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Transparent raked in the Emmys, Caitlyn Jenner continues to makes headlines, and it’s a big time for visibility in the trans community. The discussion of gender identity and neutral pronouns has left professor and author Melvin Jules Bukiet wondering how new pronouns will fit in with existing English grammar and social structure. (The Chronicle of Higher Education)

We’re throwing away our lives — or at least our chives. Solving our international food waste problem is necessary to end the global hunger crisis and feed a growing population. One Canadian family dug into their trash bin for six months to see if they could cut back. (The Walrus)

Fifty years ago, 2015 may have been predicted to be more metallic-and-spandex than it turned out to be, but technology has come a long way. Claire Cameron spoke to five scientists about the biggest scientific surprises, triumphs, and disappointments of the past half-century. (Nautilus) •

Maren Larsen is the associate editor of The Smart Set. She is a digital journalism student, college radio DJ, and outdoor enthusiast.

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It’s a cold autumn morning on location at Pennsbury Manor, William Penn’s estate on the Delaware River above Philadelphia. We are shooting reenactment scenes of the 17th and 18th centuries for the sixth and seventh episodes of the film documentary series “Philadelphia: The Great Experiment.” The light — starry blue then pink then orange — awakens the fields and buildings here, WPA recreations circa 1938 that will serve as the various raw tableaux for uncertain meetings among Swedish settlers, Lenape, Quakers, and Africans.  

Nathaniel Popkin‘s latest book is the novel Lion and Leopard. He is also the author of Song of the City, and The Possible City, and is co-editor of the Hidden City Daily and co-producer and senior writer and editor of the documentary “Philadelphia: The Great Experiment.” Most of his work can be found at nathanielpopkin.net

I collect thumb toys. Few people know thumb toys by name, but most everybody has seen one. Thumb toys are those small figures that stand atop a little pedestal that fits in the palm of your hand. Push a button under the pedestal and tension is released from strings within the figure; it falls. Let go and the figure rights itself.

 

I currently own 152 thumb toys. The breadth of the thumb toy world is impressive. The figures in my collection include robots, ghosts, elephants, turtles, dancing ants, circus strongmen, Curious George, a British cop, a bride and groom, a signing frog who swings on a cattail, Frankenstein, and the Fernsehturm television tower in Berlin.

I offer this as background to why I only started to personally click with the 108th Annual American International Toy… More…

As Harley-Davidson Ken #2, Barbie’s perennial boy toy is presented with a scruffy beard and a stand of old-growth chest hair that would make Tom Selleck proud. His leather and denim duds are accessorized with testeronic man-bling: a heavy-duty Harley belt buckle and a dangling wallet chain. On his left forearm, his tough plastic flesh has been permanently ornamented with a “Born to ride” tattoo. Harley-Davidson Ken Doll #2 is aimed at collectors and the ladies love him. “What I would not have given to have this bad-to-the-bone sexy Ken when I was growing up!!” enthuses one at Amazon. “My Barbie’s [sic] are all falling over themselves trying to get next to this bad boy,” exclaims another.

 

And yet it turns out that even rugged, undomesticated Ken — Ken at his most virile, redolent of leather… More…

I can’t say that I’m upset that Cathy, the comic strip by Cathy Guisewite, will be ending it’s 34-year run on October 3. I’ve never been a huge fan of the strip, preferring more political bite (Doonesbury) or more lively domestic pratfall (Zits) in my comics fare. Still, the end of Cathy marks the end of an era that more or less coincides with my youth and a good chunk of my middle age. 34 years is a long time to riff on guilt-inducing mothers, dead-beat boyfriends, and the effect of ice cream and chocolate cake on female thighs, but though the jokes may have gotten tired, their repetition has itself been part of the appeal. The dog may die, the kids may leave home, but summer will come again and Cathy will be back in that dressing room with that ever-indulgent saleslady, trying on bathing suits.

Why… More…

You could be forgiven for drawing certain conclusions about sexual relations from the work of Shirley Jackson. Something about the malevolence of men, the witchy insularity of women, and the powerful bonds between girls that sometimes border on incestuous. There are the sisters in We Have Always Lived in the Castle, one who sings rhymes about killing everyone, and one who is drawn away by a sudden male presence (with firey consequences). There is Theodora in The Haunting of Hill House, who goes by Theo, has a row with her female “roommate,” smashes her copy of Alfred de Musset (Musset being the author of the lesbian erotica Gamiani, or Two Nights of Excess), and sexually teases the submissive Eleanor. The male characters often shimmer with malevolence, destroying peaceful homes or destroying women for sport, like Jamie, the man who suddenly disappears the morning of his wedding day in “The Daemon… More…

Making too much of the gender divide is outmoded nowadays, and yet there are areas where the division still holds. One is the area of narrative. Women like it; men don’t. Granted, if you walk into a random funeral, you’re going to hear a narrative when they give the eulogy, whether the person in the casket is a man or a woman. But I’m talking about a tolerance for narrative beyond the bare bones (or dead body) variety. When it comes to that, women want more, men less. It’s the old foreplay-versus-sex-act thing, and it translates into other diversions — like fine dining (women like the ambience, men the food) and movies (women like character-delving plots — i.e. French movies; men like action films — i.e. anything with weapons or, barring that, anything not French). The whole thing can be boiled down to a simple dichotomy: Women like stories, men… More…

 

Call it a perk of the recession. Or maybe just another example of how our quality of life is diminishing in these troubled times. A topless cafe has opened in the town of Vassalboro, Maine. It’s called, appropriately enough, the Grand View Topless Coffee Shop. Customers can purchase $3 cups of java and $2 donuts from servers of either gender, hold the shirt.

The idea of sexing up utilitarian businesses is not without precedent, of course. Coffee shops employing lingerie-clad waitresses in Seattle and Las Vegas have been operating since 2007. Sexy maid services are as common as foreclosures these days. But the topless coffee shop is a new phenomenon, and a timely one: Apparently the economy has gotten so bad that simply selling boiling caffeine in one of the country’s coldest, sleepiest states is no longer a… More…

Every once in a while some woman gets fed up with the constant news of war, poverty, greed, environmental degradation, and corruption, and publicly growls, “You know, if women ran the world, it would be a better place.” Detractors immediately howl back, reminding us of the plague that was Thatcherism, but it turns out that we don’t need a matriarchy to improve the world. Just improving the lives of women, guaranteeing their rights, and allowing them to decide their own fates independent of religious or societal control would help piece our world back together.

The Means of Reproduction: Sex, Power, and the Future of the World by Michelle Goldberg. Penguin Press. 272 pages. $25.95

Muhammad Yunus started the Grameen Bank to offer microloans to the rural poor, allowing them to start small businesses and work their way out of poverty. He… More…

 

As I was filling out Kate Bornstein’s My Gender Workbook, doodling in the box that says “Draw a perfectly gendered person,” taking the quizzes to find my Gender Aptitude, and learning to adjust my definition of “transgender” to include anyone who breaks with the traditional portrayal of gender, which would include everyone from drag queens to boys in eyeliner, I started wondering how the me of five years ago would answer these questions. Obviously, I would be drawing “my gender” a bit differently. In my present drawing my gender has a cloche and a fur stole. But five years ago I was in the final throes of my Boy Phase (or, giving my current tendency towards glammed-out femininity, what a friend has recently titled my Pre-Op Period), a span of several years of dressing in men’s clothing and… More…