During February in the small Hungarian town of Mohács, the townspeople dress as horned monsters, wander the town swilling spiced wine and homemade pálinka, and make as much noise as humanly possible.
Lasting for approximately one week, and ending the day before Ash Wednesday, Busójárás is a celebration and affirmation of life for the Šokci, the ethnic Croatian minority population living in Mohács. During the penultimate night of the festival, a man made of straw is carried by cart into the center of town and then burned in a bonfire while the townspeople hold hands and dance the kolo in a circle around the blaze.
Busójárás has much in common with other carnival festivals that celebrate the end of winter. However, according to the official story, the roots of the festival date back to the Battle of Mohács in 1526. As legend has it, the villagers dressed up as fearsome monsters and drove away the invading Turkish army.
The male busos wear a traditional sheepskin cloak, women’s wool stockings under men’s pants, and a carved monster mask. As master buso mask-maker Engelbert Antal believes, the buso’s mask isn’t to simply change his outer appearance—instead, it is to alter the person behind the mask. As such, each mask is crafted specifically for each buso. The woolen stockings are part of a carnival pagan tradition embracing the duality of male and female. Although there are now a few female busos, women who participate in the festival typically dress up in clothing reminiscent of female Ottoman Turks. During Carnival time, all rules are ignored and everything is permitted, and some claim that the excesses of the celebration were key to the small Šokci population’s survival in Mohács, as no one could question the parentage of children conceived during Busójárás.
During the festival there are numerous traditional music performances, costumed folk dancing, buso parades, and in between scheduled events, general mayhem. Like every Carnival celebration, alcohol is consumed in abundance, and the busos are often very, very drunk. Visitors to Busójárás should be warned that it’s nearly impossible to witness the carnival without somehow being dragged into it. It’s common for adult spectators to have flour thrown on them, be offered drinks from large flasks of spiced wine, and to be groped and/or dry-humped (albeit for comic effect) by the busos.
Admission to the festival is free, although it’s best to arrange a place to stay ahead of time. Although it is possible to stay in Mohács itself, many visitors to the festival prefer to stay in one of the pesions available to rent in the nearby wine region of Villány.
Wherever Joe Tamargo goes, people stare at his forearms. He likes it that way. Years ago, Tamargo, a resident of Rochester, New York, auctioned off space on his arms, transforming himself into a human billboard. “I just thought that would be the most visible place possible for people,” he told me. Today, they’re covered in tattoos bearing the logos of 15 different websites.
“When I tell them the story, they’re like, ‘Yo, that’s pretty cool. I’m going to check out those websites,'” Tamargo, 38, says of people who see him in public. “And then they get there and there’s nothing on the website.” Tamargo is not just a walking advertisement. He’s a walking advertisement for businesses that no longer exist.
Energetic dot-coms flush with startup cash were known in the late 1990s and 2000s for their marketing stunts. Of course, many of those businesses imploded. But unlike their expensive Super Bowl ads, tattoos aren’t so ephemeral. There are dozens, if not hundreds, of people out there with the domain names of defunct websites etched prominently and permanently on their skin, the walking detritus of zombie websites’ marketing campaigns.
In 1965 Indiana police arrested Charles Cotner and charged him with an “abominable and detestable crime against nature.” His offense? Consensual anal sex with his wife. He faced 14 years in prison. When I first learned about Cotner’s case—his attorney wrote to PLAYBOY to seek our assistance—I was appalled. His wife, who signed the complaint after the couple had argued, changed her mind and asked to have the charges dropped. But the judge refused, and Cotner served nearly three years in prison before the Playboy Foundation was able to free him.
While working to strike down absurd sex laws like the one that landed Cotner behind bars, I learned a lot about the people who want to control what goes on in American bedrooms. Those who oppose us have always had one thing in common: They are on a crusade to eliminate sex not intended for the purpose of procreation.
You might think this story has nothing to do with you or your life in America in 2012. But sadly you would be wrong. The forces that put Charles Cotner in jail are the same forces at work right now. If you want a perfect example, take a look at the controversy that continues to dog the rights of gay men and women to marry. The fight for gay marriage is, in reality, a fight for all of our rights. Without it, we will turn back the sexual revolution and return to an earlier, puritanical time.
I remember that time. When I wrote The Playboy Philosophy in the early 1960s, both oral and anal sex were illegal in 49 of the 50 states. In 10 of those states, sodomy—which was variously defined but could, in some states, include oral sex—carried a maximum sentence of 20 years. Citizens in Connecticut who engaged in oral sex faced 30 years in prison—60 years for people who lived in North Carolina. In Nevada it could mean life behind bars. It was a time when 37 states outlawed sex between unmarried people and 45 criminalized adultery. Two states even banned heavy petting.
This is the oppressive world some would have us return to. These moralists say that if sex doesn’t beget children, it’s a sin. Your sex life, your privacy rights and the rights of men and women everywhere are casualties of this belief. In Arizona, under a proposed bill women who hoped to have their health insurer cover birth control would have been forced to provide their employer with proof they were taking the pill for a medical condition—not just for the purpose of avoiding pregnancy. A new Kansas law allows a pharmacist to refuse to sell someone contraception on the grounds that such a sale could violate the pharmacist’s religious beliefs. Similar laws already exist in Arkansas, Georgia, Mississippi and South Dakota. Lawmakers in Michigan are pushing one of the most restrictive anti-abortion bills in decades, while in Texas and Pennsylvania people continue to demand the defunding of Planned Parenthood centers, which provide health care to countless women. Across America these conservatives continue to assault the rights of gays, whether by denying them the right to marry or, as in Kansas, by attempting to empower landlords, business owners and employers to discriminate against gays on religious grounds. And earlier this year, when a Republican legislator in Virginia told CNN “sodomy is not a civil right,” I thought of Charles Cotner and wondered how much time we have left before we lose all the advances of the sexual revolution.
Nearly 50 years ago in the pages of this magazine I warned that “when religion rather than reason dictates legislation, do not expect logic with your law.” Today, in every instance of sexual rights falling under attack, you’ll find legislation forced into place by people who practice discrimination disguised as religious freedom. Their goal is to dehumanize everyone’s sexuality and reduce us to using sex for the sole purpose of perpetuating our species. To that end, they will criminalize your entire sex life.
This is a religious nation, but it is also a secular one. For decades the American people have found a way to balance religious beliefs with secular freedoms. We have enjoyed freedom of religion as well as freedom from religion. These need not be incompatible. No one should have to subjugate their religious freedom, and no one should have their personal freedoms infringed. This is America and we must protect the rights of all Americans.
That’s one of the things about music that fascinates me most—how combinations of basic mathematical frequencies take on such extraordinary emotional power and suggest such meaning. I mean, how do—what are basically just sequences of vibrating tones at certain specific numeric values—make us all feel like they do? And not only that but why do we all, regardless of our cultural or ethnic origins, hearing a certain chord or tone, feel the more or less the same? I guess Jhonn was right: Angels ARE mathematical, after all.
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On the eve of Israel’s independence in 1948, as the new nation faced the challenge of building a country in the midst of war, early leaders debated many hot-button issues: what to do with Arab refugees; how to settle hundreds of thousands of immigrants; and, perhaps most unexpectedly, should raising pigs be permitted.
Pork was so controversial not just because its tasty incarnations are forbidden under Jewish law, but because the nature of Israel’s Jewish character was seen as an issue that would define the young state. Politicians and writers all weighed in on the subject. While Orthodox politicians made their case on religious grounds, even Natan Alterman, a secular poet, saw the symbolic importance of a nationwide pork ban. He wrote in a Mapai party newspaper column, “When a Jewish nation makes a pig a sine qua non, its history shudders.” Yet, many socialist Zionists philosophically rejected basing national dietary laws on traditional Judaism. Secular journalist Meir Bareli, who appreciated the gravity of the pork taboo, saw the cheap price of pork during a decadelong meat shortage as a primary reason to keep its production unrestricted.
The story of Israel’s contemporary pork industry dates back 50 years, when the Knesset passed a law banning the production of pork in Israel. The law—considered to be one of the most controversial in Israeli history—was designed with a loophole that permitted raising hogs in majority Christian regions in the North as a concession to Israel’s religious minorities and the young democracy. As a result, Christian-Arab towns became hog country. Although ultra-Orthodox politicians over the years have attempted to fully ban pork production, the law has limited the growth of the industry while simultaneously protecting Christian pork interests.
A little over a month ago, a panel of Israeli government officials recommended out of the blue that Israel change its pork law to transfer Israel’s industrial hog farms to the South to “reduce the density in which swine are raised” and regulate the farms. When pigs are the topic of the day, they usually get caught in the middle of a political firestorm. While it should come as welcome news to casual observers of Israeli politics that the government is taking an interest in the welfare of its domestic animals, moving Israel’s hogs would most likely disassociate pig farming from Israel’s Christians and could spell the beginning of the end for both Israeli-grown ham and the livelihood of Christian Arabs.
Pork is often considered more verboten than shrimp or crab (also not kosher) because over the course of millennia various peoples have persecuted Jews by singling out the pork taboo to humiliate and punish them. Greeks forced Jews to eat pork against their will during the Jerusalem conquests in 167 B.C.; the Spanish forced Jews to eat pork to prove their newfound allegiance to the Catholic Church during the Inquisition. Pork is therefore more than just a food restriction in Israel; it is symbolic of broader conflict within Israeli society, reflecting not just prosciutto preferences but, more importantly, the delicate balancing of secular and religious interests in a Jewish democracy. Over the years, religious Israelis and their secular counterparts have grown divided and tensions over religious restrictions on society have been a consistent source of political strife. Pork is a particularly thorny issue in this regard: Many secular Israelis enjoy openly, and many ultra-Orthodox Israelis try to fully ban—and have tried for decades—just as they have supported banning buses from riding on the Sabbath and shunning women who dress immodestly.
Until the 1990s, the Israeli pork industry was somewhat clandestine, but with an influx of immigrants from the former Soviet Union and a progressive Supreme Court, pork became more commonin Israel. As the political tide of the nation has swung to the right under Benjamin Netanyahu, certain pork eaters have reason to fear that the religious interests in government will attempt—as they have done many times prior—to limit pork production in Israel.
While I was in Tel Aviv last summer investigating the pork industry, Haaretz food columnist Ronit Vered explained to me that the Ministry of Agriculture scarcely pays attention to pigs. Hog farms have never been regulated quite like cattle ranches, and talk of the animal welfare has been virtually nonexistent. “There is no pig desk in the offices, nor is there a lobbying group as there is for other industries.”
The Ministry of Agriculture’s recent interest in pig farms claims to be singularly focused on the poor environmental and health conditions. It is certainly true that the farms of the North in the towns of Ibilin, Mailya, Kafr Yasif, and Nazareth are crowded and unsanitary, a fact that I corroborated by personally driving through Ibilin nearly four years ago. As much as I tried, I could not escape the noxious smell of pig excrement, even with the windows rolled up.