Tag: slate

The Week in Weak

Here are the weakest things that caught my attention this week.

Getting too Happy That Trump Lost

A Slate piece captures the attitude: “Donald Trump Lost the Iowa Caucus. Good job, America.” Man, don’t be patting America, or at least the 150,000 or so very white people in it who voted their preference for Ted Cruz over The Donald last night, because here’s the thing. They voted for TED FUCKING CRUZ. Why should we congratulate them for that? That’s like saying to your daughter, “Congratulations for not marrying Warren Jeffs. I’m sure this nice Charles Manson fellow is a much happier choice.”

The thing about Trump is that he makes all the GOP’s other crazy candidates appear more sane than they are, at least in the eyes of the vapid motherfuckers we overpay to be media pundits. This is unfortunate, because it means that guys like Marco Rubio, whose actual policy positions put him to the right of Mussolini, gets credit for being a conventional, responsible politician:

The worst thing about the GOP primary is that someone will win.

Staying on the Presidential race for a second.

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Hillary versus Bernie Rage Olympics

As the Iowa Caucuses approached this week, fans of Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders took turns flaying each other on social media. The nasty flies in both directions.

 

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Folks, I doubt this’ll do a lot of good, but let me say this right now. A lot of you social media progressives are middle class types who get your health care from your jobs and don’t need things like the Affordable Care Act and EITC to see you through. I need at least one and sometimes both of those things, and I really, really can’t afford to let the Republicans take control of all three branches of the Federal Government, knock off the ACA, start a war with Iran, stick another two or three Alitos on the court, and in general fuck things up royal. This is going to be hard election. It’s going to be close. And if a bunch of half-wits shouting they won’t vote for the Democratic candidate if it isn’t the one of their choice make it so I lose my health insurance, I will be beyond pissed off.

I happen to like both candidates. I feel that Bernie Sanders has opened up conversations on a lot of issues that are important to me, but I also think that his view of the other side is inaccurate–Republicans don’t take the positions they do because the 1% pay them; The 1% pay Republicans for taking positions they’re already ideologically predisposed to hold–and his appeals to political purity leave me mistrustful. I’m not saying Bernie Sanders isn’t a basically honest person, but let’s not insult our own intelligence by pretending he’s not a politician and would never disappoint us as President. Still, I’ve admired his advocacy and his work in both Houses of Congress since he started. Bernie has moved the Overton window in a healthy direction, and if his ideas don’t win this time (as I think they won’t), they and the movement backing them will stand much better chances of winning down the road thanks to what Bernie’s doing in this campaign.

On the other side, Hillary Clinton does tailor her politics to the moment, but that’s true of everyone who’s been at or near the top of the political world for decades, and it has its uses. Such people can be pushed, which means, if they don’t do what you want, some of that is on you for not pushing hard enough. Also, I think she’s had enough ring time with the political right that she can handle them, frustrate them, and expose their foolishness, which will be valuable because, if she becomes President, she’ll be dealing with a hostile U.S. House (and possibly in 2019, a hostile U.S. Senate as well) for much of her first term at least. During that time, I think she’ll put some pretty good Supreme Court justices on the bench, keep up the Iran agreement, preserve the Affordable Care Act, and keep the Ryan budget a mere theory. Beyond that, I like Hillary. I like that she’s weathered all she’s had to, survived, and kept trying, when my attitude would have been “Fine. Fuck you all! Suck my dick, you fucking ingrates!” That attitude is why I can never be a politician. Hillary can. And in this race, though it was a hard decision for me, she has my support.

But if Bernie does pull the upset, he has it too.

Bug me about it in comments or on social media and, like O’Ren Ishii, I collect your fucking head.

Onward.

Rutanya Alda tries to defend the Oscars on diversity, blows whatever credibility she had.

I thought the thing I’d be maddest at Rutanya Alda for doing was appearing in Amityville 2, one of the most stomach churningly miserable flicks I’ve ever seen. But her column in The Hollywood Reporter made me like her less. It starts with her claim that actors are the least racist people she knows. Right off she fails to recognize that what’s at issue here is the systematic exclusion of people of color from opportunities in Hollywood, not the racial animus, or lack thereof, coming from actors  Rutanya Alda happens to know. From there, her argument deteriorates, as she accuses actors of color of just not working as hard for their success as white actors while demanding unearned benefits. (Gee, who else do we hear this from?)

A few years ago, I had a situation arise which completely exemplifies our recent troubles. An Asian actress friend of mine wished to join the Academy. She had theater and TV credits, but little in the way of film credits. I cautioned her that she may not be accepted because of this, but her response was only that she was a minority and therefore would get in. Needless to say, she did not because she lacked the essential credentials. This friend of mine then turned around and blamed the Academy for not accepting her because of her race, the very thing she was convinced would get her in in the first place. Now with your new policies and the climate they create, my friend will apply again and this time most likely she will be accepted. Her eligibility has not changed — she did not have the film credentials then, nor does she now. But now, perhaps, that may just be enough.

Among the lessons to take away from this column, don’t have Rutanya Alda as your friend. She’ll turn you into a shrill two-dimensional stereotype in service of proving she and her other friends aren’t bigots. It never occurred to her that the reason her Asian actress friend had a hard time accumulating film credits is that booking a job as an Asian actress in films is a bitch wrapped in a nightmare inside of an nigh impossibility in an industry where the default female role is white (and under 30). Maybe her friend hoped the academy would recognize this reality and seek to broaden its membership in spite of it. Well, not if Rutanya Alda can help it.

Frankly, I preferred Alda playing a supporting role in Dino De Laurentiis’s Spooky House of Poop and Incest.

30 Years Ago This Week, Challenger Exploded

It still gets me down. I was in my Algebra II class, when Eric P., our class’s dullest student, bounded in and announced, almost happily it seemed, that the space shuttle Challenger had blown up. Nobody believed him, but a short time later the morning announcement from the principal confirmed it. The rest of the day was kind of a daze, at least until I got home and saw the footage, including that flash just after “Challenger go for throttle-up” that blew open the external fuel tank and…well…you know.

And 83 Years Ago This Week, Adolf Hitler Became Chancellor of Germany

Do I need to remind you that this sucked? Well, 24% of you in Iowa voted for fucking Trump, so I guess I do.

Until next week, that was “The Week in Weak”.

 

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How Long Do You Want Me To Be Scared?

Accorting to SlateMichael Robbins’s Slate book review of Atheists: The Origin of the Species is one of Slate‘s more circulated articles, probably because few subjects (except porn) drive traffic as much as atheist trolling. (Maybe atheist trolling porn… Excuse me, I’ve got to open a new Bluehost account.)

I’ll leave it to others to produce more comprehensive critiques of Robbins’s screed. I’ll limit myself to one aspect, the one where Robbins insists that, as a serious atheist, I should feel awful about the nonexistence of gods:

“The only really effective antidote to the dreariness of reading the New Atheists,” Hart has written, “is rereading Nietzsche.”

This is wise counsel for believers and atheists alike. In Nietzsche we find the full power and terror that atheism is capable of, for Nietzsche scorned mere unbelievers, who, Hart writes,

do not dread the death of God because they do not grasp that humanity’s heroic and insane act of repudiation has sponged away the horizon, torn down the heavens, left us with only the uncertain resources of our will with which to combat the infinity of meaninglessness that the universe now threatens to become.

Well here’s the rub: I’ve never taken any gods–be they of the “man in the sky” or the Robbins’s “ground of all being” description–seriously. I’m well aware that other people can’t help doing so. My grandmother spent her final years dying of a disease we couldn’t diagnose because she was a Christian Scientist. And I endured six years of life in Utah, a place where every aspect of life revolves around people’s belief in a man who said he used a magic stone in his hat to read golden plates. I’ve spent a lot of time around people who take their religious passions seriously. I’ve just never shared them. For as long as I can remember pondering what the universe means, I’ve thought the only real meaning it has is whatever we’ve chosen to assign to it. I’ve accepted that life is contingent and absurd, that deserve has got little to do with anything, and that when life ends, it ends. But unlike Nietzsche, or the existentialists who followed him, I see nothing frightening in this.

Does this make me a shallower atheist than Nietzsche? Maybe. Or maybe it means that having lived in a country where it had been intellectually defensible to live without gods for over two hundred years, I see fear as an overheated response to the idea of divine nonexistence. The matter puts me in mind of an exchange from Get Shorty:

Karen Flores: Weren’t you scared back there?

Chili Palmer: You bet.

Karen Flores: You don’t act like it.

Chili Palmer: Well, I was scared then, but I’m not scared now. How long do you want me to be scared?

So I don’t feel bad about the nonexistence of gods, and I feel no impulse to prove my depth to Mr. Robbins and his ilk by pretending otherwise. If you’d like to know what does bother me, I’ll tell you. It bothers me that atheists in Indonesia can be tossed into prison for saying they’re atheists on Facebook. It bothers me that gays and lesbians in Uganda are threatened with long prison sentences for merely existing. It bothers me that poor people around the world, including the US, have almost no chance of escaping poverty. It bothers me that we haven’t done enough to reform the financial industry to make credit crises less likely. It bothers me that Europe can’t get its economic shit together. It bothers me that women have to deal with rape, and with men who don’t take rape seriously. It bothers me that the US congress is so shot through with global warming deniers that we remain paralyzed in the face of the problem.  It bothers me that innocent people are falsely convicted of crimes and are forced to waste their lives behind bars. It bothers me that people are so ignorant of history and of the sciences.

(And this doesn’t even get to all the personal shit that bothers me. Take me out to dinner and I’ll talk your ear off about that.)

All these things that bother me have one thing in common: they are real problems that can be solved through human action. They are many and varied, and the solutions will require millions of us to work hard and long, but this work must be done, because no god is going to swoop in to do it for us. Knowing all the energy, mental and physical, that solving these problems will demand, I think the shallow ones are those who burn even one calorie bemoaning the nonexistence of the nonexistent.

Do You Have To Read A Friend’s Book?

From Slate:

No. One cannot just go around reading the books of friends and acquaintances. The exceptions to this rule are few and obvious—looking at a draft to give constructive criticism, searching for thinly veiled gossip, so on. The sound reasons for obeying the rule are many and various. Like, what if the book turns out to be a best-seller? If you read the future best-seller and determine it to be bad, then you have to resent your friend’s success. If you read it and determine it to be good, then you have to envy his talent. There’s no way to win. Never read your friends’ books, probably. Instead, buy a copy, read the first and last sentences, skim the fourth chapter, cast a forensic eye at the acknowledgments page, and give it as a gift to someone else.

I see things a bit differently. I generally would not read a friend’s book draft to give criticism, constructive or otherwise. I already get a steady supply of unpublished work in the form of MMIP submissions, and between that and my own work I don’t have time to delve into other people’s writing problems. Also, I don’t generally bother myself about whether a book becomes a bestseller, and I’m not keen on professional envy. I understand that this is show business, and the amount of money and attention a author’s book receives comes from a mysterious mix of talent, commercial appeal, hustle, and timing. Envy’s a wasted emotion.

In the end, if I felt inclined, I’d probably buy a friend’s book without mentioning it. If I read it and liked it, I’d say something. If I disliked it, my friend need never know I picked it up. That’s the nice thing about books. Reading is a private act. Try going to a friend’s movie premiere and then having to screw on a smile and talk to them after two of the worst hours you ever spent outside a dentist’s office. You end of saying things like. “You must be so…I mean, thrillers. I like thrillers and movies and this was definitely one of those two…things…well, we should be going, you know. Traffic. That was…Bye.”

Of course, none of my friends have ever disliked my work. Right? RIGHT?!?

I Hate The Sun, and We Have to Save America From It.

In 2007, Slate inaugurated the A Fine Whine column, in which a Slate writer lets fly at some (usually petty) annoyance for a couple of pages. It came infrequently at first, but its been appearing more and more often lately, and, at the risk of imitating what’s bugging me, it’s starting to make my back teeth itch.

Reason? It’s enervating when young, reasonably successful people sound like the fogeys who protested WKRP’s changeover to rock and roll:

Carlson: …We had a group of crackpots over there. They were attacking everything. They were attacking rock and roll, WKRP, me, and pay toilets.

Having said that. I know that Slate‘s running columns about why its writers hate dogs and fireworks because they’re click and comment bait. So, whore that I am, I’ll tell you right now that I hate the Sun, and I don’t care who knows it. I hate its prominences, and I hate its stupid flares that mess with my cell phone. Who likes skin cancer? Am I right? And where does the overrated Sun get off taking up exactly the same amount of sky as the vastly superior Moon? Think of the Moon. It’s got phases and craters and shades, and sometimes it doesn’t appear in the sky at all, allowing us an unobstructed view of the universe. The Moon is the total package of celestial objects. What’s the Sun got? It’s bright. And it the only reason it looks good rising or setting is because of assists from the Earth’s clouds and humanity’s smog, while the Moon’s awesome on its own merits.

Shakespeare’s Juliet knew what she was talking about. The goddamn sun is garish, and if all the world isn’t in love with night, it damn well should be. You know who else was on to something? Mr. Burns from The Simpsons, who hit it right on the snout when he said that for centuries mankind has yearned to destroy the Sun. If anyone wants to get a Kickstarter project going to build Mr. Burns’s giant sun blocker, my $10 is in, baby. Give me the T-shirt.

You know what the slogan on it will say? “Fuck the sun.”

Am I right?

Are You Pondering What I’m Pondering?

My review of Jim Murdoch’s novel Milligan and Murphy is up on the Dactyl Review site. Given that my review is mixed, I must say that Mr. Murdoch is an awfully good sport.

Nerds everywhere are busy analyzing every pixel of the Star Trek Into Darkness trailer as if it were the Zapruder film. They needn’t bother. Based on what I saw, another British actor comes after parallel-universe Trek crew, bent on revenge and armed with science fiction megaexplosive #37. What a fecund imagination that JJ Abrams has.

According to this Slate article, the Mormon church may be in the process of evolving on homosexuality. Slate’s summary of the church’s current advice to parents of gay children: “Don’t throw your children out of the house because they’re gay. Do teach them, though, not to have gay sex.” Now if only the church could go back in time to 1958, it could congratulate itself for serving as a progressive force in American life.

Today, Mitch McConnell filibustered his own bill. Maybe we’ve got the problem in Congress wrong. Could it be that there’s just some sort of addictive element to filibustering and McConnell can’t help chasing the dragon?

And speaking of disgusting pests that are nearly impossible to get rid of, bed bugs have taken to infesting library books. These little bastards are really pissing me off.

Later.

Dudes and Doubitability

Reading Rebecca Watson’s Slate article on sexism and sexual harassment in the skeptical community depressed me this morning. (And with a cold coming on and a car in the shop, I wasn’t in the market for anything more to be depressed about.) I don’t consider myself a member of the skeptic community, or indeed, of almost any community, but my admiration for many of skepticism’s leading lights–Carl Sagan, Martin Gardner, the Mythbusters, Neil DeGrasse Tyson, Lindy West, Julia Sweeney–is beyond question. I am an atheist and freethinker who believes that if the human race is ever going to stop being a moral embarrassment, we’re going to have to develop humane replacements for the habits of mind that lead us to accept sexism, racism, xenophobia, and homophobia.

I’ve always thought that skeptics and freethinkers were in the best position to lead on those issues. We pride ourselves on our ability to set aside hidebound ways of thinking, to question traditional assumptions, and to bust long-standing myths. And there is nothing more hidebound than sexism and the patriarchy it bolsters.

The patriarchy emerged in the neolithic era, when women’s work was restricted to crop harvesting and the production of offspring, while men grabbed the more glamorous jobs of trading, toolmaking, and warfare. Though human society was, in past epochs, more egalitarian, seven thousand years is a long time to inculcate the sexist divisions of labor and cultural habits that the neolithic peoples’ bronze age descendants committed to stone tablets and papyrus. Priests and potentates, to bolster their own patriarchy-based legitimacy, saw to it that religion and culture modeled and justified a sexist view of the world, rehearsing the ways in which they’d later use it to justify racism and homophobia, sexism’s younger siblings.

What hold should the social attitudes toward women of late stone age/early bronze age peoples have on those of us living in the 21st century? That is an issue that skeptics can address, for there is a world of cultural and religious mythology to explore, and a great deal of bunk in need of debunking, when it comes to the excuses people give for why women shouldn’t do certain kinds of jobs, shouldn’t be educated, shouldn’t dress as they like, shouldn’t control their bodies. The area is way too rich for skeptics to ignore.

But instead, when confronted with a skeptic with XX chromosomes, some male skeptics appear comfortable with not only with holding stone age attitudes about women, but also defending or excusing them. In doing so, they employ arguments that they’d laugh out of the room if the topic were God, Holocaust Denial, or UFOs. A quote from Richard Dawkins, taken from Rebecca Watson’s Slate article, in which he slags on her conference discussion of misogyny in the skeptic world:

Dear Muslima

Stop whining, will you. Yes, yes, I know you had your genitals mutilated with a razor blade, and … yawn … don’t tell me yet again, 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 …

And you, Muslima, think you have misogyny to complain about! For goodness sake grow up, or at least grow a thicker skin.

Richard

If Dawkins can’t understand that a Rebecca Watson might enter the environs of creepoutsville when a stranger invites her, apropos of nothing, to his room, his imagination rests on a smaller plot of land than I thought. But let’s leave that aside for a minute. Dawkins missed, out of either ignorance or malice, what was clearly Watson’s larger point:

In June of 2011, I was on a panel at an atheist conference in Dublin. The topic was “Communicating Atheism,” and I was excited to join Richard Dawkins, one of the most famous atheists in the world, with several documentaries and bestselling books to his name. Dawkins used his time to criticize Phil Plait, an astronomer who the year prior had given a talk in which he argued for skeptics to be kinder. I used my time to talk about what it’s like for me to communicate atheism online, and how being a woman might affect the response I receive, as in rape threats and other sexual comments.

The audience was receptive, and afterward I spent many hours in the hotel bar discussing issues of gender, objectification, and misogyny with other thoughtful atheists.

 

Dawkins ignores the issues of rape threats and harassment, choosing what he takes to be the least serious of Watson’s examples. And he does this in order to…what? To suggest that because Saudi women are treated abominably that Watson has no cause to complain? It’s the kind of logic I might expect of the miserable prick who stole my car: “Dear Cambodian Refugee, I know that two millions of your brothers and sisters were tortured and brutally killed by the Khmer Rouge, but stop your fussing. Look what this poor American whose car I stole had to put up with.” Dawkins’s rhetorical trick is brilliant at shutting down the conversation. Look at the miserable Saudi woman! Isn’t religious oppression awful? And let’s not pay too much attention to the woman an atheist harassed. It’s the appeal-to-emotion red herring, and if Uri Geller used it, skeptics would rightfully fry him for it. But any person of moral sensibility should get that the other people’s felonies don’t excuse our misdemeanors. Women should have the right to proceed through life without having their genitals mutilated, but they should also be able to speak their minds in public without having members of their community threaten to rape them, either in person or in website comments. One form of abuse may be more severe than the other, but women in either situation have ample cause to feel abused.

In at least one sense, the misogyny of some in the skeptic community fails to surprise me. Sexism is old, far older than any religion currently practiced, older even than written language. It’s infested our culture, our politics, our language, and our lives on a deep level. Freethinking movements prize reason, and that’s good, but they also evolved from a culture steeped in gender bias.

Skeptic groups, because they needn’t fret over the implications of upending tradition, should be better at purging misogyny from their movement than religious groups are. The tools are at their disposal. I hope they follow Rebecca Watson’s example and set about using them, because this shit’s really old.

The Missing Liberal Canon

A Slate article by Beverly Gage with the unfortunate headline “Why Is There No Liberal Ayn Rand?” crossed my sight earlier today, inspiring the question “Why should anyone wish for one?” But the article’s actual question is a better one. Conservatives tend to cite a fairly narrow range of texts that sum up their philosophy of government: The Road to SerfdomAnarchy, State, and Utopia; The Book of Virtues, Witness, A Vindication of Natural Society, The Bible, and so on. By contrast liberals, a less unified lot in general, tend to pull their intellectual influences from so wide a range of thinkers that it’s hard to get them together to produce what could be described as a unified canon of liberal thought.

The article points out that this is reflective of liberal political movements generally, which tend to fragment into issue oriented advocacy on behalf of groups within the coalition, without taking the time to build a language common to all factions. While there have been texts from leftist writers that have made claims to universality–The Communist Manifesto, On Liberty, A Theory of Justice–none have held the undisputed title for long in liberal circles. (Marx has taken a particular hit for having been associated, fairly or not, with the 20th century political tyrannies that claimed to be based on his ideas.)

Gage argues that this lack of a canon is a problem for liberal intellectuals.

Some of this imbalance is due to the relative weakness of the current American left. Liberals are not the logical counterweight to conservatives; leftists are, but they are few in number. Still, we have the political spectrum that we have, and liberals fail to take up the intellectual challenge at their peril. Conventional wisdom suggests that Romney may have doomed his electoral bid by choosing an ideologue—one who likes to go on about Ayn Rand!—as his vice presidential nominee. Yet it seems equally possible that Ryan’s nomination will do just what Romney wants: mobilize a base of committed activists who share most of Ryan’s basic ideas.

The default mode for liberals and progressives in such situations has often been to celebrate “diversity”—intellectual, racial, sexual, and of most other sorts. In many ways this is for the best. Nobody wants to return to an era in which politics and political ideas were dominated by a handful of white men, however thoughtful. Yet we rarely pause to consider what liberals have lost by neglecting a common intellectual heritage and by attempting to win political success without a political canon. At its best, a canon helps people put the pieces together, offering long-term goals and visions that sustain movements through periods of trial and defeat. Without those visions, liberals have no coherent way of explaining where we’re headed, or of measuring how far we’ve come.

I agree with Gage that the left is moribund in U.S. political life, and that we’re probably past due for someone to develop a new Grand Unified Theory of the the left that takes on issues of racism, sexism, environmentalism, class struggle, economic growth, and globalization. Where trouble comes is in figuring out how all of these different, sometimes incompatible parts, can be fused in a way that advocates for each the various causes liberals care about can respect.  The liberal coalition’s diversity is the barrier to the project. The more diverse a coalition is, the easier it is to stir up arguments within it. Whoever frames the big idea for the left would have to find a way to defend it from attacks not just from conservatives, but from liberals annoyed at perceived slights to this or that faction.

It’s this tendency among denizens of the left that make this scene funny:


By contrast, the conservative coalition, in the U.S. anyway, is uncomplicated, with few moving parts. Conservative libertarians and conservative Christians may love laissez-faire capitalism for different (and sometimes contradictory) reasons, but their adoration of it is sufficient for them to tolerate disagreements in other areas. (This is why conservative libertarians cede ground on social issues to conservative Christians: so long as the libertarians get their tax cuts and their slashed regulations on business, abridged rights of women or the long jail sentences served by drug users mean little to them.) Conservatives also tend to be culturally and ethnically homogenous in the U.S., which gives them fewer areas for disagreement and eases their acceptance of common authority. It’s little wonder that conservatives agree on a canon, with so few reasons to disagree on one.

So, at the risk of bringing Lenin into it, I’ll ask, what is to be done? Obviously, if a project to intellectually unify the left in the 21st century were easy, someone would have done it by now. It’s likely that each of the texts from which we’d draw would annoy someone enough to disqualify it. Das Kapital‘s analysis of the economy is out of date and unsuited to late capitalism; John Kenneth Galbraith’s Affluent Society is a handy general description of the modern economy but lacks rigor. Can all current questions of race really be submitted to the works of Martin Luther King, or of sexism to Betty Friedan? Maybe, but probably not. The works that unified the left in the past came from contemporary voices arising from contemporary conditions. They may have drawn inspiration from their past, but they were addressed to their now. So must it be with any new unifying text for the left. Don’t look for it on the bookshelves or in libraries. It hasn’t been written yet.

Oh, and if you think you’re in the process of writing it, stop reading my blog and get back to work. The people need you.