Notes and Comment Blog

Wonders of creation

Sep 3rd, 2015 4:59 pm | By

Seen on Twitter:

History of Astronomy ‏@hist_astro 5 hours ago
Lunar eclipse (khusuf) in Turkish version of “Wonders of Creation” by al-Qazwini, 1717 copy @walters_museum.

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The categories are equal in their relational existence

Sep 3rd, 2015 1:46 pm | By

Lori Watson, Professor of Philosophy and Director of Gender Studies at the University of San Diego, asks: What is a “woman” anyway?

Radical feminism has theorized “woman.” One of its more salient contributions for this context is showing that what it means to be a woman is not an absolute; it’s relative.

The category “woman” and the category “man,” the groups “women” and “men,” are relational. One does not socially exist without the other.   For all the vexing about nature, social categorization is what is being dealt with here.   Men without women don’t exist as socially defined. Women without men don’t exist as such either.   The categories are equal in their relational existence. Unfortunately, such equality doesn’t extend to their social substance, although we are working on it.

The categories are relational.

No doubt women who have been socialized to femininity since birth on the basis of their sex organs do have a relationship to womanness that is in some important sense particular. But so, too, do white women, Black women, Latina women, Asian women, lesbian women, poor and working class women, differently abled women, even if it is not based exclusively on their sex organs. In other words, even if one commonality among all these groups is socialization to and subjection to femininity on the basis of sex organs at birth, that does not exhaust their relation to the category woman. Femininity varies along other hierarchies. Sojourner Truth reminds of this in her “Ain’t I a woman?”[5]

Moreover, gender nonconforming persons, whether trans identified or not, are typically confronted with the hierarchy of gender in often violent and torturous ways. Socialization to masculinity is itself about socially demonstrating one’s ability to dominate. Fail at it, and what are you? A pussy. A fag. In short, a girl, a woman, someone who allows “them”selves to be penetrated, dominated.

And you get called that. You can see and hear men doing that without even going outside; you can just watch all those macho reality shows on the Discover channel.

Now return to our observation that gender is a relational category. Where do trans women stand in relation to men? (For that is the question, not how do trans woman stand solely in relation to women, as is often treated as the only question.) The radical feminist analysis revealed that femininity under conditions of male domination entails widespread forms of discrimination including sexual access for men to women on men’s terms, often with impunity, including often with force. How do trans women stand in relation to these forms of male power? Trans women are often socially marginalized, locked out of employment opportunities for gendered reasons, excluded from housing opportunities, lack basic protections for physical safety and bodily integrity, aggressed against for their perceived gender transgression, raped in order to be taught the meaning of womanhood and for who knows what other “reasons,” forced to sell their bodies for sex for sustenance, and murdered for asserting their right to exist.   That starts to sound a lot like being a woman in this world to me.

In other words it’s being someone’s “bitch.”

Concentrated animal feeding operations

Sep 3rd, 2015 12:04 pm | By

Because people talked about this on the Oliver Sacks – Temple Grandin thread: a website about CAFOs.

In the United States and other parts of the world, livestock production is becoming increasingly dominated by concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs). In a CAFO, animals are crammed by the thousands or tens of thousands, often unable to breathe fresh air, see the light of day, walk outside, peck at a plants or insects, scratch the earth, or eat a blade of grass.

Over 50 billion food animals are raised and slaughtered every year (not including massive quantities of farmed fish). Grazing and growing feed for livestock now occupy 70 percent of all agricultural land and 30 percent of the ice-free terrestrial surface of the planet. If present trends continue, meat production is predicted to double between the turn of the 21st century and 2050. Yet already, the Earth is being overwhelmed by food animals that consume massive quantities of energy and resources, whose wastes foul waterways and farmlands, and when eaten excessively, degrade our health.

Nature as Industry: The Merciless World of the CAFO

The CAFO is the ultimate expression of the industrialization of nature. If all of us knew more about the realities of modern industrial animal food production, however, one would hope that we would apply the collective brakes on this dietary, environmental, and ethical madness.

“The principle of confinement in so-called animal science is derived from the industrial version of efficiency. The designers of animal factories appear to have had in mind the example of concentration camps or prisons, the aim of which is to house and feed the greatest numbers in the smallest space at the least expense of money, labor, and attention. To subject innocent creatures to such treatment has long been recognized as heartless. Animal factories make an economic virtue of heartlessness toward domestic animals, to which we humans owe instead a large debt of respect and gratitude.”

—Wendell Berry, Stupidity in Concentration

I didn’t know that Grandin supports or defends CAFOs, though I did know she has no issue with raising animals for slaughter. I suppose in current conditions you can’t do the second without doing the first.

Swimming isn’t enough

Sep 3rd, 2015 11:42 am | By

Oh but, Christie Wilcox at Discover reports that the dolphin-assisted birth didn’t happen.

According to the documentary, Dorina did not go through with her watery plans. She went into labor at night, and thus had a natural birth on land. But, she did say she could feel the dolphins ‘sending positive energy’.

Below is my original commentary on the practice of dolphin-assisted births, from 2013. But the tl;dr version: Dolphins are wild animals. Wild animals do not make good midwives.

Because wild animals can get bitey and tossy and killy.

But there’s another quite compelling reason, which is that they’re not trained. Midwifery isn’t just hanging around sympathetically you know – midwives have to do things. Swimming isn’t enough.

Because of their friendly disposition and common occurance in aquariums, we tend to think of dolphins as trustworthy, loving creatures. But let’s get real for a minute here. Dolphins don’t eat sunshine and fart roses. They’re wild animals, and they are known to do some pretty terrible things.

Look at how their treat their women. Male dolphins are aggressive, horny devils. Males will kidnap and gang-rape females with their prehensile penises, using alliances of several males to keep females isolated from the rest of the group. As Miriam Goldstein once explained to Slate, “To keep her in line, they make aggressive noises, threatening movements, and even smack her around with their tails. And if she tries to swim away, they chase her down.” Male dolphins don’t just rape their females — they’ve also been known to assert authority by forcibly mounting other males.

They also get a kick out of beating on and killing other animals. Dolphins will toss, beat, and kill small porpoises or baby sharks for no apparent reason other than they enjoy it, though some have suggested the poor porpoises serve as practice for killing the infants of rival males. That’s right, not only do dolphins kill other animals, they kill baby dolphins using the same brutal tactics. No matter how cute they might appear, dolphins are not cuddly companions; they are real, large, ocean predators with a track record for violence — even when it comes to humans.

See? I told you they get tossy. Imagine the fun they would have with a newborn infant.

Deeply called

Sep 3rd, 2015 11:26 am | By

Apparently this is not something from the Onion.

Dorina Rosin, a “spiritual healer,” plans to give birth in the sea with the aid of dolphins. Among other benefits, Rosin and partner Maika Suneagle believe that their baby will speak dolphin.

Really? They believe that how? If they had a Chinese midwife, would they believe their baby would therefore speak Chinese?

Also, what kind of aid do they think the dolphins will give?

Do they pause to recollect that dolphins are carnivores? Do they know what a carnivore is? Would they consider giving birth on the savanna with the aid of lions?

“In 2011 and 2014 I had the privilege to learn from and with wild and free dolphins and Humpback whales in Hawaii who transformed and healed me in a very profound way,” Rosin wrote. “I felt deeply called to spend two times three months in nature – mostly by myself – and to deeply connect to this magical place of beauty and transformation inside and outside which called me home.”

That sounds fun. The giving birth part, not so much.

CBS Atlanta offers more details.

Spiritual healer Dorina Rosin and her partner Maika Suneagle are appearing in the documentary Extraordinary Births to chronicle the woman’s journey of giving birth in the sea with a dolphin as a midwife, as reported by The Daily Mail. Experts say the plan poses the risk of other local marine life, like a great white shark, showing up in the water.

Ya think? Surely sharks wouldn’t be attracted by all that blood and stuff, would they?

Child experts warn that dolphins in the wild are unpredictable and dangerous and should not be trusted around a pregnant woman or newborns.

See, even child experts know that, and I bet adult experts know it even harder.

He watched helplessly as one exhausted child drowned

Sep 3rd, 2015 10:40 am | By

Aylan Kurdi’s father says what happened – the tiny boat flipped in five-foot waves, and his two little boys and their mother drowned over the course of three hours.

The father of Galip and Aylan Kurdi, the young refugee boys from Syria whose drowning off a Turkish beach has touched a global nerve, said Thursday that his family had paid smugglers more than $2,000 for a voyage to a Greek island in a 15-foot boat that was quickly upended by five-foot waves. His wife also drowned.

“The waves were high, the boat started swaying and shaking. We were terrified,” said the father, Abdullah Kurdi, 40, a Syrian Kurd from the town of Kobani near the Turkish border. “I rushed to my kids and wife while the boat was flipping upside down. And in a second we were all drowning in the water.”

Choking back emotion as he spoke, Mr. Kurdi described how he had flailed about while trying to find his children as his wife held onto the capsized boat.

“I started pushing them up to the surface so they could breathe,” he said. “I had to shift from one to another. I think we were in the water for three hours trying to survive.”

He watched helplessly as one exhausted child drowned, he said, then he pushed the other toward the mother, “so he could at least keep his head up.”

Mr. Kurdi then apologized, saying he could no longer speak, ending the conversation.

He has a sister in Vancouver; she’s been trying to get them safely out for months.

The sister, Teema Kurdi, who moved to Canada about 20 years ago, told The Ottawa Citizen that she had applied for a visa that would have allowed the children and their parents to come as sponsored refugees.

“I was trying to sponsor them, and I have my friends and my neighbors who helped me with the bank deposits, but we couldn’t get them out, and that is why they went in the boat,” Ms. Kurdi, a hairdresser who lives in a suburb of Vancouver, British Columbia, told the newspaper. “I was even paying rent for them in Turkey, but it is horrible the way they treat Syrians there.”

Nothing was working, so the family tried the tiny boat.

Activists are sharing the photos of Aylan.

Photographs and video of Aylan’s lifeless body quickly spread across social networks in Turkey and then the rest of the world, posted by outraged observers, rights activists and reporters who suggested that the distressing images needed to be seen and could act as a catalyst for the international community to finally halt the war in Syria.

Among those who shared the images and expressed their dismay were Liz Sly, a Washington Post correspondent covering the war in Syria; Nadim Houry and Peter Bouckaert of Human Rights Watch; David Miliband, the president of the International Rescue Committee; and activists in the Syrian city of Raqqa and living under the rule of Islamic State militants.

Then there were arguments about the ethics of sharing the photo.

There were also disagreements inside newsrooms about whether to publish or even share the images. A number of reporters argued forcefully that it was necessary to confront the public with the human toll of the war in Syria, and the impact of policies that make it difficult for refugees to find asylum in Europe. But many editors were concerned about shocking their readers and wanted to avoid the appearance of trafficking in sensational images for profit.

It’s not a sensational image though. Emotive, but not sensational. There’s a difference.

By the end of the day, there was unusual agreement among the editors of newspapers across the political spectrum in Britain who decided to feature the images on their front pages, along with calls for action from Prime Minister David Cameron.

Kim Murphy, the assistant managing editor of The Los Angeles Times for foreign and national news, said there had been a consensus among the paper’s senior editors to show the boy as he was discovered, face down on the beach.

“The image is not offensive, it is not gory, it is not tasteless — it is merely heartbreaking, and stark testimony of an unfolding human tragedy that is playing out in Syria, Turkey and Europe, often unwitnessed,” she said. “We have written stories about hundreds of migrants dead in capsized boats, sweltering trucks, lonely rail lines, but it took a tiny boy on a beach to really bring it home to those readers who may not yet have grasped the magnitude of the migrant crisis.”

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But the abbreviation “poly” is already in use

Sep 2nd, 2015 6:19 pm | By

Listen up – you have to stop saying “poly” when you mean “polyamorous.” Aida Manduley says so.

In case you haven’t stumbled upon this (I just heard about it two days ago myself),  here’s the scoop—a Polynesian person on Tumblr made the following call to action:

Hey, can any polyamory blogs with a follower count please inform the palagi portion of the community that “poly” is a Polynesian community identifier, and is important to our safe spaces.
Using “polyamory” is cool just like using “polygender” and “Polyromantic” and or Polysexual” is cool. But the abbreviation “poly” is already in use.

Oh well then, that settles it. An abbreviation that’s already in use can never be used by other people for other things.

Being on the receiving end of “stop using a word” or “you’re being oppressive” isn’t an easy pill to swallow. Whenever I get called out for something—most likely ableism since it’s an axis of oppression I don’t personally experience and am still learning a lot about—there’s often a knee-jerk reaction in there. A “don’t tell me what to do” demon on my shoulder who loves getting self-righteous and hates being wrong, whose first line of defense is “it’s not even that big of a deal.”

You can tell what’s coming, though, can’t you. You can hear it far away up the tracks, just the faintest vibration so far – but it’s moving fast. She’s going to tell us that she overcomes all that because she’s such a good and justicey person.

But then I take a breath and realize I’m being ridiculous even if it’snormal.

I’m not being my best self in those moments, and I need to hold compassion for my own feelings but also push past them if they’re not serving my values of kindness and justice.

She’s so justicey she bolds that part. Her values are justice and kindness, unlike those other poopyheads who keep using the word “poly” to not mean Polynesian.

Overall, individuals and communities are perpetually trying to find ways to describe themselves and their lives, and that can be really tough especially if the words are related to identities that are devalued and marginalized. While “labels are for soup-cans” and we’re so much more complex than words could ever describe, language is a powerful thing that helps both reflect and create our world. It helps build communities, express our emotions, and even pass down our histories. It helps us name our struggles, craft banners for solidarity, and connect for change. It makes sense people have a lot of feelings about it!

She’s such a good person. She’s kind of a dull and didactic writer though. “Language is a powerful thing” – you don’t say.

Language is ever-evolving and it’s a beautiful thing when more words can become available, when more ways of understanding our world are accessible. But that doesn’t happen without friction. Sometimes our knee-jerk reactions to new words or identities come from a place of holding onto what we’ve been taught and being uncomfortable with change.

Oh gosh, that’s so wrong of us.

What I mean is that we need to hold space for growth and be willing to move in new directions with our terminology—that regardless of how defensive our initial “Don’t Tell Me What To Do” shoulder-demons might be, we MUST move in a direction of empathy and kindness, particularly to those in marginalized communities with long legacies of experiencing colonialism and other forms of structural oppression.

Like Polynesians, god damn it. Their name starts with poly so that’s their word, you colonialist shoulder-demon shits.

So what we’re talking about here is clarity as well as empathy and willingness to listen.

Whether these Tumblr folks represent a few dozen, a few hundred, or a fewthousand, the questions remain the same: what are we, non-Polynesian “poly” people and our allies, going to do to provide clarity to our language and stand in solidarity with however many Polynesians want this change? More importantly, what does this situation, and the pushback from members of “the polyamorous community,” tell us about language adoption and resistance to change in our communities?

Um…that we’re doing it wrong? That we should apologize and promise never to do it again? That we’re not nice people after all? That we don’t bold things enough?

As someone in the sexuality field AND a polyamorous person with a big tech geek streak, I value useful search terms and disambiguation. Heck, as a super Type A person that drools over nice spreadsheets, regardless of other sexual or racial identities, I think it’s crucial that we make the Internet an easier, more organized place to browse.

Bahahahahahaha, I’m happy for her and her nice spreadsheets identity, but I’m still calling my parrot Polly and she can’t stop me.


When Sacks met Grandin

Sep 2nd, 2015 5:53 pm | By

The Temple Grandin chapter of An Anthropologist on Mars was originally an article in the New Yorker.

Kanner and Asperger had looked at autism clinically, providing descriptions of such fullness and accuracy that even now, fifty years later, they can hardly be bettered. But it was not until the nineteen-seventies that Beate Hermelin and Neil O’Connor and their colleagues in London, trained in the new discipline of cognitive psychology, focussed on the mental structure of autism in a more systematic way. Their work (and that of Lorna Wing, in particular) suggested that in all autistic individuals there was a core problem, a consistent triad of impairments: impairment of social interaction with others, impairment of verbal and nonverbal communication, and impairment of play and imaginative activities. The appearance of these three together, they felt, was not fortuitous; all were expressive of a single, fundamental developmental disturbance. Autistic people, they felt, had no true concept of, or feeling for, other minds, or even of their own; they had, in the jargon of cognitive psychology, no “theory of mind.” However, this is only one hypothesis among many; no theory, as yet, encompasses the whole range of phenomena to be seen in autism.

The article was published in December 1993; there’s doubtless been a lot more research on autism in those 22 years.

He went to meet Grandin at Colorado State University, where she was an assistant professor in the Animal Sciences Department.

She sat me down with little ceremony, no preliminaries, no social niceties, no small talk about my trip or how I liked Colorado. Her office, crowded with papers, with work done and to do, could have been that of any academic, with photographs of her projects on the wall, and animal knickknacks she had picked up on her travels. She plunged straight into talking of her work, speaking of her early interests in psychology and animal behavior, how they were connected with self-observation and a sense of her own needs as an autistic person, and how this had joined with the visualizing and engineering part of her mind to point her toward the special field she had made her own: the design of farms, feedlots, corrals, slaughterhouses—systems of many sorts for animal management.

She talked rather relentlessly, and after an hour he had to stop hoping she would offer him coffee and just say he needed some.

There was no “I’m sorry, I should have offered you some before,” no intermediacy, no social junction. Instead, she immediately took me to a coffeepot that was kept brewing in the secretaries’ office upstairs. She introduced me to the secretaries in a somewhat brusque manner, giving me the feeling, once again, of someone who had learned, roughly, “how to behave” in such situations without having much personal perception of how other people felt—the nuances, the social subtleties involved.

Later they had dinner, then went for a walk.

What, I wondered as we walked through the horsetails, of Temple’s cosmogony? How did she respond to myths, or to dramas? How much did they carry meaning for her? I asked her about the Greek myths. She said that she had read many of them as a child, and that she thought of Icarus in particular—how he had flown too near the sun and his wings had melted and he had plummeted to his death. “I understand Nemesis and Hubris,” she said. But the loves of the gods, I ascertained, left her unmoved—and puzzled. It was similar with Shakespeare’s plays. She was bewildered, she said, by Romeo and Juliet (“I never knew what they were up to”), and with “Hamlet” she got lost with the back-and-forth of the play. Though she ascribed these problems to “sequencing difficulties,” they seemed to arise from her failure to empathize with the characters, to follow the intricate play of motive and intention. She said that she could understand “simple, strong, universal” emotions but was stumped by more complex emotions and the games people play. “Much of the time,” she said, “I feel like an anthropologist on Mars.”

That put her at a disadvantage with people, but over the years she built up what she calls a library of experience, which helps her be less vulnerable to cheaters.

In one plant she had designed, she said, there had been repeated breakdowns of the machinery, but these occurred only when a particular man, John, was in the room. She “correlated” these incidents and inferred at last that John must be sabotaging the equipment. “I had to learn to be suspicious, I had to learn it cognitively. I could put two and two together, but I couldn’t see the jealous look on his face.” Such incidents have not been uncommon in her life: “It bends some people out of shape that this autistic weirdo can come in and design all the equipment. They want the equipment, but it galls them that they can’t do it themselves, but that Tom”—an engineering colleague—“and I can, that we’ve got hundred-thousand-dollar Sun workstations in our heads.” In her ingenuousness and gullibility, Temple was at first a target for all sorts of tricks and exploitations; this sort of innocence or guilelessness, arising not from moral virtue but from failure to understand dissembling and pretense (“the dirty devices of the world,” in Traherne’s phrase), is almost universal among the autistic.

Whereas we “normal” people know all about dissembling, as victims and as perps. Do it to them before they do it to you.

Then he gets to the part about how her autism enables her to understand animals.

…we drove out to the university’s experimental farm, where Temple does much of her basic field work. I had earlier thought there might be a separation, even a gulf, between the personal—and, so to speak, private—realm of her autism and the public realm of her professional expertise. But it was becoming increasingly clear to me that they were hardly separated at all; for her, the personal and the professional, the inward and the outward, were completely fused.

“Cattle are disturbed by the same sorts of sounds as autistic people—high-pitched sounds, air hissing, or sudden loud noises; they cannot adapt to these,” Temple told me. “But they are not bothered by low-pitched, rumbling noises. They are disturbed by high visual contrasts, shadows or sudden movements. A light touch will make them pull away, a firm touch calms them. The way I would pull away from being touched is the way a wild cow will pull away—getting me used to being touched is very similar to taming a wild cow.” It was precisely her sense of the common ground (in terms of basic sensations and feelings) between animals and people that allowed her to show such sensitivity to animals, and to insist so forcefully on their humane management.

One more passage:

I was struck by the enormous difference, the gulf, between Temple’s immediate, intuitive recognition of animal moods and signs and her extraordinary difficulties understanding human beings, their codes and signals, the way they conducted themselves. One could not say that she was devoid of feeling or had a fundamental lack of sympathy. On the contrary, her sense of animals’ moods and feelings was so strong that these almost took possession of her, overwhelmed her at times. She feels she can have sympathy for what is physical or physiological—for an animal’s pain or terror—but lacks empathy for people’s states of mind and perspectives. When she was younger, she was hardly able to interpret even the simplest expressions of emotion; she learned to “decode” them later, without necessarily feeling them.

That’s only about halfway through. It’s a magnificent article.


Three memories of Oliver Sacks

Sep 2nd, 2015 5:14 pm | By

Wired got some scientists to talk about what Oliver Sacks had meant to them.

Temple Grandin is the first.

A few weeks ago, I read an editorial he wrote about the Sabbath. He was originally brought up as an Orthodox Jew, but he decided to go another route, and at the end of the article he writes, “What if A and B and C had been different? What sort of person might I have been? What sort of a life might I have lived?” I just burst into tears in front of the computer reading that. I was crying so much I couldn’t even print it out. I sent him this card just before he died:

I started crying at the end of the article when you said, “What if A and B and C had been different?” If that had happened our paths probably would have never crossed. You have made a big difference in my life. Your life has been worthwhile, and you helped many people doing things to enlighten and help others to understand the meaning of life.

If Oliver had decided to stay an Orthodox Jew, his whole life of writing would have never happened. He just gave people so much insight into how the brain works. He just added so much to the literature of how the mind works, especially when the mind is a so-called not normal mind. He really got inside these minds. He got inside my mind.

As told to Sarah Zhang.

Daniel J Levitin, a neuroscientist and writer:

Oliver taught all of us about the power and joy that come from being curious. Oliver was curious about a great many things: absolute pitch, insects, hallucinations, mind-altering experiences (either drug- or injury-induced), perceptual disorders, and theater are just a few. He loved Mozart, 3-D viewscopes, the chemical elements, swimming, and ferns.

Like Freud, Oliver wrote compelling accounts of his patients. But in Oliver’s hands, these accounts became literature. He created the genre of medical case studies as popular literature, opening the door for the many lay books about the brain that have followed. But no other writer brings his sense of the literary, the comic and the tragic, and his sense of humanity to scientific writing.

As I saw him do on so many other occasions, he left all my students in that room ten years ago feeling as though they had done him a favor, for he had learned so much that was new to him. Oliver has now left this room and has done all of us an enormous favor by igniting our curiosity and showing us that science and compassion, rationalism and love, can feed one another.

Bradley Voytek, cognitive scientist:

The fact that I, a practicing neuroscientist, can openly admit to giving a shit about the human side of neuroscience without fearing “outing” myself as a soft thinker is in no small part due to artistry of Dr. Sacks’ blend of scientific rationality and human empathy. That’s an incredibly difficult line to walk when you’re faced with the existential reality that the very thing that makes us who we are can be changed in some way—for example by neurological trauma or injury—and can therefore change basic aspects of our perception and personality.

Dr. Sacks, through sheer force of compassion, reminded us, as a scientific field, that the very thing that makes neuroscience most frightening—its ability to expose our humanness as being tied to our physical self—is also why it’s so important for us to pursue it.


You become so afraid of the world out there

Sep 2nd, 2015 3:39 pm | By

British three-year-olds have been told “the non-Jews” are “evil” in a Kindergarten worksheet handed out at ultra-Orthodox Jewish schools in north London, it can be revealed.

Documents seen by The Independent show children are taught about the horrors of the Holocaust when they are still in kindergarten at the Beis Rochel boys’ school in north London.

A whistle-blower, who wished to remain anonymous, has shown The Independent a worksheet given to boys aged three and four at the school…

The document refers to Nazis only as “goyim” – a term for non-Jews some people argue is offensive.

The issue isn’t so much that it’s “offensive,” I would think, but that it implies that all non-Jews are genocidal fascists.

Emily Green, who used to teach at the same Beis Rochel girls’ secondary school, now chairs the Gesher EU organisation which supports ultra-Orthodox Jews who want to leave the community.

“It’s not uncommon to be taught non-Jewish people are evil in ultra-Orthodox Jewish schools. It is part of the prayers, teaching, their whole ethos,” she said.

Describing it as a form of “indoctrination”, Ms Green added:  “Psychologically, you become so afraid of the world out there after being taught how dangerous and bad and evil non-Jews are, that it makes it harder to leave.”

That sounds like the Amish…like Quiverfull and other drastic Christian cults…like Islamism…Like the FLDS…It sounds like all theocratic cults. They all teach their members that the entire world outside the cult is evil and demonic, and that makes it much harder to leave.

Independently translated from Yiddish for The Independent, the worksheet’s first question reads: “What have the evil goyim (non-Jews) done with the synagogues and cheders [Jewish primary schools]?” The answer in the completed worksheet reads: “Burned them.”

Another question asks: “What did the goyim want to do with all the Jews?” – to which the answer, according to the worksheet, is: “Kill them.”.

“It doesn’t explicitly refer to the Holocaust,” the source said. “It’s a document that teaches very young children to be very afraid and treat non-Jews very suspiciously because of what they did to us in the past.”

It’s just sick.

For an evening of solidarity

Sep 2nd, 2015 11:31 am | By

A PEN event in Brooklyn September 16

Roulette, 509 Atlantic Avenue, Brooklyn, NY 11217

Free and open to the public.

As the fight for freedom of speech in Bangladesh continues, artists of Bangladeshi origin take the stage to commemorate the voices of four recently slain bloggers, and protest the threat looming over more than 70 other Bangladeshi intellectuals, many of whom are in hiding. Join them at Roulette for an evening of solidarity, live music, and readings to condemn the assassinations of Avijit Roy, Oyasiqur Babu, Ananta Bijoy Das, and Niloy Neel, and to celebrate writing. Featuring Farah Mehreen Ahmad, Abeer Y. Hoque, Majib Hoque, Tanwi Nandini Islam, Javed Jahangir, and Anik Khan. The evening will also feature a statement from Karin Deutsch Karlekar, Director of Free Expression Programs at PEN America.

This is an official Brooklyn Book Festival Bookend Event, co-presented with Roulette and PEN American Center.

Farah Mehreen Ahmad is a Brooklyn-based Bangladeshi writer, researcher and translator. Her work has appeared in The Daily Star, New Age, Forum magazine, Eclectica, Popular Anthropology Magazine, etc. She is currently working on a novel and a collection of short stories. Some of her work can be found at

Abeer Y. Hoque is a Nigerian born Bangladeshi American writer and photographer. She is the author of the linked story collection, The Lovers and the Leavers (HarperCollins India 2015), and a coffee table book, The Long Way Home (Ogro Bangladesh, 2013). Her memoir, Olive Witch, is forthcoming from HarperCollins India (2016). She is a Fulbright Scholar and NEA Literature Fellow, and her writing and photography have been published inGuernica, ZYZZYVA, 580 Split, The Daily Star, and Wasafiri, among others. She has degrees from University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business, an MFA in Writing from the University of San Francisco. See more at

Majib Hoque is a Queens based Bangladeshi American playwright, actor, and director. He is an anchor for Bangla TV, and belongs to Bohubachan Theatre Group, which has had both local and off Broadway performances.

Tanwi Nandini Islam is the author of the novel Bright Lines. She is a writer, multimedia artist, and founder of Hi Wildflower Botanica, a handcrafted natural perfume and skincare line. Her writing has appeared on,, and, and in the Feminist Wire, Open City, and Hyphen magazine. A graduate of Vassar College and Brooklyn College’s MFA program, she lives in Brooklyn. You can visit her website at

Javed Jahangir’s fiction has been published in HIMAL magazine, Smokelong Journal, LOST Magazine (picked by Peter Orner), LUMINA Literary Journal (Sarah Lawrence College), Bengal Lights Literary Journal, The Daily Star, Bangladesh and others. He is a founding member of, a website of daily literary essays. He was on the 2011 panel of judges for the RISCA (Rhode Island State Council Arts) Fiction Fellowship award. He has contributed to, and been editor-in-chief for The Grub Street Writers’ 10 year Anthology, and has been a reader for the Harvard Review. His novel Ghost Alley was published by Bengal Foundation 2014.

Born in Dhaka, Anik Khan immigrated to the United States with his family at an early age and settled in Queens, NY where he describes his low-income building as a true melting pot of different ethnicities sharing the same daily struggles. Despite his neighborhood’s rough exterior, he found beauty and inspiration in the spirited hustle in his neighbors. Today, his music reflects the cultures that surrounded him throughout his upbringing. He raps from a first generation perspective but speaks to a worldwide audience—a true representation of hip-hop’s universal appeal.

If I were in Brooklyn I would so go to that. I would go to it if I were in the Bronx.

While sweeping up the feathers

Sep 2nd, 2015 11:04 am | By

The pope cleans up.

VATICAN CITY—Hurrying outside after hearing a disturbingly loud thud against the side of the church, Pope Francis was reportedly left to clean up the remains of a dead angel Monday that flew straight into one of the Sistine Chapel’s windows. “It’s really sad; it seems like one of these guys crashes into a window at least once a week,” said the pontiff, who appeared visibly distressed while sweeping up the feathers scattered around the angel’s lifeless body.

They should put pieces of tape on the windows, or tint them, or do something so that the poor angels don’t think they’re apertures in the walls.

At press time, the Bishop of Rome was attempting to scrape off an angel splattered on the windshield of the Popemobile.

Nothing they can do about that – the windshield has to be clear.


A marriage license which conflicts with God’s definition of marriage

Sep 2nd, 2015 10:15 am | By

Kim Davis has one job to do.

The job of Rowan County clerk is not one you take seeking celebrity. It mostly involves shuffling paper: maintaining voter registration rolls, overseeing elections, issuing license plates, filing reports on the goings-on in the small northeastern Kentucky county of roughly 23,000. The elections for the position are uneventful and remarkably civil — the local Morehead News published just one story about the most recent campaign, remarking on how unusual it was for the job to be contested.

It’s absurd that it even is an elective position; it should be a civil service job, filled on the basis of qualifications.

“My words can never express the appreciation,” she said of the constituents who voted for her, “but I promise to each and every one that I will be the very best working clerk that I can be and will be a good steward of their tax dollars and follow the statutes of this office to the letter.”

Whoops no she didn’t mean that! She totally takes it back lol!

Davis’s defiance of a court order to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples has put her in an unbidden spotlight and at odds with that Election Day promise. She faces official misconduct charges and a hearing to determine whether she is in contempt of court.

On account of how she’s refusing to do a part of her job. It’s her job, and she’s refusing to do it.

Since June, when the Supreme Court ruled that gay couples have a constitutional right to wed, Davis has asked to be excused from issuing marriage licenses to anyone on the grounds that licensing a same-sex marriage would violate her religious beliefs.

Those aren’t really her religious beliefs, they’re just her ugly prejudices, dressed up as “religious beliefs.”

In doing so, the longtime public servant has evoked the anger of couples who say it’s their right to be married in their home county by the clerk whose salary comes from their tax dollars.

“I pay your salary,” David Moore insisted Tuesday, leaning over Davis’s desk after she refused to issue a license to him and his partner, David Ermold. “I pay you to discriminate against me right now, that’s what I’m paying for.”

Davis isn’t the only clerk to reject the Supreme Court’s ruling, but she is certainly the most notorious. That’s in part because of a now viral video that Moore and Ermold filmed in July during their first attempt to obtain a marriage license in Rowan County.

But Davis is also the most outspoken of the holdout clerks — she has issued a statement explaining her stance on the issue and is being represented by the public interest law firm Liberty Counsel, which provides free legal assistance for “advancing religious freedom, the sanctity of life and the family,” according to its Web site. The Southern Poverty Law Center has called the firm an “anti-LGBT hate group.”

Let’s check out that statement she made.

I have worked in the Rowan County Clerk’s office for 27 years as a Deputy Clerk and was honored to be elected as the Clerk in November 2014, and took office in January 2015. I love my job and the people of Rowan County. I have never lived any place other than Rowan County. Some people have said I should resign, but I have done my job well. This year we are on track to generate a surplus for the county of 1.5 million dollars.

In addition to my desire to serve the people of Rowan County, I owe my life to Jesus Christ who loves me and gave His life for me. Following the death of my godly mother-in-law over four years ago, I went to church to fulfill her dying wish. There I heard a message of grace and forgiveness and surrendered my life to Jesus Christ. I am not perfect. No one is. But I am forgiven and I love my Lord and must be obedient to Him and to the Word of God.

I never imagined a day like this would come, where I would be asked to violate a central teaching of Scripture and of Jesus Himself regarding marriage. To issue a marriage license which conflicts with God’s definition of marriage, with my name affixed to the certificate, would violate my conscience. It is not a light issue for me. It is a Heaven or Hell decision.

“God’s definition of marriage”? What’s that exactly? Where did God write down a definition of marriage? Does it square with all those men married to multiple women? In the bible?

For me it is a decision of obedience. I have no animosity toward anyone and harbor no ill will. To me this has never been a gay or lesbian issue. It is about marriage and God’s Word. It is a matter of religious liberty, which is protected under the First Amendment, the Kentucky Constitution, and in the Kentucky Religious Freedom Restoration Act. Our history is filled with accommodations for people’s religious freedom and conscience. I want to continue to perform my duties, but I also am requesting what our Founders envisioned – that conscience and religious freedom would be protected. That is all I am asking.

“All” she is asking is to be allowed to refuse to do a part of her job, because of an imaginary “definition of marriage” from god itself. That’s asking too much.

On the family blog

Sep 2nd, 2015 9:52 am | By

Oh dear, Josh Duggar is being unsubmissive and disobedient. That’s not very quiverfull of him.

Former “19 Kids and Counting” star Josh Duggar went into a Christian rehab after he was exposed for cheating on wife Anna in the Ashley Madison hack, but now his whereabouts might be unknown, Radar Online reported Tuesday. Duggar reportedly entered the Reformers Unanimous treatment center, in Rockford, Illinois, which his parents publicly have supported, to treat his admitted porn addiction, but the eldest Duggar sibling has not shown up to church services and meetings mandated by the program.

Well, his messing around on the side without his wife’s knowledge or submission (we have to assume there’s no such thing as “consent” from a subordinate to her boss) isn’t a crime, unlike the sexual molestation of underage girls. It’s not a crime so it’s not really anyone’s business whether he showed up to church services or not.

Except that he has made everyone else’s business his business, by being Mr Family Leadership guy, so to some extent we get to return the favor. Not to mention the whole tv thing, where they get to advertise the joys of having 19 children and talking about god all the time, so we sort of get to peer at them when they do a pratfall.

The disgraced father of four, who was previously involved in a sex scandal for fondling his younger sisters, entered rehab Aug. 25. “Yesterday Josh checked himself into a long-term treatment center,” his mother, Michelle, wrote on the family blog. “For him it will be a long journey toward wholeness and recovery. We pray that in this he comes to complete repentance and sincere change.”

Yeah see it’s not just a “scandal.” Molesting children is not just a scandal.

Anyway. Creepy Josh is hiding out somewhere. Maybe he’s working on new campaigns against same-sex marriage.

Imagine if religion could get that kind of protection

Sep 2nd, 2015 9:13 am | By

My friend Author has been paying attention.


Sep 1st, 2015 6:27 pm | By

Godalmighty, these people.


Christopher J Benton ‏@ChrisJBenton 1 hour ago
@MAMelby @ImprobableJoe Your call of course, but it’s probably best to leave Milophelia alone. There’s nothing left you can usefully say.

@MAMelby @ImprobableJoe To be fair, Milo’s articles are largely text he wrote himself. OK, OK, I’ll be nice now.

M. A. Melby ‏@MAMelby 24 minutes ago
@ChrisJBenton @ImprobableJoe Zing!

But they’re nothing like the slime pit. Good heavens no. Comparing me to Milo Yiannopoulos is nothing like the slime pit at all whatsoever, plus it’s totally rational and evidence-based and humanistic.

Chris Benton used to put a lot of energy into tracking down some of the Twitter harassers; now he acts like one. Sucks to be him.

Where misuse can get you savaged on the Internet

Sep 1st, 2015 5:19 pm | By

David Auerbach on the uses of Wittgenstein.

Wittgenstein’s first period, culminating in 1921’s Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus(which Pears had co-translated), drew heavily on Bertrand Russell’s work in philosophical logic and made a huge impact on the logical positivist movement of the time, which would later in turn influence computer science, artificial intelligence, and linguistics. The Tractatus makes an ambitious and ostensibly definitive attempt to chart out the relationship between language and the world.

Then he went away and did other things for ten years (like teaching school and beating up his students, for instance), and then he said no that was all wrong, and started over.

Language did not have such a fixed, eternal relation to reality bound by logic. The process of “measuring” the truth of a statement against reality was neither objective nor cleanly delineated. The meaning of what we say can’t be abstracted away from the context in which we say it: “We are unable clearly to circumscribe the concepts we use; not because we don’t know their real definition, but because there is no real ‘definition’ to them,” Wittgenstein wrote. Instead, our speech acts are grounded in a set of social practices.

The idea of words having relative meanings was not new, but Wittgenstein pioneered the controversial linguistic conception of meaning-as-use, or the idea that the meanings of words, relative or not, cannot be specified in isolation from the life practices in which they are used. Instead, language should be studied from the starting point of its practices, rather from abstractions to syntax and semantics. As Wittgenstein put it, “Speaking a language is part of an activity, or of a form of life.”

And since we don’t all have the same form of life, we don’t always understand each other very well.

It means that instead of a word having a fixed definition or referent, a word is an evolving entity that carries its own history with it through time, picking up new nuances and discarding old ones as practices (linguistic and life) shift. This is trivially true in a sense, as you can see from dictionaries grudgingly accepting that literally now also means “not literally” and me grudgingly accepting that begging the question will usually mean “raising the question” for the rest of my natural life and I should just start saying petitio principii instead. But the implications are more troublesome when you get to nouns, especially as they get more abstract. The usage of dog has remained somewhat consistent over the years, but try defining love or heavy or Russia in any kind of complete or precise way. You can’t do it, yet we use these words with confidence every day.

I’ve known that since forever – I noticed long ago how shit I am at defining words, which seemed surprising since using them is my one skill. Witters seems to be talking about that, if I’m understanding correctly (which I’m probably not, because who knows what David Auerbach’s form of life is…).

So, language is quicksand—except it’s not. Unlike the parlor tricks of the deconstructionists who bloviate about différance and traces, there clearly are rules that shouldn’t be broken and clearly ways of speaking that are blatantly incorrect, even if they change over time and admit to flexible interpretations even on a daily basis. It’s just that explicitly delineating those boundaries is extremely difficult, because language is not built up through organized, hierarchical rules but from the top down through byzantine, overlapping practices. Some things can be pinned down with practical certainty, just notin isolation and without context.

And you know what didn’t know that at first? AI, that’s what!

Artificial intelligence was quite slow at learning this lesson. Well into the 1970s, it was still assumed that computers could understand natural language in more or less the same way that they could understand formal logic: by interpreting them as propositions that were either true or false. The efforts in this direction have, on the whole, been remarkably unsuccessful.

And these difficulties are exactly why Google succeeded—by ignoring semantics as much as possible, sticking instead to whatever it could glean without trying to understand the meaning of words or sentences. Google could count the popularity of a word, see which words co-occur with others, figure out which people where use which words—anything as long as it didn’t require determining where and how one should use a word. In very limited, circumscribed situations, like asking questions of certain specified forms, computers can figure out what you mean, and even then things are very limited. Google can answer, “How many ounces in a pound?” but still can’t tell me “How many years has Obama been in office?” Picking up on “Obama” and “years” and “in office,” Google returns some data about his 2012 re-election, but that’s as far as it gets in “understanding” my question. The problem, as summed up by Wittgenstein: “Understanding a sentence means understanding a language.”

Hmmm. In a way Google has taught me that – at least, it’s taught me not to ask a complete-sentence question like “How many years has Obama been in office?” but rather give it the key words and hope it figures it out – which it often does. I would make it something like “How long Obama president” –

*Googles it*

Ha! The top answer is 6’1″ of course, but the second is the answer in years days hours seconds. Google has taught me to talk to it.

And all this also explains why we’re always brawling with each other on the internet. It probably even explains the pathetic degeneration of Purethought blogs.

Wittgenstein’s philosophy also accounts for the disastrous state of Internet discourse today. The shift to online communication, textual interactions separated from accompanying physical practices, has had a persistent and egregious warping effect on language, and one that most people don’t even understand. It has made linguistic practice more limited, more universal, and more ambiguous. More people interact with one another without even realizing they are following different rules for words’ usages. There is no time or space to clarify one’s self—especially on Twitter.

It is this phenomenon that has affected political and ethical discourse in particular. To take some hot-button issues, use of the words privilege and feminism and racism is so hopelessly contentious that it’s not even worth asking for a definition—even if you get one, no one else will agree with it. In situations where misuse can get you savaged on the Internet, I’ve simply stopped using a word. Let me know when everyone else has worked it out.

Hahahahaha yeah been there.

On the other hand – if that were completely true, we wouldn’t be able to read each other’s essays and columns and books. I wouldn’t like Montaigne and Hazlitt and Pollitt and Goldberg. I wouldn’t have friends via the Internet whom I still haven’t alienated (and vice versa). We can use language in such a way that it doesn’t push us off a cliff…but there are traps all along the road.

Bullying in Hillsboro

Sep 1st, 2015 3:57 pm | By

This is just cruelty: students walk out of class to protest a trans student’s use of the girls’ restroom.

More than 100 students at Hillsboro High School, about an hour south of St Louis, walked out of class on Monday in protest.

“I’m hoping this dies down,” said Lila Perry, the 17-year-old who began identifying as a girl publicly in February. “I don’t want my entire senior year to be like this.”

Ms. Perry, who began feeling “more like a girl than a boy” when she was 13, said school officials gave her permission to use the girls’ facilities as the new school year began.

It’s not just kids feeling squicked out – there’s something more sinister behind it. I bet you can guess what.

“My goal is for the district and parents to have a policy discussion,” said Derrick Good, a lawyer who has two daughters in the district and wants students to use either facilities based on their biological sex or other gender-neutral facilities.

He worked with the Alliance Defending Freedom, a Christian advocacy group, to draft a “student physical privacy policy” and submit it to the district, which has about 3,500 students.

Uh huh huh – the god squad is behind it. It’s god’s plan for people with dicks to use the BOY cans and that’s the end of the story. It’s in Deuteronomy somewhere – thou shalt not use the toilet facility designated for the sex that is not thine own from birth.

The protesting students assembled outside the school for about two hours. Mr. Cornman said he did not believe any of them were penalized.

Ms. Perry, who dropped out of the physical education class that prompted her use of the girls’ locker room, spent the two hours in her guidance counselor’s office.

“I was concerned about my own safety,” she said.

She said she knows of other, younger transgender students in the district and wants to open a dialogue so they have a better high school experience.

“It feels really awful that people are going to these extremes against me, not just in school but all over the Internet,” Ms. Perry said. “But I’ve also received so much support. It feels really surreal to be in the middle of all of this.”

The Missouri Gay-Straight Alliance Network will host a rally supporting Ms. Perry on Friday.

Everybody should relax. The “activists” who spend their time monitoring heretical bloggers should relax, and the people who persecute trans teenagers (and adults) should relax. We put a rover on Mars, we can figure out this restroom thing. I say put in cubicles and be done with it.

With gender as the contested territory

Sep 1st, 2015 1:34 pm | By

From a 2013 piece by Delilah Campbell at Trouble and Strife about the [cough] tensions between feminism and trans activism:

It is notable that the policing of what can or cannot be said about trans in public is almost invariably directed against women who speak from a feminist, and especially a radical feminist, perspective. It might be thought that trans people have far more powerful adversaries (like religious conservatives, the right-wing press and some members of the medical establishment), and also far more dangerous ones (whatever radical feminists may say about trans people, they aren’t usually a threat to their physical safety). And yet a significant proportion of all the political energy expended by or on behalf of trans activism is expended on opposing and harassing radical feminists.

It is indeed; it’s very notable, and alarming. Religious conservatism and the right-wing press roll along happily, unbothered by trans activism, while feminism is being plowed up and sown with salt. It’s just barely possible that this is not entirely healthy for feminism.

But this isn’t just some misunderstanding, Campbell says. It’s basic.

When trans activists identify feminists as the enemy, they are not just being illogical or petty. Some trans activists refer to their feminist opponents as TERFs, meaning ‘trans-exclusive radical feminists’, or ‘trans-exterminating radical feminists’. The epithet is unpleasant, but the acronym is apt: this is very much a turf dispute, with gender as the contested territory.

At its core, the trans struggle is a battle for legitimacy. What activists want to get accepted is not just the claim of trans people for recognition and civil rights, but the whole view of gender and gender oppression on which that claim is based. To win this battle, the trans activists must displace the view of gender and gender oppression which is currently accorded most legitimacy in progressive/liberal circles: the one put forward by feminists since the late 1960s.

Aaaaaaaand that’s what I (for one) think should not be displaced.

Views of gender are already contested, Campbell concedes, but all the same –

But in fact, the two propositions about gender which trans activists are most opposed to are not confined to radical feminism: both go back to what is often regarded as the founding text of all modern feminism, Simone de Beauvoir’s 1949 classic The Second Sex, and they are still asserted, in some form or other, by almost everyone who claims any kind of feminist allegiance, be it radical, socialist or liberal. The first of these propositions is that gender as we know it is socially constructed rather than ‘natural’; the second is that gender relations are power relations, in which women are structurally unequal to men. On what exactly these statements mean and what they imply for feminist politics there is plenty of internal disagreement, but in themselves they have the status of core feminist beliefs. In the last 15 years, however, these propositions—especially the first one—have become the target of a sustained attack: a multi-pronged attempt to take the turf of gender back from feminism.


Among the prongs are gender essentialism (e.g. Simon Baron-Cohen and Steven Pinker) and libertarian ideas about choice.

Across the political spectrum, it has become commonplace to argue that what really ‘empowers’ people is being able to choose: the more choices we have, and the freer we are to make them, the more powerful we will be. Applied to gender, what this produces is ‘post-feminism’, an ideology which dispenses with the idea of collective politics and instead equates the liberation of women with the exercise of individual agency. The headline in which this argument was once satirized by The Onion—‘women now empowered by anything a woman does’—is not even a parody: this is the attitude which underpins all those statements to the effect that if women choose to be housewives or prostitutes, then who is anyone (read: feminists) to criticize them?

So choosy choosers choose their own flavor of gender, and if that’s being Michelle Duggar, well that’s their choosy choice.

Current trans politics, like feminism, cannot be thought of as an internally unified movement whose members all make exactly the same arguments. But although there are some dissenting voices, in general the views of gender and gender oppression which trans activists promote are strongly marked by the two tendencies just described.

In the first place, the trans account puts little if any emphasis on gender as a power relation in which one group (women) is subordinated to/oppressed by the other (men). In the trans account, gender in the ‘men and women’ sense is primarily a matter of individual identity: individuals have a sovereign right to define their gender, and have it recognized by society, on the basis of who they feel themselves to be. But I said ‘gender in the men and women sense’ because in trans politics, gender is understood in another sense as well: there is an overarching division between ‘cisgendered’ individuals, who identify with the gender assigned to them at birth, and ‘transgendered’ individuals, who do not identify with their assigned gender. Even if trans activists recognize the feminist concept of male power and privilege, it is secondary in their thinking to ‘cis’ power and privilege: what is considered to be fundamentally oppressive is the devaluing or non-recognition of ‘trans’ identities in a society which systematically privileges the ‘cis’ majority.

That. That’s the idea that’s been swallowed whole by The Community of Trans Allies, and it’s verkakte.

I gotta go. More later.


The life of Inky

Sep 1st, 2015 9:44 am | By

Michiko Kakutani on Oliver Sacks:

Those case studies captured the emotional and metaphysical, as well as physiological, dimensions of his patients’ conditions. While they tracked the costs and isolation these individuals often endured, they also emphasized people’s resilience — their ability to adapt to their “deficits,” enabling them to hold onto a sense of identity and agency. Some even find that their conditions spur them to startling creative achievement.

I remember reading one of his books in a book group years ago and getting into an intense argument about that ability to adapt to “deficits”…arguing over Temple Grandin, and what she said about experiencing being Temple Grandin. I argued that from her perspective her autism wasn’t a deficit, it was just being Temple Grandin, and it gave her some skills that are particular to autism. The other party argued that what she was missing out on was a real deficit, and that it made her life less good than that of neurotypical people. I still don’t buy that.

In fact, Dr. Sacks wrote in “An Anthropologist on Mars,” that illnesses and disorders “can play a paradoxical role in bringing out latent powers, developments, evolutions, forms of life that might never be seen or even be imaginable in their absence.” A young woman with a low I.Q. learns to sing arias in more than 30 languages, and a Canadian physician with Tourette’s syndrome learns to perform long, complicated surgical procedures without a single tic or twitch. Some scholars believe, Dr. Sacks once wrote, that Dostoyevsky and van Gogh may have had temporal lobe epilepsy, that Bartok and Wittgenstein may have been autistic, and that Mozart and Samuel Johnson could have had Tourette’s syndrome.

See that’s why I don’t buy that you have to have all the usual “normal” skills and experiences to have a good life. I think an odd eccentric life can be a good life too, because different people want different things.

Animated by a self-deprecating sense of humor and set down in limber, pointillist prose, Dr. Sacks’s autobiographical accounts are as candid and searching as his writings about his patients, and they suggest just how rooted his compassion and intuitive understanding — as a doctor and a writer — were in his youthful feelings of fear and dislocation. He tells us about the lasting shock of being evacuated from London as a boy during the war, and being beaten and bullied at boarding school. The rest of his life, he writes, he would have trouble with the three B’s: “bonding, belonging, and believing.”

And yet he was Oliver Sacks. Who would wish he had been different?

Dr. Sacks once described himself as a man with an “extreme immoderation in all my passions,” and his books pulsate with his “violent enthusiasms” and endless curiosity: his fascination with ferns, cephalopods, jellyfish, volcanoes, the periodic table — for all the marvels of the natural world; as well as his passion for swimming, chemistry, photography and perhaps most of all, writing. Known as Inky as a child, he began keeping journals at the age of 14. For the shy boy, writing was a way to connect with the world, a way to order his thoughts; and he kept up the habit throughout his life, amassing nearly a thousand journals, while using his books and essays to communicate to readers the romance of science and the creative and creaturely blessings of being alive.

I identify as an Inky.

His patients have lost an erudite and compassionate doctor. The world has lost a writer of immense talent and heart, a writer who helped illuminate the wonders, losses and consolations of the human condition.

We still have his books though.