Snark Week: All Blackbirds Should Be Baked in Pie

Welcome to Snark Week 2017!

A peaceful summer day. A glittering, blue lake and a sky full of billowy clouds. And on the path below, a young woman rollerblades. She zips from side to side, enthusiastically mouthing the words to “Baby Got Back.” Then, out of the corner of her eye, a glint of something dark followed by a loud squawk. Close. Too close. Suddenly she feels wings in her hair. Razor talons scratch her scalp. She flails and hits the ground hard. But this bird (birds? an entire flock?) is relentless. So she scrambles to her feet and blades away.

A deserted stretch of highway. A lone biker pushes up a long hill. The woman passes a telephone wire thick with dark birds, their expressions inscrutable. Suddenly, one descends and begins pecking at the small of her back. Is it after the energy gel she has stashed there? Long after the ride is over, she can’t stop replaying the horror of that day.

A mother and daughter on a country road. They’ve been down this lane before, so they know the risks. Each carries a hefty tennis racket for protection. When the birds come, they’ll be prepared.

These four women* come from different places and lead very different lives, but they are united by being the victims of a common assailant: Agelaius phoeniceus, the red-winged blackbird.  Continue reading

Snark Week: Sit you down, young man, and I’ll tell you an Arctic fox tale

Welcome to Snark Week 2017

A few years back, the Norwegian comedy duo Ylvis asked a foolish question. A question best left buried in the deeper recesses of the mind, or thousands of feet below the ground, or at the bottom of the Mariana Trench. And they sang it so casually, in a goddamned music video of all things. What does the fox say?

Idiots, I mutter into my beer down here at the pub, on this godforsaken rock in the middle of the Bering Sea, whenever I doff my cap and come in from my wanderings along the cobbled beaches or through the cold high grass. I’m here to tell you, if they had heard what the fox says, they would never ask such a thing. To do so is to conjure the bloodthirsty demons of old.

Do you have a little time? Of course you have time. You’re marooned here in the ocean just like me, halfway between the coasts of Siberia and Alaska. Let me buy you a beer and tell you more. You’d be wise to listen if you’re going to venture out to the top of the cliffs. And it’s important to be wise here, or you may never be heard from again. You see my beard? I have one because I’m wise. That’s what beards mean, you know.

So this fox. It’s a strain of Arctic fox unique to these Pribilof Islands. Vulpes lagopus pribilofensis. No other three words in any language cover such a multitude of evils. I call it the chocolate bear. Continue reading

Snark Week: My Dog Would Definitely Eat My Corpse

Were I to fall and die in my kitchen some unfortunate morning, my youngest dog, Geddy, would definitely eat my corpse. Maybe not that very minute, but pretty soon after I slumped to the floor he’d be nosing around, checking my pulse.

He’d probably give me a couple of hours to rise up from my “nap,” pawing at me now and then to demand that I sleep-scratch his belly. But by mid-afternoon, if I remained deathly still and if no snacks were offered to him, my beloved pup would start in on my fleshy bits and go from there.

He’s a Korean jindo, which is a relatively “primitive” breed. Meaning he thinks he’s a wolf—doesn’t obey, likes to hunt. (Bred to hunt wild boar and the like, in fact.) On a walk, regardless of how much I’m yelling “Stop! Stop pulling! God damn it, stop pulling! Stop that! No, sit! Stay! STAY! Let go of that! Leave it alone! Leave it! LEAVE IT!” Geddy stalks. Geddy gives chase. Geddy catches and shakes. Geddy rips and tears. Bunnies in particular don’t stand a chance once he spies them and snaps the leash (and my shoulder) going after them. And later, job done, Geddy gets in my bed and licks my face and demands more belly scratches. That’s just how he rolls.

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Snark Week: Backyard Domestic Terrorists

Welcome to Snark Week at LWON.

A number of years ago, when my wife was still in college, a prowler tried to break into her tiny bungalow in Berkeley, California. She heard him, first on the roof then at the door, furiously trying to get in. Normally she would rely on the dogs that lived with her (a great Dane and golden retriever) but she could hear them across the yard whimpering in fear.

So she called the Berkeley cops, who quickly came onto the scene with guns drawn.

“Ma’am, are you okay?” one said through the door.

“Yes, thank God you’re here. The intruder was just here a minute ago.”

The brave cop turned the corner and came face-to-face with her assailant. And it was worse than he could have ever imagined.

“Ma’am,” he said gravely, “I think your burglar is a raccoon.”

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Welcome to SNARK WEEK 2017!

2017 seems to be shaping up to be the Year of Fear. Fear of terrorism, fear of too much Donald, fear of not enough Donald, fear of economic collapse, Brexit, socialism, fascism, fanaticism, cultism, existentialism, euphemism.

All of it is very scary and all of it deserves endless hand-wringing on cable news. And this week, cable news will be offering you one more thing to be scared of: sharkism. However, we at The Last Word on Nothing feel that sharks get way too many slices of the old fear pie and so in response we present Snark Week.

Forget hammerheads and makos, welcome to the terrifying and adorable world of kittens, puppies and fluffy little bunnies. Don’t be fooled by their cute exterior, be afraid. Behind every doe-eyed hamster lies a buck-toothed monster and inside every chubby little panda head simmers a desire to destroy all you hold dear!

The Last Word

July 17-21, 2017

Ann is reading Colm Tóibín’s House of Names, and starts the week thinking about ancient Greece:  I started to wonder about the strange discrepancy between these revenge-addled murderers and the rational, educated ancient Greeks who were the foundation of Western civilization; who founded much of our sculpture, architecture, philosophy, literature, math, and science; and who told these terrible stories over and over.

Almost a century ago, Isabel Cooper accompanied scientific expeditions to the tropics, documenting biodiversity with watercolors. Helen is fascinated: On Saturday, I happened to be looking at Isabel Cooper’s art with her great-granddaughter, moaning at how we couldn’t imagine ever being that good at watercolors. . . Just look at this sloth. Doesn’t it look like it has wisdom to impart?

Christie celebrates the many pleasures of singletrack. What I love is that riding singletrack makes me feel fully present in my body, fully aware of its relationship to my surroundings and fully capable. 

Beware: next week is Shark Week. Beware more: next week is Snark Week. But Erik gives a preview: …the most annoying part of Shark Week is all the faux science. I don’t mean megalodons and mermaids, I mean the illusion that we know anything about these animals.

And on Friday, I write about lipstick. Sort of.

Come back soon—Snark Week is upon us!


Art by Isabel Cooper, courtesy of Wildlife Conservation Society Archives

What’s My Lipstick?

The rumors are true: I’m kind of a slob. In high school, I wore baggy pants during the day and boxer shorts to volleyball practice. In college, I wore pajama bottoms to morning classes. I also wore them at least once on an afternoon coffee that turned out to be a date.

Recently, while at a wonderfully dirty camp in the mountains, a friend and I were talking about what we wore when we took the kids to school. I looked down at my holey yoga pants and my sweatshirt and my dusty running shoes and said that I looked like this pretty much all the time.

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We Humans Know Nothing About Sharks

Next week is Shark Week, which means that we at the Last Word will be spending the week specifically not talking about sharks. Instead, we will scour the globe for far more dangerous and adorable critters in a yearly tradition called Snark Week.

And while I might argue that Snark Week is a far bigger deal than Shark Week, I’ll allow that a few people will also be watching shark documentaries starting on Sunday.

Like any passionate shark lover, I once adored shark flicks. The brave scientist pressing into the unknown, the cool gadgets, the thrashing of a hippo-sized toothy fish from the deep that quickly returns from whence it came – this is the stuff of obsession for any nerdy 11-year-old kid.

But today, most of these movies make me want to wretch. It’s not just the puffy-chest posing and the gravely-voiced narrators, it’s the whole vibe. Sharks on Shark Week aren’t really animals anymore, they’re props. And increasingly the stars aren’t scientists, they’re stuntmen like Dickie Chivell, who gets on surfboard-like things to see if he can tempt a white shark to bite him or Micheal Phelps, who … I honestly don’t know what the hell that guy has to do with sharks.

This isn’t David Attenborough, this is Jackass. Danger porn.

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