7 signs your thesis may be imminently due

You have run out of hand soap and are now using shampoo instead.

You envy people in prison because at least they get to sleep.

Your grocery list is MLA formatted:
Tiger, Tony the. (2017[1952]) “Frosted Flakes,” Kellog’s, n. pag.

You’re also using shampoo as dish detergent. Your dishes smell like ylang-ylang.

You’ve forgotten your husband’s name. Maybe … Bill?

You fantasize about giving Theodor Adorno a wedgie.

Discovering you’ve run out of shampoo results in three hours huddled under your desk, crying.

A discussion with my body re 2017 KPIs

Me: Thank you for meeting me today. I’m hoping we can agree on a set of strategic KPIs for 2017.

Body: Sure, whatever you say.

Me: Well, that’s the thing – we make plans and then you just do your own thing. It doesn’t really feel like you’re a team player.

Body: I don’t see you going along with any of my plans.

Me: I’ve already given you all of January to do whatever you wanted, which was apparently to eat Cheetos while watching every single mockumentary on Netflix. It’s time to get serious about this year. My strategy has two main objectives: developing muscle tone and maintaining a vaguely professional appearance. Each objective has three sub-points, starting with –

Body: My main plan is weird chin hairs. Lots of them.

Me: What? No! No one wants that!

Body: Also random wrinkles. Like, vertical cheek wrinkles.

Me: That’s not even a thing.

Body: … yet.

Me: This is what I mean, we’re working against each other. I spend an hour at the gym and then another hour with the tweezers, and you undo it all overnight!

Body: Hey, re-growing those hairs is hard work.

Me: It’s wasted effort! You could be using that energy to, like, develop some abs.

Body: You could be feeding me Cheetos.

Me: 2017 is not the Year of the Cheeto! 2017 is the Year of Beet Salad and Cross-Training and Actually Wearing Some Make-Up to Work Most Days.

Body: Beet salad, really?

Me: It’s got fennel, I thought it was –

Body: Okay, sure.

Me: Look, can you at least stop twisting out of pelvic alignment immediately after I pay $78 to see the osteopath every week?

Body: You clearly don’t know me very well.

7 ways to tell if your neighbours are trying to eat you

Houses full of neighbours potentially planning to kill you, who knows?
I use the term ‘neighbours’ loosely. Because the collapse of modern civilisation means most of us no longer have a fixed address, it’s hard to describe the people you encounter in your day-to-day scavenging as neighbours. Let’s use the term to mean “people in your general vicinity at any given moment.”

How watchful should you be around these people? Very. Here’s some tips to help you determine if any might be sizing you up for dinner.

  1. They attack you with weapons.

This is obvious, but it’s easy to forget to stay on guard for it. Likely you were raised to be “civil” to others, and this is often your first instinct. When you see another human with a weapon, run! If necessary, you can reassess the situation from a safe distance or hiding place. Remember, the end of civilization means the end of being civil – your survival depends on your vigilance!

  1. They are overly friendly.

This could mean they’re trying to earn your trust, get you comfortable and then, when your back is turned, smash in your skull with that baseball bat that you noticed casually leaning against a corner of their cardboard shack.

  1. You saw them eating someone else.

Yes, there is a vogue for eating human corpses now, and maybe that was all they were doing, eating someone who died of natural causes. Many of us now accept this – why let good protein go to waste?

The trouble is it’s not so far a leap from eating dead humans to killing live ones. Do you know whether that hunk of meat was dead when they found it? If you see neighbours making elbow stew or brainwiches, get away before they eat the last of that tasty, tasty corpse.

  1. You saw them kill someone else.

Don’t get it in your head they won’t do the same to you. It’s easy to believe your skills in the pre-collapse world have some value now. But if you start thinking, “I just have to introduce myself as a urologist and they’ll recognize the importance of my medical knowledge and experience,” you will soon be someone’s lunch. These people are hungry, and that is a much more pressing concern than those red spots on their genitals. Get away while you still can.

  1. They’re wearing a bear skull as a headpiece.


  1. They pretend to die in the street.

Don’t be fooled. Everyone knows fresh meat is the best meat, so pretending to die is a great way to lure unsuspecting people close – and then leap up and attack them. If you spy a corpse or see a person collapse, approach with caution. One way to test if that body is really dead is to pelt it with rocks from a safe distance.

  1. You have neighbours.

The most important sign – why are those people hanging around? They may be tailing you to find your source of food so they can steal it from you. Or they may be tailing you as a source of food.

While you’re trying to avoid your murderous neighbours, you need to feed yourself! No worries. Here’s some handy tips on how to cook and eat your pets.

Settling the e-books vs direct-to-brain digital text streaming argument

Call me old-fashioned, but no matter how popular direct-to-brain digital text streaming gets, I’ll never give up e-books.

Sure, there are lots of arguments for having the entire canon of English literature digitally streamed to a receptor that has been surgically implanted in your brain. The one-time insertion cost sounds like a bargain at $329 – but don’t forget the $97 activation fee and the $49.99 monthly connection charge (though you can bundle that with direct-to-brain web surfing and texting to reduce overall costs). After all that, you still have to pay for the books!

Exorbitant cost aside, if I can have the complete works of Shakespeare electronically beamed into my brain in under ten minutes, can I really say I’ve experienced Shakespeare? There is something organic about the experience of moving your eyeballs from left to right over an LCD screen in order to take in a sequence of marks the brain then must interpret as words, all the while using your hands to grip a lightweight, durable device.

Not to mention, the claim that direct-to-brain digital text streaming saves a lot of time is pure marketing hooey. Yes, you may be able to absorb all 784 pages of Tartt’s universally beloved early 21st-century classic The Goldfinch directly into your brain in 8.73 seconds. But you then need to mentally process the novel’s contents in sequential order. If not, your brain might access the part of the story where Theo discovers his childhood friend Boris stole the renowned painting from behind Theo’s bed years ago and thus Theo never actually had to worry about being discovered with it as an adult and the emotional impact will be completely lost on you. You will experience this as a mere plot point and not as a devastating revelation capable of making you wake your sleeping boyfriend to describe the entire plot up to that point in a futile attempt to share the unbearable agony.

Compare that to the pleasure of an e-book on a softly glowing LCD screen, the comforting reassurance of this physical object in your hands, emanating electromagnetic radiation into your vital organs. And if you concentrate on an e-reader, you can catch a subtle whiff of warm plastic.

Even as direct-to-brain digital text streaming prices come down and infants receive receptor-insertion upon birth, I believe e-books will remain as popular as they have been since they decimated the paper-book industry within a few short years of their introduction. Because nothing can replace the glow, feel, and smell of a good e-book.

This was first published by McSweeney’s.  

The overlooked cultural achievements of spam mail

This week I received an email from someone named Cletus Woodham, with the subject  Spam: part 3. This reminded me how wonderful spam is. I mean, Cletus Woodham? 

Cletus Woodham - a spam love story by Ashley Kalagian Blunt

My curated collection of spam screenshots are a testament to spam mail’s magnificence, a fact sadly overlooked in modern society. I argue that spam is one of our greatest cultural achievements. Consider:

1. Spam is comedy. No one else sends you emails with subject lines like

Spam screenshot: comedy from Ashley Kalagian Blunt

2. Spam has your best interests at heart. Without it, how would you know about common attraction killing words to women?
comedy Ashley Kalagian Blunt
(Turns out it’s ‘honk’. Women hate that.)

3. Spam is an art form. Consider this brilliant poem:
comedy Ashley Kalagian Blunt

4. Spam alerts you to new products you never knew about but absolutely need. Spam screenshot: comedy from Ashley Kalagian Blunt

5. Spam cares. It wants to make sure you ‘do not die in pain and silence’ when your problems can ‘be handle with full force of our oracle and ancestors’.

comedy Ashley Kalagian Blunt
There are a lot more reasons why spam is great, and trust me, I will probably tell you about them sooner than you could possibly hope.


What I learned in Singapore part 2: how to avoid being sawn in two

In Chinese folklore, there are Ten Courts of Hell that sinners pass through after death. This is according to rather graphic dioramas at Haw Par Villa in Singapore, and not any rigorous research on my behalf.

In part 1, we visited courts one through five. Each court specialises in certain crimes and corresponding punishments. As courts six through ten reinforce, the crimes and punishments can get quite specific.

Sixth Court of Hell  
Crime Punishment
Cheating, cursing, abducting others Thrown onto a tree of knives
Misuse of books Body sawn in two
Possession of pornographic material  
Breaking written rules and regulations  
Wasting food  

Sixth court of hell from Ashley Kalagian Blunt's comedy websiteWhether this guy was using his books as doorstops or letting his bananas go spotty was left unstated.

More importantly, check out that torturer’s red patterned tights and jaunty hat. If you’re going to spend your day sawing people in half, do it in style, that’s his motto.

Seventh Court of Hell  
Crime Punishment
Rumour-mongers Tongue pulled out
Sowing discord among family members  
Rapists Thrown into wok of boiling oil
Driving someone to their death  
Eighth Court of Hell  
Crime Punishment
Lack of filial obedience Intestines and organs pulled out
Causing trouble for parents or family  
Cheating during examinations  
Harming others to benefit oneself Body dismembered

Eighth Court of Hell from Chinese folklore - hilarious

Ninth Court of Hell  
Crime Punishment
Robbery, murder, rape Head and arms chopped off
Any other unlawful conduct  
Neglect of the old and young Crushed under boulders

Note that there seems to have been some disagreement when divvying up the crimes among the ten courts. The Seventh Court really wanted to throw rapists into a wok of burning oil (not a bathtub or a whirlpool; a human-sized wok), but the Ninth Court felt it more appropriate to chop their heads and arms off. Is this after they’ve been deep-fried? The Ten Courts of Hell diorama left many questions unanswered.

At the Tenth Court of Hell, sinners receive final judgment. They drink a magical tea to forget their past lives, and then are reincarnated as either nobility, common man, quadruped, fowl, fish or insect.

If I had children, I’d definitely tour them through the Ten Courts of Hell. That way, when they gave me some sass, I could remind them that there’s a demon waiting in the Eighth Court of Hell to pull their intestines and organs out, after which they’ll be reincarnated as a bug. I’d make a great parent.

What I learned in Singapore part 1: How to avoid being grilled on a red hot pillar

The best part of travelling is learning about the values and traditions of other cultures. Like the Ten Courts of Hell, a vision of the afterlife recreated in dioramas at Haw Par Villa in Singapore.

Built in 1937, Haw Par still attracts local school groups and confused tourists. The Ten Courts is its most baffling exhibition. A sign out front reads: The “Ten Courts of Hell” is dedicated to the teachings of traditional Chinese folklore. Due to the graphics nature of the exhibits, viewers’ discretion and parental guidance are advised.

Despite this warning, the cavern containing the Ten Courts of Hell was full of children learning every gruesome details of the very bureaucratic division of committed crimes and corresponding punishments among the ten courts.

When you die, you either go straight to Heaven or end up at the First Court of Hell, which is guarded by ‘Horse-Face’ and ‘Ox-Head.’ 1st-horse-faceYou pass through each court and are judged based on your particular crimes. As you can see, the punishments are specific and inventive:

Second Court of Hell
Crime Punishment
Inflicting physical injury Thrown into volcanic pit
Conmen and robbers
Corruption Frozen into blocks of ice
Stealing and gambling
Prostitutes Thrown into a pool of blood and drowned
Third Court of Hell
Crime Punishment
Ungratefulness Heart cut-out
Disrespect to elders
Escape from prison
Drug addits & traffickers Tied to red hot copper pillar and grilled
Tomb robbers
Urging people into crime and social unrest

Each court has its own diorama, positioned at the eye-level of a typical primary-school student. Here you can see a prison escapee having his heart cut out, and what might be a tomb robber being grilled on a pole. 3rd-heart-cut-out-grilled

The crimes become very specific, such as in the ‘forth’ court:

Forth Court of Hell  
Crime Punishment
Tax dodger, business fraud Pounded by stone mallet
Refusal to pay rent  
Disobedience to one’s siblings Grounded by a large stone
Lack of filial piety  

Here are either some tax dodgers being pounded, or some disobedient family members being grounded, I’m not sure:

Fifth Court of Hell
Crime Punishment
Plotted another’s death for his property or money Thrown onto a hill of knives
Money lenders with exorbitant interest rates
The Viewing Home Tower is for the evildoers to see how their relatives and family are suffering as a result of their wrong-doings.

I’m not sure about that last bit of info on the Viewing Home Tower – does it mean you can just stop by and see how your ancestors are being tortured? This would be an effective deterrent to plotting another’s death.

Courts six through eight offer more examples of creative punishment – and fashion sense!