“The Kardashians and Other Liquid Creatures” Edition

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S1: This ad free podcast is part of your Slate plus membership.

S2: I’m Stephen Metcalf, and this is the Slate Culture Gabfest, the Kardashians and other liquid creatures, Ed.. It’s Wednesday, September 30th, 2020. On today’s show, My Octopus Teacher is a Netflix documentary about the improbably spiritual connection between a prominent wildlife filmmaker and a mollusk. It’s on Netflix. And then, like it or not, Keeping Up with the Kardashians revolutionized television, social media, our notions of celebrity. After 14 years, its run has come to an end. We discuss with Slate’s own Willa Paskin. And finally, the podcast reply. All, among other media outlets, has reported on Kuhnen revealing possibly the persons behind the original conspiracy theory who might be writing it now and how it’s leaking out dangerously into the world.

S1: We’re joined by Slate’s own Aaron Mac. Joining me right now is Julia Turner, the deputy managing editor of the L.A. Times. Hey, Julia. Hello. Hello. Hey. And we’re joined also by Dana Stevens. Dana, how are you?

S3: Greetings. I’m good. How are you all?

S2: I’m really good, but it almost sounds like you’re in like a tent in the middle of an urban landscape.

S3: That is exactly where I am. I should explain this because I’m going to have strange sound in the few segments of the show that I’m in. And that’s because, yeah, I’m basically in sort of a wedding style tent that’s off the edge of what’s going to be in a few days, a TV set. And that’s because, as I may have mentioned before on the show, my daughter, who is an aspiring actor and who just started at a performing arts high school, got as part a small part in a TV show, a TV show that we have talked about on our podcast, Modern Love, the Amazon TV series that’s based on the New York Times column. And we’re up here in Schenectady, New York, filming it. So the place that I’m taping to you from is this kind of crazy tent outdoors in Schenectady.

S2: That is marvelous. I didn’t realize you were up in Schenectady. That’s you know, you’re sort of in my neck of the woods.

S3: Yeah. I’m not far from you, I think. I mean, I think that modern love may not be the only show that’s moved some of its filming up here during covid up in this area because, you know, it’s accessible to the city, but is easier to get big spaces that you can spread out in. So, you know, I’m both experiencing for the first time being on the edge of a shoot, which is really interesting and experiencing that during the very beginning of production, starting after covid. I think this is the third episode of Modern Love they’ve shot since covid. So, you know, there’s all kinds of crazy protocols and temperature checks and, you know, taking tests every week. And it’s a very unusual experience that it’s great to be having with my daughter. But it’s going to make this taping a little bit a little bit odd.

S2: All right. Well, huge. Congrats to you and your daughter. That’s really exciting. And I’m so glad you could join us.

S1: Before we go any further, let me just say that Dana will be joining us for the first segment and then returning for endorsements and plus.

S4: All right, shall we? Let’s go.

S1: The prominent nature filmmaker, Craig Foster, was suffering from a mid-life depression when he decided to swim in the very cold ocean to free dive snow scuba gear, no wetsuit into the kelp forest off the South African coast where he lives. This is Western Cape, South Africa, very rough, very beautiful waters. He spent a couple hours every day for one year tracking, but also becoming friends with an octopus and coming to understand her place within the delicate ecological system within she lives and within which he lives, really, and also discovering what can only be described as her personality. It’s both a naturalist diary and the diary in the year of the life of a lost middle aged man. It’s a story of dismemberment and healing. It’s kind of a remarkable film, I should say. It was filmed in 2010, but it’s out right now on Netflix. Why don’t we listen to a clip?

S5: Finally, after looking for her for a week, day after day, she was like a and a human friend, like waving and saying hi and excited to see you, and I could feel it from one minute to the next. OK, I trust you. I trust you came in and now you can come in tomorrow to this world.

S1: Oh, my, come into my octopus world, I love it, Dana. I think I’m going to start with you. I think the only way to those of our listeners who haven’t watched this already, you have to convey something about this this animal, this liquid animal that pours herself through underwater space, changing colors and radical ways, morphing and slipping between rocks, all of a sudden swimming quite slightly through the waters to escape a predator. Two thirds of her cognition is outside of her brain. It’s in her. It’s distributed throughout her body. She has 2000 suction cups, which are intensely sensitive and manipulable. Effectively, an octopus is a snail that has lost its shell. I mean, you become quite obsessed with this creature as you watch this documentary. What did you make of this film?

S3: I’m so glad to hear you. You liked this film. It sounds like, Stephen, in that you were as kind of intellectually and sensorially thrilled by it as I was, because this film, I think, and we can talk about this, could easily invite a sort of cynical reading because, well, as you hear in that narration, it’s it’s as much about Craig Foster, the narrator and the diver who makes this connection with the octopus as it is about the octopus herself. And, you know, there have been some critiques of it. There was a Twitter thread by someone named Sophie Lewis that went viral and was causing a lot of both kind of giggles and serious theorizing on Twitter about whether or not this was, in fact, a sort of queer phobic masculinised. I mean, I’m going to sound sarcastic saying these words, although I think these are important categories of critique in general. I don’t think they have very much to do with this film, essentially, whether this this film was that kind of objectification of the octopus along the lines of, you know, objectification of the other in general. I think we should talk about that. And I could see that critique being one that you could make as I was watching it. But at the same time, there was just so much incredible art, underwater photography and a vision of places that you never get to go into, which to me is what documentaries exist for. You know, when I watch a nature documentary, it’s to experience a world I would never otherwise get to experience, and that this show just serves that up in spades. I mean, if you didn’t already love octopuses, by the way, it was my idea that we do this topic because they’re my favorite animal along with elephants. I would say tied for first place. Yeah.

S6: We need to remind listeners that in your family text chains, you are represented by the octopus, right?

S7: You are the little creature.

S8: If that’s true, that’s true. I always sign off with it with the octopus emoji.

S3: So I already sort of had some of the knowledge that he imparts the scientific stuff and, you know, all of the thrills about, you know, loving octopuses and being interested in their behaviors and, you know, spending lots of time looking for great YouTube films of them underwater. So to me, the fact that he brought his own story and his own connection and was part of the fascination, I would say that I wish this movie had not necessarily more science, but a little bit more texture about Craig Foster’s life up until then and what his life was like during this year. It’s an entire year that he documents, you know, you’ll see on the screen, you know, day 70, day 120, et cetera. You it’s a it’s a very two creature film. It’s basically him and the octopus. Occasionally you get a glimpse of his teenage son who dives with him once in a while. And you get a little bit of background about how it was kind of professional burnout and personal depression that launched him on this octopus journey. But I didn’t get much of a sense of I mean, very simple, basic things like when he goes diving, how does he breathe? Appears to be not scuba diving, but snorkeling. He doesn’t seem to have any oxygen device on his body, but he also seems to stay underwater for long periods of time. I would have liked a little bit of background about here’s how I prepped for my dive every day, etc. but it’s not the documentary say is not focused on that. It’s very emotional, intuitive. I think critiquing it is some masculinist phallocentric thing is kind of absurd because nobody could be more vulnerable and open and so brutally honest about his feelings than Greg Foster is in this narration.

S1: Right. Well, Julia, I think the legitimate criticism, which I actually in the end don’t agree with, is that it anthropomorphize is nature and especially this specific creature. We can get into the phallocentric, egocentric, you know, attack on the film if we want to. I think that that’s just preposterous. But but it’s the visuals that he takes. The cinematographic masterpiece that is the film minus the voiceover is so astonishing. And it seems to bear out his version of events of this creature that becomes quite not only used to him, but kind of intimate with him in a I hesitate to use that word for all of the way Twitter has sort of latched on to this, but I don’t find it sexual at all. But there is a kind of physical and, you know, God, you’re almost bordering on saying emotional intimacy between him and this creature borne out by the actual evidence of your own eyes watching it. What did you think?

S6: I loved this movie. It was like a very pleasurable pandemic watch. To be somewhere so different and I really love the way in which it avoided the beats of the traditional nature documentary or the science documentary and the the constant I felt in it was that the the actual mysterious creature in this documentary is the human right, like we’re watching a human kind of fish around the bottom of this kelp forest and somehow befriend the same octopus. Like I feel like my own clodagh self would be like, is this the same octopus? I don’t know. But like, he’s, you know, he finds her den. He he’s he’s convinced it’s ah, it seems like it’s her. I’m buying the narrative, but like meanwhile all the like a little half details he gives us about his life, like he’s under his own rock den being a weirdo. And we’re only getting flashes and glimpses of his emotional self and truth. I mean, he describes working really hard, being stressed, working really hard, like editing nature documentaries, it seems, which I’m sure. Is it possible for that to feel like the rat race. But from my personal version of the rat race, I was like, come on, man, you’re doing nature.

S7: Documentaries like that.

S6: Feels that sounds fun from here. Yeah, but he’s burnt out. He’s stressed, he’s maybe depressed. He didn’t even maybe go that so far as to say that specifically. Um, and then he’s like the only thing to do to make life better for my son, who he talks about his family and his son. There’s not a partner that we meet or really hear about unless I missed it. He’s like, I’m going to drag them to the rough, cold ass wet coast of South Africa and then ditch them for days at a time while I go pursue a ludicrously dangerous appearing diving regimen where I’m not wearing a wetsuit because I don’t want any barriers between me and nature. But this water is like definitely wetsuit, temp, water from the way it’s described and portrayed. I’m not going to wear a diving apparatus other than a snorkel. I’m not going to tell you how it is that with the snorkel, I can just be underwater for so long. I mean, it’s a little right. There are a couple Crocs moments where he’s watching something momentous and he has to like race to the surface to gasp for breath and go back down to the mechanics of it. Again, you get a flash and a glimpse, but it’s not laid bare before you. And it’s unclear to me that pursuing this octopus mania is necessarily any better for his family than whatever was besetting him beforehand. I mean, in in the narrative of the film, it is. And he connects with his son at the end and they, you know, explore the kelp forests together. But I just I loved it. It felt so personal. And and the octopus facts I acquired from it also are striking like this, the kind of cleverness of the octopus. Yes. Beautifully rendered and represented. And it felt neat to connect with part of this wondrous planet, but it just it left me kind of thrumming with a sense of the mystery of being both human and and animal. And I loved it. Yeah.

S1: Yeah. No, I loved I loved it, too. And it seems to me it’s a movie about two kinds of individual intelligences, you know, and the octopuses is rhapsodized at length mean all it’s sentimentality is filtered through a scientific understanding of what the mentality of an octopus is based on inferences we draw from. It’s remarkable behavior. It’s remarkably adaptive, shrewd to using behavior. And it’s just a marvel of evolutionary reality. This, this this thing that has survived for eons and the other kind of individual intelligences, that of the white, middle aged man, you know, and it’s the opposite kind of of ego structure. You know, the middle aged white male disease is loneliness. And my problem with the, you know, rather outré feminist critique of the movie is it seems to suggest that this form of consciousness just shouldn’t even exist at all, whereas the film is, you know, therefore, you know, everything he feels for this octopus is a horrible projection. It’s a, you know, of phallic and othering in its orientation or whatever. I mean, just such people do exist. They do have an experience of what it is to be that person from the inside. And this is a person trying to work his way through and beyond it. That’s the other power of the film. The ultimate power of the film resides from this octopuses behavior. But the other note of the whole thing is this man’s attempt to get beyond his sense of personal dismemberment and disconnection from the world. And in studying a creature whose sensitivities extend to its most distal parts and beyond into a delicate ecological system within which it takes its part. And then. Nose to mate, reproduce and lie down and die, I mean, he is there for 80 percent of its life cycle, they live scarcely longer than a year. And to see something that is part of inextricably part of its environment and the cycle of life is is revelatory and life changing for this person. And I just don’t understand where the impulse comes to say that that’s a bad thing. Unfortunately, we Weitman do exist. And in fact, what we need is to be, you know, exercised beyond our our limitations by any means necessary.

S7: Steve, get you a Philipot who loves you like this after this break and all will be. Well, my cry for help didn’t go unheeded.

S3: Another critique, I guess I would say I had of this movie. And it’s something that always occurs to me when I’m watching a documentary, especially a nature documentary or documentary that goes places that, you know, you would never normally be allowed to go is who was doing the filming when you could see both Craig Foster and the octopus. I mean, a lot of the time it’s clearly his point of view. And you see him underwater with a camera filming her. But there’s other shots from quite far away where you see, for example, the octopus wrapping herself around his chest, et cetera. And obviously somebody else had to be underwater. It’s not a still camera. It’s moving along with them. So there was another diver. And again, that just seemed to be part of the background that we needed. I don’t need it to be a fourth wall breaking thing where we meet that other diver and constantly know that they’re there. But just some acknowledgement in the narration. Some days I brought somebody else down with me so that they could film us both because otherwise it takes place in a completely mystical space that denies the fact that it’s a filmed object at all.

S1: And you’re right. And I just wanted to know so badly how long are you holding your breath underwater? I just want that piece of information so badly.

S3: Yeah, there are moments that he goes up to breathe, but he doesn’t say sort of how long he can stay under there. I mean, obviously, unless he’s some sort of guy who spent his life training himself, this can’t be more than a minute or so that he’s down there at a time.

S6: I mean, I feel like but I feel like we’re with him for shots of more than a minute. I mean, that’s what I just love, is that, like any other human is fundamentally as unknowable a creature as something that lives at the floor of the sea. Like, I don’t know, he has weird breathing capabilities. I guess you just kind of have to accept it. And that’s what I loved about it. All right.

S1: Well, the movie is my octopus teacher. It’s on Netflix.

S4: You’ve got to check this one out. All right. Moving on.

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S4: Thanks. OK, back to the show.

S1: Reality TV juggernaut Keeping Up with the Kardashians is ending after 14 years and 20 seasons, whenever we have Slate’s own TV critic Willa Paskin on my intros are so easy. I just quote from her piece, Willa, I’m going to do that. A few approve. No one encapsulates or is as responsible for the transformation in how we think about celebrities and fame today as Kardashian, who is birthed in the chaotic final days of the Old World celebrity order, but who, alongside her kin, brought us into the new one, like the first sea creatures to set foot on the shore and actually thrive there as opposed to suffocating on the beach. And then one of my favorite Perens in recent journalism in this metaphor, Paris Hilton suffocated on the beach. Willa Paskin, welcome back to the show.

S10: Hi, guys. How are you?

S1: Yeah, good. Great to have you back. But before we go any further, why don’t we listen to a clip from the show? I think this one comes from season 10.

S11: Caught, are you serious? I don’t want to be in your video game. I got it. You’re not going to be in it. It’s ridiculous for you to just not do that for me as a favor, because I’ve done so much for you and for Scott to call me and say you should buy her a pair of shoes. I don’t care if you buy my own. I have a pair of shoes, all that I’ve done for her. I said to Scott, I’m not buying a pair of shoes. But her career is just lame to not do me a favor. Like I bend over backwards and do business deals for the benefit of you guys when I’ve had my own deals. And I’m not going to be bending over backwards if I feel like people aren’t going to do me favors. You never asked as a favor. Never once. So if you presented it as a favor and said, do you want to do me a favor and will you guys please do this fast? She asked like that. You didn’t. We were in our party at your kids meeting.

S1: Oh, well, OK. To my woefully untrained ear, that too should have suffocated on the beach. Explain to me maybe why it didn’t.

S10: I kind of came up as a journalist, as ridiculous as that to say it like my first real job was at a magazine around this time in the 2007, 2008, 2006 that actually folded in the financial crash of 2008 that was obsessed with Kim Kardashian and Paris Hilton and Lindsay Lohan and this whole sort of like ilk of C listers who had become very, very famous and were making everyone really uncomfortable because they were like famous people who are famous for no reason. Everyone is really fixated on their lack of talent in a way that is sort of just it’s just very, very odd set of concerns and that have sort of vanished in large part because of the Kardashians incredible successful will to fame. And, yeah, they just don’t need the TV show anymore. Basically, they are just they they just are famous now and they’ve been famous now on social media for a really long time. And making a TV show is like so man, so old, so linear.

S1: But they’re they’re not just famous, they’re ubiquitous. I mean, I, I am the Bartleby the scrivener of a world dominated by the Kardashians are so incredibly prefer not to. I can’t even describe it. And it just is soaking into me through my eyes, ears and pores. I can’t avoid it, but maybe I can control it a little bit. The mania of it a little bit by understanding it. Is there something what is the quiddity here like? What is the thing that made this the thing?

S10: Well, you know, it’s like a good question in the sense of it gets back to this question of like, why are these famous people famous? And I think what has happened is that our idea of what constitutes talent, like we have come to realize that, like actually performing yourself in public on social media platforms all the time is actually a skill and to do so and be likeable and seem open while also, of course, I mean, the goal is to seem like to seem that you’re totally open and exposing everything. Well, of course not. Doing nothing of the sort is like a real you know, is is a talent of a sort. It’s a new age talent, you know. Well, and an increasingly relatable talent because everybody’s doing a version of this. Exactly. And the Kardashians are incredible at this. I mean, I think from the beginning they have been like, well, we’re going to let it all hang out. And obviously that’s a fiction of a kind, but they are much less embarrassed and much more willing to let it all hang out than a lot of other people would. And that’s been true from the minute the show started airing.

S6: You know, in 2007, I went back and watched the first episode of the most recent season and preparing for this, having not seen a minute of Kardashian since, I watched a handful of episodes for a live show we had in like maybe 2010 where we discussed the phenomenon. And I I think my metaphor then was that it was just like the Bennett Sisters and Pride and Prejudice, like it’s fun to read about a bunch of feuding sisters and think about who they’re going to marry. Like we’ve people wanted to do that for centuries. And look, it still works as a plot device. And having revisited it, I don’t it doesn’t feel much changed. But I was struck by a couple of things. One, just the the relationship to wealth and the way in which they’re both sort of relatable, focused on their self presentation. But also, you know, just in these kind of great hall sized closets, like going through gowns, there’s a there’s a line where I think Chloe says those are just emergency gowns. And in case something happens and Kim and Kim’s like it would be an emergency if you wore this gown, you know, the kind of mix between Lux and related.

S10: Ability, I think, is really fascinating in that way, they’re sort of like about the great theme that’s so much like art and and pop is about now, like, you know, what is the experience of actually getting famous? Right. Like, that’s the text is just about right.

S1: You draw all of these astute parallels between, you know, the show when it really started to take off, which was right around O8 and the Genesis and or whatever, not really the genesis, but the but the explosion of social media. The other connection I kept making was, oh, wait, come on. It’s a synchronized global meltdown of capital markets and we’re an inherently aspirational culture. Americans need to, by and large, cherished some notion of their future self, liberated from mundanity by money and or fame. And the one of the encompassing vehicles for doing that. The stock market and finance in general had completely collapsed to the point where no one was ever other than the insiders who profit from it, going to believe in it again. And it seems to me there was at least partially a mass transfer of this aspirational energy onto fame. And I hope it’s not too pejorative a term, but like trash fame in a way like fame that anyone could really relate to in a democratic way. Exactly. Or not famous for being a good musician, but a songwriter. You’re not famous for being an actress or even a model, really. You were just famous for.

S10: I think the crash is really interesting how it plays into this, but I’m not sure that chronology is completely right because I actually think it’s like Paris Hilton. Lindsay are like they come up like Britney Spears, like this sort of real the apex of paparazzi trash fame is like in lock step with this incredible bull market of the yachts. And so that all falls apart. And then Kim emerges sort of like from the wreckage from this as like a more as as sort of like as different then from them in some way. Right. Which is that she has the sort of you know, she also becomes famous because of her connection to Paris Hilton and a sex tape like Paris Hilton and then sort of turned it into something like fairly wholesome and then just like climbs this ladder of to like proper A-list fame, like properly. Mm hmm. I mean, one of the things that’s interesting about this is that so much of what is feeding this conversation about the Kardashians is really just questions of technology. And so what you know, what happens is basically as famous people control like the means of publicity, essentially the highbrow ones sort of lock it down. And it created this incredible vacuum which led to like that also like telephoto zoom and digital pictures could fill. So it’s incredible, like rise of the tabloids and paparazzi and Paris and Britney breaking down and all these people that like Nicole Richie and all these people that I’ve just mentioned. And then like sort of as the dust is settling and there’s still this sense among really famous people, they need to keep it controlled. You get someone like the Kardashians who have a much who have a sort of more astute and like have learned a bit about how to do this game and to be both totally accessible, but also totally appealing. Right. So not to just have their snafus like chronicled, but to actually like play the game by having, you know, sort of being popular. And also underlying this is that like TV at the time they’re doing this in 2008 is like is the way to get famous. And that just isn’t true anymore. So, like I mean, so as you said, Steve, like on the one hand, like the more people watch, the more people care about the joke of keeping up on the Kardashians. And why it’s ending is because that’s not actually how they’re getting more people to watch anymore. Right. Like the people watching Keeping Up. The Kardashians at this point are are like a real super fast family. You know, if you’re just, like ambient or pretty interested in the Kardashians, it’s much more likely that you follow them all on your social media feeds and that you’re like tuning into E. Yeah.

S6: And as a result, I mean, I don’t feel very out of the loop on the Kardashian lives and times, even though I hadn’t watched an episode since 2010 or whatever and what I was catching up with and catching up with the show was just how are they presenting themselves now officially in this format? And the thing I’d forgotten is just how charismatic Kim is. She is likeable, like, I don’t know, she was inviting me to sit down at this dinner and she was confiding in her friends about the surprise appearance of her sister’s ex and wasn’t it crazy? And then it turned out to be fun. And I don’t know. It was interesting. She was compelling. Like, I get it. You know, it’s not my, you know, cup of tea, but the power is undeniable.

S10: What’s interesting to me also is like they’re good at this format. But like like I was thinking earlier about how to talk about this a little bit. It’s almost like reality TV is like it’s not over yet. Right. But it’s on its way out in a lot of really distinct ways. And it’s like the CD or the voice, like some outmoded technology. But it’s also maybe like the telegraph or the railroad, like it’s between those two in importance where like you can see reality TV’s influence everywhere. I don’t just like I don’t just mean in the presidency, all of that. I just literally mean in the way that fame is performed on social media, all of it is oriented towards a very like or in the White House like a very reality TV framework for how you present yourself, like what you’re supposed to do, the amount of personality you’re supposed to have. Like, it’s very embedded in our idea about how you become famous, about how you perform celebrity, like about how you get power, how you perform that power. It reality TV as as like linear TV goes out of the way. Like we’re going to have less and less of these shows. Like, you know, the housewives are probably the last really big ones standing, but it’s everywhere. Like it’s aesthetic is everywhere and it’s prerogatives are everywhere. And you can just see that really distinctly with the Kardashians, just like they needed this thing. And they don’t need it anymore. But they’re still doing basically the same thing and they’re reaching us and sort of like they’re hitting all our same points. They’re just don’t need to, like, have a middleman TV anymore.

S1: Will, as always, it’s just an immense pleasure to have you come on the show and talk about TV. Thank you so much for joining us. That was great.

S4: Thanks for having me.

S1: In twenty seventeen, a user known as Q first began posting on the image board 4chan. Over time, Q unfolded a ludicrous story about how America’s elites let’s be honest, liberal elites are part of a satanic cult and child trafficking sex ring. And Donald Trump is president mostly because he was enlisted by the military brass to take the cult down. Outlandish doesn’t even begin to cover it. But over the past few years, Kuhnen, as it’s known, has become a domestic terrorist threat. Merchant paraphernalia can be spotted at Magga rallies and AQ believers almost certainly about to be elected to Congress. This thing has metastasized out of control. Now reply all in various other media outlets are reporting on the origins of the site and revealing its admin to administrators, possibly its authors as well. To help walk us through, it is Slate’s own tech reporter, Aaron Mac Aaron. Welcome to the podcast. Hi, thanks for having me. Before we started taping, Julia said and I agreed with her, your piece on this was was was really elegantly done, very comprehensive. Maybe the best thing I’ve read on it yet. I was scarcely familiar with this phenomenon when I read your piece and listen to this reply all segment. Walk us through a little bit what what this is, how it got generated and what these new revelations are and what they might mean.

S12: Yeah. Thanks so much. So this originally started as this kind of goofball conspiracy theory back in twenty seventeen, as you said, sort of on 4chan, and then it later migrated to Ajan, which is its home now for a while it kind of was just another weird Internet phenomenon. I personally didn’t really pay much attention to it. A lot of people have argued in the past that covering it just gives it more oxygen. But now it’s gotten huge. Millions of people follow this. I have relatives who totally believe it. And, you know, as you said, people running for Congress also backed it. So it’s become this huge phenomenon. And it seems like it’s becoming dangerous to a point where, you know, there’s an act of violence perpetrated in the name of Q a man in twenty eighteen block off a bridge in Arizona with guns to try to further kill someone, shot a man in twenty nineteen believing that this victim was one of Kyuss enemies.

S1: So talk to us now about what the new revelations are, how much I mean, obviously anonymity is built into the name of it. Anonymity is hugely important to it, but, of course, is a way to evade responsibility for saying what are remarkably slanderous things. The veil of that anonymity appears to be pierced. Talk a little bit about who may or may not have been behind the creation of this and what that tells us about it.

S12: Sure. So these new revelations kind of circle around claims made by Frederick Brennan. He is the the founder of Ajan. And basically what he’s alleging is that one of his old business partners, a man named Jim Watkins, now controls the key account. So in 2013, Brennan creates men and 2014 he moves to the Philippines to start working on the site with this guy named Jim Watkins, who is a former helicopter repairman from the military. And he’s basically this is really a sketchy guy, as Brennan describes in the reply all episode. So they start working on this together and pretty soon someone starts posing as Q on Ajan, and they purport to be this big government insider who knows about all these paedophilic cabal’s that are controlling the Democratic Party, Hollywood, et cetera.

S6: And Brennan says that Watkins’ was eventually able to gain control, take control of the Q account and now controls is basically yeah, I will confess that I’m someone who has had a big manila folder in my mind labeled Kuhnen, and it has been empty and I have had on my to do list learn some things about Q and and figure out what everyone’s talking about and put some facts in and figments of paper in that manila folder. So listening to this Raphael episode and and more so reading your piece about the putative revelations and what they might mean, have helped me understand a bit more about this phenomenon. But I’m struck in listening to the reply all episode, which has sort of the charms of an audio recounting where there’s voices and funny details and it sort of takes you on a journey into this world of message boards, but which is also very information dense and slightly bewildering. If you’re fairly new to the topic, like it’s happening really quickly from a fortune to 8000 to Aitkin to the Philippines, it assumes, you know, what an image board is. It assumes, you know, how an image board is controlled. It assumes, you know what it means to drop things. And anyway, I mean, it it I’m not the least technically savvy person in the world, but it’s definitely a set of corners of the Internet that I don’t spend time in. And it assumes you’re starting at a pretty advanced level. And so I was struck by kind of how bewildering and labyrinthine the the conspiracies are. And then I guess part of what I’m curious for your thoughts on are if these accusations are right, if CU is actually this person, why is that important? Is it important just because he is apparently not a deep state figure who’s actually revealing that, you know, trumps all of Trump’s bluster and seeming inanity is just cover for his skilled and effective plot to root out all the pedophiles in government. Or I mean, who who will that work on? Like to me, someone who’s like, well, this is obviously bullshit and like, well, OK, of course it’s some dude in the Philippines. If you’re down the rabbit hole of this, like, who will be persuaded? I shouldn’t believe this anymore because it’s this guy in the Philippines, right?

S12: Yeah. I think that’s something that I sort of talked about in my piece a little bit with just that believer’s of you just think that anyone who tries to discredit Q is part of this deep state pedophile ring, so they shouldn’t be trusted. So it’s doubtful that anything Brennan is saying is going to convince those followers. However, I think that what Brennan is saying is that we should really be paying attention to the Watkins’. He does kind of allow that it might not be the Watkins’ who are actually writing the messages that Q sums up what they at least have a lot of control over the accounts they basically own. Q is how he puts it, and he he thinks that’s important for us to focus on the Watkins’ because he thinks they’re incredibly dangerous people. They, as you might have known, H.A. is a place where a lot of mass shooters have, you know, posted their manifestos, where they get egged on. And the Watkins’ basically did nothing about it. And Brennan believes that the Watkins’ are only in this for power and they need to be closely scrutinized for what they’re going to do about. This movement and how they’re going to use it to try to build power for themselves.

S1: Julia, actually, I’d love to pivot to you for a second, just ask you a question. I mean, when I read about something like this, the same question that dogs me any time I read about a cult or for that matter, any time I read about Magga and the what appears to be a cult of personality around Trump is, you know, what is it that people need? What what sort of psychic erosion has taken place? That an explanatory story that’s as bizarre and in some ways even internally incoherent as this is necessary to give someone a sense of a place, a meaningful place in the world. I mean, that’s just horrific. We could deep dive on this mass psychology and individual psychology of that probably for hours perhaps. There’s nothing to say other than it’s confounding. But I’m also interested in just this as a story. I mean, journalistically as a story. What did you make of this reply all episode, which is like many of their, you know, more prominent episodes is going viral?

S6: Well, I mean, I think, you know, as I described it, you have to go pretty far down the rabbit hole to understand every twist and turn. I mean, to the broader question here, I’m curious for Aaron’s thoughts on this. I’m just such a deeply on conspiracy minded person like I am and don’t now pragmatic and sensible to a fault, I think. And I, I, I cannot really imagine finding this compelling. But it is true that the world seems super disordered and messed up. Um, and I guess any theory that tries to impose some kind of logic on it or offers a way to view what’s happening with American government, that’s not, um, you know, just to, like, negligent. Murder coal that’s out to kill as many Americans as possible is could could be an appealing alternative. Um, I guess one question I have for you, Aaron, is like, why are they so fixated on pedophilia? It’s like creepy. Like it’s like they want to think about kids sex stuff or something. Like I find myself suspicious of how it’s a protest too much. See how convinced they are that pedophiles and pedophilia are everywhere. And actually, one question we got last week about our conversation on Cutie’s is like, why? Why do you think the outrage against Cutie’s was so virulent? And I think it’s adjacent. Adjacent?

S13: Yeah. I think pedophilia has played into a lot of conspiracy theories just actually throughout the decades. You might remember pizza gate, which held that the Democratic Party was basically also running a sex ring, using pizza as code words to, you know, sell children. And then even in the 80s, there is a pretty huge conspiracy theory that a preschool called Big Martin was supposedly running a child sex ring as well. And there’s a really good piece about this in Mother Jones. And the author basically says that this was sort of a reaction to a lot of feminist progress had been made in the 70s and 80s. And this is a way to kind of push back at that and to, as you said, put your own order on the world is just so interesting.

S6: I see. So it’s like as an irresponsibly working mom, I’m opening up the children of America to potential pedophilia. And only these image boards, whatever that is, can save brides.

S1: And also, by the way, like think about the fact that what ignited the spark that ignited the whole Kuhnen thing were an initial set of posts about Hillary Clinton. Right. The you know, the cynosure of misogyny and right wing anger and paranoia in this country. And what is the always I mean, of course, there’s the fact that she to a certain kind of insecure man, is castrating Hapi. Right. But there’s another aspect to her, which is that she’s this meddler who’s going to enter into the private spaces of our homes and dictate what the relations between the sexes and parents and children ought to be. And so it makes kind of a kind of sense that at the absolute extreme of that anxiety is the idea that mothers are now in a in a quote unquote liberal society or emancipated society. Mothers are no longer confined to the home where they have the maternal interests of their children at heart and are there to spy on them or monitor them on a 24 hour basis. I mean, weirdly, it does all kind of come together when you put it that way, Erin.

S8: Is this just going to go on forever?

S6: Like to go back to Steve’s question about being an editor and how to cover this? I have an instinct which maybe I head in the sand instinct of like, you know, just don’t don’t give it more like it. Don’t don’t elevate it. And also coverage of it is unlikely to persuade those susceptible to it. So what’s the point, which is, you know, very different than sunlight is the best disinfectant. Do you feel that the kind of classic rules of journalism which suggests that the the best thing to do is, you know, look at something and get to the bottom of it apply in covering something like this?

S13: Right. I think what the challenge here, you know, is always going be a perennial debate. Conspiracy theories are always going to be a part of society. I think the the way in which the Internet spreads them so quickly and they can reach such a mass audience means that you have to be a little more attentive to them in a way you might not have had to in the past. I think just the way that someone like like who whoever purports to be Q can proselytize to millions of people in a pretty unfiltered way means that it already is getting oxygen. So you we do have to have these journalist institutions to go examine what’s going on.

S6: Right. You can’t actually cause something not to have attention just by not pointing your attention at it. So you actually have a responsibility to look at it.

S4: Yeah, brilliant. Absolutely brilliant. Aaron, thank you so much for coming on the show and talking to us. This is a great segment. Thanks so much for having me.

S14: I right now is the moment in our podcast when we endorsed Dana.

S3: What do you have, Stephen? Of course I have to endorse something octopus related, since I’m the one who brought cephalopods and octopi or octopods, which is also an acceptable plural into this show. And I’m going to endorse a book that we’ve talked about before on the show, at least in passing with Dan Ingber, the great science writer who formerly wrote for Slate. He wrote a great piece for Slate a few years ago that was essentially a cynic’s critique of the octopus cult, essentially sort of octopuses. They’re not all that by Dan Ingber and one of the several books that he pinpointed as being sort of overly idealising or anthropomorphizing of the Octopus is a book that I absolutely love. And I remember saying to Dan on the show that I absolutely loved. So I’m just going to endorse that book again today. And if you love the documentary, My Octopus Teacher, I think you will really love this book because it’s somewhat similar in its sort of philosophical approach to the creature. It’s called Other Minds The Octopus, The Sea and the Deep Origins of Consciousness. It’s by Peter Godfrey Smith, who is kind of like Craig Foster in the documentary, and that he is both a scuba diver and a philosopher. And the book really becomes this meditation on the evolution of consciousness since, you know, the first days of of primal soup. It’s just it’s a fascinating project for a book and a great octopus lover’s text. Hmm.

S4: Amazing. All right, Julia, what do you have?

S6: I’m going to endorse the Batman 66 comic series from DC Comics. This is about 10 ish volumes published over the last six years or so, which are newly written comics that take place in the world of the 1960s Batman show. And they are absolutely perfect to read to seven year old boys because they are, I don’t know, just more surprising and funny and witty and mischievous than a lot of kidlet dreck. And they’re not as dark and brooding and God awful as like quote unquote, real comics for grown ups. And the other thing that they’ve done is send us back to the Batman show. You know, we, like many modern parents, have found our kids dismayingly uninterested in television of any kind. They’d rather do Minecraft or like watch YouTube or talking about Minecraft, which we’ve cracked down on or whatever, like their their, you know, 30 minutes of linear video, like, what the hell? They don’t want that usually. But we started watching old Batman’s and I, I watched a lot of the old Batman show in syndication. It must have been on like living 56 in Boston when I was, you know, seven or eight or nine or ten. And I didn’t get it. I mean, I, I was a kid, so I guess it’s OK. But like, I didn’t get how campy it was or like what a joke it was or what the tone it was like. I would I think I just thought that like old fashioned, like old fashioned people from the 60s were like silly and lame. And that show is itself a triumph of tone and just like an amazing skinning of the cat between since sincerity. I mean, it is you know, I if you had asked me cold is the tone of the old 60s. Adam West Batman show a triumph that must be recaptured and bottled in modern comic form. I would have been like, what the fuck are you talking about? But now that I’ve gone deep on this, I’m like in love, in Batman mania is seizing the household. And finally. So now I recommended the comic series, the old show, my awakening understanding of it. And finally, I will point our listeners to a really wonderful essay by Slate’s own politics editor, Tom Skorka, written for another site that describes how rare and beautiful these comics are as comics that are actually for kids in the world of comics that are brooding and and dumb. So some of my vamping and wisecracking earlier in this endorsement are really ripping off Tom Skoch as much more informed observations about the world of comics, although they square with my limited experience. So Batman 66, the comic series, which also includes like crossovers with the man from Uncle and Wonderwoman 77 and Archie Batman, the TV show, which is in addition to being a triumph of tone, hilariously very set in Los Angeles for something that’s in quote unquote Gotham. They’re constantly like driving around Mulholland Hill escapes. We went actually to the cave in Griffith Park. That was the bat cave the other day, inspired by our new fandom and this wonderful Time Skorka essay that we’ll share a link with on the show page.

S9: That was marvelous. When I was growing up, it was in syndication on, I think, Channel 11 in New York City. Every afternoon, my sister and I would sit and watch it. And I feel like just as there is like the mirror stage, you know, Lacon says, where you finally realized that it’s you in the mirror. Whatever, you know, there is the stage right around the age between nine and 11 developmental stage, when you realized this superhero show is actually a camp comedy and it’s poking relentless fun at itself in the genre. And it just is so delicious. I’m so glad you guys as a family are into it.

S1: This week, I’m going to endorse a short story I’ve been meaning to read for a long time. It was recommended to me by two of my book club buddies and it’s it’s called The Shawal by Cynthia Ozick. And I love Cynthia Ozick as an essayist. I’ve read so pitiably little over fiction. And this was her attempt to capture the horrors of the Holocaust in miniature form in essentially a 1500 to 2000 word short story came out in The New Yorker in 1980. And it’s it’s just one of the most powerfully written moving and horrifying things I’ve ever read, the most astonishing piece of writing. And it wasn’t a it wasn’t a writing exercise that she wasn’t trying to prove that she could do this. In 2000 words, she had read about a factual incident that happened in one of the death camps and I think felt like she had to explore it imaginatively for her own sake. And she really did. I have a confusion about the shawl that I’m going to try to clear up in the next 48 hours. But some listeners may understand it better than I do. The original short story is now published in book form, and it’s that length. It’s a short story length. And then it’s succeeded by a what feels more like a novella featuring some of the same characters in their United States afterlife. It feels like 20 years, at least maybe 30 years later in Florida. I don’t understand what the relationship is between the two entirely finished the novel. It’s great. It’s an amazing piece of writing in an almost entirely different mode, but it’s sort of hard to square what happens in the short story with what is appears to be happening in the in the novel. All of that said, it is available to you in this published form. And if nothing else, just find a way to get a hold of those 2000 words and sit down, give yourself a half an hour to read it, a half an hour to weep and email me about it. I’d love to commune with others who’ve read it. OK, Julia, thank you so much. Thanks, Steve.

S3: Thanks, Dana. Steve, it was a pleasure to talk to you guys from this very weird spot. Thanks for letting me come on this week.

S2: You’ll find links to some of the things we talked about today at our show page, that Slate dot com culture fest. You can email us at Culture Fest, at Slate dot com. We do love to hear from you. We will try to get back to you ASAP. You can interact with us on Twitter. We have a feed at Slate called First Our Producers, Cameron Drus. Our production assistant is Rachel Allen. For Dana Stevens and Julia Turner, I’m Stephen Metcalf. Thank you so much for joining us. We will see you soon.

S10: Hello and welcome to the Slate plus segment of the Slate Culture Gabfest. Today, we are answering a follow up question from one of our live show listeners last week, which was Julia, Steven or Dana.

S6: How do you balance work and family? A question to which I answer primarily. Ha ha ha. But bitter laugh aside, we will do our darndest to talk about how we balance work and family, how we do it in the normal time, how we do it in the now time. And we will start with Dana from the noisy set of her child’s workplace.

S7: Dana, how are you doing it?

S8: Yeah, it’s crazy. I mean, we had to it’s we picked this question before I do. I was going to be up here, or at least the question was asked before that. But it’s it’s perfect for me to answer it this week because, you know what what is the irony of trying to do your work at the edge of your child’s workplace when your child is 14? It’s all just very weird. And of course, the pandemic makes it all more complex. I think there’s really no way to answer this question in a way that’s consistent between pre and post pandemic. Right. I mean, what the pandemic has done for all of us is exposed the the web of the lies that was our our work life balance before. Right. And whatever vulnerabilities were, there have just been completely laid open. So in my case, I think, yeah, after the bitter laugh comes the knowledge that, you know, whatever complaints or problems we have about our own inability to parent and work at the same time are not just personal problems that we’re going through. Right. I mean, there are systemic struggles that that that the country has really left unanswered for all of us. And so in this moment where work and parenting become collapse into a single space, you recognize that there was never any safety net whatsoever. And, you know, obviously we are all in the privileged position of still having jobs, still having an income, you know, having kids who are able to zoom into school because they have devices with which to do so, et cetera. And I would still say, I’m sure that the two of you feel this, too, that, you know, our lives are a constant struggle and reinvention and improvisation every single day. Improvisation actually sounds a lot funnier than what it is. It’s more like a desperate scramble. Yeah, but, Julia, in a way, I mean, I’ve particularly odd situation this week because as I said, you know, I’m at I’m in this double workplace situation of trying to stay out of somebody else’s way, a lot of other people’s way while I do my work on the margins. But I think in a way, you probably have the biggest challenge of all is because you have the youngest children, right? You’ve got your twins. They’re eight. Is that right? Seven. How old are they? Seven. Seven. And you have the biggest job in terms of, you know, just the daily demands on your time. Stephen and I don’t really have a workplace. Even before the pandemic, we were sort of a mixture, I mean, in my case of working from home and sort of running around town, taking in movie screenings, et cetera, going to meetings. But you had a workplace and, you know, people who worked under you and all of that stuff has been dispersed. So I’m very curious to hear about how it works for you. Can I just continue with bitter laugh? Like, yeah, your whole your whole contribution can just be Caerphilly.

S6: I mean, one thing that has been kind of good for our family about the pandemic is just the extra time with our children at this moment when they’re changing so rapidly from like sweet little blobs to like sweet, stringy preteens who, you know, just their habits and tastes are changing. And I do bedtime with them almost every night instead of just some nights a week. And, you know, I’ve been I sometimes, like, sit down and have lunch with them in the middle of the day, in part because in order to preserve my sanity while balancing all these other things, I very insistently take a walk during their weekday dinners rather than sitting with them. Because after my 12 hours of Zoom’s, I need like to stare at something more than three feet from my face. I don’t know. I mean, I was a working mom when I became the editor of Slate. And I think in like looking at my own crazed to do list, I just decided I won’t be able to do everything. And I’m just going to try to make a smart decision every day about which things to fuck up, which is like not a super relaxing way to go through life. But I basically just like, well, I’m definitely going to drop a few balls every single day. I’m just going to try to make them the least damaging ones. So there’s that feeling within the pandemic. I am just conscious of all of the ways in which I have support that I can exercise, in part because I have such a big and busy job, I have great childcare because of the way that it’s set up. We’ve been able to keep it through the pandemic. So I have someone in my house who’s managing Zoome school during the day, which if I did not have I don’t know. I don’t know what I would be doing. It would be completely impossible, although clearly it’s not, because tons and tons of people are doing that. Right. Um, but the just absolute utter disregard that our society has for the responsibilities of parenting and how a society might support them. It’s like this awakening that you have when you have young kids. But but it’s it’s an awakening that cannot become politically potent as a force, because when you have young kids, you do not have time to be an engaged citizen. It’s like this trap where you I mean, I remember it when exploring preschools in New York. And I just hadn’t realized that preschool is for rich people like that, that there is no you know, and this changed under de Blasio for all people are, um, you know, yelling at him now. And for all that people criticize, that mandate is unfunded sometimes, like getting universal pre-K. And three K is huge because when I was looking for places for my children, the kind of daycare preschool economy was just deeply designed to cater to people with private resources and money in a way that is appalling, especially given the research that we have about the importance of those years for the formation of children’s brains and educations, and especially given what we understand about the economics of modern family. So, honestly, if you it is exactly one of those things, Dana, where you can be stuck in the swivet of your own to do list and trying to make time to, like, sweep under all the pieces of furniture in your house because you’re, you know, can’t can’t bring someone into your home to help with that anymore. But like, it is a structural failure. It’s a structural failure that like restaurants are open, but schools are not. It’s a structural failure. The like Disney is contemplating opening, but schools are not it it is just the complete, stupid, abject abandonment of parents by government. And it’s enraging. Steve, how are you doing? I mean, I.

S14: I feel doubly ill qualified to follow that, both of those remarkable answers, you know, first, obviously, because, you know, I mean, just by circumstances to begin with, balance work and life so relatively easily. And secondly, as like you, we’re living in a gendered society. These burdens, you know, we try to make them as close to 50 50 in my household as possible. And yet, let’s be honest, it doesn’t always end up that way. But what I will say is that. You know, for me, the situation is just totally, totally different in a way, I feel as though the emotional drainage of Zoome school on my kid, not kids not withstanding. I kind of got this last bite at the apple with both of them, one of whom is a high school senior, one of whom is a high school first year. And and I just felt as though I’m I’m so on the verge of relinquishing them and in this greedy, greedy way, I’m so psyched to have them around more, looking more to us for support and direction in covid jail and hopefully us providing I just feel intensely close to them at a period right before one of them certainly going to go away. And then the other big thing for us is that it’s just the structure of having kids when you do the rural when you’re a, you know, Brooklyn escapee in rural America. Is driving I mean, the huge commitment of your new commitment of your time is just getting your kid to a soccer match, a dance class, a painting class camp, you know, on and on and on. You were just driving, driving, driving, driving. And and so in a weird way, there is now more time to actually focus our lives on the home. And so I feel. Sheepish, to put it very mildly, saying that it’s been. For just us as a nuclear unit, especially vis a vis these kids, it’s been. Almost weirdly, a glimpse, and this, I understand, is to zero out an enormous amount of pain and suffering in the world, and I do not mean to do that. But for us, it has been a glimpse into a kind of idyllic way of living together. Now, my kids would bite my head off for saying this. They’re miserable, they’re poor, famished, and understand that a. Tremendous cut has been taken out of their ordinary development of as human beings vis a vis, you know, other kids their own age, socially and whatever, intellectually, just the stimulus that you get from being around other bright, curious, engaged kids your own age. But in that sense, this covid has been such an oddly mixed experience.

S6: Yeah, that’s so interesting. And I do I have really like cherished the cozy time with the kids, even as I you know, I think at the beginning I was like, let’s just all get through this. And now I’m as they begin to kind of just I mean Zoome school is a drag. And so school isn’t fun and they don’t like school. And like for me, who was such a freak nerd to have kids who don’t like school, like I don’t even know it’s so alienating. I don’t even know what that is. It seems like a rational response to, um, you know, to the situation. But like, they’re in first and second grade, like, they they should be falling in love with learning. And it’s just so sad and it’s so sad for like my kids who have so much support who will be fine. Fundamentally, you know, there’s this devastating Alec McGillis piece in The New Yorker this week about the costs of remote learning for families that are less fortunate than all of ours. And it’s it’s it’s just the abandonment of I mean, you know, we talked in this episode about Q and on and about this, like, how come, you know, quote a hashtag, Save the Children kind of bogus pedophilia conspiracy. Look, if hordes of Americans wanted to actually worry about the real welfare of children in the face of the real threat that faces them, which by and large is not Caballes of super powerful Democratic pedophile rings, but the complete abandonment of of our children by our governments, that would be good. They should care about that instead. Uh, it is. It’s just cruel, it’s cruel, it’s cruel to these like little young humans and cruel to to families. And, you know, I mean, to your point about work, about the gendered mix of household labor, I will also say that, you know, that that old adage about your most important choice in life as a woman with professional ambitions, as your partner, um, I’m incredibly fortunate to have a partner who is 100 percent. Equal and taking care of our shit and not even an equal in the way of like I’m the boss and I give him tasks, you know, which I’ve seen that dynamic of, like the husband is like the man who does stuff sometimes. But but at the mom has the reins like. We are true partners in the child rearing, we do it together and he has more patience than I do for just like sitting on the floor and like pushing Legos around. And so I would say the breakdown in our household has been that he’s taken on a lot of the kid hanging. While I have added, like, more kind of weekly cleaning and cooking regimens to the mix than were in the mix when we were eating out and paying someone to clean our house and do our laundry rather than paying someone to not do that anymore. So. I’m fortunate in every possible way, and I’m still fucking enraged. I can’t imagine where everybody else is.

S8: I mean, spare a thought, guys, for the single parents out there. I mean, I’m with you, Julia. And having a partner who’s not just equal, but I mean, in some ways is more the housewife than me. Definitely does more cleaning, cooking and shopping, even if I’m a little bit more the the zoom school minder than he is. But I mean, I even before the pandemic, single parents have always seemed to me like these, I don’t know, just marvelous phenomena, more incredible than the octopus and their abilities. And so the idea of them functioning now under the pandemic is just inspiring.

S6: I hope we can just all keep the empathy in our. Hearts and thoughts and actions. In dealing, you know, in dealing with parents and also I don’t mean to privilege parent pain, like I also think about hearing you talk about your teenagers, I think about in some ways being at the kind of like, you know, quote unquote settled phase of my life that I’m a. This is a fine time, I’m not at one of those moments of, like chaotic atoms bumping around the world trying to find myself or my people, you know, I’ve found some people and I love them and I live somewhere with them. And I have a job and I love it. And I do it like to be college age or post college age or trying to find yourself in terms of a career or to be, you know, someone who’s trying to find a mate or a woman worried about her biological clock, like there’s or an older person.

S8: Right. A widow or a widower or somebody who’s caring for a partner who’s debilitated. I mean, everybody is screwed right now. Absolutely. Everybody.

S7: Yeah, well, on that bright note, that’s how we balance work and family. Thanks for asking. Take a tip from our list of handy advice and you wonder why we haven’t become influencers. Oh, yes. Anyway, thanks Lipless for supporting Slate and its journalism for listening to this bounden segment of our show. We’ll see you next week.