Some of my fellow cynical, skeptical, atheist types don’t always understand why I have such a negative reaction to veganism, yoga and all sorts of touchy-feely alternative spiritual practices. Many of you say, “Sure, it’s woo, but what’s the harm?” You see, I didn’t grow up in the Bible Belt. I didn’t live in an area with a lot of Evangelical Christians. I did live in a town which was known for its arts community. I don’t remember any Baptist Churches, although I do remember Unitarian and Quaker Churches and a big Victorian House associated with the Transcendental Meditation movement, you know, that movement run by the guy who said he could teach his followers to levitate. I later went to a small liberal arts college which wasn’t Evergreen, but is sometimes spoken of in the same context with about a dozen of other small, liberal arts schools. I do have acquaintances who went to Evergreen. It’s part of the larger milieu in which I frequently find myself.

In the wake of yet another campus temper tantrum, I came across this video:

Did you pick up that the song in the background is “Somewhere Over the Rainbow?” “We come together and we eat food – and that’s one of the most ancient spiritual practices.” You can’t satirize it.

This sort of heterodox spirituality can be just as oppressive, stultifying, small-minded and inimical to rational thought as any Bible thumping. Just as many former evangelicals have a nearly allergic reaction to a faith they feel like they escaped, it’s hard for me to see this sort of stuff without wanting to curl up in a fetal position.

Still, there is a known antidote:

I wish that for just one time you could stand inside my shoes
And just for that one moment I could be you
Yes, I wish that for just one time you could stand inside my shoes
You’d know what a drag it is to see you

Brilliant, harsh stuff. Matter of fact, I think I’m going to go listen to Blonde on Blonde, loud.

If you haven’t already seen this, you’ve got to see this.

Two decades ago, I was personally delighted by what is now known as the Sokal Hoax. I had been a literature major at a small liberal arts college. Sometimes I felt as if I was too down to earth, or perhaps just in touch with reality, for the humanities. I often felt as if academic papers veered off into gobbledygook. However, if I complained about the nonsensical jargon, other students would stick their nose in the air and tell me that perhaps I just wasn’t smart enough to understand it. Deep down inside, I couldn’t help feeling that they were the ridiculous ones and I had a distinct feeling that the emperor had no clothes.

In 1996, Sokal submitted an article to Social Text, an academic journal of postmoderncultural studies. The submission was an experiment to test the journal’s intellectual rigor and, specifically, to investigate whether “a leading North American journal of cultural studies – whose editorial collective includes such luminaries as Fredric Jameson and Andrew Ross – [would] publish an article liberally salted with nonsense if (a) it sounded good and (b) it flattered the editors’ ideological preconceptions”.

The article, “Transgressing the Boundaries: Towards a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity”, was published in the Social Text spring/summer 1996 “Science Wars” issue. It proposed that quantum gravity is a social and linguistic construct. At that time, the journal did not practice academic peer review and it did not submit the article for outside expert review by a physicist. On the day of its publication in May 1996, Sokal revealed in Lingua Franca that the article was a hoax.

Well, it seems we have been treated to another, similar hoax.

Peter Boghossian and James A. Lindsay have written a paper, “The Conceptual Penis as a Social Construct” and it has been published in a peer reviewed journal called Cogent Social Sciences. The content of the paper was intentionally incoherent.

The most potent among the human susceptibilities to corruption by fashionable nonsense is the temptation to uncritically endorse morally fashionable nonsense. That is, we assumed we could publish outright nonsense provided it looked the part and portrayed a moralizing attitude that comported with the editors’ moral convictions.

Disturbingly, however, they also note:

As a matter of deeper concern, there is unfortunately some reason to believe that our hoax will not break the relevant spell. First, Alan Sokal’s hoax, now more than 20 years old, did not prevent the continuation of bizarre postmodernist “scholarship.” In particular, it did not lead to a general tightening of standards that would have blocked our own hoax. Second, people rarely give up on their moral attachments and ideological commitments just because they’re shown to be out of alignment with reality.

In the 1950s, psychologist Leon Festinger revealed the operation of the well-known phenomenon called cognitive dissonance when he infiltrated a small UFO cult known as the “Seekers.” When the apocalyptic beliefs of the Seekers failed to materialize as predicted, Festinger documented that many cultists did not accept the possibility that the facts upended their core beliefs but instead rationalized them. Many Seekers adopted a subsequent belief that they played a role in saving the world with their fidelity; that is, they believed the doomsday-bringing extraterrestrials were so impressed by their faith that they decided not to destroy the world after all!

It is therefore plausible that some gender studies scholars will argue that the “conceptual penis” makes sense as we described it, that men do often suffer from machismo braggadocio, and that there is an isomorphism between these concepts via some personal toxic hypermasculine conception of their penises.

We sincerely hope not.

I’ve been working on a novel and it occurred to me that if would be really useful plot wise if one of the characters had a tattoo. However, I really can’t relate to them. A couple of years ago I read a quip that said, “I’m a rebel – I have no tattoos,” which is about how it feels these days. Interestingly, I’ve never even dated a man with tattoos. My ex-husband got a tattoo after I left him. Weirdly, it had a vague relation to me. Why anyone would want to get a tattoo to remind them of the ex-wife is an interesting concept to think over. Maybe it was like the movie Memento: Avoid women like this!

So I was poking around on the internet doing various searches related to tattoos, trying different combinations of words because I wasn’t just trying to look up images of cool tattoos but trying to understand why my particular character might have a tattoo, etc. Anyway, I saw the title “Capitalist Alienation Made Me Hang From Hooks,” which was really a funny title, so I clicked. I might discuss it if I have time – or maybe not.

Another really fascinating article I read this morning was in the Atlantic Monthly. I really would like to discuss this when I get a chance, especially since the subject of contemporary slavery came up a couple of weeks ago. It’s a story about a family from the Philippines who move to the United States bring with them a servant who is essentially a slave. The journalist who wrote it was writing about his own family. It’s a compelling story and very well written. I would really be curious to know what anyone else thinks of it.

For years “Richard Gere” was a name that indicated to me that I probably didn’t want to see a movie. He was a young heart-throb actor when I was in my late teens. Some swooning friends dragged me to see “An Officer and a Gentleman,” which I admit was not half as bad as I expected, but my friends carried on in a way that made me embarrassed to be female. That was the last I bothered to see a movie starring Richard Gere… until I saw “Hoax.” I went to see “Hoax” for no real reason beyond the urge to see a movie, any movie, and not expecting much. I was pleasantly surprised by Gere’s performance. It was especially surprising given that so many older lead actors embarrass themselves by trying to hold onto action or romantic hero roles at an age that makes them seem like male Norma Desmonds. Gere, on the other hand, has been willing to take on roles that are unglamorous.

It’s really hard to get less glamorous than the main character in “Norman: The Moderate Rise and Tragic Fall of a New York Fixer.” Seeing that we’re virtually drowning in movies that take place in overblown fantasy worlds with superheroes and other over-the-top characters, it’s refreshing to see a drama that takes place in the real world. It’s not a boring, slow-moving, slice of life picture, either. The stakes are high enough to generate real tension. There’s a side of me that I really wanted it to be a great picture. However, it’s only a good picture.

If I understand correctly, “fixer” is the closest English equivalent to the Yiddish word “macher.”

“Its kind of network has no head, only a nerve center: the mediator, the macher. He has to touch all the various bases one after the other — engineers, officials, government leaders — in order to oil the creaking wheels of the mechanism, both large and small.” (source)

However, Norman isn’t truly a fixer, but he’d like to be one. He’s mostly a failure and, as such, he is simultaneously annoying and poignant. The main weakness in the movie, to my mind, was that the plot was not quite believable enough for a realistic movie. Norman befriends an Israeli politician. I didn’t entirely buy the relationship between the two main characters. An extra scene or two to establish a stronger relationship between them would have helped. Also, the politician, Michal Eshel, played by Lior Ashkenazi, didn’t seem ruthless enough to rise to the level he does. These feel like quibbles, but they do keep the movie from being great.

The acting is wonderful throughout, but I really want to mention Michael Sheen, an actor who hasn’t really been on my radar. I recognized the face but couldn’t put a name to it. He plays Norman’s nephew, who both cares about his uncle and is embarrassed by him. He simultaneously tries to look out for him and distance himself from him. It was a complicated set of emotions and motivations to play and Sheen does a fabulous, subtle job. Sometimes actors get too much credit for over-the-top performances and the more naturalistic ones get overlooked.

While the movie isn’t great, it is good. It feels original, which makes it worth seeing.

The other movie I saw this week was “King Arthur: Legend of the Sword” and let me tell you it sucked. First of all, I’ve never heard of the lead actor Charlie Hunnam and I hope I never hear of him again. Hunnam seemed too old for the character he was playing. By coincidence, Gere was also in a bad King Arthur picture once upon a time. The director of Gere’s picture, “First Knight” said:

“The thing about First Knight, for anybody who’s actually into the Arthur legend, it’s probably ludicrous, because we didn’t actually pay any attention to it, other than the names of the characters, and Camelot, and the idea of knights of the Round Table stuff.” (source)

Hmmm….. the same could be said of “King Arthur.” The director, Guy Ritchie, seems to be clueless as to why the Arthur legend has been so compelling for so many people. Even the sci-fi comic book, “Camelot 3000,” with aliens and a lesbian Sir Tristan, seemed more in the spirit than this overblown nonsense.

Jude Law makes a depressing contrast with Gere. If Gere has become a better actor over time, Law seems determined to go in the other direction, from being a serious actor to a dreadful hack. It’s disappointing because I’ve really enjoyed Law’s performances in the past.

It just makes it seem worse that it must have been an expensive movie to make. It was a massive waste of money. Don’t waste your time.

Wild columbine is one of my favorite flowers. Back when I was living with my sister and taking care of her garden I tried several times to plant it. Each time, the squirrels dug it up. More than destroying the flowers, it seemed that they liked taking advantage of the loosened soil and the depression in the ground once the plant was gone to use the space as a sort of dirt bath. Finally, I tried putting it in a pot to see if that discourage the digging. The squirrels sometimes hide nuts in the pot, but they haven’t destroyed the plant. Several years later and it’s doing quite well.

Most people who read this blog are probably aware that being an atheist is considered disadvantageous when running for office in the U.S.

Asked about a list of traits and how each would impact their likelihood of supporting a presidential candidate, about half (53%) of Americans said they would be less likely to support an atheist.

No other trait, including being gay or having never held elected office, garnered a larger share of people saying they’d be less likely to support the potential candidate. (Source: Pew Research)

A number of years ago, I attended a meetup that was connected to American Atheists. One man who appeared to be in his mid-twenties told us about a friend of his from college. When the friend decided to go into politics he took several of his close friends aside and asked them not to tell anyone that he was, in fact, an atheist. In the interest of his career, he was going to pretend that he was a Christian.

Today, I saw an article in The New York Observer that speculated that Mark Zuckerberg is getting ready to run for public office. One of the indications – he’s declared that he’s no longer an atheist.

And all this comes after some other obvious politically motivated moves. As we’ve previously reported, Zuckerberg recently: revealed that he is no longer an atheist; appointed Obama administration alum David Plouffe as head of policy and advocacy for his charitable initiative; wrote a 5,700-word mission statement that reads like a State of the Union address; and even rewrote Facebook’s proxy statement so that he could retain control of the company while serving in elected office. (Source)

Any thoughts?

Back when I used to participate on left-wing sites more than I do today, I used to worry about tone trolling. I was tempted to do a lot of that. Let’s say that I appreciate calling a spade a spade rather than, oh, let’s say, Hitler. When to bother people about excesses in their rhetoric and when to let it slide was always a problem for me. Like many of the people who get accused of tone trolling, I was always worried about the boy who cried wolf. I do worry, and it’s a genuine worry, I don’t mean to troll, that if you insist on calling everyone who disagrees with you a racist then when you are actually confronted by real racism you will have a problem communicating that.

Democrats love to call Republicans racist. However, if we look at the historical origins of the Republican Party, we can see that racism is not integral at all. Republicans often call themselves “the party of Lincoln.” The corresponding phrase for the Democrats used to be “the party of Jefferson.”

The first statewide convention that formed a platform and nominated candidates under the name “Republican” was held near Jackson, Michigan on July 6, 1854. It declared their new party opposed to the expansion of slavery into new territories and selected a statewide slate of candidates.


The new party went well beyond the issue of slavery in the territories. It envisioned modernizing the United States—emphasizing giving free western land to farmers (“free soil”) as opposed to letting slave owners buy up the best lands, expanded banking, more railroads, and factories. They vigorously argued that free market labor was superior to slavery and the very foundation of civic virtue and true republicanism—this was the “Free Soil, Free Labor, Free Men” ideology. (Source: Wikipedia)

Now, that was 150 years ago and one can argue how much of that remains in the Republican Party, but it must be said that there is nothing innately racist about the Republican Party.

The Front National, on the other hand, united several far right political movements in France during the 1970s.

In order to create a broad movement, the ON sought to model the new party (as it earlier had sought to model itself) on the more established Italian Social Movement (MSI), which at the time appeared to establish a broad coalition for the Italian right. (Source: Wikipedia)

The Italian Social Movement was a neo-fascist movement – I don’t mean that in an “everyone who disagrees with me is a fascist sort of way.

In 1946 a group of Fascist soldiers founded the Italian Social Movement to continue the idea of Benito Mussolini. (Source: Wikipedia)

Unsurprisingly, the party has been dogged by accusations of racism, xenophobia and, above all, antisemitism since its inception.

In 2011, longtime party leader Jean-Marie Le Pen, stepped down and his daughter became the head of the party. His daughter has tried to make the party more mainstream and has tried to reduce the antisemitism. However, many people doubt whether or not she has been successful in that.

In recent weeks, I’ve seen conservatives in the U.S. express support for Le Pen. I can’t help wondering if the constant accusations of racism have led them to ignore them.

Of course, I blame the establishment parties for the rise of Le Pen. They seem to lack the will to face current problems.

I should have made predictions regarding Trump and Brexit. So, here is my predictions regarding the French elections. I think Le Pen will do well and has a high chance of making it into the run-off election. However, I think there is no way she can win a runoff. Both the left and the center right will vote against her. Really, now that I think about it, it’s a shame a doorknob isn’t running because a doorknob might be a better choice than any of the candidates.

This morning’s Telegraph says, “the world will be watching to see just how far the “populist wave” has travelled.” However I wouldn’t take a Le Pen loss as indication that the populist wave has slowed. The accusations of racism among members of the Front National are far more credible than similar accusations leveled at rank and file Republicans. The slogan “France for the French” has long been associated with the Front National.

Sometimes you read something and you are really taken aback by just how little you know. I came across this paragraph after following links on entirely different subjects:

I saw a slave ship — a dhow — in Dar-Es-Salaam harbour in 1955. Saudi Arabia only abolished slavery ten years later. I have a fury against any religion that justifies slavery. It is an abomination and still widespread.

That was a response to a question posed to John Rhys-Davies, the actor who played Gimli in The Lord of the Rings. Here’s the source. I was looking up something totally unrelated and that just jumped out at me.

I wanted to take a little time to respond to Ruth’s comment from the other day and to elaborate a bit on my distinction between liberalism and leftism. Unfortunately, it’s not a quick answer and involved looking some things up to make sure I got them right and, as these thing often do for me, I’ve been putting that off for a couple of days. In the meantime, I see that the article that prompted my original post, which I originally read due to a link on Real Clear Politics, has been taken down by the Huffington Post because it has been discovered to be a hoax. It seems that the writer does not exist. Before writing my own post, I had clicked on the author’s page and saw only that one article. However, because she (or he) claimed to be a student, I just assumed it was the first thing that writer had had published. My opinion of the Huffington Post was never high and now it is even lower.

Before moving, I was reading a book called Stoned: Jewelry, Obsession and How Desire Shapes the World by Aja Raden. It’s very enjoyable. It has a very light, amusing style, but there are lots of fascinating, mostly historical, tidbits. Now that I’m moved, I was able to take it out again and am almost done.

At one point, she talks about eye tracking studies and how men and women look at different parts of men and women’s bodies in pictures. Then she brings back her main subject of jewelry.

When both groups, male and female, are shown a picture of a man and a woman from the shoulders up, the eye tracking results for both groups are nearly identical. Both genders spend an equal, and extraordinarily long, amount of time looking at each and every piece of jewelry the subject is wearing – in most case, far longer than they spend looking at the faces.

Not sure why that tickled my funny bone, but it did.

The chapters don’t completely stand by themselves because she’ll refer to a gem mentioned in one chapter, like La Peregrina, a large pearl owned by Mary Tudor, in another chapter, so it’s best to read the book in order. Yet the chapters are very episodic, so it’s a good book for something like traveling when you expect to get interrupted regularly. I read part of it on a train, put it down, and was able to pick it up again a week later without feeling like I lost anything. It’s a fun book even if you aren’t into jewelry.

For the past several mornings, I’ve woken to find this little guy on my window sill. He hasn’t minded me banging around while making coffee too much, but he began to edge away when I tried to take a photo. Unfortunately, the auto focus on the phone focused on the screen. I haven’t seen his right foot. I’m not sure if it’s missing or if he’s just standing one one foot. What is it with me and critters with a maimed or missing limb?