This Ruthless World

Adventures in absurdity

Cimetière des Saints-Innocents: A Post in Honor of Halloween

Caspar Friedrich,

Caspar Friedrich, “Abbey Ruins” (1809)

If you go to Paris today, you will see a nineteenth-century city.  That is because — I’m saving you the tedium of reading that guidebook — the medieval city that Victor Hugo described so longingly in The Hunchback of Notre Dame was almost entirely razed beginning in the 1850’s and replaced by a new, unrecognizable one.  New Paris is, of course, much more elegant (and also cleaner) than its predecessor; but, speaking as a medieval history buff and someone writing on Halloween, I have to say New Paris is also a lot less cool.  Old Paris, of which virtually nothing remains today, was, as kids would put it, hardcore.  Nowhere was this more apparent than at the city’s very center, at Europe’s most notorious cemetery, the Cemetery of the Holy Innocents. Read more…

Why It’s Okay To Talk About Kim Davis’ Multiple Marriages

Titian, There has been some discussions in the liberal circles lately as to whether the messy personal history of Kim Davis — an anti-gay county clerk from Kentucky who claims that the US Constitution and Jesus give her the right to use her authority as a government official to deny other people’s Constitutional rights — is an appropriate subject for public dissection.  Specifically, it has been said that to bring up her multiple marriages is a form of “slut shaming”, or that because she did all that adultery stuff before she found Jesus, it’s irrelevant to her anti-gay stance.  I disagree on both accounts.  Here is why. Read more…

Letters From Russia: The Story Of (Nearly) Forgotten Murders

Britt Reints, "A Butcher's Stall" (2011)

May you live in interesting times.

~ old Chinese curse

On an unknown date in 1988, the Soviet Union executed Tamara Ivanyutina (maiden name Maslenko), a former school dishwasher, pig farmer, wife, daughter, sister and serial poisoner. She became the last woman executed by the USSR and one of only three executed in the post-war period.* As per standard Soviet practices, her execution was not announced beforehand, and it is not known how her body was disposed. The notification of her death was sent to her unincarcerated next-of-kin — who happened to be one of her victims, and the child of two additional victims. Not surprisingly, he did not bother to hold a memorial for her. The lack of ceremony or mourning surrounding her death was particularly ironic in light of her personality and motivations. Unwept, unhonored and unsung** — such was the ignominious end of a woman who was propelled on her life path by a powerful conviction that the world did not treat her with due respect. Read more…

Fine, Let’s Play That Whole “It Might Have Been A Bomb” Game For a Second

Edouard Moyse, In case your blood pressure this morning isn’t quite high enough, or you need a good reason to drink a case of bourbon and decide the world sucks (again), I got your back: the cops in Irving, Texas arrested a fourteen year-old student for making a clock and bringing it to school.  It is, of course, a pure coincidence that the kid in question bears the name Ahmed Mohamed and an appropriately brown appearance to go with it; and it is also a pure coincidence — stop being so paranoid! — that, as Wonkette points out, Irving is a town whose mayor previously threw a hissy fit over a Muslim mediation service, and a neighboring town recently held a Mohammed cartoon contest.  The suspected terrorist was badgered by teachers and the principal (who threatened to expel the young criminal unless he wrote a confession that the clock was a bomb, even though it wasn’t), interrogated by cops and finally led away in handcuffs, because as the police spokesman put it, the kid didn’t provide “a broader explanation”. A broader explanation, that is, for the bewildering act of constructing a clock and showing it off to his teachers and classmates.  And wingnut America breathed a sigh of relief, knowing we are safe and free. Read more…

How To Be A Real Great Poet



In nerd news: fragments of smoking pipes with traces of cannabis have been found in a location that was once William Shakespeare’s garden. Although it is not at all clear that any of these pipes belonged to the Bard (or indeed if they even date to his lifetime) scholars are excited: after all, here is a chance, however slim, of demonstrating that the boring stuffed shirt that was Bill Shakespeare really did write all that nice poetry. Maybe he was high as a kite. Read more…

Myths And Illusions: The Myth of Paracelsus’ Scientific Contributions

A page from "Rosarium Philosophorum", an anonymous 16-century alchemical treatiseI want to begin this post beating up on Philippus Aureolus Theophrastus Bombast von Hohenheim, better known as Paracelsus, with a brief digression. As a student of the Middle Ages and Renaissance during my undergraduate days (as well as an Ancient History buff), I noticed an interesting phenomenon. When we talk about the store of knowledge humanity has acquired over the course of its existence, something is deemed to have been “discovered” only when (1) it’s explicitly attested to in writing (2) by a man (3) who has a name. Knowledge possessed and applied by women, or by illiterate societies, or by anonymous people is deemed to not exist; and women themselves, as well as “natives”, are matter-of-factly treated as passive objects of study, rather than human beings capable of possessing and using information. Thus, you might hear Hippocrates credited with “discovering” the early symptoms of pregnancy – even though midwifery existed as a recognized profession for at least 1,500 years before him, and papyri with instructions on how to calculate gestational age date to about that far back. (Sometimes the credit is given to Imhotep, instead.) Read more…

On Antonin Scalia’s (In)Famous Dissents

Sorry, I couldn't resist: I do think THIS is where Scalia would have been most at home.

Sorry, I couldn’t resist: I do think THIS is where Scalia would have been most at home.

What a great week last week was for America! I am talking about, of course, the Supreme Court decisions upholding the Affordable Care Act and the Fair Housing Act, as well as finding same-sex marriage bans unconstitutional. (I mean, yes, upholding the death penalty still sucked, but we take what we can.) Yet on some level, it was an irritating week too, due to primarily all the fawning over the world’s most overrated jurist, Antonin Scalia. Read more…

What Does This Movie Mean? — The Godfather’s Oranges

I’ve been meaning for some time to write something about all those oranges in Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather trilogy. It’s a topic that’s been copiously discussed by viewers and critics, but I still feel that there is something left to say about it. Specifically, it’s the question of “why oranges” that really fascinates me.

So let us begin. Read more…

Nine Stupidest Things People Like to Say in Defense of Hateful “Humor”

Lighten up, it's only art.

Relax, it’s only art.

I continue my frustrated “Stupid Things People Like to Say” series. Today’s entry: stupid things people like to say in defense of bigotry, especially bigoted “humor”. My post focuses on anti-Semitism, but I think a lot of what I say here is applicable to other forms of bigotry as well. Read more…

Grifters Gotta Grift

Paulus Morels, "Allegory of Avarice" (1621)As a rule, I don’t take conspiracy theories seriously. There is, however, a difference between a conspiracy and a relatively uncomplicated scam that rakes in big bucks. And in my business, you learn to be skeptical.

Remember Joe the Plumber? Read more…

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