Are You Wasting Your Money on Organic Food?

Written by Simone le Roux

 Photograph by   44 Degrees North

Photograph by 44 Degrees North

TL;DR: Yup.

When you hear the word “organic” what do you picture? Lush green fields, singing birds, buzzing bees, and dew-covered apples? Do you automatically reach for an “organic” option because you’ve been told it’s healthier for you? Do you imagine the not-organic industry to be one of sterile laboratories, men in suits laughing over piles of money and more chemicals than you can shake a (genetically modified) stick at?

If this is the case for you, you’re not alone. Some truly excellent marketing has been done around the Organic Industry to make us believe that organic food is better for us and the environment. Here’s why you’re most likely wasting your money buying organic food.

What does “organic” actually mean?

The term “Organic” originally meant “relating to or derived from living matter”. And if you think that’s vague, in chemistry the word just means “anything containing carbon that isn’t a mineral or a salt”. Based on that alone, all the food you eat is organic, regardless of what the label eagerly tells you. However, the term has come to mean something different in today’s context.

“Organic” in the food industry, according to the USDA, means using only organic substances in farming while prohibiting synthetic substances. In practice, this means that produce can only be considered organic if it’s been grown in a field with no synthetic or prohibited substances in it for at least three years.

More recently, “organic” has been used synonymously with GMO-free. This is also misleading in that it’s wrong. A GMO, or genetically modified organism, is anything which has had its genes modified. Most of our produce has been genetically modified at some point by selective breeding – you take two plants with characteristics you like and breed them together to create a better variety. Go ahead and google what bananas or watermelons looked like before we selectively bred them into the delicious fruit salad ingredients they are today. I’ll wait.

It was necessary to refine the term “GMO” to something less broad, given that there are several techniques that can be used to modify the genes of an organism. The term “GMO” is now used to convey any organism which has had a foreign gene inserted precisely into its DNA to give it a more desirable trait. For example, scientists in Texas genetically modified carrots to have higher amounts of calcium that humans can absorb, making them more beneficial to the health of the people who eat them. Gene insertion or deletion makes it quicker and easier for us to create plants which are pest resistant, drought resistant, healthier, require fewer resources or even just taste better.

This definition narrows the term “GMO” significantly, however, and gives organic farms wiggle room to use other techniques without having to drop their organic labels. In a process called mutagenesis I can take a bunch of organic carrot seeds, blast them with radiation to induce a multitude of uncontrolled mutations, then plant them and pick the plants with characteristics I want to keep. The resultant plants would not have to be classified as genetically modified, even though they most certainly are. Moreover, Mutagenesis results in more changes to the plant’s genes than simply inserting a single gene would.

“GMO” and “organic” are both highly misleading terms which many people don’t understand correctly, and the Organic Industry uses this to a massive advantage.

 

Does organic mean fewer harmful chemicals?

There is a common misconception that organic farmers do not use pesticides on their crops. This is untrue: organic farmers do use pesticides, but they must be considered natural, as opposed to synthetic. Natural pesticides are ones which are found naturally occurring in nature, whereas synthetic pesticides are produced in labs, usually based off of successful natural pesticides. Being “natural”, though, is not the same as being “healthy”. Arsenic and sulfuric acid are both 100% natural and I don’t want them around my food. Interestingly, both were used as organic pesticides in the past.

Before we jump into talking about pesticides, let’s get this out of the way. The  pesticide most often cited as the reason people should avoid conventional crops is glyphosate, AKA RoundUp. There have been many claims that link it to cancer and a host of other diseases in animals which consume crops sprayed with glyphosate. However, multiple studies have been conducted on its effects and it has been concluded by the World Health Organisation there is no carcinogenic risk to humans who consume crops sprayed with glyphosphate. There are other, organic pesticides you should be keeping an eye on instead.

Organic pesticides are by no means safer than synthetic ones. For example, Rotenone remains a commonly-used organic pesticide in the USA even though research on rats revealed that Rotenone exposure resulted in symptoms similar to those of Parkinson’s Disease.

Most conventional crops are bred to be resistant to insects, and stronger pesticides. Synthetic pesticides are also engineered to be as efficient as possible. This means that fewer pesticides are required in the growing of these crops compared to organic crops. Organic crops often need multiple applications of pesticides per year because they lack resistance to many of the pests which plague farmers. A recent meta-analysis showed that GM crops reduce the use of pesticides by 37%. If anything, conventional crops often have fewer pesticides (or “chemicals”) for you to worry about.

 

Is organic food healthier?

Okay so organic food doesn’t have fewer chemicals - whatever that means - but surely it’s better for you? We are told over and over again that organic food is much healthier for us.

There  is a common narrative that genetically modified foods are responsible for all kinds of diseases, including diabetes, high blood pressure, cancer and probably a lack of empathy too. As we examined above, pesticides on conventional food hardly pose a health risk. Genetically modified crops and their potential risks have also been examined in many long-term studies  and it has been shown consistently that they are completely safe to eat.  

But is organic food healthier than conventional food in that it contains more vitamins, minerals and antioxidants? This is a pretty convenient selling point, as it justifies the higher price tags on organic food. Sure it costs more, but you’re eating healthier, right?  Empirical evidence suggests otherwise. Several studies have been conducted which show that organic food is no healthier than conventional food, except for some minimal benefits found in organic dairy. Otherwise, you’re spending extra money on the placebo effect.

It’s also worth noting that buying organic food is considered preferable because it tastes better than conventional food. However, blind taste tests revealed that people often can’t tell the difference between the two. It’s just exceptional marketing that’s making organic produce taste better.

 

Is organic better for the environment?

Fine, I hear you say. Maybe organic food isn’t healthier, and maybe it doesn’t taste better, but at least it’s good for the environment. Organic farming is way better than those enormous factory farms which churn out profit at the expense of the land. Organic farming alone focuses on sustainability and conservation, whereas conventional farming takes shortcuts that ultimately destroy the ecosystem. Right?

 If you’ve read this far, you’re hopefully a bit more sceptical about this.

Genetically modified crops are engineered to use fewer resources such as water and soil nutrients. This means more produce per acre with fewer resources. Genetically modified crops not only use up fewer precious resources, but they also reduce the need to clear naturally-occurring environments, such as rainforest, in favour of more farmland. A recent study showed that organic farms typically yield only 80% of what conventional farms do – that’s 20% of that land essentially going to waste.

A popular argument in favour of organic produce is that the reduced yield is worthwhile because organic farming focuses on sustainability and conservation-friendly farming practices. This may be true, but many conventional farms do the same and genetically modified crops make that easier. It makes logical sense to farm sustainably, focusing on soil health and the environment, because it means less money and effort from the farmers. Hate on big agriculture companies all you want, but they’re actively working towards improving farming methods to increase soil and environmental health.

Organic pesticides can also be worse for the environment than synthetic ones: A Canadian study tested the ecological effects of organic vs synthetic pesticides in controlling soybean aphids. The synthetic pesticides were not only more effective, but they were less likely to damage the environment. Organic pesticides in this study tended to kill more off-target species than synthetic ones. And this makes sense: synthetic pesticides are engineered to be more efficient than their “naturally-occurring” counterparts. While, of course, these results can not speak to each and every organic vs synthetic pesticide comparison, they show that assumptions can not be made regarding organic produce’s superior environmental impact.

There are farms which are good for the environment and farms which couldn’t care less about it, but each of those categories are full of both conventional and organic farms. The organic label is certainly not a symbol of environmental well-being. In fact, it could be quite the opposite.

 

Am I wasting my money?

Well, yeah. Organic food doesn’t contain fewer “chemicals”, it’s not healthier for you and it’s not necessarily better for the environment. It’s only more expensive because you’re paying for less efficient farming techniques and a meaningless label.

Look, there’s nothing wrong with wanting to eat more healthily or do better by the environment. You also absolutely should aim to support your local farmers and go to town on some fresh produce markets. Unfortunately, doing all those things requires more research and thought than automatically reaching for anything with an “organic” label. Organic is to food what a Lacoste label is to polo shirts –  it doesn’t achieve more than the regular version, buying it just shows everyone how rich you are.

If you have more questions or you’d like to do further research, take a look at some of the sources cited in this article. The Genetic Literacy Project is a great starting point to bust some of the more pervasive myths around organic food.

4 Products that were Designed with Men in Mind

Written by Rachael Cheeseman

 Photograph by   Alex Gilliott

Photograph by Alex Gilliott

Look, being a woman is hard. I'm not going argue about this. Yes, men have struggles too and yes, things are much improved from how they once were but that doesn't change the fact that sometimes being a woman is just plain difficult. And I'm not even talking about the big issues like the pay gap. I'm talking about the million small issues like how I don't feel like I can go to a swimming pool without shaving every inch of my body and wearing a perfectly cut swimsuit that holds up my boobs and covers my baby lines and I still feel the need to race the 5 ft walk from the changing room to the swimming pool in case any judgemental looks come my way. And yet some middle age overweight man with a back that can only be described as offensively hairy, struts confidently down the entire length of the pool, adjusting himself in his budgie smugglers with a kind of self assurance that most women can only dream of.

There are plenty of little things that can make it feel tough to be a woman and guess what? There's some ways you probably weren't even aware of. Well, allow me to enlighten you (you are welcome) with some of these everyday products that were designed with men in mind.

1. Seatbelts

The women reading this will know this one already. They will not be shocked because the majority of them will have spent their entire adult lives trying to find a way to stop their seatbelts digging into their necks. Or trying to decide if the belt is meant to go over the boobs, under the boobs or nuzzle into their cleavage. Seatbelts just do not fit women. In fact, the American Journal of Public Health published a study claiming that women are 47% more likely to suffer severe injuries in a car accident because seatbelts are modelled on, and tested with, men in mind. Now, obviously seatbelts are still absolutely necessary. I will take a bit of whiplash over careening through a windscreen any day but you have to ask whether there isn't something more that could be done to make cars safer for women. Men are generally taller and heavier than women and I understand the necessity to have seatbelts that can withstand the force of even the tallest and heaviest men, however that should not be at the expense of smaller, lighter drivers. And before anyone says anything, yes I know most cars have that little seatbelt height adjuster thing in them. But I can tell you that, at only 5ft 3 inches tall, that thing makes zero difference. The seatbelt still maintains a strangle hold round your neck.

2. Air conditioning

Arguing over the ideal temperature is something I'm fairly certain couples have been doing since the dawn of time. I can imagine cave women insisting they need two Sabre-toothed Tiger blankets to keep warm, while the cave man sweats through his wooly mammoth boxer shorts. The simple fact is men and women have different metabolic rates, women generally have less muscle mass and unfortunately this means we just feel the cold more. Women in offices complaining that they are too cold is so commonplace it’s almost a cliché, but it turns out there is a good reason for this. The algorithms that dictate temperature regulation in many office buildings were designed in the 1960's and based on an average male. They are designed to keep men at an ideal temperature which often means that the women are left out in the cold (See what I did there?)

There are no two ways about it: feeling too cold sucks. It just plain sucks. Your body has to expend more energy to try to keep you warm and this can lead to a more depressed mood, lethargy and a fall in productivity. In 2004 a study by Cornell University actually found that by raising the ambient temperature in an office in Florida, the amount of typing errors made by women fell by 44%. It's also worth noting that when you get too cold you need to urinate more frequently (a process known as cold diuresis) so warmer offices could mean less trips to the loo (good for productivity) and there's a tidy sum of money to be saved by not blasting the AC at full power.

3. Medicine

 This one really annoys me. It should come as absolutely no surprise to anyone that Men and women respond differently to things on a basic biological level. Our pain receptors are different, we are susceptible to different diseases and respond differently to medical intervention. So why on earth would a huge amount of medical and clinical research assume that the male can serve as the representative of the species? In 2005 Viviana Simon reported that during the previous decade, 8 out of 10 prescription drugs had to be removed from the US market because they were discovered to cause greater health risks in women. Unacceptable. This should not be something people are finding out after taking the drug. It should be known what the risks are to everybody before it becomes readily available. The good news is this is changing. Clinical trials are becoming far more inclusive of not only women but minorities. We are slowly learning that not everything can be based on an "average” white man.

4. Medical Implants

Sticking with medicine for a minute. Did you know that heart disease is biggest killer of men and women in Britain? The amount of women suffering from heart disease has been steadily increasing over the years and some forms such as MVD (microvascular disease) affect mainly women. So it's great news that french company, Carmat, have managed to create a fully artificial heart implant, right? Well... if you're a man it is. The revolutionary device fits 86% of men but is only suitable for 20% of women. The reason for this is size. The device is too big for the majority of women who have a smaller thoracic cavity than the average man. The company confirmed that it is not currently working on a smaller model. I understand scaling down technology can be a difficult and expensive process but the need for the technology is really quite pressing. Shouldn’t a more suitable implant for women at least be on the cards? Carmat aren’t the only company that don’t appear to have accounted for women. American company SynCardia created an artificial heart that could be used temporarily by patients awaiting transplant. It was FDA approved in 2004 and the company specifies that it is suitable for "the majority of men and some women".  Just take a moment to really appreciate what that means. Now, while it is true that more men fall victim to heart disease than women, does this necessarily imply that their need for the technology should come at the expense of others?  Heart disease is still the number one killer of women in the US. The need for this technology to be designed with women in mind as well, cannot be ignored.

There are a lot of small things we come across everyday that are harder for women. I for one can't reach anything off the top shelves in my kitchen cupboards and I'm fairly certain if I keep trying to use my phone one handed I'm going to dislocate my thumb. Are these big problems? No, not really. Not in the grand scheme of things but how can we ever expect our daughters and nieces and sisters to believe they deserve to be equals, when a thousand small things everyday will remind them that they're not.

I am Sexist

Written by Chad Echakowitz

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Two days ago I exhibited sexist behaviour towards a coworker. Well, I guess it was two coworkers, since sexism cannot truly have only one victim because one treats a woman (victim A) differently to a man (victim B). One could say that the woman is the only true victim because, in many cases, she is the one undermined or disadvantaged. This is not one of those cases.

I went to ask my female colleague a question to try and resolve an issue I was having. I adopted a certain persona: charming, sweet, and a little flirtatious. I did this because I believed this would yield a more positive result to my issue. I did this because she was a woman. She couldn’t help me and pointed me in the direction of the person who could, the man who sat opposite her. Immediately, my persona changed. I was more masculine and direct. I did this because he was a man.

To give some context, my workplace thrives off a very relaxed atmosphere. Everyone gets along well and there is rarely animosity between any two members of staff. It is a predominantly sales-based workplace, and such environments tend to be male-dominated, as has been demonstrated by a number of statistical analyses.

When I apologized, the woman whom I felt I had wronged said, “This is [company name]. There’s no need to even think like that. There’s no need to be sorry.” I had pulled her aside and said I was sorry for being sexist towards her. She had no idea what I was talking about. She didn’t even remember the event. I wanted her to know I had treated her differently because she was a woman because, at the time, both of us didn’t even realize that it was happening. She smiled and said I was being silly. That she didn’t even think it was sexist and she wasn’t hurt or offended. This encounter has made me realize a couple of things.

First was the complete obliviousness to the situation. The fact that she didn’t even realize I was being sexist, coupled with the fact that I didn’t even recognize what I was doing at the time, is deeply alarming. Sexism is so inherent in our society that had attention not been brought to the situation, it would have gone unnoticed and such behaviour would continue. Some would say it would be unnecessary to bring up every little sexist action in every situation, but that is the only way we can cure this systematic prejudice. There is a right way and a wrong way to do it, of course, and I’m not saying I have all the answers, but we need to talk about these things openly, whether it’s uncomfortable or not.

This event has shown me how systemic sexism is, and how easy it is to fall into such behaviour. We are all guilty of being sexist or prejudiced in some way. It is systemic and no matter what, we cannot run away from it right now. This event has made me re-evaluate my actions and my beliefs. It has made me check my privilege. I will now be more aware of how I behave to women and ensure that the way I act with women and men will be equitable. In order to be equitable, we need to recognise past injustices and acknowledge present skewed behaviours.

A lot of people will read the anecdote above and say that I had no reason to apologise. If she did not realize I was being sexist, then I am absolved of any guilt. Luckily, no one got hurt. Luckily, no one was disadvantaged by my actions. But such actions still need to be corrected. Any and every act of sexism, whether it hurts or disadvantages someone or not, needs to held to account. This is the only way we can stop sexism and its systemic hold. Sexism, and every type of prejudice, needs to be treated with a level of meticulousness akin to the Broken Window Theory. Only then can we fight the systemic nature of prejudice. Next time my colleague and I will hopefully be more aware of any prejudices around the office – or anywhere for that matter – and try to correct them. Speaking up is an important act in fighting prejudice. Speak up when it’s difficult. Speak up when it’s awkward. Speak up because you can.

I fucked up. There’s no better way to phrase it. I did a thing I hate to see others do. And so, because I did wrong, I needed to apologise. I needed to repent. Her forgiveness was only part of the solution; it was an apology to myself too for not being as considerate and aware as I should have been. Only through self-reflection, and expecting a higher standard of oneself, will we be able to reduce such prejudice. Don’t let yourself off the hook. Be better. You have an obligation to be better because you are the conduit for a more equitable future. Only through your actions can you make the world a better place and being easy on yourself, by not reflecting on holding up your demons like the proverbial albatross, defeats any notion of a future without such prejudice.

I was sexist. I’m sure there will be times in the future where I will be sexist again. I will probably be racist in the future too, like I am sure I have been racist in the past. I have my prejudices. I am aware of them. I will always be apologetic of them because no human should be treated differently due to arbitrary standards set by an archaic system which encouraged oppression and domination until it was considered normal. Moving away from such a system is ugly. It hurts and it’s going to suck a lot more that it already does. But in order to cure a festering wound, one needs to clear away all the muck and sepsis, to scrape away the dead tissue. But after all that pain, there will be healing and things will get better.

4 Superheroes who could Actually Fix the World with their Powers

Written by Chad Echakowitz

 Courtesy of  CBR.com

Courtesy of CBR.com

We love superheroes. We admire them for their bravery, hail them for their strength, and smile at them for their witty banter. But why? Why do we care for these people as much as we do when they actually do the bare minimum to make the world a better place? Superheroes are very much like preventative medicine: they help keep you alive a little bit longer by fending off evil invasions but you’ll ultimately die from something else anyway.

What makes the whole situation worse is the fact that quite a few of these so-called “heroes” could actually make a difference and make the world a better place. These individuals should listen to Michael Jackson’s hit song and take his words to heart: they need to look at themselves and make a change. Here are four of the most despicable, selfish Superheroes who could fix the planet if they wanted to.

1.     Superman

Obviously. This dude has super strength, the ability to fly, immortality, and x-ray vision. He literally changed the direction of the planet’s rotation to save his girlfriend. But beyond that, Superman has mad skills.

 Courtesy of  Comic Vine

Courtesy of Comic Vine

One of Superman’s lesser utilized powers his is Super Breath, which allows him to produce a freezing blast of wind. In the past, Superman has used this power to freeze his enemies on the spot and catch them before any further evil-doing. What a massive waste of a brilliant power. If you weren’t aware before, let me make it painfully obvious to you now: the climate of our planet is changing. Year on year scientists (plural) have shown an increase of the overall temperature of the planet. Whether you think that it is or is not due to human actions isn’t extremely important right now, but we all have to agree that Earth is definitely getting warmer.

And that’s where Superman could step in. With his super cool Super Breath, he could cool the planet down and refreeze the polar icecaps. He could delay global warming long enough for us to try and fix the problem. Then again, he could help us fix that problem too. Superman has Super Speed, Super Strength, and Heat-ray Vision; all powers that could help clean up the oceans and destroy the massive plastic and garbage problems we have.

Instead of trying to save us from Lex Luthor every once in a while, or focusing on the safety and wellbeing of Louise Lane, maybe he should blow on the melting icecaps and go help pick up some rubbish, the selfish creep. Perhaps, because Superman derives his powers from our Sun, he doesn’t actually want to save the planet. Perhaps this is his plan to become even stronger. Jerk.

2.     Storm

Storm is a meteorological wet dream. Storm can control the weather not only on Earth but throughout the Universe. She is ridiculously powerful. Think about it: Storm would be able to terraform planets within a week or so, something science hasn’t even been able to comprehend, let alone bring to fruition.   

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But that’s not what makes her selfish. Planet Earth is home to over 7 Billion people. A large amount of those people live in poverty, a slightly smaller amount of those people live in arid desserts, living off small amounts of food grown from the harsh, dry lands. Storm could change all of this. Storm could just fly over (or hop on the X-Jet, I guess) to Egypt, or Isreal, or Los Angeles if she’s being lazy, and just storm it up until the land becomes fertile and lush. With her power, she could influence the weather in such a way that we could have enough farmable land to feed the entire world.

“But there would be meteorological consequences for her actions!” I hear you scream. “What would happen to the planet with over population?” I hear you whimper. Well don’t you worry, my sweet summer children. There can be no meteorological consequences because she can control all the weather all the time! Yes, this would be hard work but what kind of Superhero are you if you’re not under immense pressure all the time. And over population would not be an issue. If Storm can terraform a planet, she could make all the surrounding planets inhabitable. We could just move from planet to planet without any problems. Storm even proves this point. At the Xavier mansion, she has a garden with flowers from all over the world, and she uses her powers to water and grow those plants. Instead of using her time wisely to help the planet, she just uses her free time to water her own garden. Rude.

3.     The Rich Guys (Black Panther or Ironman or Batman)

 Courtesy of  Comicbook,com

Courtesy of Comicbook,com

This one should be pretty obvious. And, quite frankly, is the closest Superhero power comparable to real life. Money. All three of these Superheroes have incredible wealth and technology at their disposal. Ironman created self-sustaining energy. Batman has all his gadgets which are scientific marvels (pun intended), and The Black Panther is the King of his own country, a country enriched with technological advances. All three of these billionaires could solve issues that plague our modern lives: the energy crisis, poverty, transport, homelessness and so many more. But instead, they squander their wealth and use if for fancy suits and cars. The only Superhero out of the three of them that could actually be called “Super” is The Black Panther because, as we see from the end of the recent film, he begins to share Wakanda’s wealth and knowledge with the rest of the world.

There time is spent thinking of super cool gadgets to help themselves or their friends, instead of ways to help the people they are sworn to protect. It is clear that they aren’t that busy, seeing as they have parties every other night, gala’s on the weekend, and an occasional mission which might last a month, tops.

What is most frustrating about this particular super power is the fact that we have so many wealthy people in our reality who do the same thing. There are multi-millionaires who clutch to their wealth and knowledge, unwilling to share it with the world, content to sit in their bubble while billions of people suffer. They could be the real Superheroes.

4.     Captain Atom

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Captain Atom is one of many lesser known Superheroes. Nathanial Christopher Adam was once a United States Air Force Officer before he was accused of a crime he did not commit. After being found guilty, he was sentenced to death. But because a comic book would never kill anyone in a normal fashion, Nathanial was “offered” the opportunity to take part in Project Captain Atom. This project has Nathanial sit in an alien ship while an atomic bomb collided with it. There was an extremely slim chance that Nathanial would survive and, of course, he didn’t. After the bomb went off, both the ship and himself seemingly disintegrated.

Eighteen years later and Nathanial magically reappears. Due to the explosion, the alien ship fused with Nathanial’s body, allowing him to interact with the Quantum Field, which gives him the ability to jump forward in time. He also has Super Strength and Invincibility. Thus, he became Captain Atom.

But here’s why he has made it on to this fantastically selfish list. Amongst all his other powers, Captain Atom has the ability to create matter. At one point, he not only created another world, he fabricated another goddamn Universe. He then destroyed both because he didn’t want to be that powerful. The dude is basically a god, and he could use his god-like powers to create food and housing out of thin air. He could even create another identical planet for us to solve population issues. But instead, he uses his powers to become the leader of the Justice League Europe and fight European baddies. This is why you can’t trust Nathanials.

If being a Superhero means saving the planet and the people who inhabit it, these guys are very bad at their jobs. A more holistic approach to their occupations might bring about a better result. We should be holding our Superheroes to a higher standard. With so many of them out there, we can no longer define being “Super” as the ability to fly or punch people really hard. Being Super means saving the world proactively, not just defensively. And every Superhero could benefit from this lesson.

Of course, this is all fictitious and doesn’t make a spot of difference to the real world. So none of this technically matters.

Awakening

Written by Kaitlin Bellamy

When I was about fifteen, my dad sat me down before school one morning and asked me, “So, who’s the boy?” I was not allowed to date until I was sixteen. I knew that. But for weeks now, I’d been up, dressed, and ready for school hours early. And I was (am) not a morning person. All of this added up to, in my parents eyes, “Kaitlin is secretly sneaking out to meet a boy.”

Oh, how I wished I were that cool. My father probably did too. No, the answer was much, much more frightening. Two words: Harvest. Moon. Every morning, I had been waking up at four AM, getting completely ready for my day, and scurrying downstairs to spend two blissful hours of uninterrupted game time before I had to go to school. And most of the time, that game was Harvest Moon. My first gaming addiction. Well, tied for first with Neopets and Spyro: Ripto’s Rage.

To me, it was simple: when Mom was awake, my screen time was limited to a half hour. And if she woke up and I was not completely ready for the day, she would find things for me to do. So I did everything in my power to make sure I was overly prepared. To make sure there was nothing for her to find, nothing she could possibly invent for me to do before school, to take up my precious game time. Hence the makeup, when I didn’t usually wear makeup. Bed was made, healthy breakfast was eaten, dog was fed (and often walked), and I was an all-around model citizen and perfect daughter. All in the name of gaming.

It’s no secret that people can lose themselves in video games when they are experiencing depression or a lack of fulfilment in their lives. In her memoir, You’re Never Weird on the Internet (Almost), Felicia Day goes into great detail about her own World of Warcraft addiction. When she felt unsuccessful and lost as an actor, she turned a part-time gaming hobby into a full time gaming alternative life.

We all know the danger. We have all seen the sitcom caricatures that have lost touch with reality and drowned themselves in gaming. We’ve read internet articles about the dangers of too much screen time on our children and ourselves. But video games have saved my life, and given it purpose, time and time again.

As I write this, I am stuck at home, recovering from a hospitalizing knee injury (sustained during a light saber battle at a stunt workshop, if you must know). I am waiting for surgery. I am out of work. I cannot walk without crutches, or get in and out of the shower safely without assistance. People have been coming over to feed me, and I’ve never felt quite so pathetic in my life. Right after the injury, I was on the verge of becoming a semi-catatonic depression blob, never getting out of bed. I wasn’t eating, I slept all day. I wasn’t even hydrating, because getting up to pee afterwards was just too exhausting on crutches.

And then, my boyfriend helped me downstairs one morning before he left for work. He turned on my console, and started up the game I had last left off on: Dragon Age: Origins – Awakening.

It worked. I awakened.

The Dragon Age franchise has been my favorite video game series since I created my first Grey Warden in early 2010. I have fallen in love with the characters, the story, and the world. It has become my new Harvest Moon; the game that can literally get me out of bed in the morning. The next day, I figured out how to get myself downstairs for the first time, because nobody was home to help me and the console was downstairs. Since my painkillers put me to sleep, I started drinking caffeine to keep myself awake and log more hours. Very soon, I was hydrating properly again. I was getting myself to and from the kitchen, and other household necessities. I started setting alarms to wake myself up at a normal hour in the morning. I started eating. I started sleeping regularly through the night, since I wasn’t allowing my painkillers to force me to nap all day. Most importantly: I was out of bed, and happy.

I am a workaholic. I have 13 different jobs, plus school, an active social life, and a collection of hobbies. I have always been, as my dad calls me, a “creature of chaos.” I do not do well with a sedentary lifestyle. But, between medical bed rest and a collection of sleep-inducing medications, sedentary was forced upon me. Dragon Age kept the depression at bay, and gave me back a small sense of control and accomplishment.

And it’s fairly simple to figure out why: there is measurable success. There are clearly defined quest lines and story progressions. There are battles to win, and every hour I spend in the game results in achievements and gained levels. But every hour my body spends healing? When I still can’t even walk? (Insert eye-roll and disgusted noise here) How do you measure that?

It’s not the first time a video game has positively affected my life and encourage out-ofgame progress. In 2015, when Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate was released, my physical health took a major upswing. I have always loved the AC games – some more than others (Edward Kenway, you will always have my heart) – and in the back of my mind I always wanted to be able to sort of do what they did. Physically, I mean, not the assassinating. But it wasn’t until Evie Frye came along that I got up and did something about it. I wanted to be her. And it was a motivation that didn’t fade. I started going to the gym more regularly, and taking fighting classes. It motivated me so well that I actually started to noticeably lose weight, an issue I’ve struggled with for over a decade. In fact, the only thing that stopped me in that particular quest line was my current injury.

There is not a single aspect of my life that gaming has not touched, and changed for the better. I became a voice actor and electronic puppeteer, which is how I make my living, because of my love for video games. They actually hired me at one of my jobs because I knew how to handle different console controllers. My boyfriend and I bond over our favorite franchises, and we are deeply involved in our tabletop and roleplaying worlds as well. Even in my family life, games have helped shape me. As a child, my older siblings only let me hang around when I showed interest in what they were playing. It was usually Wolfenstein or Lode Runner, and for years it was the closest contact I had to either of them on a day-to-day basis. I wasn’t old enough to play yet, but oh how I longed to do what they did. In my heart, even then, I knew I was a gamer.

There is something about art that draws us in. Mankind has killed for paintings and sculptures. We idolize musicians, and have glamorous awards shows for film and television. Books take us into a new world we can visit over and over again, and classic poetry has survived since the age of Homer and The Odyssey, but there is something sorely overlooked about the particular immersive beauty that is video games.

It is important to have a life. But it’s just as important, I think, to have an alt life. It is a built-in social circle, filled with friends you haven’t met yet. It’s not just a hobby, it’s a life you can aspire to. Maybe you can’t slay dragons in real life. But you can always be a hero. Maybe you can’t actually sword fight in real life. But why not learn? Bring a little magic into your real, everyday life. Stand up for what you love.

I have a long road to recovery ahead of me. But now, when my boyfriend gets home from work, I don’t have to tell him all I did was sleep and mope around all day. My glow of success from fighting through Thedas has put the spark of determination back into my life. I have begun (much like the aforementioned Felicia Day – she is my idol, and should be an inspiration to everyone) to write a few scripts. Podcasts, and a webseries, I’ve even revisited my dusty old novel ideas. I’ve thrown myself into a few hands-on projects – crafting in real life, guys! It’s so much harder than it looks in the games! Gaming woke my imagination back up, because that’s what gaming is at its very core. Imagining. Even if you’re playing a farmer, in a little mountain town with pixilated people and cows and truly impractical farming mechanics. I will always call that little mountain town home. It taught me to balance life and gaming, and not let one be ruled by the other. It taught me that it was okay to love a fictional world that took up more time than an average book or movie.

If I could go back to that fifteen year old girl, embarrassed that she was hiding a video game obsession instead of a cute boy, I would tell her, “Baby, it’s all gonna turn out alright. Love what you love. And game on.”

 

My Professor was Murdered Bringing Quinoa to America: The Human Cost of Pleasing the American Palate

Written by Eileen Reedy Kent

 Courtesy of Thinkstock

Courtesy of Thinkstock

Most people don’t know that some of the organic, “miracle” foods we consume today are stained with American blood. My 42 year old professor was murdered bringing the now ubiquitous and famous quinoa to the United States. His wife and child had to retrieve his gunshot-riddled body from Bolivia, the home country of the celebrated high protein grain. Professor Dave Cuzack had a deep interest in high protein alternatives to meat but an even greater compassion for the indigenous peoples of the Andes and wanted to help them economically. He gave his life for this cause.

Quinoa was initially domesticated about 7,000 years ago in the Andean highlands and eventually became known as the "mother grain" of the Incans. However, when the Spanish came to conquer, this high protein, relative of spinach, fell out of favour and was never fully domesticated to become commercially viable. In 1982, when my Professor first obtained his PhD and became interested in quinoa, it was still a local, Andean crop often consumed as a Slurpee type drink by locals descendants of the Incans who call it chisiya (“mother grain”).The Incans instinctively knew it was healthy. A nutritional analysis in the US has shown that it has a very high-protein content, is cholesterol-free and low in fat. In addition, quinoa is fairly low in calories, high in iron and fiber and is also an excellent source of magnesium.

The actual breakdown of nutrients in 1 cup of cooked quinoa is as follows;

·       8.14 g protein

·       39.41 g carbohydrates

·       31 mg calcium

·       2.76 mg iron

·       318 mg potassium

·       13 mg sodium

·       2.02 mg zinc

·       118mg magnesium

Recently, NASA announced that quinoa is so nutrient rich grain that they are considering it as a staple food for extended space travel.

In 1984, when I was finishing my Degree in Environmental Conservation at the University of Colorado in Boulder, CO, I was approached by Professor Cuzack who needed an intern. He insisted that I call him Dave. The tall, lanky, bespectacled man was friendly and passionate about his work and I needed an internship so, our partnership was formed.

He had found out through school records, that I lived on the high plains of Colorado, about an hour east of the campus (a gnarly, yet economically necessary, daily commute for me). He wanted an intern who could try to grow quinoa on their property and I was game so I struggled, and semi-succeeded, in making this South America loving grain live in my dry back yard! I had the red quinoa variety which struggled as thin stalks in my back yard all summer long

Half way through my internship I got a call from Dave’s partner Steve Gorad, at Sierra Blanca Associates, the nonprofit Dave had founded. He told me that my professor had been gunned down retrieving Quinoa seed from the Bolivian forest. At the time, I was told that they thought he had stumbled into a marijuana patch and an angry farmer had shot him but it gradually emerged that the his staff believed that the real reason was that the CIA had murdered him due to his knowledge of the US plans to overthrow the government and install Pinochet in neighbouring Chile. Dave, fluent in Spanish, had excellent relationships with the Bolivians who opposed Pinochet as well. He shared with them concerns over the many individuals from Chilie to Bolivia who were “disappeared” by Pinochet so; it was possible that Pinochet targeted him as well. Sadly, his widow and the rest of us will never know for sure

I could not graduate without his signature on my internship paperwork, so had to go through a process with the university which was both time consuming, worrisome and tinged with sadness over the loss of my idealistic professor.

His partner later told me that many of the seeds Dave had brought back prior to his death were ironically, eaten by mice in Dave’s garage.

Every time I see quinoa in its latest incarnation, from the chocolate covered type to the salad bar variety to the “new “quinoa chips, I think of Dave Cusack and the price he paid for our palates and for his love of the Bolivian people. He would be very pleased indeed to see how quinoa has been embraced by everyone from vegans to omnivores and to learn that new, more adaptable and less expensive varietals of quinoa are being developed so that it will be a more affordable protein source for everyone. He would also be glad to learn that the economic benefits to the Bolivians from their ancient grain continue as he did love them so. Perhaps, he would even be hearted to know that I became a vegetarian immediately following his death and eat quinoa on a weekly basis.

For a great Quinoa recipe, click here

What is the Statute of Limitations on Tweets?

Written by Mark Fox

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Put your hand up if you can remember your first tweet or the subject of your first Facebook status update. It was probably something insignificant, though it’s unlikely that it was a photo of your lunch - that would come later. Those early posts seemed inconsequential.  Hardly anybody used Facebook or Twitter; they were just fads. We were just speaking our minds in a passive-aggressive way and nobody was really listening.

Fast forward ten years and we share our every thought. Everything is scrutinised, right down to the last exclamation mark or emoji. Try typing “your” instead of “you’re” and see how nutty people go. Now imagine that you’re in the public spotlight.  The last thing you’re thinking about when you find fame will be purging your social media accounts of those tweets of yesteryear.

We are currently seeing a new trend of celebrities and public figures being called out on historical tweets, some of which go back seven Twitter years, which in technology terms equates to around forty human years.

Each case is different and as such should be treated and judged on its own merits.

 Some Recent Cases

 Courtesy of   Illford Recorder

Courtesy of Illford Recorder

Most recently is the public outing of Sandeep Sharma, aka DJ Limelight. Who is Sandeep Sharma? I can hear many of you ask. Well, Sharma is hardly a nobody, but the average man on the street won’t have heard of him or ever listened to his BBC Asian Network slot, and even less likely to have listened to him on his 1 AM Radio 1 show. I’m not being derisory here; in fact, it really furthers my argument. His specialty is rap music, which is hardly known for its family friendly tone. The language used in this style of music is traditionally the language you’d hear on the streets, but because Sharma is employed by the BBC, and thus the license payer, he is accountable for everything he’s ever posted.  It’s a difficult position to be in. He wants to speak for the people on the streets, but he’s obliged to speak for anyone who listens to anything on the BBC.

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A much higher profile casualty of this problem was the Premier League striker Andre Gray. In 2016 the Premier League Footballer, was forced to apologise for tweets he’d posted four years earlier. In 2012 the Burnley striker posted a very offensive tweet whilst he was playing non-league football. Four years on and he finds himself on the end of a four-match ban and a £25,000 fine. There is no doubt that he needed to be brought to book, though most people would argue that a fine like that wouldn’t make a great deal of a difference to the player. The bigger sting would come from him missing four games; a punishment that Burnley Football Club and its fans would have to suffer with Gray.

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The Debate

These two cases do have some differences but the one thing that they have in common is that if you tweet it, then you own it, and you must defend or explain it. We hope our idols, politicians and celebrities are squeaky clean and only have their minds on their jobs. But we also like to see people taking a fall from grace. Most of the time it’s not really a shock when a celebrity is reported as using non-p.c. language, or a footballer swearing at a photographer after a night out. And we’re not shocked because we’re finally coming to the realisation that we’re all human and in many of these cases they’re barely out of nappies.  

Throughout history the younger selves of public figures have done and said things that would make their older and wiser selves cringe. The difference now is that everything is public and traceable. A more important question would be, is it fair to judge our public figures based on their thoughts seven years ago? And if so where does it end? When do our social media posts become irrelevant? A song I like today isn’t necessarily a song I will like next year or the year after that. It also goes that an opinion I had ten years ago doesn’t necessarily hold true today because I’m older and wiser.

To prove this point I wanted to give an example of something I’ve posted in the past that the older and wiser me would disagree with. The truth is that there isn’t really anything.  I don’t hold views and opinions that are particularly right wing, sexist or offensive, though I have posted jokes in the past that, to an outsider, could be deemed as being offensive. And even though my posts are only visible to my friends and family, who accept me as the terrible joke-teller that I am, it is likely that they might have far-reaching consequences and I might someday have to explain or defend them. Everybody has to own what they post and I understand that, as a person using the Internet, I am still responsible for my posts, past and present. 

Nobody wants to be judged on the things they did when they were younger and I find it hard to believe that anyone who is reporting these celebrity lapses of judgement can honestly say they’ve only ever had wholesome thoughts. Ultimately, all we’re doing is showing that they have no power in these situations and that if they want to continue in their privileged lives then they must toe the line and bow their heads in shame. 

I believe that our politicians, celebrities and idols should project a wholesome image that reflects their current position in the public eye. I am also a firm believer that a person should not be punished for things they’ve said in the past in a way that directly affects people in their current life. Andre Gray is a prime example of this. Instead of being banned he could easily have gone and worked with one of the groups that link football with LGBT community and his fine should’ve been donated to similar causes. Then, at least, the punishment would have a positive and holistic outcome. 

Is anyone safe from scrutiny?

There have been past cases of everyday people losing their jobs over their offensive tweets, though for some losing their jobs wasn’t the worst thing that happened.

In November 2013, 7 months after the Boston Marathon Bombing, 22-year old Alicia Ann Lynch was fired after she posted a photograph of herself dressed as a victim for a Halloween party. Lynch wasn’t famous until her post was shared and she ended up on the receiving end of a large scale cyber bullying campaign.  She and her family received death threats from all over the world. It was very likely that the company that she worked for would not have wanted any negative publicity and so they fired her over the costume. 

Also in 2013, two firefighters from Toronto were fired after it was revealed that they’d both posted sexist tweets.  The city of Toronto has a stance on social media and they both lost their jobs because they defied that stance. This case isn’t clear cut. Their tweets in no way suggest that they are not capable of doing their jobs and there was no indication of a wider problem within the departments in which they worked. Warnings would’ve sufficed with additional work within the community to help raise female recruitment numbers. The punishment does not seem to be congruent with the crime. 

It’s important to remember that when we’re reading about offensive historic tweets that the person tweeting was much younger and, likely, less famous.  They should be given the opportunity to defend themselves and, if necessary, make amends. Don’t judge people solely on who they were but on who they are now. If a punishment is required then make it worthwhile and not just something that acts as a deterence.  

Ferris Bueller’s Day off is a Perfect Representation of White Privilege

Written by Chad Echakowitz

Ferris-Bueller-s-Day-Off-ferris-bueller-2541227-1600-900.jpg

I think it is important to start this article off by saying that I really enjoyed Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. It’s a classic film with great comedic moments, beautiful shots, and characters you actually care about (something that seems to be lacking more and more in comedy films these days).  

Last night, I decided to put on this fantastic film again. I was so excited to enjoy all the moments of hilarity that I have enjoyed time and again. And yes, I did still enjoy it. Who wouldn’t enjoy the wild shenanigans of a teen who really wants to skip school for the ninth time? The problem was, as I was watching Ferris enjoy his day off, all I could think about was how this kid was being totally irresponsible, about how he had no regard for his friends or the consequences of his actions. And then I thought, “Hey, isn’t this how white people have been living this whole time?”

The parallels between Ferris and White Privilege are exact, and here are just a few to prove that Ferris Bueller’s Day Off is the embodiment of White Privilege.

 

Ferris Wakes up and Decides to Slack Off

There isn’t anything inherently White Privilege about this. The privilege comes in to play with the fact that Ferris does so without any concern for the consequences. He doesn’t want to go to school. He wants to experience life to its fullest with his best buddy and his gal, knowing full well that he is pushing the limits of his absenteeism. He is graduating in a few months and decides to coast his way through school until then. He lies to his parents and the school for the ninth time about being sick and he doesn’t care that there could be real consequences. Ferris just shrugs off the fact that he could get kicked out, that he could repeat another year of school, or that he might not go to a good College, in order to just hang out. 

While the Principal is portrayed as quite an uppity asshole, he is still right. Ferris needs to go to school, and if he is skipping school without having a real reason, he needs to be punished. The Principal doesn’t trust Ferris, and for good reason. He follows all the proper procedures of phoning Ferris’s mother and explaining the reality of the situation, which Ferris's mother ignores.  The Principal goes so far as to go to the house to see if Ferris was really sick. He is one of the few heroes in the film who tries to enforce the rules, even if he does so in an uppity asshole sort of way.

Ferris’s intention to slack off without worrying about the consequences directly relates to White Privilege in the fact that historically, white people have never truly worried about the consequences until it is too late. The most recent example of this being the Opioid Crisis and Global Warming. While these are not specifically problems caused just by white people, they are problems that governments – which have been majoritively lead by white people – have let continue. Other examples are The Great Depression, The Bay of Pigs, dropping atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, The Holocaust, WWI, WWII, and, quite obviously, slavery. There are many more, but you get the point.

 

Ferris Lies to Everyone and People Believe Those Lies

One of the funniest running jokes in Ferris Bueller is where Ferris’s “illness” escalates to the point where the whole of Chicago is trying to help him recover. This is hilarious as it shows how out of control the grapevine can get when rumours are fed in to it. And while this joke is truly wonderful, it is also horrific in its implications. Ferris is not really sick and yet there are fundraisers and advertisements for people to help Ferris recover from his illness which escalated from seeing spots and clammy hands to Ferris needing a new kidney.

The film ends with Ferris returning to bed as his parents get home. What is going to happen tomorrow when Ferris wakes up with a full recovery? Will no one question this miracle? Why are his parents so chill about this when they know the whole city is trying to save Ferris from this deadly illness he has? What will happen to all that money? There are so many questions the film does not answer. And that’s where White Privilege strikes again.

People believe in Ferris’s lie so whole-heartedly, that he actually benefits from it, and yet again, there seems to be no consequences for his actions. White Privilege has shown us that white people can lie time and again, and everyone will believe those lies, and the liar will benefit. A key example of this comes from the pre-Brexit arguments. At the core of the Vote Leave team’s argument was the idea that once the UK left the European Union, it would be able to spend £350 Million a week to fund the NHS. This, as it turns out, was a lie. This wasn’t the only reason why people voted to leave the European Union, but it was a huge factor in influencing some people’s vote. The Vote Leave party benefited immensely from this lie, and now the UK is stuck in a delicious quagmire.

Other examples of this White Privilege include, the Holocaust, Make America Great Again, restrictions of voting rights, unequal pay between genders, and so. Many. More.

 

Ferris Messes with Other People’s Lives and Feels No Remorse

Cameron Fry clearly has some pretty big family issues. His dad and mum are always fighting, his dad loves his material goods more than he loves Cameron, and he might even beat him, depending on how you read the context. Ferris is supposed to be Cameron’s best friend. He should care about him and want to be there for him. One could argue that by getting him out of bed and giving him “the best day of his life”, Ferris did care for Cameron. But one could also argue that Ferris ruined Cameron’s whole damn life.

Cameron accidentally kills his dad’s car after a beautiful monologue about how he is finally going to take a stand (seriously, how good is that part of the film? Alan Ruck is awesome). Ferris says he’ll take the blame for it because it was his fault (which it was) and Cameron replies that he will take the blame, that it’s alright, and that he needs to do this. Ferris, winner of the Best Friend of the Year award, 1986, doesn’t even put up a fight and just goes on his merry way to live his happy life.

We never see Cameron again. There is no consequence for Ferris’s actions. But hey, they all had a great day so that’s fine.

I don’t feel like I have to explain how messing with other people’s lives for one’s own benefit is a characteristic of White Privilege. It should be clear to everyone how white people have benefited from oppressing and destroying the lives of others. So I will just leave it at that.

 

Ferris Justifies his Actions even though they are Wrong

 “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”  This is truly a beautiful saying from the great Ferris Bueller. It is at the forefront of why he takes his day off. But he also gives some other justifications, even though he knows what he’s doing is wrong. He tells the viewer that he got a computer for his birthday, so he makes the most of it by hacking in to the school system and editing official documents for his benefit, which could have been avoided had his parents just given him a car. He skips school because it’s a beautiful day, and he even tries to justify his behaviour by blaming it on Cameron: “Cameron, this is my ninth sick day. If I get caught, I don’t graduate. I’m not doing it for me, I’m doing it for you.”

In truth, no matter what justification Ferris gives, he just didn’t want to go to school: “… if we had played by the rules right now we’d be in gym...” He knew what he did was wrong but he needed to find some justification in order to make it right, even blaming it on Cameron and playing the best friend card: "If you're not over here in fifteen minutes, you can find a new best friend".

This kind of justification is a common characteristic of White Privilege. It is the making of something wrong in to something right in order to keep doing it. Even though I touched on this before, the example comes around again. Unequal pay between men and women has been justified for years on the basis that women will have to leave their jobs to have babies and so it is okay to pay them less. Women aren’t as capable or as strong as men, so it’s okay to pay them less. Women don’t have the characteristics of good leadership, so it’s okay not to promote them. Again, I’m not arguing that this is solely a white problem but when the majority of the Forbes top 100 biggest companies are owned by white people, it makes it a White Privilege issue.

 

Ferris Manipulates others, even those who see through his Bullshit

From the very first moments of the film, Ferris’s sister, Jeanie, sees through his lies. She tries to go about her day but ends up getting so mad that she makes it her mission to expose Ferris as the liar that he is. She embarks on her own shenanigan-filled ride and, right at the end of the film, even though she has been through hell to expose Ferris, she decides to have his back against the Principal. Ferris, yet again, gets off scot-free.

Jeanie’s justification for trying to expose Ferris is that it is not fair that he can get away with bunking school, while if she did the same thing, she would get caught. After telling this to a drugged up Charlie Sheen (so I guess, just a modern day Charlie Sheen?) he retorts with a poignant, “Then the problem is you.” This also factors in to the White Privilege parallel, as we shall see now.

White Privilege speaks of the ability to oppress and manipulate others for self gain while also systemically creating the idea that doing so is okay. Even those who see through it are subjected to such manipulation because it is systemic. It has become an unconscious part of everyday life and so it seems normal. Then when someone calls out the injustice, some people say that the person exposing the issue is the problem because they’re disrupting the status quo. All of this is clearly represented in the scene between Jeanie and Charlie Sheen’s character. Except for the making out. That’s just funny.

Ferris Bueller’s Day Off is a great film. It’s hilarious, it’s well written, and it’s real. It touches on issues without even trying to be too deep. It inspires the idea that we should all live to the fullest otherwise life will just pass us by. But we must remember that living our best lives at the expense of others is not living at all.

This article isn’t about making white people feel guilty for their White Privilege. I do not believe that white people should feel guilty for that. What white people should do, including myself, is to use that White Privilege to not solely advance ourselves, but help bring advantages to everyone. White people are systemically in a position to make real change and they should use those tools to do so, for the betterment of everyone.

You’re still here? Go home. It’s over. Go.

Villains You Can't Help but Love

Written by Rachael Cheeseman

 Courtesy of   Huffpost

Courtesy of Huffpost

Okay, I'm coming clean. I've been keeping this secret way too long. And the first step is admitting you have a problem.

My name is Rachael Cheeseman and I am villain addict. 

I love villains.  And not in a "villains we love to hate" kind of way. I straight up adore them, I root for them to beat the heroes. I am the person eagerly anticipating James Bond having his body sliced in two by a death laser so the villain can get on with villainous plans doing villainous things and generally being a stone cold badass.  I'm a nightmare to watch movies with, I'm sure. There's just something about that moment when a truly well written baddie lays out their reasons, their justifications, and you realise deep down they're just complex, misunderstood sweethearts and they could really do with a win. Then in charges the arrogant, goody two shoes "hero" and messes everything up. 

I have a problem, I know. But, deep seated issues aside, let's look at some of the villains out there it's impossible not to love.

1. Captain Hook

I'm easing you guys in with this one. We all know Captain Hook is the reason for watching or reading Peter Pan.

 Courtesy of   GeekNation

Courtesy of GeekNation

Captain Hook is such a glorious villain that he has been played by some astonishingly charismatic actors in countless adaptations and spin-offs.  We cannot get enough of the guy. Let's face it, when a new version of "Peter Pan" is announced, no one, literally no one, says "ooh who's playing Pan?" We don't give a fig which ginger haired brat is going to be leaping across our screens in green tights like some crazed ballerina on Meth. We want to know who will be playing Hook. 
For me, the Captain Hooks that have me praying hardest for Pan's downfall have to be Jason Isaacs and Dustin Hoffman. Not men that would usually drive me to take the side of murderous marauders.

But, once they're bringing to life that curly haired, one handed chronomentrophobic (fear of clocks, look it up) child killer, something about them makes me swap instantly to Team Bad Guy. 
I think the love of Captain James Hook (yeah James; he's more than just his disability people!) Can be boiled down to few key things. Firstly Peter Pan is not a good guy. Peter is selfish and thoughtless and something of a bully. Sure, he's just a kid but he isn't a particularly likeable character. It's easy to imagine that you could grow to hate Peter with enough exposure. I also think there is something innately jarring about a character who refuses to grow up. Growing up and getting old is a fact of life, and one that drives us to seek out experiences and meaning. We are all acutely aware of our own mortality and someone who just swanned off one day and thought "nah, screw it. "This aging thing isn't for me" feels almost insulting. 

Secondly, Hook is a very charming man. He rules his crew with a cool, clear headed authority and is able to tempt even the purest of characters with his silver tongue. As a character he is also aware of his own flaws and limitations and he despises them. Hook is far more relatable a character than Peter Pan could ever be.

Finally, I think the reason Captain Hook is so easy to love is because of some of the incredible actors who have portrayed him. He's been voiced by Tim Curry and Tom Hiddleston, portrayed by Stanley Tucci and Jason Isaacs, Christopher Walken and Dustin Hoffman. These are some seriously smooth guys. Of course rooting for the bad guy is inevitable. Heck, Tim Curry managed to make me root for Pennywise the clown, yet another child murderer.... wait, is this Tim Curry's type casting? 

2. Hans Gruber

Yes, I confess, when John McClane was busy being a one man army trying to rescue the civillians in Nakatomi tower, I was sort of hoping to see Gruber and his pals pull off the heist of the century. And they were so damn close. All that planning and forethought ruined by some barefoot cowboy who just couldn't sit nice and quietly with the other hostages. 

 Courtesy of   The Independent

Courtesy of The Independent

Don't get me wrong, Die Hard is awesome just the way it is. It's a great action movie that doesn't need to rely on ridiculously big stunts and a stupidly convoluted plot. And while the story of McClane survivng on his wits and know-how, beating the odds time and again is spectacular, every time I watch this film I find myself thinking "god damnit McClane! Can't you just let Hans have this one? This isn't even your jurisdiction!"

Hans Gruber is just such a wonderful villain, I simply have to root for him. Let me try to explain why.

For starters Hans is what I would call a "Gentleman Villain": he exudes a quiet confidence, talks in a measured, clipped manner, he wears nice suits and mocks people with sardonic dry wit. He even manages to pull off an almost detached, disinterested air that shows that this sort of crime is beneath him. Hans Gruber is an incredibly suave guy.

Another reason Gruber is such a compelling villain is because he and McClane develop a genuine rapport. There is a grudging kind of respect between the two. Their relationship transcends being enemies and becomes more like a game of chess, each trying to out think the other. In the end the money is of no consequence. What matters to them is being the one to win, to beat the other in no uncertain terms. It's the kind of adversaries we see in Sherlock Holmes and Moriarti or Professor X and Magneto. It's not as subtle, by any means, but the vibe is definitely there. 
And, of course, the actor to play the part is a very big part of why Hans Gruber is so irresistible. Alan Rickman was built to play villains. The Sheriff of Nottingham, Judge Turpin, Severus Snape, the guy just knows how to make bad look good. No one loses their calm facade as well as Alan Rickman, it's a joy to watch.

With Gruber, Rickman was able to perfectly contrast McClane's "all guns blazing" style with an almost elegant , controlled performance. He was riveting and I highly doubt I was the only one disappointed that he didn't get to live to fight another day.

3. The Xenomorph

What happened to charisma, Rachael?

What happened to actors bringing a part to life? I hear you cry. Well, some villains are so epic they don't require any frills like charm or, you know, dialogue. 

 Courtesy of   ComicVine

Courtesy of ComicVine

The Xenomporph is 100% pure undiluted villain and for that alone, I love it. It's iconic. I think you just have to respect the raw awesomness of this ruthless, efficient killing machine. And it's not like the Xenomorph doesn't have a flair for the dramatic. It could literally make a run straight at its prey and take them out in a heartbeat but instead it lurks in the darkness and let's them come looking for it. Not to mention that if there's a more  badass way to reproduce than facehuggers, I've yet to hear of it.

You know I'm right on this one. Throughout the Alien movies 1-4, prequals, spin-offs, and videogames we all love that terrifying two-mouthed bastard, and, although it's always good to see Ripley walk away unscathed, you know you get a little thrill every time the Xenomorph takes out one of the supporting characters. 

4. Kylo Ren

Ooh controversial. I know, I know but bear with me. Kylo Ren is (at this stage in the saga) a villain. No if's, not but's, no coconuts, my friends. He is directly responsible for countless deaths, helped destroy an entire planet, killed his own father and made a very solid attempt at avunculicide (uncle killing; you are learning so much from me today) and has been doing the bidding of Supreme Leader "melty face" Snoke (aka the Gollum voiced Sith). 

 Courtesy of   FanPop

Courtesy of FanPop

Yep, Ren is a villain. And yet, I really really really want him to succeed. I think the issue here is Ren's extreme vulnerability. He's young, he's conflicted, he was betrayed by someone he looked up to, and he has daddy issues up the wazoo. I always feel like all Ren is ever looking for is a pat on the back and a "good work, champ" and so help me God, I want that for him too. Instead all we see is everyone telling him he's not good enough, not strong enough, not on the right path. Cut the guy some slack, he's doing the best he can. 

The conflict in Kylo Ren, particularly seen in his moments alone with Rae is what draw us in with this character. We're invested in him, rooting for him and even when he goes into full "Sith mode" we're still invested. This guy killed Han Solo and we still want his story to end well. That is one lovable villain. 

There are some truly exceptional baddies out there: The Joker, Hannibal Lector, Loki, Jareth, Lex Luther, Keyser Söze, to name but a few. Villians that we just can't stop thinking about, villains that captivate us, make us question the story we've believed up until that point.

Villains make the hero. We all know that. The quality of a villain can make or break a story (Anakin Skywalker in the prequal trilogy springs to mind) but when it's done just right and you find yourself faced with a truly brilliant villain, you may find yourself unsure of whose side you're actually on.

4 Things Vegans and Vegetarians Wish Restaurants Knew

Written by Simone le Roux

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Let’s get this out the way: How do you know someone is a vegan? They tell you. Also, they get anxious every time they’re invited out to eat.

While you may not personally be interested in veganism/vegetarianism, the odds are that you have a friend or two who has decided not to eat animal products. For those friends, going out to eat is a minefield of embarrassment and disappointment.

Although the number of vegans, vegetarians and people trying to eat less meat is increasing, many restaurants fail to meet the needs of this growing market.  As someone who has been a vegetarian for over a decade, I know all too well the sinking feeling of realising that the restaurant I am sitting at is bad at catering to people like me. As someone who worked in hospitality for a hot two seconds, I also understand why restaurants inadvertently disappoint their meat-free patrons.

Dearest restaurant owners, here’s what your vegan/vegetarian customers wish you knew.

1. We hate being Difficult

Let’s get this straight for the haters: if you don’t want to cater to a certain dietary preference, don’t. However, if you won’t be catering to a specific diet, please make that abundantly clear on your website, in your signage, or on your menu.

Despite what countless jokes poking fun at vegans and vegetarians say, most of us try to cause as little inconvenience as possible. We do not want to make things more difficult for the people around us because of a choice that we made about our diets. We’re also tired of everyone hating us, so we try to get and maintain a good reputation.

There are consequently few things in this world has uncomfortable as going for lunch with a group of people only to slowly realise that you can’t eat a single thing on the menu. When this happens, you have three options and all of them suck: You can ask to alter the least offensive menu item (and still pay full price), you can order the most filling drink available and wait to eat later, or you can ruin everyone’s plans by asking to find a different restaurant.

No one wants to do any of those things, and no one wants to eat lunch while staring at a sad, hungry person.  This can easily be avoided by restaurants being forthright about who they do and do not cater towards. If they explicitly say they are not vegan friendly, vegans and vegan friends can safely avoid the above situation without hugely inconveniencing anyone.

And none of this half-assed stuff either. Don’t say you cater for vegetarians and pop a salad on the menu, or insist they can just order a plate of chips. Catering for someone implies that they are going to get a full meal and we all know that a salad is a sad shadow of a meal, so don’t start.

2. Don’t Kill Two Birds with One Stone

So, you’ve made the decision to cater to herbivores. However, you aren’t sure how to create a convincing meal without meat, never mind a convincing meal without meat, dairy or eggs. Not to worry, you just find a vegan recipe online, modify it to suit your restaurant and call it a day. Vegetarians can eat vegan food, so there’s no need to repeat this process, right? Just have all your meals as vegan. Sorted. Or else, make a vegetarian meal (it’s easier anyway) and tell vegans they can just order it without mayo, cheese and, oh right, the bread has egg in it, too.

Here’s the thing about having ONE vegan/vegetarian meal: vegetarians goddamn love cheese. It is the alter at which we kneel. Now imagine that you are a vegetarian going out for a veggie burger and seeing that, instead of Vegetarian Gold, you’re going to have to deal with vegan mayonnaise, which most vegans don’t even like. Or else imagine being a vegan and realising that the restaurant isn’t vegan-friendly like they said, because you’ll still have to ask for omissions from your meal while paying full price. 

As I said, we truly do not want to create a fuss. However, it isn’t a herculean task to put a couple of extra, separate items on the menu. The average burger restaurant will have about five different topping options for beef burgers alone, so it’s not a stretch to imagine them having at least two separate veggie burgers. Having one option to cater to the needs of two different diets is lazy at best and rude at worst.

3. We like Trash Too

Going animal-free has an aura of health around it. The words “vegan” and “vegetarian” bring forth images of salad, kale, chia seeds and whatever the hell aquafaba is. This isn’t a huge leap to make: Many people give up meat for health-related reasons. Moreover, anyone who doesn’t like vegetables is going to have a tough time being vegan. We certainly do eat a lot of healthy food.

However, a lot of us, especially when eating out, would like to eat utter trash just like the rest of our friends. I can’t count the number of times I have ordered the vegetarian pizza and received what was essentially a salad on top of some whole-wheat bread. The results for ordering a veggie burger have virtually been the same. I didn’t order a burger because I wanted a healthy meal. I ordered the burger because I want grease, decadent toppings and cheesy, carby goodness.

While many restaurants do this with the best of intentions, it’s often where they fall short. It’s hard for some chefs to imagine any vegan food being an indulgence, so they make it the punishment that vegan food can easily be. Several of my vegetarian and vegan friends have declared that they don’t intend to go back to a specific restaurant after being served a meal that, while advertised as junk food, was neither an indulgence nor satisfying. Speaking of satisfying…

4. We need Protein

This is the big one. Contrary to popular belief, it absolutely is possible to get enough protein as a vegan or vegetarian. It just requires a fair amount of effort. Plant-based proteins are delicious, but they often require a lot of preparation. Moreover, plant proteins are considered “incomplete” – they lack some amino acids that we need to survive. We therefore need to eat a variety of plant proteins often and consistently. Health aside, us putting in the time and effort to get enough plant-based protein is worthwhile because protein is also what makes one feel full after a meal.

A lot of people who try to cook meat-free for the first time understandably assume that they simply need to omit meat. In fact, cooking meat-free means that you’re replacing the meat with a different source of protein. This mistake leads a lot of people to believe that eating meat-free isn’t satisfying or it causes first-timers to try and fill up with carbohydrates like bread and pasta, leading to a deficiency.

As a restaurant that has chosen to cater to the needs of vegans and vegetarians, it is your obligation not only to omit animal by-products, but to replace them with something nutritionally equivalent. Ask any vegan/vegetarian and they’ll tell you how sick to death they are of the classic spinach and feta filling they receive in most vegetarian options. They’ll tell you how a giant mushroom is not a satisfying substitute for a burger patty, and that butternut is a vegetable best used as a complement rather than the star of the show.

This is also something that is easy to accomplish. Plant-based proteins such as legumes and soy are usually less expensive than their meaty equivalents, and often easy to get creative with. As a restaurant owner, your goal should be to have all your customers leave full and happy rather than counting the minutes until they can go home and eat the protein that you didn’t think to provide.

Restaurants who cater to vegans and vegetarians, we salute you. It is a much-appreciated service. However, with a few small changes, you could go from ensuring your meat-free patrons are fed, to ensuring that they are as happy as your meat-eating patrons.

If you are interested in eating less meat or treating your meat-free friends, there are some wonderful ideas here.

If you’re interested in quitting meat yourself, this is a great place to start.

If you’re an athlete who would like to go meat-free but you’re concerned about keeping your nutrition at performance standards, this website is for you.

5 New Year Resolutions you will Actually Keep

Written by Chad Echakowitz

 Photograph by  NordWood Themes

Photograph by NordWood Themes

Let’s be honest, you need this tough love and I’m here to give it to you. You aren’t that great. Your life could use some improving and only you can make those improvements. You are responsible for your own happiness - no one else is. And you have to put in that effort to make yourself happier. The fact that the Earth has completed a full revolution around the sun does not mean that you’ve suddenly become the God of improvement. Nothing changes between December 31st and January 1st that will make it easier to better yourself.

So what are you going to do about it? Pretend to improve for a month and then go back to the same person you always were? That’s how it usually works. Of course, you could join the group of people who scoff at all the Resolutioners and their ambition, knowing that - very much like them -  you are not going to be a, “new you” in the “New Year”. But that doesn’t make you any better than the Resolutioner, you’re just more jaded.

The only way to change – and really change for good – is to set realistic goals at realistic time intervals. There is nothing wrong with wanting to improve yourself; but pinning all of your hopes and dreams on 01/01/2018 is insane. As such, it’s time to get realistic. Here are five New Year’s Resolutions that you’re more likely to keep.

1.     See More Friends

I get it, you’re a busy little bee. You’ve got a job, a significant other, maybe a pet or a kid (is there really a difference?). There’s hardly any time for you to breathe let alone see friends. It’s easier nowadays to avoid any social interaction with them, and instead, hit them up for a chat on Facebook or like their tweets and Instagram posts. Social media has created a brilliant way for us to stay in your friends’ lives without having to actually be in their lives.

If you’re honest with yourself, you know this is not enough. Get yourself out of your comfy trousers and into some jeans and go out and meet your buddies. You don’t even have to spend any money if you’re worried about the cost.

Dinner dates are always a concrete way to ensure that you can get the whole gang together at least once a month. Plan in advance on who will host and what’s going to be on the menu and then book it into your diary. Plan the next one during that dinner and boom! You’ve kept a New Year’s resolution.

If you have multiple groups of friends, that’s not a problem. A half-an-hour coffee, or  a lovely little walk, or even just a chat on a park bench is not that taxing on your schedule. I’m not suggesting you see all your friends every week but making time for them at least once a month isn’t hard. Not only will it enrich your life to love others and to know you are loved too, there are also health benefits to seeing friends.

This is a simple resolution to keep with multiple incentives to continue throughout the year. Friends are important. 2018 can be the year to show your friends how important they are to you. 

2.     Take sugar out of your Tea and Coffee

I just felt millions of people cry out in anger, hatred, and shock. I know it sounds like a big ask but it’s really not. Adding 2 teaspoons of sugar to your tea or coffee increases calorie intake by 50 Calories. That doesn’t seem like a lot but if you’re having more than two cups a day, that can really add up. You want to lose a bit of weight in 2018, this is one way to do it.

You don’t have to go cold turkey: ween yourself off the white powder, take it down a spoon a week - or even a month if you’re so addicted - and before you know it, you’ll be drinking coffee and tea like the Italians and the British respectively (you definitely don’t want to get those two mixed up). Alternatively, you could skip putting sugar in your tea or coffee every second or third cup, depending on how much you drink. Start increasing that frequency and by February, you’d be sugar free.

Before too long, you’ll start to find sugar too sweet. The natural taste of coffee and tea will become the norm and adding sugar will be unimaginable. Of course, if you’re drinking tea or coffee just for the sweet, sugary taste, maybe you should think about trying a different beverage.

This is an easy resolution to keep because you don’t consciously have to do anything. It’s an omission – you are omitting sugar. There’s no strenuous work involved. It even takes a step out of making coffee, you can be even lazier while still losing weight.

3.     Recycle More

I’m not saying recycle everything. Recycling companies make it difficult to care for our planet with so many rules that we have to obey before they’ll actually recycle things. There’s way too much effort in recycling and this obviously needs to change. But that isn’t what this resolution is about.

All I’m asking is for you to up your game. While it is still difficult to recycle, it’s a heck of a lot easier than it used to be. And we have a duty to do so. Even if you don’t care about the planet because we’re all eventually going to move to Mars, we all have an obligation to be a little bit less of an asshole to our friends, family, and to the planet. No one likes an asshole. Recycling – even just a little bit – will make you less of an asshole.

This is such an easy resolution to keep. There’s no great time dedication and you do a little bit more to help the world. Just take your paper, and your empty cartons of milk, and your cardboard, and put it in a recycling bin instead of the normal bin. You’ll look back at the end of 2018 and smile at the fact that you did your part.

Click here to see a few simple ways that will help you recycle more. 

4.     Go for a Walk

Walking is easy. It also counts as exercise. Just do 20 minutes a day and you’ll feel better for it. Instead of rewatching season 3 of Brooklyn 99, just head out the door and enjoy the fresh air (fresher now because you’re recycling). You can even do it while browsing Facebook or Instagram if you need a distraction.

Yes, you will have to find the time in your day to do so, but think of it this way: it’s shorter and less strenuous than going to the gym, it’s free, and you’re more likely to keep doing it because of how easy it is. It also fulfils any New Year’s Resolution to do more exercise or to get outside more, so that's two more to cross off your resolution list.

There are also some serious health benefits. Walking regularly will help you lose weight, help to regulate any heart conditions and high blood pressure, and it will help strengthen your bones and muscles. Additionally, it will improve your balance and coordination. This will come in handy for the upcoming Hunger Games.

So go for it. Put one foot in front of the other and step towards the new you in this new year.

5.     Listen to Audiobooks  

One of the most common resolutions that people make is to read more. Six months in to the year and you’ve read exactly two books and you’re rewatching Season 1 of Brooklyn 99 for the third time. In fairness, this isn’t necessarily your fault. You’ve become the human equivalent of Jubilee for not trying harder to pick up a book, but it is hard when you work all day, go for walks, meet friends, and recycle.

That’s where audiobooks come in. We all spend time sitting in traffic, listening to the radio and to music that we don’t particularly like. If you’re in the gym, they usually play music which is unbearable. Audiobooks kill two birds with one stone. You can continue to sit in traffic or walk to wherever you’re going or work out in the gym and read a book at the same time.

A subscription to Audible isn’t too expensive and you get 1 free credit for a book every month (so long as you have Amazon Prime). On that basis alone, by the end of the year you’ve read at least 12 books. That isn’t a lot but it’s more than you would have had you kept reading physical copies of books.

And boom! It’s 2019 and you’ve kept at least 5 of your New Year’s Resolutions. You should be proud of yourself because now you’re slightly less Jubilee-esque. No matter how many, or how few, resolutions you keep this year, self-love and self-care are the most important things to remember. You should love yourself, no matter who you are, but if you do want to change, nothing and no one will do that for you. It’s up to you. Good luck.  

5 Table Top Games so Good, You'll Want to Throw out your Playstation

Written by Rachael Cheeseman

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Okay, maybe not literally. After all, the lifeless bodies of your enemies aren't going to teabag themselves. I don't expect anyone to start turning their backs on the golden era of video games that we're living in, and I'll be as excited as everyone else when Call of Duty: Modern Ancient Nuclear Sci-Fi Warfare 85 comes out. But what most people seem to be completely unaware of is we are also living in a golden age of board games. Now, I know that at the mere mention of the words board game some of you will be experiencing Vietnam style flash backs of being systematically and viciously destroyed in Monopoly, or of blazing family rows over how the answer on the Trivial Pursuit card can't possibly be right. Take a deep breath, we've all been there and we'll get through it together. I'm here to tell you that board games don't need to be like this. There is another way. So why not partake in some table top game therapy, as it were? Replace those traumatic memories with new vibrant shiny ones by playing some of these truly exceptional games.

1. GLOOM

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I'm throwing you in at the deep end with this one but bear with me, because at it’s worst Gloom is a unique and quirky game. At its best it is dark, twisted, hilarious fun. In this peculiar and macabre game, each of the players will be responsible for a family of strange, gothic characters. You will take turns drawing cards that will describe horrific, ironic and unusual disasters that can befall your family members, as well as untimely death cards. The aim of the game is to steep as much misery on your characters as possible before killing them off.  This can be fun in and of itself but when you then realise that you will occasionally pick up nice cards that you can use on your competitors families, things kick up a notch. One of your fellow players will have spent four turns making one of their family members unbearably miserable, their unhappiness score is through the roof and you know as soon as they can they will kill off said character and lock those points in. And then, smirking like the saccharin son of a bitch you are, you undo all that hard-earned misery by doing something so nice, so sweet, so infuriatingly altruistic that your fellow player will be forced to let that character live and begin their nightmarish campaign all over again. But the real brilliance of this game comes from the story telling you must engage in. You see it isn't enough to simply announce a tragedy has befallen your family member. You must explain how this unfortunate event came to pass, and given how deliciously ridiculous some of the events are, hilarity is sure ensue.

2. MYSTERIUM

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Keeping with the gothic theme here, but with a very different style of game. Mysterium is kind of like Cluedo, in that someone has been murdered and the players must work out the who, how and where of this horrific crime. That's where the similarities end though. You see, in Mysterium the players take on the role of psychics, each with their own back-story and unique skills. That is all apart from one player who must play as the spirit of the murder victim. The psychics are presented with a pool of suspects, potential murder weapons and rooms that could be the scene of the crime. The spirit's job is to send visions to the psychics in the form of beautifully artistic, but incredibly abstract, cards. The psychics must decipher the visions and solve the crime before the time runs out. There are a few aspects that make this game brilliant but, for me, nothing beats the stunning artwork and attention to detail that has gone into every single card. The game is beautiful. Even when you're on the verge of tearing your hair out because "how can it not be the cook? The vision card has a stove on it for crying out loud!" You still can't help but appreciate the stylistic design. Playing as the ghost is a completely unique experience that is both extremely entertaining and extremely frustrating as you watch the psychics bungle their way through your carefully chosen clues. If nothing else, this game offers you a little insight into how completely different your mind's workings are from your fellow players. You will be constantly baffled by the conclusions they draw and they will be equally mystified by you. The game offers a fun new take on an old format and is a must have, in my opinion.

3. FLUX

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Flux is nearly impossible to describe. I can tell you it's a card game and after that it gets a little complicated. Like my interpretive dance to the plot of Scarface, it must be experienced to be understood. You see the cards in your hand, the goal of the game and the rules are, as the name would suggest, constantly in flux. Every card you pick up changes something. The basic aim is very simple. You must be in possession of the two cards that make up the goal in order to win. However the amount of cards you can pick up, play and hold in your hand is always changing. Special rules may be added that allow you to take cards from other players, the goal will never be the same for more than two seconds and even if you miraculously hold the cards that match the goal you still might not be able to win because someone stuck you with one of the dreaded "creeper" cards and you can't win whilst you hold a creeper, or maybe someone laid a "surprise" card that lets them discard your entire hand. It's genius, it's mental and it will destroy friendships. Maybe the best thing about flux is that, by its very nature, no two games will ever be alike and this effect is only exaggerated when you discover that there are many different types of flux (Batman, Monty Python, Firefly etc.) and each type is subtly different and offers great new twists on the game. Not to mention that some of the quotes or goals on these cards will be enough to set your inner fanboy squealing like preteen girls at a... music concert of some description.... damn, I'm too old and out of touch to pull off this comparison. 

4. RACE TO THE NORTH POLE

Have you ever wanted to experience the treacherous, competitive, unpredictable conditions of racing fellow explorers across the most formidable terrain on the planet? No? Just me? Oh... well this game is still brilliant. The first thing you need to know about this game is that the board moves. it literally moves. It spins so that you never know where your pieces will end up or what obstacles might be in their way. Now if you're like me, that feature alone would sell you on this game. Luckily, for those of you who aren't so easily pleased, Race to the North Pole has a lot more to offer than a cool gimmick. Each player represents a team of explorers, that range from the relatively normal Scots or Canadians to the, frankly sinister, anthropomorphized penguins. Be warned though, the different teams have different perks, so don't pick based on novelty alone. Some characters will have the igloo building skill which allows them to camp safely on a square where no other player may attack or displace them. Other characters have the snowshoes which will allow them to cross the cracks in the ice that other players cannot. But there will be more than the other players and cracked ice blocking your path. You will also face holes, polar bears and frequent storms that will spin the board and land you with your opponent’s cards. It's spectacularly manic and hands down one of my favourite games.

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5. TERROR IN MEEPLECITY

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At first glance this is a fun family game, but having played it multiple times, I can tell you it's the adults who get the most out of it.
Meeplecity is under attack by giant monsters that are knocking down buildings and gobbling up the inhabitants at an alarming rate. The heroes, damsels, reporters, armed forces, businessmen and elderly are in grave danger. But here's the fun bit, you and your friends play as the monsters. That's right, you are the ones wreaking havoc and mayhem across this awesome 3D board. You set up the game by building the city and carefully securing the poor townsfolk inside the structures. You then pick which monster you will play as and set about smashing the whole damn thing to pieces! Honestly people, what's not to love? You can toss vehicles into buildings to knock them down, use your monster to tear them apart or turn on your fellow monsters to stop them from chowing down on your victims. What stops this game descending into total chaos (and I'll be honest with you, a lot of the time the chaos will happen anyway) are two very important rules. Firstly, you can only eat the people of Meeplecity whose bodies land in your playing area and there are major penalties for knocking them clear off the board. Secondly you don't win by devouring the most inhabitants. You win by devouring the most sets of inhabitants. You must have one of each of the six different kinds of characters to make up a set. In other words, to win this game you have to be the mad rampaging monster with a discerning appetite. And the more you play, the more you realise that this requires a certain amount of finesse you simply weren't expecting from the game. You do, in fact, find yourself playing quite tactically after a while. Still, when all's said and done, the real majesty of this game comes from the sheer, primal release you get from utterly obliterating everything in your path. And the game doesn't end until every building is reduced to rubble

I honestly feel like I could keep this list going for hours, there's so many excellent table top games out there: Machi Koro, Tsuro, 221b Baker Street, Munchkin, and Cosmic Encounter, to name but a few. And I urge you to go out and try some of them. It's different and sociable and just plain fun.

5 Things that made The Last Jedi one of the Best Star Wars Films Ever

Written by Daniel Smith 

 Courtesy of  Empire Magazine

Courtesy of Empire Magazine

Despite the on-going hell-scape that was 2017, we can all be happy in the knowledge that we will most certainly be seeing a new Star Wars film every year for the rest of our lives. Some may say this is a bad thing, and we should have just let Star Wars be with the spectacular “orig trig”, as it is so lovingly referred to. These people have good grounds for saying this; the prequels have been collectively damned and the new films haven’t gone down much better. So why keep making these films if they’ll never be as good as the first three?

This argument, however, is now dead. With the release of Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi, we see the death of the old ways and the birth of something new and truly wonderful. I know most would still argue that the original three films will always be the best, and I don’t disagree with that. All I’m saying is that The Last Jedi has pulled the Star Wars franchise out of an 18-year slump and is the first good Star Wars film since Return of the Jedi. And there are five good reasons for this.

This is your first and only warning: there will be spoilers ahead.

1)     Porgs and Vegetarianism

 Courtesy of   Vox Media

Courtesy of Vox Media

Okay, I’ll admit it. I hate the Porgs. I wanted to be a fan of these little weird penguins so badly but god damn it, they were annoying and served no purpose but to be a cute toy to buy the kids at Christmas. I know they were included in the film because Luke’s island of perpetual moodiness was in reality a Puffin colony and so it made more sense to just create the Porg instead of editing out thousands of Puffins in every shot. But still – they suck.  

Given my reasons for hating the Porgs, it may surprise you to learn that they play a surprisingly big role in making The Last Jedi one of the better Star Wars films. In one scene, we see the enigmatic Chewbacca cooking a delicious rotisserie Porg – something the team over at Cracked predicted earlier this year. As he is about to tuck in to his delicious feast, a group of these crap-sacks come up to Chewie to investigate. While Chewie scares some of them away, one Porg remains, defiant to the end, and makes Chewie question what he is doing. He then puts down his meal and supposedly goes hungry for the night.  

This is a small, supposedly comical moment in the film - but when you think about it and dig a little deeper, one realises that this is an important philosophical and ethical statement. Would we eat meat if we had to eat it in front of the animal we were eating? Are we all cowards who only eat meat because we can’t see the horror that is killing an animal for its meat? I’m not a vegetarian; I love meat, but I doubt I could eat a steak in front of a cow. It is clear that Chewbacca – and all Wookies for that matter – are carnivores but there has been evidence of animals turning vegetarian even though they were born carnivorous. Maybe this will be a Wookie revolution that will change the dietary habits of Wookies everywhere. Or it could have just been a throwaway joke.

As such, the Porg is a deep and meaningful inclusion into the Star Wars Universe. In a film about space wizards and light swords we are forced to think about our own ethics and moral behaviours. Something as pointless as Star Wars (yes, I said it was pointless) has the potential to be a flagship for moral well-being. 

2)     Running out of Gas

A large part of The Last Jedi was spent depicting the most un-thrilling space chase in the, admittedly limited, history of space chases. When the Rebels realise that The First Order can track them through hyperspace, they only have one choice: stay slightly out of range of their canons and hope for the best. Yes, there was more to this plan (good on you, General Holdo) but for the purposes of this section, and to avoid further spoilers, this will suffice. The issue comes when the Rebellion realise that they’re going to run out of fuel and the First Order will kill them anyway.

 Courtesy of   Metro   

Courtesy of Metro 

One now needs to ask oneself what was the point of this ridiculous chase? How could this possibly be interesting to the wide Star Wars fan base who are used to fast-paced dogfights, intricate Light Saber battles, and guns that go pew pew pew? The answer is simple: it’s because it’s novel and it’s real.

Things run out of fuel. Most car chases end in the perp running out of fuel and meeting an anti-climactic demise. This is something we have never seen in the Star Wars Universe before. Somehow, up until this point, every single ship throughout the galaxy has always had enough fuel. This must be a logistical anomaly seeing as, logically, stopping to fuel as a rebellion ship would be a seriously risky move. It is surprising we haven’t seen more incidents like this before. 

This adds an element of realism to the world of Star Wars. It also leads to a fantastic final gambit by General Holdo, which not only destroys a massive First Order ship, but also saves a significant number of the Rebellion. I did warn you there would be spoilers.

3)     The Arms Business

During Finn and Rose’s rescue mission, once they have hijacked a rich guy’s ship with DJ (played by Benicio Del Toro) DJ reveals that the ship belonged to someone who not only manufactures Star Ships for the First Order, but Fighter Ships for the Rebellion too. This little throwaway line, which was sadly not further developed, is critical in making The Last Jedi such a brilliant film.

War makes people rich. We learn this from Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows where Moriarty’s plan is to profit from WWI. There has been a lot of conflict in the Star Wars Universe but no mention of who is paying for the weapons or who is producing them. I’m sure it’s mentioned in the Extended Universe but for all of us who just watch the films, there has been a serious vacuum.

 Courtesy of   Superbromovies

Courtesy of Superbromovies

This is one of the first hints that things in the Star Wars Universe aren’t always so black and white. That those who can profit from weapons don’t restrict themselves to one side. I would love to see a spin off film about the Star Wars arms race and those who profit from the star wars. I mean, I know who profits from Star Wars in our universe – it’s Disney – but who is taking all that sweet sweet Death Star money from The Empire?

4)     Luke’s Feelings about the Jedi

While this is definitely a major plot point of The Last Jedi, it is still vitally important in making it an amazing Star Wars film. Luke’s feelings towards the Jedi religion are thoughtful, critical and incredibly progressive. And this is amazing.

 Courtesy of   NME

Courtesy of NME

So many people, including a majority of the Jedi themselves, have this unwavering affinity to the religion, but they forget that, like with most religions, they have serious flaws that can lead to the suffering of others. Luke, on the other hand, realises the flaws of the Jedi religion, and comes to the completely rational and logical conclusion that The Force belongs to everyone, and not just some people who call themselves Jedi.

And he is so right. If The Force flows through all living beings, the only way to bring balance to The Force is by letting everyone have access to it, and dispelling any Jedi Hierarchy of “Master”, “Knight”, and “Padawan”. Yes, some or more Force-sensitive than others, but that doesn’t mean The Force doesn’t flow through everyone.

It is also completely insane to take a bunch of young, angst-filled kids and tell them to stop feeling things because it can lead to The Dark Side. Who does that? Oh right, the Jedi did that. And it always worked out so well for them.

What makes The Last Jedi amazing is that it takes the things we love about Star Wars and it makes us question them, instead of just letting the fallible become infallible because we are blind to their flaws. We are shown that these amazing heroes who can wield The Force are not all that great, and can be made so much better if we just questioned things instead of following them with blind faith.

5)     Heroes and Leaders are not the Same Thing

We all love Poe Dameron. He’s sexy, he’s funny, and he’s a bad boy maverick. However, he is a crappy leader. The Last Jedi is great for showing us, through Poe, that a leader and a hero are not the same thing.

 Courtesy of   Digital Spy

Courtesy of Digital Spy

When General Organa took a long nap after her ridiculous re-entry into the rebel ship, Admiral Holdo was put in charge. This greatly upset Poe because he thought he would get the gig because he was so chummy with ol’ Leia. He thought this even though he had been demoted mere moments before. Moreover, why was he demoted? Because he exhibited bad leadership.

 Courtesy of   Film   

Courtesy of Film 

Continuing on his amazing ability to lead (not), he decides to ignore Holdo’s orders and begin a mutiny. Though he is reasonably successful with his plan, he still fights Holdo right to the end, showing how crappy and unfit he is to lead. Admiral Holdo had a plan. She didn’t want to tell anyone because any objections would just make the kamikaze mission all the more difficult and she didn’t know who the snitch was. In the end, she sacrificed herself for her people, something that Poe had never done.

Poe does learn a lesson in the end, as is shown from his interaction with Finn when Finn tries to kill himself to destroy the First Order’s giant cannon. This is some truly spectacular character development and - as a stand-alone arch – makes The Last Jedi an amazing film.

However, there’s more. Star Wars has always been about rewarding the maverick for doing something insane. It celebrates the mad men and condemns the cautious. Han Solo, Luke Skywalker, Anakin Skywalker. These guys are all considered heroes. The Last Jedi deviates from this in a brilliant way, celebrating tactics and planning and safe leadership; all things normal people would celebrate. If Winston Churchill, or Barack Obama were maverick wild-children who did whatever they wanted without regard for others, you wouldn’t celebrate them, you would hate them, and for good reason.

The Last Jedi is brilliant because it provides the viewer with a realistic depiction of what we want from our leaders, especially in war. I’m not saying that there is no place for the maverick, but a maverick and a good leader are not always the same thing.

There. It’s done now. Star Wars VIII: The Last Jedi is a great film that takes Star Wars back to its roots. Those who believe it should be struck from Cannon need to just chill out a bit. Star Wars is brilliant but it has its flaws, even the original trilogy has glaring issues that make no sense. Don’t hate The Last Jedi just because it’s easy to hate. As Yoda said, “Hate leads to suffering.”

It was great to see him again in this film. I friggin loved that part.

4 Christmas Movies you won't Believe Exist

Written by Rachael Cheeseman

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I adore Christmas. The whole ordeal. Festive jumpers that are so ridiculously expensive they should have pride of place in my wardrobe right next to my wedding dress. Christmas carols that no one quite knows all the words to and that are sung at the top of our voices in whatever key we choose. So many presents there's literally no room for people to get into my house, and, of course, the sappiest movies known to mankind. I love a good Christmas movie, and not just the wishy-washy feel good kind either. Die Hard (it bloody well is a Christmas movie, don't even get me started) is always a firm favourite in our house, as is The Santa Claus, Miracle on 34th Street and of course Muppet Christmas Carol. Coincidentally, If there's a Muppet version of any classic tale it automatically becomes the superior version of that story, that's just fact. But even I must acknowledge that not all Christmas movies are winners, in fact, some of them barely even make sense and a few are just downright weird. Let me talk you through some of the Christmas movies you won't believe even exist. Spoilers ahead.

 

1. Santa and the Ice Cream Bunny (1972) 

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I kid you not. This is a real film. But not just a film, a musical! Now, take a moment and see if you can conjure up any conceivable Christmas story to fit that title. I guarantee you won't be anywhere close to the real thing. The real thing is so shockingly bad and obscure even Sharknado can look down on it in haughty derision. In this 1972 American holiday tale, Santa (I say that instead of Father Christmas only because it is an American film and they call him Santa in the movie) gets stranded on a beach in Florida because his sleigh gets stuck in the sand. Naturally, his reindeer desert him to flee the heat – apparently reindeers know no loyalty. With some singing and dream sharing/telepathy/magic, Santa calls some local children to him to help. The children “help” with a plethora of nonsensical ideas, and basically bring Santa a menagerie's worth of animals thinking this will somehow be useful. Seriously, one of them brings a flipping gorilla. Explain to me any crisis that was made better by the addition of a gorilla. So once operation “Uhhhh maybe animals will help" inevitably fails, Santa preaches to the children the importance of not giving up and tells them the story of Thumbelina, which - get this - is actually just a separate movie plonked right down in the middle of this one, credit sequences and all! Once the run time has been sufficiently padded by this bizarre interlude, a dog belonging to one of the children displays previously unmentioned "magical" abilities and calls the Ice Cream Bunny. The bunny takes Santa back to the North Pole and the sleigh teleports back there of it's own volition because… reasons. Fin.

What, in the name of Chris Cringle is that all about?

 

2. Christmas Evil (1980) 

You know what really gets me in the Christmas mood? 80’s slasher flicks, obviously. Is it even Christmas if you haven’t seen someone blinded by a delusional psycho wielding a toy soldier as a weapon? No. No it is not. Luckily for us, director Lewis Jackson was there to fill this need with his epic movie Christmas Evil.

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When young Harry Stadling witnesses his mother engaging in some hanky panky with old St Nick himself (not really, it’s his dad in a costume) he reacts the way any normal well adjusted child would: with a little casual self harm and a lifelong obsession/delusion with becoming Santa Claus. Can you say Oedipus complex?

As an adult, Harry is a low-level toy factory worker by day, and creepy wannabe Father Christmas by night. He withdraws to his New Jersey apartment every night, which is filled with Christmas decorations, he dons his Santa suit and watches the neighbourhood children, keeping meticulous notes as to whether they are naughty or nice. Creeped out yet? It gets better. When a work colleague lies about his whereabouts to get Harry to cover his shift and the toy company he works for show that they care more about profits than the children (can you imagine!) it sparks a murderous rage within our leading man. He takes to the streets delivering toys to those he deems to be good and brutally murdering those he believes to be bad until eventually an angry mob catches up with him and pushes his van (or Santa mobile, if you will) off a bridge. Merry Christmas!  

 

3. Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale (2010) 

Sticking with the Christmas horror theme for a moment, let me take you to a world where Santa’s elves take the form of naked old men and Father Christmas is an ancient evil far more concerned with punishing the bad than rewarding the good. It’s dark, it’s gory, it’s bloody horrifying; it can only be a Finnish Christmas movie (seriously, those guys know how to do horror).

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This film really is bizarre so bear with me.

Ok. It starts in Lapland, where a British research team are doing some drilling and come across an ancient burial site in which something is hidden. Two boys, Juuso and Pietari, eavesdrop on a conversation between some of the researchers and gather that the burial ground has something to do with Father Christmas. Back at home Pietari reads up on some Santa folklore and discovers he is a monster of sorts that beats, tortures, and eats children and is generally just kind of unpleasant. I don’t know what kids’ Christmas stories are like in Finland but it certainly puts my childhood fear of dim-witted Christmas burglars into perspective.

Anyhoo, the movie then spends some time scarring us with glimpses into Pietari’s life  as son of a  reindeer slaughterer (why is that even a job?) and demonstrates his far from idyllic relationship with his father. While setting traps for wolves, Pietari captures one of the naked elf men and things quickly spiral out of control from there. Suffice it to say, by the time the film is over there has been horror and bloodshed and the creepy naked men are trained up to be mall Santa’s and shipped all over the world... You know, it doesn’t seem as weird when you watch it. Seriously just watch it.

 

4. Santa Claus Conquers the Martians

I feel like this one shouldn’t need much elaboration. Santa Claus and Martians. It’s already weird; it already defies belief. Don’t you think? No? Fine, I’ll elaborate.

Firstly, let me get out my biggest issue with this film. The title. At no point in this movie does Santa Claus conquer anyone! He is kidnapped, nearly killed, and eventually released. That’s not conquering. That’s a hostage situation with a safely negotiated release.

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But, I digress. In 1964 director Nicholas Webster posed the question what if there was life on Mars? What if that life, while intellectually superior, was filled with beings who lacked any freedom or originality? What would concerned Martian parents do to help their children in such a world? They’d kidnap innocent earth children and Santa Claus and force them to work in a toy factory on Mars, of course.

Obviously, the story can’t be as straight forward as that. Not all the Martian’s are happy with this idea, they believe Santa will distract the children of Mars from the righteous path they tread. So, naturally, they attempt to sabotage and murder Father Christmas and the young children who are helping him. Luckily they are unsuccessful and the entire situation is resolved when one of the Martian’s, who has been aiding Santa, is voted a good substitute to the actual St Nick and he and the kiddies are returned safely to earth. Sound terrible? It should. The film has been consistently voted one of the worst movies of all time. Perhaps the strangest thing about this film is the lack of creativity. You would think a story that puts Santa in space would at least have some imagination on its side, but Santa Claus Conquers the Martians brings us such characters as Momar (the mom Martian) Girmar (the girl Martian) and Bomar who is, you guessed it, the boy Martian. It really is just so very bad. So bad. So so bad. I would consider it worth a watch for a good laugh, if nothing else.

Christmas movies really do only need to do one thing. They need to make us happy. That’s all any of us are looking for from a good holiday film. What brings us that feeling is very much down to individual taste. Maybe a good horror story puts a smile on your face, maybe frozen dairy bunnies are what put you in the Christmassy mood (who am I to judge?)  Whatever the reason there is such a weird and wonderful plethora of movies out there, at least it guarantees that everyone can find something to bring them some Christmas cheer. So, explore some of the stranger offerings. You never know, you might find a new holiday favourite. But for me, Christmas will always mean: me, a cup of hot chocolate and Bing Crosby in White Christmas. Bliss. 

4 Things we wish we had Seen in Stranger Things 2

Written by Chad Echakowitz

The excitement for Stranger Things 2 was akin to the early days of Pokémon Go!: people were running around, sharing news on the Internet, and generally refusing to stop talking about it. One year and four months after the first season was released, Stranger Things 2 returned like the Prodigal Son, and we all paid it its due respect. But now enough time has passed and we can reflect on the Season. We can look at its pitfalls, we can examine its more questionable moments, and we can discuss what we would have liked to have seen from one of the best Netflix Originals to ever grace our screens.

In no way am I saying I didn’t enjoy Stranger Things 2. It was masterful from start to finish. I mean, who couldn’t be moved by Bob and Joyce’s relationship? Or Hopper’s ability to be a badass one moment and then a goofy father-figure the next, showing the duality of life and protection given dependent on the context of who you are protecting. But this is not the time to get in to that. It is now time to argue for things we would have liked to see more of in Stranger Things 2. So settle in, and as Samuel L. Jackson said, “Hold on to your butts.”

Obviously, there will be spoilers ahead.  

 

1.     The Development of Mike being a Dick

It can be argued that Mike was the main protagonist of Season One. He had a majority of screen-time, his character arch dominated the plot, and his love story with El was a continuous sub-plot throughout the season. Therefore it makes sense that in Season Two, giving him the spotlight again would have been a mistake. But that being said, he is still an integral character to the story. His relationship with El was one of the most endearing things about Season One. It made the show more relatable because, outside of the Sci-Fi nature of the show, it was a simple coming of age story about a boy who is finally discovering love. So the fact that El is gone is not only a big deal for us, it’s a massive deal for Mike.

While it was lovely to see Mike take on a more caring role for Will, continually guarding him and making sure he was alright, it would have been great to see Mike show some more vulnerability over losing El. We lose so much of his story because he had so much less screen-time. We did get snippets of him showing his vulnerability in missing El but it would have been so much more satisfying if we had just a few more scenes where Mike opens up to someone and maybe even sheds a tear over Eleven.

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Instead, we get a lot of Mike being mean to his friends and extremely harsh to Max. His caring for Will is important to the Season, as we missed all of that best-friend-love-stuff in Season One due to Will being stuck in The Upside Down. We see a new aspect to Mike's character which is lovely, but it would have been lovelier to see him care for Will while mourning the loss of the first girl he had ever loved, balancing his own feelings while trying to be there for his best friend as well as dealing with a new girl who has not only entered his friend-group, but has also entered a love-triangle between his two other best friends.

One cannot fault Mike for how he behaved. Losing a loved one at any age will make you angry. All I am saying is that it would have been nice to see that anger explained instead of just lulling their and disappearing the second El came back. Yes, you can argue that we saw that vulnerability in the punchy-cry-hug scene with Hopper, but in my completely unsolicited opinion it was too little, too late.

 

2.     More Bob!

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Not much more needs to be said here. I just wanted more Bob. Bob is one of the best characters ever. He was so delightful, a lot of people had suspicions that he was going to turn around and be a villain. But no, up to the bitter end, Bob was the best of us. He became part of a family who had suffered a severely traumatic experience, an experience he wasn’t allowed to know about, and he just accepted it and tried to help where he could. He made Joyce smile, he made Will and Jonathan laugh (at him, not with him, but that’s hardly worth noting), and he tried to help heal a broken family. Bob will be sorely missed.

I mean, sure, if you want to get down to the real nitty-gritty technicalities, he did sort of cause Will to get infected by the Mind Flayer in the first place, and was therefore the catalyst for the Season, but we can forgive him for this, right? Please tell me we can. Please.

We all need a Bob in our lives. Whether it’s your boyfriend, girlfriend, husband, wife, father, mother, brother, sister, whatever; if you have a Bob in your life let them know. And if they don’t watch Stranger Things don’t give them any context but enjoy the Bob-like confusion that washes over their face.

 

3.     Where are all these Monsters Coming From?

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The Upside Down is supposed to be an alternate dimension existing in parallel to the human world. But also there are monsters there. I am cool with that. I can get behind that premise because I love D&D, I love this show, and Stranger Things is definitely one of the best made shows on Television. What I’m struggling to get behind is where these monsters are coming from. In Season One, the Demogorgan was the bad guy. It was big, it was scary, and it was eating everything. Then in Season Two we had the Demodogs. They were slightly less scary, but they were still eating and killing everything. The main villain was the Mind Flayer. My question, therefore, is where was that guy in Season One?

Obviously, the world is a pretty massive place. It goes without saying that The Upside Down, as a parallel to our world, must also be massive so it would make sense that the Mind Flayer was probably somewhere else in the world, hanging out with his other Mind Flayer buddies, kicking back, flaying minds. So why then did it come to Hawkins, Indiana? Is Stranger Things saying that because of the porthole, monsters are attracted to Hawkins? If that’s the case, why are they coming so slowly, and only one at a time? It took two seasons to defeat two monsters. Yes, the stakes were high, and very much like D&D, the challenge matched the experience and capabilities of the characters, but it just seems illogical.

When garbage is left outside, it doesn’t just attract a single rat. And when you kill or defeat the rat, a single raccoon doesn't just come along with some mice. When something attracts scavengers, they all come at once; rats, mice, flies, raccoons, cats, and sometimes, depending on where you live, bears. It would therefore make more sense that we should see a lot more than just two different types of monster.

Perhaps in Season Three all hell will break loose and we will see some more terrifying beasts that inhabit The Upside Down. It would be nice to dive deeper in to that world, rather than that world continuously visiting us in drips and drabs.

 

4.     The Mayfield/Hargrove confrontation

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Billy Hargrove is terrifying. He is the epitome of an 80’s bully. This could not have been made any clearer even if they had made him lift weights while listening to Rock music and smoking (oh wait, they totally did that). He his horrible to everyone and we only find out why when we meet his father in the last episode of the season. While this explains why Billy is the way he is, it doesn’t completely redeem him and that makes him a good villain. It also explains why he hates Max so much and torments her, being both controlling and distant.

What would have been nice to see – and not just for five minutes in the last episode – was the home relationship of the Mayfield/Hargrove family. Seeing more of the abusive relationship between Billy and his father, the hatred of Billy for his stepmother, and poor Max caught in the middle of all of it, would have created richer characters for two people who played quite a large role in the plot of Stranger Things 2. It would have also been nice to see some interaction between Max and her stepfather. This would have given us a deeper understanding of her feelings towards Billy and their family dynamic. If Max and her stepfather got along, it would have explained why Billy hates her so much and further developed his lone wolf/black sheep persona. If they didn't get along, it would have meant that Billy was being mean to Max just to try and win an unloving father's approval. Either way, we would have had a deeper understanding and a richer character. 

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There were only nine episodes in Stranger Things 2 and it would not have hurt to add just one more which provided us with a deeper understanding of the Mayfield-Hargrove family. Such an episode would have made the final confrontation between Max and Billy even more satisfying because we would have had more insight into their lives. It would have also made the tension and satisfaction of that moment when Max swung the bat down betwixt Billy’s legs even more palpable.

My one wish for Stranger Things 3 is that we get to see more of this relationship. From the ending montage of Stranger Things 2, it seems like Billy has softened and will back off. I hope this is not the case, and that Billy will come back with vengeance in his heart and we will see more of their family. But that’s for the Duffer Brothers to decide.

Whatever comes our way in Stranger Things 3, we can all be assured it’s going to be good. Though it would have been nice to see Stranger Things end forever on that high note with The Snow Ball, just like in D&D, everything has to be left on a cliff-hanger. I am sure we are going to see some weird and wonderful things next season, and perhaps all of these issues will be addressed. Only time, and the Duffers, will tell.

Four Reasons why Nancy Wheeler is the Worst (#Bullshit)

Written by Rachael Cheeseman

Okay, I know, sometimes it's like I'm trying to wind you guys up, but just listen. Nancy, is the worst. I'm not saying she should have been different. Her character played an important part and was necessary for the development of the plot and relationships of other characters. But that doesn't change the fact that she was the one character I genuinely wanted to slap. I wanted to slap her in her conceited, naive, selfish, self-important face. She was the one that had me tutting and huffing and grumbling at the TV and regularly failing to resist the urge to give her a piece of my mind. Nancy was the biggest insult to women Stranger Things had to offer. Joyce was the fighter, Eleven was the badass, Max was the girl who learnt how to find her place and stand up for something. All Nancy does is look down her nose and put other people in danger. Let me explain.

If you haven't watched Seasons 1 and 2 in their entirety I suggest you stop reading now, this will be your one and only spoiler alert.

1. She's a lousy friend 

I think we can all agree that poor old Barb got dealt a rough hand in Stranger Things. She became Demogorgan chow faster than it takes Dr. Brenner to steal a newborn baby. But her mistreatment started long before her one-way trip to The Upside Down. It started with her unfortunate friendship with one Miss Nancy Wheeler.


Now, I went to an all girls school so believe me when I tell you the Barb/Nancy friendship is an all too familiar story. The pretty girl with a not so pretty friend, who's good for killing time with and making you feel better about yourself, but who ultimately you're willing to ditch in a heartbeat the moment the popular kids are interested or a boy comes on the scene. You know you can pick up a friend like Barb if your new found popularity falls apart because you assume she has no better options and she will just be grateful for you to grace her with your presence again. Seriously, it's a story all us girls have seen played out countless times. And sadly most of us know what it's like to be the Barb in that scenario. It sucks. It sucks so much. But Nancy takes being a bad friend to a whole new level.

She has the audacity to use the same peer pressure crap that Tommy and Carol used to make her feel so uncomfortable on Barb, and then acts like Barb is embarrassing her when she tries to stand up for herself. Then she kicks Barb to the curb so she can loose her virginity in a cliché only one below a drunken fumble on prom night. Classy! And to top it all off she's so "concerned" for her friend's welfare she literally waits until she has no other options to alert people that something has happened. If Barb had been abducted instead of taken by the Demogorgan those precious hours she wasted could have been the difference between life and death. And, no, it doesn't redeem her that she eventually attempts to avenge Barb because it's a decision only made from the weight of having a guilty conscience.

2. She Treats Steve like Crap

I'm not saying Steve is a great guy who deserved to get the girl. He has his own flaws and pitfalls and takes a journey that is arguably one of the most satisfying character arcs the series has to offer. But no one deserves to be belittled and mocked by their so-called partner. If her opinion of him is so low, Nancy should walk away. And even though she eventually does leave him, she spends a good long while making sure Steve knows she has no respect for him first.

Lets face it, even when she's meant to be smitten with the guy she basically makes a catchphrase of saying "you're an idiot, Steve Harrington." I don't know about you but I think that goes beyond a little affectionate teasing. Imagine it had been a guy saying that to a girl. The Internet would have been up in arms so fast it would have dislocated its metaphorical shoulders.

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Not to mention how she openly laughs at his college application, or how she loses her temper with him for trying to keep them safe from the government agency that have proven themselves more than happy to murder and torture whomever they please. By the end of season 1 and into season 2, Steve proves himself to be a good guy. He tries to protect Nancy and do right by her and she continually throws it back in his face.

3. She Looks Down on Everyone 

Literally everyone. I'm not even exaggerating. Whether she's slamming the door in Dustin's face and mocking her brother's friends, or judging her mother for choosing security over passion, or calling Johnathan a "pretentious creep" just because he has the nerve not to like her boyfriend, or telling government scientists how to do their jobs, or just full on proclaiming everyone and everything to be "bullshit", she never stops acting like she has the right to judge everyone else. Even when she does something uncharacteristically nice she behaves like it's some great act of charity and people should be grateful for her attention. She deigns to talk to Jonathan when Tommy and Carol are busy making fun of him, like saying "sorry your little brother is missing" makes her a flipping saint, rather than someone just showing a modicum of human decency. She dances with Dustin because she believes herself to be such a catch that it'll make his night and he'll forget all about his previous rejection. Jeez Nancy, how will he ever repay you? 

4. She thinks she's a Rebel but she's just a Cliché

Johnathan Byers hits the nail on the head in his argument with Nancy when they're out hunting the Demogorgan. He tells her she's "just another suburban girl who thinks she's a rebel." And that right there is the core of Nancy's whole persona. She wants to be seen as a rebel, to believe she won't become the boring suburban housewife she believes her mother to be. But she isn't a rebel. She's sheltered and naive and believes that losing her virginity at a house party, or getting sloppy drunk (something she does more than you probably realise) or sneaking a boy into her bedroom makes her rebellious. It doesn't. She isn't a strong, powerful young woman when she disrespects other girls; whether that's by calling carol a slut, or her mother boring or Barb embarrassing or the girls at snow ball idiots. And she isn't a rebel when she caves under peer pressure or when she throws tantrums because things don't go her way. Yes, tantrums. If she feels insulted or slighted she doesn't deal with it like a strong, rational adult but rather like a petulant child. The real rebels are the girls who are true to themselves regardless of what other people think or say about them. I won't pretend Nancy doesn't have some pretty kickass moments because she does, but these moments are usually as a result of her being impetuous and reckless. 

Phew, that was a lot of ranting. Luckily, for my sanity, Nancy does show glimmers of redeeming qualities and I have some hope for her in future seasons. I also want to reiterate that I don't think her character should be different. Nancy, for all her flaws, feels real. She's a teenager who hasn't quite worked out who she is or what she wants and she doesn't really know what she's doing. It's refreshing and damn good writing. I just don't think anyone should be seeing her as a feminist icon or role model because there are far better ones to be found. Maybe when she grows up a bit Nancy will have something more to offer. We will just have to wait and see.

Harry Potter and the Spoilers you Never Noticed

Written by Rachael Cheeseman

 Photograph by  Willian West

Photograph by Willian West

Spoilers are the epitome of first world problems. They ruin our ability to be completely immersed in a film, book, or game because we are constantly waiting for that amazing plot twist or mind-bending awesome thing we heard about to happen. 

J.K Rowling was, at least, kind to her audience when she started dropping spoilers into her work, turning those beautiful books into metaphorical minefields of awe-destroying capabilities. You see, most spoilers in the Harry Potter series (anthology? How long does it have to be to gain anthology status?) are both subtle and require a fairly decent knowledge of subjects such as Latin, History and Astrology. Chances are, most of these went straight over your head at least on your first read through, and if you haven't read the Harry Potter books more than once, I don't even know how you function as a person.

So, without further ado, let's look at some of the hints and clues littered throughout one of the most epic tales ever written. 

Spoilers ahead... Obviously. 

1. The Name Game 

Let's start with one of J.K 's less subtle moments and something that even at the age of 12 ruined some plot twists for me personally. The names of Rowling's wizards and witches are delightfully weird and wonderful. However they are not chosen lightly. Many of the character names carry much greater meanings; meanings that are massive spoilers. 

Take Sirius Black. In his introduction to us in The Prisoner of Azkaban - yes, Potterheads, I know he is originally mentioned in The Philosophers Stone but I'm not counting that as a real introduction - Harry is having a rather bad time of things because he is seemingly being stalked by a death omen. A giant black dog is showing up at the most inopportune moments and causing all manner of near death shenanigans. And what or who could this mysterious dog be? Hmmmm could it be the guy whose name literally means “black dog”? In astrology, Sirius is the brightest star in the Canis Major constellation and is commonly referred to as the Dog Star and, obviously, the “black” element speaks for itself. It honestly drove me to distraction that not even Hermione worked this one out.

Speaking of The Prisoner of Azkaban, when did you first realise that Professor Lupin was a werewolf? Was it when he was mysteriously sick once a month? When the boggart turned into the moon when it faced him? Or, was it the very first moment he was introduced. He might as well have said, ‘hello my name is Werewolf McWolfyson and I am a big hairy werewolf.’ For me, it was pretty much right from the off. Remus, being one of the founders of Rome and raised by a wolf, and Lupin derived from the Latin, Lupinus to mean “of the wolf”. It's like his parents wanted him to get bitten! 

Now I don't mean any disrespect to J.K. I love the thought that goes into her work. I love that Lucius and Arthur are rivals in The Old Tales of King Arthur and how this is paralleled by the work feud the two characters have in Harry Potter. I love that Hagrid comes from the term, “hagridden” which means to be worried and anxious, which he so often is. And, even though it's a bit of a stretch, I like the idea that the name Tom was picked for Voldemort because it originates from Thomas which is Hebrew for twin, and a twin is almost what he creates in Harry when he tries to kill him. Yes, I love all the quirky interesting names, I just wish one or two had been a tad more subtle. 

2. Divination

Now, given divination is basically predicting the future I don't suppose spoilers here should come as any surprise. The great thing about these spoilers is Rowling tends to write off divination, Professor Trelawny, and all the goings on in her class, as a load of mumbo jumbo so we never take the predictions seriously. It's not until we look back later that we realise J.K told us what would happen all along (my god, I love that woman and her fantastic brain).

Let’s start with a prediction right back in the very first book. During The philosophers Stone Harry encounters the centaurs in the forbidden forest. Firenze saves Harry and is given a heck of a Telling off from Bane who says that Firenze must not interfere with what the planets predict. Cue this line from Harry Potter himself:

Bane thinks Firenze should have let Voldemort kill me...I suppose that's written in the stars as well. 

Can you believe that? Right from the very first book!

Basically, no prediction in Harry Potter can ever be treated as a throw away remark. So, what about Trelawny's batty assessment that when 13 people dine together the first to rise from the table will be the first to die? What a load of silly, superstitious nonsense, right? Well...

When Trelawny first makes this statement in The Prisoner of Azkaban, she refuses an offer from Dumbledore to join them for Christmas dinner because then the table will have 13 people around it. Dumbledore had already stood to pull her out a chair and everything. But wait, what about Scabbers? Ron's rat aka animagus Peter Pettigrew who was at the table with Ron. That means the table already had 13 people and then Dumbledore stood to pull up a chair for Trelawny, and who was the first of that group to die? That's right. Albus flipping Dumbledore.

And this isn't the only time the 13 people at a table rule applies. In chapter five of The Order of the Pheonix, at Grimauld Place, 13 characters sit down to eat and the first to rise is none other than Sirius Black who meets his end later in that same book in the Department of Mysteries.
Then again in The Deathly Hallows once Harry has been rescued from Privet Drive and arrived at The Burrow, 13 characters sit at the table and the first to leave is Remus Lupin, who then later dies at the Battle of Hogwarts. Seems to me like everyone could have done with taking Professor Trelawny just a bit more seriously. 

And don't even get me started on how Harry and Ron predict the events of the Triwizard Cup in their divination homework or how Trelawny sees the element of Voldemort that is within Harry by predicting his birthday to be in midwinter (Voldemort's birthday is 31st December).

3. Wands

The wand lore in Harry Potter is, in my opinion, one of the most interesting aspects of the books. I am not ashamed to admit that when I visited the Ollivander's shop at Universal Studios, my inner geek nearly burst with excitement. By the end of the seventh book we are all well aware of the importance of wands but with a little bit of knowledge of mythology, religion and horticulture, you can see how the wands could give away some key moments for their owners.

For example, Harry's wand is made of Holly. Holly is of course prolific in Christian imagery, particularly at Christmas, because it represents the crown of thorns placed on Jesus's head. There are parallels that can be drawn between Harry and Jesus. Jesus was sacrificed by his father for the greater good which is akin to Harry being sacrificed by his father-figure, Albus Dumbledore.

The Pheonix feather core of Harry's wand is symbolic of the ability to conquer death and rise from the ashes. As such, maybe we all should have seen Harry's finest moment coming from the get go. Voldemort's wand also contains a Pheonix feather which might hint at his ability to continually come back from the brink but it is also made of yew, a wood known for its poisonous qualities and often associated with death, not a spoiler but a great bit of detail all the same.

There's all sorts of throw away remarks about wands that actually carry a deeper meaning. Ollivander states that James Potter's wand, 11 inches long, mahogany and pliable, (Lucky Lilly, am I right ladies?) was particularly good for transfiguration, suddenly the fact James managed to become an animagus at such a young age isn't so surprising. 

4. Harry's Status as a Horcrux

Okay, this goes back to the idea that literally nothing Rowling writes is just filler. It's all important, it's all pertinent and if you paid close enough attention you may have worked out that Harry was a Horcrux far earlier than you were meant to.

So let's start at the very beginning (a very good place to start) with the Dursley's. Now at no point in her description of Mr Dursley at the beginning of the Philosopher's Stone does J.K state that he was an abusive arsehole that Delighted in bullying and belittling orphan children. She mentions his dislike of things that aren't "normal" but this hardly seems enough to account for the treatment Harry suffers at the hands of Dursley's. Presumably once upon a time they must have treated him fairly well. He was a baby when he was left with them and signs of neglect on small children tend to flag up issues with Social Services not to mention the fact that Harry is a nice, polite, well-mannered child and presumably the only people that could have produced this well-adjusted young man are the Dursleys. So, what's with the abusive situation we encounter in the books? Well, we see in the seventh book, and a little in the second as well, what the impact of being in close quarters with a Horcrux has on people. They become irritable and paranoid and aggressive. Could this be what happened to the Dursleys? Did they gradually turn on Harry, responding to his innate Horcruxyness? Was this our first clue to Harry's true identity?

Then there's the moment at the end of The Philosopher's Stone where Dumbledore is explaining to Harry why Voldemort couldn't touch him. At one point Harry literally says "so Voldemort left a piece of himself in me?" He hits the nail on the head way back then in the very first book. Why were we a so surprised by this revelation again? 

But Rowling didn't leave it there, she kept dropping hint after hint and some of us still didn't see it coming. In The Chamber of Secrets Harry finds Riddle's diary and feels like he knows the name: 

And while Harry was sure he'd never heard the name T.M Riddle before, it still seemed to mean something to him, almost as though Riddle was a friend he'd had when he was very small, and had half forgotten.

And that's before you even consider Harry and Voldemort's shared abilities and mental link.

I suppose what I'm trying to say is that J.K Rowling is a master story teller and her attention to detail is second to none. After all, she even tried to tell us about Snape's feelings for Lilly right in the very first potions lesson. Snape, in an apparent attempt to humiliate Harry, asks him, "What would I get if I added powdered root of asphodel to an infusion of wormwood?" Now asphodel is a type of Lilly, usually reserved for gravesides and wormwood symbolises absence and bitter sorrow. There you have it, right from the beginning she was telling us of Snape's grief over losing Lilly. God damnit J.k, you wonderful genius, I salute you!

Lights, Camera, Attraction: The Complex Nature of Relationships.

Written by Sedef Salim 

 Photograph by  Aaron Burden

Photograph by Aaron Burden

For centuries, we have known that there is an alchemical process in our existence. Every single living thing on this planet co-exists as a pair. Everything has an opposite which was flawlessly designed to complement its other half. The perfect set of circumstances where two seemingly ordinary yet powerful components are brought together, resulting in mastering the art of survival and enabling their kind to multiply.

If we explore these occurrences in human beings, the behavioral symptoms between two people goes a little like this: It can begin with sensing each other’s pheromones or noticing physical features which cause sexual arousal. This can then lead to a series of consistent platonic activities, both parties testing their compatibility in terms of character traits and life goals. The mixture of shared fun activities and being near each other causes the release of a healthy dose of Oxytocin, Vasopressin, Dopamine and Serotonin, enabling the two to connect with each other. If all goes well, this can lead to attachment, commitment, long term relationships and most likely reproduction. In human terms, we call this the dating world! This process is categorized with names such as; attraction, lust, love, romance, attachment, commitment, relationship; and the word that’s supposed to embody all these things: marriage.

So why is it that the magic begins to fade and we find ourselves at a bit of a loss after we have followed all of these social conventions? Why do we sometimes find ourselves resenting the same person that was once irresistible to us? When we are finally settled, the neurotransmitters associated with the reward system finally return to normal and we find ourselves drifting back down to earth after our trip to cloud nine. It seems like in today’s society, more and more people are having problems in their relationships and seeking advice on how to salvage them. We will be exploring how some couples can encounter a bump in the road, how to better understand where these conflicts come from and what can be done to help them.

As mentioned earlier, when two people meet for the first time, they go through a bargaining process. This kind of stops romance dead in its tracks. But when we read between the lines of what exactly a date consists of, it’s a meeting that takes place between two people as they interview each other with the subtext: Do you meet my requirements? Are you a suitable candidate? And together with a candle lit dinner, both individuals negotiate their terms…

Social Exchange Theory & Four-stage model of long term relationships.

The theory, proposed by Thibaut and Kelley in 1959, suggests that we choose to commit to a relationship because we feel that this person is worth investing in because its rewards will be great and the punishment will be minimal. Like banking, one decides to invest in a person and relationship because they believe the return will be high. This is what can be identified when two people begin a relationship and then gradually fall into a normal routine with one another.

Stage 1. Sampling.

The cost and rewards of associating with others are explored.

For example, before committing to one person, two people first assess the other potential relationships that surround them in their social environment, exploring the costs and rewards in a variety of relationships before deciding on one.

Stage 2. Bargaining.

As mentioned earlier, a process of negotiation in which rewards and costs are explored. A couple begin dating one another and a dialogue takes place concerning what each person wants from a relationship.

Stage 3. Commitment.

The exchange of rewards and acceptance of costs developed and agreed upon. There is a greater focus on the relationship itself. The couple engage in a committed relationship with each other.

Stage 4. Institutionalisation

The norms and expectations of the relationship are firmly established. The couple both settle into a rhythm in their relationship such as work, chores, activities, etc. 

Furthermore, the Equity Theory can give us insight into how we assess and commit to relationships.

 Equity Theory:

This theory, proposed by Walster et al in 1978, is a social psychological theory regarding the justice in interpersonal relationships.

 If both partners establish a fair system in their relationship, both sustaining their roles and continuing to meet the other person’s requirements, then the rewards will be satisfactory and both parties are likely to stay in the relationship. However, if the couple stumbles upon challenging times and they somehow lose that balance of give and take, then they will begin to experience an inequitable relationship, when this happens the couple will try to restore a state of equity.

 There are four principles of equity theory:

·       People try to maximize their rewards and minimize negative experiences within any relationship.

·       The distribution of rewards is negotiated to ensure fairness.  This may be achieved through trade-offs or compensations.

·       Unfair relationships produce dissatisfaction. The dissatisfaction is felt most acutely by the ‘losing partner’ and the greater the degree of perceived unfairness, the greater the sense of dissatisfaction

·       As long as the ‘losing partner’ feels there is a chance of restoring equity and is motivated to save the relationship, he or she will endeavour to re-establish the equity

After exploring some of the fundamental constructs of what it takes to build and maintain a relationship, let’s look at what causes a couple to experience challenging times together:

An Imbalance in the Social Exchange Theory:

The couple’s problem is that they do not see eye to eye with each other on a certain aspect of their lives or relationship and this causes them to be at conflict with one another.

Inequitable Relationship:

One partner may feel like they are doing more for the relationship than the other is and may hold some feelings of resentment towards their partner.

Problems in Institutionalisation Phase:

The couple may have settled into a rhythmic pattern. Their relationship may revolve around house chores, work and children which may put a strain on the relationship, leading to feelings of boredom, resentment, and loss of identity or even that their relationship has lost its spark. These factors can cause turbulence in a relationship.

False ‘Bargaining Phase’

We must also consider the fact that some partners may go through a false ‘bargaining phase’, meaning that the couple’s decision to commit to one another may have been affected by their strong feelings for one another or other personal factors, thereby overlooking the fact that their relationship may encounter turbulence in the future. For example, one partner may not be able to have children or may not want children. The other partner, wanting to sustain the relationship, may have agreed to these circumstances. However later recognising that investing in their partner no longer feels rewarding, as their suppressed needs of wanting to have children resurface. Another example could be that one partner may have identified negative characteristics in their partner in the bargaining phase but chose to overlook these problems due to the relationship being able to fulfill other needs within the individual.

Here are some of the cognitive strategies one might use when trying to maintain their relationships:

·       Enhancing a Partner’s virtues and downplaying the faults

·       Lowering one’s expectations to fit more closely with what their partner offers

·       Adjusting their perceptions so that their partner bears resemblance to their ideal.

 

We have utilised some of the fundamental constructs in forming and maintaining relationships. Even though these theories give insight into some of the underlying issues which may arise within relationships, they do not take individual differences into account or the many different and complex reasons for imbalances in relationships. However, we’ve learnt that relationships are much like building a business and take a lot of work. Just like a staff meeting that takes place, to re-evaluate how everyone is getting on and what changes are needed to maintain a successful work environment, these maintenance checks, risk assessments, work performance reports, concerns and ideas, also need to be acknowledged when it comes to sustaining our relationships.

A couple’s maintenance checks can become overdue and they can forget to keep track of an ever-changing situation. Why is it that we consider these things when it comes to work but not our relationships? After all, like a business, people also evolve and for a relationship to flourish, a couple must also maintain a structure that both parties can find easy to commit to as times change, because unlike a business, if it all came tumbling down, we aren’t insured. 

This difficulty can occur at any point in our relationships and we are never quite ready when it happens to us. We find ourselves unprepared in trying to understand a person who is not the one we met in the beginning, and trying to renegotiate our own needs, and the person that we’ve now become, makes this process even more challenging. When it comes to interpersonal conflicts, the main theme in a couple’s argument usually entails something along the lines of: “When did you stop playing by the rules?” Both parties notice this imbalance, they are no longer getting the rewards that they used to gain and so this results in disagreements. No matter how many years two people have shared together, life can always throw us into the perils of change causing us to alter ourselves to adapt.

The beneficial way to transition through these challenges together is communication and a re-evaluation of the ‘Bargaining phase’: discussing each other’s new position in the relationship and how external causalities have impacted on each other as individuals and as a couple. This can hopefully enable a couple to evolve together within their relationships rather than apart. Through this renegotiation of terms and establishing equilibrium, the couple can move into a new ‘commitment phase’ and restore a state of equity.

Two people trying to coexist is not always easy. Sometimes people can be so caught up in their own minds, with their own insecurities, belief systems and goals that this can cause them to have trouble in understanding one another. Relationships must constantly be nurtured to enable them to continue to grow, this means having to adapt ourselves to life’s ever-changing challenges. Communication, honesty, trust and forgiveness are key for a couple to preserve their relationship. There must be a breakdown in these communication barriers and finding a way to understand one another without letting one’s own biases and assumptions interfere with the process. Our other halves will not always reflect to us what we wish to see, the person we chose will come with their many flaws as will we. And as Sam Keen once said, “we come to love not by finding a perfect person, but by learning to see an imperfect person perfectly”. Having these uncomfortable conversations are worthwhile.

Of course, there are some relationships that are destined to only play a small part in our lives, but it doesn’t make them any less important. No matter what relationship we are all currently in, whether we feel it is right or wrong for us, all the different paths we cross with people and the relationships we form are a lesson for us. Lost relationships were never a failure or a waste of time. They teach us a little something about ourselves, about who we want to be, what kind of life we want to lead and what kind of soul we want walking beside us. Some people can make us feel like we’ve found the right person we want to share our lives with, while the people who were wrong for us enable us to finally recognise the right ones. Others merely interfere with our usual way of thinking and steer us into looking in another direction in finding the answers that we seek; and sometimes pain can be the source of this influence. Sometimes the lesson simply is to establish a secure and happy relationship with ourselves before we decide who is worthy of becoming a part of our lives.

The mysteries of these events which keep you awake at night, will someday unravel themselves to you. Whatever the case may be, just know that you are amazing, you are capable, and you are enough just as you are and there is no better relationship than the one that you have with yourself. 

3 Movie After-Lives and Their Horrific Implications

Written by Chad Echakowitz

 Photograph by  Mathew MacQuarrie

Photograph by Mathew MacQuarrie

It’s something we think about often. Human beings are burdened with the sad knowledge that one day we will face death and there is nothing we can do about it. This impending doom has been something that has enraged some, and frightened many more. Consequently, we have theorized what happens to us once we go to that eternal sleep and the results have been fantastic. Heaven, Purgatory, Valhalla, and Reincarnation are just some of the great theories that people have created over the millennia. Films have come up with some pretty spectacular theories too (I mean, who hasn’t cried at the end of Meet Joe Black?). Unfortunately, not all of the after-life scenarios created by the silver screen have been knockouts. Here’s a list of just some of the films where the depiction of the afterlife is genuinely terrifying.

1.     Titanic

This is a beautiful love story that has resulted in so very many boat-related antics. However, they really missed the boat (get it?) with creating a heartfelt afterlife. In the final moments of the film, it is implied that Rose dies peacefully in her sleep after she has thrown the Heart of the Ocean in to the deep blue sea. In the next sequence, we are given a point of view shot of Rose walking through the Titanic’s Staircase Room with people who were on the ship, dressed in their fanciest dinner attire, standing on either side of her. We pan up to find a young Jack standing at the top of the staircase. He turns around and sees Rose. They embrace and then everyone starts clapping. This is supposed to be a cute moment where, finally, Jack and Rose will be united forever. They could not be more wrong.

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If this is Titanic’s version of the afterlife, it is really messed up. The film implies that every person who was on the Titanic will now spend the rest of eternity on the Titanic, whether you survived the sinking or not. This alone is horrible. Basically, you’re now stuck for an eternity on a ship which you probably have some serious PTSD-based feelings towards. And don’t say “Oh, but they looked so happy!” Yes, they were happy because there was a new arrival to this torture chamber, a new person to talk to, seeing as they’ve only had this finite number of people to talk to for the last 80 or so years.

Additionally, you’re not even the center of your own afterlife. Unless you are Jack and Rose (which you’re not) you have to stand around, waiting for Rose to finally die and then you have to watch them kiss (weird) and then clap. But after that, what’s next? Do you go back to hanging out by the pool? Attacking the guy who forgot the binoculars? What are you supposed to do for the rest of forever on a boat? Sure, it would be fun for like, a year but then you’d get bored as the long stretch of time wears you away into insanity. But at least the amenities are nice. So... enjoy that.

2.     Star Wars

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We don’t get too much information about the After-Life in Star Wars but from what is said, we become part of the Living Force and live on through that. But then, Obi-Wan Kenobi, Yoda, Anakin Skywalker and Qui-Gon Jinn all come back as Force Ghosts. That implies that when you die in the Star Wars Universe, you end up floating along as little Midichlorian Particles and then you’re manipulated – against your will – by anyone who can use The Force to do whatever they want (usually lifting heavy things).

So it seems like you have two choices once you’re dead in the Star Wars Universe. Either you come back as a Force Ghost and all you do is sit on rocks and give advice and then disappear back in to the ether, or you become Midichlorian Particles and get manipulated by some jerk who can control The Force, so you’re basically his or her slave. So both choices suck a lot and there’s nothing you can do about it. So... Enjoy that.

3.     The Marvel Comic Universe

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Okay, so bare with me on this one; it’s not technically an afterlife. No one in the MCU ever seems to die. Agent Coulson somehow returned from death after Avengers, Nick Fury didn’t die in Captain America: The Winter Soldier, and so many other characters who were believed to be dead in the Marvel Universe just seem to keep coming back to life. Imagine what that does to a person’s psyche. To grieve over someone you thought was dead, just for them to come back to life again. Alternatively this will bring up a lot of jealous feelings in some cases where loved ones do die in order to advance the plot. For example, can you imagine the hatred that Peter Parker feels for everyone who gets more than one chance at life? Why wasn’t Uncle Ben given the same luxury? This causes some really strong, really powerful people to have an incredibly warped sense of finality and closure. That is not what you want from someone who can destroy a city block in less than 10 seconds.

Additionally, you can imagine how exhausting life would be. You fight crime over and over and over again and then, finally, the sweet embrace of death comes to take you away and NOPE. You get time-traveled, or there’s a clone of you, or some other convoluted thing happens that keeps you fighting crime over and over again for all eternity. There’s no escape as your soul weeps for an end that will never come. So... Enjoy that.

Death happens to all of us. It’s unavoidable. But whatever is coming your way after you die, whatever you believe, it is important that you have some slight comfort in knowing that it is probably not going to be as horrific as any of these. And I want you to enjoy that.

How Instagram and Facebook are Evolutionary Milestones for Humanity

Written by Chad Echakowitz

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Human beings have evolved. Whether you believe in evolution or not, evolution believes in you. For better or for worse, our most recent evolutional step is all thanks to social media sites such as Facebook and Instagram. This evolution has not affected us physically: unfortunately, we haven’t developed gills, or the ability to see better in the dark, but we have become the first versions of the Human species to quantify and place a numerical value on social interaction and cultural progression… which is so much better than being able to breathe underwater.

Unless you’re an octogenarian (and even if you are an octogenarian) you probably know what memes are. Now a meme (and it’s pronounced meem, not me-me) is not just a funny picture that’s spread around the Internet for the enjoyment of millions. “Meme” was a term coined by the evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins in his book The Selfish Gene (1976). A Meme, according to Dawkins, is an idea, behavior, or style that spreads from person to person within a culture. The Meme acts as a unit for carrying cultural ideas, symbols, or practices that can be transmitted from one mind to another through writing, speech, gestures, rituals or other means which can be mimicked. According to Dawkins, Memes are like genes in the fact that they can self-replicate, mutate and respond to selective pressures.

An example may be helpful here. Let’s look at the rise of the skinny jean. Until the mid-2000’s, skinny jeans were not fashionable; baggier, looser jeans were all the rage. Then, suddenly, the skinny jean revolution began; first with women and then with men. The fashion changed rapidly to a tighter, more restrictive means of covering one’s legs and, over time, that fashion has developed into super skinnies, straight cut, jeggings, and other forms of excruciatingly tight jeans. This is an example of a Meme in fashion. The skinny jean Meme was able to replicate by the fact that it was considered fashionable to wear them, mutate to become available for both men and women, and respond to selective pressures, such as diversifying into different styles, depending on whether the wearer wanted them tighter (super skinnies) or looser (straight cut). Consequently, since 2005 the skinny jean Meme has been injected in to Western culture.

This is only half the story however. It does not explain how we have quantified social interaction and culture. Enter Social Exchange Theory. This theory postulates that human relationships are formed by the use of a subjective, cost-benefit analysis and the comparison of alternatives. According to Sociologist George Homans, social exchange is the exchange of activity, tangible or intangible, that is more or less rewarding or costly between at least two persons. Homans goes on to give three propositions that occur in a social exchange system: first, when a person is rewarded for their actions, they will tend to repeat that action. Second, the more often a particular stimulus has resulted in a reward in the past, the more likely it is that a person will respond to it. And finally, the more often in the recent past a person has received a particular reward, the less valuable any further unit of that reward becomes. The Social Exchange Theory puts a large emphasis on the importance of self-interest as a positive element of social interaction, and not a negative one. Self-interest is a guiding force of interpersonal relationships for the advancement of both parties. There is a lot more to this theory than this small paragraph, but for the purposes of this argument, this will suffice.

In other words, Social Exchange Theory says that when two or more people meet, they will weigh the cost to reward benefit of that meeting and from that analysis decide whether to continue with that relationship or not. For example, you meet Dave from the office. He is nice, funny, and his opinions on the season finale of Westworld match yours. The only problem is, every time he finishes a sentence he sucks his teeth. The sound sends chills up your spine. The rewards of the interaction are that you could have a great friendship with Dave; you two get along really well and it means you don’t have to sit alone during lunch. But is the friendship worth sitting through hours and hours of teeth sucking? Could you bare it during the Christmas party, when you inevitably speak to him, and just him, for the majority of the evening? If the answer is no, then the social exchange is over because the cost outweighs the reward and so the relationship dies like all your hopes and aspirations. Of course, there is a lot more to social interaction and building relationships but this simple example serves its purpose for this argument. Please don’t think that this encapsulates all of Social Exchange Theory because it is only the tip of the iceberg. It is incredibly interesting so do read more if you get the chance.

The second proposition of Social Exchange Theory states that if you go home to your spouse and they’ve cooked your favourite meal because you cleaned the dishes before you went to work, it is more likely you’ll clean the dishes the next morning too. The theory then proposes that the more you get your favourite meal for cleaning the dishes, the more likely it is that you will clean the dishes. However, so the theory argues, if this happens every night for a week or two - where you’re getting your favourite meal every night - you are less likely to want to clean the dishes for that same reward.

And here’s where social media marries Meme Theory with Social Exchange Theory. Facebook and Instagram are just two of many social media sites where people can share any and every aspect about themselves so that their friends, family, and complete strangers can comment and like those aspects. Social media is a great conduit for Memes and the ability for them to spread. We are able to spread any Meme, whether it relates to art, fashion, speech or writing at the click of a mouse and the rest of the world can react to those Memes by either liking it or disliking it (or liking it less than other things) and so social media sites become conduits for the development of culture through the rapid spread of memes. The memes that are liked become part of our every day lives and our rapidly changing culture, while the memes that aren’t (or are liked less) become insignificant and disappear.

If we keep posting the same thing on Instagram or Facebook over and over again, we will start to see a decline in likes, and even if we don’t, a change will need to be made in order to refresh and revitalize the importance of those likes. This directly relates to the second and third proposition of Social Exchange Theory. We form a relationship with the people on our feeds and we like or dislike the things they post. There is no cost, except for the minor effort we have to put in by scrolling down our feeds, but the benefits are immense because we can decide, as a collective, what we like and don’t like. We give a reward be liking things which then leads to that Meme being repeated and passed on to others.

Depending on how many likes we get on a particular post, we change our behavior, and what we like and dislike in response to the number of likes we receive. There are stories of people changing their hairstyles just because they received less likes on Facebook than they thought they would receive. It is in this way that we have quantified and placed a numerical value of social interaction. Likes are good, and no likes are bad. We become what the people believe is popular, and we create what becomes popular by liking and not liking different things. A like is akin to a single person in a fad, the more likes, the more popular, and so culture is developed in accordance with what has the most likes.

This is an important step in our evolution because we have a better control over what becomes part of our culture. While we are heavily influenced by large corporations, intensive advertising, and data manipulation, the quantification of culture implies that we are – or at least can be – in control. We, the masses create our own destiny, we can turn the tides of our culture by hitting the like button on post A more than on post B. It is a symbol for the control we have as a group. We are powerful because we are many.

Of course, this can be dangerous too. Sometimes, the masses can make mistakes. We make stupid decisions that harm minorities or the planet and are just downright ignorant. We act before we think and we can now see the consequences more clearly. But as ol’ Uncle Ben said, “with great power comes great responsibility.” With this new evolutionary step, we have a responsibility to be more conscious about our decisions. To take a look at what we’re doing, to dive deep into our actions and say, “Hey, am I going to be considered an asshole for doing this?” and if the answer is “yes”, then don’t do it. Quantification of culture means our responsibility is higher because our accountability is lower. 

We are the first of the human species who have been able to assign a value to popularity and social interaction. This is a step forward in our evolution. It is now easier than ever to determine what everyone likes and dislikes and to conform to those memes. It is your choice, however, as an individual, to decide what you do with this power. The faceless Internet means you are not held accountable to the standard you should be. It is your responsibility to hold yourself to a high standard. Then again, sharing pictures of cats is pretty harmless.