September 15, 2018 in 2,893 words

Creator of Pepe the Frog gets trial date in case against Alex Jones

Pepe the Frog will get his day in court.

Or at least his creator will in a lawsuit against two companies run by far-right radio host and conspiracy theorist Alex Jones.

U.S. District Judge Michael W. Fitzgerald in Los Angeles set a July 16, 2019, trial date for the case brought by Pepe’s creator, Matt Furie, against the Texas-based companies Infowars, LLC, and Free Speech Systems, LLC. Fitzgerald also set an April 22, 2019, deadline to complete settlement talks and referred both sides to a magistrate judge to hold discussions.

Furie sued Jones’ two companies in March, alleging copyright infringement and seeking unspecified damages. He also seeks a permanent injunction barring unauthorized use of the image by assorted factions of the racist “alt-right.”

Furie has said he sued because he’s “dismayed by Pepe’s association with white supremacy, anti-Semitism, and the alt-right,” including unauthorized use of the image by President Donald Trump and his supporters, including Alex Jones.

Jones is not personally listed as a defendant, but he turns up repeatedly in the lawsuit and is described as “America’s leading conspiracy theorist.” The lawsuit also tabs Jones as a member of “an antigovernment far-right that blames the world’s ills on a grand global conspiracy.”

His “Alex Jones Show” is syndicated to over 100 radio stations nationwide, and is simulcasted on YouTube and his website, infowars.com, the suit says.


The business of voluntourism: do western do-gooders actually do harm?

A holiday helping out in an orphanage can be a rewarding experience. But voluntourism supports a system that is breaking up families.


Nursery school children in South Africa are taught by a volunteer teacher.

Baby rescue is the ultimate volunteer experience. At Hope of Life International, a Christian mission in rural Guatemala, a rescue team springs into action when news arrives that a baby is dangerously ill in a nearby mountain village. The mission, which hosts hundreds of volunteers from North America every month, sends a caravan of Jeeps, canoes and an ambulance to bring the child to its hospital. On the charity’s website, you can see photos of volunteers, their faces rapt with grim determination, walking down a steep mountain path or fording a river, holding tiny babies wrapped in blankets. A video shows dramatic scenes in which Carlos Vargas, Hope of Life’s founder, rescues a baby alongside volunteers, the music pulsing and urgent. “Every second, every minute matters,” Vargas says. “Maybe if we reach her an hour late, we lose her.”

Hope of Life has scouts who work in these mountain villages, looking for sick infants. Although time is of the essence, when they find an ailing baby, the scouts do not bring them directly to the hospital. Instead, they alert the organisation, which assembles a team, accompanied by volunteers, to collect them. Many volunteers who come to Hope of Life are drawn by the dream of taking part in one of these expeditions: they get to save lives, and have a transformational encounter. One woman wrote in a blogpost about her experience: “This is what we came for. This is what I have been waiting for. This is what they’ve been waiting for.”

Every year, millions of people from wealthy nations travel to poor countries, hoping to do good. University students want to spend a school break or part of a summer giving back, perhaps even to improve their CV. Christians go with their churches for one- or two-week missions. All seek personal growth, connection to those less fortunate, and the satisfaction of making a difference. For many, the destination is an orphanage, where they aim to bring joy to needy children in the brief time they can spare.

The aspiration to help the most vulnerable children is a noble one, but the booming business of “voluntourism” sustains practices and institutions that actually do harm. There is no such thing as a “good” orphanage, according to child development experts. Eighty years of research confirms that children do best in a family. They are far more likely to experience abuse, cruelty or neglect in an institution than in any other setting. Even in a well-run facility, children do not develop normally.

DEGREE OF DIFFICULTY: Prepare to spend a while; it’s The Long Read.


Fidget spinners, weighted blankets, and the rise of anxiety consumerism

What does it mean when viral products exist to calm us down?

Two Kickstarter campaigns between the fall of 2016 and the spring of 2017 set out with relatively modest goals: Each intended to raise around $20,000 to create products that claimed to relieve stress. Instead, both made millions and ended up helping to create an entire economy out of the treatment of anxiety with simple items.

The first, the Fidget Cube, raised nearly $6.5 million and predicated the most omnipresent toy trend of the following year, the fidget spinner. The second, the Gravity Blanket, raised $4.7 million with the promise of a better night’s sleep.

Neither went viral because a corporate behemoth like Mattel or Amazon decided to blindly diagnose the entire country with anxiety — they became so popular because regular people came across a video and donated with the belief that the devices might actually work.

Both, however, helped give rise to the growing anxiety economy, composed of adult coloring books, aromatherapy vapes, essential oils, and other products designed to calm us down. And though these items often have little, if any, scientific data supporting whether they really “work,” their explosive popularity sends a clear message: Americans are anxious as hell, and we’re trying to buy our way out of the problem.

Anxiety is now the most common mental illness in the US

Anxiety is quite possibly the defining characteristic for not only my own generation, but everyone alive at this particular time in history. It is already the most common mental health disorder in the US, affecting 18.1 percent of Americans each year and nearly one-third of Americans over their lifetimes, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America and the National Institute of Mental Health. And it’s quickly getting worse among college students: The American College Health Association found in its annual survey that in 2011, half of undergraduates reported they felt “overwhelming anxiety.” By 2017, 61 percent did.


The 1938 ‘War Of The Worlds’ Alien Hysteria Was Fake News

On October 30, 1938, U.S. citizens were glued to their radios as they received dire news: Their country was being invaded. Not by Nazi zeppelins or Japan’s secret Godzilla unit, but by Martians coming to destroy the world. However, this announcement didn’t come from a journalist, but from Orson Welles, who was pulling a prank on millions by making them think the plot of a popular sci-fi book was actually happening. Or at least, that’s what the newspapers wanted us to believe.

This the closest a headline has ever gotten to actual yelling.

According to news sources, Welles’ performance of War Of The Worlds had “upwards of a million people, convinced, if only briefly, that the United States was being laid waste by alien invaders.” Quite the prank, except that Welles was as shocked as everyone else. His show, The Mercury Theatre On The Air, had been around for months, adapting famous literary works as radio plays every week without anyone ever thinking they were real. When they premiered the show with Dracula, it didn’t cause people to loot their local garlic-and-stakes emporiums, so what was so special about War Of The Worlds?

If anyone was to blame for tricking people into panicking, it was the newspapers. During the ’30s, print media was in decline (can’t imagine what that’s like), with people preferring to get their news from their newfangled talkin’ machines. So when they heard of Welles acting out a newsreader announcing the end of the world, they saw a chance to smear the radio as spreading fake news, proving that people should only trust print journalists — which we now know is even dumber than believing aliens are invading.


My Life Has Been Ruined by an Anti-Baldness Drug

I’ve endured depression, anxiety, headaches, memory loss, insomnia, blurred vision, and impotence since I was 19.

It sucks to be a teenager losing your hair. You start to notice your friends’ eyes darting up to your hairline. You become the butt of jokes. You feel marked out, as if the gene gods have tagged you as defective and old before your time.

I was 17 when I noticed the hair on my temples was receding. It was disconcerting but felt okay—until it didn’t feel okay. There came a point when there was just too much of my head showing, when my faithful hairstyle became tenuous. I felt that everyone, much to my unending embarrassment, must have noticed.

A girlfriend commented on it when I was 19. An American friend told me that my once full and floppy fringe had started looking wispy at 22. A girl who liked me was teased by a friend on Facebook because of my receding hairline and either didn’t know or didn’t care that I would read it. Six months later, it looked worse, and six months after that, worse still. Like most young men dealing with baldness, I was confronting a future image of myself that I really didn’t like.

• • •

By 2016, the World Health Organization had recorded that 59 men had killed themselves because of the side effects of finasteride, an anti-baldness drug. The drug doesn’t kill directly, but the profound physical and psychological damage it can cause makes it difficult for people to live a normal life. I know this because I am one of them.

In 2012, when I was 19 years old, I took finasteride in the form of Propecia tablets: one a day for just 21 days. I got them from The Belgravia Centre in London, a hair-loss clinic that advertises its services vociferously across the city’s public transport. I remember feeling uneasy and a little skeptical about relying on a drug, possibly for the rest of my life, for a nonmedical issue. But I thought that I could stop my hair from falling out, perhaps regrow some that I had lost, and have a good head of hair in adulthood.

The symptoms started almost as soon I started taking Propecia. I noticed a dull, persistent headache. I became anxious, depressive, and my sleep was nonexistent. My penis totally changed in character and just wasn’t the same; touching it was like touching my elbow or some other less sensitive body part, and erections weren’t real erections anymore, if they happened at all.


Finally, a cure for insomnia?

We are living through an epidemic of sleeplessness, but the medical establishment has largely ignored the problem. Can a radical new therapy help you get some sleep?

We live in a golden age of sleeplessness. The buzz of the all-night streetlamps, the natter of 24-hour news anchors, the scrolling Niagaras of social media feeds have built a world that is hostile to sleep. Night is no longer clearly delineated from day. The bedroom is no longer a refuge from the office. The physical and psychic walls that once held back the tides of work and social interaction have failed. As the essayist Jonathan Crary put it, sleeplessness is the inevitable symptom of an era in which we are encouraged to be both unceasing consumers and unceasing creators.

To the wakeful, insomnia can feel like the loneliest affliction in the world. But an estimated third of British adults suffer from chronic insomnia, defined as having adequate opportunity but inadequate ability to sleep, for a period of at least six months. Insomniacs dutifully set aside a seven-or-so-hour stretch for rest. They make the bed. They draw the curtains. But when ear kisses pillow, they are suddenly wakeful. Many have sought help. Between 1993 and 2007, the number of people in the UK who visited their doctor complaining of insomnia nearly doubled, while NHS data shows, in the past decade, a tenfold increase in the number of prescriptions written for melatonin, the hormone that regulates sleep.

The effects of insomnia can be ruinous. In his recent bestseller, Why We Sleep, the neuroscientist Matthew Walker wrote: “The decimation of sleep throughout industrialised nations is having a catastrophic impact on our health, our life expectancy, our safety, our productivity and the education of our children.” A 2016 report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, claims that insomnia increases the risk of heart attack, cancer and obesity. Insomniacs are far more likely than sound sleepers to suffer from chronic depression. Insomnia is related to all major psychiatric conditions, including suicide risk (although there is still a debate as to whether sleeplessness is the cause or the symptom). Each year, as many as 1.2m car crashes in the UScan be attributed to tired drivers.

None of this is news to the droopily Googling insomniac who, fearing obesity, heart disease, accident and poverty, is subjected to yet further sleep-skewering anxiety. Fearing their problem is untreatable, or that no doctor will take them seriously, many people who suffer from insomnia never seek medical advice. And in Britain, where doctors are hesitant to prescribe sleep drugs for longer than a week or two, who can blame the insomniac? There are a few NHS sleep clinics in the UK, where patients can be tested for the respiratory issues that often cause sleeplessness, but waiting lists are dispiritingly long. Moreover, for decades, inside the British medical establishment there has been only a glancing interest in insomnia, a specialism that one consultant refers to as the “Cinderella of medicine”.

DEGREE OF DIFFICULTY: Prepare to spend a while; it’s The Long Read.


Video Goodnesses
and not-so-goodnesses

Well! Salman Rushdie pretty much predicted the future in his new book, The Golden House, wherein the antagonist is “a ruthlessly ambitious, narcissistic, media-savvy villain sporting makeup and coloured hair.” Read into that what you will, but Rushdie here posits that he’s baffled by the sudden worldwide rejection of knowledge and the elites. He says that it’s not just an invention of the American right wing — that it’s a worldwide problem that’s helped in large part by the likes of Fox News et al — and he wonders both what gave rise to that and how it will stop. Perhaps he’ll have to write a sequel.


Roy Wood Jr. visits Boston to find out why it has a reputation as one of the most racist cities in America.

THANKS to Comedy Central and The Daily Show with Trevor Noah for making this program available on YouTube.


On this edition of Stormy Watch, Fox News personality (or lack thereof) Tucker Carlson weighs in with his thoughts on porn.


A Canadian pot dispensary is robbed at “bear-spray-point” and old people are hitting new highs.

THANKS to CBS and The Late Show with Stephen Colbert for making this program available on YouTube.


Bill recaps the top stories of the week, including Trump’s feud with hurricanes and Paul Manafort’s plea deal.


Long before Donald Trump was “hearing things,” Bill Maher was making baseless assertions in a segment called “I Don’t Know It For a Fact…I Just Know It’s True.


In his editorial New Rule, Bill argues that socialism isn’t as scary as it sounds and calls on Democrats to ramp up their rhetoric against Trump.

THANKS to HBO and Real Time with Bill Maher for making this program available on YouTube.


A hypnotizing journey through Yiwu, a five-mile-long wholesale market in China with 75,000 vendors.

“Commodity City” was directed by Jessica Kingdon. It is part of The Atlantic Selects, an online showcase of short documentaries from independent creators, curated by The Atlantic.


魚に酔うまるとはな。Maru&Hana play with the fish toy.


FINALLY . . .

Suicide hotlines really do save lives. I know because one saved mine.

LIFE LINE


The most important call you can make.

Even for someone who did not know Anthony Bourdain, who saw his shows only sporadically and did not own a copy of Kitchen Confidential, the internet was a raw and painful place the day the acclaimed chef and storyteller died by suicide. It wasn’t just the loss, but the intentionality of it, and its happening just three days after designer Kate Spade’s death by the same cause only amplified the sorry senselessness of both.

Eventually, I turned it off, all of the obituaries, tweets, and pieces about mental health. But there are some channels that can’t be shut down easily, and it ate at me: not why these two individuals died in this way, which is unknowable, but why anyone does, and what invisible hand pushes some people in crisis closer to the precipice and holds others back.

I thought about what a selfish, abusive parasite depression is. I thought about the ghastly pain that deaths by suicide leave behind.

Most of all I thought about that hotline number offered up in the wake of suicides. I thought about why, for some people, a stranger’s disembodied voice cuts through the internal din of depression in a way that the voices of their most beloved friends and family cannot. I wondered why this phone number saves people, and I marveled at how lucky I was that it once saved me.

DEGREE OF POSSIBILITY: World Suicide Prevention Day was September 10th. In its honor, here is one story shared as another scrap of evidence of the good that comes from asking for help.


Ed. More tomorrow? Probably. Possibly. Maybe. Not?