The Russians Are Coming

A row of Russian navy officers stand in formation in front of a submarine

This week, the world’s most important security alliance faces its most important test since the end of the Cold War 23 years ago.

The 28 countries comprising the North Atlantic Treaty Organization will gather in the U.K. starting Thursday. It comes at a time when the dominant NATO mission of the last decade — the Afghan war — is winding down and when Russian incursions into Ukraine challenge the very European order the alliance was created to defend.

When the Soviet Union and its Warsaw Pact alliance collapsed in 1991, NATO went through an identity crisis of sorts. The alliance had been formed in 1949 with the singular purpose of protecting Western Europe from the sort of takeover the Soviet Union had engineered across Eastern Europe, from the Baltics and Poland in the north to Bulgaria in the south.

Putin’s takeover of Crimea and incursion into Ukraine flummox an alliance that has historically focused on combating clear and conventional armed aggression.

NATO succeeded in protecting Western Europe, but this victory led to a big question: Now what? For a time, it was kept busy with crises like the Balkan wars of the 1990s and, later, participation in Afghanistan’s 48-member International Security Assistance Force.

But the crisis in Ukraine is taking the alliance back to its roots — only now in a world where everything from tactics to weapons to geopolitics is entirely different from that of 1949.

Start with the blunt nature of NATO’s original challenge. The organization was born just three years after Winston Churchill declared that a Soviet “iron curtain” had descended on Eastern Europe, and in the same year that the USSR detonated its first atomic bomb. During the height of the Cold War, the dominant threat was the USSR’s combination of massive Soviet conventional forces poised to charge into Western Europe backed by its frequently rattling nuclear saber.

Today, the challenge is subtler but no less real — and in some ways much harder to counter. Russian President Vladimir Putin’s creeping takeover of Crimea early this year and his slow-motion incursion into Ukraine tend to flummox an alliance whose doctrine and exercises have historically focused on combating clear and distinct conventional armed aggression — tanks, armies and aircraft coming straight at you. 

Now NATO has to find some traction against a Putin strategy that employs a mix of anonymous special forces (what analysts now call the “little green men”), information operations, dissembling public statements, and covert infiltration of men and materiel that blurs attribution and offers a just barely plausible patina of denial.   

Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks during the opening ceremonies of a monument to soldiers of WW1.

Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks during the unveiling of a monument to soldiers of the First World War.

In short, the mode of warfare today involves tactics that are very difficult to pin down and harder to describe — a recent U.K. parliamentary study called Putin’s new tools “ambiguous warfare.”

So next week, NATO’s leaders must face down this new challenge; can they effectively deal with this changed reality?

Practically, this means NATO must decide how to implement the core provision of the alliance treaty — Article 5. This is the collective defense provision that pledges all members to come to the aid of any member that is threatened. This provision is newly challenged because the idea of threat itself is changing so fundamentally.

No NATO member has experienced something comparable to what has happened in Ukraine — yet. But if Russia succeeds in destabilizing Ukraine and thwarting Ukrainians’ ambition to associate with the European Union, Putin could be powerfully tempted to use some of the same techniques on a NATO member. Seeing how difficult the Ukraine crisis has been for Europe and the United States might induce Putin to try some of the same tactics on one of the ex-USSR Baltic nations, for example. And given the deep suspicion with which the Baltics view Russia, it would not take much for them to request Article 5 protection. 

Invoking Article 5 in the aftermath of another “ambiguous warfare” episode by Russia would plunge NATO into a debate it has never had to have — because so far, nothing Russia has done has led a member to request Article 5 protection. The only time it has been used was after the 9/11 attacks when all members pledged support to the U.S. without being asked. The clause requires unanimity, no easy feat to achieve, especially since NATO upped its membership from 12 nations to 28 over recent years. And among these 28 nations, everything from capabilities to histories to political views vary sharply.

Russia has long held a conviction that NATO is dedicated to keeping them down, and Putin would like nothing better than to show NATO toothless.

So next week NATO must anticipate and decide what collective defense really means in light of the novel threat posed by Putin’s strategy. If the leaders do not do this and then freeze in the face of a circumstance requiring unanimity, they will hand Russia a strategic victory. Russia has long held a conviction that NATO has always been dedicated to keeping them down, and Putin would like nothing better than to show NATO toothless. 

Against this central doctrinal challenge, the summit will be grappling with some immediate practical issues. On the docket: sorting out NATO’s long-standing goal for members to spend 2 percent of GDP on defense (only four currently do — the U.S., U.K., Estonia and Greece); deciding whether to base more forces, including U.S. military, closer to Russia’s border; considering providing more modern weaponry to nonmembers such as Ukraine and Moldova to conduct military exercises; and, finally, discussing adding members (Georgia, in particular, is pressing to join).

During Cold War times, NATO meetings often took on a routine quality. In fact, former Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau in 1984 characterized NATO summits as gatherings where government leaders went through “… the tedious motions of reading speeches, drafted by others, with the principal objective of not rocking the boat.”

But now someone is rocking NATO’s boat — hard — and the time for tedious speeches is over.         

Bombastic Beer Cocktail Recipes

Cocktail glasses filled with cold beer

This weekend, grills will be rolled out, coolers will be stocked and meats will be marinated ahead of Labor Day’s barbecue-inspired overindulgence. What better way to mark the beginning of the end of summer and the arrival of a new school year than with new ways to drink a brewski?

If you have yet to find a preferred beer, combining it with other beverages is a good way to ease into appreciating beer’s greatness.

But don’t submit to frat-star-style beer consumption. Instead, try the shandy, a broad category of drinks made with beer and any nonalcoholic beverage. With a shandy, the possibilities are endless. International incarnations find beer mixed with everything from liquor to sparkling wine to fruit juice. In the United States, the lemonade shandy is by far the most popular of this variety, with companies like Shock Top now capitalizing on the rising beer cocktail trend by selling a bottled Lemon Shandy.

According to master mixologist and TV host Bruce “Blue” Rivera, the shandy makes beer accessible to those new to the world of beer.

“I love the shandy because it is a great starting point for people who may not consider themselves beer lovers,” Rivera says. “If you have yet to find a preferred beer, combining it with other beverages is a good way to ease into appreciating beer’s greatness.”

Fresh off of being featured on SPIKE TV’s Bar Rescue for his work at SOYO Craft Bar in Yonkers, New York, Rivera has compiled four easy-to-make shandy recipes, taken from all over the flavor spectrum, to liven up your Labor Day drink menu. Feel free to change any recipes to suit your taste preferences.

The Clarita

Mix ginger ale or lemon-lime soda and a light beer of your choice. Why it works: It’s a light, refreshing summery drink. “The carbonation makes this very easy to drink on a hot day. You could pair this with any thick, sweet barbecue or hickory sauce,” Rivera recommends. “The lightness of the Clarita plays well off of smoky flavors. It’s a palate cleanser.”

The Spangria

Combine equal parts red sangria and light beer. Why it works: The beer’s bitterness is balanced by the sangria’s sweetness and deliciousness ensues. The outcome is like a wine spritzer with a kick, a way to put a boozy new spin on traditional sangria. Plus, Rivera adds, “the sangria lends a bit of refinement to the beer.”

Sweet Irish

Pour cream soda into a chilled glass. Top with Guinness and enjoy. Why it works: It’s a grownup update on the classic cream soda. For someone intimidated by Guinness’ weight, the Sweet Irish is a more approachable introduction to this classic stout. “As the Sweet Irish uses a heavier beer with caramel and coffee notes, the Sweet Irish would pair beautifully with vinegar-based barbecue sauce or any sweet-and-tangy flavors.” Versatile and comforting, the Sweet Irish could help satisfy your sweet tooth or hold its own alongside a hearty burger.

The Southern

Crisp and drinkable, the Southern unites beer with a summertime staple, sweet tea. “This drink allows you to display your personality as a host. Mix your favorite pale lager (Heineken, Corona, etc.) with your favorite flavored sweet tea and garnish with fruit slices of your choice,” Rivera suggests. “This is Southern hospitality in a glass.” 

What If the Next Great Athlete Doesn’t Even Play a Sport?

An athletic young Caucasian woman climbs up a rope during a fitness competition

It took Kacy Catanzaro only 8 minutes, 59.53 seconds to become a national sensation. The 5-foot, 100-pound woman dropped jaws across the country on July 14 when she became the first female to complete an American Ninja Warrior finals course. No obstacle was too big, too daunting or too rigorous for her; she almost made it look easy.

And she doesn’t even play a “sport,” by conventional definitions. 

People like Catanzaro could be staking out a new trend in the sporting life: More and more athletes are becoming known for reasons other than playing your standard soccer, football or tennis. Nowadays, these physical phenoms can display their talents in competitions like American Ninja Warrior — or, on an amateur level, by heading to CrossFit after work. Athleticism just got a little more accessible.

We’re seeing our most fundamental definition of a star athlete challenged and democratized.

To be sure, it’s extreme athleticism. Obstacle racing and fitness-related competitions have surged in popularity, gaining on momentum that’s been building since 1997, when the Japanese TV series Sasuke began. Warrior Dash, the world’s largest obstacle racing series, expects 300,000 people to participate in 2014. Catanzaro’s own stomping ground, American Ninja Warrior, recently topped 6 million viewers in its two-hour TV slot, attracting the show’s highest ratings in more than two years. And the number of CrossFit gyms has grown sevenfold over the past five years, to 10,000. Every one of them is measuring, grading and pushing its participants to greater glory. 

Which means we’re seeing our most fundamental definition of a star athlete challenged and democratized. Being an athlete may no longer mean a sports star or a professionally trained champion. Today, being a star athlete doesn’t just mean excelling on the field — it means being healthy, fit and active. 

“[People] can do something that’s fun that they wouldn’t have thought to do without an organized program at their hands. So they can continue to stay active and continue to stay fit and healthier longer — which I think, personally, will keep it around longer,” says Sandy Colvin, manager and head trainer at CrossFit Riverchase in Birmingham, Alabama, of the new superfit athleticism.

“You can’t just be good at one thing,” says American Ninja Warrior veteran Brent Steffensen of the diverse skills the competition requires its participants to display. (And he does think Ninja Warrior is a sport.) “It really challenges the human body in so many different ways.” 

Training facilities to service these events are popping up around the nation, including Ninja Warrior-focused gyms in conjunction with Catanzaro, Steffensen and Alpha Warrior. These facilities may just be what it takes to make the fad last by giving the common man or woman a chance to push limits and exceed physical expectations. 

“I think people are really starting to realize it’s a true sport and people are training hard and it requires a lot of different attributes to be good at it. It’s getting people involved and encouraging them to stay fit and be healthy,” says Steffensen.

These modern TV events have their roots in more traditional sports.

Still, some are worried about new fitness extremes. It’s been all over the news: The Washington Post asked, “Does CrossFit push people too hard?” and former athlete, coach, model and fitness guru Erin Simmons even penned an article titled “Why I Don’t Do CrossFit,” citing the danger of rigorous, high-intensity drills in a limited amount of time.

The difficulty level of the challenges will continue to increase, but at what point will the obstacles become too tough for athletes to physically handle? Athletes like Catanzaro are facing down intense new challenges: simultaneous use of numerous muscles, the risk of potentially dangerous heights or distances, even the highest tests of endurance that threaten the heart’s beating capacity. 

But this isn’t a new phenomenon, nor is it just an American craze. Using this measure of all-around fitness to determine athleticism is as old as, well, sports themselves — so says Olympic historian David Wallechinsky.

“There’s a tradition in Olympic sports of having multiple talents. So these modern TV events have their roots in more traditional sports,” Wallechinsky says. 

Even in ancient Greece, the question loomed: Who is the best all-around athlete? That’s why the modern pentathlon, an Olympic event, was invented — the event tests competitors on running, swimming, fencing, horseback riding and pistol shooting. (Competitors on American Ninja Warrior can be faced with anywhere from five to 10 obstacles, depending on the stage of the competition.)

But don’t worry — neither LeBron James nor Lionel Messi will be ditching their sports for small-screen stunts anytime soon. American Ninja Warrior and the like are, ultimately, more entertainment than athleticism — they’re shows that depend on TV ratings and commercial sponsorship to survive. So maybe it’s just a fad. (Remember Tae Bo, the martial arts-like fitness craze that consumed pop culture in the ’90s?)

Fad or not, these obstacle and fitness competitions are definitely having a profound cultural impact, shifting the emphasis more toward fitness instead of technical ability. It’s creating an opportunity for more and more people to enter the realm of extreme athleticism, or at least encouraging them to try. The point is, being an all-around athlete may be a lofty goal, but now, it’s an attainable one.

Elizabeth Robinson is a lover of sports, exercise, faith, family, food and all things Chicago. She’s based in Illinois.

Naomi Pilgrim’s Soul Shimmers

Headshot of Naomi Pilgrim

Swedish-Barbadian songstress Naomi Pilgrim is a slow-burn star.

Her soulful pipes dazzled RedOne — yes, Lady Gaga’s producer — when she was just 14. Not quite ready for the limelight, she spent years singing backup before taking herself seriously. But a slow and steady start has worked out more than fine for Pilgrim. Over the past six months alone she’s dropped her debut EP, a new single and accompanying video, and hopes to release her second EP next year. If you find yourself bumping EDM with a twinge of nostalgia for Lauryn Hill circa Miseducation, prepare to find sonic bliss in Pilgrim’s dreamy, R&B-infused electropop.

Pilgrim, 29, has dusky eyes and a sweet, pillowy face, and her Swedish accent is tinged with a slight Caribbean lilt. Speaking by Skype from a Stockholm recording studio in an old church basement, she recalls spending her whole life immersed in music — her Barbadian father sang in a reggae band, and she grew up in Stockholm with her Swedish, music-obsessed mother, who blared Jimmy Cliff, Michael Jackson and Sade on vinyl. Pilgrim sometimes wrote songs in her diary, but she saw music as purely cathartic. She dreamt of becoming a lifeguard or horse-mounted police officer. 

I reached a point that I wanted to do something for myself.

— Naomi Pilgrim

Until one day when she was standing on a Stockholm subway platform, “goofing around, singing Britney Spears” with her family. “I thought we were alone.” Except for a certain RedOne. The producer — for Swedish pop band A-Teens and later Lady Gaga, among others — invited her to record.  Fed up with enduring racial slurs from her classmates, and teachers dismissing her complaints, Pilgrim left high school for six months to work for RedOne as a demo singer.

After returning to school, though, she hesitated to jump headlong into a music career. A severe perfectionist, she dreaded singing in front of the teachers at her performing arts school. Three times a week, they graded students’ performances, critiquing their expression and confidence. A few made direct digs: “You’re never going to be someone. What are you doing here?” Pilgrim suffered from “serious stage fright” and hated “the whole thing of being judged for your passion.”  

She quit singing and sank into a musical depression, her inspiration run dry. But she found herself singing in “inappropriate” places, like the convenience store or the cafe where she worked, and getting butterflies when she did. “I started to connect with my voice again,” she says. “It was like my spell was broken, and I felt like Ariel (from The Little Mermaid).” 

She began jamming with her musician friends. Outside school, “music was fun again,” she says. She perfected her craft as a backup vocalist for Lykke Li, Agnes Carlsson and others, taking mental notes on their creative process. Her friends urged her to step into the limelight. But Pilgrim lacked the confidence to go solo. Here and there, she wrote snippets of songs, and then fussed endlessly over them.

Then something changed. “I reached a point that I wanted to do something for myself. What does my music sound like? How far can I push myself?”

One evening, she opened a guitar track on her computer that her then-boyfriend had composed. Filled with a sense of urgency, she sat at her kitchen table and scribbled the lyrics in a black Moleskine notebook in between sips of wine and drags from cigarettes. A few hours later, she finished the song — a sad, atmospheric track about deciding whether to stay in a relationship — and spent a few more weeks on production. “[W]ith this one, it was home free. I just loved to listen to the song,” she says.

It’s totally an opportune time for her to make it big.

— Ilana Kaplan, music magazine contributor

Soon after Pilgrim committed to a solo career, the head of artist development at singer Jasmine Kara’s record label approached her after spotting her play piano for Kara. He later introduced her to producer Fredrik Okazaki.

The two joined forces on Pilgrim’s eponymous EP, released in February. It showcases smoky vocals layered over lush soundscapes that nod at her Swedish roots, coupled with chill island beats. Breezy opener “Rainmakers,” about heartbreak and childhood, starts with a thumping bass line dotted with water droplets as Pilgrim crescendos into a full-bodied, head-swaying chorus. It’s a contrast to dark, swaggy “Money.” “No Gun” opens with a tropical steel drum that builds into a shreddy bass line laced with spacey blips and gurgles.

Pilgrim’s strengths lie in her songwriting and vocals, says Ilana Kaplan, a contributor to Noisey, Paste Magazine and others. “She uses nostalgia as a big factor in her songwriting.” Grammy-winning producer/composer for Sony ATV and Studio 1 Zero co-owner Josh “Igloo” Monroy praises Pilgrim’s “bold new sound,” but thinks her vocals could use some refining — “not exactly how she sings the phrases, but the mixing and effects around her vocal.”

Still, her odds of stardom look bright, even if distant. She “has a solid chance at being successful,” Kaplan says. The music scene is ripe for an artist like Pilgrim. “Her music definitely embodies a larger trend — R&B-infused electropop/dreampop” made popular by FKA Twigs, SZA and others. “It’s totally an opportune time for her to make it big.” But amid so many other electro-R&B songstresses, “she needs to find her own … way to stand out.”

And her debut EP is achingly short — she needs to “put out more new tunes soon,” Kaplan says. Pilgrim says she hopes to release her second EP next year. She teased listeners with a new single, the shimmering, whimsical “House of Dreams,” released in May and written after a breakup left her “longing for a space that’s totally mine.” The video features the cherubic chanteuse folding origami cranes and twirling on a pool table in a rosy, Victorian-style mansion, as flickering stop-start techniques slice through the gauzy cinematography.

Pilgrim’s come a long way from the perfectionist music student, although she admits Okazaki occasionally needs to snap her out of it when she gets hung up on her vibrato. “Music is life, and life is not perfect,” she says. And her own music? “It’s the sound of my heart breaking free.” Sigh and soar with a soulstress whose star promises to only burn brighter. 

‘All Quiet on the Western Front’

Scene from the movie All QUiet On The Western Front with 4 soldiers looking into a mirror

The “war to end all wars” has faded from living memory, but it’s clearly still on our minds. If you’ve opened a newspaper, gone to the movies or turned on the TV this year, chances are you got a glimpse of century-old horrors — muddy trenches, bombed-out landscapes and young soldiers with thousand-yard stares.

A hundred years on, it’s worth examining why these images strike such powerful chords. After all, World War I was fought on many fronts — what is it about the trenches that haunts our modern sensibilities? The truth is, we’ve all been shaped by one story in particular without realizing it.

People were still scrambling to come to terms with what World War I meant, and the film had an answer, albeit a grim one.

All Quiet on the Western Front is nearly as old as the Great War itself — and since 1929, it’s been stirring up emotion, controversy and inconvenient truths.

To gauge the impact this war story made in its heyday, imagine a bizarre cross between the Harry Potter films and Saving Private Ryan. When the novel by German war veteran Erich Maria Remarque was released in 1929, it leapt to the top of best-seller lists. Cinemas in European and American cities treated the 1930 Hollywood version with unprecedented respect: It played at two leading London theaters simultaneously, an unheard-of feat at the time. 

How to explain the popularity of a film about the most devastating war the world had ever seen? The truth was, in 1930, people were still struggling to come to terms with what World War I meant, and the film had an answer, albeit a grim one.

All Quiet on the Western Front follows a band of German school friends who journey from the innocence of youth to the despair of war. One boy, Paul Bäumer (portrayed by Lew Ayres), undergoes rigorous basic training and, to his excitement, finally gets to see combat. But when he and his friends arrive on the Western front, they quickly learn that war is not the adventure they’d planned; in fact, it’s hellish and destined to destroy them indiscriminately.

Scene from the movie All QUiet On The Western Front with soldier looking at camera through window glass

Scene from the movie All Quiet On The Western Front.

The dangers, savageries, the madness of war, and the appalling waste and destruction of youth … depicted with relentless veracity.All Quiet features some of the most agonizingly real war scenes of all time. Characters die brutally; soldiers slog and stumble through mud and otherworldly craters on fruitless charges. As one of the first blockbuster “talkies,” All Quiet’s sound mix is an unsettling series of explosions, gunfire and tense silences — especially, film historian Dorothy Jones notes, when accompanied by devastating human close-ups.

Paul’s eventual take on war? “You still think it’s beautiful and sweet to die for your country, don’t you?” he sneers incredulously while on leave, visiting his gung-ho old schoolmaster who convinced him to enlist. “It’s dirty and painful to die for your country. When it comes to dying for your country, it’s better not to die at all.”

But of course, he does die — spectacularly and needlessly, hit by a sniper as he reaches for a butterfly just over the edge of his trench. It’s an iconic, sobering image that captured a World War I people could understand and process psychologically

“I hate it,” one London reviewer and veteran exclaimed in 1930. “It made me shudder with horror. It brought the war back to me as nothing has ever done before since 1918. The dangers, savageries, the madness of war, and the appalling waste and destruction of youth … depicted with relentless veracity.”

He wasn’t the only one who disliked it. During the film’s controversial Berlin premiere, the then-unelected Nazis rioted in movie theaters. Goebbels strongly objected to the film’s pacifist message and later banned the film in Nazi Germany. When Universal reissued the film in 1939, it added a damning epilogue showing Nazis burning Remarque’s novel.

Despite its basis in truth, All Quiet on the Western Front is fiction — its war, however historically accurate, is an imaginary one. But it’s what viewers took away from the film that matters. Saving Private Ryan, arguably the closest thing to D-Day we’ll ever see, compares in that it follows a group of young men through the horror of combat — but Steven Spielberg’s World War II drama is undeniably about a “good war” and doesn’t summon the same weighty despair as All Quiet’s trenches.

A century after the Great War, All Quiet on the Western Front still conveys the human side of war more viscerally than any memorial service.

Ass Mastery, Male Porn Primer + Masturbation Miseries

swe1

EUGENE, SIR: We’re a gay couple, age 31 and 32, together over four years. Our problem, despite what the hetero-normative world thinks, has to do with anal sex. Neither one of us wants to get it that way, but both of us want to give it that way. I usually give in more often than my man, but usually we end up with just oral sex and masturbation or … anger and no sex at all. Is there a way out of this culo de sac? Oh, and we’re asking you since we imagine hetero men have a long, hard history of negotiating their way in, whilst having no intention of reciprocating. —Yeah, Butt No

DEAR Bass Ackwards: Hahahaha … oh, man. Sorry to have made light of your predicament, but, well, actually I’m not sorry at all since what I’m responding to is the aggressively passive hostility at play in your first and only paragraph. Palpable. Powerful. And a personal delight to all lovers of barely suppressed hostility, like me.

Butt on to your issue — see what I just did there? — and the deeper ramifications of the hole in which you two find yourselves. While I am no psychiatrist, I think there’s a possibility that you two are dug deep into a place from which any and all escape will be impossible.

And wherefore? Simply because a sex life — usually, ideally, a wild field of interplay between giving and receiving — has calcified into completely fraught ass-related issues in which being accommodating is viewed as surrendering (and not in that good way) and not being accommodating is viewed, and possibly rightfully so, as refusing to play fair.

But what you’re forgetting is the reality that in human relationships the ratio of things you want to do versus things you don’t want to do will never forever shake out in any one specific side’s favor unless the kinks perfectly match.

He likes modern interpretative dance, and you like modern interpretative dance? Winner.

You sort of like reality TV, and he sort of dislikes it? Quasi-not-loser.

You want to give some hot ass love right after getting some hot ass love, and he wants to owe you? Losers.

My suggestion? Since you’re both going to lose if the two of you keep tallying anal winners and anal losers, I say you find a man whose ass treats you right — and leave him to do the same. Which is not like losing, more like quitting. Yay for quitting!!!

EUGENE, SIR: I’m getting jazzed with new ideas because I have a new lover who things are just heating up with. Who do you think is the most exciting male porn star in the world as far as reliably making women freak out with excitement? Some bald white guy over at Reality Kings does a fine job, and Rocco Siffredi used to, and that black guy at Evil Empire (Justin Slayer or something) does well. Any other “geniuses of the art” you would recommend? — C from Denver

DEAR Mile High: The most exciting male porn star in the world as far as reliably making women freak out with excitement would probably be me. Outside of the fact that I am neither a porn star nor a man.

Though, I could be lying on that latter point. 

Which is just another way of saying that my picks in this regard will probably include a few of my pals. Despite being Patient Zero in the most recent San Fernando Valley syphilis scandal, my now-retired (do male porn stars ever really retire?) pal Mr. Marcus was a reliable producer of excitement. (I’ll be doing a True Take on my time with him in no time.) I’ve seen women who claimed that they were not “into” porn be mesmerized by his, um, work. Add the slightly rougher and almost totally unintelligible Nacho Vidal and the piquantly named Erik Everhard and you may have yourself a troika of well-toned pumpage.

That being said, weaving porn in this early to the relationship mix is like saying “I quit!” right before they fire you.  

EUGENE, SIR: My boyfriend is watching so much porn and jerking off that he doesn’t want to have sex later at all, mostly because he’s tired. Why? What can I do to change this? Is it my fault? Should I break up with him? (I really don’t want to do this, but I also want to have sex.) — Is It Me?

DEAR Yes It’s You: There’s no way to pussyfoot around this. On a base, binary level, if he liked screwing with you more than he liked jerking off without you he’d most assuredly do the former. To think anything else, you’d have to buy the “he has a problem” argument. Also known as the “he’s confused/troubled/struggling/needs help” argument. All of which constitute what we in the profession call “a crock of shit.”

But is there flex room? Well, there is the possibility that he’s just doing it to elicit a reaction from you, and here’s where we can help. Vis-à-vis “the reaction,” and there are three.

1. Watch him when he masturbates. Silently. Expressionlessly. Periodically sigh.

2. When he masturbates? You masturbate. Loudly. Expressively. Periodically sigh.

3. Have sex with people who want to have sex with you. (Subsection A? If you are into women as well, see if he’ll buy the whole “It’s just sex with women” dodge.)

Glad to be of fair-to-middling service to you, ma’am.

Cover Image by Kasia Meow

Government-Funded Writing Careers

man at typewriter thinking in black and white

Literary patronage is an old problem, one that today is increasingly solved by mega-corporations: a mobile phone company funds one of England’s top literary prizes, the Orange; a financial services firm backs the Man Booker Prize; and Amtrak’s “writers’ residencies” — which give people free long-distance train rides on which they may write — isn’t the weirdest way writers have found a monetary safety net. But before this era of private sector funding, there was a time when many writers got their start with public funds — through government programs. Some of these were designed to inspire the creatives, and others did so entirely by accident.

The Works Progress Administration: 1930’s

Despite today’s battle for federal humanities funding, there was once an age when the federal government sponsored ethnography — a project W.H. Auden called “one of the noblest and most absurd undertakings ever attempted by any state.” Under the umbrella of FDR’s Works Progress Administration, a massive agency meant to provide jobs to the hordes of unemployed during the Great Depression, the Federal Writers’ Project incubated Ralph Ellison, Zora Neale Hurston, John Steinbeck, Saul Bellow and Studs Terkel. Their task, in many cases, was to be impassive documentarians, to wander their neighborhoods and take down the stories of their neighbors — all for about $25 a week.

Ellison’s Invisible Man is peppered with characters he met while taking down oral histories. Later, he reminisced that the histories taught him about dialogue.

Nostalgists of today — like journalists of the 1930s — love to romanticize the FWP for creating a rare intersection of literature and politics. The reality? Like many New Deal jobs aimed at former white-collar workers, the FWP bruised the egos of many of its employees, like John Cheever, who saw the work as menial and mind-numbing

Indeed, despite the high-minded imaginings, the agency soon realized it couldn’t be picky about who it deemed a “writer,” and began to employ ex-white-collar professionals. The initial imagining of an enormous database of collective oral history was winnowed down to a more practical product: the creation of the American Guide series, or a series of travel guides.

But for a few, the job sunk in. Studs Terkel later employed the FWP techniques directly, even winning a Pulitzer Prize for his oral histories of World War II. Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man is peppered with characters he met while taking down oral histories. Years later, he reminisced that the histories taught him about dialogue — in much the same way that Ernest Hemingway admitted that his hated newspaper days had taught him sparseness. 

The Ministry of Information: 1940’s

Though he later became one of the most powerful critics of government, George Orwell was once employed by the Ministry of Information — the looming building in London’s Bloomsbury district that later became his inspiration for the “Ministry of Truth” (or Minitrue) in 1949’s 1984. Also employed by the ministry: Dylan Thomas and Graham Greene. Orwell, for his part, was disappointed in this trend. He wrote at the time that many who “used to be writers” were “rapidly going native.”

But before Orwell stepped onto his soapbox, he was fluent in Newspeak. At his job interview — for a position that required him to broadcast government-approved propaganda over the airwaves to India — he appeared, at least to his interviewer, to “accept absolutely the need for propaganda to be directed by the Government.” During wartime, though, for a late 30-something like Orwell with a wife and bills to pay, well, the only option was to keep calm and carry on.

The CIA: 1960’s

Ian McEwan’s Sweet Tooth revolves around a young woman just out of Cambridge who joins the ranks of the British Secret Service during the Cold War. Her job: to recruit and financially back writers who lean right of center to publish fiction critical of communists. McEwan’s story is a novel, but something like it did happen: The fairly left English magazine Encounter — which published Bertrand Russell, Aldous Huxley and Virginia Woolf, among others — received funding from the CIA. These writers didn’t necessarily know where their money came from, but their funders may have been fangirling them from afar.

They thought they could win the Cold War by having better ideas, not by suppressing free speech.

It turns out the CIA may have been pursuing a global propaganda strategy through its affiliation with the Paris-based Congress for Cultural Freedom, an organization meant to perform cultural guerrilla warfare against communism. Among recipients of the CCF’s money were a number of hip intellectual magazines throughout Africa, where people like Wole Soyinka, Chinua Achebe and Ngugi wa Thiong’o wrote. When Soyinka was later jailed, the CCF paid his bail.

As Peter Kalliney, a professor of literature at the University of Kentucky, said in a Library of Congress lecture, the explanation for this funding is that “a lot of these CIA characters saw themselves as politically left of center … rabidly anti-communists, but also rabidly anti McCarthyite. They thought they could win the Cold War by having better ideas, not by suppressing free speech.” 

Ah, the patronage of yore. Wouldn’t it be nice?

End-of-Summer Special

Couple at beach

Ah, summer — we barely knew thee! Kudos to those of you who had a nice chunk of time off. Bummer for those of you who did not. A smidge of consolation: Pretty much everyone pees in the pool anyway, and what happens when they do is really, really gross, according to OZY’s Anne Miller. 

More consolation, this time from OZY contributor Vignesh Ramachandran: You, vacation-deprived soul, are not alone. As he reported back in May, vacation is shrinking for most American workers. The average American employee uses only half of her time off. That’s not because employers are stingier with vacation days — the number of vacation days hasn’t much budged. A Protestant Ethic might be at, er, work. “Regions like North America, Japan and South Korea are ‘vacation deprived,’ while countries like Brazil, Germany, France, Spain and Denmark are ‘vacation rich,’” Ramachandran reported. Whatever happened to Clark Griswold, he wondered? 

Maybe Clark went to Lisbon. As OZY writer Laura Secorun Palet reported last week, one of the few bright spots in Portugal’s down-in-the-dumps economy is tourism. It’s up 12 percent over last year, and it’s not just because of the sunshine or the bureaucracy-busting ways of the tourism secretary. It’s also the cheap prices. Those cheap prices have also managed to birth a whole new creative economy. Seeking to turn the economic doldrums into art and design, Lisbon could well be the next Berlin.

On vacation or not, the summer has been a bit weighty for all of us. The Islamic State continues to spread awfulness in Iraq and Syria. Retired deputy CIA chief and OZY regular John McLaughlin tells all the reasons the IS is a greater threat to Americans than al-Qaida before 9/11: It’s rich, has a lot of members and commands actual territory. The day before we published McLaughlin’s analysis, the IS claimed responsibility for the horrific death of journalist James Foley. The loss hurts very much. Israel and Gaza hurt.

And Ferguson hurts, too. For many civil rights activists, police violence against blacks is a historical motif that needs to end. How is not clear, but it will take some forward thinking. OZY Editor-in-Chief Carlos Watson told us last week about four people — the Ferguson Four — who’ve been thinking ahead, and advancing civil rights, opportunity and justice. 

Optimists believe the arc of the moral universe bends toward justice. Sometimes it bends so slowly that it’s hard to tell whether that’s true. When we lose faith, as can happen, one of the folks we turn to is Melissa Pandika, OZY’s science writer. Just over the past few weeks, she’s told us about some miraculous inventions, like hypoallergenic nuts and ways to capture the earth’s native energy.

But sometimes things get dire. The interns go back to school, our nighttime picnics end sooner, and the leaves begin to brown. That’s when we turn to portraits like this one, rendered by OZY intern Nick Osdol. 

Most Essential ‘Simpsons’ Episodes of the Last 5 Seasons

Cartoon character from The Simpsons television show interacts with a Lego toy figure.

It’s a superfan’s dream come true. We’re smack in the middle of a comprehensive, back-to-back, chronological airing of all 552 episodes of television’s longest-running animated show, The Simpsons, courtesy of cable channel FXX. 

Or is it a superfan’s nightmare? Let’s face it: Try as you might, it’s hard to carve out 276 hours of dedicated cartoon-watching in a given 12-day stretch. It comes down to some tough choices.

Keep an eye out for these episodes from the show’s five most recent seasons.

As a pop-culture institution tottering its way into its third decade, The Simpsons has its share of detractors who grumble that the latest seasons simply don’t measure up to the good old days. After all, we’re in a meta-cultural landscape in which even the phrase “jump the shark” has itself jumped the shark.

Au contraire. Like Saturday Night Live or Doctor Who, The Simpsons’ core family and its host of oddball townspeople and visiting characters are so malleable that the show can keep producing quality episodes long after the cynics have written it off. Like those who tuned out when SNL lost Belushi or Carvey or Ferrell or Poehler, those who stopped watching late-era Simpsons have missed some quality comedy.

So as you’re scouting your viewing times for the marathon, keep an eye out for these episodes from the show’s five most recent seasons, ones that the public and critics liked, as did your humble reporter who started watching in college — when the show debuted. (So it can’t be that old, right?)

Prep the coffeemaker and the DVR, and judge for yourself.

 

 

Angry Dad: The Movie

Aug. 31, 10:30 a.m. ET (Season 22, episode 14): Bart gets the chance to turn his popular Internet cartoon into a feature-length film, which, after some key edits by Lisa, racks up major awards as a short, setting the stage for conflict with a spotlight-stealing Homer — and some terrific parodies of Pixar and other animators.

The Food Wife

Aug. 31, 5 p.m. ET (Season 23, episode 5): After Homer reinforces his “Fun Dad” rep with a romp through a video game convention, Marge tries to compete by introducing the kids to exotic food. They become foodies with their own blog, “The Three Mouthketeers,” and Marge cuts Homer out of their restaurant fun by sending him to a random address that turns out to be a meth lab. The first-act gags are good cultural send-ups; the conclusion juxtaposes Marge at a too-chic restaurant while Homer thinks the meth lab is the hipster place to eat.

The Book Job

Aug. 31, 5:30 p.m. ET (Season 23, episode 6): Yes, back-to-back episodes. When Lisa discovers that “tween” book franchises are just corporate data-driven enterprises with figurehead authors, she’s determined to set things right by writing a hit book herself. Homer and company are determined to get in on the action, setting in motion an Ocean’s 11-inspired caper partially thwarted by a double-crossing Neil Gaiman, graphic novelist and nerd hero.

 

 

A Totally Fun Thing Bart Will Never Do Again

Aug. 31/Sept. 1, midnight ET (Season 23, episode 19): A quintessential Simpsons episode, with Bart’s self-centered prank (faking a worldwide pandemic to extend his awesome cruise ship vacation indefinitely) leading to a lesson about dealing with life by treasuring the good times, especially when shared with family. Good-hearted without cloying sentimentality, in true Simpsons style.

Brick Like Me

Sept. 1, 10:30 p.m. ET (Season 25, episode 20): Hyped to the point of nearly inevitable backlash, the show’s 550th episode was a rare foray into a different animation style, with the flat Simpsons world transformed into click-clacking Lego blocks. But the alternate realities of the Lego universe and the Springfield universe played well together, including plenty of Easter eggs for dedicated fans of either franchise.

Even though Season 26 debuts this fall with the death of a character still to be identified, we remain committed to watching. “They’ll never stop The Simpsons,” according to a self-mocking song in a Simpsons clip show. That was back in Season 13. Unlike most pronouncements by teenagers, this one was right.

Binge on.

Full episodes are available on Hulu or for $1.99 each on YouTube.