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Funbag

Consider The Manatee

A manatee feeds on cabbage in the aquarium at the Vincennes zoological gardens (Parc zoologique de Vincennes) in Paris on April 4, 2019. - The zoo of Paris will celebrate five years since its reopening on April 12, 2019. (Photo by Philippe LOPEZ / AFP) (Photo credit should read PHILIPPE LOPEZ/AFP via Getty Images)
Philippe Lopez/AFP via Getty Images

Time for your weekly edition of the Defector Funbag. Drew is off this week, but he will be back soon. Got something on your mind? Email the Funbag. Today, we’re talking about bathroom issues, literature, manatee history, and, yes, BTS.

This is my first time filling in on the Funbag. I first asked to fill in when dear colleague Drew had to take some time off because he almost died, which thankfully contains the key phrase “almost” and has instead become a lovely book you should buy. As for yours truly, I said I would fill in on the Funbag and then, every time it was offered, said I was too busy. To be honest, I am still pretty busy. But something about having spent a year and a half of my life worrying about surviving a global pandemic has forced me to, once again, at least try to pause and enjoy other elements of life. How long this will last I honestly have no idea. But, for now, it means you get me filling in on the Funbag. Let’s lead off with some manatee questions!

Popcorn Bandit (via Twitter):

I was in Florida last week and noticed that we (Minnesotans) say MAN-a-tees while the locals say man-a-TEES. Is this a thing?

Schneems (via Twitter):

Why aren’t lady manatees called “womanatees”?

First, we need to start by acknowledging that the manatee is one of the greatest living creatures on Earth and whatever answer I give will seem paltry and pale compared to their majestic beauty. Did you know that Christopher Columbus thought manatees were mermaids, which could also be a commentary on Columbus’s intelligence but, when you think about it, they are quite beautiful. Manatees are kind, gentle, and have no natural enemies (except the speedboat). Also, the manatee spends anywhere from seven to eight hours eating plants (I can only dream of being able to do that much eating) and can swim at speeds of up to 15 miles per hour! The more I ponder these facts, the more I am convinced that manatees are the most advanced creatures on the planet. Can you say you have no natural enemies? Can you say you only eat plants and geek out over romaine lettuce? What if manatees were brought from the future (preferably by the crew of the USS Enterprise, NCC-1701-D) to teach us all how to coexist peacefully? Let us all be more like the manatee.

As for how to pronounce manatee, I checked with the Merriam-Webster dictionary and it says the emphasis is on the first syllable. However, with all due respect to Merriam and Webster, I am going to say there is no wrong way to pronounce manatee so long as you are saying it from a place of compassion and love. That’s all the manatee wants for us!

As for why lady manatees are not “womantees,” I went down an etymology rabbit hole on this one. It’s unclear where exactly the word “manatee” came from, but people believe it comes via the Spanish word manatí, which itself is believed to have come from another language spoken by the Taíno people. I really enjoyed this from Sylvia Karayaturey Rosario over at The Voice of the Taíno People Online: “The manatee is as sacred to the Caribbean, Southeastern, and South American Indians as the buffalo is to the Plains Peoples. Not only did we consume the animal for food, just about every other part of the manatee was also used. Due to the lack of marrow, the Taíno and Carib used the bones to make spoons, weapons, body ornaments and spiritual objects such as pipes and cohoba spatulas (used to purge before ceremony).”

Dammit, manatees should still be sacred—to all of us.

D. Burns:

Everybody says that Leicester winning the PL in 2015-16 was the greatest sporting achievement ever, having been in a relegation spot close to the end of the prior season before making a Great Escape. But doesn’t it pale in comparison to the success of Nottingham Forest in 1977-78 when newly promoted they won the First Division and followed it up by winning the European Cup the following two years?

Full disclosure, I had to google this. Which I think is fine! I genuinely do not understand the glorification of Sports Fans Knowing Things™. I have this theory that we spend our entire childhoods being taught to memorize things for tests, quizzes, and impressing random adults, only to discover as an adult that this skill isn’t terribly useful because, as an adult, you get to use things like reference books, sticky notes and, also, by the way, the entire internet. But, dammit, you have spent probably the first two decades of your life getting really good at memorizing things and this skill must be useful for something. I shall prove this! By memorizing random sports facts! And remembering them all the time! Probably in a loud voice!

Is it also possible I am just saying because I am not great at all at memorization beyond 24 to 48 hours and I’m also not good at trivia? Sure. But I also think I’m right.

After I googled this, a perfectly reasonable thing to do, I learned that the season before, Nottingham Forest had been in a lower division like you said. But, unlike Leicester, they immediately after promotion won the equivalent of the Premier League and then won the equivalent of Champions League twice afterward. To me, Forest obviously pulled off the greater accomplishment. Yes, I know, the counter is that this was before the influx of billionaires and the creation of super teams, which Leicester had to conquer. Maybe I’d believe that if Forest only won Europe once. But they won it twice! There are teams that have still never won the Champions League.

Here’s how I see it. Let’s say the top division is the most exclusive club on South Beach. On the one hand, you wait in line, you get in, you almost get kicked out, then you don’t, and you end up with bottle service. This is Leicester. On the other hand, let’s say you wait in line, get in, you get bottle service, then it turns out Dwyane Wade is at your table, and then it turns out Gabrielle Union also is at your table, and then suddenly you get cast in her next movie. That is Forest. Obviously the latter is harder. Therefore, Nottingham Forest has the superior achievement.

Chris:

The Suns not being bad has resulted in people talking a bit more about the mid-2000s era Suns, and their “Seven Seconds or Less” offense. I always loved that name, it’s referential, pithy, evocative, and actually an accurate descriptor of an element of the style.  Sports is full of evocative naming for formations/styles/strategies; what’s your favorite name/nickname for a sporting formation, or offensive/defensive style or pattern? For that matter, what’s your least favorite?

Oh yes, a nickname question! Is it just me, or are there way less nicknames in sports in general than there used to be and, what nicknames we do have, all sound like a Twitter handle. D-Wade is a fine nickname for Dwyane Wade, except is also sounds like an email address at work. Calling him Flash was a lot more fun. Ditto for calling Kevin Durant “KD,” and Devin Booker “Book.” But at least this is better than baseball, which used to provide us all sorts of cool nicknames, but I cannot tell you one for Mike Trout or Shohei Ohtani off the top of my head. (I have since checked Baseball Reference, which says they have nicknames, but it’s not a good nickname if I have to look it up.) I have zero evidence of this, but maybe the decline of the cool sports nickname can be tied to the rise of social media. Sure, it’s cool and fun to be called The Big Hurt, but do you really want your Twitter, your Instagram, and your TikTok handles to be The Big Hurt? That might be a bit much. What I’m saying is there’s an alternative timeline where we all call Frank Thomas just F-Tom and, wow, that’s a bummer.

My favorite nickname for an offense will always be the Fun ‘n’ Gun. Yes, some of this is pure Florida bias, as this was the legendary offense run by then–Florida Gators coach Steve Spurrier, and its heyday was the 1990s, right when I was a teenager and learning about sports. Like any childhood memory, my learning about the Fun ‘n’ Gun will always have a gauzy feel simply because I was a teen, a time filled with all the usual difficulties of being a teen but also so many firsts that all feel special and historic, even if they really are happening to everyone all the time and, in the grand scheme of human history, are unremarkable and insignificant. But also it’s a great nickname. It rolls off the tongue. And it does perfectly describe the offense, which was all about throwing it down the field and allowing wideouts to improvise on their routes. Decades before the NFL would become a league where your team was made or broken purely by who was under center, Spurrier and the Fun ‘n’ Gun said to hell with it and just kept throwing it.

Least favorite? Honestly, I have spent 15 minutes googling nicknames for offenses and defenses and I can’t find that I don’t like, except for very personal reasons. So my least-favorite nickname is the brief use of the Killer B’s for the late 2010’s Pittsburgh Steelers. Don’t ask me to go into details why, just click on the links and let’s call it a day.

Peter:

What classics are tolerable to read and don’t feel like you’re back in Literature 101. I tried to feel worldly and bought a couple of Faulkner books and they were unreadable for me.

Oooofah. Faulkner. I too read Faulker, in high school, and while I’m glad I did it, I also don’t know that I could have made it through without professional guidance. Reading is funny like that. I don’t want to say it should all go down smooth and easy; sometimes, I want smooth and easy, and sometime I want more of a challenge. For me, reading is like going to the brain gym. There are days I am ready to work hard and push myself to lift a heavier weight or do one more pushup, and there are days where I feel more like doing the chillest yoga class possible where my body barely leaves the floor. One isn’t better than the other, and our bodies, like our brains, need both.

For me, the easiest answer is Jane Eyre because I finally read it last year and it’s very accessible without a teacher holding your hand through it. Anything by the Brontë sisters is divine and quite doable without a guide, which I know because I’ve read their books on my own. Another upside is because their work is so popular, you can also Google your way into 10,000 guides to their work. I have a feeling the same is true for Jane Austen but, please don’t hate on me Jane Austen hive, but I haven’t read her books. It’s nothing personal!

Other accessible but esteemed writers include F. Scott Fitzgerald (they even did The Great Gatsby for Defector Reads A Book), James Baldwin (you can read The Fire Next Time in an afternoon), George Orwell (1984 is another quick read), Toni Morrison (like with Brontë, I feel like if you want any guidance on her works, the internet has much that can fill you in), and Franz Kafka (The Metamorphosis is another book you can do in a day, and you can google your way into plenty of analysis and help). I’m also going to throw in Dorothy Parker because she is my personal favorite and I always make sure to read her at least a little bit every year. She was one of the first authors I read completely on my own after a high school teacher said my writing reminded me of her. To this day, I have never taken a class on her and perhaps that is for the best because, in a small way, I like keeping her work to myself, with my own thoughts, feelings, and analysis guiding the way.

Nik:

BTS recently had a promo meal with McDonalds, but the only difference from a regular meal offering were some ‘unique’ condiments. It was the same story for the Travis Scott and J. Balvin tie-in meals–the only special benefit you would receive from these “unprecedented collaborative partnerships” was a line on your receipt. And this from the company that has mastered the art of the Happy Meal toy!

What toy or promotional item would you have included in the BTS meal to get more fans to buy in?

First, we need to discuss the big issue with the rollout here in the United States, which was that the U.S. did not even get the full packaging experience. If you were in other countries, you got this packaging:

Except here in the U.S., for reasons I still have not seen explained, customers did not get the purple soft drink cup nor the purple box for the McNuggets. All we got was the special dipping sauce and the bag. So, to begin with, the first step would have been giving all ARMY across the globe the same experience. Why McDonald’s did not do this I don’t know, and I really wish they would explain themselves!

Here is a photo of my BTS meal. No purple cup. No purple packaging for the nuggets. I forgot to take the dipping sauces out of the package, but they were there. Obviously, I added the wine myself, but that’s besides the point. The point is the BTS meal with all the purple packaging is happier!

Credit: Diana Moskovitz/Defector Media
My BTS Meal, which I ate right after Defector Trivia for the first time. (credit: Diana Moskovitz)

Now, to your question. The answer is, obviously, photocards!

I realize we might have some readers who are going, Diana, what is a photocard? So I will explain. Whenever you buy a BTS album, it comes with all sorts of cool add-ons as well as some really glorious packaging. I have only been ARMY (the name of BTS fans) since 2020, so the only example I have in my physical home is the Be album. It included two booklets of concept photos, a booklet of their notes and inspirations for songs, a track list that also could double as a poster, the CD and lots of photocards. If you would like more details, I recommend this video of Suga unboxing their album.

Now, I cannot, nor do I want to, claim to speak for all of ARMY here because that would be wildly irresponsible. But, when I talk to people, generally the thing that everyone is most excited about are the photocards, which pretty much are exactly what they sound like—photos of the members that are about the size of a card. Why? For the same reason all other sorts of cards are fun! (I’m looking at you, baseball card aficionados.) They are bright, colorful, remind you of something you love, and you can take them and/or display them anywhere. As I’m typing this, I even briefly imagined us gathering some K-pop scholars, opening up some packs of photocards, and doing a K-pop themed “Remember Some Guys.” If that happens, uh, depends on if anyone at Defector ever wants to open photocard packs with me, but a gal can dream! Until then, here are my BE photocards.

Credit: Diana Moskovitz/Defector Media
BTS photocards from the BE album (credit: Diana Moskovitz)

HALFTIME! No surprise, BTS has the perfect song and performance for this moment.

Alex:

I think I have a question that can only be answered by Diana and also can only be answered as part of a Funbag: How can I go about making a FOIA request for information related to the President’s bathroom habits? If old man Biden and his weak prostate need 10 minutes to get out a piss, I think the American people deserve to know. 

Yes, this is truly a question meant for me and this edition of the Funbag.

So here’s the deal on presidential records. The White House is not directly covered by the Freedom of Information Act, which only applies to federal agencies. Instead it must contend with the Presidential Records Act, which is what matters for this discussion. Per the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration, you can put in a FOIA request for a presidential record five years after the end of an administration but with the caveat that the former president can “invoke as many as six specific restrictions to public access for up to 12 years.” This means it is possible to FOIA any White House records on this matter but you’d have to wait until five years after the Biden administration ended, which I don’t think is nearly as helpful.

I get the feeling you would like an answer now, so the more immediate answer is the sideways route, which is to think of a federal agency that might be involved in, shall we say, managing the president’s bathroom habits. I am not an expert at federal agencies, so I pulled up a list of federal agencies that, based solely on their names, might be involved in maintaining White House bathrooms or dealing with Biden’s bathroom time. I have not fact-checked this list! They are: Capitol Visitor Center (I dunno, it might include the White House), Chief Human Capital Officers Council (bathroom time sounds like human capital to me!), Citizens’ Stamp Advisory Committee (not really, I just had no idea it existed), Inspectors General (maybe someone has filed a complaint about it?), Interior Department (I know, technically this isn’t DOI territory, but this is about an interior), Risk Management Agency (because it’s definitely a risk if the president has bathroom problems!), and the Secret Service (duh).

Please let me know if you do try to FOIA for this. Happy FOIA’ing.

Nick:

I have a pair of friends who have chosen to raise their son without Santa Claus being a thing.  I haven’t deeply discussed this choice with them, because it’s an awkward thing to talk about with not-super-close friends, but I do disagree with it. 

I think Santa and Christmas in general do provide an element of whimsy and magic that are, if nothing else, one of the only fun parts of winter (especially here in the Midwest), and should be a part of childhood. 

I’m asking you to take a position you’ll likely regret somehow: are you pro BIG SANTA, or is it time to move past this admittedly kinda weird part of the holidays?

I’m fascinated by questions likes this because I’m Jewish so I grew up without Santa Claus. Yup, for not a single second of my life did I believe that the old man existed. I still remember being a little kid and being somewhat agog that other kids believe this. Let’s think about it: You believe an old man is able to fly around the world in approximately 24 hours using, checks notes, magical reindeer and delivering presents to the home of every child in the world who has been good even though we all knew some neighborhood kids who were really, really not good and yet this Santa man still hooked them up with a new bike and roller skates? I can think of few greater testaments to how much young children really want to believe anything their parents tell them than Santa Claus, because, when you think about it, this is a little bit a stretch, don’t you think? Or they just really want the presents and go along with the ruse to make mom and dad happy. That could be it too.

So to your friends’ choice, I’ll say this. I grew up without Santa Claus, and I like to think I turned out fine. Billions of children around the world grow up without Santa Claus and turn out fine. This idea that Santa Claus has to be a part of childhood seems concrete to you because it’s what you had in your childhood, but it is not the only path forward. On a more cynical note, I’m pretty sure all kids care about is getting presents. If they still get the presents, they’ll be fine.

What I cannot promise is that their son will bite his tongue on the playground when children his age say they can’t wait for Santa to come, which, for the record, I don’t think I did. But also that was a long time ago, and I can’t make any promises.

Brandon:

I grew up a Bears fan because my family lived near Chicago. As an adult, I realize this franchise is doomed and will only bring me sadness. Not to mention that Bears fans are some of the worst people in sports. Am I allowed to take a one-time mulligan and switch teams? I don’t even know what team I would root for. I just know I can’t sit through what I hope is 60 more years of a new savior every four years and fans who are so dumb that they believe our team somehow has a monopoly on playing in cold weather. 

Why fans root for teams is a topic I find endlessly fascinating. For as much as humans love to pretend we are ruled by logic—and especially sports fans, who love to yell their favorite stats—there’s something deeply illogical about being a fan. You and I are not on the field winning the game. The players aren’t from from the cities they represent. These are made-up games, with rules we can change on a whim, and nobody will live or die based on the results. In the grand scheme of the hierarchy of needs, I need food, I need shelter, I need safety, and I need cash. I do not need a sports team to win.

And yet it feels so achingly important. In what feels like 10,000 years ago, also known as before the pandemic, I wrote a piece for David Roth over at a little site called The Classical about why I was still rooting for the Pittsburgh Pirates as they entered their 20th losing season. For the story, I talked to a professor of psychology and brain science who had studied sports fans. He wasn’t surprised at all that fans stick with bad teams because the winning, he told me, isn’t the only point. What we get from our fandom is bonding, a sense of community, a shared experience, and hope—and that can happen with or without winning.

If the Bears, to paraphrase from organizing guru Marie Kondo, no longer bring you joy, then ditch ’em. Find a team that sparks joy for you. Why are you and I here, reading, rooting, and consuming sports if not for the damn joy? This isn’t to say bury your head in the sand and ignore all the bad stuff. Dear God, no. This is also not an excuse to hurt people in the name of “fandom.” Being an asshole, even if it sparks joy for you, is still being an asshole. But, on this topic, I think it’s OK to follow your joy or, rather, your hope. Pick a new team. Hell, just pick one because it belongs to your friend or because you like one of the players or because you like how the logo looks on a hat. And let me know how it goes.

Braden:

Hi Diana,

Because (a) I trust women more than men and (b) women go to the bathroom more than men, can you give us a definitive ranking on toilet paper brands? I don’t trust Drew’s take. 

First, can I say, lotta bathroom questions coming at me, which is fine! I’m just doing the ol’ reporter thing and pointing out a pattern. This little tidbit I noticed was then bolstered by my attempt to find Drew’s previous rankings, except a google search for “Funbag” and “toilet paper” and “Drew Magary” got me quite a few more articles than I’m capable of reading within the week I have to do this column. So, please note, I am doing this while flying blind because I have no clue how Drew ranked the toilet papers! I simply cannot find the rankings. I honestly had no idea, going into this, that the Funbag doubled as as safe space for discussing pooping and all pooping-related matters. But, then again, I probably should have assumed that.

Here is my ranking, which is based solely on on the unscientific method of how much I recall a toilet paper in the past making me go, “Oh, how soft!” Also, I should add that I am not factoring this based solely on butt wiping because, let’s be real, toilet paper is also used for blowing your nose, wiping excess foundation or concealer off the back of your hand, cleaning the extra mascara off your mascara wand, dabbing your tears away so it won’t ruin your makeup, as a replacement for cotton pads because I forgot to buy more of those, and emergency napkins and/or paper towels because I forgot to buy more of those too. Yes, I realize that for the sake of the environment we probably should be using bidets. But I don’t have a bidet, therefore my ranking is comprehensive and definitive.

  1. Cottonelle: I have maybe purchased this twice in my life because it’s also usually among the most expensive but, every time, I am genuinely blown away by its cushiness. It has these little ridges on the square, too, which you would think would make it scratchy but they somehow add to the comfort by giving it a nice texture and bounce.
  2. Charmin: Not quite as cushy as Cottonelle, but still adequately cushy. Also the packaging has cute bears.
  3. Quilted Northern: I don’t know if I’ve ever used this tissue paper. It’s not the most expensive and it’s not the most cheap. I figure, if I did use it, this is probably where it would go.
  4. Angel Soft: This was what I used in college because it was exactly one step up from store brand but still pretty cheap.
  5. All the brands that tell me they are good for the environment: This is mostly what I buy today because maybe it does help and I want to keep Earth alive, not really for myself so much, but definitely for the manatees. Is it the comfiest on my tuchus? Again, I’m doing it for the manatees.
  6. All the generic store brands: This is what I mostly bought as an adult until I decided to switch to the eco-stuff because I have been a journalist most of my adult life, which has meant living with the constant mix of panic and dread at being laid off. It’s fine.
  7. Scott: Every time I see this, a part of my soul dies. Or it just means I’m in a gas station bathroom.

Email of the week!

Kevin:

That nightmare job I’ve emailed about a lot before finally shitcanned me last month. As I was getting my severance, the (thankfully now former) bossman tells me “I don’t think you have a future in this business.” Isn’t it bad enough that he’s firing me? Why does he have to add a roast session?

Because he’s a jerk, he hates his job, he hates that he feel stuck in his miserable job, and his only form of pleasure at work comes from feeling that he has power over others, which manifests in him doing his best to make you feel small and weak. Good riddance to him! For the sake of those who remain, I can only hope he starts watching manatee videos and realizes the key to happiness is being less like the garden-variety asshole and more like the manatee.