Wednesday, November 28, 2007


Pardon's the word to all_!
[Footnote 1: "Cymbeline," Act v. Sc. 5.]

Whatever folly men commit, be their shortcomings or their vices what they may, let us exercise forbearance; remembering that when these faults appear in others, it is our follies and vices that we behold. They are the shortcomings of humanity, to which we belong; whose faults, one and all, we share; yes, even those very faults at which we now wax so indignant, merely because they have not yet appeared in ourselves. They are faults that do not lie on the surface. But they exist down there in the depths of our nature; and should anything call them forth, they will come and show themselves, just as we now see them in others. One man, it is true, may have faults that are absent in his fellow; and it is undeniable that the sum total of bad qualities is in some cases very large; for the difference of individuality between man and man passes all measure.

In fact, the conviction that the world and man is something that had better not have been, is of a kind to fill us with indulgence towards one another. Nay, from this point of view, we might well consider the proper form of address to be, not Monsieur, Sir, mein Herr, but _my fellow-sufferer, SocĂ® malorum, compagnon de miseres_! This may perhaps sound strange, but it is in keeping with the facts; it puts others in a right light; and it reminds us of that which is after all the most necessary thing in life--the tolerance, patience, regard, and love of neighbor, of which everyone stands in need, and which, therefore, every man owes to his fellow.

Schopenhauer, in an exceedingly compassionate mood.

Monday, November 26, 2007

As Jane Eyre said...

"There is no happiness like that of being loved by your fellow-creatures, and feeling that your presence is an addition to their comfort."

Even if the creatures is mainly cats.

More from Jane Eyre here

Thursday, November 22, 2007

On the Problem of Schopenhauer

Schopenhauer is my favorite philosopher. For pure readability, as well as clarity of thought and originality, there's none better. Except on the issue of women. Schopenhauer was convinced of women's inferiority. I like to think that, just as with the evolutionary psychologists, Schopenhauer mistakes the social construction of female inferiority with innate inferiority. Although Schopenhauer went even further than EPs, suggesting that males are more physically attractive than females. As an avowed female heterosexual I might be convinced of it, but no EP will be.

In any case, much of his work is now available for free online (what DID we do before the Internet?) and I'll be posting various nuggets here from time to time.


That is certainly the strong point of religion. If it is a fraud, it is a pious fraud; that is undeniable. But this makes priests something between deceivers and teachers of morality; they daren't teach the real truth, as you have quite rightly explained, even if they knew it, which is not the case. A true philosophy, then, can always exist, but not a true religion; true, I mean, in the proper understanding of the word, not merely in that flowery or allegorical sense which you have described; a sense in which all religions would be true, only in various degrees. It is quite in keeping with the inextricable mixture of weal and woe, honesty and deceit, good and evil, nobility and baseness, which is the average characteristic of the world everywhere, that the most important, the most lofty, the most sacred truths can make their appearance only in combination with a lie, can even borrow strength from a lie as from something that works more powerfully on mankind; and, as revelation, must be ushered in by a lie. This might, indeed, be regarded as the cachet of the moral world. However, we won't give up the hope that mankind will eventually reach a point of maturity and education at which it can on the one side produce, and on the other receive, the true philosophy. Simplex sigillum veri: the naked truth must be so simple and intelligible that it can be imparted to all in its true form, without any admixture of myth and fable, without disguising it in the form of religion.


You've no notion how stupid most people are.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

The most useful show on television

Sex Talk with Sue Johanson - watch and learn.

The only complaint about this "A Spot" tutorial I have is that she doesn't say whether the man is supine or prone when you insert.*

I found this diagram to be helpful.

Thank you Sue and the Ohio State University Medical Center. You have provided a valuable public service.

*based on the angle of Sue's hand, the answer is prone (on his belly)

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

NYTimes Racist Reagan Speech Battle, Round 4

First the mighty Paul Krugman got the ball rolling with Seeking Willie Horton:
Ronald Reagan didn't become governor of California by preaching the wonders of free enterprise; he did it by attacking the state's fair housing law, denouncing welfare cheats and associating liberals with urban riots. Reagan didn't begin his 1980 campaign with a speech on supply-side economics, he began it - at the urging of a young Trent Lott - with a speech supporting states' rights delivered just outside Philadelphia, Miss., where three civil rights workers were murdered in 1964.

Well the right wingers weren't going to stand for that, so Bobo Brooks stepped up to defend Reagan, on behalf of conservatives everywhere, with this retort:
Today, I'm going to write about a slur. It's a distortion that's been around for a while, but has spread like a weed over the past few months. It was concocted for partisan reasons: to flatter the prejudices of one side, to demonize the other and to simplify a complicated reality into a political nursery tale.

The distortion concerns a speech Ronald Reagan gave during the 1980 campaign in Philadelphia, Miss., which is where three civil rights workers had been murdered 16 years earlier. An increasing number of left-wing commentators assert that Reagan kicked off his 1980 presidential campaign with a states' rights speech in Philadelphia to send a signal to white racists that he was on their side. The speech is taken as proof that the Republican majority was built on racism.

The truth is more complicated.

Bob Herbert was not about to take that Reagan pity party lying down:
Throughout his career, Reagan was wrong, insensitive and mean-spirited on civil rights and other issues important to black people. There is no way for the scribes of today to clean up that dismal record.

To see Reagan’s appearance at the Neshoba County Fair in its proper context, it has to be placed between the murders of the civil rights workers that preceded it and the acknowledgment by the Republican strategist Lee Atwater that the use of code words like "states' rights" in place of blatantly bigoted rhetoric was crucial to the success of the G.O.P.'s Southern strategy. That acknowledgment came in the very first year of the Reagan presidency.

Ronald Reagan was an absolute master at the use of symbolism. It was one of the primary keys to his political success.

The suggestion that the Gipper didn't know exactly what message he was telegraphing in Neshoba County in 1980 is woefully wrong-headed. Wishful thinking would be the kindest way to characterize it.

Today Krugman jumps in to support Herbert: Republicans and Race:
More than 40 years have passed since the Voting Rights Act, which Reagan described in 1980 as "humiliating to the South." Yet Southern white voting behavior remains distinctive. Democrats decisively won the popular vote in last year's House elections, but Southern whites voted Republican by almost two to one.

The G.O.P.'s own leaders admit that the great Southern white shift was the result of a deliberate political strategy. "Some Republicans gave up on winning the African-American vote, looking the other way or trying to benefit politically from racial polarization." So declared Ken Mehlman, the former chairman of the Republican National Committee, speaking in 2005.

And Ronald Reagan was among the "some" who tried to benefit from racial polarization.

True, he never used explicit racial rhetoric. Neither did Richard Nixon. As Thomas and Mary Edsall put it in their classic 1991 book, "Chain Reaction: The impact of race, rights and taxes on American politics," "Reagan paralleled Nixon's success in constructing a politics and a strategy of governing that attacked policies targeted toward blacks and other minorities without reference to race — a conservative politics that had the effect of polarizing the electorate along racial lines."

Thus, Reagan repeatedly told the bogus story of the Cadillac-driving welfare queen - a gross exaggeration of a minor case of welfare fraud. He never mentioned the woman's race, but he didn’t have to.

There are many other examples of Reagan's tacit race-baiting in the historical record. My colleague Bob Herbert described some of these examples in a recent column. Here’s one he didn't mention: During the 1976 campaign Reagan often talked about how upset workers must be to see an able-bodied man using food stamps at the grocery store. In the South — but not in the North - the food-stamp user became a "strapping young buck" buying T-bone steaks.

Now, about the Philadelphia story: in December 1979 the Republican national committeeman from Mississippi wrote a letter urging that the party's nominee speak at the Neshoba Country Fair, just outside the town where three civil rights workers had been murdered in 1964. It would, he wrote, help win over "George Wallace inclined voters."

Sure enough, Reagan appeared, and declared his support for states' rights - which everyone took to be a coded declaration of support for segregationist sentiments.

Reagan's defenders protest furiously that he wasn’t personally bigoted. So what? We're talking about his political strategy. His personal beliefs are irrelevant.

Why does this history matter now? Because it tells why the vision of a permanent conservative majority, so widely accepted a few years ago, is wrong.

The point is that we have become a more diverse and less racist country over time. The "macaca" incident, in which Senator George Allen's use of a racial insult led to his election defeat, epitomized the way in which America has changed for the better.

And because conservative ascendancy has depended so crucially on the racial backlash - a close look at voting data shows that religion and "values" issues have been far less important - I believe that the declining power of that backlash changes everything.

Can anti-immigrant rhetoric replace old-fashioned racial politics? No, because it mobilizes the same shrinking pool of whites - and alienates the growing number of Latino voters.

Now, maybe I’m wrong about all of this. But we should be able to discuss the role of race in American politics honestly. We shouldn't avert our gaze because we’re unwilling to tarnish Ronald Reagan’s image.

Ouch! Looks like David Brooks is gettin' his ass kicked! Well, only an arrogant fool like Bobo would challenge the mighty Krugman.

How Reagan-lovers must love our current president - only he can make Reagan look smart, competent and honorable in comparison.

Monday, November 19, 2007

What's wrong with Christopher Buckley

The fact that he's a Buckley automatically makes you assume he's incredibly pleased with himself, and incredibly smug.

I just caught his movie "Thank You for Smoking" after being told how great it was. I had avoided it because, well, Buckley.

So I watched it, and most of it wasn't as bad as I expected... although what I expected was cynicism and an "even-handed" approach to the issue of smoking. Lobbyists are bad but so are reporters, cancer victims, politicians, anti-smoking activists, etc. etc. Well of course, many lobbyists are Christopher Buckley's friends, or friends of his father.

Buckley's approach to right-wing evil is best described in his own words:

I voted for George W. Bush in 2000. In 2004, I could not bring myself to pull the same lever again. Neither could I bring myself to vote for John Kerry, who, for all his strengths, credentials, and talent, seems very much less than the sum of his parts. So, I wrote in a vote for George Herbert Walker Bush, for whom I worked as a speechwriter from 1981 to ’83. I wish he’d won.
Washington Monthly
He knows Bush is wrong for the country, but Kerry is not cool enough so he does something completely pointless instead.

Or as a reviewer in Salon says:
Besotted with its dazzling protagonist and committed to equal-opportunity attack, the film has no point of view beyond the position that everyone concerned is either amoral or an idiot or an amoral idiot. Aiming at all targets and hitting none of them, the movie is as harmless and inconsequential as a candy cigarette.

But Buckley reveals his true nature by what happens to the lobbyist and the reporter who gets the inside scoop on his activities. Although the lobbyist is completely amoral he winds up on top at the end. The reporter, who had sex with him while getting the scoop, is demoted to doing the weather, and the movie gleefully shows her reporting from the middle of the storm.

That's Buckley's true, unvarnished, unmediated emotion right there on the screen - punish the bitch. Sexual women are the true evil in this world. He is a true son of the Catholic Church. And always will be.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Origin of the Alison Bechdel Rule

Also known as the Alison Bechdel Test.

I just recently learned of this at Pandagon.

Clearly most animated movies for children (see below) will fail this test - even if you substitute "female" for "woman."

Yes, Natalie, we live in a patriarchy

But I'm glad the NYTimes finally addressed the issue - people who make animated movies, generally assumed to be aimed at children, not only skew the male to female character ratio heavily in favor of males, they actually go out of their way to misrepresent the natural world in order to do it. As Natalie Angier notes:
By bowdlerizing the basic complexion of a great insect society, Mr. Seinfeld’s “Bee Movie” follows in the well-pheromoned path of Woody Allen as a whiny worker ant in “Antz” and Dave Foley playing a klutzy forager ant in “A Bug’s Life.” Maybe it’s silly to fault cartoons for biological inaccuracies when the insects are already talking like Chris Rock and wearing Phyllis Diller hats. But isn’t it bad enough that in Hollywood’s animated family fare about rats, clownfish, penguins, lions, hyenas and other relatively large animals, the overwhelming majority of characters are male, despite nature’s preferred sex ratio of roughly 50-50? Must even obligately female creatures like worker bees and soldier ants be given sex change surgery, too?

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Class, anger and blogging

Cathleen Shine reviews Katha Pollitt's Learning to Drive: And Other Life Stories in The New York Review of Books and it is a massive improvement over the Ana Marie Cox review of Pollitt's previous Virginity or Death! in the NYTimes. Although that's not especially high praise since Ana Marie Cox is trying to be the sucessor to the shallow catty Maureen Dowd.

Barbara Ehrenreich has a great response to it.

I haven't read Pollitt's latest book in its entirety, but have read many of the individual essays.

I'm a long-time fan of Pollitt but one thing that tends to annoy me about Pollitt is that her views are shaped by her upper middle class upbringing. She's lived a bit of a sheltered life which is a primary reason why she didn't learn to drive until she was 52. She learned to drive because she bought a house on the Connecticut shore. I learned to drive because public transportation in South Jersey is a joke and I needed to drive myself to a series of crappy low-paying jobs in third-hand junkers - one of those jobs was driving instructor.

Not to pick on Pollitt - inevitably the people who make a living as writers come from comfortable backgrounds. Because the decision-makers come from that class, and as with any career, it's who you know.

But at least, as a liberal, Pollitt doesn't let her own good fortune blind her to the harsh realities of the poor - one of the major differences between well-off liberals and well-off conservatives.

I have to wonder if her idealism causes her to get the arrows of causality wrong in her interview with Terri Gross. She and Gross discuss rambling guys and how women are supposedly attracted to rambling guys. Pollitt suggests that women are attracted to rambling guys because women want to be rambling guys themselves. This is pure idealism, and has nothing to do with the realities of sexual economics.

Rambling guys aren't sexy because they ramble, rambling guys can ramble because they are sexy. If the rambling guy wasn't sexy to begin with, few or no women would get involved with him. There are sexy guys who don't ramble - but sexy monogamous guys can easily find a partner. Which often leaves women who can't find sexy men with the option of settling down with non-sexy guys, or taking up with sexy non-monogamous guys. And since sexy rambling guys will ramble into many women during the course of their years of sexual attractiveness, it makes sense that many women will end up having some kind of contact with those guys.

This is not an idealistic empowering view of women. Although it isn't non-empowering either. It's rather neutral - it reflects the reality of the scarcity of sexy yet trustworthy men.

But it does piss me off - a leading thinker of feminism doesn't get that reality. In fact, I don't know of any professional thinker who does. They all have some idealistic explanation for the ways of the world, that are only marginally better than just-so stories of the evolutionary psychologists.

If it wasn't for this blog, I'd be even more frustrated and angry about this state of things. Not that I think my readership compares to Pollitt's. But it beats writing letters to the editor.

Monday, November 05, 2007

go atheists!

Stanley Fish's occasional columns on God and Religion tend to become freethinker free-for-alls.

Fish's recurring theme is that atheists are meanies:
In short, these books neither trivialize their subject nor demonize those who have a different view of it, which is more than can be said for the efforts of those fashionable atheist writers whose major form of argument would seem to be ridicule.
The long tradition of deists consigning non-believers to eternal torment, if only in their fevered imaginations, seems to bother him much less.
My co-non-believers are a bright bunch, and it's hard to top them. So this time around, I won't try, I'll just quote them:

The summary statement praises the two books for not demonizing opposing views. Wouldn't it have made a better summary statement then, when rejecting atheistic ridicule, to also reject religious hatred of atheism?
- Posted by Suzanne

The question of belief in a Personal God is addressed by Ehrman. The question of belief in God as Starter-Pistol is addressed by Flew. These are different lines of inquiry and cannot be easily compared and contrasted. Is a man who accepts God as Creator but rejects a Personal God an Atheist? The term "Atheist" needs to be defined carefully to have a meaningful discussion on this subject.
- Posted by Mike Marks

Antony Flew is an old dude who’s been hoodwinked by the godnuts into questioning reality. In their fear of losing their grip on the masses, the godnuts have succeeded in ensnaring this poor old man in their delusion: That there IS a heaven and hell,god and the devil. There is, there is, there is! If only you could make something be true by repeating it. It’s time to move on and embrace reality. Perhaps we can still save ourselves from ourselves before it's too late.
- Posted by Anna Galvin

"How can a universe of mindless matter produce beings with intrinsic ends [and] self-replication capabilities? […]
The only satisfactory explanation for the origin of such 'end-directed, self-replicating' life as we see on earth is an infinitely intelligent Mind."
A pity to have such an interesting question answered by simply postulating God’s existence. I also wondered why God lets bad things happen when my dog was put down, but I was 10 and have since grown up and learned to think for myself. If we are indeed plagued by an 'inherited [sic] virus', I’d say it is the faith-in-God one.
- Posted by Theodora (meaning, of course, God's gift!) Terzidou

I’ve been contemplating a statement made–I cannot recall where–in rebuttal against those who "gleefully" conclude there is no God: the science-religion debate is immeasurably enriched when materialists do not dismiss religion but engage with "sincere and learned persons" to reflect on the vitality of religious perspectives in conversation with materialist ones. That sounds nice. It seemingly comforts, let’s say, those who consider themselves to be open-minded Christians in debate with modern materialists. Now what about Astrology? Will astronomers be enriched by engaging sincere and learned astrologers in conversation about the influence of the positions of stars and planets on individual human destinies? I’m curious: how many astronomers regularly read their daily horoscope? How many astrologers faithfully follow the latest discoveries in astronomy? Are these two areas of study mutually exclusive?
- Posted by Ken Frank

Here in 2007, the right answer to questions like Why is there something rather than nothing, or how does consciousness work, is "I don’t know" or “We don’t know” (yet), not, "There must be a god."
Primitive peoples all over the world posited creatures like Echo, who yells back at you when you stand and call out. Today we know the physical explanation of echoes, and no one believes in Echo anymore.
From ignorance, nothing follows.
- Posted by tjallen

Most arguments for and against a god-presence in the cosmos assume a supernatural, father--igure. Perhaps one of our problems is that we are unable to fathom something entirely different. If we did I think we might have a much more interesting conversation. The one we are presently having has gotten old and boring.
- Posted by Gordon Alderink

Friday, November 02, 2007

You learn something new every day

It turns out I'm a member of the Sawn family tree
They even have my dad's obituary.

And WOW - thanks to this web site, I just realized that my great great grand parents were Yorkshire neighbors of Charlotte Bronte - I'm currently working on an adaptation of Bronte's Jane Eyre. My great-grandmother's grandparents, Robert Parkinson and Sara Fairburn were married in Dewsbury, Yorkshire in 1851. Charlotte died in Yorkshire at age 39, in 1855.

Before he was given a parish in Haworth, Charlotte's father Patrick was a curate in the Parish of Dewsbury.