Derrick Sobodash

Hi, my name is Derrick Sobodash

I spent my first years in Detroit’s Downriver community and moved to Rochester when it was time for school. As a youth, I enjoyed taking things apart, playing with electricity, reading fantasy novels and drawing with charcoal and chalk pastels.

After high school, I enrolled in Oakland University to study computer engineering. My rhetoric teacher persuaded me to pursue a more certain path to poverty: journalism and Chinese studies.

I moved to Beijing in 2005 to teach composition at China Foreign Affairs University and joined the staff of Beijing Today in 2006. I have since been promoted to content director and deputy editor-in-chief, a position which challenges me to navigate political regulations and censorship while reshaping the paper for the digital era.

Outside of work I enjoy spending time with my wife, gardening, cooking and writing.

Think you have a job for me?

I am not accepting general freelance work because of my current commitment to Beijing Today. However, I may be persuaded to take on an exceptional project – or one that is for a good cause.

I stand by the superior quality of my work and do not accept machine-translated pieces that need “polishing.”

If you are interested in recruiting my services, you can review my latest résumé before sending an e-mail to derrick@sobodash.com to tell me what you need.

My normal hours are from 10 am–midnight, China Standard Time (UTC+8). Please send a text message in advance if you plan to call internationally.

The dark side of memes

Nehal Patel is one of the unsung heroes of Web 1.0.

Lolcats, Advice Dog, Courage Wolf, Trollface and every god-awful modern meme owes its lineage to Patel, who during his freshman year at the University of Illinois dedicated his disk space to telling the world how Mr. T ate his balls.

The page spawned countless copycats, several Webrings and an entire branch of links in Yahoo!’s directory.

Ate-My-Balls managed to grab mainstream attention via a rambling article on Salon.com and coverage by the Miami Herald’s Dave Barry.

While I never made an Ate-My-Balls site, I did end up hosting one: Faelan Ate My Balls.

In 1999, TCI came to the northern Detroit area with promises of the first dedicated, always-on Internet connection priced less than $10,000 per month. You just had to hide your Unix box from the installation crew.

My friend Justin and I got together to cannibalize the family’s broken Packard Bell Legend 100 to turn into a FreeBSD Web server.

But this post is not about my short-lived server: it&rsuo;s about Faelan.

Faelan Peregrin Aragorn exploded onto the Internet with his Faelan’s Sweetheart Contest. Or rather, his parents Jonathan and Sarah Aragorn did.

The page was made to look as though it as prepared by an innocent little boy who was looking for a girl who was “fun, slender, gentle and nice, smart, romantic and loyal.”

What can I say? Back in 1999, the mainstream Internet was rarely seeking a cancer-stricken cocaine whore who loves rough plushie sex and bondage. We were such noobs.

Hi! I am a cute (people say) young (eleven) boy (for sure) and I’m going to have a CONTEST to see which GIRL in the whole world will be the best SWEETHEART and GIRLFRIEND for me!

The only thing the site was missing was a blink tag.

While the Web mocked and giggled at Faelan’ contest and made Ate-My-Balls pages about the “little monkey man,” more serious people were asking serious questions.

Joab Jackson, a Baltimore City Paper Online columnist, wrote:

Could an 11-year-old really have designed a Web page as elaborate as this one? Could his parents really have approved of him looking for a girlfriend over the Internet? Could any parents be stupid enough to let their daughter participate in such a thing?

Today, Jackson would be branded a lulz-killer. At the time, we never heard of his article because Google didn’t exist and Webcrawler was a piece of shit.

Faelan soon updated his site to clarify his quest. He wanted a girl with “nice parents who believe that love and touching are good, and think that you should have the freedom to do all these things.”

I’m sorry, I missed that. Is he talking about fucking?

In sprite of complaints lobbed at the Web host, the page could not be removed because it was not technically engaged in illegal activity. Solicitation of sexual contact with a minor is apparently legal in Oregon.

In October 1999, the contest ended and 11-year-old Faelan vanished into the darkness of the Web.

Where did he go? I had no idea, and neither did Jackson. But being a professional journalist, he investigated.

Jonathan Aragorn, 44, a reported holder of degrees in clinical psychology, education and computer science, was convicted on multiple counts of solicitation to commit sexual abuse and criminal conspiracy to commit sexual abuse. He was sentenced on February 22, 2000, my 18th birthday, to 19 months in prison and a five-year probation.

His wife was found guilty of conspiracy and was put on a three-month probation, because women cannot be sexual predators.

If you are interested in learning more about the Faelan case since Jackson’s original report, you can read the State of Oregon v. Jonathan and Sarah Aragorn.

The crux of the parents’ defense was that Oregon Statute 163.345 provides “In any prosecution… in which the victim’s lack of consent is due solely to incapacity to consent by reason of being less than a specified age, it is a defense that the actor was less than three years older than the victim at the time of the alleged offense.”

Since this statute kept Faelan out of jail, Mr. and Mrs. Aragorn said it should apply to them as well.

The appeals disagreed and gave Jonathan a “Go Back to Jail Free” card.

This horrible story taught me a very important lesson: when I decided to open a cyber-harem for my son, I should not do it in Oregon.

But there is a happy ending to this sordid story.

In 2011, Faelan finally found a legal sweetheart and married her on Christmas Day in St. Lucie County, Florida.

 

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Sexual miseducation

When to start sex education is one of the most debated topics in modern elementary education. We debate it because, as humans, we like to pretend our intervention can halt the inevitable.

A few years ago, third grade boys at a local elementary school made the news when some educator decided the best way to teach them about sex was to make them crawl through holes and find a female classmate to make a baby.

I grew up in the United States during the Ronald Reagan years.

I remember the weekly Legend of Zelda slot of the Super Mario Bros. Super Show being canceled so they could run footage of cranes busting apart the Berlin Wall on Friday, December 22, 1989: Day Two of the demolition, so let there be no question of my ’80s street cred.

In the two decades since, I’ve learned that humans will fuck regardless of the age at which they begin sex education.

In Michigan, “sex education” began at age nine with a video.

On that special day, our four fourth grade class was split up. The girls were led across the brown carpet and out through the white-brick hallway by three female teachers who slammed the door behind them.

The school’s lone male educator stayed behind to deal with the boys.

And so we sat, confused and staring ahead at the screen that was supposed to answer all our sexual questions — like what in the fuck sex was.

As a nine-year-old, the closest I had come to sex was seeing a Madonna video and watching the kid was on his fourth run through the fourth grade doodle penises on my homework.

Nevertheless, the lights dimmed as they rolled-in media center television: the old cathode ray monstrosity that came seatbelted to its cart.

The screen crackled to life, and the dead blue signal gave way to images of flowers waving in the breeze.

The scene changed to a lone bee buzzing about a flower and digging around inside it, coating its hairs with rich pollen before taking off. The voice-over introduced pollination, carpels and stamen before switching to a cartoon that, to use the vernacular of our times, was full of epic fail!

The screen went blue, which made me think the VCR had failed. I soon realized that this was intentional, as the bottom of the screen turned brown.

Suddenly, a female fish swam by. I could tell she was female because she had a Ms. Pac-Man bow in her scales. Her asshole opened and a pile of black bubbles fell out all over the floor of the pond.

Moments later, an excited fish without a ribbon swam by and casually pissed all over these bubbles.

In stunning three-second-per-frame animation, the bubbles developed into baby fish that broke out and swam away for reasons left unexplained. The video then made a hard cut to a 30-second clip of a baby suckling at a woman’s breast.

The tape ended and the blue signal returned. The fever dream of sexual education was at an end. Our obviously bored teacher asked the last thing you should ask a fourth grader after such a video.

“Any questions?”

If I had access to my adult vocabulary, I might have asked, “Just one. What the fuck was that?”

I believe that fish video corrupted a generation.

It doesn’t take a degree in psychiatry to notice how the sudden interest in water sports that has taken root in this post–fish-video world.

I’m willing to bet that in twenty years, Japan will rise to the challenge of providing today’s eight-year-olds with the “unbirth” fetish porn they are sure to crave.

I can’t help but wonder if these sexual education classes are really needed. Aside from some basic clues about the life cycle, we were left with essentially no knowledge.

Condoms were not introduced until some time in eighth grade.

While I have no evidence to back this up, it is my hunch that polls about sexual activity among elementary and middle school students fail to take into account the fact that virtually every student lies about being a virgin to avoid being laughed at — even when they don’t know what a virgin is.

Now, to be fair, the video was not our only sexual education experience.

Four years later, we were given the chance to write our sexual questions on slips of paper and drop them into a sealed box “to avoid embarrassment.” That turned out to be a good move given the stunning number of boys asking things like, “What is a dildo and how do I use it?”

Today, such a question would probably require a discussion about safe practices in urethral sounding.

Our third and final bout of sex education came another four years later, this time as an entire semester on love and marriage taught during my senior year at a Catholic high school.

When the floor opened to questions, a concerned girl raised her hand to ask this:

“Is it possible for my boyfriend to pee in my vagina?”

Clearly, someone else had seen the fish video.

 

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The great adventure

No matter what language we use, death is a sticky topic for us humans: especially in common speech. Reporters can use that sterile, icy word to describe the passing of a celebrity, but we mostly avoid it in polite conversation.

Your cat can die. Your phone’s battery can die. Your computer’s network connection can die.

But grandma? Grandma doesn’t die: she passes away or passes on.

Many cultures are uncomfortable with death. The ancient Egyptians simply said said someone journeyed west. That might not seem so bad in China, where the journey west was great fun for the Monkey King. Chinese people prefer head off to a whole new world! It’s more exciting than Japan, where dear grandma simply ends up lost.

World-over, you would be hard-pressed to find a culture more terrified of death and dying than modern America. Every doctor’s office in the US has a wall of pamphlets ready to introduce the odd new idea.

When an American’s number is up, he just takes the big sleep. If he’s not ready to move on up, he will go out kicking.

Americans like to kick a lot of things, especially buckets and cans. The less aggressive prefer to kiss the dust before they’ve left the building for a little slumber.

If they’re hungry, they can bite the big one or bite the dust. Queen fans seem to be the biggest on biting. I’m guessing the Eagles’ listeners prefer gambling: they cash in their chips before checking out to go climb the Golden Staircase – or, if I may nod to Led Zepplin, pay the piper and climb the Stairway to Heaven.

And what does an American do once he’s up there?

Well, after it’s curtains, he’ll be cooking for the Kennedys — if he’s a good enough cook, he might get a chance to join the angels in the sweet hereafter. Regardless of his culinary skills, he can rest assured that he will be joining the majority.

And we don’t like to think about this, but not everyone gets to climbs the staircase. Some people have to walk the downward path and spend eternity in the dread abode.

Every now and then, one unlucky guy simply fades away and ends up on the road to nowhere. If you one day find yourself stuck with nowhere to go, I suggest you roll over and give Byron’s dreamless sleep a try — it sounds like a good chance to get in a few eternal yawns.

If sleeping and staircases aren’t for you, the gangsters say you can give up the ghost and go sleep with the fishes — usually this one requires some assistance to pull off. If there’s no time to get a pair of cement shoes, you may just end up six feet under — but that’s a great place to be if you’re going into the fertilizer business!

However you choose to fade out, it seems a great chance for one last party. I’ve never been a fan of formal-wear, but traitors don’t seem to mind. They go to a necktie party when they die. Serial killers get ride the lightning – I saw that one while it was under construction at Cedar Point and it looked like a coaster fan’s wet dream.

When they’re not kidnapping Korean fishermen for ransom, pirates cover a lot of ground both here and in the hereafter. Sometimes they take a long rest on the Fiddler’s Green, but if they haven’t had enough briny sea-air, they can flag down the Flying Dutchman for eternal adventure.

The unlucky ones get dragged down to Davy Jones’s Locker.

In this modern age of science, computer geeks have one of the most creative ways to get exported to a flat file — they’re formatted. I suppose it works because, these days, most of them are Hindus.

Writers are less lucky. We tend to end up lost in translation after moving into upper-management. After that, we just go permanently out of print.

Almost every one of these adventures sounds preferable to plain vanilla death.

Yet in spite of how gaily they jest about the next great adventure, Americans squirm when someone casually mentions the “D” word.

When you get down to it, death is just a part of life, and it’s one most aren’t prepared to face. But we have to face it eventually. George Carlin said death is the one thing that’s truly democratic: everyone gets it once.

But I think I have a solution to our departing dilemma: a word so when it’s time for each of us to express-mail our soul to the god of our choice, none needs bat an eye. It’s perfect, because despite that last god reference, it works for atheists too.

“Recalled.”

Doesn’t that sound nice? “Grandpa was recalled while he was on the table. He won’t be joining us for Christmas.”

Imagine the dialogue between a nurse and a man who’s wife died in labor. “Mr. Smith, I’m sorry to inform you your wife’s labor had complications. She was recalled.”

Factories can recall bad products: some even recall old products. Car companies do it all the time — especially Firestone, famous for its tires that explode after 500 miles.

Let’s face it, products deteriorate with age, and some are way too dangerous to be allowed on the road: look no further than any 60-year-old granny behind the wheel of her Cadillac STS Child Shredder if you need an example.

So lets all try to bring this word into common use. It’s sterile enough for the politically correct, and it’s accurate.

 

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