essentialsaltes: (dead)
A post-apocalyptic story where the apocalypse is a plague that takes out most of humanity, and is more fatal among women than men, making women even rarer in the post-world. This sets up a brutal scenario with supply and demand turning women into commodities. Our unnamed medical professional manages to stay safe(r) by cross-dressing, but every interaction with others is fraught with danger. I enjoy a good 'men are pigs' story, but this one may tread a bit over the line into unintentional parody from time to time.
It also bears interesting comparisons to Earth Abides, especially with the beginning of this book set in the Bay Area. But our heroine makes her way into the Rockies, gaining and losing companions from time to time. Some of the best writing and interaction is when she lives on the outskirts of a Mormon settlement that survived slightly better than most of the world due to remoteness and isolation.
Ostensibly a journal, the book occasionally interpolates other stories that the midwife copies into it, but the work as a whole doesn't stick to this formula, to its detriment I think. Certain passages break the illusion, providing information on what's going on in other parts of the world, or giving us the unhappy story of what happens to two former companions after they part ways with the unnamed midwife.
A good read, despite my quibbles. 
essentialsaltes: (eye)
Science journalist and umbraphile David Baron makes canny use of the upcoming solar eclipse to market this fine story of the 1878 eclipse, and the efforts of the nascent scientific power of the US to observe and record the event in what was then a pretty wild west as the path crossed from Montana Territory through Wyoming and Colorado to Texas.

Among the teams being assembled:

Simon Newcomb and Thomas Edison in Creston, Wyoming.
Samuel Pierpont Langley atop Pikes Peak. (Meteorologist Cleveland Abbe was so struck with altitude sickness, he was obliged to come down the mountain and make what sketches he could.)
Asteroid hunter James Craig Watson in Rawlins, Wyoming.
And a team of six from Vassar, including recent alumnae and astronomer Maria Mitchell, providing witting and unwitting fodder to the controversies surrounding the vote for women, and recent claims on the effects of education on women, epitomized by Clarke's ridiculous-yet-infuriating Sex in Education (1876):

 The delicate bloom, early but rapidly fading beauty, and singular pallor of American girls and women have almost passed into proverb. The first observation of a European that lands upon our shores is, that our women are a feeble race ; and, if he is a physiological observer, he is sure to add, They will give birth to a feeble race, not of women only, but of men as well. " I never saw before so many pretty girls together," said Lady Amberley to the writer, after a visit to the public schools of Boston ; and then added, "They all looked sick." Circumstances have repeatedly carried me to Europe, where I am always surprised by the red blood that fills and colors the faces of ladies and peasant girls, reminding one of the canvas of Rubens and Murillo ; and am always equally surprised on my return, by crowds of pale, bloodless female faces, that suggest consumption, scrofula, anemia, and neuralgia. To a large extent, our present system of educating girls is the cause of this palor and weakness.
Those grievous maladies which torture a woman's earthly existence, called leucorrhcea, amenorrhcea, dysmenorrhoea, chronic and acute ovaritis, prolapsus uteri, hysteria, neuralgia, and the like, are indirectly affected by food, clothing, and exercise ; they are directly and largely affected by the causes that will be presently pointed out, and which arise from a neglect of the peculiarities of a woman's organization. The regimen of our schools fosters this neglect.

The book does a great job setting the stage for who all the players are, and their preparations and difficulties in getting equipment (or failing to get equipment) to the middle of nowhere, with dangers ranging from Native Americans to feuds between competing railroads.

And then, of course, the event itself is all of three minutes long.

And there is what follows. The good (American science on the upswing, Mitchell drawing a crowd of more than a thousand to hear her lecture at the Woman's Congress in Providence), the bad (Edison's much-touted but not very useful tasimeter, although presaging IR astronomy), and the ugly (Watson's erroneous claim of the discovery of Vulcan, a planet within the orbit of Mercury -- his later misguided efforts to vindicate his view may have inadvertently led to his early death).

essentialsaltes: (that's not funny!)
Many people have recently opined about the justifiability of punching a Nazi(*) in the face. A surprising (to me) number of people are for it.

(*)To clarify, unless we're talking about these six Nazis, at best there are 'neo-Nazis' these days, or 'jerks with hateful ideas who are dangerously close to the levers of power'.

I test the Nazi punch hypothesis out in my own mind, and I just find it hard to accept. I mean, what if it was a lady Nazi? In Romeo Must Die, Aaliyah wisely observes that "in America, if a girl is kicking your ass, you do not have to be a gentleman." Honestly, I'm egalitarian enough that if a boy or girl is kicking your ass, you do not have to be a gentleperson.

And yes, if a boy or girl is kicking that helpless person over there's ass, this probably requires some intervention.

But these rules are not just about kicks and asses. They should be good for punches and faces. "Hey you! Anonymous coward punching an unsuspecting guy in the face! What's wrong with you?"

Anyway, some dudes may have some archaic patriarchal misgivings about punching a lady Nazi. Perhaps they could do something else generally considered illegal or antisocial? Maybe they could throw rocks at them or grab their pussies? This new moral hypothesis opens up so many interesting questions!

But it's fraught with so many logistical difficulties. I mean, not every neo-Nazi will go to the trouble of tattooing 88 on his forehead. They might look like anybody! If only we could form an organization that could identify them based on objective criteria and make them wear distinctive clothing or something, so we'd know who to punch.

But there seem to be deeper flaws that worry me. A lot.

If we decide that, for a certain class of people, we no longer have to treat them with the usual rules of civility and humanity, it would seem (to avoid being hypocrites) that other people could use this same hypothesis to justify treating other classes of people as sub-human.

Wait a moment! Have I fallen into Bizarro world? Nazis treating certain classes of people as sub-human is one of the justifications for treating them as subhuman. I have it all backward! It's not that we would be hypocrites to NOT allow other people to think this way in the future. It's that other people thinking that way in the past made US start to think like them.

You can't fight an ideology by implicitly accepting its tenets. You are strengthening it by making it the only way of looking at the world.

Now some have correctly pointed out that neo-Nazis can be experts at using 'the System' to quash opposition. "Oh, we're the victims, save us, save us, Law & Order!"

So then I ask: Why the fuck would you fall into their trap by punching people on the street? Are you stupid?

The good guys also have some experts at using 'the System', from politicians to judges to civil rights lawyers. I'm neither, but I expect they would advise you to refrain from punching people in the face.

Because it does play into their trap. Punch a few Nazis, set fire to a building, and the system might restrict the rights to "habeas corpus, freedom of expression, freedom of the press, the right of free association and public assembly, the secrecy of the post and telephone". In the name of security. To protect the crybabies.

And what is the goal of Nazipunch? What positive result is achieved?

When Obama was elected, the racists were gnashing their teeth, and afraid, and the left held out its hand and said:

And the dummies on the right were afraid Obama was going to grab their guns and put them in FEMA camps.

And so they hid in their bunkers, clutching their guns and bibles, despising the left, falling into their own groupthink, biding their time until... well, until their savior appeared. And they voted for him, to the astonishment of all those who thought they were safely and silently encapsulated in gun-lined bunkers where their unchallenged ideologies couldn't possibly hurt anybody.

And you know what? As dumb as they are, they played by the rules. In the state houses, the governor's mansions, the House and Senate, and now the White House. It's true that "democracy is the worst form of Government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time".

Now the shoe is on the other foot.

And the other side is afraid Trump is going to grab their pussies and put them in death camps.

It's all very familiar. Not all that different.

Now this is not to say that everything is fine. Trump's actions have real effects on pussies and Syrians and so on. But do you know how many pussies get contraception coverage on their insurance when you punch a Nazi?


If anything, it plays into the hands of crybaby Nazis.

If you are conspiracy minded, well... probably you have already written me off as a closet Nazi, but consider this.

We know the Russians want to create chaos in our country.

We know the Russians have worked hard to get the dumb-dumb right to distrust the government, distrust the mainstream media, and listen only to and Breitbart.

Fortunately, we on the left are waaaaay too smart to be manipulated by Russian propaganda. Right? Right? No one would be suckered in by the idea that democracy or free speech are inherently flawed concepts, and are better replaced by punches in the face. Angry moron Trump voters wanted to blow up the system. Only idiots would want to blow it up bigger.
essentialsaltes: (diversity)
A well-known Greenwich Republican called a town worker "nothing but a bloodsucking lazy union employee" and later reached in from behind to place his hand between her legs and pinch her in the groin area, according to the police arrest warrant.

He allegedly replied: "I love this new world, I no longer have to be politically correct," according to the warrant.
essentialsaltes: (cthulhu)
I didn't have high hopes for this book, but I heard there might be some Lovecraftian elements. In the sense that a big monstrous being with some powers of mind control was in hibernation deep under the water and gets woken up by the sciences straining too far in one direction, yes it is Lovecraftian. But in any real sense, it is not Lovecraftian. John Brunner wrote many great novels; this is not among them.

Favorite moment: male scientist hero type assumes that attractive female scientists without boyfriends must have something seriously wrong with them. Fortunately, he overcomes this prejudice and marries attractive female scientist.

Anyway, go read Stand on Zanzibar.
essentialsaltes: (diversity)
So there's been a bit of a kerfuffle.

The enigmachat email list has, over the years, died down in frequency to near moribund levels. But it perked up again with the campaign and questions about ballot initiatives. I gave my opinions. And there was a little back and forth. And then Darnell stuck his nose in with his usual flat-affected poorly-expressed stupidity. Now, I've only met Darnell in person a couple times, and nothing of much note occurred, but most of his email conversation has been repugnant and poorly thought out and expressed, as was this instance. So, because for me, he is only an object of disdain, detestation, and occasional humor, I tried to elicit further commentary from him, hoping to hear him express more poor, repugnant opinions for the edification of all (i.e. so that everyone would know he's an idiot with repugnant views).

But things took a turn. [ profile] thefayth went off. "I am deeply distressed by the email I received today on the EnigmaChat mailing list by Mr. Darnell Coleman that continues a cycle of inappropriate statements and behavior over the last 5 years." [my emphasis]

For better or worse, this message hit me before dawn, before coffee, and the first couple responses I saw firmed up my impression, also influenced by certain whispers and gossip, that this was not just about ideas and words, but behavior. And then I fucking went off.

There was a blinding flash of crystal clarity that, although I saw Darnell as an object of ridicule with stupid ideas, and that (only in comparison, mind you) I could be Vol-fucking-taire in amusing myself in showing him up... in actual fact, he was causing harm to people. And so:

Thanks, Faith.

I detest Darnell. I have only met him once or twice, so most of my interaction has been online. But that has been quite enough to last a lifetime.

His opinions are usually offensive, and always poorly thought out and expressed.

Current leadership will have to decide whether his poisonous contributions to the club require action within the guidelines of the group.

I am sensitive to the issue of viewpoint discrimination. I wouldn't want him to be removed simply for holding, or even expressing, unpopular beliefs. But it may well be that his behavior has reached a point that necessitates action.

Looking back, Enigma has from time-to-time had its own little basket of deplorables. From the painfully socially inept, to the gropy, to the political morons, to the religious bigots, to the anti-religious bigots (hi!).

The (rarely used) solution has generally been to encourage the deplorables to 'self-deport'. Make it clear that many people in the club don't want them there. And maybe the best way to make that clear is for many people to actually express it to him.

For the sake of our inboxes, people should write to Darnell personally. However, it might be useful as a record if you could also post a comment in Faith's post to the Enigma Facebook group, so that the powers that be can gauge the sentiment of the members.

But while I have the floor...

Darnell... go away and don't come back. I don't want you in my club. Your negative presence distresses many members and detracts from their experience. I fear you may be a psychic vampire who derives some sick pleasure from distressing others; if so, please find help. Or at least find some other group to infest, because the villagers here are sharpening their stakes. If not, just go already.

I realize (both before and after coffee) that this was an extreme and extrajudicial step. But it was also clear to me that the judicial process had been tried, and those who had complained had received no satisfaction. I do feel for the people in leadership of the club, who are in a difficult position. But I mouthed off.

And pretty soon it was clear that the leadership was taking this seriously, and I tried my best to shut the fuck up, and let them work.

But the response to my incendiary post, and a few like it, was fascinating to me.

>>***: I think using a public forum to do this is unjustifiable and unnecessary, and I don't want to be a part of it.

>Thank you for saying that, ***. I agree fully that such an extremely public discussion is, at the very least, unkind.

Aye ***, well spoken sir.

My visceral reaction to the middle comment was: "Absolutely. Yes, it was unkind. I would be mortified if I was accidentally that unkind, no-- rude, to someone. This was calculated and intentional."

But the weight of these comments coming together in a row finally gave me some insight into what it is like to be 'gaslighted' to use the common parlance.

Maybe I was wrong for backing up Faith. Maybe going through official channels was the best way to deal with it. Maybe I was wrong to be intentionally and publicly rude to Darnell. Maybe this is a witch hunt, and for once I'm the torch-bearing idiot.

Then [ profile] alpiyn dropped a nuclear bomb. As much as I was feeling gaslighted for picking on a moron who had done nothing worse to me than be a moron, how much worse or more alienated would people feel who had actually been harmed by this moron?

Now, I'm an old fart. And there's a new generation that's taken over. And that's as it should be. But I find it strange that I have (ok, had!) this idea that the younger crowd are much more up-to-date on this shit than the old fart brigade. We old farts roll our eyes at, "Do I have your explicit consent to nibble your left earlobe?" And we old farts who adore the First Amendment are a bit leery of the new guard's desire to curtail unpleasant speech. But I had this idea that the little pupal SJWs of today are out trying to make 'safe spaces' for everyone to enjoy. And at least in this case, it turned out to be a bunch of crap.

But at least I was right about the fuckdoodly First Amendment cuntborking.

When the official response came, part of it was this.

1) Many of these grievances spawn from online interactions and statements from this individual. In particular, many of them come from threads in the enigma-chat emailing list that is primarily populated by older alums of the club. The individual has been removed from these lists, as well as blocked from this group. That being said, it must stated that some in the officership were unaware of the existence of this list, and we believe that many of the current members who attend weekly meetings were also unaware of its existence. In light of this, we wish to formally disavow the enigma-chat list and leave it in the hands of the alumni. The enigma-chat list will remain as an opt-in option for all members, but we will not be responsible for its content. The transition of moderator responsibility shall take place in the coming week.
2) As for the individual’s continued membership in the club, we have yet to reach a verdict. We are speaking with our advisers on the best course of action to take to avoid repercussions.

Now again, I realize the leadership is in a tough position, and everything does have to be done in accordance with the guidelines (as I called for in my original rant), and this may take time. But I still think it's sad that the old farts on the email list get unceremoniously shitcanned, while judgment is reserved in the case of the malefactor. To be fair, this message was released before alpiyn unleashed hellfire.

It's also interesti.. no, infuriating, that some of the messaging has been that all of the complaints have been about just ideas and words. But Faith's message does mention behavior. My message explicitly protects ideas and expression, but draws the line at behavior. Again, I hope that the official response, when it comes, takes into account whether it was merely expression of unpopular views, or if it was behavior that created a hostile environment.

But getting back to one of the shortest of the many soapboxes I've stood on in this rant, enigmachat is too full of the free discourse of ideas and poopoo words to be a part of what the club wants to be in this day and age.

So in conclusion...

Fuck you in your fatherfisting cloaca!

/mic drop
essentialsaltes: (danger)
I met Jim in Portland at the HPLFF. I was intrigued by a horror-tinged mystery novel with the action set at a girls' school. Dr. Pookie and I both love a couple such, written by female authors -- Gaudy Night, by Dorothy Sayers & Miss Pym Disposes, by Josephine Tey. It was too much to hope that Smiley's first novel would live up to those. And it doesn't, though it's really of a different genre -- more hard-boiled pulp detective. He has some good, snappy dialogue and character interaction, but there's a lot to be desired. Ostensibly set in Prohibition-era Los Angeles, there are very few details that set the scene in either time or place. Of course, as an Angeleno, one of my favorite things is reading a story set in my town that feels like my town. And it's a consequent bugaboo if it's not done well. As a feminist, another one of my favorite things is female characters that have more than one dimension. And it's a consequent bugaboo if it's not done well. Most of the students at the school may actually have zero dimensions; they are shuttled from a dorm to another place to keep them safe, but I'll be damned if anyone actually ever talks to them, or asks them questions about the murder in their midst.
essentialsaltes: (whiskey Tango but no Foxtrot)
Okay, I'm not trying real hard to complete the bookchallenge thing, but I'm trying a little.

Anyway, I was thinking I could get a two-fer with...

A Play

Being a vulgarian, I'm not that into drama, but I looked at some of the recent winners, and there were a few that piqued my interest, but I was hoping for a cheap Kindle edition. Or in fact, any Kindle edition. After some frustrating looking, I said fuckit, let's go with the first ever Drama winner from 1917: Why Marry?

It's interesting as a time capsule, but not just for historical interest. I think the reviewer in the link is right that "I think a fascinating paper would be a queer reading of this play, especially because many of Helen and Ernest’s thoughts about marriage are reminiscent of rhetoric currently being used on both sides of the gay marriage/civil union argument."

It's also very timely given the notoriety of Nobel Prize-winner Tim Hunt's recent comments about women in the lab. The main couple in the play are scientists who work together, and it sounds very much like "you fall in love with them, they fall in love with you."

But things stand in the way of their happiness. He's poor-ish, and if he married her, he wouldn't be able to keep her in style, but she doesn't want that, she wants to continue working in the lab, and other characters representing cultural and religious forces disapprove of various parts of the plan. They get worked into a state where she won't marry him on principle, and he won't take her to McGuffinland to continue his research if she's a single lady. They nearly get things worked out to go and live and work together in sin, and that offends everybody. And on to the conclusion.

Anyway, the play may also be of interest to women in the sciences, and those who love them.

From the foreword by the author:
"When this play was first published most people were not thinking along these lines. Such ideas were considered radical then. They will soon be old-fashioned—even on the stage. Kind and discriminating as the critics have been in regard to this comedy (a discriminating critic being, of course, one who praises your play)...
They do not object to finding fault with mankind because "you can't change human nature," as they are fond of telling you with an interesting air of originality. But laws, customs, and ideals can be changed, can be improved. Therefore they cry: "Hands off! How dare you!" Man made human institutions, therefore we reverence them."

Lines )
essentialsaltes: (atheist teacher)
A History of American Secularism

A fascinating look at the idea of secular government from the Founders to the present, and how the idea has shifted from Enlightenment ideals to the Golden Age of Freethought in the 19th century, when the Great Agnostic Ingersoll could give the nominating speech for a Republican candidate for president (even in the good old days, when Republicans were the party of abolition). To the emergence of fundamentalism in the early 20th and its later common cause partnership with conservative Catholicism, and the response with the freethinker's coalition with liberal Protestantism and (secular) Judaism.

The historical detail is quite excellent, but as the time grows nearer the present, a hint of polemicism arises. I don't disagree with her, but the shift in tone is noticeable in the last chapter or so.

And yes, the blockquotes )
✓one-word title
essentialsaltes: (cognitive Hazard)
Slate tipped me off to South Carolina's amicus brief to the Supremes.

"Furthermore, the traditional family, with the husband as unquestioned head, was the foundation of the Fourteenth Amendment framers’ world. The framers deeply believed the family was the “primary unit of social and political action at the time. . . .” Farnsworth, Women Under Reconstruction: The Congressional Understanding, 94 Nw. U. L. Rev. 1229, 1236 (2000). One senator feared giving women the vote would disturb “‘. . . the family circle, which is even of higher obligation than the obligation of Government.’” Id., (quoting Cong. Globe, 42nd Cong., 2d Sess. 845 (1872)). Thus, Section Two of the Amendment eliminated women from the franchise.
Having this mindset, the Amendment’s framers certainly did not intend to dismantle, but fought to preserve, state marriage laws. Indeed, skeptical congressmen insisted that these remain unaffected by the Amendment. Many feared that state disabilities placed upon married women, such as property ownership, would be undermined by an earlier Amendment draft. However, such concerns were al- layed in the Amendment’s final wording."

I guess this is what happens when you double-down on the definition of traditional marriage -- you know, the kind where wives have no separate legal existence and cannot own property in their own name.

On the lighter side, there's the brief from the gay men married to women, who argue that they would be harmed by legal same-sex marriage: "A constitutional mandate requiring same-sex marriage sends a harmful message that it is impossible, unnatural, and dangerous for the same-sex attracted to marry members of the opposite sex."

Lotsa people want to kibbitz on this one.
essentialsaltes: (diversity)
Subtitle: A Sinner's Semester at America's Holiest University

It tells the story of a Quaker student at Brown who spends a semester at Jerry Falwell's Liberty University in 2007. OK, yes, it's a bit of a stunt, but at least it's an interesting one, and Roose definitely throws himself into the role, a lot more so than, say, Jason Rosenhouse in Among the Creationists. Roose enrolls at Liberty and presents himself as a Christian (At Liberty, "Christian" is synonymous with 'born again Christian') and (awkwardly) fakes up a recent conversion story to explain his presence (and why he has so little knowledge that he would flunk Sunday school for six year olds).

In short he comes to, generally, like the students and staff at Liberty, and a little Stockholm Syndrome sets in I think, and he finds himself simultaneously defending them, and disapproving of their (fairly common) homophobia and the one-sidedness of some portions of the 'education'. He even comes to have some appreciation for Jerry Falwell. And in "you can't make this shit up", he scores a one-on-one interview with Falwell for the school newspaper, gets praised for it by Falwell himself in convocation (I mean, what's not to praise, it was a puff-piece in the Liberty newspaper; the hard-hitting exposé uncovered the fact that Falwell had a peach Snapple every day at 3pm, which he slammed down in 6 seconds). A few days later, Falwell's dead, and this Quaker mole has published the last print interview Falwell ever gave, which comes to have a life of its own as it is reprinted in the memorial for the funeral.

I have once again abused the highlight feature of the Kindle...

if you click here, I'll reward you with Larry Flynt's parody ad featuring Falwell that led to a Supreme Court case )
essentialsaltes: (atheist teacher)
Great article on the history of Elevatorgate and other episodes of misogyny and the war about misogyny in the atheism/skepticism movement - on Buzzfeed of all places. [See also my earlier journal entry]

In related news, I'd also like to point out, for the local Southern Californians, that there is an art exhibit opening up at the Center for Inquiry Hollywood tomorrow night (Sep 13).

A Woman's Room Online:

"A Woman’s Room Online is an installation art exhibit created by Amy Davis Roth in conjunction with The Los Angeles Women’s Atheist and Agnostic Group (LAWAAG) and hosted at CFI-Los Angeles.

This installation consists of thousands of real sexist and threatening messages sent to only a handful of women who work in online arenas. The viewer enters a small freestanding room, an office space that has been completely transformed and plastered with messages, a paper-trail of hate, sent electronically to the contributors starting in July of 2011 until today."
essentialsaltes: (poseidon)
The Penelopiad is sort of a retelling of the Iliad and the Odyssey from Penelope's perspective. Of course, since Penelope takes no part in the Trojan War or Odysseus' wanderings, there is more emphasis on Penelope's childhood, marriage to Odysseus, and her adventures with the suitors as they look to displace the absent Odysseus. The chapters mostly alternate from Penelope's telling of her own story, and a Greek chorus composed of the 12 serving maids, who are hanged for their naughtiness after Odysseus' return and the slaughter of the suitors. Evidently Atwood was struck by their unkind fate when she first read the Odyssey:

Euryclea left the cloister to tell the women, and make them come to Ulysses; in the meantime he called Telemachus, the stockman, and the swineherd. "Begin," said he, "to remove the dead, and make the women help you. Then, get sponges and clean water to swill down the tables and seats. When you have thoroughly cleansed the whole cloisters, take the women into the space between the domed room and the wall of the outer court, and run them through with your swords till they are quite dead, and have forgotten all about love and the way in which they used to lie in secret with the suitors."

On this the women came down in a body, weeping and wailing bitterly. First they carried the dead bodies out, and propped them up against one another in the gatehouse. Ulysses ordered them about and made them do their work quickly, so they had to carry the bodies out. When they had done this, they cleaned all the tables and seats with sponges and water, while Telemachus and the two others shovelled up the blood and dirt from the ground, and the women carried it all away and put it out of doors. Then when they had made the whole place quite clean and orderly, they took the women out and hemmed them in the narrow space between the wall of the domed room and that of the yard, so that they could not get away: and Telemachus said to the other two, "I shall not let these women die a clean death, for they were insolent to me and my mother, and used to sleep with the suitors."

So saying he made a ship's cable fast to one of the bearing-posts that supported the roof of the domed room, and secured it all around the building, at a good height, lest any of the women's feet should touch the ground; and as thrushes or doves beat against a net that has been set for them in a thicket just as they were getting to their nest, and a terrible fate awaits them, even so did the women have to put their heads in nooses one after the other and die most miserably. Their feet moved convulsively for a while, but not for very long.

Penelope reveals that all was not what it seemed, and the chorus has its own story to tell. The chorus sections are written in different styles -- poem, song, play, anthropological treatise, videotaped court proceeding...

It's a pretty short read, and I found it delightful from end to end. It's a great writer unleashing a jeu d'esprit based on old (but still vital) myths.

I'm not sure why this even needs mentioning, but just because it's a retelling from the female point of view, doesn't mean that it's a man-hating feminazi manifesto (okay except maybe that one bit, which is arguably satire).
essentialsaltes: (Whiskey Tango but no Foxtrot)
The full subtitle is: Britain's Most Ineligible Bachelor and his Enlightened Quest to Train the Ideal Mate

The book tells the story of Thomas Day, an 18th century Rousseau-fanatic and abolitionist, focusing on his experiment to obtain a foundling and train her up to be a suitable wife. This idea came after several failed marriage proposals ("He would later describe Margaret as 'a toad, which I would not injure, but cannot help beholding with abhorrence.'"

Rousseau had written a novel outlining a radical unschooling idea (it also inspired Montessori) that a friend of Day's had adopted for his son. The kid turned into a brat. This didn't stop Day from trying his own hand at perfecting a suitable wife.

Day actually acquired two foundlings under the false pretense that he was getting domestic servants for a friend. While the girls did cook and clean, they also received educations of a sort. In addition to philosophy and science, they were also subjected to physical privation to toughen them up, with mixed results.

"'His experiments had not the success he wished and expected,' Anna Seward would later write. 'Her spirit could not be armed against the dread of pain, and the appearance of danger. . . . When he dropped melted sealing-wax upon her arms she did not endure it heroically, nor when he fired pistols at her petticoats, which she believed to be charged with balls, could she help starting aside, or suppress her screams.'"

While Day appears to have been scrupulous about not taking advantage of the girls (except for that melted wax fixation...) the whole thing would have scandalized the nation... except that Day was mega-wealthy and connected, and could do as he pleased, more or less. Perhaps(?) one sign of this scrupulousness is that he never told the girls of the real goal of his experiment (though several friends were well aware of it).

One girl was dismissed (with a nice pension) when Day finally decided which of the two he thought would be suitable. To make a long-but-fasinating story short, when Day finally got around to explaining the experiment to Sabrina, she freaked and refused him. He gave her a nice settlement as well, and she ultimately married a mutual acquaintance, and lived a fairly long life, working in a school after the death of her husband.

Some more tasty quotes, jotted down from my Kindle notes:

And the classicist Elizabeth Carter was so revered as a linguist that Samuel Johnson believed her Greek translations were superior to those of any male scholar, although he was quick to point out that she could also make a pudding.

He soon teamed up with Sir Francis Blake Delaval, a gambler, drunkard and libertine notorious for his wild antics, whose idea of a good time included contests to ride horses up a grand marble staircase and party games to bite the heads off sparrows suspended on strings in a macabre version of bobbing for apples.

In one painting, An Experiment on a Bird in the Air Pump, he portrayed girls and boys watching a demonstration of a bird, a white cockatoo, being deprived of air in a vacuum flask with a mixture of fascination and horror.

[Speaking of the founder of the foundling hospital]: "But most shocking of all, as he walked to London and back each day, was the sight of abandoned babies “sometimes alive, sometimes dead, and sometimes dying,” dumped on rubbish heaps by the side of the road.

[Entries from the Foundling Hospital records] - One child was described as “a Mear Skirlinton Covered with Rags with a hole in the Roofe of the Mouth,” while another was simply “The most miserable object Ever Received.” Mortality rates leapt from an already tragic 45 percent to more than 70 percent...

According to the unwritten code of conduct that constrained Georgian society like a corset it was strictly taboo for a respectable woman to be left alone with a man under any circumstances unless they were formally engaged; and even then a chaperone was usually mandatory. Even exchanging letters between a single man and a single woman was frowned upon. The entire plot of Fanny Burney’s novel, Evelina, hinges upon the heroine’s horror at her (mistaken) belief that her hero asks her to collude in a private correspondence.

[Day was also an ardent abolitionist] - Published as an anonymous pamphlet at the end of June 1773, The Dying Negro related the true story of a slave who had escaped the previous month from the London house of his master, a certain Captain Ordington, and been baptized in order to marry a fellow servant, an English maid, with whom he had fallen in love. Marriage to an Englishwoman would automatically have made the African a free man. But before the couple had time to say their vows, the slave was seized on the London streets and taken on board the captain’s ship moored in the Thames and bound for the West Indies. Desperate to avoid being sent back to a life of bondage, the slave shot himself in the head with a pistol.

Discussing the vexed question of independence with American friends in rowdy debates in Middle Temple Hall or the smoky taverns nearby, Day announced that he could not support the Americans’cries for liberty while they denied that same right to thousands of slaves.

“The Dutch ladies are, to my taste, not a little disagreeable,” he solemnly informed his mother. “They are so intolerably nasty and gluttonous, stuffing themselves all day with bread and butter and tea, then retiring to discharge their superfluities at the little house, without any decency, or even taking the trouble to shut the door.”
essentialsaltes: (jasmine)
Satirical Rant on Corsets

“Messrs. Editors:—The air we ladies have to breathe up here in Vermont circulates all round the world and is breathed by all the filthy creatures on the face of the earth, by rhinoceroses, cows, elephants, tigers, woodchucks, hens, skunks, minks, grasshoppers, mice, raccoons, and all kinds of bugs, spiders, fleas and lice, lions, tobacco-smokers, catamounts, eagles, crows, rum-drinkers, turkey buzzards, tobacco-chewers, hogs, snakes, toads, lizzards, and millions of other nasty animals, birds, insects and serpents; and we ladies are obliged to breathe it over after them, ough! bah!

Now we want, and must have, some contrivance that will effectually keep this foul, disgusting stuff out of our lungs. We have tried the three kinds of corsets which you noticed in your paper the last year; but when we do the best with them that we can, about a teacupful of this nasty air will rush into our lungs in spite of these miserable contrivances. If these corsets are worth anything to keep this disgusting air out of a body, and we have not put them on right, please come immediately yourself or send the inventors to show us how. If they are a humbug I hope their inventors will be tarred and feathered and rode on a rail. —Susie Pinkins”
essentialsaltes: (Mr. Gruff)
This post has been a long time coming. Unfortunately, that doesn't mean it's particularly good, informative, or insightful.

[ profile] jimhines' cartoon has been flying around recently:

While this was about science fiction cons, it applies perfectly well to atheist/skeptic/secular cons. That community has had some recent high-profile incidents, and some longer simmering arguments. I've been mostly watching from the sidelines; not because I don't care, but because I haven't been directly involved. I haven't been to any of these conventions. I don't really know the people involved, and certainly have no knowledge of the actual incidents. So I didn't think I had much to add other than a huge chance of foot-in-mouth disease.

essentialsaltes more than likely puts his foot in his mouth somewhere in here )
essentialsaltes: (Shoot)
Jury acquits escort shooter

Gilbert's actions were justified, [his defense] argued, because he was trying to retrieve stolen property: the $150 he paid [the escort]. It became theft when she refused to have sex with him or give the money back, they said.

The escort "died about seven months after she was shot in the neck and paralyzed."

Quoth the killer: “I've been in a [entirely metaphorical] mental prison the past four years of my life. I have nightmares. If I see guns on TV where people are getting killed, I change the channel.”

essentialsaltes: (essentialsaltes)
Colleague and friend of Dr. Tiller works to reopen his Wichita abortion clinic:
“We can’t let fear rule our lives,” Ms. Burkhart said, her cowboy boots clopping loudly as she walked through the clinic.
essentialsaltes: (notpraying mantis)
Society Without God presents the results of Zuckerman's yearlong stay in Denmark, interviewing Danes (and a few Swedes, and a couple miscellaneous) about their religious beliefs and the religious culture of Scandinavia. Although Zuckerman is a trained sociologist, he's also a secular person himself, and admits here and there that he has an axe to grind. Nevertheless, the result provides some great straight-from-the-horse's-mouth information on a culture that is overwhelmingly secular, and ranks highly on any number of socioeconomic factors that contribute to happiness and stability.

He spends some time discussing why the Scandinavian countries have turned out so secular. I think the most convincing to me is the idea that these societies take care of their people so well, that this stability and support obviates not only material needs, but spiritual ones as well. Another more interesting idea that gets explored a little bit is the idea that the Scandinavians were just never very religious in the first place. With Christianity being largely imposed from above for political reasons by kings or arbitration, one can wonder about the depth and sincerity of belief in the countries, even after 1000 years.

In any event, belief in one or more gods is a minority position. However, many of his subjects profess a belief in 'something'. And it's also clear that many of the subjects just don't want to talk about it. Possibly they are 'hiding' the unpopular view that they actually believe in god. Or possibly it's just that their culture seems to be very reticent to talk about religous matters. I think one subject said it would be much easier to talk about sex with his grandparents than gods. Here's another example:
"Q - If I were to ask you, “Do you believe in God?"—and I‘m not going to say what that means, just that question—how would you respond?
A - It’s none of your business. [laughter] No, I would be polite, but I would kind of want to talk about something else."

It's also interesting that, although belief in gods or an afterlife is very rare, Danes typically still consider themselves Christian, and I think about 80% of them belong to the national church (which collects taxes from them). Zuckerman makes a very apposite analogy with modern American Judaism. Many American Jews are very secular, but nevertheless carry out the various rituals. Many have bar (and bat) mitzvahs, despite a lack of actual belief; the Danes are similarly Confirmed in the church.

But it is so interesting to see what 'being Christian' means to them:
"From Annelise, a 47-year-old manager at a telecommunications company: Being an okay person, being nice to people, not hurting anyone, helping when help is needed, that sort of thing. But nothing spectacular, you know. Just being nice."
"From Anika, a 36-year-old stay-at-home mom: Being Christian means to look out for the poor and the challenged in our society . . . to feel compassion, to be able to think of other people than yourself . . . to look out for the weak, the poor . . . to not discriminate . . . but to think that everybody has the same value."

There's precious little mention of Jesus, or sins, or redemption.

There's a lengthy, but not very insightful, interview with a believer in Asatru.

But the most interesting interview is with a guy who at first identified as a Christian and a (somewhat tepid) believer in God. Then he was interviewed again after having lived in the US for several months...
"And that puzzled me because I thought the United States would be more like Denmark—believing in, you know, rationality."
"And I was just like, what is Hillary Clinton praying?! I don’t know. It’s just scary—that even the Democrats are so religious. So if I was to live here I would have a problem voting for a president, because I don’t want a religious leader."

Ultimately, the experience of bumping into American-style Christianity destroyed his belief in God:
"Yeah, because when I came here I believed in God and I was Christian—but in a Danish way. So there’s a lot of stuff in the Bible that just doesn’t make sense, but—you know—sure, I thought God was up there and he helped us, he tried to make a book and we tried to behave according to the book, and you know, humans make errors so maybe the book isn’t 100 percent correct, but you can kind of do it. But when I came here and saw all the people being so—explicit—like Jesus died and he was the Son of God and he was born by a virgin. And I added it all up and said, okay if I need to say I‘m a Christian, then I need to believe in all this stuff. Because there’s so much that you have to buy into in order to be Christian. And I didn’t buy into it. I don’t believe it."

And what will he tell the people back home?

"I think I would say to them, maybe you don’t believe me, but the American society is—all politics and media discussions—is based on that everybody is very devoted Christians. Meaning that you cannot hold an office, you cannot be a president, you cannot be whatever, if you don’t publicly say that you believe in God and all of your sentences end with God bless America or whatever. That we, as Danes, have to be very, very careful with joining the United States when they want us to go to war or they want us to join them in whatever endeavors they want us to join with them, because the religious fanatics in the United States have a very, very high influence on what’s going to happen in the United States, and I don’t think Danes know that. I think that if Danes knew that, they would be very—I don’t think they would be afraid—but I think they would say, “No, no, we don’t want to be a part of that.” And I don’t think they know. But I‘m going to tell them."


essentialsaltes: (Default)

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