“It Was The Best of Times…..

it was the worst of times.”

Thus the opening line of Dickens’ “A Tale of Two Cities”  a historical novel set in London and Paris before and during the French Revolution. The novel tells the story of the French Doctor Manette, his 18-year-long imprisonment in the Bastille in Paris and his release to live in London with his daughter Lucie, whom he had never met. The story is set against the conditions that led up to the French Revolution and the Reign of Terror.

What were the worst times to be alive?  Interesting thought really, depending on when you live, where you lived and who you were.

I, for example am a man of the second half of the 20th century, lucky enough to be born in America.  While the century was rife with war I was lucky enough not to have seen any of it directly.  While there was a great depression and economic privation for a portion of it, I missed it all.  I never knew hunger or want.  I live during a period of great discovery and advances in medicine which changed the world and kept me alive.  A couple of centuries ago I would have died at age 24 from appendicitis.

Defining the worst time to live by time, circumstances and place only defines “worst time” for the individual.  Being a German draftee at Stalingrad on Christmas Eve of 1942 would be pretty bad.  Or being confined in the Lodz ghetto.   Or being a Ukrainian farmer during Stalin’s collectivization.

Looking backward can also play tricks.  Was there any difference in the life of a European peasant who lived in 1350 vs. 1250?  I think there was, at least intuitively, but I can’t imagine how.  On the other hand I can easily see the differences between lives lived in 1970 vs. those lived in 1870.

Was there a worst time do be alive no matter what your circumstance or where, for the most part, you lived?

Well there was 1918.  Sure the war was over but it was followed by the “Spanish” flu – don’t ask me why the Spanish got the blame.  This particular strain of influenza killed between 50-100 million, people; mostly young adults.

Millions who survived the war were struck down by the disease.

The gymnasium at Iowa State University turned into a hospital for student and staff victims of influenza – 1918

In the fall of 1918 the Great War in Europe was winding down and peace was on the horizon. Deep within the trenches men lived through some of the most brutal conditions of life, which it seemed could not be any worse. Then, in pockets across the globe, something erupted that seemed as benign as the common cold. The influenza of that season, however, was far more than a cold. In the two years that this scourge ravaged the earth, a fifth of the world’s population was infected. The flu was most deadly for people ages 20 to 40. This pattern of deaths was unusual as influenza is usually a killer of the elderly and young children. It infected 28% of all Americans .

Of the U.S. soldiers who died in Europe, half of them fell to the influenza virus and not to the enemy . An estimated 43,000 servicemen mobilized for WWI died of influenza; 1918 would go down as an unforgettable year of suffering and death and yet of peace. As noted in the Journal of the American Medical Association final edition of 1918:

“The 1918 has gone: a year momentous as the termination of the most cruel war in the annals of the human race; a year which marked, the end at least for a time, of man’s destruction of man; unfortunately a year in which developed a most fatal infectious disease causing the death of hundreds of thousands of human beings. Medical science for four and one-half years devoted itself to putting men on the firing line and keeping them there. Now it must turn with its whole might to combating the greatest enemy of all–infectious disease,” (12/28/1918).

Being a young adult during the flu epidemic was a pretty bad time

Being alive during the Black Death was far worse.  The Black Death is estimated to have killed 30–60% of Europe’s total population.   In total, the plague may have reduced the world population from an estimated 450 million down to 350–375 million in the 14th century.   It took 200 years for the world population to recover to its previous level.

Contemporary accounts of the plague are often varied or imprecise. The most commonly noted symptom was the appearance of buboes (or gavocciolos) in the groin, the neck and armpits, which oozed pus and bled when opened.  This was followed by acute fever and vomiting of blood. Most victims died two to seven days after initial infection. Freckle-like spots and rashes, which could have been caused by flea-bites, were identified as another potential sign of the plague.

Danse  Macabre – an Italian fresco of the time.

“And in many places in Siena great pits were dug and piled deep with the multitude of dead.  And there were also those so sparsely covered with earth that the dogs dragged them forth and devoured many bodies throughout the streets of the city..”  – Agnolo di Tura

The trend of recent research is pointing to a figure more like 45–50% of the European population dying during a four-year period. There is a fair amount of geographic variation. In Mediterranean Europe, areas such as Italy, the south of France and Spain, where plague ran for about four years consecutively, it was probably closer to 75–80% of the population. In Germany and England it was probably closer to 20% though some 60% of Londoners died..

Pretty bad time to be alive, particularly in southern Europe.  It made no difference your circumstance, whether rich or poor, man or woman, royal or peasant.

Was there an absolute worst time to be alive, to be a human?

Well some historians and scientists point not to 1349 but to……..536.

In Europe, “It was the beginning of one of the worst periods to be alive, if not the worst year,” says McCormick, a historian and archaeologist who chairs the Harvard University Initiative for the Science of the Human Past.

Why you ask?

A mysterious fog plunged Europe, the Middle East, and parts of Asia into darkness, day and night—for 18 months. “For the sun gave forth its light without brightness, like the moon, during the whole year,” wrote Byzantine historian Procopius. Temperatures in the summer of 536 plummeted,  initiating the coldest decade in the past 2300 years. Snow fell that summer in China; crops failed; people starved. The Irish chronicles record “a failure of bread from the years 536–539.”

Iceland under a volcanic cloud.  Picture it world wide for 18 months.

Historians have long known that the middle of the sixth century was a dark hour in what used to be called the Dark Ages, but the source of the mysterious clouds has long been a puzzle. Now, an ultraprecise analysis of ice from a Swiss glacier has fingered a culprit. At a workshop at Harvard it was  reported that a cataclysmic volcanic eruption in Iceland spewed ash across the Northern Hemisphere early in 536. Two other massive eruptions followed, in 540 and 547 totally darkening the skies.

“Ever since tree ring studies in the 1990s suggested the summers around the year 540 were unusually cold, researchers have hunted for the cause. Three years ago polar ice cores from Greenland and Antarctica yielded a clue. When a volcano erupts, it spews sulfur, bismuth, and other substances high into the atmosphere, where they form an aerosol veil that reflects the sun’s light back into space, cooling the planet. By matching the ice record of these chemical traces with tree ring records of climate, a team led by Michael Sigl, now of the University of Bern, found that nearly every unusually cold summer over the past 2500 years was preceded by a volcanic eruption. A massive eruption—perhaps in North America, the team suggested—stood out in late 535 or early 536; another followed in 540. Sigl’s team concluded that the double blow explained the prolonged dark and cold.”

So there you are, living in Europe or the Middle East in the late 530s and the sun has ceased to shine.  The crops won’t grow, it is cold in summer and you and your family are starving.  And of course, you have no idea why.

Must be God’s work.

And then, on top of t all , in 541, plague struck the Roman port of Pelusium, in Egypt. What came to be called the Plague of Justinian spread rapidly, wiping out one-third to one-half of the population of the eastern Roman Empire and hastening its political and economic collapse.  It would be more than a century until silver mining commenced again, indicating an economic recovery.

What happens to men during times  like these?

The mechanism of infection and transmission of diseases was not understood in these early centuries; many people believed the epidemic was a punishment by God for their sins. This belief led to the idea that the cure to the disease was to win God’s forgiveness.

It was the same for the darkness; there was no explanation in the mid 6th century for why the sun had ceased to shine.

Renewed religious fervor and fanaticism bloomed in the wake of these catastrophies. Some Europeans targeted “various groups such as Jews, friars, foreigners, beggars, pilgrims, lepers, and Romani, thinking that they were to blame for the crisis. Lepers, and other individuals with skin diseases such as acne or psoriasis, were singled out and exterminated throughout Europe.  Jewish communities were wiped out in Western and Eastern Europe as Jews migrated to Poland where they received a warm welcome from Casimir the Great.”

So when you think your times are pretty bad, remember that “pretty bad” is all relative.

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Posted in history, Uncategorized | 7 Comments

A Christmas Card

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Back in January I wrote about my youngest daughter’s artistic endeavors which began when she was a child.  You can read about it here:

https://toritto.wordpress.com/2018/01/10/a-daughters-art/

One of the things she enjoys doing is creating greeting cards for family and friends.  Each Christmas we look forward to receiving this year’s latest endeavor.  Each is originally drawn by hand and carries her personal message.

The above is her latest creation.

Merry Christmas!

🙂

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And now to put you in the spirit, Luciano Pavarotti at the Notre Dame Cathedral in Montreal, 40 years ago.

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It’s Beginning To Look Alot Like Christmas!

Toritto’s House – I moved into this home 14 years ago today with my two daughters.

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Looking out back last night to homes across the road and fronting on the great swamp.  Few, other than the neighbors who live out here, will see the Christmas lights – but perhaps the cranes, terns, hawks, turkey vultures, squirrels, armadillos and the occasional alligator will enjoy!

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Ghosts of Christmas trees past.


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A Christmas candle I brought home from the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem.  It is only lit on Christmas Eve.

Clark’s House

Clark and mom putting up the tree!

Ready for Santa!

🙂

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A Lesson From The Passing of George H. W. Bush

“Words that everyone once used are now obsolete, and so are the men whose names were once on everyone’s lips: Camillus, Caeso, Volesus, Dentatus, and to a lesser degree Scipio and Cato, and yes, even Augustus, Hadrian, and Antoninus are less spoken of now than they were in their own days.

For all things fade away, become the stuff of legend, and are soon buried in oblivion.

Mind you, this is true only for those who blazed once like bright stars in the firmament,  for the rest, as soon as a few clods of earth cover their corpses, they are ‘out of sight, out of mind.’ In the end, what would you gain from everlasting remembrance?

Absolutely nothing.

So what is left worth living for?

This alone: justice in thought, goodness in action, speech that cannot deceive, and a disposition glad of whatever comes, welcoming it as necessary, as familiar, as flowing from the same source and fountain as yourself”.

 

Emperor Marcus Aurelius – “Meditations”

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The Real King of England

Edward IV  – King of England

In June of 2012 an Australian guy named Mike Hastings, a forklift operator living in the outback, passed away at age 71.

Why was his passing noteworthy?  Why did his passing rate an article in Time magazine?

The passing of Mike Hastings was newsworthy because many historians believe the forklift operator had a legitimate claim to the British throne upon wihich Elizabeth II currently sits.

So what’s behind the Hastings’ claim to the crown? Here’s a little history: Way back in the 1400s, Richard of York was Lord Protector of the realm and father of the future King of England, by dint of a hard-won agreement with the childless King Henry VI. Richard was married to the lovely (and likely unfaithful) Cecily, and while he was off fighting the French, according to some historians, a child was conceived. That child grew up to be King Edward IV. However: if Edward really was illegitimate, the crown should have been passed down to his brother, George, Duke of Clarence. And 500 years of royal geneology later, according to research by Britain’s Channel Four television, the true head beneath the crown should not belong to Queen Elizabeth but to Hastings.

Now fork lifter operator Mike didn’t find out about his potential “claim” until he was well into his sixties and never took his “claim” seriously.  He laughed it off.

But he has a son.

🙂

So how does our Australian become a claimant to the Throne of England?  Well it all rests on the legitimacy of Edward IV.

Edward IV had actually been born in France.  His mother, Cecily Neville, had accompanied her husband as far as Rouen, which was safely under English control at the time.

This was during the tumultuous 1440s, when both England and France laid claim to the French throne.  As Henry VI’s Lieutenant of France, Richard Plantagenet, Duke of York, was stationed there for many years.

Richard Plantagenet – Duke of York

Three of his children, Edward, Edmund and Elizabeth, were all born in Rouen.

Edward IV was born on April 28, 1442 which means the child was conceived in the summer of 1441.   Unfortunately, Richard Plantagenet was away on campaign for five weeks, in the period that Edward would have been conceived, and stories abounded that Edward’s real father was an archer who worked in the palace housing Cecily Plantagenet, Edward’s mother. The rumors were strengthened because Edward looked nothing like his ”father”, Richard Plantagenet, and nothing like his brother Richard (who became Richard III).

When Edward and his loyal followers sought to put down rumors of his illegitimacy, a time and place pf consummation was named. The coupling occurred at Hadfield, in York, during June 1441, before his parents even left for Rouen. Their king may have been born in France, but he was created in England!

Of course, this did nothing to quell the rumors at all.  Anyone with the ability to count on their fingers could treat this claim with some skepticism. It would have meant that Cecily was pregnant for eleven months.

Richard Plantagenet died in the battle of Wakefield in the War of the Roses, along with his second son Edmund, leaving behind three sons, Edward, George and Richard. The three brothers continued the fight, and in 1461, Edward won a crucial battle against the Lancastrians, with the help of a cousin on his mother’s side, the Earl of Warwick, was crowned King.

This is where it gets interesting.

With the help of Warwick, Edward starts to kill the men who were on campaign with Richard Plantagenet back in 1442, when he was supposed to have been conceived. Those men would have been the only ones able to testify that Richard Plantagenet was away from his wife Cecily at the crucial time.

It got even more deadly.

In 1478 Edward’s brother George, Duke of Clarence, made a claim for the throne, on the grounds that Edward was not Richard Plantagenet’s natural son. Edward could not kill his brother directly without the consent of Parliament, so he put his brother on trial before Parliament, and got Parliament to pass a bill of attainder stripping George of his rights of succession. George was then killed, to the distress of their mother Cecily.

Cecily’s pain may have been deeper because George only moved to challenge his brother after Cecily herself, in a rage when she found out that Edward had secretly married Elizabeth Wydville in 1464 without telling her (or inviting her to the nuptials), is said to have declared he was unworthy of being king and told everyone he was illegitimate and should be removed from the throne.

So Edward IV killed his brother George and his father-in-law Sir Richard Wydeville to protect his right to the throne.  With George killed, Richard becomes the only natural, legitimate son of Richard Plantagenet, Duke of York. 

Ricahrd III -King of England

Richard appears to have had genuine affection for Edward, they grew up together after all, and he refused to move against him.

But when Edward IV died in 1483, Richard claimed the crown to become Richard III, and Parliament hearing the evidence, decided to declare Edward IV’s children illegimate. Parliament was also swayed by testimony from a priest that Edward IV was a bigamist, who had been married to Eleanor Butler, at the time he secretly married Elizabeth Wydeville in 1464 (which meant all Elizabeth’s children were illegitimate). The secret marriage to Elizabeth, remember, is the reason Cecily Plantagenet made her outburst that Edward was illegitimate and set the events in motion.

Richard III only lasted two years on the throne. He was killed in battle on Bosworth field by a complete upstart, Henry Tudor, who fought with French mercenaries and who had no claim to the throne. To legitimize himself, Henry Tudor persuaded Parliament to make Edward IV’s children legitimate again, and then married Edward’s eldest daughter Elizabeth, which whom he founded the Tudor dynasty.

Of course if Edward IV’s two sons were alive, then making Edward’s children legitimate again would mean they claimed the throne ahead of Henry Tudor, and historians question whether Richard III or Henry had them killed in the Tower.

There is much evidence to suggest that Edward IV was not the biological son of Richard Plantagenet, firstly from Cicely herself.  Edward looked nothing like mother or father.  Richard was away at battle during the summer, away from Cicely.  Edward, while accepted as legitimate by his “father” (perhaps to save himself from humiliations) was baptized in a decidedly low key affair in a side chapel  while his two brothers had the doors of the cathedral thrown open and the gilt brought out in massive celebration at their baptisms.  There are church records documenting prayers and masses offered during that fateful summer (when Edward was supposed to be conceived)  for Richard’s safety in battle in France.

So if Edward IV was illegitimate it follows that George was the rightful King.  That being the case who would have followed George after his death?  Well George had a surviving daughter.  Margaret Poole, Countess of Salisbury.  And she had many children before she was executed by Henry VIII.

Margaret Poole – Countess of Salisbury

Her granddaughter would marry Henry Hastings, 3rd Earl of Huntington with his own massive castle at Leicestershire.

The fortunes of the Hastings-Plantagenets would rise and fall; they supported the losing side in the English Civil War and lost their castle (destroyed by Cromwell) and  eventually regained  their fortune only to lose it all again when Henry Hastings (a profligate dissolute young man) lost tens of millions of pounds on horseracing.

Mike Hastings, born with a title, educated in English public schools but otherwise broke, left for Australia in 1960 where he married and had a family.  Though he knew he was a Plantagenet, he never took it seriously, living a quite normal, happy life.  He is a direct descendant through the maternal line of Margaret of Salisbury.

He was a staunch Republican as far as Australia was concerned.

All of this depends on whether or not Edward IV was the son of Richard Plantagenet or the product of a casual fling.  Over the last several years the bones of Richard III (Edward’s brother) have been uncovered.   We also have the bones of the Princes in the Tower, the sons of Edward IV.  A DNA examination could determine once and for all whether or not Edward and Richard III had the same father.

When requested, the Queen refused to permit the examination.

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Maoz Tzur

For the first night of Hanukkah and in memory of those murdered last month at the Tree of Life synagogue.

Isaac Salinas and the Philharmonic of Mexico

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Best wishes to my Jewish friends and readers

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Incels and Soy Boys

Elliot Rodger – self identified Incel

Anyone remember Isla Vista?

Yes I know; there have been so many mass murders nowadays that that it is difficult to recall one back in the spring of 2014.   I wrote about it back then.

It was the first one committed by a young self-identified male “Incel” – the “involuntarily celibate.”  We’ve had several more since then.

Six young people, between 19 and 22 years old, were gunned down by Elliot Rodger,  a mentally ill young man who had absolutely no problem buying three semi-automatic hand guns and 400 rounds of ammo.

The killer’s 141 page “manifesto” revealed a monumental sense of entitlement, an obsession with clothes and “looking good”, being accepted by the “cool kids”, playing World of Warcraft  and getting a “hot” blond girlfriend for sex.

He was the well off son of the media; his father a Director of “The Hunger Games”.  His mother also worked in the industry.  His step-mother appeared in the French version of “Housewives”.  He was also the product of divorce, spending several alternating weeks with mom and his re-married dad.  He never wanted for cool clothes, game boxes, computers, a BMW.

He walked red carpets, flew “Upper Class” on Virgin Atlantic to London and France, Malaysia and Morocco.  He was obsessed with World of Warcraft, masturbation and porn.  He wanted a “hot girl” for sex.

He never got one.  He began to rage on Youtube about how those “blond bitches” threw themselves at “jerks” and not at him.  He began to buy guns.

Elliot Rodger really was alone.  His parents shuffled him off to summer camps, overseas trips; moved him around to different schools when he cried that he was unhappy.  He took up skate boarding just to fit in with the “cool kids” but that only worked for awhile.

He did not fit in – and nobody cared enough to get him the help he needed.  Toward the end his mom began to worry, concerned about his Facebook rants.  She called the cops, who came to his apartment to check him out.  He was polite and seemed fine.  The guns and ammo were in the closet.  Nobody checked.

Just before the killings he made a video – a movie – which seemed scripted, even with planned laughs between his promise to kill “sorority “bitches”.  He made a movie just like his dad.

Several months ago herein Florida Scott Beierle, a 40 year old man murdered 2 women and injured 5 others at a yoga studio, publicly identifying with Elliot Rodger, the self proclaimed Incel.

And this was not the first time.

Earlier this year, Alex Minassian drove a van into a pedestrian area of Toronto to target women because of his own sexual frustration.  Back in 2009 George Soldini went on a killing spree at a fitness center in Pennsylvania because of his struggles finding a girlfriend and having sex.  And even when these frustrated men don’t engage in literal violence, there are countless women who can attest to being harassed online or in person by individuals who feel bitter about a sexual world that seems to reject them.

In each of these cases these men were made to feel inadequate by the American concept of masculinity.  Conservatives mock the phrase “toxic masculinity” but it is a useful turn of phrase to describe a set of feelings in our culture on what it means to be a man.  Men who cannot meet the “ideal” are shamed, characterized as “losers,” mocked by society and think they are doomed to be alone.

Many of these men gather online on sites such as Reddit and complain about being single – and the belief that they not at fault – that they are “involuntarily celibate” because of women.  In the echo chamber of these web sites that belief is reinforced.

It is hard to change an Incel’s mind particularly when he has made being incel the core of his identity.  One must first get him to abandon the reinforcement of the chat rooms and get out into the world to see it as it really is and to consider that perhaps it is his attitude and not a few inches of bone that is keeping him single.

Too many however seem to think that not only is attempting to change futile – it is wrong – because his situation is the fault of women.

Is this old fashioned misogyny; simply a hatred of women?

I’m not a shrink, but I don’t think so.

This is a sense of entitlement and a desire to control.

A lot of people think misogyny is simply a blind hatred of women.  It is not.  It is a form of entitlement and control which reasons that women are put on earth to serve men; that’s what they exist for, right?  And when they fail to do that to  certain men”s specifications, they  gets angry with her.  Kind of like a customer gets angry with a waiter if he perceives he has received poor service.

Its all supposed to be like the porn they watch – all the women are “hot”, pliant, submissive, shaved, available and do exactly as they are told, existing only for your pleasure.

Many Incels think that they are customers in a free market economic system.

A good analogy would be going shopping at a store.  I expect a good selection as I am very selective about what I want.  I want to buy a flower pot but if all of the pots are not to my liking I am disappointed.  I’ll leave and just say to myself its ok – they just didn’t have the flower pot I wanted.  I’m disappointed but everyone accepts that right?

Now suppose I found the perfect pot I wanted and went up to the cashier and put my money on the counter.  “We won’t take your money sir!  You’re not good enough  to shop here!”  Everyone would think that is discriminatory.

The store is a business – now think of dating that way.  Incels think of women as objects to be selected and the “owner” – in this case the woman herself has no right to be selective about who is buying.  The object should be available to all comers at the same price.

This is the sort of mentality which cannot be reasoned or compromised with.  For Incels who look at the world through this filter, the only option is for them to be told – emphatically and unequivocally – that they are wrong.  If they can accept that then the part of them which doesn’t want to be lonely can be listened to.

While we are on the subject of toxic masculinity we can also address the latest right wing meme of “Soy Boy.”

“The soy boy is a feminist, nonathletic, has never been in a fight, will probably marry the first girl that has sex with him and likely reduces all his arguments to labeling the opposition as “Nazis.” See also: cuck, beta/omega male, orbiter, kissless virgin, male feminist.”

Heehee.  Sounds a lot like me!    🙂

James Allsup, a nationalist podcaster who attended the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, posted a very strange satirical video titled “HOW TO JOIN ANTIFA” to his YouTube channel in early July. It has multiple mentions of soy milk.

“You’ve probably gone your whole life drinking milk, right?” Allsup jokingly asks the camera. “But you’ve been drinking the fascist, white supremacist, white neo-Nazi milk.”

“This?” he says, grabbing a gallon from the display case. “This is Nazi. This is whole milk. This is bad for you, can’t drink this anymore. To be a successful antifa soldier, you have to become a soy boy.”

Allsup mockingly praises the imagined side effects of drinking soy milk, including filling you “full of estrogen,” blocking “all your testosterone” and getting “rid of your internalized misogyny and white supremacy.”

Later, Allsup jokes that “straight soy” will “give you a nice effeminate body” with “nice, good, effeminate features.”

“There is no doubt that decreasing testosterone levels among American men are causing them to behave in childish and feminine ways. This is most clearly displayed in the “soy boy face” pose that combines the feelings of excitement and fear into one faggotized package” says Daryush Valizadeh, another crazed right wing blogger.  He goes on to post 36 photos of open mouth (thus feminized) surprised and excited men and women. 

A “soy boy” according to Daryush – he doesn’t look lonely to me!

He describes his blog – Return of Kings – as a blog “for heterosexual, masculine men. It’s meant for a small but vocal collection of men in America today who believe men should be masculine and women should be feminine.”

“ROK aims to usher the return of the masculine man in a world where masculinity is being increasingly punished and shamed in favor of creating an androgynous and politically-correct society that allows women to assert superiority and control over men. Sadly, yesterday’s masculinity is today’s misogyny. The site intends to be a safe space on the web for those men who don’t agree with the direction that Western culture is headed.”

Perhaps Daryush doesn’t realize that too many of his readers are virgins sitting in their parents basement.

The Soy Boys are all out on dates.

🙂

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