I want to talk about the Republican debate. But first, we need to talk about "Shark Week."

Ladies and gentlemen, the star of "Shark Week!" Photo by Hermanus Backpackers/Wikimedia Commons.


Once a year, the Discovery Channel airs seven days of captivating, ostensibly educational nature programing that is, in reality, single-mindedly devoted to scaring the living daylights out of everyone who watches it.

It is — to put it mildly — the absolute greatest.

The slate for "Shark Week" includes dozens of sober-minded documentaries that nobody watches about the incredible variety in the global shark population and the conservation challenges faced by its dozens of endangered species, alongside a few pieces of terrifying horror porn with titles like "Bull Shark: The World's Deadliest Shark," "Anatomy of a Shark Bite," and "Great White Appetite" that everyone watches and movies like "Megalodon: The Monster Shark Lives" about deadly sharks that don't actually exist but that you should be scared of anyway just to be safe.

From the looks of it, you would think sharks were going around eating thousands of humans a year with impunity, high-fiving their fellow sharks and dropping sick shark raps about all the bodies they've dropped.

The average number of people killed annually by sharks in reality?

Five.

Last night's GOP debate was a little like "Shark Week."

Ladies and gentlemen, the stars of the GOP debate! Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images.

The nine top Republican candidates and the four in the undercard debate gathered in Las Vegas to talk amongst themselves (or in Chris Christie's case, to glare directly into the camera with the uncomfortably piercing gaze of a disappointed father). It was billed as the "National Security Debate," or, alternately, the "Foreign Policy Debate" — the sort of description that might lead one to expect a passionate discourse on the nuances of statecraft, or an in-depth dialogue on how conservative diplomacy might offer notes of contrast with the current administration's practice of the same.

Instead, the basic gist of the whole event was: Look out behind you! ISIS terrorists are coming to your house. Be afraid! Be very afraid.

Christie declared, "We have people across this country who are scared to death." Marco Rubio suggested that ISIS is "not just the most capable, it is the most sophisticated terror threat we have ever faced." Rick Santorum, in the JV session, legit argued that "We have entered World War III."

The words "terror" or "terrorist" were mentioned 77 times in the main debate. 120 times if you include the earlier debate.

The candidates' ideas for defeating the extremist group ran the gamut, from dropping the same amount of bombs as now but bragging a little bit more about it, to carpet-bombing cities in Syria and Iraq to ensure that when we kill a few dozen ISIS operatives, thousands of innocent people who also hate ISIS die too.

And perhaps most plausible solution of all: saying the words "radical Islamic terror" over and over again until the terrorists presumably throw their guns into the sea in panic and turn themselves in.

Overall, the debate was really entertaining. And also extremely scary.

You can't really blame the Republicans for going whole hog on the terror threat.

A whole hog. Photo by abbamouse/Flickr.

Fear can be a highly effective political motivator. If you're scared, there's a good chance you'll blame the current president and be more willing to take a chance on the guy from the opposing party who promises to keep you safe.

And while the candidates' reactions may have been a tad on the severe side, the question they posed is totally fair game and worth talking about:

How scared of "radical Islamic terror" should we really be?

A memorial to the victims of the November attacks in Paris. Photo by Matthieu Alexandre/Getty Images.

Since Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks committed by Islamic extremists have killed an average of just over three Americans per year. Three people is certainly not nothing! If three people I knew died randomly and horribly, I'd be pretty upset — and I'd definitely put preventing more people from dying the way they did near the top of my priorities list.

However, here is a brief list of things you're more likely to have on your death certificate than "killed by radical Islamic terrorists" if you're an American:

It's not at all wrong to be scared of terrorism. The whole point of terrorism is that it's scary. It's violent. It's unpredictable. And it's committed by human beings, many of whom are quite terrifying. Every time some vicious jerk walks into an office party with a gun or sets off a soda-can bomb on an airplane, I launch into the same fear/panic/despair cycle that my therapist is entirely sick of hearing about.

But the fact is...

We've survived way worse.

World War II, an objectively really scary time. Photo via the German Federal Archives/Wikimedia Commons.

Put simply, America has seen some shit. We survived a political and military revolution, centuries of brutal human bondage, a bloody civil war, two world wars, legal segregation, a 47-year-long nuclear standoff with a global superpower, and four seasons of "Mind of Mencia."

When it hits the fan, we can be pretty stone-cold about shutting it down.

ISIS is certainly evil and pretty ho-hum about killing people. But the idea that the group poses an existential threat to the United States — like Nazi Germany or the nuclear arms race or slavery — is ... more than a bit far-fetched.

And the people who ISIS does pose an existential threat to? Many of the same folks talking tough on stage last night are pretty dead-set against letting them move in next door.

Words have real consequences.

Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images.

ISIS is indeed scary. It's totally fair to note that. ISIS also adheres to an extremist brand of Islam. It's similarly fair to point that out and debate what it means for how we fight them. But there's a responsible way to do that, and then there's this — the leading presidential candidate of a major U.S. political party arguing that ISIS's barbarism justifies barring all Muslims from entering the United States.

It's easy to forget that if you go around on national television blurring the line between "Islam" and "what you should be scared of," sometimes people listen.

There have been over 45 documented Islamophobic incidents in the United States since the Paris attacks in November, including vandalism, attacks on mosques, and straight-up physical assault — sometimes of children. While politicians may not mean to incite acts of violence with their anti-Muslim rhetoric, extreme fear can lead people to do things they otherwise wouldn't, hitting back indiscriminately at the wrong target in the name of feeling a little bit more safe.

Beyond that, it just kind of sucks to be scared all the time.

Here's what not-scared people can do! It's pretty sweet. Photo by SimonP/Wikimedia Commons.

I like watching horror movies. I can watch all manner of gruesome, terrifying torture and gore if I know there's catharsis coming at the end. But I resent it when people try to scare me in an open-ended way. 'Cause being scared with no hope for release is pretty much the worst.

Terrorism is scary and random, but it's not even close to the most pressing danger facing any of us on a daily basis. It's not always easy to internalize that — in many ways, it feels counterintuitive. But once you do, it's pretty easy to cease being afraid, or at least stop letting that fear rule your life.

Go out! Go to concerts. Walk through the park. Take a lap around the mall. Browse and don't buy anything at Brookstone.

Something bad can happen when you're doing pretty much anything. Every time you shower, there's a not-zero chance you could slip and die. Most of us still do it every morning — and enjoy it too.

So take a deep breath. We've been through this before. And we'll get through it again.

Photo via the FDR Library/Wikimedia Commons.

Remember the Great Depression? Probably not, if you're effectively navigating the Internet without the assistance of your great-grandchild. But it was one of the objectively scariest times in American history. Unemployment skyrocketed to over 25% (as a comparison, following the financial crisis of 2008 — the biggest U.S. economic catastrophe in recent memory — unemployment peaked at 10%). Millions lost their homes, farms, and entire livelihoods. Fascism was on the march worldwide, and many feared (and some hoped) the United States would be next.

In the midst of all this, at the beginning of the worst year of the Depression, brand-new President Franklin Delano Roosevelt stepped up to the mic and dispensed some sage, fortune-cookie-ready advice. Not "Pee your pants, everybody" or "Hide under the covers forever" or "Oh God, oh God, oh God" while rocking back and forth in a fetal position.

"The only thing we have to fear is fear itself," he said.

Though 80 years have passed since then, and there are fewer apple barrels around these days, the sentiment still rings pretty much true.

Because as a wise Jedi muppet once opined: "Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to..."

...a chill weekend at Comic-Con. Photo by Doug Kline/Flickr.

(Please, no "Star Wars" spoilers.)

Moricz was banned from speaking up about LGBTQ topics. He found a brilliant workaround.

Senior class president Zander Moricz was given a fair warning: If he used his graduation speech to criticize the “Don’t Say Gay” law, then his microphone would be shut off immediately.

Moricz had been receiving a lot of attention for his LGBTQ activism prior to the ceremony. Moricz, an openly gay student at Pine View School for the Gifted in Florida, also organized student walkouts in protest and is the youngest public plaintiff in the state suing over the law formally known as the Parental Rights in Education law, which prohibits the discussion of sexual orientation or gender identity in grades K-3.

Though well beyond third grade, Moricz nevertheless was also banned from speaking up about the law, gender or sexuality. The 18-year-old tweeted, “I am the first openly-gay Class President in my school’s history–this censorship seems to show that they want me to be the last.”

However, during his speech, Moricz still delivered a powerful message about identity. Even if he did have to use a clever metaphor to do it.

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Photo by Heather Mount on Unsplash

Actions speak far louder than words.

It never fails. After a tragic mass shooting, social media is filled with posts offering thoughts and prayers. Politicians give long-winded speeches on the chamber floor or at press conferences asking Americans to do the thing they’ve been repeatedly trained to do after tragedy: offer heartfelt thoughts and prayers. When no real solution or plan of action is put forth to stop these senseless incidents from occurring so frequently in a country that considers itself a world leader, one has to wonder when we will be honest with ourselves about that very intangible automatic phrase.

Comedian Anthony Jeselnik brilliantly summed up what "thoughts and prayers" truly mean. In a 1.5-minute clip, Jeselnik talks about victims' priorities being that of survival and not wondering if they’re trending at that moment. The crowd laughs as he mimics the actions of well-meaning social media users offering thoughts and prayers after another mass shooting. He goes on to explain how the act of performatively offering thoughts and prayers to victims and their families really pulls the focus onto the author of the social media post and away from the event. In the short clip he expertly expresses how being performative on social media doesn’t typically equate to action that will help victims or enact long-term change.

Of course, this isn’t to say that thoughts and prayers aren’t welcomed or shouldn’t be shared. According to Rabbi Jack Moline "prayer without action is just noise." In a world where mass shootings are so common that a video clip from 2015 is still relevant, it's clear that more than thoughts and prayers are needed. It's important to examine what you’re doing outside of offering thoughts and prayers on social media. In another several years, hopefully this video clip won’t be as relevant, but at this rate it’s hard to see it any differently.

Joy

50-years ago they trade a grilled cheese for a painting. Now it's worth a small fortune.

Irene and Tony Demas regularly traded food at their restaurant in exchange for crafts. It paid off big time.

Photo by Gio Bartlett on Unsplash

Painting traded for grilled cheese worth thousands.

The grilled cheese at Irene and Tony Demas’ restaurant was truly something special. The combination of freshly baked artisan bread and 5-year-old cheddar was enough to make anyone’s mouth water, but no one was nearly as devoted to the item as the restaurant’s regular, John Kinnear.

Kinnear loved the London, Ontario restaurant's grilled cheese so much that he ordered it every single day, though he wouldn’t always pay for it in cash. The Demases were well known for bartering their food in exchange for odds and ends from local craftspeople and merchants.

“Everyone supported everyone back then,” Irene told the Guardian, saying that the couple would often trade free soup and a sandwich for fresh flowers. Two different kinds of nourishment, you might say.

And so, in the 1970s the Demases made a deal with Kinnear that he could pay them for his grilled cheese sandwiches with artwork. Being a painter himself and part of an art community, Kinnear would never run out of that currency.

Little did Kinnear—or anyone—know, eventually he would give the Demases a painting worth an entire lifetime's supply of grilled cheeses. And then some.

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