January 3, 2021 in 3,782 words


• • • an aural noise • • •

word salad: Amazing collaborations with beautiful people and great artists. This album is a journey of beauty through feelings and love, to each one who helped to be part of this incredible meeting of the depth of the heart, we told stories that will mark the path of listeners and lovers of chillgressive. To each artist from the depths of my being, I wish them the best. With love: César Guzmán (Stardust).

• • • some of the things I read in antisocial isolation • • •


Sanga, Nepal: Kailashnath Mahadev Statue

Nepal is home to the world’s tallest Shiva statue.


Kailashnath Mahadev. Embiggenable. Explore at home.


COMPLETED IN 2011 AFTER SEVEN years of construction, this 144-foot tall statue presenting the hand gesture (or mudra) offering blessings of peace stands approximately 12 miles east of Kathmandu. Nearly as tall as the Statue of Liberty (151 feet), Shiva is comprised of copper, zinc, concrete, and steel. It’s also the second tallest Hindu deity in the world.

Accompanied by his telltale trident representing Shiva’s three functions as creator, preserver, and destroyer, as well as a damaru (drum), which he uses in his dance, Shiva is also garlanded by the serpent Vasuki, who represents power and fearlessness.

Next to Shiva is Nandi, the bull that represents one of Shiva’s alter egos Pashupati, or “Lord of Cattle.” Surrounding the statue in the temple complex are 12 Shiva lingams, which may or may not be symbolic phalluses depending on the source, but represent Shiva’s role as a creator and god of fertility.

The name Kailashnath means “Master of Mount Kailash,” while Mahadev means “great god.” Mount Kailash, Shiva’s traditional home, is a 21,800-foot tall mountain in the Tibet Autonomous Region of China near the northwest corner of Nepal. It sits near the headwaters of the Indus, Brahmaputra, and Karnali rivers.

RELATED: Inside the Deep Gun Culture of Gwalior, India
Relics of outlaws, markers of status, and enforcers of social hierarchy, firearms are woven into rural life.


Former armed bandit Balwant Singh Tomar (nephew of the famed Paan Singh Tomar) now leads a quieter life. Unembiggenable. Explore at home.


IN EARLY NOVEMBER 2020, AS voters in the United States went to the polls in a historic election, people in another part of the world were taking part in a democratic process of their own: 16 assembly seats were on the ballot in the Gwalior-Chambal region of the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh. For days leading up to the election, long lines slithered outside every police station. It was not for early voting. The men in these lines—and they were all men—twirled their mustaches and clutched bolt-action 315 bore rifles with pride. The Model Code of Conduct for elections had kicked in, and every licensed gun holder in the region was required to “surrender” his weapon to the nearest police station for safekeeping during the election. Gwalior-Chambal is home to the largest number of guns per capita in the country, and more than 100,000 of them were deposited with authorities across the region. Elections seem to be the only time that the region’s infamous gun culture, latent most of the year, fully surfaces in the public.

Over the years, the beehads (ravines) of Chambal have acquired a reputation for dacoity, the subcontinental term for armed banditry. According to a paper by M.Z Khan, a criminologist at the Institute of Criminology and Forensic Science in New Delhi, the heyday of the practice was in the 1970s, when dacoits—or baaghis (rebels), as they have insisted on being called—set up their own parallel law and order structures, outside of and as a direct challenge to the state. Since then, most of these dacoits have been caught or killed, or willingly surrendered in exchange for amnesty. But reputations have a way of lingering, and people remain terrified of traveling National Highway 44 through the region at night. “See, I don’t think crime in Chambal today is more than anywhere else. Crime is on the rise everywhere. It’s all in people’s perception,” says a police officer from Gwalior who wishes to remain anonymous. That may well be true, but he couldn’t deny that the people here have an obsession—unhealthy maybe, dangerous perhaps—with guns.


Locals line up to “surrender” their guns (top) at a police station, where they are held (bottom) for election season.

“Every villager has a Scorpio [a locally made 7-seater SUV], a buffalo, and a gun. They will use their Scorpio to tie their buffalo, and they’ll guard both with their gun,” says Gwalior resident Bahadur Khushwa, jokingly. More than 60 percent of gun owners in the region are rural farmers. They usually cite security concerns for gun ownership, but when probed further, most admit that guns are status symbols in a rural society where the power of a household is measured by its firepower.

“We are six people in my family, and we own six Mausers,” says Dharmendra Singh Gurjar, a resident of Behat village in Gwalior district. German arms manufacturer Mauser supplied rifles to India in the early 20th century, and the name has since become a catchall for any 315 bore rifle. The modern Indian 315 bore is actually a civilian version of the British military Lee-Enfield rifle, and is now manufactured in Indian government ordnance factories. Dharmendra says that his village is very peaceful and never sees violence of any kind. In fact, he has never used any of the six “Mausers” in his house. His brother shoots wild animals from time to time, but mostly they are just a warning to intruders: Stay away.


The Culture Wars Have Barely Begun

Republicans used to think they’d succeed through moderation and inclusion. That’s over.

DENVER RIGGLEMAN HAD A rough December. For one thing, he’s about to lose his job: Over the summer, members of the Virginia GOP voted to kick the freshman Republican out of Congress, largely because he publicly officiated a same-sex wedding. Riggleman’s cousin died of COVID-19 the week before Christmas, and his grandmother had to be hospitalized with the virus. Now, as his family gets sick all around him, Riggleman is about to be replaced in Congress by a coronavirus skeptic. “We have got to stop the insanity, and stop accepting the hoax that says forcing people to wear a mask, forcing businesses to close, prohibiting worship services, and keeping kids out of school will make a significant difference in whether or not we will die from this virus,” tweeted Bob Good, the representative-elect from Virginia’s Fifth Congressional District, on the same day the U.S. death toll passed 291,000.

A few years ago, Republicans might have seen a guy like Riggleman as their future. He’s a small-business owner from the rural part of a purple-blue state who cares a lot about national security and keeping taxes low, and not much about policing people’s personal lives. In the infamous 2013 GOP autopsy report diagnosing why Republicans kept losing the popular vote and popular support, party leaders wrote that “young people and increasingly other voters will continue to tune us out” if the GOP does not become more inclusive. The culture wars were over, the report seemed to suggest—standing against same-sex marriage was a way to lose elections, not win them. But as Riggleman’s saga makes clear, there are many places in the country where issues such as LGBTQ rights are not at all settled. As the 117th Congress convenes this month, voices from those places may be the loudest ones on the right. “I’ve been screaming, ‘We need to become a big-tent party!’ for some time,” Riggleman told me. “But I think they misunderstood me and thought I meant ‘carnival tent.’”

Riggleman has spent the past six months battling the more fringe parts of his party. Shortly after he was effectively fired, he started receiving hate mail, calling him a “fag lover,” a leader of “Bibi Netanyahu’s pedophile ring,” and a “tool of the anti-Christ.” One troll even called his wife “the spawn of Satan”—making the two of them a sort of underworld power couple, Riggleman joked. “I really am not a big fan of conspiracy theories or radicalization,” he said. “There’s this bizarre stream of that running through the GOP right now. And it’s going to hurt the party.” He has used much of his final time in office to condemn QAnon, the right-wing conspiracy theory that has been promoted by conservatives such as Marjorie Taylor Greene, the newly elected representative from Georgia. “It’s very hard to call myself a Republican if I believe there’s a significant portion of the party—even if it’s 15 to 20 percent—who believe some of those things,” Riggleman said. “Something that used to be called the Grand Old Party now stands for ‘Grandpa’s on Peyote.’”

The most conservative people within the Republican Party win power more easily when election rules work in their favor. Under Virginia law, party leaders can choose how they nominate candidates—no traditional primary elections required. Disgruntled GOP leaders in Riggleman’s district used that to their advantage, hosting a party convention in Good’s hometown in southern Virginia. This setup was designed to downplay moderate voices: The most active Republicans in the most conservative part of the state selected the candidate for a large and diverse district.

RELATED: Why Even The Staunchest Trump Supporters Should Be Backing Biden By Now
And a few other notes as we head into 2021…


If you believe Trump’s endless allegations that Democrats stole the election out from under him, but there’s no explicit smoking gun proof because they did it in such a coordinated way, across many states each with different voting rules, and they did it seamlessly and invisibly, turning around a dire situation for themselves literally overnight, can we at least agree those should be the people in charge of distributing Coronavirus vaccines?

Even though the word “fraud” keeps coming out of Trump’s mouth, and appearing in his Tweets, if you look at the substance of what he’s saying and Tweeting — if you can call it that — every “huge” revelation is based on some ridiculous, tortuous stab at “statistical analysis”, and never on any findings of actual widespread fraud in fact.

Or not even that. Trump accused the Secretary of State of Georgia this week with having a brother who works for China. Which would apparently explain his unwillingness to throw the election Trump lost in Georgia, to Trump. Except the person to whom Trump was apparently referring is not the Georgia Secretary of State’s brother. Because it just doesn’t matter: Trump just floods the zone with misinformation, and people start believing it because they’re hearing so much, there must be something to it.

And most of that “statistical analysis” boils down to an argument that Trump didn’t lose because how could he possibly have lost? And most of Trump’s personal argument boils down to that too: “I didn’t lose, because how could I possibly have lost”?

Except he did.


Elton John Started Dressing Like That on a Dare

Ever seen Elton John in a suit? Like, a normal business suit? It’s wild:

He’s all but unrecognizable without some glitter or at least a funky pair of glasses, but when he first rose to fame, he dressed pretty normally for the early ’70s. You could charitably describe his style as “fun engineer.”

In fact, for the first few years of his career, he wore a uniform of denim overalls “in a variety of ‘mod’ colors” with “a lightweight long-sleeved t-shirt underneath.” In other words, he was rocking that Angela Chase look way back in the ’70s, so you can’t say he wasn’t always ahead of his time. When he did wear the odd outlandish item, like a yellow satin cape with a giant sequin E on the back that was sewn for him by his bassist’s wife, even the designer was shocked.

It wasn’t until 1973, when Maxine Fiebelman (the “seamstress for the band” of “Tiny Dancer”) picked up a pair of mauve tights in whatever drag queen’s closet she shops in, that things got weird. As John tells it, she presented him with the tights before a show and told him, “I bet you wouldn’t wear them onstage,” and John discovered inside himself a great capacity for rising to any fashion challenge, pairing them with sparkly silver boots for good measure.

RELATED: Reminder: Marty McFly Was Absolutely Going to Assault His Mom

We, both as a culture and specifically here at Cracked have spent a lot of time discussing the existential horrors of Back to the Future, and the relationship between Marty and his mom is no small part of that. Lorraine McFly being desperately horny for a guy she doesn’t realize is her son is the primary gag of the movie, but she’s fairly blameless there, even sensing when she kisses him that something is off and declining any further activity. What is weird is how horny Marty is for his mom, despite all the uncomfortable faces he pulls, to the point of fully intending to sexually assault her.

A lot is made of Biff’s attempted rape of Lorraine, all the people who walked by and didn’t try to stop it, etc., but that was the plan going wrong. The plan going right — Marty successfully sexually assaulting his mom so his dad can intervene and save the day — would have been so much more horrifying.

Sure, he chickened out, but why was that the plan he went with? That’s a first draft that you immediately throw out on the grounds of “Jesus Christ, what is wrong with me?” and then never reveal to anyone that you ever even thought about it. There are numerous ways George could have impressed Lorraine that wouldn’t have required nonconsensual time-traveling incest. How many worse ideas did he discard before he settled on “mom rape”? What kind of depraved son of a perfectly nice lady who doesn’t deserve this is this creep? Is it because, as we’ve suggested before, Marty is actually attracted to his mom, despite what he wants us to think?

RELATED: 21 Ways America Is Vastly Different From Other Countries


One of the side effects of living in the United States is thinking that what you see around you is normal. But as it turns out, there’s a ton of stuff that’s incredibly commonplace in America that would be considered super bizarre anywhere else.

21

For details, read 7 Surprising Ways Democracy Is Totally Different Overseas

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Source NY Times

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Source: Smithsonian


Why I Changed My Mind About Section 230

Congress should revise the law that gave tech platforms freedom without responsibility.

In the United States, you are free to speak, but you are not free of responsibility for what you say. If your speech is defamatory, you can be sued. If you are a publisher, you can be sued for the speech you pass along. But online services such as Facebook and Twitter can pass along almost anything, with almost no legal accountability, thanks to a law known as Section 230.

President Donald Trump has been pressuring Congress to repeal the law, which he blames for allowing Twitter to put warning labels on his tweets. But the real problem with Section 230, which I used to strongly support, is the kind of internet it has enabled. The law lets large sites benefit from network effects (I’m on Facebook because my friends are on Facebook) while shifting the costs of scale, like shoddy moderation and homogenized communities, to users and society at large. That’s a bad deal. Congress should revise Section 230—just not for the reasons the president and his supporters have identified.

When the law was enacted in 1996, the possibility that monopolies could emerge on the internet seemed ludicrous. But the facts have changed, and now so must our minds.

In the early 1990s, emerging digital technologies created a quandary. Online public forums, on which users are able to post whatever they’d like, were one of the earliest and most exciting applications of digital networks. But hosting such a forum was arguably akin to a newspaper publishing a Letters to the Editor page without bothering to read the letters, which would be a prescription for legal catastrophe.

In two landmark cases, courts began to grapple with the issue. In 1991, a federal court ruled that the online service CompuServe was a mere distributor, rather than a publisher, of the material that it hosted, and so was not liable for its content. Its competitor Prodigy, however, was deemed to be liable in a New York state court ruling four years later, because Prodigy moderated user forums. By acting as an editor and not a mere conduit, the court reasoned, Prodigy made itself a publisher rather than a distributor.

In 1996, Congress passed the Communications Decency Act, a law meant to crack down on digital smut.

MEANWHILE, NOT IN THE UNITED STATES: Germany fines Facebook for under-reporting complaints


German authorities have fined Facebook 2 million euros ($2.3 million) for under-reporting complaints about illegal content on its social media platform in breach of the country’s law on internet transparency.

In a statement on Tuesday, Germany’s Federal Office of Justice said that by tallying only certain categories of complaints, the web giant had created a skewed picture of the extent of violations on its platform.

Faced with a global backlash over the role its platform played in election campaigns from the United States and Britain to the Philippines, Facebook has been on a public relations drive to improve its image.

But Facebook said it had complied with its transparency obligations under the law, known as ‘NetzDG’, adding that some aspects of the law “lacked clarity”. Facebook said it reserved the right to appeal the ruling after studying it.

Ed. Perhaps Facebook should be fined every day it fails to exercise complete transparency and responsibility.


South Africa’s inability to honestly confront AIDS shows the dangers of America’s COVID-19 denialism


A South African woman mourning her husband who died of AIDS covers herself, according to custom, during the burial.

At a time when the U.S. is experiencing one of the worst COVID-19 infection rates among wealthy nations, Americans could take some cautionary lessons from South Africa, the nation that fared the worst during the HIV/AIDS epidemic because of the many stumbles and mistakes of its different governments.

Some South African authors, like Phaswane Mpe and Sindiwe Magona, whose work I study and teach, have written about the tragic effects of a country steeped in denialism about the virus, the ramifications of which are still being felt today.

In 2019, 7.7 million South Africans were HIV positive and the HIV prevalence among adults ages 15 to 49 was a staggering 20%. A multiyear study tells an even more sobering story: Between 1997 and 2010, as many as 2.8 million South Africans died of HIV/AIDS-related causes – an average of over 200,000 deaths per year.

These numbers were once incomprehensible to Americans – that is, until 2020, when the U.S. lost over 300,000 people to the coronavirus. The truth about what can happen in the absence of a carefully calibrated public health plan became painfully clear.

Of course, HIV and COVID-19 are two very different viruses.


Video Goodnesses
and not-so-goodnesses

Intensive farming has helped to create a meat industry worth over $300 billion a year, but an appetite for beef has put the planet under incredible strain. Counter Space heads to Spain to explore the future of meat stopping at restaurants serving up steaks aged 20 years to just 40 minutes.

THANKS to SHOWTIME and VICE News for making this program available on YouTube.


Ever wonder about the financial cost of police brutality? How about climate change? Don’t worry, Dulcé Sloan’s running the numbers.

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


CAUTION: Some language may not be appropriate for work or children.

Here’s me commentary on animals relaxing again. They are so, so good at being chilled out!

“2021 should be the year of self care and naps.”

See the rest, in some particular order here.


ねずみの爪とぎで遊ぶねこたち。まるさんが入るとぎゅうぎゅう。Cats play with mouse shaped scratching board!


FINALLY . . .

Four Seasons Total Landscaping gave us all a lighthearted lesson in 2020

The unlikely site of a Trump campaign press conference – which shared a name with a nearby hotel – seized its moment with entrepreneurial elan.


The world – and Rudy Giuliani – beats a path to Four Seasons Total Landscaping in north-east Philadelphia. Embiggenable. Explore at home. Be sure to thoughtfully browse the sex toy shop adjacent to this place.

PROTIP: It’s freeway-adjacent for easy access to your next uncomfortable press conference.


FOR MANY US SMALL BUSINESSES, 2020 was not a funny – or fun – year at all. It’s hard to find any humor in a year that a pandemic caused the deaths of more than 300,000 people, destroyed jobs for more than 12 million and ruined countless restaurants and other small businesses in the fitness, arts, travel and retail industries.

But last year one small business did give us all a reason to laugh. That small business is Four Seasons Total Landscaping in, of all places, my home town of Philadelphia.

Four Seasons Total Landscaping became a worldwide story when President Trump’s campaign announced a surprise press conference – on the day the election results for Pennsylvania and other states were released – in their parking lot on State Road in the north-east section of the city. The announcement befuddled both supporters and opponents alike. The press conference – like so many others of this administration – was a confused, rambling affair. No one knew if this was actually planned or just a mix-up with the Four Seasons hotel near Broad Street. No one could figure out if Trump even knew what was happening. It happened anyway. And the whole thing was very funny.

It was funny because of the imagery: Trump’s attorney Rudy Giuliani fighting for his boss’s political life surrounded by other small businesses typical to State Road – a sex shop and a crematorium – and of course with the Four Seasons Total Landscaping sign prominently behind him. It was funny because it was absurd and surprising and curious. It was funny because no one admitted this was a mistake. Was it? It was funny because the incident occurred in a city where Trump had recently warned “bad things happen.” To him apparently.


Ed. More tomorrow? Possibly. Probably. Maybe. Likely, if I find nothing more barely uninteresting at all to do.


ONE MORE THING:





Good times!


Ed. Upon further mindfulless reflection, perhaps I should hold onto this klunker a while longer. My hosting company, Godaddy, say this skidmark on the web is only worth about $1,075.

Ed. etc., Mindfulless, a term I didn’t make up.