

“I’m expensive,” I said. “The New York Review Of Books once paid me $60,000 to write a 30,000-word review of Robert Stone’s Dog Soldiers.”

“I can pay you 30,” he said.

“Thirty thousand an article is still good money,” I said.

“That’s 30 dollars an article,” he said. “And you have to write 17 articles a day.”

“No way,” I said.

“I thought you might say that,” he said. “So wouldn’t it be a shame if I had to publish a piece about your secret life as a Furry who masturbates in public?”

Thinking about the deep and loyal friendships that a career in digital media would bring me, I said, “Where do I sign?”

“You already have,” he said, as he transformed into a bat and flew off into the night.

The next three years of my life were a blur of cocaine, amphetamines, and guys named Alex. We covered the powerful and powered the coverful, always from our laptops, always with two-fifths of whiskey in our belly, arguing, whispering, handjobbing whoever was left at closing time. But even though the bar got hosed off occasionally, Gawker never stopped, and neither did I. With wit and bile unforeseen in human history, I excoriated my lessers, which meant everyone. I was the top dog on the top rung of a tall ladder called Stardom.

I can barely count all the lives we ruined while I was at Gawker, but they all deserved it, especially the innocent. It was a media laboratory like none other. Even the Gawker empire’s lesser sites, like Buttmuncher (male sex), Gobstopper (candy culture) and Vegetable Crisper (refrigerator repair and management), did outstanding work in the two weeks between when Denton green-lit them and capriciously axed them.

If I can trace my demise at Gawker to a single moment, it would have to be when my co-editor at the site — the appropriately named Alex Libelstein — and I published an unsourced anonymous story that linked 16 U.S. Congressmen to a ring of transgendered prostitutes. The story, as it turned out, was untrue, but it had sounded true. However, published on the same day as “Zooey Deschanel and Lena Dunham Reportedly Sell Yellow Babies On The Black Market,” it proved to be just too much for our lawyers. Someone had to take the fall for Gawker’s sins. That someone, at least that week, was me.

In retrospect, maybe I felt too deeply, wrote too intelligently. That’s a problem that all Gawker writers faced. We are and were too beautiful and brilliant for this world. As a cruel and uncaring system snuffs out an amazing coke-whore-baiting candle for the last time today, remember us to Union Square. Let’s pour one out for Gawker, a literary legend unparalleled in the history of literature, or legends. The greatest online publication ever to proudly bear the moniker “bitterly horrible gossip rag” stands defeated, and so do we. But as a lesser scribe once said, “Tis better to have slandered and lost then never to have slandered as all.”

Also, Peter Thiel is totally gay, you guys.

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A blind date — to say “I do”: “Married at First Sight” proves the unpredictability of romance

Married At First Sight

“Married At First Sight” (Credit: A&E)

The wedding of Lillian Vilchez and Tom Wilson was marked by a series of bad omens. As his first gift to her, Tom gave Lillian a necklace strewn with real pearls, not knowing that pearls are considered bad luck for a bride to wear in her culture. She’s Nicaraguan.

It stormed as she walked down the aisle to join her husband at the altar, where he waited under a flimsy umbrella. She hyperventilated as she took in the puddles forming on the aisle; her veil, heavy with the moisture, became stuck on the ground as she attempted to walk.

This also is the way Lillian and Tom first met.

Yes, Lilian and Tom were complete strangers before stepping before the officiant selected by the producers of FYI’s “Married at First Sight,” the unscripted reality hit that kicked off its fourth season on July 26.

In this unscripted series, three couples agree to be matched by a panel of experts, with the twist that they will marry upon their first face-to-face meeting and let cameras film everything that happens for six weeks afterward. In addition to showcasing Lillian and Tom, Season 4 also features Sonia Granados, a very sweet woman who has married Nick Pendergrast, a man not given to much expressiveness. They seem to be faring much better than Heather Seidel, the flight attendant who married Derek Schwartz, an account executive, and found herself weeping in a deck chair not long after the honeymoon kicked off.

Throughout the production, experts check in on the participants to see how they’re faring, lending support and advice when warranted. At the end of the six weeks, each pair decides whether to remain married or seek a divorce.

In exchange, the public gains a view inside the joined lives of six newly married strangers as they learn about their mate’s family background and personality — not to mention how to pronounce his or her name at the altar.

Many reality series seem to enjoy burnishing their central idea by dubbing themselves “experiments.” But “Married at First Sight” feels like one, in terms of its execution and the effects of the show’s structure on its participants and on viewers.

There is a pleasurable voyeuristic aspect to watching the show and only the smallest part of that involves a lovely stroll through America’s Marital Industrial Complex.

Now it’s true that the couples who agree to meet and wed on “Married at First Sight” do have the chance to enjoy a very nice party that would cost many brides and grooms a fortune.

But unlike other series, where it’s clear that some contestants are simply there to launch their acting careers — or in the case of celebrity participants, extend their time in the spotlight — the people in “Married at First Sight” are nervous, hopeful, vulnerable men and women who are yearning to find someone to share their lives with.

Each has his or her own reasons for seeking out the assistance of the show’s team of experts. This season they include University of Washington sociologist Pepper Schwartz (the only remaining expert from Season 1), Pastor Calvin Roberson and communications and relationship expert Rachel DeAlto. Previous seasons have included a sexologist, Logan Levkoff, and a psychologist, Joseph Cilona. Roberson replaces Greg Epstein as the show’s spiritual adviser.

For their part, the experts and producers select three couples from a pool that can run more than 30,000 applicants. Potential participants have to answer a questionnaire that features hundreds of queries and be interviewed by the experts.

Despite the producers and experts’ having undertaken what they profess to be an incredibly rigorous vetting process, even when a team of experts finds suitable matches for these men and women, there’s still no telling if the marriages will work out. And this provides not only the show’s central tension but also an interesting take on the nature of human romance.

For all the background checks and answers about likes and dislikes and the experts’ efforts to match strangers based on data, interaction and gut feeling, some of these marriages go terribly wrong. Others begin on rocky ground; in one of the show’s more memorable first-season moments, participant Jamie Otis excused herself to an empty hallway shortly after she said “I do” to Doug Hehner and wept into her veil. The pair is still together, though.

The quest to find true romance and the allure of witnessing the heartbreak caused by that driving mission, has been a major TV entertainment engine since Chuck Barris channeled it into “The Dating Game” in 1965. But that game show, in which single women prodded single men to charm them with bawdy, blue one-liners on national television, represented a turning point. “The Dating Game” begat many series, including MTV’s mid-1990s series “Singled Out” and, starting in 2002, “The Bachelor” franchise – which airs on ABC, like “The Dating Game” did years ago.

“The Bachelor,” for its part, begat “The Bachelorette,” VH1’s “Flavor of Love” and Fox’s “Joe Millionaire” and a slew of other shows too dumb to list here, all of which made the search for love (with Public Enemy’s Flavor Flav in “Flavor of Love” and former Poison frontman Bret Michaels in “Rock of Love”) into a prize to be won.

These series have taken the competitive factor in the dating world to ridiculous realms. In contrast, “Married at First Sight” skips the circus elements that can be part of “The Bachelor” and other shows of its ilk. What the show does instead is reveal all the things that can get in the way of two people’s forming a lasting bond.

To the show’s credit, out of the nine couples featured during its first three seasons, five chose to remain married after the six-week mark. Two of those couples are still together. That’s a better success rate than that of “The Bachelor,” which only produced one marriage: Sean Lowe and Catherine Giudici. (“Bachelor” Jason Resnick married that season’s runner-up Molly Malaney, whom he chose during the “After the Rose” finale after initially choosing Melissa Rycroft.)

On the other hand, a Season 2 couple on “Married at First Sight,” Jessica Castro and Ryan DeNino, initially agreed to remain married only to split up horribly, which was revealed during a broadcast of the show’s six-month check-in special. This was followed by Castro’s suing DeNino for harassment, menacing and stalking.

And it’s this history, as well as what viewers have seen thus far in Season 4, that shows the flaws in the “Married at First Sight” experiment. People present their best selves in surveys and during interviews, especially if they want a job — and particularly if the job is “spouse.” A repeated motif in every season of “Married at First Sight” is that divorce is not part of the vocabulary, it’s not an option and the participants don’t want to fail. This idea is as frequently uttered in this series as the idea of “journeys” are in others, which adds to the fascination and the potential tragedy.

Romance, even when filtered through the mechanics of expertise and especially when exposed to a reality camera lens, is unpredictable. And a huge part of the draw of “Married at First Sight” lies in the chance to read these personalities, guess who isn’t going to make it and cheer for those who look like they will.

This can be somewhat of a psychological exercise for the viewer — odd but not necessarily cruel, as much as it’s a growth experience for the participants.

“Married at First Sight” may initially sell viewers the idea that something so complex can be so easy, with expert intervention and the sense of openness on the part of the participants. But in its own way, the show also provides validation to single viewers who talk about how hard it is to find a love, as well as to married couples who are watching people jump into their ocean before learning to swim.

Lillian and Tom have navigated the first storm together and, as of the most recent episode, appear to be getting along pretty well. Now viewers will just have to see how she takes it when he reveals that he lives on a bus.

I’m pretty sure that wasn’t on the questionnaire.

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Amber Heard was the “perfect victim” — and perfect still isn’t good enough

Amber Heard, Johnny Depp

Amber Heard, Johnny Depp (Credit: Reuters/Fred Thornhill)

If the internet loves a “perfect response,” Amber Heard has certainly delivered. After receiving a $7 million divorce settlement from Johnny Depp, her ex-husband who she alleges abused her throughout the course of their volatile three-year relationship, the 30-year-old actress donated the sum to charity. A portion of the proceeds will go to a branch of the American Civil Liberties Union that combats violence against women, while the rest will be donated to Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, where Heard has been a volunteer for more than a decade.

“I know these organizations will put the funds to good use and look forward to continuing to support them in the future,” Heard said in a press release. “Hopefully, this experience results in a positive change in the lives of people who need it the most.”

The act was one both of charity and of taking back the narrative. After filing for a divorce from Depp in May and an emergency restraining order, Heard has been publicly branded as a “gold digger,” someone who was alleging abuse only for a quick payday. Oscar-winner Benicio Del Toro referred to the actress as “manipulative” and “twisted,” while Depp’s friend, comedian Doug Stanhope, claimed that Heard was blackmailing her estranged spouse in an editorial for The Wrap. Even Terry Gilliam — yes, the Terry Gilliam — managed to get in a swipe at her.

The redemption she seeks, though, may prove elusive for Heard, as the deck remains stacked against accusers. One can do everything right and still be labeled a liar and a hustler, someone motivated by nothing more than petty greed and malice. Heard did every single thing that people asked her to. Heard was the “perfect” victim — or as close to perfect as it gets. 

The shadow of the “perfect victim” crops up in cases like the Steubenville rape or the death of Michael Brown, as any perceived fault of victims are used to insidiously blame them for their assaults, rapes or even deaths. When Brown, a recent high school graduate, was buried in 2014 after being shot by police, his New York Times obit said he was “no angel.” The Times’ John Eligon referred to “public records and interviews with friends and family revealing both problems and promise in his young life.”

These narratives, based on the victims’ perceived “mistakes,” are used to destroy their credibility. The Steubenville rape victim, following her 2012 assault, had consensual sex with one of her assailants — simply because she didn’t know what he had done. She had been passed out during the incident. The fact, however, that she engaged in intercourse with him afterward threw her story into question. After all, she was no longer “perfect.”

A certain subtext emerges: Because Jane Doe hasn’t followed a proscribed flow chart of how victims are supposed to behave, she deserves whatever happened to her that night. It’s her fault.

Due to the social stigma and culture of disbelief to which survivors are subjected, many of those who have faced abuse and sexual assault will never come forward. Twenty people are abused by an intimate partner every single minute in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control, but most will not report their injuries to police. Many will decline to take their assailant to court. Some will not leave their abusers at all. A study from 2003 to 2007 found that the leading cause of death among pregnant women was homicide, with 45 percent of those murders linked to current or former partners.

Amber Heard, though, was not silent. She came forward. She had corroboration.

When Depp allegedly battered her face, Heard provided photographic evidence of the abuse, her bruises a testament to what she said she experienced. A neighbor signed sworn testimony stating that the May events, as Heard remembered them, took place. According to the witness, Heard was “crying, shaking, and very afraid of Johnny.”

In addition, photographs furnished as evidence in the divorce hearings showed that Depp had severed his finger and dipped it in blue paint to write a message on the wall: “Billy Bob,” referring to “Sling Blade” actor Billy Bob Thornton. According to the claim, the actor believed that Heard and Thornton — who had met in 2004 while filming Peter Berg’s “Friday Night Lights” — were having an affair. There are photos of his bloody finger and the eerie warning that he allegedly painted for his wife.

A separate video taken by Heard further attested to the couple’s toxic relationship. Filmed via a hidden camera, the video shows Depp repeatedly slams cabinet doors in their kitchen while swearing at his ex-wife, who attempts to diffuse the situation in a calm voice. “Motherf***er!” he yells, violently kicking the kitchen counter. He storms around the kitchen, throwing a bottle and slamming his fist on the kitchen table. “You want to see crazy?” Depp says, pouring a glass of wine. “I’ll give you f***ing crazy.” After noticing that the exchange is being recorded, he forcibly rips the camera from her hand and turns it off.

Heard went to the police, but the authorities told her that there was no “evidence” of the encounter. She sought the aid of friends (who also support her claims), but those friends were dismissed as enablers — or even people with whom the bisexual actress might be having an affair. Heard spoke up, but people repeatedly told her that her truth wasn’t good enough, especially when weighed against the testimony of a rich, powerful man with the resources to bury her in the court of public opinion.

At every turn, her claims have been derided. Depp’s legal team argued that the leaked video was “heavily edited” before its release. According to his lawyers, sections of the 2-minute segment show his ex-wife “smiling and egging him on.” The gossip network TMZ has repeatedly accused her of falsifying the claims against Depp, including faking the injuries to her face.

A comment thread on Reddit is an instructive lesson in how those who want to discredit abuse victims will ignore even the most cut-and-dried evidence. “There is a pattern here, Gibson case, many others,” wrote one user in R/MensRights in response to the video. “Female sponges off male, then provokes and gaslights male, secretly records, claims abuse, then money.”

Others have also suggested that the tape indicates that Depp is being used: “I think it’s bullshit to judge his anger management on this video. You don’t know how persistant [sic] and manipulative women can be. She could’ve been doing that to him for weeks or months and now he’s enraged.”

Even the headline for the thread reframes the incident to favor Depp. Rather than serving as an indication that their relationship was potentially dangerous to Heard’s safety, the tape is seen as proof of the hoax: “Amber heard [sic] being caught by Depp trying to set him up trends on YouTube.”

To go fishing on Reddit, a notorious haven for trolls, might seem like cherrypicking if the site were not also a horribly transparent microcosm of the abuse that Heard has faced from the media in the past four months. TMZ’s headline on its report about the “Billy Bob” incident includes a snarky, doubting ellipses rather than a straightforward comma: “Johnny Depp cuts off fingertip in fit of rage . . . Amber claims.”

 And a write-up from Forbes on her $7 million donation to charity makes fun of her — describing Heard as a nobody and her ex as a washed-up has-been.

“Actress Amber Heard, who you might remember from That One Movie You Slept Through On A Rainy Sunday Afternoon,” wrote the magazine’s Tony Nitti, “and her husband Johnny Depp, who you may remember from Far Too Many Movies You Slept Through On A Rainy Sunday Afternoon, finalized their divorce last week after 15 months of marriage. And let me just say, if a 30-year old, sexually ambiguous, Ayn-Rand disciple and a 52-year old, twice-married, thrice engaged Hollywood leading man can’t make it, then what chance do the rest of us have?”

The abuse allegations are described only fleetingly, as a footnote to the absurdity of Hollywood marriages. But it’s the media’s ongoing treatment of abuse that’s truly absurd. If Amber Heard, who did everything “right,” can’t get a fair shake in the public eye, then what chance does anyone else have?

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“The water rose so fast”: Victims of Louisiana’s 1,000-year flood tell Salon their stories


Debris piled up from flooded home on Hodgeson Road in Prairieville, Louisiana on Sunday (Credit: Lisa O’Neill)

Talk to anyone affected by what has been called a “1,000-year-flood” in Louisiana, and they’ll tell you how fast the water rose. Their lawns, their front steps and their homes were bone dry, and then suddenly the water rushed in. Three feet in 20 minutes, they say. Six feet in less than an hour. In a hurricane, at least you can plan. But no one planned for a stalled rainstorm hovering for two days over areas not considered floodplains.

Twenty Louisiana parishes have been declared major disaster areas by the federal government. As of Monday, over a week after the first rainfall, 30,000 people and 1,400 pets had been rescued and an estimated 60,000 homes impacted statewide, according to Grace Weber of the Louisiana Department of Children and Family Services. So far, 13 people have been confirmed dead.

Gary Banks’ first priority was evacuating his 98-year-old uncle. Denham Springs and parts of Baton Rouge had already flooded. So even though they didn’t have water yet on their Prairieville street, Banks, 49, didn’t want to take a chance; he and his cousin put his uncle in a truck headed to a family member’s house. Banks decided to wait it out: He walked back inside, put his box spring and mattress up on cinder blocks, and went to sleep.

“When I woke up the next morning, the water was up to here,” Banks said, pointing to his chest. The home his uncle built by hand had filled with four-and-a-half feet of water. He had to be evacuated by boat.

At the peak, 11,054 people, including Banks, were staying in emergency shelters. That number was down to 3,075 by Saturday, as people returned to their neighborhoods and found places to stay with neighbors and loved ones throughout the state.

The Red Cross set up one emergency shelter at the Lamar Dixon Expo — a multi-purpose center owned by Ascension Parish and used for events like shows, 4-H competitions, and rodeos. On Saturday, service tents outside the building teemed with volunteers and sidewalks were stacked with pallets of bottled water. People waited in lines outside to pick up supplies, while inside a gym building, hundreds of cots strewn with blankets, pillowcases and garbage bags lined the building. Men and women in military fatigues stood at stations around the room, while adults sat on beds or in wheelchairs and children played. A command center with a dry-erase board listed phone numbers, needed supplies and the current headcount: 452.

One shelter resident, Eujohn Moses, 38, of Gramercy, Louisiana, was living in the Desire Housing Projects in the Ninth Ward of New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina. He evacuated to Lake Charles before having to leave again — this time to Atlanta — when Hurricane Rita threatened the area just two weeks after Katrina. “I lost everything,” he said. “Right now, I don’t know what I lost.”

At lunchtime, Red Cross volunteers came around with food: First, jambalaya and bread in Styrofoam containers and then hot dogs wrapped in foil.

James Guillory, 50, hunched over on a metal folding chair, his head in his hands. He had been living with friends in a camper on an island in Port Vincent when it began to rain. The area was vulnerable to the Amite River, which crested at more than 17.5 feet.  When the water was chest deep, Guillory and his friends filled a party barge with possessions and tied it to a tree, hoping it would stay put through the storm. He walked three miles to Ralph’s Supermarket, where he was picked up and brought to the shelter. Before the flood, he worked in the kitchen at Popeye’s; he hopes to get back there soon and hopes someone will be there to give him his check.

His sister also lived in Port Vincent. “I don’t know where she is,” he says, breaking down. “I don’t know what to do.”

Down a few chairs from him, Sharon Buratt, 46, hasn’t heard from one of her daughters, who has a nine-month-old baby, since the night before their area flooded. She tears up and fellow evacuee Karen Clement tries to comfort her. “I didn’t know that,” Clement says. “I’m sure she’s all right.” The day Buratt arrived at the shelter after narrowly escaping her flooding trailer, she collapsed from a panic attack. Her 11-year-old daughter, who suffers from autism, ADHD, and schizophrenia, is struggling in the chaotic shelter. “Everybody’s having a rough time of it,” says her husband, Ronald Berceguay.

Despite the obstacles or because of them, Buratt, Berceguay and Clement say evacuees have become an impromptu family, looking out for one another and providing support.

Clement’s house, rebuilt in 2010 after a fire, was raised 18 feet off the ground and flooded an inch or more. She points to a young teenager in latex gloves and red baseball cap moving a garbage can.

“You see that young man? That’s Shawn,” she says. “He’s 16 years old and here by himself. When his mom left, he stayed to help volunteer and he’ll be walking up and down the aisles at four in the morning to make sure everybody is safe, to see if anybody needs something.”

Shawn Roger came here after he and his mom had to be evacuated by boat from their trailer home. He says he just likes helping people.

When he and his mom left, there was no time to get his puppy, but when Roger returned, “he was still there,” he says. “He had found higher ground.” Now his puppy is staying just down the road at the animal shelter.  

Inside the barn building where rodeos are held, dog barks echo off the walls. Volunteers sort leashes and toys into laundry baskets and bins alongside the three-foot-high stacks of dog food. 

“This is only a third of the donations,” says Dr. Renee Poirrier, a  veterinarian who volunteers with Louisiana State Animal Response Team. “Others have been stored to release into the community.”

Outside, it has begun to rain again. Poirrier looks at her phone and says, “Oh, that’s great”: another flash flood warning.

She and other volunteers first arrived in Lafayette when the water was high there, moved to East Baton Rouge, and are now in Gonzales where they are housing 1,300 animals, including 350 cats and dogs along with horses, cows, goats, pigs and exotic animals. In a co-located shelter like this one, owners and animals are both occupying the same grounds.

Initially, pet owners had to walk from the shelter to get here. Now they have shuttles running throughout the day for owners to come visit their animals and participate in taking care of them. “Before the shuttle even,” Poirrier says, “one woman in a wheelchair was coming down twice a day to see her animal.”

In a small room, volunteer vets sort through thousands of medications on long folding tables. Dr. Adrianna Smith of the LASPCA said that many of the dogs were treated for heat stress and colitis or diarrhea as a result of stress or change of environment and food. A small black and white dog lying down in one of many crates has a heart condition, and one of the vets noticed her breathing heavy this morning. She was taken out of the general population and put here, in this air-conditioned room. They’ve since been in touch with her owner to find out more about her condition and make sure she’s on the right medications.

On the grass beyond, Kirt Soileau, of St. Amant, and Sarah Rodriguez, of Galvez, walked their horses, Pistol and Two-side, on the grass. They had begun the process of evacuating at near midnight Sunday and by daybreak, the pasture had flooded; they barely got the horses to safety.

Along Highway 933 in Prairieville, signs of the storm are everywhere: An abandoned green boat lies along the side of the road; stop signs bend perpendicular to the road; insulation, couches, wooden furniture, mattresses, sheetrock and appliances pile up as high as house gutters. Homes along streets and subdivisions are turned inside out, the matter of people’s lives wrecked and stacked on the curb.

On Hodgeson Road, one pile has a neon orange sign that reads: “Don’t pick up. Waiting on FEMA.”

Many people in affected areas didn’t have flood insurance. FEMA representative Maria Padron said $5,000 for building and content damage can be made immediately available to flood victims prior to inspection with a signed advance, but only to those who had flood insurance. Applicants for federal assistance can receive a maximum of $35,000, including rental assistance, depending on assessment of damages. Business owners, nonprofits, renters and homeowners can also apply for low-interest disaster loans from the SBA for up to $200,000, and FEMA is collaborating with state and federal partners to provide housing for residents displaced by the storm.

Since a federal disaster was declared on Aug. 14, more than 110,500 Louisiana residents have registered for assistance and more than $55 million has been approved.

“People have been told by geologists and hydrologists that they aren’t likely to flood, to save their money,” says Valerie DeLaune, 56, a Denham Springs resident whose insured home flooded with five feet of water. DeLaune has lived in her home for 34 years and the last time there was any flooding was in 1983, just a year after she moved in. That flood was measured in inches, not feet.

When DeLaune couldn’t drive to work at LSU Office of Disability Services on Friday because of the rain, she wasn’t worried. Not even when her husband, who cares for his elderly mother in Baton Rouge, asked her to join him. Their house was at the highest point in their area in Denham Springs. “We don’t fear water here,” she said. She did promise him she would set her alarm to check every hour. All through the night up to her 6 a.m. check, everything looked normal. When her daughter called at 7:30 a.m., she asked if her mother wanted to be rescued. “What are you talking about?” DeLaune said. “Mom, go look outside,” her daughter said. Opening her front door, she found the water was at her doorstep.

She grabbed the suitcases with changes of clothes that she’d packed just in case and as she walked toward the front door, she could feel the water under her feet. Outside, a stranger in a lifted truck came by and said, “Don’t argue, get in,” quickly helping her into the bed of his truck.

Later, she waded in waist-deep water across four lanes of highway to get to her family’s truck. At one point, she tripped over a curb underwater that she could not see and lost a shoe.  “If there had been a big current, I would have been in bad trouble,” she said. “I can’t swim.”

DeLaune, who made it to her mother-in-laws in Baton Rouge, says, “I’m in such a good and blessed position: I have a roof over my head, food in my belly. There are so many people who need so much more help.” An estimated 90 percent of the structures in Denham Springs were destroyed in the flood.

She was amazed by the rescue efforts conducted largely through social media and has been encouraged by the outpouring of support she’s seen from community members. People she hasn’t heard from in 20 years have reached out to see if she and her family are OK. A friend from Atlanta is driving a box truck down with shoes, gift cards, cash donations and other items.

At the store, DeLaune has witnessed countless acts of generosity between strangers. “People need multiples of everything to take care of their house, but they are offering to others.” When DeLaune went to get gloves to clean her home, there were only two pairs left. Yyet a stranger held the package out to her, saying, “Here, you take one.” “People are paying for each other’s groceries. Saying, ‘Hey, take this $20,’” she said. Before they are done with their own homes, people are helping those in their neighborhood and community.

“We are now on a mission to move on,” she says. But that process can be hard on the mind, soul and body. Mildew and mold can develop within 24 to 48 hours of water exposure so many Louisianians flooded have been racing the clock to gut their homes.

When Valerie DeLaune and her husband Dennis were gutting their home, her husband began to have cramp-like pains in his chest and was hospitalized with what they thought was a heart attack. It turned out to be severe dehydration, brought on by working too long in the heat

At the Unitarian Church of Baton Rouge on Sunday morning, lyrics projected onto the wall as parishioners sang “I can see clearly now the rain is gone.” The Rev. Nathan Ryan said that when he goes to LSU football games, it doesn’t feel real until he comes home and watches the highlights on TV. “Even though I experience it directly, it doesn’t feel real until someone else notices. That’s what we’ve been seeing on social media this morning, people begging to be noticed.”

He encouraged church members to continue to show up for one another and their community, expressing his worry that this flood would in some ways detract attention from existing community issues, like police violence and divisions of the community along racial lines.

Nearby in North Baton Rouge at Immaculate Conception Parish, a Catholic church with a largely black congregation, an organ played while the voices of the choir and hundreds of congregants raised in song. The Rev. Thomas Clark began Mass by saying: “There’s a saying that goes ‘When you’re down to nothing, God is up to something,’” to notes of affirmation from the crowd. He thanked the community for supporting 80 to 85 parishioners severely affected by the storm. “If you had flooding, our hearts go out to you,” he said. “And for those of us who were spared, let us have the courage and strength to do all we can for our brothers and sisters.”

After Mass, in the activities center, parishioners affected came to collect supplies. In the main hall, long folding tables were lined with rows of cleaning products: paper towels, sanitizers, brooms, buckets and pallets of water and other drinks. Two smaller rooms were sorted into clothing for adults and children. Parishioner Andrea Toles said volunteers and staff had called all 700 registered parishioners and were focusing on those hit the hardest.  

Addressing his congregation, Father Clark spoke of visiting parishioners sitting within the wreck of their homes, having lost everything, who told him, “I’m blessed.” “I’ve realized this week,” he said. “That hope is a choice.”

“I’ve realized this week,” he said. “That hope is a choice.”

Source: New feed

She’s a gamer, I’m not: How Pokémon Go helped my marriage

Pokemon Go

(Credit: Mr Aesthetics via Shutterstock)

“Slow down! Will you please just slow down,” my wife snaps, her fingers spread wide like a small child about to have a meltdown.

I look in the rear-view mirror to make sure no one will plow into us. I slow just a little. I could slow more, but I don’t.

“There was a Pokéstop right there!” she says.

My wife and I have been having communications issues. I blame a lot of it on the fact that she is glued to her iPhone day and night, skimming Twitter for the latest on everything. I seriously can’t keep up with the amount of data she absorbs. I skim my Twitter timeline reading just the headlines, unless there is a really good breaking news story.

Just this morning I hear about a new app called Pokémon Go. When I mention it to her, she says she’s already at level 5.

“I can’t just slow down,” I say. “You’re gonna get us hit.”

“Just drive slowly, then. If no car is behind us, just go slow.”

A Ford F350 barrels up behind me. She arches over her phone with her face an inch from the screen, breaking all kinds of ergonomic rules. She taps the screen repeatedly with her finger. I think, this is it — we are doomed never to communicate properly again because of this stupid technology and this dumb new game.

Before Pokémon Go captured her attention, it was Neko Atsume, the cat-collecting game. Before that, it was Angry Birds. And before that, SimCity.

I want to take the phone and toss it out the window.

She continues to tap.

“I need to take this gym,” she says the way someone in a business meeting might say I have to take this call.

I drive through the intersection with the flow of traffic anyway.

She gives me a sideways glance and turns off her phone. “Thank you very much. I missed a Pokéstop.”

We drive in silence, park, and then take a seat at the bar and stare up at the silent baseball game on a large screen. I feel like we should talk. Isn’t that what normal people in relationships do?  I consider what I can share with her. My day at work has been uneventful. My mother called; her car died again. Who wants to hear about that? She looks bored and I feel I am to blame. Maybe her Pokémon Go avatar is a kind of virtual other woman — new and exciting, full of surprises.

“Okay. Tell me how you play,” I ask, and pull out my phone.

“This is how it works,” she says instantly. “You follow a digital map and search for creatures that surface at random. When a creature appears, you toss Pokéballs at it until it is subdued — it’s called augmented reality. Do you know that?”

“Yes, of course I know that. Everyone knows that.”

I didn’t know that.

We down our drinks and take the game out to the streets. My stylish, girlish avatar — KungfuMeow — walks the streets looking for creatures to subdue. Blue cubes appear in the distance and turn to circles as we approach.

“Now tap on them!” she says.

When I tap, an image of a colorful street sign appears within the circle.  I look up. Above my head is a sign for a funky glassblowing shop. We’ve probably walked along this street 50 times and have never seen that sign before. A young guy works in front of a hot flame, reggae music playing in the background.

“Now, you have to catch the Pokémon.” She holds her iPhone in front of her as if she is taking a photo.

“Where?” I ask, following her. On the screen, a cute cartoon owl appears, crouching on the front lawn of the house directly in front of us.

“That’s pretty cool,” I admit, finally appreciating the game just a little bit.

“Now hit it with the Pokéball.”

“But it’s so cute,” I protest.

“Hit it!”

As she shows me all of the creatures I can collect, a car horn gives a delicate honk from behind to tell us to get out of the street.

“Let’s take a picture with you and the turtle,” she says.

She is eager to have me pose with it, and directs me to move this way and that — a little to the left, a little lower, so that my hands appear to be holding its small green and yellow body. It’s like the time in Paris when we took the photo of the Eiffel Tower sitting in the palm of my hand.

On the way home, the servers for Pokémon Go go down and the game becomes temporarily unavailable.

“That’s it,” she says. “If they can’t get their act together, I’m done with it.”

“You lie,” I tell her, although I wish she wasn’t.

But I notice that I feel a little lighter and less tense. Has the game temporarily freed us from the arduous effort of trying to communicate with each other? I have to admit it was fun walking in the quiet neighborhood, just chatting and being silly.

“You should play it on campus tomorrow.  It’ll be so cool,” she suggests. “You’ll run into all these kids playing it. They’ll give you a knowing look. Except you’ll be like their grandmother.”

“I’ll look like some crazy old lady. I’ll just creep them out,” I say. “No thanks.”

I see where this is leading. In the past, I tried other games she played so I wouldn’t be left out. I gave Neko Atsume a try until I found us too often side by side in bed feeding our virtual cats while our two live kitties looked on. And then there was the totally disengaged period when we both sat together in restaurants, in cars and on commuter trains — not talking, but trying to kill a bunch of Angry Birds.

“That was fun,” I tell her. “But I don’t want to get caught up in it.” I want us to stick with our usual pastime of riding bikes together. It’s what we have always done; it’s what we do.

“We’re not gamers,” I joke.

“Speak for yourself,” she says.

I feel like one of those clichéd housewives from old movies — the bored ones flipping through magazines as their husbands talk excitedly about doing something new. I always wanted to shout at those women: Get up! Don’t be such a dud!

Over the weekend, we visit friends who have two boys, ages 8 and 11. They are sweet and thoughtful boys. I sit next to them on the couch and try my best to talk to them about things I think they might be interested in like pets, bikes, the cookies on the kitchen table. They nod politely, but I feel I am invading their space and sense they’d really like me to stop with all the questions. My wife sits down and shows them Pokémon Go. Instantly, they slide next to her, touching her arm to look at the screen as she explains how to play.

I watch and listen to how she easily communicates with them — never talking down, never condescending. When we go to the ice cream shop later in the afternoon, they follow her around like puppy dogs. We sit and eat our ice cream and she hands over her phone to let them play alone. They touch the screen with their sticky fingers, and I marvel at her composure — I know how much she hates a smudged screen. On the walk home, their mother turns to me and says, “You know, she made their day.”

She wasn’t even trying — she was just being her youthful, curious, totally authentic 56-year-old self. And it hits me: I am a bit of a dud wife. I could be better.

At lunch the next day, I give Pokémon Go a try. I wander the University of California-Berkeley campus where I work, holding my iPhone out in front of me. I find the first Pokéstop, a wooden bench with a checkerboard tabletop just outside of my building. Two students are nearby. I hear the recognizable Pokémon Go zapping and firing sounds.

“Poke players are here,” I text her.

“Any knowing looks?” she asks.

This is the aspect of the game — the idea of strangers quietly acknowledging one another — that intrigues her. Like thieves caught in the act, she explains.

Two students, each holding a phone, walk toward me and stop in front of the bench. “Pokémon Go,” I raise my phone to show them that I, too, am playing the game. They offer reluctant, polite smiles, the way kids do with overly friendly old people. But they see me. Most days, I feel completely invisible on campus.

Now in the evenings, we walk to our favorite restaurants. We never take the direct route. There is always a gym she wants to take over, or another Pokéstop to visit. She talks about the candy and stardust she wants to collect. I’m not entirely sure what she’s talking about, but I like the sound of it.

She’s explaining Pokémon evolution to me, how some Pokémon can evolve into a stronger Pokémon, but usually they evolve up through being caught.

“It means growing up for some, but to others it just means becoming another kind of creature. Do you get that?” she asks me as we walk along, the sky turning pink as the sun sets. Yes, I think I get that.

Source: New feed

A comedian walks into a “mob”: “Inside Amy Schumer” writer’s rant against antirape culture deserves a backlash

Amy Schumer

Amy Schumer (Credit: AP/John Salangsang/reductress.com/Salon)

This week comedian and “Inside Amy Schumer” writer Kurt Metzger took a stand against a common target of modern ire, the much-reviled social media mob. Metzger wrote a series of posts on Facebook and Twitter denouncing the decision of Upright Citizens Brigade (UCB), the influential improv comedy organization, to bar a male comedian — whom multiple women had accused of rape — from performing. To Metzger, the banning of this comedian’s performance was the result of an unacceptable form of “social mob justice.”

Metzger has taken much heat for his behavior, prompting Schumer to denounce the writer’s recent outbursts during a week when she should have been happily promoting the release of her new book, “The Girl With the Lower Back Tattoo.” Schumer, who also attempted to shift things away from Metzger, suggested in an appearance on “Charlie Rose” that people focus less on taking him down and instead have a conversation about the issue of sexual assault.

It’s worth pointing out that the reactions from Metzger and others to the UCB decision prompted humor site Reductress to compile a skillful satire series skewering rape culture — a reminder that the broader conversation is not being ignored.

But because Metzger’s attitudes are shared by so many others, they provide as good a place as any for the start of a larger conversation, too. In the wake of his initial controversial post, Metzger claimed that people were hung up about the “tone” of his argument rather than engaged with its “substance.” But his purposely inflammatory style amounted to more than the occasional linguistic tic. It is a substantive claim to diminish  women’s attempts to seek support from their social networks in the wake of a trauma. It is a substantive claim to suggest that women who disagree with someone deserve scrutiny about their face, hair and bodies. It is a substantive claim, amid an emotional and particularly vitriolic public meltdown, to assert that these women are driven by “emotion” not “logic.” The extent to which these claims are gendered (read: sexist) is a matter of substance, not tone.

Metzger now has claimed that his beef was never with rape victims and their post-assault comportment but with bloggers whose sense of solidarity he perceives as self-serving and exploitative. But some of his Facebook status posts were directly addressed to victims (“you”), whom he urged to go to police. He further suggested that victims who do not have no right to complain about the backlog in rape-kit orders or police-mishandling allegations. This is a common line of reasoning and a faulty one. People show trust in government institutions that have proved themselves as trustworthy. It’s not a citizen’s obligation to put his or her blind faith in agents of the state, often undergoing additional trauma in the process, if he or she has no reason to believe it will do any good.

It’s a shame for those who are interested in a nuanced, substantive, logical conversation about this matter because underneath some of Metzger’s entitled rage and hyperbole lie glimmers of coherent points. An incredibly generous reading of Metzger’s past assertion that sexual violence is no different than other forms of assault is that much of the trauma surrounding the former can be attributed to well-meant expressions of solidarity (“The attacker ruined her life!” “She is broken!” “She will never be the same!”) and that some of the conversation about the seriousness of sexual assault relies upon the narrow-minded perception that a woman’s sexual purity is central to her worth. Of course, “she will never be the same!” is, in a sense, strictly true, in that all a person’s experiences define who she is. But victims of sexual assault, particularly if they engage in the kind of self-care that Metzger has dismissed as a trivial distraction, can go on to be happy and healthy people while their assailants might lead lives of pathetic sociopathy.

One reason why rape differs meaningfully from other forms of assault, however, is that context alone can separate it from another activity that is a natural and fundamental part of being a human adult — one that occurs with regular frequency. People don’t often hand over their belongings to strangers in alleyways voluntarily. But people do go out and drink and return home with acquaintances whom they trust — and ought to be able to do so — to engage in a consensual, mutually pleasurable, private experience. When someone violates that trust, it is sometimes not just difficult, but impossible, to prove definitively that coercion occurred and that what happened was rape, not sex.

In our society, “legal justice” is defined as a mechanism by which ideally, the community incurs the risk of letting a guilty person go free to mitigate the risk of finding an innocent person guilty. Progressives tend to view this as a feature, not a bug. And, believe it or not, victims of sexual assault have their ideology and are capable of making rational, principled decisions! A victim might not go to the police because she knows that ultimately the question of what transpired behind closed doors will come down to a matter of who is perceived as telling the truth. It’s possible to simultaneously be the victim of a sexual assault and to be someone not wanting to live in a society whose criminal justice system simply takes victims at their word.

This is a sad and painful reality that is also a side effect of a fundamentally sound — and often horribly executed — American ideal. The result is that, even if the criminal justice system were to operate seamlessly, as Metzger apparently trusts it does despite rampant evidence to the contrary, some rape victims would never see their assailants found guilty in court. Metzger’s strange definition of “rapist” — as only someone who has had the title bestowed upon him by a police officer, prosecutor and jury — is not just illogical but deeply weird.

Luckily, social networks and voluntary associations don’t operate like courtrooms. Friends and professional acquaintances are entitled to formulate opinions of people even if they have not been convicted of a crime. Given the low probability of a rape allegation being false, it is logical to assume that people are being honest when they claim they have been assaulted, particularly if multiple individuals have accused the same alleged perpetrator. Organizations are then entitled — and morally obligated — to prioritize the safety and comfort of some members over one person’s. No one owes Kurt Metzger receipts.

The most important takeaway from this incident extends beyond the realm of rape culture: the danger of dismissing those who disagree with you as a “mob” and the importance of thoughtfully considering substantive critiques, even (especially) when the exercise is unpleasant. Schumer still seems reluctant to do so. And though sympathetic to those offended by Metzger, she didn’t seem to appreciate why her professional ties to him were relevant. “People want to burn him at the stake! They want Kurt’s head!” she told Rose in addressing her working relationship with Metzger.

I can appreciate the importance of wanting to have a broader discussion about sexual assault. And indeed “Inside Amy Schumer” has contributed daringly to that cause. Yet rape culture isn’t an abstract issue. It isn’t just about prevention but also accountability. If social media mobs are left demanding the latter, it’s because the official channels haven’t proved up to the task.

Source: New feed

Trump should reconsider his tax plan: Architect of Reagan tax cuts on why it’s a mistake

Donald Trump

Donald Trump (Credit: Reuters/Carlo Allegri)

This piece originally appeared on BillMoyers.com.

In a speech outlining his plan to “jump-start” the economy last week, Donald Trump unveiled new proposals that would dramatically cut taxes. It would be, he said, the “biggest tax revolution since the Reagan tax reform, which unleashed years of continued economic growth and job creation.”

The man who wrote the manifesto for the Reagan revolution, Bruce Bartlett, wrote in a New York Times op-ed that the tax cuts Trump has proposed are “not the medicine the economy needs.”

Taxes were too high in 1981 and needed to be cut — including for the rich.

Trump’s proposal, which is based on the House Republicans’ tax plan, would reduce income taxes on all Americans, but would especially benefit the rich as the highest tax rate would be cut to 33 percent from 39.6 percent right now. An analysis of the House Republicans’ tax plan by the Tax Foundation found that after-tax income for the richest 1 percent of Americans would increase by 5.3 percent at the reduced tax rate.

While Trump’s new tax cuts are less severe than those he originally proposed, the plan is still likely to “add substantially to the debt,” according to the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget (CRFB). They estimated his preliminary tax plan would cost roughly $9.25 trillion over the course of a decade. In the coming weeks, CRFB said it will release new estimates based on Trump’s new tax plan, which would also slash corporate taxes from 35 percent to 15 percent and wipe out estate taxes.

The GOP nominee has not yet explained how he would pay for these cuts (Trump calls himself the “king of debt,” so we shall see), which would cut government revenues at a time when the cost of benefit programs, led by Social Security and Medicare, are on the rise as Baby Boomers leave the workforce.

In his op-ed, Bartlett lays out why the 1981 Reagan tax law that he helped design made sense at the time, but not so today. He writes:

Tax rates were very high when Reagan proposed cutting them — much higher than today. The high tax rates from the World War II era had been only partly cut by John F. Kennedy, and the top income-tax rate was 70 percent. Inflation was pushing workers into higher tax brackets when they received cost-of-living pay raises.

According to the Tax Policy Center, the average federal income-tax rate on a family of four with the median income rose from 9.1 percent in 1972 to 11.8 percent in 1981. The marginal tax rate — the tax on the last dollar earned — rose from 19 percent to 24 percent in the same period.

By contrast, the average tax rate on the median family in 2014 was just 5.3 percent, and the marginal rate was 15 percent. Inflation is nonexistent, and no one is being pushed into higher tax brackets by it. In short, taxes were too high in 1981 and needed to be cut — including for the rich.

Bartlett goes on to explain why the Reagan tax cut played “only a secondary role in the 1980s boom,” which he says wasn’t actually “much of a boom” at all and reminds us that “Reagan cared about deficits” and supported a number of tax increases during his tenure, taking back half of the 1981 tax cut.

In this clip from his 2012 interview with Bill Moyers, Bartlett — who served as a senior policy analyst to Reagan and a top treasury official to President George H.W. Bush — talks about the negative short- and long-term impacts of lowering taxes under the two presidents, as well as the “600 pound gorilla” in the debate.

When asked about the newly announced Trump tax plan and the deficit, Bartlett told us by email that all Republican tax cuts “are designed to lose revenue” and “create deficits,” despite any statements made to the contrary.

“Then when deficits emerge, they must always be dealt with only by cutting spending,” Bartlett writes. “If tax increases are necessary they will be in the form of sales taxes paid largely by the poor.”

He points to Kansas as a textbook case of just that. Last year, Kansas increased its sales tax to 6.5 percent from 6.15 percent — which are applied to groceries in the state — and raised cigarette taxes to help avert a deficit, which resulted in part from cutting income taxes. (In some magical speaking, Gov. Sam Brownback denied that the tax increases were actually tax increases, but that’s another story.) So why were income taxes cut in the first place?

Brownback slashed personal income taxes after he was elected in 2011 on the promise that the deep cuts would be the “shot of adrenaline” the state’s economy needed.

It hasn’t worked and “the state budget has been in crisis ever since,” writes the Associated Press. This led the governor to reduce funding to universities, delay contributions to pensions for school teachers and community college employees and reallocate by $750 million funds originally allocated for highway projects.

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The straight-washing of “Ben-Hur”: Remake of the ’59 epic drops gay subtext — and beefs up religious themes


Charlton Heston; Jack Huston in “Ben-Hur” (Credit: Warner Bros./MGM)

Judah Ben-Hur’s sexuality has been hotly debated for decades, but a new film is pushing him firmly back into the closet. A new remake of the 1959 William Wyler-directed swords-and-sandals epic “Ben-Hur,” which starred Charlton Heston in the title role of a nobleman turned slave who defeats an empire, is playing down the character’s subtextual homosexuality. Toby Kebbell (“Fantastic Four”), who takes over for Stephen Boyd as Messala, told press at the film’s premiere that such themes were no longer necessary to unpack.

“In 1959, the gay context was very important,” he said. “They need a voice. You shouldn’t have to hide in the dark about something you feel and you’ve grown with. That was their own thing they wanted to portray and we didn’t need to.”

The new version, from director Timur Bekmambetov (“Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter”), plays up the religious themes of the film. Whereas Jesus of Nazareth was a minor character in the 1959 edition, he’s a major figure in the remake. Played by Rodrigo Santoro (“Lost”), he inspires an uprising among the “zealots” of Jerusalem — those who dare to follow him and question Roman rule. One of his followers attempts to assassinate Pontius Pilate (Pilou Asbæk), the prefect who presided over Judaea. Rather than implicate the man responsible, Ben-Hur takes the fall — forcing his enslavement and his family’s imprisonment. Messala, who has since left home to join Caesar’s army, gives up his longtime companion.

That’s a stark contrast from the 1959 version of the story, in which the culprit was a shoddy roof — an accident, sure, but hardly anything to break up a family over. To explain why Messala would betray his best friend (upgraded to an adoptive brother in the 2016 version), the filmmakers had to get creative. That’s where things get really interesting.

Gore Vidal, who was contracted by MGM and producer Sam Zimbalist to do a touch-up of Karl Tunberg’s screenplay, had believed that the only way to explain the animosity between the two men is if it were the result of a lover’s quarrel. In Vidal’s version, Messala comes home from war attempting to reignite a romance with Ben-Hur, but his friend is no longer interested. “I told Wyler, ‘This is what’s going on underneath the scene — they seem to be talking about politics, but Messala is really trying to rekindle a love affair,’” Vidal said.

Vidal outed Ben-Hur in Vito Russo’s “The Celluloid Closet,” a documentary in which he alleged that Boyd was supportive of the change but Wyler urged him not to tell Heston, famous for his conservative politics. “Don’t say anything to Chuck because he will fall apart,” Vidal recalled the director as saying. (When asked to verify the claim, Wyler offered a polite nonanswer.)

Unsurprisingly, Heston violently denounced Vidal’s account as hogwash in a furious 1996 letter to the L.A. Times. “Vidal’s claim that he slipped in a scene implying a homosexual relationship between the two men insults Willy Wyler and, I have to say, irritates the hell out of me,” Heston wrote. He added that Vidal, who he alleged had been on set for only three days as a “trial run,” made minor contributions to the film and none of his ideas were retained for the finished version of the script. Christopher Fry, one of the film’s four uncredited writers, took over the reins after Vidal’s tenure concluded.

Vidal’s version of events, though, appears to hold up to scrutiny. In a response to Heston, also published in the Times, he quoted a letter from Morgan Hudgens, a publicist for the film. Hudgens credited an affectionate scene between the two men as the writer’s handiwork, using a pejorative nickname given to Heston on set. “The big ‘cornpone,’” he wrote, “really threw himself into your ‘first meeting’ scene yesterday. You should have seen those boys embrace!”

These facts might appear to be just Hollywood gossip, but they are a crucial part of the gay canon from an era before queerness was allowed to be openly acknowledged onscreen. After all, the word “homosexuality” was not spoken on-screen until 1961, when it was uttered in the British thriller “Victim,” one of the few sympathetic portrayals of gay men from the era. Even today LGBT people are routinely straight-washed and written out of their own stories. Erasing Ben-Hur from gay cinematic history amounts to the continued erasure of our stories and lives.


“Ben-Hur” wasn’t the first time directors skirted censorship in order to suggest the unspoken longings between two characters.

William A. Wellman’s “Wings,” the first movie to win Best Picture, is a wartime romance about two men (Charles Rogers and Richard Arlen) who compete for the love of a beautiful woman, which was played by cinema’s inaugural “it girl,” Clara Bow. When David is fatally wounded during World War I, it becomes clear who was the object of Jack’s interest all along. Jack comforts his dying comrade, passionately caressing his face. “You know there is nothing in the world that means so much to me as your friendship,” he coos before the two share cinema’s first gay kiss. It’s a peck on the cheek but so perilously close to the mouth that it’s difficult to misread.

This is how gay life operated on-screen during the early years of cinema — through a coded language of suggestion and insinuation in which queer audiences became fluent. “It’s amazing,” says feminist author Susie Bright in “The Celluloid Closet,” “how if you’re a gay audience and you’re accustomed to crumbs, how you will watch an entire movie just to see somebody wear an outfit that you think means that they’re homosexual.”

Popular examples from the era include gender-bending icons like Marlene Dietrich and Greta Garbo, who both were rumored to be bisexual in their private lives. Josef von Sternberg, Dietrich’s lover and frequent collaborator, cast her in 1930’s “Morocco,” in which the German goddess plays — as she so often did — a nightclub singer. The film’s most famous scene features Dietrich in a gentleman’s tux, complete with a top hat and cigarette. To complete the subversion, she lays a big wet one on a female member of the audience during a performance.

In “Queen Christina,” Garbo played the titular role, the 16th-century ruler of Sweden. The real-life monarch’s lesbianism could only be alluded to Rouben Mamoulian’s film. When the chancellor reprimands her for being single and warns that she may die an old maid, Christina replies, “I have no intention to, chancellor. I shall die a bachelor!”

“Call Her Savage,” again featuring Clara Bow, was the first film to take audiences to a gay bar. The establishment was filled with a type commonly referred to as “sissies,” subtextually queer characters whose sexualities were neutralized through their flamboyant effeminacy. “Sissy characters in movies were always a joke,” said Quentin Crisp in “The Celluloid Closet.” “There’s no sin like being a woman. When a man dresses as a woman, the audience laughs. When a woman dressed as a man, nobody laughed. They just thought she looked wonderful.”

Even if the sissy served to deliver a kind of punch line, the character was often an affectionate one, created by gay directors like George Cukor. Best known for fizzy screwball comedies like “The Women” and “The Philadelphia Story,” Cukor cast Tyrell Davis as Ernest in the 1933 social class satire “Our Betters.” Based on a play by W. Somerset Maugham, Davis played a character to which he became accustomed in the days of Hollywood before the Motion Picture Production Code, a limp-wristed dance instructor whose lips appear to be perpetually pursed. Ernest is gifted with what is perhaps the film’s most memorable line: “What an exquisite spectacle! Two ladies of title, kissing one another!”

The Motion Picture Production Code, which went into effect in 1930 and became known colloquially as the Hays Code, imposed new standards on morality during an era when Communism threatened to take over Hollywood, and these overt displays of camp became verboten. Homosexuality, referred to as “sex perversion,” was banned on screen. And if homosexual characters were included at all, they had to be punished.

In the adaptation of Tennessee Williams’ “Suddenly Last Summer,” Sebastian Venable is eaten by a pack of savage male lovers near the ruins of a temple, a clear allusion to the story of Sodom and Gomorrah. Sebastian’s behavior is considered so depraved that his face is never shown onscreen. The folks at the Production Code Administration, though, did give filmmakers the permission to depict Sebastian, if they wished.

“Since the film illustrates the horrors of such a lifestyle,” the office wrote, “it can be considered moral in theme even though it deals with sexual perversion.”

If gay characters weren’t used as vehicles to introduce a morality lesson, they were villains — as in Otto Preminger’s “Laura” and Hitchcock’s “Rope.” Both classics of the period in spite of their politics, these films portray gay men as skilled sociopaths. In “Rope,” Brandon Shaw (John Dall) and Phillip Morgan (Farley Granger) come to believe themselves “Supermen,” capable of carrying out the perfect murder. Waldo Lydecker (Clifton Webb) seeks to control Laura (Gene Tierney), the title character of Preminger’s film, and when he can’t, he tries to destroy her. (These characters were all played by gay men, which, looking back, hardly seems accidental.)

But more common, gay themes were cut out of cinema altogether, as in the film adaptations of “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” and “The Lost Weekend.” In Charles R. Jackson’s novel, the demon haunting Don Birnam is his repressed homosexuality (which the character shared with the author). But in the film, it’s merely writer’s block that plagues him. When Williams’ 1955 play made it to the big screen in 1958, Brick’s homosexuality was absent.

If the new “Ben-Hur” didn’t break that pattern, it’s allegedly unintentional. One of the screenwriters behind the recent remake, Keith R. Clarke, told Vanity Fair that the reason Ben-Hur’s sexuality got left on the cutting room floor was that the Paramount release was based directly on Lew Wallace’s 1925 novel, “Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ,” as Warner Bros. owns the rights to the 1959 film. Scenes like the one where Ben-Hur holds a dying Messala, key to the film’s queer subtext, were off-limits.

But if Clarke didn’t fight to stay true to the character’s sexuality, that’s just as likely a matter of funding as copyright: “Ben-Hur” was produced by Mark Burnett and Roma Downey. You likely know Burnett as the producer of “Survivor” and Downey from her role on “Touched by an Angel.” But the husband-and-wife team have also been behind the faith-based adaptations “Son of God” (in which Downey appeared as the Virgin Mary) and “The Bible” miniseries. Before its release, “Ben-Hur” was screened tested with religious audiences, in the hope of reaching the same evangelical market that made “Passion of the Christ” and “Heaven Is for Real” hits.

When asked about Ben-Hur’s gay beginnings, Downey argued that he had always been straight. “I don’t even know if that was true in that film,” the actress-producer said. “Here we have two brothers. They love each other. They’re raised in the same household and it’s so tragic to see their family just ripped apart.”

The real tragedy of “Ben-Hur,” though, is that it’s yet another example of gay narratives being straight-washed for popular consumption at a time when LGBT representation is worsening. Although the “X-Men” comics feature characters with a diverse range of sexual preferences, the ongoing series has yet to allow characters like Mystique — who is portrayed as bisexual in the source material — to explore same-sex relationships. Singer’s film series casts her as an exclusively heterosexual femme fatale. The filmmakers of “Dallas Buyers Club” thought that the story of Ron Woodruff, a bisexual Texan who contracted HIV in 1985, would sell better if he were a straight homophobe. Matthew McConaughey won an Oscar for the performance.

These myriad acts of silencing are what make films like “Ben-Hur” so important, as well as relevant to today’s Hollywood. It’s just a shame that nearly 60 years after the original film debuted, the closet door is still firmly locked.

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Free money is not so funny anymore: Confessions of a (former) skeptic of basic income


(Credit: akindo via iStock)

Getting a tire replaced seems easy to me. I’d just go to the nearest tire place and get it fixed. But Jayleene was living from paycheck to paycheck and didn’t have $110 to spare. She couldn’t get to work, and her boss fired her. She couldn’t make her rent and was soon out on the street — all because she needed $110 at the right time.

Jayleene told me her story during my volunteer shift at a soup kitchen. Her experience was the final straw that convinced me to support the idea of providing a basic income, the notion of giving people an unconditional living wage, which has been backed by conservatives and liberals alike. The concept of basic income is becoming increasingly popular around the world, with Finland, the Netherlands, Switzerland and Canada experimenting with it.

So is the United States. A study is planned for Oakland, California, that will be funded by the well-known Y Combinator. “In our pilot, the income will be unconditional,” Sam Altman, president of Y Combinator, said. “We’re going to give it to participants for the duration of the study, no matter what. People will be able to volunteer, work, not work, move to another country — anything.”

Added Altman: “We hope basic income promotes freedom, and we want to see how people experience that freedom.”

Skeptical of the idea of extending a basic income to all? I had been pretty skeptical when I first heard about the basic income plan. Sure, I care about people and don’t want anyone to starve, be homeless or lack medical care. But nonprofits and government programs have been designed to take care of these needs. I volunteer at a soup kitchen and run fundraisers for food banks. Why give people money to do whatever they want with it?

I had these two major concerns: I simply didn’t trust poor people to manage their money well and thought they would spend it on things like alcohol, drugs and tobacco. And I imagined that people would stop working and do whatever they wished, as opposed to being productive members of society.

More and more evidence, however, appeared to contradict my initial way of thinking. A number of studies have shown that people who have been given cash did not spend it on tobacco, alcohol or similar “vice” products. Other studies have demonstrated that those given a cash transfer did not do less work. Instead, the evidence indicated that people who have received cash transfers improved their income and assets and have experienced better psychological and physical well-being.

Now, I couldn’t wait for more research such as the Oakland study or another upcoming one, to be done by GiveDirectly. This nonprofit, highly rated by the best charity evaluator in the world, GiveWell, focuses on cash transfers to poor households in East Africa. GiveDirectly has decided to run one of the largest studies of basic income to date, using $30 million to cover the basic living costs of poor East Africans for a decade to settle questions about the long-term impact of such an approach. I could even try to reasonably predict the future and conclude that these new experiments will show results similar to previous ones.

Hearing Jayleene’s story proved the clincher. I decided to bite the bullet, confess that my perspective was wrong and update my beliefs based on evidence.

Freed of these limiting beliefs, I realized that the notion of basic income has other benefits. First, it’s simpler to provide basic income than to fund many overlapping welfare agencies, and a country could save many billions of dollars by simply giving money to the poor. Second, basic income provides people more dignity and creates less hassle for them than the current system. Third, poor people like Jayleene are more aware than the government of what they truly need.

For all of these reasons, I am coming out publicly to renounce my skepticism of basic income and share how this evidence convinced me to change my mind.

Plenty of questions about basic income remain unresolved, such as how to fund a transition to this method and away from using a massive system of inefficient programs. Yet that’s a question of “how,” not “if.” I hope that sharing my story as a former skeptic of basic income will encourage a conversation about the next steps related to the question of “how.”


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