Just Joking

Nov. 1st, 2014 04:08 am
[syndicated profile] rollingaroundinmyhed_feed

Posted by Dave Hingsburger

I knew it was a joke.

I didn't think it was funny.

I do have a sense of humour.

I pulled up to the bank machine to get some cash out. There was a very tall man, in his thirties, already at the machine beside me. I paid little attention to him, he was just there. I had a bit of a difficulty in getting into place because the machine was on the outside wall of a bank and the pavement leading up to the bank machine had deteriorated somewhat. I didn't notice him notice me.

I put my card in, punched in my PIN, and then quickly followed through for the request for cash. By now I was aware that he was done, but he wasn't leaving. I looked up at him. He smiled and said, "And here I thought you people just begged." He laughed afterwards in that was that was an invitation for me to laugh with him.

Here's why I didn't laugh:

It's not funny, the poverty that people with disability experience.

The lack of accessible, and flexible, workplaces isn't funny.

Massive unemployment, and underemployment, of people with disabilities due to physical and attitudinal barriers isn't hilarious.

Public perception of people with disabilities as scroungers who beg from the public or who reach into the public purse is fuelling hatred and violence against people with disabilities.

I said none of those things, of course, there wasn't time. I looked at him and made a guess. An education one because the bank machine is dead centre of the 'gay strip' on church street. That and the little rainbow flag pin he wore on the lapel of his jacket. I said, conversationally, not with hostility, "Are you gay?"

The question took him aback but he answered, "Proudly, yes."

"Well bigotry doesn't become you."

"It was just a joke," he said, storming off.

"That's what bigots always say, don't they?" I called after him.

I met Joe at the bar, where we'd agreed to meet for a drink, a few minutes later. For the first time, in a long while, I wished I drank something stronger than green tea.

The Silence of the Linkspam

Nov. 1st, 2014 03:00 am
[syndicated profile] geekfeminism_feed

Posted by spam-spam

  • My Day Interviewing for the Service Economy Startup from Hell | The Billfold (October 21st):  “I gave a smile and nodded back, as if I was familiar with the difficulties of finding a good cleaner when I was a student. I’d actually worked retail part-time throughout school so I could afford to pay $200/month rent splitting an un-air conditioned house in Atlanta with three other people. Hiring a maid would have been laughable.”
  • Where Are You Really From: Microaggressions and Making Tech Meetups Safe | Model View Culture (October 29): “I have recently decided that I am no longer going to any tech meetups. Yes I want to learn, and yes, I want to meet new people. But there are many times I don’t feel safe being in those spaces. There are times when I don’t want to be the only woman of colour in the room that happens to also wear the hijab proudly. When I would rather not spend my evening being asked ignorant questions or being gawked at.”
  • Surveillance Begins at Home | Forbes (October 28): “As Domestic Violence Awareness Month comes to a close, we ought to have a conversation about how technology aids and abets intimate partner violence. Privacy advocates rarely connect the dots between intimate partner violence and surveillance, and anti-violence advocates often fail to talk about technology in its entirety—and they omit in particular the complicity of law enforcement in the abuse of technology.”
  • What goes around comes around, and bites you from behind | Sorry Watch (October 24): “He doesn’t seem to have said “sorry” or “apologize.” He has certainly said he was wrong. He hasn’t made excuses, claimed to have been misunderstood, or cried sandbag. But his understanding is still flawed. He doesn’t seem to understand how gender discrimination plays out in the workplace. (“Just ask!”) Nor has he addressed the notion of female “superpowers” that involve not asking for money and infant-retrieval.”
  • A Code of Conduct is Not Enough | Model View Culture (October 27): “In spite of all these efforts, there were two reported violations of our code of conduct (CoC) at our tiny two-day conference with 120 attendees. Despite “doing everything right,” we failed to create a safe space for our attendees. How did we screw up?”
  • Meet Arooo, a open source membership management app by DU | Double Union (October 27): “Double Union is tickled to announce the open sourcing of Arooo, our membership management application! We’ve been building it for almost a year now, and have grown our membership from about 20 people to ~150 using it.”
  • New York Comic-Con Diversity Panels – We’re Here, We’ve Been Here, We’ll Be Here | Black Girl Nerds (October 29): “I am so pleased that New York Comic-Con had so many different panels on diversity for so many marginalized groups, people of color being just one such voice. The more a large convention allows our voices to be heard from the smallest of the panel rooms to the Main Stage, the more we will be thought of and heard in both the independent and main stream industries that we are fighting to be represented in.”
  • Unlocking the Invisible Elevator: Accessibility at Tech Conferences | Model View Culture (October 27): “I appreciate all the great opportunities I have had over the years, and I absolutely love that people love my talks! Those things don’t change the fact that my work is co-opted to make organizations feel good about themselves and look good to others. If I’m the only person at your conference who has a visible disability, if I’m the only wheelchair user, guess what, I’m pissed. And you’re most certainly doing something wrong.”
  • How Ada Lovelace Became Famous Again | io9 (October 28): “The problem wasn’t just that she was a woman at a time when women in science were few and far between. She had also devoted herself to a branch of science that wouldn’t blossom until a century after her death. But she was enough of a celebrity that she was never quite forgotten.”
  • Ten Lessons Learned from Organizing Diversity-Focused Events | Model View Culture (October 29): “In order to create an event with diverse speakers and attendees, you need to push outside your comfort zone, ask a lot of questions, and fail a lot of times. Instead of just focusing on ticket sales, we should build events that make people from diverse backgrounds feel safe and confident to attend.”

We link to a variety of sources, some of which are personal blogs.  If you visit other sites linked herein, we ask that you respect the commenting policy and individual culture of those sites.

You can suggest links for future linkspams in comments here, or by using the “geekfeminism” tag on Pinboard, Delicious or Diigo; or the “#geekfeminism” tag on Twitter. Please note that we tend to stick to publishing recent links (from the last month or so).

Thanks to everyone who suggested links.

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Posted by Fred Clark

I both praised and poked a bit of fun at the long list of qualifying adjectives that ethicist Dave Gushee employs when defending a “covenantal-marital” approach to sexual ethics. The key factor, he says, is marriage – but then he quickly has to say what all he means by marriage, clarifying and expanding the meaning of it. A marriage covenant needs to be “faithful and exclusive” and to be “loving, nonexploitative, noncoercive, reciprocal …”

The same thing happens when we look for more than just a momentary glance at any other proposed sexual ethic. Others may say the key factor is mutual consent — but then they quickly add a similar wall of adjectives to clarify that what they mean by consent also includes many of the same qualities. Or a Lennonist may say “All you need is love,” but then again we see the rush of adjectives to explain what they mean — and do not mean — by “love.” (In a sense, that’s what the apostle Paul does, beautifully, in 1 Corinthians 13.)

disturbxyzIn every case, these lists of qualifying and expanding adjectives are needed, I think, because of the intrinsic oddity of trying to talk about “sexual ethics” as something separate and distinct from, you know, just plain ethics. All that other stuff we talk about under the umbrella of ethics for the majority of our lives when we’re fully clothed and out of bed can’t be set aside when we turn to the matter of sex. That, it seems to me, is the pitfall for a lot of discussion of “sexual ethics” — it tries to set all that aside to focus on this particular thing as wholly distinct. And it’s not. It’s a part of our lives, not apart from our lives.

All the rest of what we think of as ethics shouldn’t stop at the bedroom door, replaced there by the separate sub-category of “sexual ethics.” Creating such a separate category creates the danger of exempting that category from all the other stuff we think of as ethical obligations, duties, rights and wrongs. Rather than risk segregating “sexual ethics” from the rest of our ethics, we might be better served by some variation of that silly game we play with fortune cookies. We should reaffirm what we already know or believe about ethics … “in bed.”

If anything, all that other stuff that constitutes the rest of our ethical thinking and practice becomes more important during sexytime, because that is where we encounter one another at our most vulnerable. We’re naked, exposed, open and extended to one another. If we’re doing it right, we’re poised to surrender control to one another. Given all that, it’s strange that most talk of “sexual ethics” mainly involves the preconditions and the context for that activity without addressing the activity itself.*

Part of the weirdness that flows from this separation of sexual ethics can be seen in the way we turn away from the rest of our ought-talk when anything remotely suggests that sexuality is part of the equation.

Think of Micah 6:8. That verse has always been a favorite of mine because growing up in central Jersey we would pass the nearby synagogue where it was carved in huge letters on the wall facing West Seventh Street: “DO JVSTICE • LOVE MERCY • WALK HVMBLY WITH THY GOD.”

Here’s the full verse: “God has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”

That passage is familiar enough for most Christians that if we quote the first part of it’s question — “What does the Lord require of you?” — it will usually prompt them to give Micah’s answer: “To do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God.”

But if we raise that same question in any context that suggests sex or sexuality is anywhere in the mix, then we’ll get a very different answer.

Ask, “What does the Lord require of you as a single person?” or “What does the Lord require of you as a spouse?” or “What does the Lord require of you as someone who is LGBT?“** and the ensuing discussion won’t sound anything at all like the last half of Micah 6:8.

That’s a weird move. Ask a conservative white evangelical “What does the Lord require of you when it comes to human sexuality?” and they will respond “Chastity until lifelong biblical marriage between one man and one woman.”

That’s the wrong answer.

Even if you believe that’s proper sexual ethics, Micah still says that’s the wrong answer. The right answer doesn’t go away just because genitals are part of the discussion. We may want to add to the right answer, to expand on it and clarify it for particular contexts, but we still have to start there.

What does the Lord require of you when it comes to human sexuality? To do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with thy God.

God has told you, O mortal, what is good. God has told you, O single people, what is good. God has told you, O married people, O straight people, O queer people, O all people, what is good.

And what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?

- – - – - – - – - – - -

* About which, let me just say this much: The Golden Rule is always important as an ethical guide — reciprocity is one aspect of justice and we should always strive to do right by one another. But it’s also practical. The character-building practice of the Golden Rule in all of life helps train us to appreciate and to negotiate — in both senses — the difference between our various diverse ideas about “as you would have them do unto you.” (My favorite beverage is strong black coffee. The Golden Rule doesn’t mean that I should insist everyone gets strong, black coffee, but rather that they get to enjoy whatever their favorite beverage is just as I get to enjoy mine. If my guest prefers tea, then the Golden Rule says I need to learn to make a good cup of tea.)

** No one ever asks “What does the Lord require of you as a cis-het/straight person?” because as the normative majority, people like me enjoy the privilege of not being defined/bounded by our sexuality the way we insist everyone else must be. We’re free to go about our lives as though we don’t have a sexuality, just like we white people don’t have a race/color/ethnicity. It may be impossible to overstate how much time and energy this frees up, or how much psychic/emotional toil this spares us.

[syndicated profile] yarn_harlot_feed

Posted by Stephanie Pearl-McPhee

Here’s one of the things about knitting.  There’s lots of different kinds.  I don’t just mean there’s colourwork, or lace, or entrelac, I mean that there’s different sorts of it that you can do to fill different holes in your time. You can have fancy knitting that you do when you’re pretty bored, and need a lot of entertaining, or you can have reasonably straightforward knitting that you pick up and put down while you work on other things, or watch a movie. Then there’s the dead simple stuff that you work on while you’re on the phone, or in conversation, or walking, or in a meeting… the stuff that you don’t even need to look at.  There’s all those kinds and more, and I think it’s remarkable that knitting can be whatever kind you need it to be, if you just choose wisely.

Now let’s talk about Fox Paws.  Fox Paws is a pretty wild pattern.  There’s some really crazy increases, and some truly mad decreases, and those increases offset the decreases and …. you should think of it like it’s Feather and Fan on smack.

foxpaws 2014-10-31

For a little while (just like with Feather and Fan) before you have a little bit of knitting so that you can tell if things are lining up, you just can’t tell if things are lining up, and not only that, it took me several rows to see how things were meant to line up at all.  The first time through, I had no idea how it was going to go together.

Luckily, I would knit that first repeat FOUR TIMES. The first time through, it didn’t work.  I had the wrong number of stitches left at the end of the fourth row, which meant I’d totally screwed up somewhere, and I couldn’t find where, and I ripped it back.  The next time it started coming together by about row 8, but I decided it was too wide, so I ripped it back. The third time, it seemed to be coming together, and I actually got far enough to tell that I wasn’t getting a fabric I liked, and needed to go up a needle size. The fourth time it was the right width, the right needle, and I appeared to be knitting it properly, and then I broke a Fox Paws rule, and I had to rip it back. (Sure.  Now would be a great time to point out that a swatch would have helped with all of that. It’s a scarf though. It’s practically a swatch.)

Fifth times the charm though, and as long as I don’t deviate from the rules, everything is okay.  What are the rules you ask?  Well, I’m not sure I have them all figured out yet.  I can tell when I’ve broken one because I always have to rip back at least two rows, and I curse like a sailor. That’s the minimum price that Fox Paws charges if you let your attention wander, because see, that’s the thing.  Fox Paws isn’t hard.  Well, fine. It’s a little hard, but I like a challenge and so do some of you and this is perfect for if you were hoping to grow a few more neural pathways and try to stave off dementia.  I’m pretty sure I can feel it doing that, so yes, it’s hard, but a good hard, not an impossible hard.  It’s just… tricky.

You have to pay attention. You have to concentrate, and if you don’t, then all of a sudden things come of the rails, your little paws have something really, really wrong with them, and then the numbers are all funky and you’re tinking back a million stitches trying to find the last place everything was okay.  Do you know how long it takes to tink back some of those freaky decreases? It’s not insignificant.  Let’s say that.  I’ve learned that I can’t knit Fox Paws on a plane, if I think I’m watching the movie or talking to the knitter next to me.  When I flew home on Monday, I don’t think I made it through four rows.  I wasn’t concentrating.  It was the one and only time a knitter/stranger sat beside me on a plane, and I must have looked like an expletive muttering lunatic who couldn’t knit my way out of a paper bag.

I’ve learned that I’m not knitting Fox Paws in the car. There’s too much going on. You might look at a bird or something, and then the whole thing is going to crap. Similarly, the subway is right out. I glanced up for a second to see if it was my stop and my knitting blew up. Luckily I was only a half row in when I realized that it wasn’t compatible.

knittingsubway 2014-10-31

You can’t do anything crazy, like take it to dinner.  FOX PAWS HATES GOING TO DINNER.

foxpaws2 2014-10-31

You absolutely probably want to stay away from this.

foxpaws3 2014-10-31

Fox Paws also can’t be my “next to the desk” knitting. Usually I’ve got something there to knit while I read, but this obviously is not the right thing. You have to look at your knitting, if you’re knitting Fox Paws.

foxpaws4 2014-10-31

I tried it in the kitchen.  I always take my knitting in there too.

foxpawscook 2014-10-31

Usually I knit a row here or there while a sauce reduces, onions sauté… except with Fox Paws, you don’t want to do that. You might end up concentrating when the smoke detector goes  off because your knitting is pretty damn interesting and you forgot you were making onions at all. (I heard that happened to someone.)  (Also, don’t be distracted by the huge bowl of tomatoes. Tomorrow is Joe’s birthday, and we’re doing a sit down dinner for 25.  I need that many. As a matter of fact, maybe I don’t have enough.)

foxpawsonlyway 2014-10-31

I think I know now what Fox Paws wants. It wants to be alone with me. With just a cup of tea, and no distractions, and nothing that could interrupt our time together. It wants me to say “SSSSHHHHHH!!!!!!!” to any member of my family that tries to screw me up by saying really inconsiderate things, like “Hi”.  It doesn’t like the TV. It’s not sure about Audiobooks. It doesn’t care for the cat.

It’s a bit much really, but as long as we just sit quietly, knitting like we’re the only knitter and yarn in the world…

foxpawsleaves 2014-10-31

Look at that.

(PS: One of you will want to know: That’s Rowan Fine Tweed in Tissington, Arncliffe, Dent, Bainbridge and Keld, and yes.  I thought that four repeats was just right.)


Left us a mixed impression

Oct. 31st, 2014 02:26 pm
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Posted by Fred Clark

• Con-artist, habitual liar and right-wing pseudo-historian David Barton illustrates the stopped-watch principle by accidentally saying something partly true. Barton celebrated the lackluster box office performance of the new Left Behind movie because, he says, it teaches a false and unbiblical eschatology. True! Barton complains that the pessimistic outlook of premillennial dispensationalism discourages Christians from working for change in this world. Also true!

Of course, Left Behind’s strain of dispensationalism differs from the earlier variations taught by folks like Scofield and Hal Lindsey, in that it’s married to Tim LaHaye’s John Birch Society political ideology, encouraging an activism that closely aligns with Barton’s own right-wing dominionism. And if I were forced to choose between the passively destructive pessimistic quietism of earlier PMD eschatology and the actively destructive paranoid theocracy promoted by LaHaye and Barton, then I’ll take the former, thanks.


For Halloween, Arthur Tress’ photographs inspired by children’s descriptions of nightmares.

• This seems like a smart idea in Conshohocken: “The chief has designated the parking lot and the lobby at police headquarters as an online safe transaction zone. He says if you’re conducting a one on one transaction where money is changing hands. This is the safest place to do it.”

• “It would seem that the Bible belt has been unbuckled and the fly is now open.” Michelle Krabill on rape culture in christianamerica.

• Glioblastoma multiforme will kill you within a few short months. With the very best medical treatment in the world, it will take a precious few months longer to kill you. But it will kill you. It is, without exception, a death sentence.

So if Pat Robertson can do what he says and heal people with this deadly form of cancer, then he needs to get his butt out of the TV studio and go do it. Otherwise he really, really needs to STFU right now and stop telling people that dying from a terminal disease is some kind of moral failing.

Phil Plait has a good post on how it’s not really news that Pope Francis accepts the science of evolution. He blames the “unholy marriage of the Republican Party and religious conservatives” for the widespread American surprise over the unremarkable news that a religious leader doesn’t reject science. The “science versus religion rhetoric” of the religious right, Plait says, “has polarized our country so badly that a lot of people perceive all religion to be totally anti-science, and that’s not true, and not fair.”

Yep. And the perception that this is how it ought to be — that real, true religion ought to reject all science — has been far more disastrous for religion than it has been for science.

• And by the way, the West Chester University Golden Rams women’s rugby team is now 5-0.

• In The Bible Made Impossible, Christian Smith writes about “pervasive interpretive pluralism.” Here’s a musical illustration of what such interpretive pluralism looks like. (I forget whether I posted this previously, but either way, it’s still wonderful.)

Click here to view the embedded video.

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Posted by Lisa Wade, PhD

Joel Best, the sociologist famous for debunking the myth that your children might receive Halloween candy impregnated with poison and razor blades, wishes you a “Happy Halloween” and nothing but the Best candy:


Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the co-author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

(View original at http://thesocietypages.org/socimages)

History, Hallowe'en and Hatred

Oct. 31st, 2014 09:30 am
[syndicated profile] rollingaroundinmyhed_feed

Posted by Dave Hingsburger

What follows is a 'Hallowe'en' story. It's not a 'Happy Hallowe'en' story. I'm saying this just as a warning, I've been told, on occasion, that I can be a, the word was, 'buzz kill' when I feel compelled to tell one kind of story when people want and expect another. So, enter warned.

Joe and I don't celebrate Hallowe'en.

At all.

We get into the spirit only as it relates to the kids and to getting candy for others. But for us, Hallowe'en has been tainted. It's a day where we remember the depth of hate that people hold for people, the depth of fear we felt and the realization that when people have permission to hurt and abuse, they will.


It was our first Hallowe'en here in Toronto. At both my work and and Joe's people talked about the annual 'parade' at the Saint Charles Tavern on Yonge Street. They spoke with excitement about it and how they were all going. The Saint Charles was a gay bar right down at the end of our street. It wasn't our local, we preferred going to Buddies or to the Parkside, but we had gone there with friends often in the past.

We decided to go and see this parade that people had spoken about. Shortly after dark we headed out, it was only a block and a half from our place so we were able to hear the crowd upon leaving the apartment building. There would be the occasional roar from the crowd, not a cheer, a roar. It sounded malevolent.

And it was.

We got there to see that the crowd was across the street from the Tavern. The 'parade' was when the occasional gay person, often those wearing drag, walked down the street towards the bar. As soon as they appeared the crowed roared hate. Vile words spilled out. Hateful sentiment scrubbed the air of the freshness of fall. Worse. Much worse. They crowd was well armed. Mostly with eggs, tomatoes and rotten apples but occasionally with sticks and stones. On sight of someone headed to the bar there would be a cascade of projectiles in the air, when one struck, the crowd would jump up and down and cheer. The police would applaud a good hit. Yes, the police were there, but they weren't there to protect those going to the bar, they didn't see them as worthy of protection. You will notice in the article that a man, standing up to the crowd is said to be taunting them!

At one point I got lost in the crowd. I didn't know where my friends were. I was alone, surrounded by hateful people with weapons in their hands. Every time I heard a cheer I knew someone had been struck, someone had been hurt. Every time I looked at someone I feared that they would see my difference in the fear in my eyes. I just had to get home.

I got home.

I cried.

I was alone.

Joe wasn't there.

I was terrified that he'd been caught. Beaten. Killed. I had no doubt that the crowd, if it could, would have become murderous.

It has taken years for me to think of that night, to move from the hate of the crowd to the bravery of those who walked down the west side of the street, while hate poured from the east, while rocks and stones, and rotten fruit and veg flew through the air at them. The sheer, amazing, wonderful bravery of those who would not let the street be taken from them, who would not let hate alter their path, who dug deep enough past fear to find defiance and who walked as if the crowd applauded them.

But Hallowe'en changed for me that night.

I think trauma does that.

It leaves scars.

I'll tell you this, no mask has ever been made that is as scary as the human face full of hatred.
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Posted by Fred Clark

In the first Left Behind novel, written in 1995, we’re told that peace and prosperity will come suddenly in the Middle East before the Rapture — which could happen at any moment, possibly even before you finish reading this …

… sentence. OK, it didn’t happen just then, but it could have. Any day, at any time, in the twinkling of an eye, Jesus could come back to get us before we die. (Well, not us, of course. But the real, true Christians.) The Rapture is imminent. No man knoweth the day or the hour but, back in 1995, Tim LaHaye assured us that the day and the hour weren’t far off at all.

But before the Rapture comes — at any moment — something else apparently has to happen first. Israel has to make peace with all of its neighbors (and vice versa). Writing in 1995, Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins assumed this would happen quickly and easily. Back in 2003, I doubted that. Today, in 2014, I still doubt that.


Left Behind, pp. 8-9

Here in reality, the “road map” peace plan is stumbling and staggering and likely to fall apart. Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat seem determined to undermine the plan in any way possible. Its two-state solution, and its stated goal of an independent Palestinian state in what is now the occupied West Bank by the year 2005, seems highly optimistic.

Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins don’t believe in the road map peace plan. They have their own idea of what is necessary to end the perpetual conflict in the region. The problem, they say, is that Israel simply is not yet wealthy enough. Increase Israel’s GDP, they argue, and peace will bloom like a magically fertile desert.

L&J like to drop startling, audacious plot points with little fanfare. It’s a tendency that can give the reader whiplash. For instance:

The prosperity brought about by the miracle formula changed the course of history for Israel. Flush with cash and resources, Israel made peace with her neighbors. Free trade and liberal passage allowed all who loved the nation to have access to it. What they did not have access …

Wait — did you catch that second sentence? L&J fly by this remarkable development offhandedly, but it seems that in the fantastic world of Left Behind there is a firmly established peace in the Middle East.

Never had Israel enjoyed such tranquility. The walled city of Jerusalem was only a symbol now, welcoming everyone who embraced peace.

Even the thorniest question of the Middle East peace process — the status of Jerusalem — has been easily and breezily dealt with. The entirety of Jerusalem is simply accounted as a part of Israel, but everyone else is permitted to freely come and go within it. And no one in the region has any qualms about this tidy arrangement.


Israeli police respond to riots earlier this month on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. In 1995, Tim LaHaye assured us that peace in the Middle East was poised to break out at any moment. (Photo from Police Spokesperson’s Unit via The Jerusalem Post.)

How neat. How convenient, how simple and, like so much else in Left Behind, how utterly out of sync with anything resembling reality.

How this remarkable tranquility actually came about — how decades and generations of violence, hatred and mutual mistrust were swept away — L&J don’t say. They, again, don’t even seem to be interested. And it doesn’t occur to them that their readers might be interested in or curious about such a startling development.

In the real world, or in an even semi-realistic fictional world, any hint of progress toward peace in the Middle East is the stuff of Nobel prizes and banner headlines. The path toward peace is marked with the graves of brave men — Sadat, Rabin — assassinated for their willingness to pursue anything other than continuing conflict. Yet L&J see no dramatic potential in exploring such a story. They simply present a miracle formula which in turn brings about a formulaic miracle: agricultural bounty = wealth = peace and an end to all animosity.

L&J believe that “biblical prophecy” foretells the establishment of a peaceful and prosperous Greater Israel — one which includes not only the entirety of the West Bank, but everything from the Mediterranean to the freaking Euphrates. Israel, according to this strange prophecy, is like a Red Giant. It is destined to swell as it dies, swallowing up Jordan, Syria and a sizeable chunk of Iraq before ultimately going supernova at Armageddon and collapsing forever into a black hole. (L&J would not approve of this metaphor — they consider the life cycle of stars a fiction of corrupt, secular humanist evolutionary theory.)

Now, try to conceive of any possible course of events that would — in the space of a few short months or years — take us from the world we live in today to a world in which the state of Israel has expanded to such a vast extent while simultaneously making fast friends with the Palestinians and the rest of the Arab world.

Can you imagine any way this might happen? L&J couldn’t either. That’s why, as they often do when conveying something ridiculously implausible, they simply assert it matter-of-factly in the hopes that the reader won’t pay too much attention.

L&J sincerely believe that we are now living in the End Times. They wrote Left Behind in the hopes of convincing others that this is so.

Yet on page after page the reader is confronted with jarring illustrations of how glaringly, insurmountably incompatible this End Times world is with the actual world we are living in. The more you read, the more this book undermines the argument that our world and the world of the End Times are the same thing.

If you accept L&J’s belief that Left Behind accurately portrays the world of the End Times as they believe it to be, then, by their own standard, you must conclude that the End is a long, long, looooong way away from here.

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Posted by Fred Clark

Paul Davidson tells you everything you ever wanted to know about the Ark of the Covenant but were afraid to ask: “Readers of the Lost Ark: Following the Literary Trail of an Ancient Religious Symbol.” After tracing the various (conflicting) biblical traditions and narratives about the ark, Davidson notes that “diverse traditions about the ark continued to develop into the Christian era.” His post also, of course, includes some Indiana Jones allusions and images as a lighthearted touch.

But I take those Raiders references seriously, because even though Stephen Spielberg and Lawrence Kasdan and George Lucas didn’t intend to reshape our understanding of the Ark of the Covenant, they contributed mightily to the way we imagine it, the way we think of it, and thus the way we read and tell and understand all those biblical stories.


When you imagine the Ark of the Covenant, you probably don’t picture the simple wooden box built by Moses in the book of Deuteronomy. You probably picture the elaborate golden Ark built by Bezalel in the book of Exodus … and by Stephen Spielberg in 1981.

When you read Davidson’s summary of the work of actual biblical scholars, you can’t help but notice that their understanding of these stories is very different in many ways from the popular understanding most Christians acquire in Sunday school. And it’s not just that scholars know more than what is communicated in those popular lessons. In many cases, the difference is that scholars “know” less — the popular lessons include all kinds of little details and glosses, embellishments and assumptions that can’t be found anywhere in the text.

The text itself gets popularized and its stories are retold. Its stories provide the basis for other stories about those stories, and details from those new stories seep back into the popular understanding as though they were part of the original. The revised and expanded idea of the original then provides the basis for even more new stories, and the cycle repeats itself. The text feeds into popular culture and popular culture, in turn, feeds back into the text, and after multiple repetitions of that cycle we lose the ability to distinguish one from the other.

That’s where 90 percent of what most Christians “know” about Hell or Satan or “the Antichrist” comes from. They’re confident that all this stuff they “know” is in the Bible somewhere, but you can’t find it in the text itself, only in the idea of the text that exists after generations of this text-culture-text cycle has done its work.

We learn new stories and then we carry those stories with us when we go back to the text and those stories influence what we see and don’t see when we read the text. This is true of horrible stories that intend to reshape the way we read the text itself, such as for example Left Behind. But it’s also true of really good stories that don’t seem intended to do this — like Raiders of the Lost Ark or The Omen or Dante’s Divine Comedy or The Vision of Tundale.

The new stories employ vocabulary that comes from the text, and those new stories give the words from the text new connotations and new associations that we carry with us when we go back to the text. And in that return to the text, we begin to imagine that we find those new connotations and new associations there in the original story. We read a Bible verse with the word “Hell” in it and we bring 2,000 years of other stories with us, assuming that all of that is what the writer meant when it’s neither true nor possible that the writer could have meant any of that.

Indiana Jones may not be a character you’ll find in the Bible, but then “The Antichrist” isn’t a character you’ll find in the Bible either, and that hasn’t stopped generations of Christian readers from finding him there.


Oct. 30th, 2014 03:20 pm
[syndicated profile] ursulav_feed
No, not a typo. I don't have any books currently close enough to done to throw myself into NaNoWriMo (and honestly, I am writing a children's book and editing and illustrating another one, so I don't have the mojo.) but I'm thinking of trying to make a Twine game. Which would be NaGaWriMo, or maybe Naga Wrimo, the great text-adventure serpent.

Some of you may remember, lo these many months ago, when I did the Cryptic Stitching Story Nexus game. I love the setting, I love the characters, I love the idea, and Story Nexus went into maintenance mode and won't be developed further, so my thought was to port it to Twine.

I'll be honest, I made kind of a hash of it. It's a BIG game (how did I make such a big game?) and I didn't know my way around Twine nearly well enough and was trying to make it do things it wasn't great at, and I was having to commit some dreadful coding sins there and it was kind of splurghly. I did not have enough of a clear master-document to know where I was and it got just...dense. I was hammering square pegs into holes that weren't even on the right side of the board.

But I love Cryptic and I don't want it to die.

So what I'm trying to do now is cook up a game that is unrelated and much much smaller. An hour or two to play, maybe, no complex grinding, just start here and go there. And this is undoubtedly what I should have done in the first place, because I already figured out a thing that I did wrong that would have saved me a lot of grief in Cryptic.

The new game is called Papercut Forest, and it takes places in a world entirely made of cut paper. It is not complicated, it is a small world and a small story and I am hoping to have it done by the end of November, barring incident.

And then, hopefully I will have learned enough from putting it together to throw myself at Cryptic from a better direction this time.

A Brief History of Halloween

Oct. 30th, 2014 02:00 pm
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Posted by Lisa Wade, PhD

Yesterday I wrote about how the money spent on adult Halloween revelry now rivals, or even exceeds, that spent on kids. This may seem like a surprising shift, but it turns out it’s the focus on children that’s new. Halloween as the kid holiday we know it in the U.S. today was really invented in the 1950s.

This, and more fun facts about the history of Halloween, in this two-minute History Channel summary:

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the co-author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

(View original at http://thesocietypages.org/socimages)

Old MacDonald On The Bus

Oct. 30th, 2014 07:52 am
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Posted by Dave Hingsburger

Whenever I get on the bus in the morning, usually when I'm well and truly strapped down, I ask about the ride. At the time I go in to work, I get there at 7, it's a 50/50 chance that I'll ride alone and of course a 50/50 chance that I won't. Yesterday morning the driver looked and told me that we'd be picking someone up on the way, then I'd be dropped of and then the other person would be taken to his destination. This is unusual for me, at the distance I travel, I'm usually first on, last off. I was pleased, I know this ride and I knew I'd be about 15 minutes early at work. Terrific.

When we arrived to pick up my fellow passenger, it turned out that he was a very elderly gentleman who was accompanied by a young woman, a support staff. She immediately spoke to the driver, somehow the trip was booked wrongly, he has an important appointment at the hospital, they can't be late. The driver, nicely, said that he would do what he could.

A little later, not recognizing the route we were taking I asked the driver about where we were. He said, I think expecting backlash, that he's going to drop the other fellow off first. I sat there quietly.

I should have said, "That's great, he needs to get to his appointment, I understand."

I said: nothing.

In my head I was saying: "But I'm supposed to be dropped off first. I wanted to get to work early and now if we are on time, I'll be lucky. Why is it my fault that they booked his trip incorrectly? Why should I have to pay for that mistake? Why do these things always happen to me, they never, ever decide to drop me before someone else." If there was a theme song to my thoughts and rants and ramblings the words would be:

Here a whine.

There a whine.

Everywhere a whine whine.

But. I said nothing.

When we dropped the fellow off, for surgery as it turns out, I wished him luck on his surgery. The woman with me commented that I was a kind man.

I wasn't actually kind.

I was just quiet.

You see I've discovered that the way to be a good person is to just shut the hell up every now and then.

I arrived a work.

The driver thanked me for my patience. I told him that we were exactly on time. He said, "You know what I mean."

Silence itself may be golden - but yesterday, it made me golden too.

A Queen’s Anger

Oct. 30th, 2014 11:00 am
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Posted by lizlehfeldt

By Elizabeth A. Lehfeldt (Guest Contributor)

In the summer of 1474 (only a few months after the acclamation ceremony I described in my earlier post), King Fernando met with miserable failure on the battlefield.  Upon returning to the court, according to the chronicler Juan de Flores, his wife, Queen Isabel, delivered a scathing harangue: “Using the courageous words of a man rather than those of a fearful woman,” she upbraided Fernando.  She said that as news reached her of the outcome she “had sat in the palace, with an angry heart, gritted teeth and clenched fists.”  She berated his temerity and weakness.*

Despite the fact that there are at least five contemporary chronicles of the monarchs’ reign, this account of the queen’s anger only appears in the one by Juan de Flores.  Only one other comments on Isabel’s emotional state, saying simply that she was saddened by the loss.

We should ask ourselves, then, what image of the queen does Flores’ account create?  At first blush we might think that he is criticizing her.  What right did she have to speak to her husband like that?  Conduct manuals of the day cautioned wives—even powerful ones—to be silent, circumspect, and obedient.  Curiously, Flores may thwart this dilemma by endowing her with manly attributes.  And he doesn’t limit himself to descriptions of Isabel.  In fact, this assertive Isabel is consistent with his portrait of another forthright personality of Isabel’s day, Beatriz de Bobadilla.  Beatriz, due to her husband’s illness, had periodically administered the city of Segovia.  According to Flores, she performed the necessary tasks “like a very discrete man and woman” and with a “shrewdness more intense than women customarily possess.”   Like Isabel, Beatriz conducts herself in a masculine fashion.

Flores’ contemporaries would have seen in his portrayals of Isabel and Beatriz familiar images of what they called a mujer varonil or manly woman.  It was also how a fifteenth-century Spanish biography described the cross-dressing warrior Joan of Arc.  This gender-bending category praised women not for feminine virtue, but for the transcendence of their womanly nature (perceived as weak) and the assumption of male qualities.  Thus, Isabel’s anger is not a liability, but rather an indication of her strength.

* All translations are my own taken from Flores’ Crónica incompleta de los Reyes Católicos.

Elizabeth A. Lehfeldt is Professor of History at Cleveland State University.  She writes on the history of gender in Europe between 1400 and 1700 with an emphasis on Spain, queens, and convents.

This post first appeared at Wonders & Marvels on 27 October 2011.

When autumn leaves start to fall

Oct. 29th, 2014 09:00 pm
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Posted by Fred Clark

So yesterday was Tuesday — which around here is supposed to be the day when I post the next installment of our ongoing journey through the pages of Nicolae: The Rise of Antichrist.

AutumnLeavesAs it turns out, yesterday was also sunny and 77 degrees. When you live in the woods, late-October days like that tend to mean you drop everything and pick up a rake, which is what I wound up doing most of yesterday until it was too dark to see. Managed to put a pretty big dent in the annual chore, too, although of course most of the leaves haven’t even fallen yet, and by the next warm, dry day in early November (if we get one) you won’t be able to tell by looking that I did anything yesterday at all.

Anyway, after all that yard work, I was too tired this week to focus on a bad book, so I turned instead to a pretty good one and wound up posting my review of Dave Gushee’s Changing Our Minds instead.

I held out some hope of getting to Nicolae today, but ended up spending the day on the long rant in the previous post. (That’s the thing about rants — when you’ve got one brewing, it’s hard to write anything else until you get it out.)

Left Behind blogging will resume next Tuesday. The leaves can wait for now.

Click here to view the embedded video.

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Posted by Fred Clark

As we’ve discussed here many times, the problem with the white evangelical sexual ethic is that it isn’t one. At a popular level in the white evangelical subculture, the place that needs to be occupied by a reliable, credible sexual ethic is occupied instead by what Libby Anne calls “The Tale of Two Boxes.”

This is a system with two, and only two, categories for considering whether any given sexual act or practice is good or bad, right or wrong, healthy or unhealthy, harmful or peachy-keen. It asks one and only one yes/no question: Are you married? In it’s simplest form, Libby Anne’s Two Boxes looks like this:



The long history of a Two Boxes approach helps us understand some of the confusion and reflexive terror that white evangelicals express in response to the possibility of marriage equality. They’ve trained themselves to think solely in terms of Unmarried Sex Is Bad and Married Sex Is Good, so the possibility of same-sex couples having good, God-approved married sex sets them scrambling, realizing for the first time perhaps that this Two Boxes system is woefully inadequate and can’t account for many of the ideas they’ve been trying to cram into it or to draw out of it.

In the realm of formal, academic evangelical ethics, things tend to be clearer and more sophisticated than the crude and clumsy Two Boxes approach that dominates at the popular level. But even these scholarly ethicists are at a disadvantage because it’s not easy to talk about a Christian sexual ethics within a tradition that, as Barry Taylor notes, has “very little sense of a comprehensive theology of sexuality.”

These scholarly evangelical ethicists are also up against the difficulty of having to, at least in some sense, work backwards. As I’ve said here before, “forbidden” and “not forbidden” are supposed to be the conclusions derived from ethical work, not the starting point.

Having said all of that, though, many white evangelical ethicists do manage to discuss sexual ethics in a way that is more meaningful, more practical, and more true, than the popular True Boxes approach. They clarify and qualify what they mean by the category of marriage, and why it is that marriage is for them a necessary condition, and what it is about marriage that provides and allows for this ethical significance.

My friend Dave Gushee has done this in a host of books and articles in which he fleshes out in more substantive ways the “covenental-marital” sexual ethic he references in his new book Changing Our Mind. The short chapter in that short book doesn’t give him much space to revisit that larger argument, but he nods toward it with a wall-of-adjectives approach, writing of: “the covenantal-marital sexual ethical standard — one person, for life, faithful and exclusive, in a loving, nonexploitative, noncoercive, reciprocal relationship.”

Those adjectives won’t allow for a clumsy Two Boxes approach that says all married sex is good because it occurs within marriage. Gushee’s description shows he needs more than just the category “Married” to conclude something is good. It also needs to be “loving, nonexploitative, noncoercive, reciprocal” among other things.

That’s good! But it’s undermined by his earlier discussion of supposed alternatives to this “covenantal-marital sexual ethical standard.” That discussion includes something that seems like boilerplate from some weird list of stock phrases that it seems the evangelical ethicists guild requires its members to insert in all such discussions.

The guild seems to have fashioned this mandatory boilerplate in the 1960s or 1970s, back when John Updike was publishing his earliest novels. And like an early Updike novel, it seems both moralistic and dated — far removed from any conversation that’s going on now.

Here’s that bit in Dave’s new book:

Much of contemporary western culture would say: An appropriate sexual ethic is to do whatever you want to do sexually if it doesn’t hurt anybody who doesn’t want to get hurt while having sex — or perhaps, with a bit more refinement, if it doesn’t involve the exploitation of a minor or an impaired person or doesn’t risk pregnancy or disease. Let’s call this the mutual consent ethic. Other than that, anything goes.

Some, refining their ethic to a somewhat higher and more demanding level, would say: An appropriate sexual ethic is to find a person to love, and to restrict sex only to that person for as long as that relationship shall last. Let’s call this the loving relationship ethic.

Christianity has historically said: God’s plan for sexual ethics requires a man and a woman to make a binding lifetime marriage covenant with each other (before God, church and state, representing civil society), and to remain faithful to the promises of that covenant, including fidelity and exclusivity, until one partner dies a natural death. Let’s call this the covenantal-marital ethic. It bans all non-marital sex, infidelity, abandonment and divorce (with rare exceptions), making celibacy the only alternative to marriage.

Here’s the problem with that, and why it gives me the howling fantods every time I encounter this bit. The argument here is that the so-called “mutual consent ethic” is inadequate because mutual consent is not sufficient. The “loving relationship ethic” is also dismissed because it is not, by itself, sufficient. And then the covenental-marital ethic is commended as the only sufficient approach.

Two problems (at least) arise here. First is that the standard of sufficiency prevents consideration of whether or not the mutual-consent and loving-relationship arguments may be necessary. And second is the implication that marriage satisfies this standard of sufficiency.

As we’ve already seen, Gushee’s own argument is better than this elsewhere. We’ve already seen that he believes — correctly! — that marriage, by itself, is not sufficient. That’s why that wall of adjectives was necessary: “loving, nonexploitative, noncoercive, reciprocal,” etc.

Notice what that list includes — what it has to include: mutual consent and loving relationship. The very things that got waved away earlier in the discussion turn out to be necessary after all.

The inadequate treatment of those things also muddles the claim that a conservative evangelical ethicist needs to be defending about marriage itself. That claim cannot be — as the wall of adjectives demonstrates — that marriage is a sufficient substitute for a sexual ethic, a la Libby Anne’s Two Boxes. The claim these ethicists need to be defending, rather, is that marriage is a necessary component for a credible Christian sexual ethic. It’s difficult to argue for the necessity of marriage in sexual ethics if you’re half-convinced that you’re trying to argue for the sufficiency of it.

I think the problem of this boilerplate language here comes from working backwards. Evangelical ethicists already know what the correct answer has to be, so it can be difficult for them to muster much patience to deal with any alternatives. Those alternatives thus can get caricatured and quickly dismissed in a way that undermines not just them, but the evangelical ethicists’ own arguments.

In the particular case of Gushee’s discussion here, I think he’d have been on stronger ground if he had engaged the actual substance of the competing ethical approaches. That might have allowed him to acknowledge that mutual consent cannot be dismissed just because it is not, by itself, a sufficient ethic. His argument would have been stronger if he had, instead, recognized mutual consent as a necessary, but not sufficient, component of any credible sexual ethic.

But that would involve deviating from the standard boilerplate that evangelical ethicists seem to have been stuck on for decades.

The most infuriating part of that boilerplate is this: “Other than that, anything goes.”

Feh. Another old friend of mine who is also an academic Christian ethicist recites this phrase all the time, always derisively. (Yes, I have multiple friends who are academic Christian ethicists. Welcome to my world.) “As long as its between two consenting adults, then anything goes,” he says, always as though he’s quoting someone. And yet he’s usually saying it in response to arguments from people who haven’t actually said that.

I’m sure that it’s possible, if we search hard enough, to find that some people actually are arguing “Other than that, anything goes.” The world is large and it’s possible to find some people actually arguing almost anything. So, yes, I’ll grant that someone, somewhere in 2014 is still clutching their first edition of Fear of Flying and discussing mutual consent as the end point, the whole, the sum, of sexual ethics. And they may even use the very same Cole Porter lyric that every evangelical ethicist loves to quote, insisting that, beyond mutual consent, “anything goes.”

They may glibly approve of affairs, betrayals, promise-breaking, and scaring the horses. They may shrug away the myriad forms of power imbalances that can coercively produce a veneer of mutual consent. They may have so little regard for personal safety that they insist there can be no valid negative response to the Beatles’ question, “Why Don’t We Do It in the Road?” because, hey, if there’s mutual consent, then “other than that, anything goes!

But while it might be possible to find someone who is actually arguing that, it will be much harder to find anyone else who’s paying attention to them or who takes that argument seriously.

When mutual consent is discussed today, it is almost always held up as a necessary condition — a necessary starting point. That’s been true for more than a decade now and this discussion has been fruitful, constructive and insightful.

It’s frustrating, then, to keep tripping over this “other than that, anything goes” cliché, because it means that evangelical ethicists haven’t been listening to or participating in that discussion. They still only seem able to hear mention of mutual consent as some dusty Aquarian claim that it is the sufficient sum of sexual ethics. And so they respond dismissively, thereby apparently missing and dismissing the vitally important fact that any credible sexual ethic must include mutual consent as a necessary, essential ingredient.

That dismissal — particularly in its crudest, Two-Boxes form — can lead to some ugly ideas about wifely duties, treating marriage vows as a lifelong, irrevocable, unchangeable granting of perpetual consent. And that can get really bad, really fast.

When I encounter that dismissive stock phrase — “Other than that, anything goes” — I see an argument that doesn’t take consent seriously. And that makes it an argument I can’t take seriously.

That’s why I tend to be disappointed by my academic evangelical ethicist friends when I turn to them for “fresh thinking about what Christian sexual ethics should look like.” If you’re really looking for such fresh thinking, then one of the best places to turn these days is to the ongoing, incisive vivisection of evangelical purity culture that’s unfolding right now. This is happening mostly online in social media, and it’s being done, mostly, by young women. These young women may not have the academic credentials and institutional support of the professional ethics guild, but they respect the vital importance of consent, they’re wicked smart, and they have the advantage of not working backwards.

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Posted by Lisa Wade, PhD

Measured by spending, Halloween is the second largest holiday in the U.S. after Christmas. The National Retail Federation estimates that Americans will spend $7.4 billion dollars celebrating Halloween this year. In total, 74% of households will buy something for Halloween and, among those, the average will spend $125.


There’ll be a bumper crop of pumpkins, more than ever before, and worth about $149 million dollars.


A full two-thirds of the population will buy a costume, spending an average of $77.52 each. That’s a record in terms of both spending and the sheer number of costumes sold.


Interestingly, the holiday has evolved from primarily a children’s holiday to one celebrated by adults, especially millenials. Less than half of the money spent on costumes is going to costumes for children. Adults dress up (to the tune of $1.4 million) and their dress up their pets ($350 million). They also throw parties for other adults and patronize bars and clubs, which increasingly feature Halloween-themed events, food, and drinks.

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the co-author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

(View original at http://thesocietypages.org/socimages)

Five Things

Oct. 29th, 2014 01:56 pm
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Posted by Stephanie Pearl-McPhee

1. I went to Edmonton for Stix in the City, (put on by the lovely sisters at River City Yarns) and it was pretty great.

signoutside 2014-10-29

2. I knew it was a good omen when I ran into Lucy in the Toronto Airport – Me, heading west, her home east.

meandlucy 2014-10-29

3. I have discovered that Fox Paws is a pretty challenging knit, and I would like to talk with you about that. (I am writing something for tomorrow. I just have to take all the filthy expletives out of it.)

4. These are the nice knitters that I gave a talk to on Friday night at the “Comedy Club”.

edmontonright 2014-10-29 edmontonleft 2014-10-29

and these are the very nice (and unusually clever) students that Fiona and I had in our classes. (Some are missing. There’s really only so many knitters you can get in a selfie. I’m working on it.)

selfieclass 2014-10-29

5. These are the very, very nice knitters who brought their first socks, and then I took their picture, and then I wrote down their names onto a little piece of paper and put it in my pocket so I wouldn’t lose it. Which I have done. Tell me you names in the comments ladies, I’ll fix it.  I blame Fox Paws.

4knitters1 2014-10-29

Haha! Rhonda, Katherine, Kay and Angela! (Thanks Rhonda.)

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a fantastic date to go on. It involves – well. I’ll tell you that tomorrow too.

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Posted by Fred Clark

The really interesting thing about David Gushee’s* book, Changing Our Mind, is how very radical it isn’t.

What you have here is a conservative white evangelical ethicist writing a conservative evangelical book. Yes, it’s a book about how and why he has changed his mind about “the full acceptance of LGBT Christians in the church,” and that will be perceived by many of Gushee’s fellow white evangelical conservatives as some kind of dangerously revolutionary change. But what’s really striking about this book — adapted from a series of articles written for Baptist News — is how modest this adjustment turns out to be in its implications for Gushee and for the white evangelical church he’s addressing.

The message of this book is not “This Changes Everything.” Instead, Gushee takes everything he’s been saying all along about the church and about Christian sexual ethics, then acknowledges the existence of LGBT Christians, and says, essentially, “OK, same thing for them, too.”

Despite the title, he hasn’t actually changed his mind about very much at all. For the most part, his thinking hasn’t changed, but he’s expanded the circle to include millions of Christians he had previously excluded. The radical challenge his book presents to his fellow conservative white evangelicals doesn’t come from his exegetical discussions. The radical challenge this book presents, rather, comes simply from the acknowledgement that LGBT Christians exist and that they have the same dignity as children of God as any other members of the church.

The sixth chapter of this book is titled simply “Gay Christians Exist.” That’s a modest statement — nothing radical about it. But it has extremely radical implications for those who have staked their self-identity on the pretense that this modest statement can and must be forever denied.

Gushee describes several “forks in the road” in the development of his thinking, but this — “Gay Christians Exist” — is the biggest one. This was the realization that seems to have sparked all the rest of this book.

And it’s not really a change of mind so much as a change of sight. David Gushee came to see people he hadn’t seen before and, having seen them, was no longer able to deny their existence. In a sense, these sisters and brothers and others constituted a fact that he had not previously accounted for, and so he was compelled to account for them.

“The fact that I did not have a personal friendship with a gay or lesbian person before I came to Mercer University in 2007 certainly played a role in the near-total ignorance I brought to the subject,” Gushee writes in a section in which he also apologizes for his earlier complicity in the exclusion of LBGT people from Christian churches and families.

That’s toward the end of Gushee’s book. Nearer the beginning he writes:

My mind has changed — especially due to the transformative encounters I have been blessed to have with gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Christians over the last decade. One of them is my own beloved sister, who is dearer to me than words can say and who came out as a lesbian not long ago. Others are fellow church members. Some have been my students. Some were strangers who came looking for me and asking for a conversation by email, phone or over coffee.

As with straight Christians, the romantic-sexual lives of these LGBT Christians vary. Some are celibate. Some are not. Some are seeking relationships and some are not. Some believe same-sex relationships might be OK with God and some do not. Some are in covenant partnerships and some are not. Some are parents and some are not. I have learned from their great diversity never again to accept ill-informed statements about “the homosexual lifestyle.”

The faith journeys and perspectives of these Christian friends vary in the same way. Some are liberal and some are conservative. Some are high church and some are low church. Some like hymns and some like praise choruses. They are just … Christian people, in all of their maddening and lovable diversity. Currently the most evangelistic friend I have is a gay Christian brother. He’s always out there sharing his faith. Another gay Christian friend is into pop apocalyptic writings like the Left Behind series, which I personally loathe. …

Meeting these people — recognizing that they exist, was the “fork in the road” that changed David Gushee’s mind. He goes on to look at numbers and statistics and other ways of documenting the sheer fact-ness of the existence of millions of LGBT Christians. And he documents the utter failure and falsity of the disastrous attempts to pray away the gay through misnamed “reparative” therapy or equally misnamed “ex-gay” ministries.

So. Then what? Once a church, or the church, accepts the very modest fact that “Gay Christians Exist” and cannot be un-gay-ified, what does that entail?

GusheeCover22That brings us to a particularly helpful section of Gushee’s short book — his discussion of the practical implications for churches. Let’s say an unmarried, celibate LGBT Christian wants to join your congregation. Once you accept the reality of LGBT sexual orientation (and the unreality of “ex-gay” approaches), there can’t be any decent or acceptable reason not to embrace this new member wholly and fully as a participant in your fellowship just like any other. That doesn’t seem controversial or even complicated.

But, as Gushee notes, “Celibacy has always been an exceptional and rare calling in the Christian church.” Just as most straight Christians are not called to celibacy, so too most LGBT Christians are not called to celibacy either. Plus, as an ethics professor, he’s not satisfied with any theory that requires multiple sets of ethical principles — some of which apply only to some members of the congregation and others of which apply only to others. He lists an amusing variety of such potential half measures, explaining why each in turn is flawed, unsatisfying, and incapable of really accounting for the fact of LGBT Christians’ existence and presence and worth.

All of which points to his conclusion: The same rules, the same sexual ethics, should apply to everyone.

Like I said, this is a conservative book. David Gushee advocates a very traditional Christian view of sexual morality, and he wants churches/the church to apply that same standard to all Christians, regardless of sexual orientation. He doesn’t allow for any variation from what he calls a “covenantal-marital ethic” — permitting sexual acts only within the context of lifelong marriage.

Gushee’s conclusion reminds me of a scene in Edward Norton’s 2000 movie Keeping the Faith. Norton’s character, a Catholic priest, is getting quizzed by his childhood friend on “how the sex thing” works for him. “So you’re not gay?” she asks. He tells her no, “But even if I was the rules are the same.”

That’s what Gushee is advocating in Changing Our Mind — a church in which “the rules are the same” for all Christians, regardless of sexual identity or orientation. That’s the radically un-radical core of his message. And maybe also the un-radically radical aspect of it.

Changing Our Mind is thus not just a conservative book, but also a book for conservatives. That becomes very clear in his chapter describing the traditional “covenantal-marital ethic” he upholds here. This chapter is bound to strike progressives as not just traditionalist, but hidebound — unresponsive to, and apparently unaware of, the substance of many of the critiques of the form and function of this ethic.**

In his introductory chapter, Gushee writes of how his own experiences and study have led him to consider “fresh thinking about what Christian sexual ethics should look like.” Such “fresh thinking,” I think, is precisely what conservative evangelicals are afraid of, but I don’t think they actually have much to fear from this book.

I have never asked whether the disciplined covenantal-marital standard in Christian sexual ethics should be weakened,” Gushee writes:

I am instead asking whether devout gay and lesbian Christians might be able to participate in the covenantal-marital sexual ethical standard— one person, for life, faithful and exclusive, in a loving, nonexploitative, noncoercive, reciprocal relationship, that is the highest expression of biblical sexual ethics — which, in fact, a goodly number are already doing. I can’t find a compelling reason to say no anymore.

The weird tribal dynamics that are already causing this book to be denounced as a “controversial,” radical, dangerous and un-biblical tract cannot change the fundamental fact that this is an eminently conservative argument in support of a sternly conservative Christian sexual ethic.

As such, I think this book also works as a good conversation-starter or conversation-furtherer for white evangelical congregations fretting about this “issue.” Changing Our Mind would be an excellent book to lend to a conservative American evangelical who’s struggling with what to think — or with how to think — about how to respond to LGBT Christians in their community. It’s a helpful, accessible starting point for those who are beginning to realize that the evangelical status quo of deny/ignore/exclude is unsustainable.

My favorite part of this book, though, is a discussion near the end of what Gushee describes as “transformative encounters and paradigm leaps.” This is the one bit that really might be as subversive and dangerous as Gushee’s inquisitors make it out to be. And I’m not just saying that because it’s here, at last, that Gushee’s argument finally arrives at the stories I love so much from the book of Acts. “God has shown me that I should not call anyone profane or unclean,” the apostle Peter says in Acts 10. But, as Gushee notes, Peter didn’t manage to learn this from the vision God sent him on the rooftop, he only truly understood it from his “transformative encounter” with the Gentiles themselves.

The same thing has happened time and again in the best moments of Christian history. An older or inadequate way of connecting the biblical dots gets shredded by transformative encounters with real human beings.

In precisely these encounters, many attest to the experience of God’s transformative Spirit.

This is how our minds can be changed — “transformative encounters with real human beings.” Such encounters, Gushee argues, are an experience of God’s Spirit at work.

And if that is what is going on — if God’s Spirit is at work and on the move — then the tribal gatekeepers frightened by this book have very good cause to be frightened indeed.

- – - – - – - – - – - -

* Full disclosure: Dave Gushee is an old friend and a former colleague from our time with Evangelicals for Social Action and Prism magazine back in the 1990s. He’s quite a bit more conservative than I am — or perhaps, to put it in geekier terms, he’s more Lawful Good than my own Chaotic Good leanings tend to favor. But I also admire and respect him enormously and I’m grateful to him for helping to shape my thinking, my character, and my faith in many ways over the years. So if you’re looking for a completely objective, unbiased, clinically detached and wholly disinterested evaluation of this book, you won’t find it here, sorry. (Actually, you won’t find it anywhere, because there’s no such thing as a completely objective, unbiased, clinically detached and wholly disinterested evaluation of anything.)

** Gushee even drags out the standard Cole Porter non sequitur, reliably imagining it to be an argument for or a response to … something. Ugh. Is this some kind of requirement in the evangelical ethics guild? Does every discussion of sexual ethics have to include a dismissively clueless reference to this “anything goes” strawman? … Wait. I feel a rant brewing, and that would be out of place in an otherwise positive book review post, so hold that thought.


The 'Art of the Matter

Oct. 29th, 2014 12:00 am
[syndicated profile] rollingaroundinmyhed_feed

Posted by Dave Hingsburger

(photo description: A birthday card, drawn by a child, with the words 'Happy Birthday' on one side and a drawing of a man in a wheelchair, wearing a hat, on the other.)

Joe had, essentially, two birthday parties.

On his actual birthday we were in Edmonton and had dinner with nephew Jason and his girlfriend Cindy. We hadn't seen Jason for a long while and we'd not met Cindy before but it didn't matter. We talked a lot. We laughed a lot. We ate a lot. It was the perfect kind of birthday celebration for Joe. It was relaxed and casual and a lot of fun.

While this was going on I was planning with Mike and Marissa a birthday luncheon with them and with Ruby and Sadie for the Sunday after we got back. It was supposed to be a surprise but when you are with someone nearly 24/7 on the road, that's nearly impossible. That, along with the little fact that I'm shit at keeping secrets like this, meant that Joe knew about the gathering. I'm glad, actually, because that meant he could look forward to it.

Sunday came and the girls came in carrying a cake that they'd made for Joe. It was beautiful, a marble cake with chocolate icing and blue piping. Ruby took extra pains to describe to us the delicate art of writing on a cake - it was lovely to see her bursting with pride over the job she did. Kids need to and ought to delight in jobs well done.

Sadie was terrifically excited to give Joe both of the cards that she made. One of them is pictured at the top of this blog. The cool thing about both cards is that Sadie, when trying to think of something that Joe loves to draw in the card, to make it super duper extra special, she decided to draw me. She gave him, in both cards, pictures of me that he could have.

"Look Joe, I drew you a picture of Dave," she said, showing him the picture in the first card, "see, he's in his wheelchair."

"Look Joe, I drew you another picture of Dave," she said, showing him the second picture, "Now you have two!"

She, like Ruby, was delighted with herself and her gift and her drawing. She'd figured it out all by herself, she knew exactly what to draw.

And she was right.

Joe loved the cake and loved the cards, both of them, from Sadie. He also loved the 'Scary Clown' card from Ruby that had all the numbers from one to sixty-two carefully written down so he could see exactly how many (many, many, many) years he's been around.

So, Joe's birthday has been well and truly celebrated AND now he's got two, not one but two, pictures of me that he can gaze upon with fondness.

Which I caught him doing.

[syndicated profile] tanehisicoates_feed

Posted by Ta-Nehisi Coates

Charles Barkley recently explained why "we as black people are never going to be successful." His reasoning is painful:

"We as black people are never going to be successful, not because of you white people, but because of other black people. When you are black, you have to deal with so much crap in your life from other black people," Barkley said.

Barkley, a native of Leeds, [Alabama,] said African Americans are too concerned with street cred than true success and that's holding the community back.

"For some reason we are brainwashed to think, if you're not a thug or an idiot, you're not black enough. If you go to school, make good grades, speak intelligent, and don't break the law, you're not a good black person. It's a dirty, dark secret in the black community.

"There are a lot of black people who are unintelligent, who don't have success. It's best to knock a successful black person down because they're intelligent, they speak well, they do well in school, and they're successful. It's just typical BS that goes on when you're black, man."

It's worth noting that there isn't much difference between Barkley's claim that "there are a lot black people who are unintelligent" and the claims of a garden-variety racist. I assume that Barkley meant to say something more nuanced. That more charitable analysis, though, is far from a "dirty dark secret." The notion that black irresponsibility is at least part of the "race problem" is widely shared among black America's most prominent figures, beginning—but not ending—with the president of the United States.

I've written on this several times and there's really no need to do it again. I simply maintain, as I always have, that if aliens were to compare the socioeconomic realities of the black community with the history of their treatment in this country, they would not be mystified. Respectability politics is, at its root, the inability to look into the cold dark void of history. For if black people are—as I maintain—no part of the problem, if the problem truly is 100 percent explained by white supremacy, then we are presented with a set of unfortunate facts about our home.

And the looking away is quite old. In his book Lynching: American Mob Murder in Global Perspective, historian Robert Thurston traces the roots of respectability politics to the postbellum era. Asked to assess the problem of lynching, black public figures condemned barbarism—but not just the barbarism of white mobs.

"The criminal record of the Negro people is alarming in its proportions," wrote the great black educator Kelly Miller in 1899. "The whole race is given an evil reputation by reason of its criminal class." Miller was not pro-lynching. But he believed that black criminality was part of the cause and argued that black protest would be fully justified until the rate of black criminality was zero:

It is not sufficient to say that ninety-five out of every hundred Negroes are orderly and well behaved. The ninety-five must band themselves together to restrain or suppress the vicious five.

Miller was not an outlier. "The percentage of Negro criminals is unusually large," asserted Francis J. Grimké. Mary Church Terrell assailed “negroes who are known to have been guilty of assault” claiming that they were "ignorant, repulsive in appearance and as near the brute creation as it is possible for a human being to be.” Terrell asserted that the "best negroes" have no sympathy for such "brutes." In 1918, Tuskegee graduate and educator William J. Edwards claimed in his memoir that “there are criminals in the Negro race for whom no legal form of punishment is too severe.” He went further arguing that the Negro was on a lower order of civilization and often “uneducated, undisciplined, untrained, he is often ferocious or dangerous; he makes a criminal of the lowest type for he is the product of ignorance.”

To a person, all of these black leaders opposed lynching, and said as much. But it is not enough to allow those words to be written off as simply of their time in history. Even in that time there were black people who refused to look away. None stand higher than Ida B. Wells:

Like many other persons who had read of lynching in the South, I had accepted the idea meant to be conveyed—that although lynching was irregular and contrary to law and order, unreasoning anger over the terrible crime of rape led to the lynching; that perhaps the brute deserved justice and the mob was justified in taking his life.

But then Thomas Moss, Calvin McDowell, and Lee Stewart, friends of Ida B. Wells, were lynched, and it became clear that in he case of lynching, the claim of rape might be the pretext for something else:

This is what opened my eyes to what lynching really was. An excuse to get rid of Negroes who were acquiring wealth and property and thus keep the raced down and keep the nigger terrorized.

What Wells did with this realization is what makes her extraordinary. Wells had, at that point, been run out of Memphis for investigating the death of her friends. She lived in the North, effectively under neo-Confederate fatwa. But Wells returned to the South—sometimes with pistol in hand—and spent a significant part of her career investigating and exposing lynchings. To put this differently, having seen her own fault, she rededicated herself to the self-education, to hard study, and publicizing the truth.

When we think of the fight against lynching today, very few people think of the words of Kelly Miller, Francis Grimké, or William J. Edwards. We think of Ida B. Wells because of her unrepentant fight against the barbarism of white supremacy. This version of history is a mistake. It allows the Charles Barkleys of the world and the racists who undoubtedly will approvingly quote him to pretend that they are exposing some heretofore arcane bit of knowledge. In fact they are employing two of the most disreputable traditions in American politics—false equivalence and an appeal to respectability. This is the black tradition that believed that "brutes" were partially responsible for lynching in 20th century, and believes that those some brutes are partially responsible for the "achievement gap" in the 21st.

Thinking people have a decision to make. Will they follow a tradition that half-apologizes when powerful people commit awful crimes? Or will they follow the tradition of Ida B. Wells, of study and investigation, of trying to understand, no matter how horrible that understanding may ultimately seem to be?

This article was originally published at http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2014/10/charles-barkley-and-the-plague-of-unintelligent-blacks/382022/

Actually, it’s about …

Oct. 28th, 2014 05:26 pm
[syndicated profile] slacktivist_feed

Posted by Fred Clark

Laughing at bullies, oppressors, and the pompous defenders of injustice is almost never sufficient. It may not even be necessary. But I think it helps.

And anyway, it’s funny.

So here are my contributions to a worthy cause.





And, finally, this one, which is pretty on-the-nose:



Here’s a fine collection of others, with links to many, many more.

[syndicated profile] sociological_images_feed

Posted by Lisa Wade, PhD

Here are my picks for the bizarrest sexy costumes this year. Enjoy!

Sexy George Washington (via):


Sexy Crime Scene:13


Sexy Lobster:


Sexy Yoda (via):


Sexy Scrabble (via):


Except — I know, I know — nothing’s sexier than Scrabble.


Sexy Mr. Peanut:


I take it back; that costume is fantastic.


Sexy BDSM pig (via):


Okay, I admit. I have absolutely no idea what’s going on here.

Want more? See sexy what!? (2012) and sexy what!? (2010) or What do sexy Halloween costumes for men look like?

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the co-author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

(View original at http://thesocietypages.org/socimages)

[syndicated profile] wonders_and_marvels_feed

Posted by Gary Krist

FrenchBallsBy Gary Krist (Guest Contributor)

Reformers aren’t typically in the business of abetting prostitution. But when the reform-minded aldermen of New Orleans voted in 1897 to create a legally tolerated red-light district in the city, their intentions were impeccably upright. They recognized that any attempt to abolish prostitution entirely would be doomed to failure (at least in a worldly place like the Crescent City), and hoped instead to restrict the trade to a single neighborhood. Sidney Story, the alderman who wrote the relevant ordinance, designated an 18-block area located just behind the French Quarter and stipulated that prostitution would be illegal everywhere in the city except in this one neighborhood. The idea was to tuck vice and depravity away in a part of town where few “respectable” people would have to come into contact with it.

Guides to the Shopping Mall of Sin

So much for good intentions: The city’s new creation—which eventually came to be known as “Storyville,” much to the alderman’s annoyance—proved to be anything but low-profile. In fact, Storyville was soon elevating the oldest profession to new heights of visibility in the city. Within a few years of its creation, the restricted district had become world-famous as a virtual shopping mall of sin, offering debaucheries for every taste. And this shopping mall came with its own directory—the so-called Blue Books, which became the essential guidebooks for anyone hoping to visit the infamous neighborhood.

Published in numerous editions from 1900 to 1915, the Blue Books typically contained an alphabetical listing of the district’s better class of prostitutes (the “Tenderloin 400,” as one edition playfully called them). Each practitioner was conveniently identified by “race”—w for white, c for colored, J for Jewish, and oct. for octoroon—while the names of brothel madams appeared in boldface or all caps. Some editions also included pictures and descriptions of the major brothels, along with advertisements for whisky, beer, cigars, “cures” for venereal disease, restaurants, drugstores, lawyers, and, once, even a piano tuner.

The Sporting Man’s Savvy Local Friend

The Blue Books (which were sometimes red or green, since “blue” described the books’ racy contents, not their physical color) were distributed at train stations, barbershops, bars, restaurants, and by newsboys on street corners. Aimed principally at male tourists, they styled themselves as the itinerant Sporting Man’s savvy local friend: “Go through this little book,” the preface to one edition stated, “and when you go on a ‘lark’ you will know the best places to spend time and money…secure from hold-ups, brace games, or other illegal practices usually worked on the unwise in Red Light districts.”

The closing of the Storyville district in 1917 meant the end of open advertisement of prostitution in New Orleans. The last edition of the Blue Books was published in 1915. And although thousands of copies had been printed over the years, today the guides are very rare collector’s items, sometimes fetching thousands of dollars when sold at auction—a small price to pay, apparently, for a Baedeker to a colorful world long-gone.


Arceneaux, Pamela D. “Guidebooks to Sin: The Blue Books of Storyville.” Louisiana History 28, Fall 1987.

Landau, Emily Epstein. Spectacular Wickedness: Sex, Race, and Memory in Storyville, New Orleans. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2013

Long, Alecia P. The Great Southern Babylon: Sex, Race, and Respectability in New Orleans, 1865-1920. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2004

Rose, Al. Storyville, New Orleans: Being an Authentic, Illustrated Account of the Notorious Red-Light District. University of Alabama Press, 1974; Paperback edition, 1979.


Empire of SinGary Krist is the bestselling author of City of Scoundrels and The White Cascade, as well as several works of fiction. His new book, Empire of Sin: A Story of Sex, Jazz, Murder, and the Battle for Modern New Orleans, has just been published.

W&M is excited to have five (5) copies of Gary Krist’s’s new book Empire of Sin: A Story of Sex, Jazz, Murder, and the Battle for Modern New Orleans for this month’s giveaway! Be sure to enter below by 11:00pm EST on October 31 to qualify (your entry includes a subscription to W&M Monthly).

Please note that, at this time, we can only ship within the US.

Monthly Book Giveaways

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October Book Giveaways


Oct. 28th, 2014 08:45 am
[syndicated profile] rollingaroundinmyhed_feed

Posted by Dave Hingsburger

Yesterday I needed to see my doctor to get some forms filled out. I called his office to book an appointment and was told that there had been a cancellation and that if I could get right there I could get right in. Well, hopped in the ol' power chair and made my way down. Joe always comes along with me when I see the doctor, as I do when he has his appointments, so we chatted as we wandered down the street.

Once in, once done with the paperwork, the doctor asked if we'd like our flu shots. We agreed. He asked if a student doctor could come in and see how flu shots were given. We both want to advance the cause of medical science so we agreed.

It was interesting to hear my doctor give the training to this 'doctor in training'. He talked more about patient comfort than anything else. He explained why he used a new needle after drawing the flu shot stuff (remember I'm not a doctor and have no idea what that's called) out. "The act of puncturing the top slightly blunts the needle and makes it a bit more painful to give the shot. So, use a new needle."

Then he explained how he was "all about the research" and spoke to her about what the research said about using alcohol to wipe down the arm, and how it didn't really make any difference. "But," he said, "it makes the patients more comfortable because it's a routine they are familiar with and here patient comfort and patient anxiety is the greater concern."

It was great to see and hear this training. It was great that the idea that patients feel and that patients have expectations and that patient comfort matters. Often doctors get a bad rap, but I wonder if they were all trained to think about and care about the really basic needs of the HUMAN BEINGS who are their patients, they may be a little different.

We are very lucky to have such good medical care.

But really, luck shouldn't have anything to do with it!
[syndicated profile] ursulav_feed
So I got back from the book tour Saturday night, and I am apparently not dead.

It was a near thing a few times.

People on the book tour kept telling me I must love it. I have not yet found a graceful way to say "Well, no, this is a generally stressful experience for me and I am delighted that there are people who like my stuff and I want to make sure they have a great experience and I have to do this school visit show for kids and I want them to have a great experience and I want to not suck at it so I have worked very hard on getting a schtick down and doing it and I am proud of being able to do that well because it is not a thing I am normally good at but I would much rather stay home except that sounds like I'm not happy to meet the fans and I really am and if they are happy then I am happy to have made them happy but it's all very complicated and weird and maybe I am complicated and weird, I don't know any more, what day is it?"

This is difficult to state without running out of breath, so I usually just said something along the lines of "Well, I'm an introvert, so I'll sleep for a week after this, but I'm glad everybody likes the books."

(Seriously, though, thank you VERY much to the adult fans who came out for my various public bookstore events--it was very good to see people who like me who are over the age of eleven. I start to feel very weird and disassociated after too many school visits, and a Digger T-shirt or a pack of Red Vines or a jar of random honey in the right place makes me feel sort of like the real me again for a bit.)

Book tours are horrible for that sense of unreality to begin with. Book tours in California make you start to wonder if the rest of the world even exists at all, because clearly you are in a world where people pay twenty bucks for a club sandwich and that is not a world I normally inhabit and it may not actually intersect with my world, except when I am told to get on a plane and go to that other world.

I went to a hotel in Beverly Hills. I mean, the publisher had booked me a room. I wouldn't have gone there normally. It was a little scary. I walked in grubby and clutching a stuffed moth that a fan gave me and somebody handed me a complimentary cocktail and nobody looked at my cheap shoes. There was no front desk, a woman came up to me at the bar with my reservation in a little leatherette folder. I had to put the stuffed moth down to sign it. They acted like it was totally normal to walk in wearing cheap hiking sandals and carrying a stuffed moth. Of course, all the best people carry stuffed moths.

Life is weird when people think you have money. I sated my spasms of lower-class guilt by photographing Moth-bob holding the cocktail. It is important to stay upbeat and positive. The alternative is uncontrollable hysteria. The bartender ignored this. All the best people photograph their stuffed moths with their free cocktails, clearly.

I have only hazy memories of the school visits. I get up in front of a hundred kids (ideally) and do my schtick. There are slides with Danny doing various amusing things. I talk about where ideas come from and ask them what their favorite monster is. Some kid on every tour always says "Slenderman." It is important to stay upbeat and positive. I say "Ooh, creepy!" and go on to the next kid with their hand up.

We make up a story together. It's almost always the same two or three stories. The secret is that kids are very creative but rarely original, and anyway, I can steer it pretty easily. It's a cross between improv comedy and cold-reading. It looks more impressive than it is. I'm fine as long as one of the kids says their favorite monster is a zombie or a vampire, or Godzilla or a giant squid. (Other giant animals can substitute on the last one. Giant snake is often popular.) Then we make up a story about the monster. Kids are very eager to see zombies overrunning the school or giant kaiju stomping on it. If the librarian is a good sport, I make them the hero. They pull their sword or their harpoon or their garlic-shooting gun out from under the desk because monsters are hard on library books. There is an epic showdown, at which the librarian emerges victorious.

It is surprisingly easy to steer them toward this. Kids like a victorious librarian.

I try to stress that you have to practice and it's okay to do a little chunk at a time and then take a break and then come back and do more. I am pretty sure that they are not listening to this bit, but they take it in good spirits because I am an adult and therefore cannot be expected to understand anything really important. The teachers tell me that it will stick in their heads somewhere, so I keep saying it.

Then I take questions. This is also like improv comedy. The truth, though, is that I would be a terrible stand-up, because the first heckler would destroy me. I am very fast and very clever as long as we are all friends and cheery and positive and I go to stammering pieces in the face of negativity and am left going weakly "Uh, let's not do this guys...?" The teachers and librarians keep the peace. My publicist makes it clear that I am not a disciplinarian and they will have to do this. I find myself saying "Settle..." in the same tone I use on the beagle. It doesn't work on him either.

I would like teachers and librarians to be riding herd on Twitter and tell people that they are not being their best selves and need to remember respectful listening. It is getting much too immediate for me. I can be ruthless and impassioned on a blog or a forum, but only if I get an hour to polish my post and rewrite it three times. Sometimes I just want to tell Twitter to settle.

Fortunately, there are still teachers and librarians in the schools. I answer the same questions, often four or five times in a session. I do not lose my temper after the third time someone asks how I got the idea for Danny. It's fine. They weren't listening. Honestly, I'm not listening to myself either at that point. I can answer that question in my sleep, sideways. If I talked in my sleep, I would be explaining about dragons not fitting in at school. Possibly I am, and my husband is sleeping through it.

The adults have more complex questions that require thinking. Sometimes the kids in the back--usually the higher grade levels--ask me a professional question about revising, and I try to answer it quick before the first graders in front get bored to pieces. If we have time and the technology is working, I draw for the last five minutes. The technology is almost never working. The publicist is very clear that I have an iPad and will only do schools that can hook it to a projector. The schools all claim they will do this. About one school in four can actually get this to work. They never have the right dongle, or they will totally do AirPlay except I'd need an educational account and oh yeah, the new school security won't let me in.

I keep a backup on a USB stick that's supposed to be Hello Kitty except that you pull her head out of her body to get to it. "Here," I said, nearly every time, "let's use the severed head of Hello Kitty." They usually laugh. I assume they think I'm a serial killer in my day job. It is important to stay upbeat and positive.

I only nearly got trampled once, and it looked scarier than it probably was. I was a little freaked out. The teachers yelled. Not at me.

They send out a person to meet you at the hotel and drive you from place to place, and that's good, because I would never get anywhere on time. This person is either someone from the bookshop or a paid "media escort." Apparently that's a thing you can be paid to do. Who knew? They pick you up at the hotel and drive you around and make sure the signings go well. Some of them will tell you about other authors, whether you have any idea who they're talking about or not. (I usually don't.) Most of them are very nice. They blur together after awhile. There was the weird woman who read me obituaries before the presentation and then said something vaguely racist and fell asleep while I was still trying to think of something to say that wouldn't involve me no longer having a ride to the airport. That was probably the low point. I could also have done without the one who talked to herself in high pitched baby talk while driving, or the name-dropper who ran out of names before we hit one I recognized.

There are good ones. I will be forever grateful to the woman at the bookfair in Charlotte who took me home over the lunch break and let me take a nap on her couch between shows. Sometimes book stores give me gift certificates and I wander the aisles wondering what I can fit in my suitcase and looking at gardening books for a climate that is nothing even remotely like my own.

Sometimes the people who drive the cars want to talk. A dude tried to explain birds to me. I am pretty sure it was mansplaining but he might have been a douche to both genders, so I can't swear to it. I laid in the back of the car, more horizontal than vertical, and grunted as he confused wrens and egrets. (I wish I was making that up.) The next one had a talkative hippie. If we drive up and down the road from Santa Cruz to the airport hotel in San Francisco, I can now show you every place he's camped. And skinny-dipped. Incidentally, he plays drums.

He told me that he was sure I wouldn't have the book tours any other way. I grunted.

This time a bookshop sent me a wonderful woman who grew salvias and kept bees and we spent all of the car rides talking about gardening. It was wonderful. And the escort at the end was a life-saver. My presentations went from a hundred kids to "Oh, yeah, this is a full school assembly, five hundred kids!" and I panicked and she said "What do you want to do?" and I said "I guess I have to go on," even though I really wanted to throw a diva fit except that I don't know how to do that, because I think it involves disappointing people and that is basically my Kryptonite so I went and I did it and it was kind of horrible because that many kids is a wriggling sheet of chaos and there is no way they can keep focused and I cannot hear the questions and the teachers cannot shut down all the distractions, but we got through, and afterwards the principal told me it was wonderful and I tried not to look too glassy eyed and I don't remember what happened next, except the media escort told me she was writing the publicist and telling her that I was a trooper.

She was very nice. She could say "no" on my behalf and make it stick. I really need people like that. By the end of a book tour I am basically a large sack of ground ham wearing black tank-tops and a flattering jacket. I will agree to anything if you make it sound like this is something that all the authors do. I am focusing so intently on not dying on the spot that I have very little processing power for anything else. When we had downtime, she parked in the shade and I got to play Marvel Puzzle Quest on my iPad and that was really awesome because it's only the computer throwing fireballs at you.

After the school visits and the bookshop things (the bookshops are better because you don't have to do the schtick the same way and there's not a set hour you have to fill and there are often adults in the audience and sometimes you even know who they are and sometimes they bring you stuffed moths or want to talk about ecology) you either get on a plane or into a car and then you go to the next hotel. The hotel has always lost the credit card authorization from the publisher, because the publicist talked to the day manager and the day manager wrote a note and the night manager doesn't know where the note is. You give them your card and then call the publicist (who is on Eastern Time so it's usually ten at night and you feel guilty) and the publicist groans and apologizes and then it all gets sorted out in the morning.

Because schools start early and you have to drive to them, you generally have to get up at 6:30 in the morning if you want to eat breakfast. I started actually doing the thing where I put the little hanger card on the doorknob saying that I do want room service to deliver breakfast. It feels horrifically extravagant but I get another half hour of sleep. I order a bagel and cream cheese and coffee and orange juice. They come during a fifteen minute window, usually around 7:10, and set the tray with its little covers down on the writing desk. I tell myself that they are an adult human who just wants to get this over with and get a decent tip and I sign the little check that the publisher is paying for and there is probably no way they can tell that I am thinking oh god oh god I am getting room service and I feel guilty and this is too much money even if it isn't my money and I used to be on food stamps and maybe you should just take the food away and I will eat the squashed power bar in the bottom of my purse because at least I understand squashed power bars except that I'm pretty sure that is written in very small type in my eyes so I try to avoid prolonged eye contact in case they figure out I'm a lunatic.

There is plastic wrap over the orange juice. Frequently there is a cut orchid. I wish they wouldn't cut an orchid for me. It is depressing that somebody hacked off part of an orchid that could take ages to bloom just to put it on my tray so that I can bolt my bagel and stare at the orchid at six in the morning. Six in the morning is a lousy time to try and appreciate an orchid. I can't grow orchids. It is important to stay upbeat and positive, but that probably didn't do the orchid any good.

(The waitress at the hotel breakfast buffet the last day saw that I only ate fruit and knocked off the buffet charge and only charged me for a fruit side. I got a little choked up, although I think I hid it well. I had been on the road for a week at that point and it seemed ridiculously, extravagantly kind.)

"You're not an introvert!" said the media escort in LA accusingly, after the second day of schtick, when I had spoken to approximately three hundred children total. "You say you are, but you're not!"

I am still vaguely resentful of this, even though it's been a week. Should I have brought a note from my doctor, or my husband?

I thought about explaining that introverts do public speaking all the time and we can even be quite good at it, it's just that we have to sleep for a week afterward. I wanted to explain that I really do hope people are glad to see me and I hope they come out because if they don't, I'll still be on the book tour being exhausted anyway, except nobody will be there to talk to about books and that's the only reason this is worthwhile. It is definitely not the room service bagels. I thought about explaining the bit where I will sleep for a week.

Instead I grunted. As the owner of my favorite coffee shop pointed out, when I was relating this tale of minor woe, that was really the most introverted response. (Then I went to the drugstore, then I came home and slept for two hours. There are empty places in my chest that will not refill without hours spent asleep. Which is probably why I am awake and typing at three in the morning.)

But anyway, I appear not to have made too bad a hash of it and I am home and trying to get back into my reality from that reality and it doesn't fit quite right yet, but it will probably be fine by the end of the week. It is important to stay upbeat and positive. Or something like that.
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Posted by Fred Clark

The foreword to Changing Our Mind: A Call for Full Acceptance of LGBT Christians in the Church is written by Brian McLaren. That’s pretty cool, since McLaren is a wise, kind writer whose books are quite popular. But those books aren’t popular — or even permitted — within much of white American evangelicalism. McLaren was “farewelled” years ago after announcing his support for “the full acceptance of LGBT Christians in the Church.”

As he writes in that foreword:

When I “came out” as a married heterosexual evangelical pastor who had changed my mind on LGBT equality, I received hate mail that I still wince to remember. Friendships ended. Major evangelical magazines put me on their black list. I found that there are theological bullies in the evangelical world who don’t mind throwing their weight around. Speaking invitations and friendly welcomes dried up in places where I had formerly felt welcome and at home.

For years now, white evangelicals have been told that McLaren is someone they shouldn’t listen to — someone they’re not allowed to listen to. His arguments weren’t rejected, they were simply dismissed without being heard. McLaren, the tribal gatekeepers said, no longer counted as One of Us, and therefore whatever it was he had to say no longer mattered.

Changing Our Mind also has a preface. That’s by Phyllis Tickle, and that’s also pretty cool. Tickle is well-respected as a thoughtful leader and teacher in the emergent church movement. But the emergent church, like McLaren, is officially suspect and controversial because it’s, like, postmodern or something, and therefore dangerous. Plus, you know, she’s a woman. So the tribal gatekeepers won’t hesitate to pre-emptively dismiss and delegitimize whatever she has to say.

The book’s introduction — yes, it has all three — is written by Matthew Vines. Also cool. Vines is whip-smart and undeniably reveres the Bible. But Vines is young, and gay, and for the past year the tribal gatekeepers have been ferociously trying to muzzle him by delegitimizing him as some kind of outsider or interloper or threat.

I’m not saying these gatekeepers have good reasons not to listen to any of these three people. I’m just saying the tribal gatekeepers have a great deal of practice at not listening to them, and they’ve convinced many of their followers not to listen to them either.

The rest of Changing Our Mind, though — the book itself — was written by David Gushee. Gushee is a conservative evangelical ethicist with impeccable academic credentials and impeccable tribal credentials. He’s someone the gatekeepers themselves have praised and celebrated and recommended for years.

And that makes this book a pretty big deal. That means this book, and its argument, will have to be contended with and not just pre-emptively dismissed as the handiwork of some controversial, “post”-whatever outsider.

Jonathan Merritt discusses the significance of this in a sharp Religion News Service report published in The Washington Post and other newspapers, “Evangelical ethicist David Gushee is now pro-LGBT. Here’s why it matters“:

David Gushee, a professor of Christian ethics at Mercer University, a Baptist-rooted college and divinity school in Georgia, plans to announce that he now affirms same-sex relationships in a speech to The Reformation Project conference, a gathering of pro-LGBT Christians in Washington, on Nov. 8. …

perf6.000x9.000.inddGushee also has penned a book that makes a biblical and philosophical case for LGBT affirmation. The volume, titled Changing Our Mind: A Call from America’s Leading Evangelical Ethics Scholar for Full Acceptance of LGBT Christians in the Church, will be released by David Crumm Media prior to the speech. …

It is difficult to overstate the potential impact of Gushee’s defection. His Christian ethics textbook, Kingdom Ethics, co-authored with the late Glen Stassen, is widely respected and was named a 2004 Christianity Today book of the year. He serves as theologian-in-residence for the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, a coalition of 15 theological schools, 150 ministries, and 1,800 Baptist churches nationwide.

While other pro-LGBT Christian activists — including Justin Lee of the Gay Christian Network and Matthew Vines, author of God and the Gay Christian — have been dismissed in some circles as wet-behind-the-ears youngsters without formal theological training, Gushee, 52, is a scholar with impeccable credentials. He can add intellectual heft to what has largely been a youth-led movement, and is not someone who can be easily dismissed.

Of course, just because he is “not someone who can be easily dismissed,” doesn’t mean the tribal gatekeepers won’t try to dismiss him. That’s their only option, really, because otherwise they’d have to respond to his arguments.

That attempted dismissal and “farewell” anathematizing has already begun — even before we get to the end of Merritt’s article:

Gushee’s decamping will likely be seen as treasonous by conservative colleagues, including the Rev. R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, where Gushee taught in the 1990s. While Mohler said the decision is “tragic and causes me real grief,” the two have had ongoing disagreements dating back to Gushee’s time on the Louisville, Ky., campus.

“It was clear early on that he and I, and he and Southern Seminary, were moving in different directions, and those who’ve been watching David’s trajectory will see this as a logical conclusion,” Mohler said. “He’s now placed himself outside of employability at the previous institutions where he taught.”

If you read that last sentence as simply a description of Gushee’s relationship to his former institutional homes, then you’re missing Mohler’s point. That sentence isn’t his response to Gushee — it’s his threat to anybody who might dare to associate with him in the future, to anybody who might employ him, invite him to speak, publish his writing, or break bread with him (at their own table or at the Lord’s table). That’s the pope of Avignon, Kentucky, issuing a formal fatwa.

The problem for Mohler is that many of the people he’s threatening there have, in fact, “been watching David’s trajectory” over the years. They’ve been reading his many books and articles and they’ve been impressed by his thoughtfulness. They’re grateful for his insights, and for helping them to think Christianly about a great many things over the years. The suggestion that they must now, suddenly and abruptly, stop listening to him completely will strike many of them as odd. It may even make them curious.

I suspect a great many such people will also notice what you’ve probably already noticed about Mohler’s reflexive anathematizing of dissent. It betrays an utter lack of confidence in his own side of the argument. Nobody flips over the board and storms away from the table if they think they’re winning.

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Posted by Fred Clark

Peter Chattaway, on Twitter, helpfully cautions against “modern” retellings of ancient biblical stories that don’t involve modern people. One of the things Darren Aronofsky and Russell Crowe got right in Noah, Chattaway says, is that they didn’t have the ark-building patriarch question his own sanity when God begins speaking to him. Chattaway likewise hopes that the upcoming Exodus movie will avoid the mistake of modernizing Moses.

The idea that God would speak directly and unambiguously to humans is a given in those stories. It’s portrayed as extraordinary, but still within the realm of things that can and do happen. So we shouldn’t be surprised in those stories that these characters are not surprised to find themselves speaking to God directly. This is how those stories work and it would be a mistake to treat them as modern stories about some modern person, today, who suddenly starts hearing a voice that claims to be God.

Peter O'Toole as Obi Wan Yahwobi in the 1966 epic "The Bible."

Peter O’Toole as Obi Wan Yahwobi in “The Bible.”

This is particularly true with the biblical story of Abraham and the binding of Isaac, Chattaaway notes, because it follows after That Time When Abraham and God Ate a Non-Kosher Lunch. (Here Chattaway links to a fun and fascinating older post of his on cinematic depictions of that story, which makes me want to revisit the 1966 epic The Bible, because Peter O’Toole.)

“To really understand the story of the akedah,” Chattaway writes, “you have to imagine a world in which God was more than just a ‘voice’ in one’s head, etc.”

That’s in response to this post — “Just take everything down to Highway 61: Obedience is always about epistemology.” But I don’t think Chattaway and I are actually in any disagreement here. We’re just coming at this from different sides of the same pitfall. He’s warning against misunderstanding the biblical story by projecting our modern condition back onto it. I’m warning against misunderstanding our modern condition by projecting the biblical story onto our situation.

I wholly agree that to understand the story of the akedah itself, “you have to imagine a world in which God was more than just a ‘voice’ in one’s head.” But the reason we have to imagine this is because that world is not our world. That world is nothing like our world. Abraham in that story had something we do not and cannot have — direct access to the unambiguous voice of God.

The idea that God speaks directly and unambiguously to humans is a given in the story of Abraham. The idea that God speaks directly and unambiguously to humans now is simply false. When that story is invoked today in support of the claim that we have precisely the same kind of direct and unambiguous access to divine command as Abraham had, then something dangerously wrong is going on.

That’s precisely how Rachel Held Evans’ detractors invoked this story in response to her post “I would fail Abraham’s test (and I bet you would too).” She’s been criticized for refusing to submit, as Abraham did, to the explicit and unambiguous commands proceeding directly from the mouth of God to the ears of us humans.

This criticism starts with that initial error — the same one Chattaway and I both highlighted — of imagining that Abraham in this story is no different from us. But it compounds that error into something truly unholy and evil. God still speaks directly to humans in unambiguous commands, it claims. And, furthermore, we — the righteous — know precisely what those commands are. And, therefore, if some uppity woman blogger dares to disagree with us, the righteous, then she is actually disagreeing with the very commands of God as explicitly and unambiguously heard by us.

The shorthand term nowadays for that vile little stew of blasphemous claims is “inerrancy.” That’s the idea that the Bible is just as clear, direct and explicit as God’s spoken conversations with Abraham or Noah. It’s the idea that either the Bible requires no interpretation, or else that it obviously allows — always and in all things — only a single correct interpretation, readily available, accessible, and unavoidable for all readers of good intent.

Inerrancy, in other words, asks us to imagine we live in Abraham’s world and enjoy the same unambiguous access to the voice of God that the character of Abraham had in the story of the binding of Isaac.

Cowboy philosopher Eric Reitan today takes a look at that same story, Rachel Held Evans’ discussion of it, and the modernist/inerrantist backlash against her post, in “Despair, the Hard Work of Theology, and Abraham’s Test.”

Reitan’s discussion closely parallels my own, but his might be a bit clearer, particularly where he addresses the question Chattaway raises, so let me quote at length from it here:

Let me begin by explaining why I can’t approach the Abraham story as a straightforward account of what God did in His relationship with Abraham. The story, as it’s told in the book of Genesis, takes the following as given: God really did order Abraham to sacrifice his son, and Abraham knew this.

The story asks us to assume that this is true, and to read the story with that assumption in place. For me, this is kind of like someone telling a story about a guy who cuts out a perfectly round square from construction paper and gives it to his girlfriend as a Valentine. If the moral of the story comes out only if one assumes that round squares are real, the storyteller might ask me to assume this for the sake of the story. Maybe, for that purpose, I could momentarily pretend that I believe in round squares. But I could never actually believe in them. And I don’t know how long I could sustain the pretense.

Likewise, maybe I can pretend to believe, for the sake of extracting from the story the lessons it intends to teach, that Abraham really knew that God was commanding him to kill his son. But I’m not sure how long I could maintain the pretense.

… Were a voice to thunder from the heavens, “I, the Lord your God, command you to go and kill your son,” I would assume I’d gone crazy. And if my sanity wasn’t in question, I’d assume I was the object of some high-tech hoax. And if it came down to believing in a supernatural power as the source of the experience, I’d have to conclude something along the following lines: “Satan has taken to thundering commands from the heavens in the name of God.”

Under no conditions would I believe that it was actually God who was commanding me to betray my son in defiance of the very meaning of parental love. And why not? Because to do such a thing would be evil. Even if I was sure that God would intervene at the last minute, my child would still be traumatized for life. A good God would not issue commands that, if followed, would inflict such horror. And I have an unwavering faith that God is good.

Put another way, to believe — even in the face of the most astonishing pyrotechnic display of supernatural fireworks — that God was actually commanding me to kill my son, would be to give up my faith in the goodness of God. It would be to stop believing that God is love.

Reitan goes on — please click over to read his full post — to clarify more precisely what it is that Evans and her neo-Puritan critics disagree on, and in doing so provides an excellent summary of why I am not that kind of Calvinist. (I’m not any kind of Calvinist, but what I mean there is that not all Calvinists paint themselves into this same corner.)

The distinction, he writes, has to do with whether or not one believes that “My conscience is a product of God’s creative work within me, and as such is not profoundly unreliable.”

The point here is not only that Evans’ critics disagree with that claim — that they believe that our consciences are, in fact, “profoundly unreliable.” The deeper point is that they are forced to conclude that because it’s their only way to reconcile their insistence that we have the same kind of direct access to divine commands that the story of Abraham describes and that those divine commands may include things that strike us as horrific, unjust and unloving.

Like Eric Reitan (and me, and Rachel Held Evans), these folks have “an unwavering faith that God is good.” But they don’t want to do what we would all do — concluding therefore that any purportedly divine command that is unloving or cruel or unjust must not be of God. So, instead, they preserve their faith in God’s goodness by concluding that our understanding of goodness and love must be “profoundly unreliable.”

In other words, they redefine “good” to include whatever it is they think they hear the voice of God commanding and commending. If that includes killing and burning a child, well, then killing and burning a child must be — in some ineffable, mysterious way inaccessible to our fallen, human consciences — loving and good.

They would sooner distrust their understanding of what goodness and love mean than distrust their own ability to perceive the voice of God with perfect, explicit clarity. They would sooner doubt the meaning of love than doubt their own capacity for certainty.

(Since we’re dealing with the book of Genesis here, let me say that this understanding of human fallenness seems to contradict that book’s story of the Fall. In Genesis, humanity fell into sin when we acquired the “knowledge of good and evil.” It seems odd to interpret that as meaning that we had perfect knowledge of that before the Fall, but no knowledge of it at all afterward.)


Traveling The Silk Roads

Oct. 27th, 2014 02:19 pm
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Posted by PamelaToler

By Pamela Toler (Regular Contributor)

Caravan on the Silk Road 1380

We tend to use the phrase “the Silk Road” as if it were the Route 66 of East-West commerce. In fact, it is a metaphor. German geographer Ferdinand Freiherr von Richthofen (1833-1905) invented the name in the late nineteenth century, long after the overland luxury routes between Asia and the West had been supplanted by the sea trade. Instead of a single “Silk Road”, trade between China and the West traveled over a network of hazardous routes that led from China across Central Asia and then over the Iranian plateau to Baghdad and Damascus, or through the Syrian desert to the Mediterranean. The routes shifted as empires and markets rose and fell or stretches were rendered unsafe by armed nomads, bandits, war, disease, or tax collectors.

Ancient Roads

The Chinese had produced silk for several thousand years and traded with Central Asia for about a century when Rome discovered silk and what we think of as the Silk Road began. Rome first encountered silk in 53 BC in a battle with the Parthians outside of Carrhae. According to Plutarch, the Romans were blinded when the Parthians unfurled their embroidered banners, “shining with gold and silk.” Within sixty years of the defeat at Carrhae, the Roman Senate passed sumptuary laws forbidding men to wear silk. Roman critics grumbled about the effects of silk on Rome’s morals–and its trade balance. Romans paid for unwoven Chinese silk in gold, weight for weight; Pliny the Elder estimated that Rome lost 45 million sesterces a year to the silk trade. (To put this in context, a loaf of bread cost about half a sesterce. Forty-five million is a lot of sandwiches.)

Goods traveled all the way from Asia to Europe and from Europe to Asia; traders did not. First the Parthians, then the Sassanians and finally the Islamic kingdoms of Central Asia, blocked direct trade between China and the West–something that both the Chinese and the Romans complained about bitterly. The wealth of the silk trade created thriving cities and prosperous kingdoms throughout Central Asia. Well aware of the importance of the merchant caravans, Central Asian rulers built networks of caravansaries along the roads that linked the major cities: fortified inns that offered secure accommodations for merchant caravans that might include as many as 1,000 camels.

Under the Mongols

In the thirteenth century, the major routes of the East-West trade came under the control of the Mongols. Markets and producers that had been separated by hostile powers since the fall of Alexander the Great’s short-lived empire were once again linked under a single government. The Mongols boasted that a young woman could walk from one end of the empire to the other carrying a pot of gold on her head without being molested.* For the first time, merchants like Marco Polo were able to travel the entire length of the trading routes from Europe to China and back, though not many did.

The death of the Mongol ruler Timur** in 1405 was the beginning of the end of the Silk Roads. His successors were not able to hold together the vast Mongol empire. The Khanates disintegrated into a handful of warring Central Asian states, unable to control or protect the East-West trade.

China, too, was in a period of upheaval. The death of the last Mongol ruler of China is 1386 was followed by the rise of an ethnically Chinese ruling dynasty for the first time in centuries. The Ming rulers wanted to cleanse China of the corruption of foreign rule and restore traditional Chinese values.*** In 1426, the Ming Emperor Yongle closed China’s borders to the northwest.

The End of the Line

China’s borders were closed, but caravans continued to travel west for another hundred years. The Silk Roads met their end when European discoveries in navigation and shipbuilding opened up the sea route to India. The sea route was faster and less expensive. The caravans that traveled the Silk Roads were no longer needed to bring silk and spices from the East to the markets of Europe. Slowly the Silk Roads withered until only the romance remained.

* I have my doubts.
**You may know him as Tamurlane, the Anglicized version of a jeering nickname given him by his enemies– Timur-i-lang, Timur the Lame.
*** [political rant redacted]

Why Do Witches Ride Brooms?

Oct. 27th, 2014 02:00 pm
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Posted by Lisa Wade, PhD

According to an article by Megan Garber at The Atlantic, they did it for the drugs.

Starting in the 1300s, Europeans developed a taste for hallucinogenic drugs. Unfortunately, ingesting them often caused nausea and vomiting. Absorbing them through the skin came with fewer side effects and delivering them through the mucous membranes of the female genitals was ideal.

A physician quoted at The Guardian says the claim is medically sound:

Ointment would have been very effective as a delivery method… Mucous membranes are particularly good at transporting drugs – that’s why cocaine is snorted… Vaginal application would be pretty efficient, and the effects of the drugs would be noticeable quite rapidly.

According to legend, then, witches would coat the handle of a broom — a convenient household item — lift their skirts and get high.


The women who trafficked in hallucinogenic substances were often accused of being witches.  Or, conversely, women accused of being witches were also accused of making magic ointments (from the fat of murdered children, no less). And witch experts in the 15th century claimed that they used these ointments not just to get high, but to get high; that is, that they literally flew using ointments.

Hence, witches on brooms.

Vintage witch poster for sale here.

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the co-author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

(View original at http://thesocietypages.org/socimages)

The Privilege to Help

Oct. 27th, 2014 07:45 am
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Posted by Dave Hingsburger

Joe and I, when in Edmonton, didn't have the courage to tackle the West Edmonton Mall, one of the world's largest shopping centres. I'd hit that baby in my power wheelchair, but in my manual we went for something smaller and something nearer our hotel. After the first day long lecture we were both feeling the time zone but I wanted to get out of the hotel where we were both staying and presenting. So we went to the Kingsway mall just to roll around and have a cup of tea.

When we got there, we both sat in the car and wondered if we had the energy to go in. I was just saying that I was too tired and maybe we should go back to the hotel when Joe opened the door and said, "Let's just do this." So, we did. I got out of the car, got into the chair and we headed in. We wandered around and found a couple of things that made perfect Christmas presents, then we found a couple Halloween t-shirts for the girls, finally we stopped at Second Cup for a tea. We were both tired but were both glad we had decided to come in.

On the way out of the mall we were headed to the automatic doors, the kind that operate on an electronic eye and open as you approach them. As we went through the open doors, a woman leapt up from where she was sitting in the food court, and put her hand on the door blocking it. It was completely unnecessary help, except, it wasn't. When I looked over to her, to say, "Thanks, but we're good here," to dismiss the need for her help, I saw her. She, like me, lives on the margins of other people's awareness and respect. She was engaging in an act of solidarity, an act of selflessness. And, I must admit, I saw, when I looked at her, a kind of desperate need of being needed. I thanked her. She nodded, a grim purpose set in her mind and she rushed to the next door, already open and held it too. We went through, this time we both spoke to her, thanking her.

"Privilege to help," she said, "privilege to help."

We thanked her again, because, as she said, it was a "Privilege to help."

Throw it in the hoosegow

Oct. 27th, 2014 02:03 pm
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Posted by Fred Clark

Digby points out that talk of secession is, by definition, anti-American. When I was a kid, the right-wing boasted of its supposedly superior patriotism with slogans like “America: Love it or leave it.” It’s very odd to see the current right-wing still presuming its got a monopoly on patriotism while, at the same time, proudly declaring that it prefers “leave it” every time.

It’s just deeply weird, contradictory, and annoying, that the same people who obsess over all the empty symbols of patriotic gestures — lapel pins, reverent attentiveness during the national anthem, etc. — also are the likeliest to speak favorably of secession. (See also: Confederate flags, celebrating the “heritage” of the al-Qaida of the 19th century.)

Forget Frank Peretti. If you want to understand "spiritual warfare" talk, read this instead.

Forget Frank Peretti. If you want to understand “spiritual warfare” talk, read this instead.

• Since I don’t hesitate to criticize the U.S. Catholic bishops when they act like wanna-be power-brokers who wouldn’t recognize Jesus if he kicked over their table, let me also not hesitate to commend one of those bishops for behaving like a bishop should. Kudos to Dallas Bishop Kevin J. Farrell for housing the family of Thomas Eric Duncan during their quarantine for ebola. Here’s hoping Farrell’s action stirs some memory in his colleagues about hospitality toward pariahs being their job description.

Meanwhile, the media freak-out over ebola continues, even though twice as many Americans have been killed in Israeli-Palestinian violence this month as have ever died from the disease.

• Family Circle magazine still exists. Who knew?

Terry Firma directs our attention to the latest from Charisma news editor and sex-demon beat reporter Jennifer LeClaire. It’s about witches and it’s about as strange as you might expect. “You Empower What You Worship,” LeClaire warns, disagreeing with the majority of Christians and Jews who teach that divine authority is not dependent on the sacrifices performed by God’s adherents. Still, though, it’s helpful to know that I’ve already studied Charisma’s ideology of “spiritual warfare” without realizing I was doing it back when I first read Neil Gaiman’s American Gods.

• For a look at very different kind of spiritual warfare, Adrien Chen visits the trenches in the battle against the cosmic powers over this present darkness — meet “The Laborers Who Keep Dick Pics and Beheadings Out of Your Facebook Feed.

Steve Thorngate and Marci Glass point out that perhaps a for-profit wedding mill called “The Hitching Post” doesn’t make the most compelling poster-child for the defenders of “biblical marriage.” Glass’s post is appropriately hilarious. She writes:

I hate to be the one to point this out to the Reverends Knapp, but they are not, in fact, pastors of a church. They own a wedding mill. …

They claim to have married “roughly 35,000 couples” which indicates how discerning they are in making sure the couples they marry are really ready to enter into this life long covenant. In the 25 years they’ve owned the Hitching Post, that’s around 1,400 weddings a year. When you’re officiating only 1,400 weddings a year, you have plenty of time to offer pre-marital counseling and have conversations with the couples who are entering into this sacred covenant of “biblical marriage.

For additional evidence that the rear-guard reaction against marriage equality has descended beyond self-parody, see this story from North Carolina, where a local magistrate has resigned rather than have to officiate civil marriages between same-sex couples. The now-former judge’s name is Gilbert Breedlove. (If this were played upon a stage now, I could condemn it as an improbably fiction …)

• Now that we know for certain that the 401(k) experiment was a complete disaster, there are only two sides to this political issue: Should we be doubling Social Security benefits? Or should we be tripling them? I would like to see our media covering both sides of this debate.


Get well, Kevin Drum

Oct. 26th, 2014 04:46 pm
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Posted by Fred Clark

Back when he was still Calpundit, Kevin Drum helped keep the left- and right-wing blog worlds talking to one another by introducing us all to the trans-partisan goodness of Friday Cat Blogging. This week, Kevin introduced a new variation, which I don’t like at all: “Friday Cancer Blogging.”

Kevin Drum is one of the good people of the blogosphere — a smart and sensible voice who’s always been genuinely interested in engaging those who disagree with him because he’s always seemed genuinely open to the possibility that he needs to learn from whoever it is he hasn’t been hearing. See, for example, his impressive reporting on the social effects of lead. It’s a compelling case made all the more compelling by the way he presents it as almost an invitation to show him what he might be missing or how it might be wrong.

John Cole speaks for many of us with his response to the news that Kevin has been diagnosed with multiple myeloma.

The latest news from Kevin is a “Quick Treatment Update — And Thanks.”

The outpouring of prayers and good wishes has been genuinely heartening. Thank you to everyone for all the comments, tweets, and emails. They truly mean a lot to me. And to Nora and Jason from Chicago: Thanks for the flowers! They’re lovely.

On a related note, several people have asked if I need any financial help. As it happens, MoJo provides excellent health coverage (mine is through Kaiser), so I’m well covered on that front. Beyond that, as many of you know, my previous career has left me in very good financial shape. So I’m one of the lucky ones: All I have to do is worry about following my treatment plan and getting better. I have no money worries, and plenty of family and friends (and cats!) rooting for me and ready to take care of me when I need help.

Consider me among those rooting for him, sending prayers and good wishes his way.


Kevin Drum and Inkblot, as photographed by Stephanie Diani for The New York Times in 2004.

[syndicated profile] geekfeminism_feed

Posted by spam-spam

  • Meet the Awesome League of Female Magic: The Gathering Players | bitchmedia (20 October): “Magic: The Gathering is a collectible trading card game published by Wizards of the Coast, the same company responsible for Dungeons and Dragons. Over the last twenty or so years, Magic has gained significant popularity and become a staple of nerd culture. Magic: The Gathering is played in a competitive tournament setting, casually at kitchen tables, while waiting in line at cons, and everything in between. Magic tournaments are not often a welcoming space for women despite the efforts of many within the community so, naturally, Magic horror stories were a popular topic of discussion at Geek Girl Con.”
  • Disney Princesses Are My (Imperfect) Feminist Role Models | boingboing (24 October): “So why not write off these problematic princesses and find better role models? Part of the power of the Disney princess is that she is inescapable. As a massive conglomerate, Disney is able to give its princess line an almost frightening level of cultural ubiquity. Conventional wisdom holds that girls will watch male-driven stories while boys will simply ignore female-driven ones. But it was impossible to ignore Frozen last year just as it was impossible to ignore Snow White, The Little Mermaid, and Beauty And The Beast when they premiered. Stop a few hundred people on the street and they’ll likely be able to name more Disney princesses than American Girl dolls, Baby-Sitters Club members, or Legend Of Korra characters. It’s important to introduce young girls to well-written female characters in niche properties, but it’s equally important to teach young girls that their stories don’t have to be niche.”
  • [infographic] The Gender Divide in Tech-Intensive Industries | Catalyst (23 October): While the leaky pipe metaphor has its flaws, it is one of the many reasons the tech industry is hostile to women.
  •  Anita Sarkeesian speaking at XOXO Conference | Feminist Frequency (7 October): “In September 2014, I was invited to speak at the XOXO conference & festival in Portland. I used the opportunity to talk about two subtle forms of harassment that are commonly used to try and defame, discredit and ultimately silence women online: conspiracy theories and impersonation. (Note: trigger warning early on for examples of rape and death threats as well as blurred images of weaponized pornography).”
  • [warning for discussion and examples of sexual harassment] A Natural A/B Test of Harassment | Kongregate (23 October): “all the questions made me think more deeply about my experience, particularly the low-level harassment I get that I’d taken as a given, normal for a co-founder of a game site. It occurred to me to check with my brother/co-founder Jim, but he said he almost never gets hassled. Most of the harassment I receive is through Kongregate’s messaging system, and looking at my last 25 public messages mixed in with compliments and requests for help there are several harassing/sexual messages. Jim has none.”


  • It’s Not Censorship to Ignore You | NYMag (21 October): “women were merely pointing to a threatening, gender-specific kind of speech, and asking for the tools to avoid it. There’s something obviously illogical about free-speech panic among white Americans in 2014. Thanks to online publishing and social media, the barrier to entry for free public speech is lower than ever.  What I suspect truly bothers free-speech reactionaries is that the same, democratized new media that allows them to publish free-speech rants has opened public discourse up to a lot of people they’re not used to hearing from — women, people of color, and those Gamergate calls “social justice warriors,” in particular. Some of the people who historically controlled the media uncontested might not like what these people have to say, but these newcomers are nonetheless very popular. And when a “social justice warrior” chooses to wield the “block” button against a troll, it’s not his freedom of speech that’s in danger, it’s his entitlement to be heard.”
  •  S4E7 – #GamerGate (Base Assumptions) | blip.tv (22 October): Critical discussion of Gamergate in terms of base assumptions. “The use of terror tactics, even if only by a minority, has created an environment of fear that all members [who believe gamergate is solely about ethics in games journalism] enjoy the privilege of. When people are unwilling to engage because of fears that they’ll be next, all members [of gamergate] benefit from that person’s silence, even if they were not responsible for that harassment.”
  • [warning for harassment and threats of violence] GamerGate’s Economy Of Harassment And Violence | ravishly (20 October):”You cannot separate violence, any violence, from the context and circumstances of the society in which that violence transpires. Whoever benefits from violence is culpable for that violence. For this reason, every woman who endures harm in the wake of GamerGate’s expansion – whether it’s being forced into hiding or self-harming in the wake of unrelenting pressure and harassment – is a victim of GamerGate.”

We link to a variety of sources, some of which are personal blogs.  If you visit other sites linked herein, we ask that you respect the commenting policy and individual culture of those sites.

You can suggest links for future linkspams in comments here, or by using the “geekfeminism” tag on Pinboard, Delicious or Diigo; or the “#geekfeminism” tag on Twitter. Please note that we tend to stick to publishing recent links (from the last month or so).

Thanks to everyone who suggested links.

[syndicated profile] sociological_images_feed

Posted by Jay Livingston, PhD

Yesterday’s killing was the 39th school shooting in the U.S. this year.  Most of those got little press coverage. Unless someone is actually killed, a shooting might not even get coverage in the local news.

Yesterday’s did.

Why would an apparently happy kid shoot several classmates? That seems to be the question that’s getting the attention of the press and perhaps the public. “Struggling to Find Motive,” said one typical headline. That’s the way we think about school shootings these days.

It’s unlikely that any of the motives that turn up will be all that strange. Fryberg may have been upset by a racial comment someone had made the day before or by a break-up with a girl. He may have had other conflicts with other kids. Nothing unusual there.

But “why” is not the question that first occurs to me. What I always ask is how a 14-year old kid can get his hands on a .40 Beretta handgun (or whatever the weaponry in the shooting of the week is).  For Fryberg it  was easy. The pistol belonged to his father. Nothing strange there either.  Thirty million homes in the US, maybe forty million, are stocked with guns.

Do European countries have school shootings like this? Surely kids in Europe get upset about break-ups; surely they must have conflicts with their classmates; and surely, some of them may become irrationally upset by these setbacks.  So surely there must have been school shootings in Europe too.

I went to Wikipedia and looked for school shootings since 1980 (here and here).  I eliminated shootings by adults (e.g., Lanza in Sandy Hook, Brevik in Norway). I also deleted in-school suicides even though these were done with guns and were terrifying to the other students. I’m sure my numbers are not perfectly accurate, and the population estimate in the graph below  is based on current numbers; I didn’t bother to find an average over the last 35 years. Still the differences are so large that I’m sure they are not due to technical problems in the data.

1 (3) - Copy
Does the U.S. have a much greater proportion of kids who are mentally unstable? Do our schools have more bullying? Are European kids more capable in dealing with conflicts? Are they more stable after break-ups? Do they spend less time with violent video games? Do their schools have more programs to identify and counsel the potentially violent?  I’m not familiar with the data on these, but I would guess that the answer is no and that our kids are no more screwed up than kids in Europe. Or if there are differences, they are not large enough to explain the difference in the body count.

No, the important difference seems to be the guns.  But guns have become the elephant in the room that nobody talks about.  Even asking about access to guns seems unAmerican these days.  Thanks to the successful efforts of the NRA and their representatives in government, guns have become a taken-for-granted part of the landscape. Asking how a 14-year old got a handgun is like asking how he got a bicycle to ride to school.

When the elephant’s presence is too massive not be noticed – for example, when the elephant kills several people –  the elephant’s spokesmen rush in to tell us that “No, this is not the time to talk about the elephant.”  And so we talk about video games and psychological screening and parents and everything else, until the next multiple killing. But of course that too is not the time to talk about elephants.

Jay Livingston is the chair of the Sociology Department at Montclair State University. You can follow him at Montclair SocioBlog or on Twitter.

(View original at http://thesocietypages.org/socimages)

Sunday favorites

Oct. 26th, 2014 10:37 am
[syndicated profile] slacktivist_feed

Posted by Fred Clark

Luke 9:46-48

An argument arose among them as to which one of them was the greatest. 

But Jesus, aware of their inner thoughts, took a little child and put it by his side, and said to them, “Whoever welcomes this child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me; for the least among all of you is the greatest.”

His Eyes, Her Voice

Oct. 26th, 2014 12:00 am
[syndicated profile] rollingaroundinmyhed_feed

Posted by Dave Hingsburger

The elevator door opened. Right in front of us were a young, and handsome, couple who were pushing a stroller with a very young child, a girl, who was looking up at us and smiling. Because they needed a little time to move over for us to get out, I had a chance to wave at and say hello to the baby.

I think I need to stop now and say that I'm a 'baby-wave-at' kind of person. I like babies, I like how they look at me. Sometimes they look at me as if I'm magical, seeing me glide across a room in my wheelchair. I like the wonder in their eyes. Being magical beats being marginal every day of the week. So, I baby wave.

The baby grinned at me and I said to her parents, "What a beautiful kid you've got there." I meant it. They knew it. As we passed them I caught the little girl's father's eye. He looked at me with ...

Now this is difficult. I knew I saw something in those eyes. I knew it. As Joe and I did our business in the mall, those eyes came back to haunt me. I knew immediately that the look he'd given me had been, at least partially, because his little girl had Down Syndrome. You may wonder how I knew his look was related to his child's difference. Well, because I'm a baby wave at kind of person. I've done it for years. I've seen a lot of parents eyes. Some think it's weird, but there are surprisingly few of those, I think, maybe, because there are a lot of us who do the same thing. Most smile and help the baby wave back or in some other way acknowledge the greeting their child has received. So, I'm a bit of an expert. I can say no other parent, not one, had the eyes of that man with that child waiting for that elevator.

I thought at first that what I saw was a kind of gratitude. I wondered if it was because his child was getting the kind of ordinary kind of interaction that children get when they are that young. But I knew, somehow, that that didn't fit.

It didn't fit with the tiredness I saw in his eyes.

It didn't fit with the wariness I saw in his eyes.

It didn't fit with the readiness I saw in his eyes.

Then, it struck me. I knew.

His eyes showed his relief. Relief that his child was receiving a normal, typical reaction that babies get from total strangers. Relief, not gratitude. I don't think he'd be grateful for such a thing. I think he was relieved that, this time, his child wasn't receiving the kind of reaction that is reserved for children with disabilities, the kind of reaction that is most pronounced with children with Down Syndrome.

And I felt for him.

And I felt for his wife.

They will have to bear watching their child bear those reactions. Reactions that judge. Reactions that diminish. Reactions that demean. Reactionary reactions of those who reject difference and are repelled by disability.

But then ...

Then ...

I realized a mistake. I felt all these things for the parents. I do feel all these things for parents. But I forgot to realize that this months old baby, like all babies, is learning about her world. And that she is learning that the world she lives in isn't as welcoming, isn't as safe and isn't as inclusive as she needs. She is learning from the stares, and the whispers, and from being struck as the pitying glances glance off her parents armour and strike her instead. She is learning.

Our work for an inclusive society hasnt' been fast enough for her.

Our work for a welcoming community hasn't been fast enough for her.

But ...

Our work for the opportunity to have a loving family and access to a real childhood has come in time.

And because of that there is hope that one day there will also be an inclusive, welcoming world for her to live in.

Judging by the wariness and the readiness in her father's eyes, judging by the way her mother spoke to her so lovingly, they know that she will need their love, their protection and their advocacy until she can grow into her own voice in her own world where she will make her own way.

Try A Little ...

Oct. 25th, 2014 11:31 am
[syndicated profile] rollingaroundinmyhed_feed

Posted by Dave Hingsburger

Yesterday we flew home.

On arriving at the airport, everything went smoothly so we ended up with a fair bit of time. We decided to have an early dinner and went to Chili's one of the restaurants on the concourse. Airport restaurants do everything they can to maximize space and that often means it's difficult for people using wheelchairs to get into the restaurant. But here, we spotted a table and headed towards it. It was a table for two and was set between two people our age. A man finishing his meal and having a glass of wine on one, a woman placing her order for food on the other.

When we got to the table we realized that if I turned my chair toward it, I'd block the passageway behind me. If we pushed the table in such that that didn't happen, There would be no where for Joe to sit. The fellow drinking the wine silently picked up his stuff, plates, knives, glasses, bottle and moved to the table beside him that was empty. Joe then was able to use his table to push next to mine and sit behind it. We were in and comfortable.

We thanked him, he waved it off.

On the way out we paid for his glass of wine. We both wanted to thank him, not for what he did, but for how he did it. He never, even once, made any kind of indication that this, which was a bother, was a bother. He just made space for us as if that was the most natural thing to do.

Shortly after we left, I went to the gate and spoke to the gate agent, there was something I wondered if he could do for us. It would make the flight more comfortable. I'm not going to tell you because, well, I don't have to tell everything do I? He was a nice, quiet man, who double checked and said that he thought that what I was asking was doable. Later when we were waiting he wandered away from his desk for a second and then gave me a very private 'thumbs up' reassuring me that all was well.

Again, I wanted to do something simple because of how he did what he did. Again it felt like he did this because it was natural for him to be kind. I couldn't think of what to do but when I found myself heading down the ramp towards the plane and saw him walking up towards me, I stopped him. I looked at him seriously and said, "People aren't alway s kind to me, but today you were very kind, I want you to know that I appreciate what you did and how you did it." He brushed the compliment away and I reached out and touched his arm, "No, I'm serious," I said. I could see that he knew that I hadn't given an empty compliment, he nodded seriously. "Thank you," he said, "I don't get nearly as many compliments as complaints, I appreciate it."

I got on the plane ready to fly home.

I didn't feel much like reading on the plane so I spent much of the flight home thinking about what the world would be like if kindness became everyone's first response to a situation. Then, after that lovely fantasy, I began to think about what I would be like if kindness was my first response to a situation. It would change me, and I would like myself better.

I got off the plane ready to try kindness.
[syndicated profile] slacktivist_feed

Posted by Fred Clark

The National Association of Evangelicals has come out against predatory lending and payday loans. That’s good! Yay NAE!

The NAE is an umbrella group representing dozens of small Protestant denominations and more than 45,000 churches. These are white evangelical folk, so they tend to be very politically conservative. Or, rather, they tend to define their faith in terms that are politically conservative — their religious identity is both political and conservative. What that often means in practice is that they double-check their impulses and instincts to ensure they’re not getting out of line with orthodox conservative politics.

PaydayAs I often note here, most of these folks are Very Nice People — far more like Ned Flanders than like James Dobson (even though, inexplicably, they mostly like Dobson). And like most Very Nice People, when they begin to understand the facts of predatory lending — to see the outrageous interest rates and cascading fees forced upon the poor and defenseless — they think it seems wrong. As in, there ought to be a law against it wrong.

Yet when they double-check to see if this is an acceptable reaction, they find that this view has been framed as dangerously liberal. It’s something championed by Satanic baby-killers like Elizabeth Warren and Eric Holder, and agreeing with people like that can get you in a lot of trouble in the white evangelical world.

So the first Good Thing about the NAE’s resolution against predatory lending is that it gives members of the white evangelical tribe permission to be against predatory lending. It tells them that this is an issue on which they are allowed to view government action and legal regulation favorably, and that this is an issue on which they are permitted to agree with liberals without risking demerits on their permanent record.

The resolution itself is short and rather vague. That’s by design. Here’s the key part:

The NAE calls on lenders to design loan products that do not exploit poor and vulnerable borrowers. We call on the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to investigate predatory lending abuses and to establish just regulations that protect consumers, particularly the most poor and vulnerable among us, from exploitation.

That bit about the CFPB sounds a bit like it was written by someone who’s never heard of the agency and imagines they’re inventing the idea of it. It’s a bit like someone calling on NASA to begin exploring space with, like, rockets and telescopes and stuff.

But the vague generality of that makes this resolution more useful when it comes to its primary function. Most denominations and interdenominational associations have a resolutions process something like the NAE’s because these organizations also have a governmental affairs office. In other words, they have lobbyists — professional employees in Washington, DC, whose job it is to influence policy makers on behalf of the organization.

Those lobbyists are authorized to speak on behalf of the organization and on behalf of all of its members. As such, they’re only permitted to address “issues” that the organization and its members have taken an official position on.

That’s why, for example, the introduction of laws intended to stop human trafficking produced a volley of denominational resolutions putting those groups on record in support of legal efforts to oppose human trafficking. Without such resolutions, the lobbyists representing those groups and their members were not empowered to support such legislation.

So now the NAE’s executives have permission to speak out in support of the CFPB when it investigates predatory lending and now the NAE’s government relations people are authorized to support “just regulations that protect consumers, particularly the most poor and vulnerable among us, from exploitation.” And that’s all good.

NAE’s resolution also includes some language about what local congregations can do to address the problem of predatory lending:

Most families experience emergency needs from time to time. Churches, charities and employers can and do help with gifts or loans in times of personal crisis.

That’s good — such “gifts and loans” can, indeed, keep desperate people from having to turn to the legal loan sharks who might otherwise provide the $200 needed in an unforeseen emergency, but will claw back $2,000 for the privilege.

I also like that the NAE doesn’t just commend the practice of extending such gifts and loans to churches and charities. They also say this is something that employers should do to respond to people in need. I’d like to hear that preached in more pulpits.

But he NAE’s other piece of advice for local congregations is, alas, less helpful:

They can also offer financial literacy classes and model the virtues of disciplined saving, delayed gratification and investment for future needs.

It’s possible to promote financial literacy without descending into a cluelessly cruel form of victim-blaming. You can usually tell who’s getting that right because they don’t use the words “financial literacy.”

Poor people do not need to be taught anything about “delayed gratification.” Poor people know more about delayed gratification than any rich person will ever understand. The poor are not poor because they lack “virtues.” The poor are poor because they lack money.

This part of NAE’s resolution veers into nasty Dave Ramsey territory. Sure, predatory lending is bad, too, yesbutofcourse, but did you see what those poor people were wearing? They brought this on themselves. Sigh.

Fortunately, that odious little aside is tangential to the main purpose and function of the NAE’s resolution. That main purpose, again, is that the group’s executives and lobbyists and members have now given themselves permission to support “just regulations that protect consumers.”

Here’s hoping they will.

Call Me Linkspam

Oct. 24th, 2014 08:41 pm
[syndicated profile] geekfeminism_feed

Posted by spam-spam

  • It’s Ada Lovelace Day: Get Angry | Garann Means (October 14): “It’s Ada Lovelace Day and we’re supposed to talk about the women in technology who’ve inspired us. The women who inspire me are those who’ve taken the frightening step of lessening their culpability by decreasing their participation. While it’s courageous to remain in tech/on the internet and try to make it a better place, you can’t get around the compromise in doing so.”
  • When Women Stopped Coding | NPR Planet Money (October 21): “These early personal computers weren’t much more than toys. You could play pong or simple shooting games, maybe do some word processing. And these toys were marketed almost entirely to men and boys. This idea that computers are for boys became a narrative. It became the story we told ourselves about the next computing revolution.”
  • Online Harassment | PEWResearch Internet Project (October 22): “In broad trends, the data show that men are more likely to experience name-calling and embarrassment, while young women are particularly vulnerable to sexual harassment and stalking.”
  • Breaking gender and racial barriers in Netrunner | Gamasutra (October 20): “Netrunner is a lovely and beloved experience for all those reasons, but the game is worth championing for other ideas that go beyond its smart design too. It’s also worth celebrating because Netrunner is one of the most progressive games in terms of gender and minority representation today.”
  • Life and Times of a Tech Feminist Killjoy: The Cuts Leave Scars | Julie Pagano (October 6): “After years of pushing yourself and being stretched too thin, you lose the flexibility you once had to bounce back. You snap more easily. The paper cuts are harder to brush off. You are likely to be punished for this. You will be seen simultaneously as too sensitive and too harsh.”
  • Marvel’s Victoria Alonso wants a female superhero movie, calls for more women in VFX | Variety (October 20th): “You’ve got to get the girls in here, boys. It’s better when it’s 50-50,” she continued. “I have been with you beautiful, handsome, talented, creative men in dark rooms for two decades and I can tell you those rooms are better when there are a few of us in them. So as you take this with you, please remember that it’s OK to allow the ladies in. They’re smart, they’re talented. They bring a balance that you need.”


  • The only thing I have to say about gamer gate | Felicia Day (October 22): “I know it feels good to belong to a group, to feel righteous in belonging to a cause, but causing fear and pushing people away from gaming is not the way to go about doing it. Think through the repercussions of your actions and the people you are aligning yourself with. And think honestly about whether your actions are genuinely going to change gaming life for the better.”
  • Felicia Day’s worst Gamergate fears just came true | The Daily Dot (October 23): “Day wrote of realizing after crossing the street to avoid two gamers she saw in Vancouver that she had allowed Gamergate to enhance her fear of other people within her community. Her post was an attempt to conquer that fear and to urge other women to do the same.But less than an hour after describing her past experiences with stalkers in the post, a commenter showed up to do the one thing she feared would happen.”
  • Why #Gamergate is actually an ed tech issue | Medium (October 20): “It’s not simply the hyper-macho shoot ‘em up games, either. I’ve had girls leave Minecraft because of misogynist threats. Apparently, this isn’t an isolate case. Others have seen the same thing. If we want to talk about integrating games into the classroom, we need to rethink what culture we’re inviting in.”
  • Gamergate goons can scream all they want, but they can’t stop progress | Wired (October 21): “Even more fascinating is how these insecurities have allowed some gamers to consider themselves a downtrodden minority, despite their continued dominance of every meaningful sector of the games industry, from development to publishing to criticism. That demonstrates a strange and seemingly contradictory “overdog” phenomenon: The most powerful members of a culture often perceive an increase in social equality as a form of persecution.”

We link to a variety of sources, some of which are personal blogs.  If you visit other sites linked herein, we ask that you respect the commenting policy and individual culture of those sites.

You can suggest links for future linkspams in comments here, or by using the “geekfeminism” tag on Pinboard, Delicious or Diigo; or the “#geekfeminism” tag on Twitter. Please note that we tend to stick to publishing recent links (from the last month or so).

Thanks to everyone who suggested links.

Wizard Not

Oct. 24th, 2014 12:03 pm
[syndicated profile] rollingaroundinmyhed_feed

Posted by Dave Hingsburger

It's our last day in Edmonton and we've had a great time thus far. I've given two full day lectures to two big rooms of people who listened, laughed and took notes. I enjoyed myself. It's nice when those things go well.

We've had a pretty good experience with accessibility too, even though we've had little time to get out and explore. But, I think most importantly, the ramps down to the hotel bar that stocked 50 scotches were perfectly pitched to send me straight there!

This morning, as Joe packs, I'm getting ready for the last of what we are doing here. I'm doing a session for self advocates on rights. Like all the talks I do, it takes organizing and it takes focus to get my mind and my manner perfectly attuned to what I am doing. So this morning when I went down to breakfast, by myself because Joe forgot something back in the room. I flew down ramp one, and then glided down ramp two. As I zipped by the bar where we heartily celebrated Joe's birthday the night before with his nephew and his lovely partner Cindy and knew that it had been a good night. But I arrived, finally at the restaurant.

It was, thankfully, a seat yourself affair. We were having breakfast a little later because we're starting work a little later and it was fuller than I'd seen it before. I began to make my way down an aisle that I'd judged wide enough for me and my chair. There were breafasters on either side of me as I pushed. I'm pretty skilled at this and usually manage with no trouble. But I kept getting distracted by thoughts of the self advocate presentation. I veered once into a woman's walker, she, unsurprisingly just smiled and moved it to the side. Then a few feet later I thought again of something I want to do differently and banged into another chair. I was like a big slow pinball banging from side to side down the aisle.

The moral to this story?

And yes there is one.

Don't think and drive.


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