Dean Obeidallah salutes the Middle Eastern comedians, like the Kurdish satirists in the above video, who are ridiculing ISIS:

What’s truly remarkable is that some of these comedic performers are waging their comedy battle in countries were ISIS is fighting them, such as those involved in the new Iraqi TV show that began airing Saturday that lampoons ISIS. Unlike us, they don’t need to watch ISIS on TV; they can see ISIS from their front window.

No one doubts that these comedians will be killed if ISIS captures them. ISIS doesn’t want to be laughed at, they want to be feared. In fact, just a few months ago, ISIS threatened to cut the tongue out of anyone who referred to them as “Daesh,” which is the Arabic acronym for ISIS. Why? Because ISIS learned that many Arabs use that term as an insult, because Daesh in Arabic also can mean “a bigot who imposes his view on others.” And keep in mind that even pre-ISIS, an Iraqi comedian was killed in 2006 for comically mocking those in power.

A Short Story For Saturday

Nov 1 2014 @ 8:57am

Though Halloween was yesterday, it still seems fitting to feature a classic, frightful short story, W.W. Jacobs’ “The Monkey Paw,” this weekend. The story begins with the White family at home on a cold and wet night, with father and son playing chess, when a visitor arrives at their door:

The Sargeant-Major took hands and taking the proffered seat by the fire, watched contentedly as his host got out whiskey and tumblers and stood a small copper kettle on the fire.

At the third glass his eyes got brighter, and he began to talk, the little family circle regarding with eager interest this visitor from distant parts, as he squared his broad shoulders in the chair and spoke of wild scenes and doughty deeds; of wars and plagues and strange peoples.

“Twenty-one years of it,” said Mr. White, nodding at his wife and son. “When he went away he was a slip of a youth in the warehouse. Now look at him.”

“He don’t look to have taken much harm.” said Mrs. White politely.

“I’d like to go to India myself,” said the old man, just to look around a bit, you know.”

“Better where you are,” said the Sargeant-Major, shaking his head. He put down the empty glass and sighning softly, shook it again.

“I should like to see those old temples and fakirs and jugglers,” said the old man. “What was that that you started telling me the other day about a monkey’s paw or something, Morris?”

“Nothing.” said the soldier hastily. “Leastways, nothing worth hearing.”

“Monkey’s paw?” said Mrs. White curiously.

“Well, it’s just a bit of what you might call magic, perhaps.” said the Sargeant-Major off-handedly.

Keep reading here. For more of Jacobs’ short fiction, check out The Monkey’s Paw and Other Tales of Mystery and the Macabre. Previous SSFSs here.

Face Of The Day

Nov 1 2014 @ 8:14am

Cuchumatan Golden Toad

Above, photographer and conversationist Dr. Robin Moore captured the gaze of a Cuchumatan Golden Toad in Guatemala. Moore traveled to more than 20 countries looking for amphibians once thought to be extinct, a project he documented in the recently published In Search of Lost Frogs. Moore explains:

One of the things about amphibians that continues to enthrall me is the never-ending diversity of species, behaviors, colors, shapes and sizes. Pulling together this huge expedition also taught me how little we really know about the status of many of these animals in the wild. There are over 7,000 species of amphibians, more than 250 of which have not been seen in well over a decade — this is a humbling reminder that we are just scratching the surface in terms of knowing and understanding our world.

Pete Brook adds:

Moore is one of a growing number of photographers to raise awareness of the need for greater conservation and protection of threatened animals and habitats. He cites Cristina Mittermeier, James Balog, and Joel Sartore as particular influences, but is quick to celebrate everyone within the International League of Conservation Photographers. He hopes that his work, like theirs, will inspire others to take up the cause.

See more of Moore’s work at

After spending a month testing the predictive text system in Apple’s iOS8, Robert Lane Greene assures us that phones are a long way away from literary greatness:

What is striking … is that though the software can pick words that are likely to follow the previous word, the trick does not produce great phrases. Repeatedly pressing the middle of the three choices on my phone results in

The day I have a great way of the year and the other hand is the only thing that would have to go back and I don’t think that I have a great way of life and the day I have to go back and the other hand…

Curiously, sometimes the system repeats its own predictions (“and the other hand” occurs twice). But sometimes it doesn’t (“I have a great way of” is once followed by “the year”, and the second time followed by “of life”). And if I clear the whole mess and begin again, repeatedly tapping the same button gives me a different string. What is going on behind the scenes is unclear. (Apple did not respond to requests to clarify.)

When this new predictive feature was announced, a few observers harrumphed: offering the next potential word allows a writer to skip the work of choosing words. Well, to choose just one word: nonsense. At the most, iOS8 will allow you to avoid typing some fairly long but frequent words. But it’s not ready to appease your boss, apologise to your spouse or do your homework for you.

Divine Fear

Oct 31 2014 @ 8:41pm

Screenwriter Carey Hayes, who co-wrote the 2013 horror flick The Conjuring, discusses “the religious supernatural,” his term intended to distinguish his work from other scary movies:

I coined the term to identify a certain framework, and, I suppose, to suggest a history. Today there is a lot of focus in popular culture on the supernatural or the paranormal. It’s almost all secular. In the past, the supernatural and paranormal occurred within a worldview that allowed for the supernatural but within a religious framework. People had tools like prayers to deal with the supernatural, which, you have to admit, is scary.

We wanted, in our movies, to return to that. We thought that, in many ways, religion deals with the big questions, and the supernatural is usually a scary thing that interrupts daily life and causes people to think about the big questions. So, we wanted to pair the two, religion and the supernatural, and remind audiences that this is, ultimately, what scary movies are about: ultimate questions about life.

What Makes Mad Scientists Scary?

Oct 31 2014 @ 8:02pm

Young Frankenstein

Stuart Vyse wonders:

Halloween is a kind of Rorschach test of our common fears, and the available evidence suggests our nightmares fall into different categories. For example, we are afraid of murderous people and monsters, but we find them particularly frightening if they have some kind of extra deficit.

So, for example, zombies (an entirely fictional concept), as portrayed in contemporary movies and television shows—are fearful because, in addition to having the single motivation of gobbling up humans, they are amoral, soulless creatures, machine-like in their unwavering pursuit of flesh. In the case of common horror film villains, an additional creepiness is derived from a mixture of evilness and madness—amoral blankness and psychopathology. Thus the most successful of horror villains, such as Freddy Krueger and Michael Myers, combine both the absence of a moral anchor and the unpredictability of mental illness.

Of particular interest to me is the portrayal of scientists as fearsome crazies.

Read On

Secret Ingredients

Oct 31 2014 @ 7:21pm

Adrienne Raphel reveals some fast food items on secret menus you’ve probably never heard of:

In-N-Out Burger, the West Coast chain, has perhaps the most notorious fast-food secret menu. Since the nineteen-seventies, customers have been ordering Animal Style fries (fries smothered in sauce that resembles Thousand Island dressing and topped with melted cheese and diced grilled onions) and 3x3s (burgers with three patties and three slices of cheese), along with several other modifications that don’t appear on the menu. The corporate Web site now acknowledges some of these options as In-N-Out’s “not-so-secret menu”; they’ve trademarked “Animal Style,” “Protein Style,” “3×3,” and “4×4.” Yet, Carl Van Fleet, the company’s vice-president of planning and development, told me, “We don’t see ourselves as having a secret menu at all.”

These kinds of denials have been successful enough at presenting the impression of secrecy to attract a fair amount of attention. Liz Childers, in a Thrillist article, describes her mission to request secret-menu items at eight chains; J. Kenji López-Alt, the managing culinary director at Serious Eats, ordered every possible item at In-N-Out; and BuzzFeed provides list after list of secret-menu items. Web sites like HackTheMenu aggregate user contributions, encourage customers to rate items, document successful finds, and add new discoveries.

In another area of food secrecy, Phil Daoust test-drives some dessert recipes with an unsettling substitution, and one that’s perfect for your Halloween baked goods today:

Read On

Face Of The Day

Oct 31 2014 @ 7:02pm


A woman dressed as a zombie entertains people waiting to see the show “la Peste” at the Manoir de Paris haunted house in Paris. By Kenzo Tribouillard/AFP/Getty Images.

Elizabeth Nolan Brown recently questioned the effectiveness of the Democrats’ War on Women rhetoric. Seth Masket asks for more evidence:

One of the races frequently singled out for the failure of the war-on-women strategy is the Colorado Senate race, where Democratic Sen. Mark Udall (or “Mark Uterus,” as some have taken to calling him) is running a few points behind Republican Cory Gardner despite a blistering series of ads portraying Gardner as trying to destroy all forms of contraception ever. Yet Udall is running at almost the exact same position in the polls as Sen. Michael Bennet (D) was at this point in 2010. Bennet’s come-from-behind victory was attributed by some to his aggressive war-on-women rhetoric, portraying his opponent Ken Buck as a retrograde sexist. Indeed, the gender gap in that particular race was an impressive 16 points. So if both Democrats were trailing by two points right before the election, and both were employing the war-on-women strategy, why was it deemed successful in one case and a failure in the other? …

Given the geography of this year’s election, it was always going to be a tough one for the Democrats. But it’s not clear whether focusing on abortion and birth control this year has made their task harder or easier, or whether it’s done anything at all.

Suderman focuses instead on the issues Democrats aren’t campaigning on:

Read On

The View From Your Window

Oct 31 2014 @ 6:15pm

North Brooklyn, New York 1-00 pm

North Brooklyn, New York, 1 pm