Notes and Comment Blog

Our short and pithy observations on the passing scene as it relates to the mission of Butterflies and Wheels. Woolly-headed or razor-sharp comments in the media, anti-rationalist rhetoric in books or magazines or overheard on the bus, it’s all grist to our mill. And sometimes we will hold forth on the basis of no inspiration at all beyond what happens to occur to us.

The one thing needful

Jul 10th, 2011 12:39 pm | By

“David” (in quotation marks because we have lots of Davids, so it might be confusing if I just said David, as if you would know which one) asked in a comment the other day

Ever wonder what your “sacred cow” is? I have no idea what mine is.

I replied

No idea? Really? I can think of several at least semi-sacred cows of mine. Egalitarianism for one; separateness of persons for another; human rights for another.

He said that wasn’t quite what he meant, and did I mean just irrational and personal and impossible to articulate. I said no but

I know they are basic commitments that are at least somewhat immune to disagreement, and that the reasons I can give for them are well short of knock-down arguments.

I didn’t say, but will say now:

I am committed to them, I don’t want to give them up, I would resist giving them up.

What are yours? It might be interesting to make a list of core sacred cows. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights is probably a good source for many of them.

Another of mine is that the idea of a “god” we have a duty to worship and obey, despite some good aspects (inspiration, aspiration, motivation), is more bad than good. It makes people slavish and it distorts their views of morality and other people and this life.

On the other hand, what if it’s something better than that? And not a person? What if in fact it’s one or more of my sacred cows? What if it’s equality, or justice, or peace?

That’s different. It’s probably what humanists are getting at when they say (with varying degrees of exasperation) that atheism is not enough, and we need something “positive.” True enough. Freedom from the totem god is not enough.

What should it be? Justice? Equality? Kindness? Peace? Siblingity? Solidarity?

Maybe solidarity – which perhaps presupposes all the others.

In which case I’ve arrived back at Richard Rorty, which seems ironic.

Why innuendo

Jul 9th, 2011 4:33 pm | By

Via Jean Kazez via a commenter with a squiggly name, Steven Pinker explains how “do you want to come to my room for coffee?” keeps knowledge individual rather than mutual and thus saves face.

Faith leaders

Jul 9th, 2011 12:11 pm | By

BBC BBC BBC – get it right, will you? You don’t ever get it right. You need to learn to get it right.

(No not how to pronounce “Houston,” the one in Texas. They need to learn that too, but this is not that.)

They don’t get it right yet again.

Religious education in schools is under threat, faith leaders have warned.

Leaders representing Christians, Sikhs, Hindus, Muslims and Buddhists said
they were “gravely concerned” about the “negative impact” that current
government policies were having.

There are no such peoples. There is no such thing as “faith leaders.” They don’t “represent” anyone. “Representing” people requires some kind of process by which the people represented appoint or elect or consent to the people supposed to be doing the representing. Christians, Sikhs, Hindus, Muslims and Buddhists have not ever done that. They have not ever named or appointed a Leader. There is no “leader” anywhere who “represents” all Christians or all Sikhs or all Hindus or all Muslims or all Buddhists.

What the BBC means, of course, is clerics. Maybe it would sound too obviously self-interested to say clerics are upset because students might do less religion in state schools.

Nevertheless, the BBC must get it right.

Almost over

Jul 8th, 2011 10:47 am | By

I was going to move briskly on, but…well there’s just this one last thing, or this one last pair of things.

One is that I think I may have figured out what Richard was trying to get at, or at least what he was irritated about. My friend Maryam Namazie was at the Dublin conference, and as always gave a stem-winder of a talk. Maryam works right at the coal face of women’s rights issues. I think Richard may have thought (or felt) there should have been more of that kind of thing and less of the kind of thing Rebecca talked about. That’s not crazy, it seems to me. One doesn’t have to agree with it, but it’s not crazy.

The trouble is, he didn’t say that. He said

I know you aren’t allowed to drive a car, and you can’t leave the house without a male relative, and your husband is allowed to beat you, and you’ll be stoned to death if you commit adultery. But stop whining, will you. Think of the suffering your poor American sisters have to put up with.Only this week I heard of one, she calls herself Skep”chick”, and do you know what happened to her? A man in a hotel elevator invited her back to his room for coffee. I am not exaggerating. He really did. He invited her back to his room for coffee. Of course she said no, and of course he didn’t lay a finger on her, but even so . . .

The problem is obvious. He’s implying that that’s what Rebecca thinks – that an invitation for coffee (as Richard mischaracterizes it) is worse than a total absence of rights. That’s a rude thing to imply.

And his later explanation was also flawed:

The man in the elevator didn’t physically touch her, didn’t attempt to bar her way out of the elevator, didn’t even use foul language at her. He spoke some words to her. Just words. She no doubt replied with words. That was that. Words. Only words, and apparently quite polite words at that.If she felt his behaviour was creepy, that was her privilege, just as it was the Catholics’ privilege to feel offended and hurt when PZ nailed the cracker. PZ didn’t physically strike any Catholics. All he did was nail a wafer…

Bad analogy. Different kinds of being “offended.” Elevator guy did what he did (however you characterize it) to a particular person; to Rebecca. PZ did what he did to no person at all – he did it to a cracker. People really do get to be “offended” about things done to them personally, though there is still always plenty of room to disagree over how offended and all the rest of it.

And given that…well I think it’s pretty understandable that Rebecca is pissed. I hope she’ll reconsider the permanence of the being pissed, but I certainly see how she got there.

I really don’t share the widely-expressed view that Richard is totally clueless about feminism. That hasn’t been my experience – he backed me up once when I was infuriated about people calling women “bitch” at RDF and then when I objected going into shouty bully mode for about ten pages. He did the Marshall McLuhan thing: the shouty boyz had been saying he totally agreed with them and he came out from behind the sign and said the hell I do. But I think he put his case badly this time.


Now I’ll move briskly on.


Jul 7th, 2011 11:52 am | By

Russell “begged” me yesterday to focus on something other than what I had been focusing on, so here is a slightly different focus. To put it another way, here is how to get everyone either shouting at me or deleting me from their list of ok people, instead of just a select few.

I partly sort of up to a point agree with Miranda about the Skepchick campaign. (I was only vaguely aware that there was one, because I haven’t kept up.) (You know, I tend to think I’m a terrible nerd, but at the moment I think maybe I’m not enough of a nerd. A real nerd would be ignoring all of this. I envy that nerd. Maybe I’ll set my alarm for 4 a.m. so that I can find that nerd and invite it to my place for coffee and conversation.)

I said at Miranda’s place, so I’ll paste it in here to save time:

I think Richard was wrong about this, but not insanely outrageously save the beer and the cats wrong. He’s the one who published Lisa Bauer’s account of her life as a Muslim convert and then apostate. He’s a fan of Maryam Namazie’s. Maryam was also at the Dublin conference…I suspect he may have been chafed by the contrast between what Maryam talked about and what Rebecca talked about. It’s true that there is a vast difference. I think he’s wrong to conclude that therefore what Rebecca talked about doesn’t matter, but I think I get why he felt that way. (Yes “get”; yes “felt” – these things aren’t fully rational. Such is life.)

La la la la la la

Jul 6th, 2011 3:24 pm | By

It’s a lovely day out. The sun is shining. The sky is blue. The birds are singing.

That’s all I’m going to talk about from here on out.

Why expectations matter

Jul 6th, 2011 10:38 am | By

Now, in one way, it is always possible just to ignore the whole thing. Attitudes, expectations, stereotypes, different rules, biases – it’s all so woolly, and subjective, and impossible to demonstrate beyond a reasonable doubt, so the hell with it; let’s just get on with it and sexism will wither away on its own.

But the trouble with that is, all those things have effects in the real world, that are not a bit woolly and subjective. If women are seen as

  • just there for sex
  • either there for sex or totally superfluous and in the way
  • second best
  • stupid and inept but tolerable to have around because of sex
  • an afterthought
  • peripheral
  • the exception to the rule

then they are less likely to be hired, promoted, commissioned, published, broadcast, cast in movies, invited to speak at conferences.

And behold – in the world we live in, that is indeed how things are. Maybe some of that or a lot of that is because women just don’t want to be hired or promoted or the rest of it, but maybe some of it or a lot of it is because of attitudes, expectations, stereotypes, different rules, biases.

Women can’t really afford to shrug off attitudes and expectations, unless we’re content to settle for smaller more limited opportunities and lives than men have.

Getting and not getting

Jul 5th, 2011 4:39 pm | By

Phil Plait is another who disagrees with Richard Dawkins about the zero badness of asking a stranger for sex on an elevator at 4 a.m.

An important point that came up multiple times is that many men do not truly understand what women go through in such situations.This point was driven home when Richard Dawkins spoke up about it. Through his own words, he proved quite clearly that a lot of men just don’t get it.

And lots of other men on various other sites have been demonstrating the same thing. They don’t get that it matters, they don’t get that women aren’t a public commodity, they don’t get that it’s not all about them, they don’t get that they don’t know better. It’s a depressing spectacle. (Lots of men do get it though. Lots. No need to tell me that. Not that you were going to, but…but some of you probably were.)

This is a societal issue; sexism (conscious or otherwise) is still a strong force in our society, and a lot of men will dismiss claims of sexism from women. As has been made very clear here, we all need to make sure that all men understand the woman’s point of view, or else this type of thing will continue to happen… and people will continue to dismiss it as no big deal.It is a big deal. If Dawkins — a leader in the critical thinking movement and a man known for defending women against religious oppression — can take such a dismissive stance, it’s clear that we have a long way to go. I don’t know if it was sexism on Dawkins’ part or just plain obtuseness, but this attitude is shared by far too many men. It trivializes the justifiable fear women have to live with as well as their point of view, and that’s just plain wrong.

It’s not actually primarily about fear, for me (which perhaps puts me right back in “it’s no big deal” territory – except that I don’t think so). It’s primarily about not wanting things to be divided up as: men do thinking and talking and women do looks and sex.

There are the usual many comments saying things like

Men are not allowed to speak to or even make eye contact with women without express written permission, signed in triplicate, notarized with at least two witnesses. Because all men are potential sexual predators and all women are delicate potential victims. Sexism, much?

That’s only six comments in, and it’s not even the first one saying “wull how are we supposed to ask women for sex then?”

Miranda raises an interesting issue about this idea of “getting it.”

Attempting to silence and/or shout down those who dissent or disagree is rude, immature, irrational, and counterproductive.

And engaging in that attempted silencing and/or shouting down of dissent or disagreement by telling someone that they “just don’t get it” is gallingly condescending, patronizing, presumptuous, childish, arrogant, and rude.

Yes but…there also really is something to the idea that we don’t “get” everything, and that our circumstances can prevent us from “getting” what things are like for people in different circumstances. Privilege can get in the way of comprehension. It’s always possible to exaggerate that, or to see it when it’s not there, but it doesn’t follow that there’s no truth to it at all. I think I have been seeing a lot of not getting over the past couple of days.

A priest and a rabbi go into an elevator and…

Jul 4th, 2011 12:16 pm | By

Where were we. Rebecca Watson said about elevator guy, a student said about Watson about elevator guy, Watson said about the student at her CFI talk, lots of people said about Watson saying about the student at her talk, while, meanwhile, Dawkins said about Watson about elevator guy. Dawkins said something sarcastic the point of which was that women living under Islamic laws have things worse than Watson. This did not go down well. Lots of people pointed out, with some heat, that the fact that X is bad is not a reason to be quiet about less-bad Y, and that Dawkins was being clueless about Y, and that he shouldn’t do that because he was never going to be subject to Y.

Still with me?

There was some doubt that it was actually Dawkins who had said that, but then PZ got home from wherever all the atheists were this weekend and confirmed that it was Dawkins, and then Dawkins said.

Many people seem to think it obvious that my post was wrong and I should apologise. Very few people have bothered to explain exactly why. The nearest approach I have heard goes something like this.

I sarcastically compared Rebecca’s plight with that of women in Muslim countries or families dominated by Muslim men. Somebody made the worthwhile point (reiterated here by PZ) that it is no defence of something slightly bad to point to something worse. We should fight all bad things, the slightly bad as well as the very bad. Fair enough. But my point is that the ‘slightly bad thing’ suffered by Rebecca was not even slightly bad, it was zero bad. A man asked her back to his room for coffee. She said no. End of story.

End of story, yes. End of discussion, no. Should be end of discussion, no. Zero bad, no, which is why should be end of discussion, no.

It’s too boring and wearying to go into, why not, and 7 million people have already done so anyway. I’ll just give the tiniest flick at why not, and move on. Because it wasn’t really “for coffee,” for a start – why the fuck would she want some coffee at 4 a.m. when she had said she was tired and she was on her way to crash and there was coffee at the bar they had both just left anyway? “For coffee” was just a euphemism for sex. He asked her back to his room for sex. That’s not zero bad. It’s not the end of the world, but it’s not zero bad, either. It sounds like more of a treat to at least some men than it does to most women, but surely Richard is not completely unaware of that. Would he think it ok to go up to a stranger in Waitrose and say “want to come back to my house and have sex?” I doubt it. If I’m wrong, then this part of my case falls apart, but if I’m right…he should be able to see that it’s not zero bad, especially not at 4 a.m. in an elevator.

And because of all that, it’s a way of treating women as if they’re fundamentally there to be sexual prey. That’s not zero bad.

There was one last bit that as many people have pointed out is quite funny and quite ironic for multiple reasons:

No, I obviously don’t get it. I will gladly apologise if somebody will calmly and politely, without using the word fuck in every sentence, explain to me what it is that I am not getting.

Tone troll! Hahahahahahahahaha.

So anyway, they’ll all be at TAM in a few days so they’ll either work it out or make it worse. The Atheist Movement sways back and forth in the wind – will it totter, will it crumble, will it fall?

I dunno. I have all I can do not to get into fistfights with the neighbors.


Jul 3rd, 2011 4:13 pm | By

There’s been some back and forth about the term “passive-aggressive” and what its exact meaning is. I’ve been using it loosely in what I took to be the vernacular sense, not in what I took to be any kind of technical sense. On being questioned about this, I looked it up; I hadn’t realized it was technical in quite that way, included in the DSM and all. It’s a personality disorder, by gum. I thought it was just a bit of outdated descriptive psychology of the kind that Woody Allen likes to throw around – a bit of pseudo-Freudianism.

What, exactly, is the difference? What’s the difference between an official personality disorder that appears in the DSM and an outdated bit of quasi-Freudian vocabulary? I, frankly, have no idea. The DSM also includes Oppositional Defiant Disorder, which always makes me laugh like a drain, because it’s me all over and because I don’t think of it as a disorder, I just think of it as an approach.

So anyway. I’ve been using it informally, not formally or technically, and I’m going to go on doing that, because people (most people) seem to know exactly what I mean by it, and because it describes something real, that we keep seeing. So what have I been meaning by it when using it informally?

I’ve been meaning (and I have in fact spelled this out a few times) being aggressive while trying to hang onto the credit for being non-aggressive. Having it both ways. Being bossy and censorious while pretending to be gentle and sweet.

I’ve never gotten along well with people like that. Never. I suppose that’s my Oppositional Defiant Disorder playing up again. I get all oppositional and defiant about them. I want to kick them until they drop the goody-goody act and admit they’re just being hostile and quarrelsome like the rest of us.

My view is, if you’re going to be bossy and censorious, then be it. Don’t pretend you’re being Little Saint Lovely of the Blossoms, just get on with it.

I also mean, sometimes, people who praise themselves without admitting that they’re doing it, at least when they are people who also do the bossy-censorious thing. People who say things like “oh my goodness I’m so amazed that everybody loves me so much.” That kind of thing makes my oppositional defiant demon laugh a coarse laugh and scratch its bum. Come on, sweety, you’re not amazed at all, you’re gloating and boasting. Don’t try to fool us – just say “excuse me for a minute while I gloat and boast.” And don’t combine “oh my goodness I’m so amazed that everybody loves me so much” with “if only all of you could be as loving and compassionate as I am everybody would love you so much too.” That’s fatal, darling, we see right through it.

That’s what I mean by passive-aggressive. How about you?


Jul 2nd, 2011 4:09 pm | By

So there are various atheist and skeptical conferences, and Rebecca Watson talks at them and says things about sexism, and at the Dublin one she talks to people afterwards until 4 a.m. at which point she says she’s exhausted and going to bed, and she gets in the hotel elevator to do that and a guy joins her in the elevator (just the two of them, how romantic) and says

Don’t take this the wrong way, but I find you very interesting, would you like to come to my room for coffee?

And she says, mildly, “Guys, don’t do that.”

Quite right. Nobody should do that, really. In the afternoon, fine; in the evening, well, it depends, use your judgement; at 4 in the morning, unless you’ve both been making googly-eyes already, it’s just obnoxious, even if it’s not a pass. But maybe that’s just me. I can’t imagine doing something like that, because it would feel so incredibly intrusive and presumptuous – “Hey it’s four a.m. and you said you’re exhausted but hey wouldn’t you rather spend time with me than go to sleep?” I’m frankly not conceited enough for that, and don’t want to be.

There’s been a lot of drama and disagreement about all this over the last whatever, few days or a week or whatever it is, to which I’ve been oblivious. (I’m out of the loop.) But PZ did a post on it this morning, mentioning my eccentric neighbor along with Elevator Guy, and along came lots of men’s rights idiots to say lots of idiot things.

It’s not just about sexism, it is (as some commenters said) also about just plain manners. No, it isn’t manners to accost a stranger in an isolated place and ask for sex. (Ok for men that works, which is why there are cruisey parks. Fine. But for straights and lesbians, it isn’t manners.) (Maybe from men’s point of view it would be manners if only women would oblige. But to us it doesn’t feel like manners [sex workers excepted, obviously] so we mostly don’t oblige. You’ll see women doing that in movies and things, but it’s a male fantasy.)

PZ made a different point about manners: when you disagree with someone, name names. It’s passive-aggressive not to.

As Watson says, she loathes passive-aggressive behavior. So do I, and this is a fine example of it. Name names, always name names, and always do your best to be specific. It is right and proper as good skeptics to confront and provoke and challenge, and you have to be direct about it…

The skeptics movement has a surfeit of that passive aggressive attitude right now. As exhibit #1, I’ll mention the infamous “Don’t be a dick” speech by Phil Plait, which, while representing a good goal of asking for more tolerance, was turned into a flopping issue of disagreement specifically because it was all about tone, not substance, and because Phil could not found any of his arguments in specifics, keeping everything vague, and often cartoonish.

I too loathe passive-aggression. (I don’t know that neighbor’s name though, and I don’t want to.)

Not meekly asking

Jul 1st, 2011 4:26 pm | By

Well exactly.

Many of the millions of Americans who do not believe in the supernatural have had enough of being targeted by unremitting discrimination.

Indeed we have, and this is what we keep saying, and why we keep pushing back against all the people who started squeaking, the instant Sam Harris’s book hit the shelves, “Yes but please be quiet now, you will frighten the moderates and shock the liberals and horrify the agnostics and spook the undecideds and terrify the moderate-liberal agnostic undecideds.”

The “crime” that the nonpious are committing is nothing more than declining to believe in supernatural beings and forces that lack sufficient verification of their reality. There is no excuse for discrimination that is as under the radar as it is persistent. So I wrote an op-ed that, in the tradition of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr’s Letter From Birmingham Jail, would put the nation on notice by calling for the societal civil rights of Ameroatheists.

And, Gregory Paul says, it went viral.

The article went viral because atheists are fed-up and the piece says what we have long been feeling. There is not the slightest reason for all the abuse, and we, dear theists, are not going to take it anymore!…So knock off making us miserable for expressing our All American freedom from religion. Just be nice. If a family member goes atheist, don’t berate them. Sit down and have a chat — both of you might learn something.

But make no mistake: Nontheists are not meekly asking for full acceptance and citizenship any more than blacks did after the World War II, or gays did after Stonewall. We are telling you observant Christians, Jews, Muslims, et al., to be as respectful to us atheists as you are to other believers.

We’re not meekly asking. That’s why we’re gnu. (I wonder if Gregory Paul considers himself a gnu.)

Where the response to the great popularity of my article has been inadequate is among the media, which continue to pay the chronic anti-atheism problem the minimal attention they always have. The absence of progressive media on the issue is especially remarkable because atheist bashing is part and parcel of the theoconservative PR campaign to discredit all who dare not agree with them. Much as theists need to be kinder to nonsupernaturalists, societal leaders need to regularly address and denounce anti-atheism.

Yessssssssss…thank you.

Eagleton redux

Jul 1st, 2011 8:12 am | By

Terry Eagleton is getting to be embarrassing. He reviewed a collection of essays on secularism last week, with his familiar combination of malice, inaccuracy and laziness. That’s not a good combination for a reviewer.

Most recent defences of secularism, not least those produced by “Ditchkins”
(Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens), have been irate, polemical affairs, powered by a crude species of off-the-peg, reach-me-down Enlightenment.

There’s the laziness and the malice – recycling his own stupid joke, which was never funny in the first place, not least because Dawkins and Hitchens are really not interchangeable. And there’s the inaccuracy too, in the meaningless sneer at the end.

It is scarcely a caricature of Dawkins’s work to suggest we are all getting nicer and nicer and that if it wasn’t for religious illusion, we would collectively outdo Kenneth Clark in sheer civility.

Scarcely a caricature! Scarcely a caricature!! This from a literary critic, for christ’s sake. A caricature is exactly what it is, and a broad, stupid, vulgar one at that.

Adam Phillips, a superb writer whose outlook on the world is that of Islington Man…

What, exactly, is it that Terry Eagleton thinks separates his outlook from that of “Islington Man”? What exactly is it that makes Eagleton’s outlook superior in its humility and authenticity and austerity? He’s a prosperous academic; he has been and perhaps still is trendy; he has acolytes; he has international gigs; he writes for the New Statesman and the Guardian. How is he not “Islington Man” himself? Whence comes the great height from which he looks down on other prosperous academics?

Christianity is certainly other-worldly, and so is any reasonably sensitive soul who has been reading the newspapers. The Christian gospel looks to a future transformation of the appalling mess we see around us into a community of justice and friendship, a change so deep-seated and indescribable as to make Lenin look like a Lib Dem.

Big woop. “The Christian gospel” can afford to do that, can’t it, because it’s just making it up. “Looking forward” to things is dead easy; making things happen is another kind of activity altogether, so naturally the latter is much tamer than the former. People who make things happen have to work within real limits; people who just make things up don’t. You’d think a lit crit would know that.

There are some predictable misunderstandings in these essays. No theologian worth his or her salt would see God as an “entity” as Philip Kitcher does.

Why’s that then? (If it’s even true, which I doubt.) See above – because making things up is a lot easier than working within the limits of the real world.

A message for quasi-Islington Man.


Jun 30th, 2011 5:37 pm | By

Pious Saudi Arabia, famed the world over for its vast compassion.

Indonesia is stopping all maids from going to work in Saudi Arabia after the
beheading of a maid last week for murdering her allegedly abusive employer.

The execution of 54-year-old Ruhati Binti Sapahi caused public outrage in
Indonesia, prompting the government to call for the ban.

Saudi Arabia’s compassionate concern for foreign domestic workers is an old story.

Sumiati Binti Salan Mustapa, 23, remains  hospitalized after suffering injuries by her employer who allegedly  beat, mutilated and scalded her…The news of Sumiati’s horrendous abuse came just as  another domestic worker’s body was found in a trash bin. The victim,  Kikim Moalasari, another Indonesian maid, was allegedly tortured by her  employer. The culprits in both cases have since been arrested.

So much for the ummah.

Less boring than I think, or more?

Jun 29th, 2011 5:49 pm | By

I’m reading The Pregnant Widow. I’ve heard some good things about it, and I thought The Information was intermittently brilliant, albeit irritating in places, and boring in places, so I’m reading it. The first few pages were electrifying, and I was all excited, thinking I’d struck gold. But then it turned out the first few pages were different from the next pages.

I’m pushing. Hard. I’m trying and failing to resist boredom and the resulting feeling of exasperation – the “why are you telling me all this?” feeling.

Anybody read it? Anybody love it?

From Crawford to Waterloo

Jun 29th, 2011 4:21 pm | By

Hitchens asks a necessary question about Michele Bachmann and her presentation of self.

Where does it come from, this silly and feigned idea that it’s good to be able
to claim a small-town background?…Overall demographic impulses to one side, there is nothing about a bucolic upbringing that breeds the skills necessary to govern a complex society in an age of globalization and violent unease. We need candidates who know about laboratories, drones, trade cycles, and polychrome conurbations both here and overseas. Yet the media make us complicit in the myth—all politics is yokel?—that the fast-vanishing small-town life is the key to ancient virtues. Wasilla, Alaska, is only the most vivid recent demonstration of the severe limitations of this worldview.

Not as vivid as Crawford, Texas, given that Palin hasn’t actually been president yet. But no matter, the point is the same. Small-town life is the key to nothing in particular, except maybe boredom. “Vote for me, I was bored while growing up.” Tempting, but no.

Good neighbors

Jun 28th, 2011 2:30 pm | By

I just had a very weird experience, or maybe not all that weird in one way, but pretty damn weird in any other way. Not weird given that some people are bat-loony, but weird given that some people ought to know better. (Is it possible for people who are bat-loony to know better? Is that a ridiculous incoherent idea, on a level with belief in free will? Probably no and probably yes…but then the question becomes “exactly how bat-loony are we talking about here?”)

I was walking along a residential street a few blocks from where I live (so I don’t know anyone there, I don’t recognize faces), mind elsewhere (though nowhere in particular) as usual, and suddenly some grizzled auld fella who was pottering in his garden snarled* at me as he crossed the sidewalk toward the parking strip, “What would it take to make you smile?”

I jerked to a stop and turned to stare at him in astonishment, and after mulling it for a few seconds demanded why on earth he would ask me that.

We had a nice little shouty war there on the sidewalk, for three or four or five minutes.

He was of course surprised to be answered, and did a lot of angry shouting about seeing me walking past here all the time, and I never smile, I never wave, I never say hello. I did a lot of return shouting about being allowed to walk here, and not having even been aware of him until he challenged me, and why would he expect me to be smiling as I walked up the street. He did more angry shouting about there are two sides to the street, and oh fuck off, and I never say hello. I did more repeat shouting about why would he expect me to be smiling as I walked up the street and why would he think he gets to tell me how to arrange my face. He started telling me to go away, and I kept pointing out that he had challenged me. He did more angry shouting about always seeing me walking past, and he’s sick of seeing my horrible face “like this” and he did an exaggerated sad-clown face with the mouth dragged down like Emmett Kelly. Gee I love it when people do that. He wasn’t the first. I told him that’s how my face is. He tripped up then and apologized, but quickly thought better of it and went back to angry shouting.

Here’s the thing: I’m extremely ugly, especially now that I’m 153 years old. I do have one of those downturned mouths that some people have, so I do look very grumpy when my face is in neutral position. I’ve had acquaintances helpfully point this out to me, in case I wasn’t aware of it – “Gee, you’re a lot less ugly when you smile.” Oh thanks.

So yes, I’m ugly and I look grumpy when I walk down the street. But I have this core idea that I’m allowed to do that, and that people who live along that street ought not to come running out to tell me I’m uglying up their street. I also have a core idea that I don’t have an obligation to try to look less ugly for any random gardening men who might be pottering about when I pass.

I eventually got around to asking my antagonist about this – “Do you say that to men who walk by? Do you tell men to smile as they walk past your house?” He swelled up with more outrage, and started telling me he’d been in combat, I wasn’t a woman, get away from here with my lesbian bullshit, he wasn’t afraid of any men, he was afraid of women if they really were women. After lots of shouting back and forth along these lines, he slipped up again and said “But it’s none of my business.” “Exactly!” I said. “Bye!” That was my exit line, but he shouted after me “Have a wonderful day” so I shouted back “You too” so he shouted back “That’s the first nice thing you’ve said this whole time” and I shouted back “Gee I wonder why!” and after that all I heard was muttering, so I won.

I did you know. He thought he was just going to throw a little male weight around, with no repercussions. He wasn’t expecting a Spanish Inquisition I mean an aggressive ugly ol’ broad shouting at him for five minutes.

Now here’s what I want to know. Lots of guys here. What do you think? I don’t believe for one second that he ever, ever, ever says that to men. Ever. I don’t think for a second that he thinks it’s any of his business what expression a man has on his face when walking past his house. What do you think? Would a (straight) man ever say that to a man? And has any man ever said anything like that to you?

*Update: note that he snarled. This was not a friendly or flirtatious or neighborly overture; it was angry and hostile in the opening question, and it got much more so when I replied. When I asked him why he would ask me such a question, he approached me aggressively, demanding “do you know how to smile?” There was no ambiguity about this; it was not borderline; the guy was pissed off, and nasty, and in my face. He also got very rude, very quickly, while I limited myself to insisting that he had no business telling me how to look.

“The corrupt political process in New York State”

Jun 28th, 2011 11:12 am | By

The Catholic bishops of New York state are upset. They are displeased about this pesky new same-sex marriage bill. They think it’s most unfair to them, the Catholic bishops of New York state.

“The passage by the Legislature of a bill to alter radically and forever humanity’s historic understanding of marriage leaves us deeply disappointed and troubled,” the state’s bishops said. “We strongly uphold the Catholic Church’s clear teaching that we always treat our homosexual brothers and sisters with respect, dignity and love. But

Ah yes “but.” Good old “but.” You saw that “but” coming a mile away, didn’t you. The instant they produce the bit about “we always treat our homosexual brothers and sisters with respect, dignity and love,” you know for a certainty what will immediately follow. But. But we won’t have it. But it’s an outrage. But God said. But we strongly affirm. But one man and one woman (and never, by golly, the other way around). But lifelong loving union that is open to children. But but but.

This definition cannot change, though we realize that our beliefs about the nature of marriage will continue to be ridiculed, and that some will even now attempt to enact government sanctions against churches and religious organizations that preach these timeless truths.

Self-pity much? Complain about inability to impose your church’s “teachings” and its “timeless truths” on unwilling other people much?

“We worry that both marriage and the family will be undermined by this tragic presumption of government in passing this legislation that attempts to redefine these cornerstones of civilization,” the bishops added.

No, you don’t. You worry that your power and authority and privilege will be undermined by this unremarkable good sense of government in passing legislation that benefits some people and harms none.

“Our society must regain what it appears to have lost – a true understanding of the meaning and the place of marriage, as revealed by God, grounded in nature, and respected by America’s foundational principles.”

No, it mustn’t. That’s the very thing it must not do. There is no “God” to do this revealing; Catholic bishops don’t know a damn thing about this “God,” any more than anyone else does. It’s all “church teachings” all the way down, and we don’t have to buy into it, much less obey it.

A Brooklyn bishop played the populist card.

“Today, Governor Andrew Cuomo and the state legislature have deconstructed the single most important institution in human history,” Bishop DiMarzio said. “Republicans and Democrats alike succumbed to powerful political elites and have passed legislation that will undermine our families and as a consequence, our society.”

The shit. That’s Nazi-talk, that “elites” shit. What does he think he is? What does he think bishops are? They’re an elite if you like. They have masses of illegitimate power and authority; they’re wholly unaccountable; they rigorously exclude women from power and ferociously punish anyone who tries to get a woman admitted; they shield each other from the law and the police; they tell governments what to do. They wear special elite clothes; they perform magical elite ceremonies; they have special elite knowledge. Teh gaze have nothing to match that.

And he didn’t stop there.

At a time when so many New Yorkers are struggling to stay in their homes and find jobs, we should be working together to solve these problems. However, the politicians have curried favor with wealthy donors who are proponents of a divisive agenda in order to advance their own careers and futures.

Right; this is all about rich people trampling on the faces of the poor.

I have asked all Catholic schools to refuse any distinction or honors bestowed upon them this year by the governor or any member of the legislature who voted to support this legislation. Furthermore, I have asked all pastors and principals to not invite any state legislator to speak or be present at any parish or school celebration.

The above request is intended as a protest of the corrupt political process in New York State. More than half of all New Yorkers oppose this legislation. Yet, the governor and the state legislature have demonized people of faith, whether they be Muslims, Jews, or Christians, and identified them as bigots and prejudiced…

Ugly, ugly stuff.


Jun 28th, 2011 9:24 am | By

Let’s play “Let’s make up some statistics.”

An interlocutor told me about an hour ago that “most academics everywhere are atheists.” Eh what? I thought. In the UK and Sweden and fortunate places like that, no doubt, but in the US? Which is what we were talking about (via my post on that Catholofascist article in Crisis yesterday). Most academics in the US are atheists? Yeah I don’t think so. Given that most colleges and “universities” in the US are, shall we say, non-elite, and that most teaching is in vocational subjects (most degrees are in Business), I don’t think so.

Rilly? I said. Do you know that? Any stats?

She gave the stats for philosophers. Not going to fall for that, was I! I knew about those stats; I wrote them up for an issue of TPM whenever it was. I wasn’t asking about philosophers, I was asking about academics. My interlocutor said as far as she knew “in every discipline religious believers are in a minority.” So I looked it up.


…researchers at the Harvard Divinity School recently implemented a study to determine the religiosity of college and university professors around the country.The study, entitled “How religious are America’s college and university professors?,” has been circulating throughout academia since last year…

The study found that 23.4 percent of college and university professors describe themselves as either atheists or agnostics, with the remainder reporting some level of belief in God or another higher power.

23.4%, including agnostics as well as atheists. Not quite “most are atheists.”

I didn’t just fall off the potato truck this morning, you know.

When professors deny the truths of faith

Jun 27th, 2011 11:21 am | By

Patrick J. Reilly has written an article about the heterodoxy of ethics and law professors at several Jesuit universities. Who is he?

Patrick J. Reilly is founder and president of the Cardinal Newman Society, a national organization to advocate and support the renewal of genuine Catholic higher education.

Ah. So he’s someone with a clear agenda, and one that is a contradiction in terms. “Genuine Catholic higher education” clearly means orthodox Catholic “education” that adheres to established dogma, which means it is fundamentally opposed to genuine education. What he means by “education” should better be called information-stuffing, or just memorization.

Here’s his beef. The US Conference of Catholic Bishops – the one that subscribes to the bishop of Phoenix’s policy that preganant women’s lives must not be saved if it takes an abortion to do so, no matter what, including even no matter if the fetus won’t survive in any case – has a position on assisted suicide, which of course is that it’s evil.

…as with so many moral issues, the bishops need look no further than our Catholic institutions to find that the “nationwide campaign” in opposition to Church teaching has been ongoing for many years.

Suicide’s legalization has been advocated by prominent professors in Catholic universities including Georgetown, Marquette, Santa Clara, and Boston College.

In other words, faculty in “our” Catholic institutions are being disobedient. They are defying authority. They are using their own judgement. This is scandalous.

As reported in “Teaching Euthanasia,” an exclusive report in the June 2005 issue of Crisis, multiple professors at Catholic universities had taken positions on end-of-life issues that seemed to conflict with Vatican teaching.Today, some of those professors are no longer teaching at Catholic universities, but others remain perched in Jesuit law schools and theology and philosophy departments.

Which is an outrage, because they are Catholic universities, therefore the Vatican owns them, therefore the professors are forbidden to take positions that conflict with Vatican teaching. Yet there they still are.

Catholic universities are partly responsible for such professors’ influence by virtue of their employment. Academic freedom protects professors’ rights to seek truth according to the methods of their discipline. But when professors deny the truths of faith and disregard the common good — especially of those whose lives are snuffed out prematurely — they violate the mission of a Catholic university.

When professors deny the truths of faith they violate the mission of a Catholic university.

That’s on the record. Helpful of him to make it so very unambiguous.