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For about the third or fourth time recently, I have come across a place where someone has stated that I, and people like me, are living in a bubble. Amanda Marcotte wrote an article recently entitled 6 Kinds of Atheists. I guess it might be useful those people who have never met an atheist and think that we are all elderly, argumentative, British biologists, but who also happen to read Amanda Marcotte. Personally, I think Marcotte should have put the article in quiz form so it could have been published in Cosmo, or perhaps as a quiz on OK Cupid. Still, even without a, b, c and d choices, I read it eagerly to find out what kind of atheist I was. Yes, I know, I’m a little self-involved. Perhaps I should have been wondering what other types of atheists are out there, but I didn’t. I was thinking of moi, moi, moi.

The first category was the “Intellectual Atheist/Agnostic.” Surely, I thought, that is I. At 38 percent, Marcotte tells us, these are the most common type of non-believer. Of course, sensible people all, I imagine. “These types often get mistaken for dogmatic atheists, however, because they have a tendency to join skeptic’s groups or otherwise find avenues to discuss non-belief with others.” Well, I went to go hear a lecture sponsored by American Atheists once and another sponsored by the Freedom From Religion foundation, I guess that counts. “They like debating religion….” Oh, well, maybe not. I like to flatter myself that I’m an intellectual and I am most certainly an atheist, however, perhaps I am not an “Intellectual Atheist.”

Behind door number two we have “Activist Atheists.” “This group also gets commonly accused of being dogmatic, but like the intellectual atheist, while they’re firm in their beliefs, they’re intellectually flexible and don’t prioritize attacking believers.” Aha! There we go. I’m an “Activist Atheist.” Let’s read more about yours truly. “Instead, they are motivated by a strong sense of humanist values to make change in the world, often making related issues—such as feminism, gay rights, or the environment—a priority over simply advocating atheism.” Hmm… maybe. “This group also advocates for a better, more egalitarian atheist community….” What community? I kind of hate that whole “atheist community” thing. We have nothing in common, quite literally. They are, I should point out, 23 percent of the nons.

Next up for consideration, the “Seeker-Agnostic.” “They prioritize not-knowingness.” I spent nearly a decade in this category. Marcotte describes them as being “uncomfortable committing to non-belief completely,” which I think is a judgemental way of putting it. It doesn’t have anything to do with “comfort.” I started out calling myself an atheist around the age of eight or nine, then starting around seventeen or eighteen I began to use the word agnostic. Sometime in my late twenties I realized that calling oneself “agnostic” is like walking around with a note that says, “Please convert me,” taped on your back. Frankly, calling myself an atheist is far easier. If nothing else, it does shut people up.

Online, I’ve met a few Anti-Theists, and I know I’m not that. “This group tends to get conflated with all atheists by believers, but they only constitute 15 percent of non-believers. Like the Intellectual Atheists, they like to argue about religion, but they are much more aggressive about it and actively seek out religious people in an effort to disabuse them of their beliefs. While most atheists limit themselves to supporting a more secular society, anti-theists tend to view ending religion as the real goal.”

With four out of six down, I seem to be running out of choices. Now here we have a category that she describes as not believing “in any gods, but don’t think about those who do very often.” Yeah, that would be about right. “In such a religious society, simply opting out of caring much about religion one way or another is nearly impossible….” Well, she does have a point there. I wind up thinking about it much more than I’d like on account of the news and other people who thrust religion on me. Officially, we are called “Non-Theists” and are “only 4.4 percent of non-believers,” although personally I suspect most of us simply didn’t bother to fill out the questionnaire. Huh… what’s this here? “In some skeptical/atheist circles, this group is disparagingly referred to as ‘shruggies.’ ” So you’re all talking about be behind my back! Shruggie? Well I never! Speculating wildly, Marcotte opines, “However, some quite likely are indifferent because they’re fortunate enough to live in a bubble where belief doesn’t matter one way or another.”

It is not a fucking “bubble.” It is a carefully constructed submarine so I don’t drown.

I’m a naturally critical person. Present me with any argument, any man-made object, any work of art and one of my first instincts is to poke at it trying to find the weaknesses. Generally, being critical of a point someone makes, or part of their argument, does not imply that I disagree with everything, or even most. However, publicly, meaning on this blog since that’s my only real public forum, there are people of whom I tend to not be critical because I want to avoid potentially undermining people with whom I more or less agree. The most prominent of these groups, or at least the ones that make me bite my tongue most often, are atheists and feminists. So, with that elaborate introduction, please consider that what follows is in no way intended to be interpreted as invalidating what Jinan Younis has to say.

It’s not a coincidence that “sex” is the first word in my tag line. The sexual revolution may have happened decades ago, but there are times when it feels that sexual liberation for women is still in its infancy. One of the reasons I started this blog was to talk about sex. I have had acquaintances refer to me as a “sex-positive feminist” and in the near future I will talk about why I don’t embrace that term, but for the moment I would just like to point out that I frequently express view that causes people to put me in that category. I’ve started writing down my memories partly because I feel that I can’t speak for anyone else and, also, because concepts of sex and sexuality are so laden with stereotypes the only way to combat those stereotypes is to be highly specific, sometimes graphically so.

In “What happened when I started a feminist society at school,” Younis, recounting her reasons, says:

…I started to notice how much the girls at my school suffer because of the pressures associated with our gender. Many of the girls have eating disorders, some have had peers heavily pressure them into sexual acts, others suffer in emotionally abusive relationships where they are constantly told they are worthless.

However, she does not name denying oneself sexual pleasure as something which causes girls to suffer. Feminism’s message, that I could enjoy sex, that I didn’t have to say, “No,” when I wanted to say, “Yes,” was an integral part of its appeal for me. Admittedly, the list of how a male dominated society can harm women could be a long list and some things in a one sentence explanation will be omitted. Still, in a series of photographs of women holding a whiteboard reading, “I need feminism because…,” several of the pictures reinforce gender stereotypes regarding sexuality and, disappointingly, not one counters them.

“Groping is not okay.”

“A woman should have the power and confidence to say, ‘No.'”

“I refuse to live in a world where my ‘holes’ are considered as ‘goals.'”

Ironically, this week’s installment of my memories is tentatively entitled “Groping in the Dark.” Of course, the groping in my story was entirely consensual, and done with a boy my own age, I might add, while the groping mentioned on the sign is, I presume, non-consensual. Once, around the age of twenty-six, while crossing the street wearing an outfit k.d. lang could comfortably borrow, three men passed me in the cross walk. One grabbed me from behind, slipping his arms under my armpits, effectively rendering my arms useless and involuntarily arching my back. Another grabbed my breasts with both hands and squeezed rapidly several times. Then they let me go, they giggled stupidly and ran off. That episode stands out as one of the weirdest because it happened in broad daylight, crossing a busy intersection, with a sizable crowd watching, most of whom seemed as surprised as I was. There have been enough other episodes of this nature in my life, that I understand them to not be a isolated incidents, but a pattern of behavior which, over time, has the result of making women feel insecure. Depending on the locale where you live, this is not “groping.” It is sexual assault, albeit of a comparatively mild kind. I suppose “Non-consensual sexual contact, no matter how brief, should be recognized as being illegal and, despite the probable difficulty in prosecuting any given incident, immoral and anti-social” wouldn’t fit on the whiteboard.

Now you may, very reasonably argue that sexual assault is a more important, and more urgent, issue than feeling good about one’s sexual desire. However, I need to disagree because I see cultural attitudes as a network of connected memes, bits of received wisdom and assumptions. The dominant narrative, if I may use a phrase that makes me cringe, is: “Men want sex while women want relationships. Men have a high sex drive and value women primarily for their looks; women have a low sex drive and value men for their ability as providers. It’s acceptable for men to do whatever it takes to have sex and avoid relationships. Women will do whatever it takes to have a relationship and avoid sex.” Feminists would like men to understand that “No means no.” However, that can only be the case if one presumes that women will say, “yes,” when they mean yes.

Similarly, the woman who talks about “holes” and “goals” probably doesn’t expect, or even want to, live in a world where no men want put their penises in women’s mouths, vaginas or anuses. We understand the message on her whiteboard, or think we do, only because we bring to it a necessary set of assumptions about sexual behavior, assumptions that men seek sex while women deny it, therefore, when heterosexual intercourse occurs, the man has won, and in many circumstances the woman is viewed as having lost, especially if a relationship does not result.

The whiteboard that makes me the most sad, however, is the one that says, “I need feminism because my boyfriend thinks women are inferior.” If you are in an abusive relationship, I am probably not the friend you want, but I am the friend you need. This young woman needs a friend to tell her exactly how awful this is in no uncertain terms, probably impolite ones.

Thinking about some of the emotions and psychology that might lie behind that terribly sad sign brings me to some of the difficulties the young women are having on social media. As I found myself saying to Holly a few days ago, women are taught that their bodies have value and their affections do not. Boys are taught the opposite. As long as everyone agrees on these complementary facts, men and boys will continue to believe, as a general rule, that they have the upper hand in social media. They believe that their approbation, or lack thereof, is important. Like the existence of Tinkerbell, it’s only true as long as everyone believes in it. Speaking to the young women in question: If you think your affections, your esteem, your friendship and your company are of value, then you need to withdraw them from people who are undeserving of it. I could say the same thing to young boys as well. If you have value, then your friendship has value and you should not be friends, even Facebook friends, with people who undermine your well-being. We all know, because we’re taught by overly paranoid adults, about self-destructive behaviors regarding drinking, promiscuous sex and drugs. Befriending people who treat you poorly is also self-destructive, probably a more common form of self-destructive behavior than any of the more obvious “vices.” Nota bene: If you have confidence in yourself, other people will seek your approval. It took me a bit of being beaten up and ostracized in school to learn that one. If I can pass that on to anyone without them having to suffer the blows, I’d like to.

As someone who has called herself a feminist since the age of thirteen or fourteen, I’m gladdened to see that Younis has started a feminist group at school. I know that there’s nothing as tiring as an older person saying, “Been there; done that.” However, if I can give you a bit of hard-won advice, hold your head up! Yes, sometimes it can be hard to weather the storm, but it will pass. If you give in, the bullies will taste blood and the response will be worse the next time.

Younis wrote the article not because of the harassment online, but because of the fact that the response of her school was to suggest that the students should take down the offending photos. The rationale? For their own protection. I won’t sugar coat the situation. Standing out will draw hostile responses. However, so will standing out in any way, by being too pretty, or too ugly. Too smart or too talented. Too successful. Too feminine. Too masculine. I hardly think your school would like all of you to try for perfectly robotic averageness. Well, I originally came across the article via Shattersnipe, who handles that part better than I can.

Yo! Your chiefness. Not for nuthin’ – but I’m from Jersey, exit 154 off the Parkway if ya really gotta know. (Yeah, I know. I’m a snob. And what are ya gonna do about it?) Yeah, that’s the “New” Jersey. I guess we prahbly lack the “grAHvEEtAHSS” of the old Jersey, which is like… a cow or somethin’. Whatevah.

So, you’re worried about the fucking barbarians? You see any barbarians around, send ‘im our way. We’ll give ‘im a little talkin’ to. Get this barbarian problem straightened out in no time. Trust me on this.

Hobbes, Spinoza, Voltaire, Nietzsche. So, it seems like you prefer your atheists dead. Lots of people like their opponents dead. Let’s see. Voltaire… hmm, you talkin’ about the guy that said that Jews “are, all of them, born with raging fanaticism in their hearts, just as the Bretons and the Germans are born with blond hair. I would not be in the least bit surprised if these people would not some day become deadly to the human race.” That Voltaire? I don’t want to be presumptuous, but aren’t you, like, Jewish? I mean being a rabbi and all. That’s kinda weird, no offense. Me, I’m always on the verge of liking Voltaire when I remember that shit, pardon my French, and that crap about Africans being dumber than apes. And Spinoza, you mean old Benedict? The guy that was thrown outta your tribe? And Nietzsche… I dunno what to say about Nietzsche. We hadda read a few of his books back and school and, no disrespect, but I got the feeling he wasn’t too right in the head. And Hobbes, okay, ya got me, I only ever read Leviathan, so correct me if I’m wrong, but I think we’ve gotta nail down what ya mean when you say “atheist.”

So, ya got yer preferred atheists. Didn’t see my name among them. S’okay. I got my preferred Jews, and I’m not gonna hurt anyone’s feelings by making the list public, but let’s just say, no disrespect, but your name’s not on it. Whatevah, my list of favorite atheists is prahbly diffrent than yer list. S’okay. At least we got that Spinoza fellow in common.

Ya got me on that sub specie aeternitatis thing. I’ll be straight wit you. I hadda look it up. Sorry you feel it’s been dumbed down. Can’t really address your problem unless you can be more ‘pecific. Who dumbed it down? Where? And yeah, I’m tone deaf, so what of it? Letting me sing Christmas carols, that’s my definition of Christian charity. As far as the book of Psalms goes, I understand what ya mean. Me, I always feel bad for people who think Robinson Carusoe is a children’s book, also for people who don’t get the profundity of Wilke Collins’ The Moonstone. As far as transcendence and the miracle of being, I’m not sure if you really want to go there. The first time I got laid, that was fucking transcendent. I kid you not. Really. It was fucking great. To be totally honest wit’ ya, I sometimes suspect that real religious people didn’t get good mind-blowing banging at the right age. But, hey, that’s just an opinion. And as far as that drama stuff goes, just between you and me, I could use a little less drama in my life. I’m just sayin’.

Not bein’ a reader of The Spectator, I s’pose I could leave it like that, like you say. But I’m not gonna, ’cause I’m kinda a pain that way.

So now we’re back to Nietzsche. So, he said that, without the Christian faith, Europeans whose ancestors had for a time been Christians, would cease loving their neighbors as themselves (which I’m glad they did ’cause otherwise they might have had some progroms or crusades or somethin’, just sayin’) and the strong would dominate the weak – good thing that shit never happened. Hallefuckinglujah and praise Jesus for that.

You know what that put me in mind of. The first page to Harvey Kurtzman’s The Jungle Book. A classic. One of my favorites, like the book of Psalms is one of yours. It reads “UP FROM THE APES! / (and right back down) / In Which Are Described / In Words and Pictures / Businessmen, Private Eyes, Cowboys, And Other Heros — ALL EXHIBITING — [THE PROGRESS OF MAN] / From the Darkness of the Cave / INTO THE LIGHT OF CIVILIZATION / by means of Television / WIDE SCREENMOVIES / THE STONE AXE / and other useful arts.” Okay, I’m gonna be honest wit ya. I never really had a favorite Jew list. I nevah even thought about it. But if I had a favorite Jew list, Harvey’d be on it. Which makes me wonder. Why aren’t the New Jews like the old Jews? The old Jews were funny, clever, intellectual-like. They questioned the assumptions of society. They weren’t afraid of barbarians at the gates. They WERE the barbarians at the gates. Why can’t the New Jews be incisive and intellectual like my favorite Jews? Why can’t you, Rabbi, be more like Harvey? Harvey was fuckin’ great. There was some gravitas in Annie’s fucking Fanny. If ya can’t appreciate the wisdom of Harvey, what can I say, some people are tone deaf and maybe I oughtta leave like that. (For the humorless – I’m parodying Mr. Saks’ article. I don’t actually believe there are “New Jews” and “Old Jews,” just like there aren’t really “New Atheists” and “Old Atheists.” However, Harvey Kurtzman was truly one of the greats of the sequential arts – and that’s no joke.)

So, you say, “Lose the Judeo-Christian sanctity of life and there will be nothing to contain the evil men do when given the chance and the provocation.” Nice sleight of hand there. First we’re talking about Christian ethics which has suddenly become the Judeo-Christian “sanctity of life.” I’m not really sure what that means. Do you mean that people who do not, and perhaps never did, worship the tribal god of Abraham’s people do not have the concept of the “sanctity of life” and there is “nothing to contain the evil men do when given the change and the provocation.” I mean really. What the fuck am I supposed to say to that? Have you ever read Bartolemé de las Casas? Do you know anything about any culture that existed beyond Europe and parts of the Middle East? Do you truly believe that in the Americas, in Africa, in Asia there was more evil than there was in Christian Europe? Really, ya gotta get outta the house more. Jerry Coyne gives you far too much credit when he says, “Sacks could have been a scholar, a surgeon, or any number of professions that are actually useful.” Personally, I’m glad you’re not gonna be operating on me anytime soon.

As far as where morality comes from, well, other people have addressed it. Honestly, from my point of view, it isn’t my problem. Here’s a problem for you. If the tribal god of Abraham is the source of all morality, what is the source of morality for people belonging to other cultures? Or do they not have morality?

Personally, I don’t believe we should worship anything at all, certainly not the market. However, do you believe that coddling of the banks by governments around the world after the financial crisis was a result of atheism? Do you believe that failure to understand the work of Keynes and respond to the crisis with sufficient stimulus was a result of atheism? Do you believe that atheists have caused the crony capitalism which is spreading through our governments? Is this all the work of atheists? Are there no Jews and Christians working at those banks or numbered among those CEOs?

Being from Jersey, the new one, I don’t know about the “mild Christian Britain.” Here, we used to have something called “genteel anti-Semitism.” As someone who can pass for Wasp, let me tell you, there’s nothing genteel about it. It just throws me for a loop when Jews wax romantic about the past. Really? You want to bring back the days when Jews were excluded from certain occupations, from certain schools, certain clubs. Damn! I don’t want to bring that back and I’m not even Jewish.

Humanity hasn’t been here before. Take a look at the growth of the material well-being of the average person over the past couple of centuries. Only the comfortable and insulated can deplore this as materialism. For most people this means decent food, decent housing, medication, education and many practical things. It is individualism that brought Jews out of the ghetto, that made slavery undefendable, that allowed women to choose their own future, to make hereditary rule inexplicable. My own struggle with the liberalism promoted by the Enlightenment is why, without leftists and radicals, it has been so weak on the questions of social justice where I feel it should be stronger.

Rabbi, you and I will never see eye to eye on a simple fact. I do not believe that people should be chained to the group to which they were born. I believe that people should have the freedom to live the life they feel called to live. I believe this for the reason that I want this for myself. Your beliefs, if they were followed to their logical extreme, would send Jews back to the ghetto where you could be prince of the paupers. The segregationists in the U.S. tried to promote the idea that separate can be equal. It can’t be.

Finally, at the end, you mention the barbarians you first named in your title. It was a long time coming. You are so vague, I would have had no idea about whom you are speaking except that other people have identified these barbarians as Muslims. After many paragraphs complaining about atheists, it seems that the real threat is another group who also worship the tribal god of the people who trace their lineage to the mythical figure of Abraham, specifically, those among them who are most fervent in their worship and who most believe in the absolute truth of their holy book. This is… how do I say this… odd. You denigrate atheists at length because… Muslims.

Honestly, at this point I can only guess at what you’re trying to say. Enlightenment Liberalism will not defeat Islamism? Is that your argument? Rabbi Saks, I’m afraid you wrote the most incoherent mess of nonsense and I’m not sure why I spent so long responding to it. The only reason I’m publishing it is because I am already behind on my posts.

As anyone who saw yesterday’s post may have gathered, I’m trying to teach myself to use 3D modeling software. To that end, I attempted to sign up for an internet forum on the subject. The forum has rules, as these things do. One of the rules was no weird names. Okay. Keep your stuff family friendly. Okay, again. No nudity. Okay. Sort of. I mean, I wouldn’t sign up for a forum and post things against the rules because I’m not that kind of antagonistic person, but I do have my own philosophical feelings on the subject and nudity is a-ok by me. In fact, I thought about it a bit and 3D modeling… hmm… that’s, like, artistic stuff, isn’t it? And artists draw naked people. It’s an integral part of your traditional artistic eduction. Conflating nudity with sexuality is something that irks me more than a bit. You can have something sexual where people are fully clothed and you can have nudity that’s not sexual. Or you can have both.

Meanwhile, a few days ago, Daz over at The Dixie Flatline put up a post about how to talk to an atheist which was inspired by the fact that according to his stats (If you don’t have a site on WordPress, they have a page that tells you your “stats.”) and found there that many people arrive at his site after searching for “how to talk to an atheist.” This inspired me to look at my own stats. Um… no, I’m not going to make a porn video. I posed for nude photos when I was young and still passably attractive. For better or worse, I didn’t indulge in the moving images. Since I’m now going on fifty, I think my time to shine as a porn star has passed. Beyond that, I need to put up more pictures of naked people in general and women in particular. Somehow, I’m not surprised.

Back to the 3D modeling forum, and in the explanation of their rules, they mention that they have users from all over the world. So, I started thinking about how there are different standards around the world about how much clothing you need to wear to be “decent.”

Somewhere, I thought of the line that some atheists use to explain to theists that their lack of belief is not really different from a theist’s lack of belief in one of the many competing religions in the world, “I just believe in one less god than you.”

Throw that all into my brain, add Manet’s Olympia for good measure, and this popped into my mind:

An image made with 3D modeling software that looks like a cardboard cutout of a naked woman lying on a bed. A word balloon says: "I'm not naked. I'm just wearing one item of clothing less than you."

If anyone experienced with 3D modeling software can tell me why the cast shadows are clipped off in a funny way, I’d appreciate it.

As a child, I liked to draw and was moody, so I was deemed an artistic type and a free spirit. Once you are labeled as a type of any sort, other people project onto you various qualities. Growing up, people made many assumptions about what I would or would not like based on this label. Most of the time, they were right. When you’re young, and don’t yet know much of the world, you accept these assumptions, at least as a starting point.

By the late seventies, there had been something of a reaction against modernism. The sixties and the counter culture’s love of ornament and romanticization of pre-modern societies set the tone. An artist, in popular imagination, would live in a Victorian era house with macrame around the doorways, ferns in the windows and lots of tchotchkes and trinkets. The second town my family lived in embraced this style. Mostly, however, they weren’t artists; they were bobos avant la lettre.

So, when I grew up and moved to New York, it seemed a natural fit to move into a floor-through in Brooklyn with tin ceilings, foot-wide woodwork, and french doors. I lived in two consecutive apartments of this sort in the neighborhood of Carrol Gardens, both built around 1870.

A real estate boom, followed by a real estate bust, suddenly made my rent stabilized apartment in Brooklyn overpriced. Meanwhile, I started working as a decorative painter and was starting, for the first time in my life, to do well. I gave notice and moved… to Manhattan. Cue the theme song to The Jefferson’s

We’re moving on up. To the… the.. west.. uh… to Chelsea. To a dee-lux apartment on the second floor.

Built in 1960, my new apartment was what was often derisively called a “white box.” It was no great example of architecture by anyone’s standards. It was one of hundreds of similar buildings, frequently made of yellow brick, that went up around New York City in the post-war era. It was exactly what I had told all my life I would most hate. It was boring – and I loved it.

The nineteenth century brownstones were drafty in the winter and brutal brick ovens in the summer. In order to not die in a heat wave in the summer, you had to block up your windows with air conditioners which cost a small fortune to run. Of course, now that your windows were blocked up you had no choice but to run them even in the mild weather. Furthermore, they blocked the light and made a long, narrow, dark apartment even darker. My new apartment was easily heated and cooled. Despite the fact that the last apartment had been significantly larger in terms of square feet, the new apartment had more usable space due to the rational layout. Best of all, I could clean the apartment in a couple of hours on a Saturday morning. What a chore cleaning both of those other places had been. Somehow, they always looked dingy.

Did I mention that bit about being a decorative painter? I rag rolled the walls, a white glaze over yellow. I put a Greek key stencil around the ceiling. I got some very nice ivory colored silk and made drapes with a Kingston valance. I thought it looked pretty sharp for a twenty-three year old, if I don’t say so myself. What I realized is that a white box is a blank slate and it’s only as boring as its inhabitant is willing to let it be.

The interior of the living room of an apartment.

Now that I’m older, it looks a bit fussy to me and I guess it’s a little dated, but I think you can see my overall point about a white box being the equivalent to a blank canvas. The drapes are not done yet in this photo. All the furnishings are either hand-me-downs or picked off of the garbage. (Note the kitties!)

So many people, when they saw my apartment, would be surprised. Time and time again, people would say to me, wouldn’t you rather live in a funky place somewhere like Park Slope. Actually, no.

First things first: Gimp.

As someone who’s used Adobe’s products for over a decade, I’ve been trying to make sense of what’s been going on with that company lately. Like many of their customers, I have a love-hate relationship with the company. Their products are not cheap. The first version of their Creative Suite that I bought was actually an old version because the computer I had at the time didn’t wasn’t sufficient to run the version that was most current. I remember searching around for an old copy. Even still, it felt like an indulgence, a very expensive toy, because I was not, nor was I ever, a professional graphic artist. I had already been using a stand alone copy of Illustrator for a few years at that point. When I received a digital camera as a gift, I was the first person I knew, outside of the person who had given me the camera, to have a digital camera. At that point, the Creative Suite, bundled with Photoshop, made sense, or at least I could justify spending the money. It came with Adobe’s website editing software, GoLive. I had a bit of fun learning how to make a web page. Eventually, Adobe acquired Macromedia and its products like Flash and Dreamweaver. GoLive, which I preferred to Dreamweaver, was discontinued. However, that didn’t matter much at first because I wasn’t a web designer and I continued to use that old version of the Adobe Creative Suite until that computer went belly up and I had to get a new one.

Generally, I get a new computer when the old one is too dead to repair. I go as long as I can between new machines, which is about a year or two longer than the average. I rarely buy a computer simply because I want something shiny and new.

It’s hard to explain my behavior in terms of the paradigms used by marketing departments. When I was in my mid-thirties, I dated a marketing executive for a time. He told me that he originally wanted to be an engineer, but was rejected by the engineering school because his grades and test scores were not high enough. Instead, he majored in business. He was exceedingly amused by the fact that he now told engineers what to do and made tons more money than they did. Needless to say, he didn’t increase my respect for marketing people. I have been in every category of the Diffusion of Innovations theory. The funniest part of that theory is the ascription of personality traits to what should be functional categories. So the early adopters are “younger in age, have a higher social status, have more financial lucidity, advanced education, and are more socially forward,” while laggards are “focused on “traditions”, likely to have lowest social status, lowest financial fluidity, be oldest of all other adopters, in contact with only family and close friends.” I have been both, sometimes in consecutive years.

I was among the first non-tech people I knew to have a personal computer at home, and the first woman by several years. Consequently, when I don’t like a new innovation, like that jumping paper clip that totally freaked me out, and I’m told that I should accept it because “it’s the future” and my only reason for not embracing it is that I’m “afraid of technology,” I am not convinced. Clearly the person who is saying these things has no clue what he or she is talking about. By making sweeping generalizations about my personality, which I know to be untrue because, after all, it’s my personality, the writer is demonstrating that he or she has no interest in facts or analysis and is posturing for some reason that is beyond my ability to understand. Some of the people I know who are the least interested in touch screens, the most skeptical of “the cloud”, dislike terribly Windows 8 and don’t engage much in “social networking” are tech people. They are not afraid of technology. Mindless consumerism, however, doesn’t appeal to them much.

When Windows 8 was not installing correctly on my computer a few weeks ago, I looked on the internet to see if anyone else had had the same problem and if there was a solution. Instead of finding a discussion of real problems I found article after article of psychic psychologists masquerading as tech writers that helpfully offered that people having problems with Windows 8 were just laggards afraid of the future. Do these people even realize how stupid they look when they write that crap? Hello? You’re a tech writer and you don’t understand “Windows 8 operating system crashes” is not a choice I made?

Finally, I built my new computer, yes, a desktop, installed Windows 7, installed Slackware Linux (yes, I’m old), and took out my three-year-old disks of Adobe’s Creative Suite and installed it on my new computer. Considering that I just spent a load of money on hardware as well as paying for both Windows 7 and Windows 8 (yes, I’m unhappy about that) I wasn’t about to spend money to upgrade to the next version of Creative Suite, at least not right away. However, I tend to plan big purchases ahead of time so I can save up or adjust spending in other areas if necessary, so I looked on Adobe’s website to find out what version they were up to. Everything was Creative Cloud, Creative Cloud, Creative Cloud, as if they had only one product. So, when Adobe announced last week that they were no longer offering their Creative Suite and now only selling their Creative Cloud, it came as no surprise to me. Their website had been reflecting that decision for a few days at least.

So what is this Creative Cloud? First of all, it’s loved by Wall Street and deceptively named. If that doesn’t raise your suspicions right there, then I’ve got a bridge to sell you.

First of all, it has relatively little to do with the “cloud.” Just the other day, a friend of mine, a programmer, editor at a technology magazine and all-around knowledgeable guy, writing about a different subject, said to me, “Most people don’t know what they mean when they talk about the cloud. Marketing people are the worst. They call things the cloud that have nothing to do with it but it sounds innovative.” He wasn’t talking about Adobe’s Creative Boondoggle, but he may as well have been.

In “cloud computing” most of the resources do not sit on the users’ computers. This WordPress blog that I maintain is a great example. I access the dashboard where I do most of the work of writing, organizing and posting through my browser. None of this resides physically on my computer. The text files and image files are all stored on a server that is maintained by WordPress.com. I access all of WordPress’s wonderful bells and whistles via the internet.

In contrast, Adobe’s Creative Clouding the Issue is comprised of core programs, the same programs you know and love to hate like Photoshop, that sit on your computer. So, you may reasonably ask, what’s the difference between Adobe’s Creative Suite and their new Creative… uh… uh… you know. Mainly, the difference is pricing. Instead of a one time cost, you will now pay on a monthly basis. Whereas the Creative Suite was last released in several different versions that catered to different groups, contained a different set of programs and  were priced accordingly, there will be only one level of subscription which costs $600 a year or $80 a month. Currently, you can buy an old version, Adobe Creative Suite Design Premium 5.5, on Amazon for $569.98 for the Mac version and use it until your computer conks out. Adobe maintains that the Creative Cluh… Cluh… Cluh… Thing will be less expensive than purchasing the current version of the Creative Suite Master Collection, their most expensive, most complete offering, and updating to newer versions regularly. Okay. But I didn’t do that. The Creative Suite Master Collection is currently available at Amazon for $2,149.75. When choosing which creative suite to purchase, I would try to decide which programs I would really use and choose accordingly. Now, if I was rich….

Hell, who are we fucking kidding. If I was rich…. If I was rich I would be the female goddamn Tony Stark. My computer wouldn’t be running Windows, or Linux for that matter, it would be running my very own operating system, you know, the one with the AI interface that gets my sense of humor. My “office” would look like the bridge to the Starship Enterprise. I wouldn’t be driving a cute little economy car, I’d have a Maserati. Yeah, I know I never go over the speed limit because I’m super-duper law-abiding, but that’s not the point. The point is that I have lots of plans for my spare cash, the spare cash that Adobe is eying so greedily.

Perhaps it was just bad timing for me to learn about this. As I’ve described else where on this blog, I just spent a lot of money putting together a computer. I went through a literal nightmare with Windows 8. I have so many thoughts racing around my head about all the garbage I’ve been reading, it’s hard to get it out in a coherent fashion. I’m just getting to something of a saturation point with hearing people proclaim, “It’s the future!” as if this is supposed to be a meaningful statement. It reminds me of when I was young, living in New York City and spending far too much time in bars and nightclubs. I never read fashion columns. I never read about what was “hip”, “cool” or “trendy,” because I knew that things were hip, cool or trendy because of me and people like me. The lifestyle journalists were reporting on our collective behavior. It’s stupid to do something because it’s cool. You do it because it’s fun, or you like it and, if enough people agree with you, lifestyle journalists will declare it a trend. So, when CEOs of tech companies declare something “the future,” they have it backwards. They get to offer products to the public, and we declare what the future is. Let’s also not forget that the future may very well be more than one thing. We have both motorcycles and eighteen wheel trucks, and vehicles of almost every conceivable size and shape in between.

As my mother likes to say, “That’s why there’s vanilla and chocolate.” However, reading tech news these days is like watching people proclaim “the future is chocolate!” It doesn’t seem to occur to them that some people will choose to not have ice cream. I last owned a television on which I could watch broadcast t.v. in 1998. I just didn’t watch it enough to replace it when it broke. Some people do opt for “none of the above.” More and more the web feels to me like t.v. with an order form attached, a future that I think would suit corporations just fine.

The future is the cloud. The future is mobile. The future is touch. The future is software as service. These are nothing but marketing slogans by hucksters with a product to sell. It may be a good product, or maybe not, but they’re still nothing but marketing slogans. I really can’t believe apparently functional adults take these statements seriously.

I’m apparently not alone in feeling uncomfortable about Adobe’s Creative Accounting. There’s actually a petition on Change.org objecting to Adobe’s new pricing scheme. I don’t expect any of these companies to “reverse” their decisions. After all, technology rarely, if ever, moves backwards. However, I think it will move forward in a different direction. Here’s the bad news for Adobe and Microsoft: I am your market. If you don’t please people like me, you’re in trouble.

Some final thoughts about where Adobe’s heading: Tossing up a word salad that makes Sarah Palin sound like Shakespeare, David Wadhwani of Adobe explained the company’s direction to Digital Arts magazine.

The way we do that isn’t necessarily to take what we’re selling now and make it cheaper and cheaper because I think there is an inherent value that what we’re creating gives creatives some of the new value we want. However, I think that there are decided opportunities that we can take some of the technology that we have now and surface them in different ways that are more affordable and more approachable to a broader set of customers. And so if you’re asking: am I interested in leveraging this new platform and the flexibility it gives us? Then the answer is absolutely yes.

“…there is an inherent value that what we’re creating gives creatives some of the new value we want….” What on earth does that even mean? What does it mean to “surface” something? Admittedly, I’m one of those stick in the mud people who can’t stand the word “gifting” when “giving” would work perfectly well. This puts me in mind of what Fred Vincy in Middlemarch calls “shopkeeper’s talk.”

It’s also important to note that Adobe has ventured into social networking and hardware. I can’t help wondering if they fancy themselves a total creative ecosystem.

Here’s some lists of alternative software:

LifeHacker: Build Your Own Adobe Creative Suite With Free and Cheap Software

Inconsequence: It’s time for a change: Adobe jumps the shark

I’ve used Gimp and like it a lot. If you don’t have to collaborate with other people who use Photoshop, I really recommend trying it. Inkscape, at least when I last tried it, doesn’t hole a candle to Illustrator. I tried Corel Draw a very, very long time ago and thought it was comparable to Illustrator, but it was so long ago I can’t vouch for it. Illustrator, not Photoshop, has been the main program tethering me to Adobe.

 

Pardon me folks for an intemperate rant, but it’s just about all I can think of at the moment. This is trivial, I know. Somewhere in the world people are experiencing true suffering, but still, I’m mad and I can’t concentrate on anything else. Before I can describe the event which has put me in my current, livid state, I need to give you a bit of background.

Several years ago, I moved to Baltimore. For a time I lived with my sister while I looked for a more permanent place. The summer before last I found one. It was a beautiful apartment in a beautiful building in an okay area. Plus, I could afford it, which was no small thing. It is by far the nicest apartment I’ve ever lived in. It even has a pool. What it doesn’t have, however, is acceptable internet connections. You see, here in the U.S., in most cities, our internet is provided by poorly regulated monopolies who are accountable to no one. As monopolies, they don’t give two hoots about their customers and in our libertarian inspired business culture, the government does little to regulate them. They take your cash and give you as little as they can get away with. The monopoly in my particular area is Comcast. I paid for one of their most expensive internet only plans, because I don’t watch t.v. and I don’t have a landline. From them, I received speeds so low I couldn’t connect to SpeedTest.net in order to test them. It would take about five minutes to load a page of plain text. I know when I said this people thought I was exaggerating. I had my sister come over and tried to open a page that was  mostly text. She sat and watched the clock with me. Trust me, you don’t need a stop watch. Whether it was 4 min. 55 sec. or 5 min. 5 sec. hardly mattered. It was, for all intents and purposes, not functional as a connection. We called customer service a couple of times and got no satisfaction.

Without disconnecting that service, I then signed up for a plan with Verizon to have an internet connection via a mobile hotspot. I know this is supposed to be an expensive way of connecting to the internet, but what choice do I have? I kept the Comcast connection because, while painfully slow, it was rarely entirely down. The mobile connection is variable. The fastest speeds are slower than the fastest speeds promised by Comcast, but at least I see them from time to time. Generally, it’s better. However, the device itself is flaky. It stops working for a day, then I get a notice that it needs a firmware update. That these things have happened in conjunction several times makes me think they’re related. Then, for a while, that device was not working, nor was my Comcast connection working. My sister came over here and loaned me her Sprint wireless internet device, which I’m using right now. I’ve had it for a couple of weeks and every time I say, “Hey, let me give this back to you,” one of the other two connections go down. So, right now I have three means of connecting to the internet from three different companies and I still can’t get reliable service.

So, last night, I was following one of the Maya 3D tutorials online when my Verizon connection, which I had been using, goes down. I get up to take a look at it. The indicator led is a solid red. I try turning the device off. It does not respond. I used my sister’s connection, which I really ought to give back to her one day, for the rest of the evening. Two hours later, when I went to bed, it was still lit up red. When I woke up this morning, the led was blinking green again like everything was normal.

According to an article in the New Republic:

For a while, Verizon challenged Comcast and Time Warner’s Internet supremacy by offering fiber-optic connections. Fiber, which has been widely adopted in Europe and Asia, provides speeds and capacities that cable simply can’t match. But then Verizon stopped extending its fiber network, and, with the acquiescence of Obama’s FCC, reached an agreement with Comcast and Time Warner to buy valuable segments of the wireless spectrum and to jointly market their products. The effect was drastically curtailed competition in both wired and wireless Internet.

Left to their own devices, the big telecom firms have transformed high-speed Internet into “an expensive luxury reserved for the rich,” Crawford writes. A third of Americans don’t have high-speed Internet, many because it’s not available where they live or because they think it’s too expensive. Those who can afford it get service that is pricier and slower than in much of Western Europe and Asia. Last year, Americans paid Comcast a monthly average of $153 for television, telephone, and Internet. According to a New America Foundation study, Parisians paid as little as $34.47 a month for the same bundled services, with Internet speeds five to 20 times faster than Comcast.

As if I needed one more reason to want to move to Paris. Anyway, I have the cold comfort of knowing I’m not alone in my misery.

I went online today to research if there are any other ways of connecting to the internet. There are not. Whenever I read about cloud service, hell, Adobe is even trying to push a cloud version of their Creative Suite, I wonder what dream world the heads of tech companies are living in. Meanwhile, what I want most from WordPress is a little application, a little like the dashboard, that will sit on my desktop and I can compose my blog entries even when my internet is down and upload them when that little window of opportunity comes around. For now, I write them in Notepad or Notepadd++ and copy and past them in, but then I have to futz with the formatting. I wonder where all those people who think the cloud is the future live. Paris, apparently.

Here’s a video of Susan Crawford speaking about the subject. Start it at about the 8 minute mark because it’s preceded by an unusually long and boring, although typically academic, introduction.

A close-up of bleeding heart flowers.I don’t have a copy of Albion’s Seed on hand, a book about how regional cultural differences in the United States can be traced to regional cultures in England which were brought to this continent by colonists, so I’m working from memory, so please pardon any minor inaccuracies. Fischer makes few references to the native people who occupied the land taken over by the English settlers. (Fair enough, it’s not his subject.) One reference he does make, and I believe it had been in the context of the settlement of the western bank of the Delaware, is to an Indian tribe that had been “peaceful” and later became “warlike.” Fischer’s interest is in the persistence of cultural traits, not in their changes. Still, it echoed a general tendency to characterize the indigenous cultures of North America as either “warlike” or “peaceful”, as inherent characteristics rather than seeing a tendency to fight or not as being dependent on circumstances.

A former boyfriend, whose parents came here from Taiwan, liked to tell an anecdote. One day, his father asked him what he thought were values in Chinese culture and, more importantly, their relative importance. My boyfriend ranked honesty at the top of the list. His father shook his head in disbelief. “Boy,” he said, “Are you ever confused.” However, my boyfriend’s error had an obvious origin, his parents themselves. Being raised by Taiwanese parents in the U.S., he associated his parents values with Chinese values. His father, a scientist, valued truth and honesty above social tranquility. Despite having been raised in a Chinese culture himself, his father’s own personal values did not mirror perfectly those of the culture in which he had been raised. Logically, we know that his father must have been influenced by the culture in which he grew up.

Within a period of two years, around the age of thirteen and fourteen, I attended three different schools, all located within less than an hour’s drive of one another in Northern New Jersey. Yet each of these schools had their own distinct subculture. Religion was an easy-going, multi-cultural affair in the first, the second school, almost solidly Roman Catholic, approximately half Italian and half Irish, was the only place in the United States where I’ve felt out-of-place as an atheist, and, in the third, religion appeared not to exist at all.

When reading about the gun debates in the U.S. on political sites, I often feel as if I’ve fallen through the looking-glass. What world are they talking about? It’s really quite disorienting. I’ve never really seen myself as being gung-ho about gun control, yet the pro-gun people baffle me. They seem to think that I must be in favor of draconian bans because I don’t like guns. What’s to like? Who are these people? They’re like phantoms that exist only on the internet and t.v., because I’ve never met one of these people in person. Then one day, I saw a state by state breakdown of gun ownership. New Jersey was dead last. That gun culture, that supposedly American gun culture, it’s not my culture.

New Jersey, the state in which I was raised, is an outlier in a few other respects. It is usually ranked first or second in terms of wealth. It is the most densely populated. It had, last I checked, the highest average level of education. Perhaps these facts don’t conform to the stereotype of the state. A friend of mine once told me that the state of Baden-Wurttemberg is often joked about with the phrase, “We can do everything except high German.” I think New Jersey should steal this and adopt as our motto, “We can do everything except good taste.”

Another received notion about the United States is our puritanical attitudes towards sex. Yet every summer, my family went to Provincetown.

Where is Provincetown is an easy question to answer. It’s all the way at the end of Cape Cod at the very tip of Massachusetts jutting into the Atlantic Ocean at 42 degrees North by 70 degrees West. But the more interesting question is what is Provincetown. By definition it is a small coastal New England town, but culturally Provincetown is a concept, a living idea, an institution of free thought, imagination, creativity, fun, freedom and equality. Provincetown is a continually evolving libertine phenomenon. It is a work of art with hundreds and thousands of visitors adding their own unique brush stroke to a collective portrait of a community. It is truly like nowhere else. (Steve Desroches)

Those puritanical notions are very American, yet so is P-town, ironically founded by actual Puritans.

At the same time, I am most certainly American. Despite regional differences and sub-cultures, it’s not entirely unintelligible to talk about an “American” culture. I never feel so American as when I’m traveling abroad.

I think it’s important to understand that any culture is complicated, containing both primary currents and counter-currents. Although I enjoyed Fischer’s book greatly, and it helped explain why the American culture I hear so much about doesn’t resemble very well the American culture I grew up in, he also, I believe, overstates his case. Culture does change over time. The culture I grew up in has changed dramatically over the course of the last four decades and it will continue to change. Generalizations will always be just that, generalizations.

Part off a mechanical hand.Not at all technical. This post is more about how society relates to computers.

As mentioned the other day, I’m looking into buying a new computer. It’s a major expense for me, so I’m going to do a lot of research first. I’m not very oriented towards consumerism in any walk of life, so, although I consider myself someone who loves technology, I don’t buy gadgets simply to have the latest coolest thing. Also, I don’t keep up on marketing trends.  I don’t read about the latest hardware, drooling over what I will buy in the future. So, once every three to five years, when I find I need a new machine, based on my own changing needs, not on what’s on the market, I wind up having to educate myself about what’s happened in the computer industry.

When reading about the technology that’s out there I came across a variety of articles that wrote about larger trends. Quite a lot of it focused on the decline of the desktop pc and the rise of the tablet. The tablet, as everyone agrees, changes the way we relate to the computer, making it more of a consumer item. The tablet is a closed box. It’s something you buy as is.

It’s ironic that the company most responsible for turning the computer into a consumer item, taking it beyond the realm of hobbyists and tinkerers is Apple, a company that got its start in a group of hobbyists and tinkerers. Meanwhile, today’s hobbyists and tinkerers fear that their fun will come to an end as more computer items get sealed up.

Despite all the push towards smaller, easier and more mobile devices, what I’ve been jonesing after myself is a desktop computer with a nice big monitor, maybe even two, and a comfortable keyboard. Apparently, I’m not the only one out there with this desire. In an article in PC Magazine one of their regular writers said,

Just imagine the type of machine that could be built for $2,500, not to mention $3,500; it’s the exact machine that power users cobble together themselves.

He then goes on to describe a powerful desktop machine with three monitors.

Though this three-monitor power user configuration is quite common in the real world, I have never seen it sold as such. Dell, HP, or Lenovo will never advertise this configuration because they’ll tell you that people want laptops and tablets and that will be the end of it.

In my own experience, this set up is indeed common. People choose different tools for different purposes. I don’t especially want an iPad because there’s not enough that I want to do with it to justify the cost. However, I can see why other people want one. In advertisements the world seems to be full of good-looking people who work by running down Manhattan streets while shouting into their phones. In reality, much in the world is accomplished by plodding people sitting at desks.

The interesting thing is differentiation. Years ago, the desktop did everything because the desktop was all there was. If all you wanted to do was send emails to your nieces and nephews, you did it on a piece of equipment that didn’t look very different in external form than the computer an architect used for CAD drawings. Now, a desktop seems like overkill if all you want is email and the web, but I don’t think civil engineers will do their work on a phone. These other computer users won’t go away.

Neither will the hobbyists and tinkerers. There are a lot of forums out there where people discuss building their own PCs. From the activity there, it seems to be a hobby that’s alive and well.

Over the course of the next few weeks, I’m going to be building my own PC. If this is interesting to anyone, I’d be happy to put up posts describing what I’m doing. I’m new to this, so the posts would probably not be very technical, plain English translations of technical matters.

At the beginning of the week, my internet connection wasn’t working well and, later in the week, I started spending my time doing some reading about freedom of speech, so I don’t have much in the line of interesting links. The one thing I would link to got quite a bit of attention on its own and, if you’re an American, you’re probably already aware of it. That would be Wayne LaPierre’s hysterical rant on the Daily Caller website. (ht Tytalus)

Two students wait for a bus near Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland.Until today, I’ve remained silent on the subject of guns. However, Wayne LaPierre would like to impose on me a lifestyle I do not want. I lived in South Brooklyn, an area where a townhouse sells for between one and a half million dollars to three and a half million. I didn’t move there because I wanted to live like a survivalist in Montana. I moved there because I like to go to the theater and the opera. I used to go visit the galleries regularly. The local library was aimed at kids, but the main branch of the Brooklyn Public Library is one of the best in the country. I went out dancing and listened to live popular music every weekend. I didn’t move to a city where the biggest struggle is paying the rent by accident. I wanted to be there.

But apparently “live and let live” is no longer a good enough credo for Mr. LaPierre and his minions. He says he wants to “fight.” He’d better watch what he wishes for. I value my elegant, refined lifestyle and if you try to take it away from me, you’ll get your fight. Or, to put it in terms Mr. LaPierre can understand, you’ll have to pry this lifestyle from my cold dead hands. I am not buying a gun, Mr. LaPierre.

With that said, I want to suggest an approach that goes beyond simply passing laws. Much more in line with my own values of self-determination based on education and information, I would like to suggest that we start a series of public service announcements aimed at reducing the prevalence of gun ownership. Guns are dangerous items and if you don’t have a concrete reason to have one, maybe you shouldn’t. Let’s counter the myth of self-defense. Maybe you need a locksmith, not a gun.

We’ve seen PSAs about the dangers of drug use, about cigarettes. I even remember being told not to play with matches and I can remember when the strike strip was put on the other side of the book with a little warning, “close before striking.” Would it be too much to have a public service announcement informing people about the benefits of storing their ammunition and their guns in a separate location and other advertisements that help people make informed decisions whichever way the legislation goes.

When reading LaPierre’s article, I was incredibly puzzled over his weird obsession with New York City’s wealthy Republican mayor Michael Bloomberg. For the record, I was still living in New York City during the last mayoral election and I didn’t vote for Bloomberg. He is far too conservative for me. During repeated natural disasters he has failed to show sensible leadership. Progressives and liberals have regularly opposed many of his policies, so the failure of local government to respond to Hurricane Sandy effectively in New York City was not caused by liberals. When looking for some objective sources for information on gun safety, I came across the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research. The research center is part of the Bloomberg School of Public Health. Bloomberg is a graduate of Johns Hopkins and gives a lot of money to the school. The NRA has fought to keep Americans dumb and ignorant about guns by preventing federal money from being spent to study virtually anything having to do with gun violence. So I guess that’s why they hate Bloomberg so very much. He’s opposed to ignorance. Apparently, if you really want to incur the wrath of the NRA, you won’t promote broad gun bans. You’ll promote information.

One last note. If you’re really worried about the collapse of civilization, the silliest thing you could do is send your money to a lobbying organization. In the apocalyptic scenario LaPierre conjures up, Supreme Court appointments won’t matter much.

Now, if you pardon me, I would like to master a piece by Shostakovich before the zombie apocalypse ends my life.