Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Um, Okay Then...

Rod Dreher knows that demons are real.

A Haitian cab driver told him so.

"I am not a crackpot," Rod Dreher says.

And the comments on this post.  Holy hell, if you will pardon my pun.  My favorite is the fella who knows demons are real because when his daughter was little there was this little girl who came over to play with his daughter, see.

And she was wearing this sweater.  And orange sweater.  With yellow markings.  And without even looking it up on the internet he just knew that was a demonic sweater. Something's not right about that girl, he told his wife.  And sure enough later he heard these growling noises coming from inside the girl...long story short, now his daughter is all grown up and has all sorts of problems, like anorexic, and it's because of the demonic influence of this demonic devil worshipping child they were so foolish as to let their child come into contact with at that demonic public school.

Let this be a warning to you!  HOME SCHOOL RULES!

Tuesday, July 28, 2015


I have just realized it is only three weeks until Fall 2015 starts.

This cannot be true.

I am teaching two reading intensive classes, starting in three weeks, and I have read exactly zero books for either of them.

Also, I don't have any of the kid's school supplies.  Except two pairs of jeans, and her shoes.

I am a giant squid of AAAARGH!!!

(I did write several short stories this summer, though, plus I revised and submitted a novel. SO.)

Friday, July 24, 2015

Another Drawing By Our Favorite Artist

Our favorite up-and-coming artist just had her wisdom teeth out, and is now recovering, under opiates, which she is finding very pleasant.

But before that experience, she drew this:

I love the light and color best. She likes the hands.  Look at those hands!

Numb3rs: A (preliminary) Review

I'm probably the last person on the planet to watch the TV show Numb3rs.

I just started watching it this past week, on Netflix, b/c I have been having my intermittent chronic insomnia and  needed something to watch late at night (like, two and three in the morning late) when I am simply unable to do actual work anymore.

Numb3rs is the perfect show for that.  It's smart enough to be interesting, and yet dumbed-down enough (the writers patiently over-explain everything for teh ijit American audience) that the exhausted brain can follow it.

It also has a university setting, although no one ever seems to teach.  They "do research," but very romantically. (That is, by sitting about in lovely sunlit offices staring thoughtfully into space, or scribbling on blackboards.  Blackboards!  When's the last time y'all saw a fucking blackboard?)

The two main characters are brothers, Don and Charlie Eppes.  Don works for the FBI; Charlie is a math genius, a professor who also consults for the NSA.  Their father, played by Judd Hirsch, is a retired city planner. The show is basically (at least so far -- I'm only in season one) a who-done-it / procedural, with Charlie's math skills being the biggest part of the procedural. That is, mostly the crimes get solved via Charlie's math wizardry. (Though the math "research" isn't realistic, I'm told by real math people on the web -- not very surprisingly.)

That's the draw of the show, and that's what makes it fun to watch -- seeing how math solves puzzles. And so far I'm having (exhausted) fun with the show.

But.  (You knew there was a but, right?)

The women on this show.

Now to be fair it is season one.  Maybe things get better!

And there are women on the show.  So yay!  Women have roles.  Women are detectives, they're math professors, they're FBI agents.  All very nice.

But in not one single scene so far has one woman talked to another woman.  It's just -- holy hell, it's hilarious.  There was this one episode where two women were left on stage together, and they just stared at one another, and then both of them, I kid you not, just fucking bolted.  They fled the scene, rather than speak to one another.

The men all have well-developed relationships.  The men all speak to each other about all sorts of things, and not just work.  The men meet enough other outside of the office, have coffee together, play chess together, take walks, chat about work and politics and baseball and their past.

The women?  Only talk about men.  To men.

Or else plot points.

It's almost as if the writers know about the Bechdel Test and are mocking us!

It's an otherwise entertaining show, as I said, but I swear this feature of it is so annoying I'm about to give up on it, just for that reason alone.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Reading C.S. Lewis

So I'm reading C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity -- for my sins.

Naw, it's actually because my students were doing some group work, and I happened to have a copy handy in my office, which I hadn't read in years.  I was killing time, in other words.

I read the first few chapters while they worked, and he infuriated me all over again.

First, this bit, where he is explaining how we know that there is something beyond sense and reason that makes us act with justice toward one another:

"Now, of course, it is perfectly true that safety and happiness can only come from individuals, classes, and nations being honest and fair and kind to each other. It is one of the most important truths in the world. But as an explanation of why we feel as we do about Right and Wrong it just misses the point If we ask: "Why ought I to be unselfish?" and you reply "Because it is good for society," we may then ask, "Why should I care what's good for society except when it happens to pay me personally?" and then you will have to say, "Because you ought to be unselfish"-which simply brings us back to where we started."

(Page 19 in my version, but you can read on online version here. It's in chapter 3.)

The problem here is that I know Lewis is classically educated.  I know he must have read Plato.  So I know this is a dodge -- that is, I know he knows there is a different, and a better, answer to that question.

We ask: "Why should I care what's good for society?"

You say: "Well, you should care what is good for society, because society is where you live.  If you make a terrible society, you have to live in terrible society.  Will that be better or worse for you?"

We reply: "It will be worse for me, Socrates."

You agree: "Just so, my little grasshopper."

The fact that Lewis pretends there's no way to answer this question except Jesus -- that we can't act decently unless we've been filled with Holy Grace -- is dishonest. It is intellectually bankrupt.

Worse, he knows he's dodging here.

On the second point that made me stop, I don't even think he noticed what he was doing.

Here, in Chapter Two, Lewis has been at some pains to convince us that some moralities are better than other moralities, and that everyone "knows" this, due to something inside us which can recognize the rightness of a moral act, in much the same way we recognize when a series of musical notes is played correctly versus when that series is not played correctly.

This thing inside us is a real feature, Lewis explains, and it isn't taught.  It's just there.  It can recognize that when one morality -- like the Christian morality -- is better than another morality, like the Nazi morality.

I'm not arguing with him a lot here, so far.

Until we come to this bit:

"But one word before I end. I have met people who exaggerate the differences, because they have not distinguished between differences of morality and differences of belief about facts. For example, one man said to me, "Three hundred years ago people in England were putting witches to death. Was that what you call the Rule of Human Nature or Right Conduct?" 

"But surely the reason we do not execute witches is that we do not believe there are such things. If we did-if we really thought that there were people going about who had sold themselves to the devil and received supernatural powers from him in return and were using these powers to kill their neighbours or drive them mad or bring bad weather, surely we would all agree that if anyone deserved the death penalty, then these filthy quislings did. There is no difference of moral principle here: the difference is simply about matter of fact. It may be a great advance in knowledge not to believe in witches: there is no moral advance in not executing them when you do not think they are there. You would not call a man humane for ceasing to set mousetraps if he did so because he believed there were no mice in the house." 

(All bolds are mine. As noted, this comes before the above section, at the end of Chapter Two.)

That right there is the reason I am so sickened and horrified by C. S. Lewis.  And, frankly, I doubt he even noticed what he was doing.

He has just been talking about the Nazis.  How their morality was an inferior morality.  And you know, it was.  He's right.

But then he ends this chapter with this paragraph. Which not only uses the very language of the Nazis -- those witches are vermin, those witches are filth, those witches are traitors bent on destroying the country -- it argues that if the Nazis sincerely believed in these things were true, then they were morally justified in what they did.

Or is that just Christians who are justified in burning women?* (No, I don't really believe this.)

What's the problem, here?  Why does C. S. Lewis make this horrifying and appalling error in his thought? I can see two reasons, and I think both apply.

First, he sincerely believes Christian morality is the best morality, because it must be.  This is his received wisdom. Since he knows ("knows") God and Jesus are real, then he can't admit any other possible answers.  So any other possible answers must be dismissed, somehow. He will turn his Oxford-educated mind to finding some way that his Christians were, in fact, acting morally.

Second, Lewis was a misogynist, deeply and blindly.  He really doesn't see women as people -- or, you know, not people the way men are people. So if a few hundred thousand or million of them get murdered by mistake, well, just girls, after all. Not like we were killing people.**

I'm four chapters in, but I'm not sure I'll go on.

*Tens of thousands of witches were killed in Europe from 1200 on, most of them women or strangers -- xenophobia being a big thing then or now -- and many of them Jews.

**To qualify, I don't mean he consciously thinks that.  But it's the same way many Americans don't think of brown people as real people, or poor people as real people, or foreign people as real people. If you asked them whether African people, or Iraqi people, or whatever, were really people, they would be indignant, and say of course they did! But when they hear about 30 Iraqis being killed in a drone strike, you know, they don't even blink, because Iraqis? Not like they're actual people.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Toxic Ignorance

So a town not far from my town has finally -- finally -- made the decision to add fluoride to its water supply.

This is a big deal for Arkansas.  In 2011, our governor made it a law that all cities and towns with populations over 5,000 people had to add fluoride to their water. (A great many did not, up to then, including my charming city of residence: we're supposed to have it starting in November 2015.)

Giving the appalling lack of dental care in Arkansas -- this is partly due to poverty, and partly due to a serious lack of dentists -- you'd think anything that improved people's teeth would be welcome.

But that just shows you don't know Arkansasans.


The comment section on the news story announcing that this town was adding fluoride to the water went batshit at once:

Dude: Fluoride is ok to swill around your mouth. Ingesting it is poisonous. The nazis knew about wanting to put these chemicals in mass water systems. 

Nother Guy: It absorbs, sublingually.. so swallowed or not, it's still getting into the bloodstream

Dudette: Turmeric supplements help to combat fluoride poisoning.
Dude: Just look into history, they sought to saturate the water supplies with chemicals that wouldn't cause immediate death but it wouldn't be good for you either. Fluoride was one of them. True a small amount won't kill you. Anything can be a poison all down to dosage. I wouldn't want to drink water laced with anything building up in my system everyday.

I’m A Doctor:  It was added the water in Germany to make people in populated areas calmer. It's also in poisons. And one of the first ingredients in prosaic

WAKE UP SHEEPLE: Fluoride is a by product from making aluminum. Yes it is not good for you. It is designed to enter act with chemtrails. Your deodorant your tooth paste many things have it. It serves you no good purpose.

Dude: Meta-analysis from Harvard found a correlation between fluoridated water and low IQ scores in children who grew up in the most fluoridated areas. Other studies have linked fluoridation to certain types of cancer. 

MidWest Miss: We have had fluoride in our water here in ohio for as long ask i can remember and i am also now old enough to have gone to many funerals of cancer victims from my high school. Coincidentally you be thw judge.

CA Kay: We've live in California most of our lives and they have had fluoride in there water forever! Never a cavity (along with good hygiene) then we moved to Arkansas 9 years ago and both my boys begin having cavities. Theres a safe amount and it does help in the long run.

Snarky: And that explains why California produces the biggest morons on the planet! Thank you for clearing that up for everyone!

Homeschooling Mom: We can fight this !!!!!! fluoride is liquid poison do your research!!! You don't need fluoride just brush her teeth and you'll be fine. our family drinks bottled water and brushes her teeth with coconut oil and baking soda for years . we have no cavities

Arkie: Ha!Ha! I agree with Snarky! Even though I also grew up in California. I've been an Arkie quite a while. Something is sure making people in California Stupid now! Undeniable.

Bored Now: Government control stupid.  Fluoride = Prozac, just like Germany.

And -- believe it or not -- it got worse from there.  Now and then someone would try to inject reason or sense into the debate, uselessly.

So, you know, if you want to know why 27% of this country might well end up supporting Donald Trump, yeah, there you go.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

New Member of the delagar Household

We have broke the 12-paw rule, and adopted a baby brother for Big Dog.

Here he is having a nap in the kid's bed after his many exertions on his first day at home:

His name is Heywood Floyd.

He's four years old, and he's a rescue.  The cats are wary, but interested.  Big Dog is slightly appalled at our outlandish behavior, at least so far.

The kid is madly in love.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

An Observation, With Commentary

So I'm teaching Comp II in Summer II.

Comp II is a writing intensive class, which (at least the way I teach it) requires students to have one-on-one sit-down conferences with me over their writing at least three, and if I can manage it, four or five times a semester.  We hold these conferences in my office.  They're about fifteen minutes long, usually.  We look at their papers and talk about what they've done right, and what they need to work on.


On my office door I have taped up a number of cartoons taped up -- like this one:

along with several poems, and reproductions of paintings, and little grammar jokes that amuse me, like this one

and that sort of thing.

On my office walls are paintings students have given me, and drawings and paintings done by Dr. Skull and the kid, and more cartoons.  On my desk, assorted effluvia, including a gargoyle statue one of my brothers gave me for my birthday once, and a coffee cup one of my students gave me, which says on the side RAISED BY WOLVES, and holds a number of pencils. Next to all of these is a bottle of soda which a friend of mine gave me.  It's one of these bottles:

(Which, LOL, because I'm a Leftist, right?)

So this student -- who is one of our earnest young Conservatives -- came for his conference, and was just so upset by my soda bottle.

"I wouldn't have that on my desk!" he told me.

"It's a joke," I told him.  I picked it up and showed him the label.  "See?  Chernobyl brewed?"

"Where would you even buy that?" he demanded.

"You can get them in Little Rock." I put the bottle down.

"They shouldn't be allowed to sell that!"

I shot him a look, since he was one of the student who had argued most vehemently against taking the Confederate flag down, because free speech, and said maybe we should talk about his paper now.

But seriously, holy hell, that is the Right all over.  Free speech and Don't Tread on Me, so long as it is their ox being gored -- but if it is someone else's rights and someone else's speech?

Oh my heavens.  Let's make a law against that.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

The Latest Comic From A Certain Kid

Which I'm linking B/c  it's great

But also pasting in.

It's not the comic she's currently working on; it's the one she'll do after Two-Faced.

Friday, July 10, 2015

How (Some) Men Handle Women Who Talk Back

Also: Why Arguing with (Many) Conservatives on the Internet is useless.

So I'm on FB, as I often am.

One of my ex-students has this history of posting kind of terrible memes. Racist memes, I mean.

Memes like this.

And this.

And this.

The thing is, she's not a terrible human being. I've had her in several classes, and we've gotten to know one another -- as you do -- not on a personal level, because she's my student; but on more than a superficial level.

I know she's not the person these memes suggest she is. Not to mention, she often posts sane and even social justicy memes and comments as well! Also, now and then, when I feel up to it, I will challenge her gently in comments; and frequently she responds well to these challenges.

But this afternoon.  Yikes.

She posted yet another meme, this one about that flag.

The story that went with it: Al Sharpton Demands Kid Rock Stop Using That Flag.

A gentleman, who, as it developed as the comment stream ran on, was her son, made a comment.  Not just a sort-of racist comment, but an appalling racist comment. (I am changing the names, because this is a student / ex-student.)

Dude: I'd tell that nigger to suck my dick on national television, then and only then I would consider it.

To which I replied, addressing not him but my student -- I did not at this point realize Dude was her son:

MeNice friends you have, Ellie. And tell me again that there's nothing racist about that flag. Please.

EllieIt is freedom of speech. No matter how racist.

After which I went on a bit of a rant:

Me: Yes, he clearly has the right to say whatever horrible racist things he wants to say. I would hope you would have the decency to call him out on the horrible racist things he says. That, too, is part of our responsibility, as people in a society which has free speech.

Free speech is not just the *right* to speak. It is the *responsibility* to evaluate the speech of ourselves and others, and to speak up when we see bad ideas being put forth; and to promote good ideas.

Otherwise, the marketplace of ideas fails, and free speech is worthless.

At this point, Dude reappears:

Dude: What ever. Those who think they are high and mighty are often mistaken.

Me: Dude, whatever you mean by that, there can be no mistake about your first comment on this thread. It is racist and homophobic and hateful, and you should be ashamed that you made it.

DudeI'm not ashamed of anything I say because I know I can get a rise out of people like you

(Charmingly, he added this meme: 

He's a keeper, folks.)

Me: Ellie, when you share memes like this? Dude is the sort of person you sound like. He's who people think you are. Maybe you should think about that.

Dude: And I think your a snobby bitch who needs the dust knocked off her pussy and the stick removed from her ass.

At this point (a) Ellie intervened to call Dude out as her son; and I quit responding, both because Dude was her kid, and because once asshats start getting abusive, there's really no point.

BUT.  Dude did not quit.  He escalated, in fact, posting over the next several minutes about a dozen abusive posts and memes, most of them filled with racist, sexist, and homophobic language.

Just a few of the memes he posted:

When I left FB, he was still posting horrible comments and memes. The anger, I'm more than 75% certain, arose from my daring to challenge him -- to talk back.  And you will notice that his first response was to promise sexual violence against me.

There are your Conservatives, folks. Family values and morals my back teeth.

Thursday, July 09, 2015

Book Reviews: Naomi Kritzer

I guess this is actually an author review.

Author rave, my precious!

I discovered Naomi Kritzer entirely by happenstance.  I was killing time on Twitter, so I wouldn't actually have to write this scene in my horrible novel, which had been galling me raw all morning, and I came across someone (I have no idea now who) recommending her story in Clarksword.

This story: Cat Pictures Please.

If you haven't read it yet, go do so now.  I immediately fell deeply in love, not just with the story, but with Kritzer, and began hunting out everything by her I could find. Which -- spoilers -- is how I operate.

If it's how you operate as well, here's Naomi Kritzer's homepage to help you out.

What do I love about Kritzer's fiction?

A list!

(1) So many women protagonists.

(2) Such wonderful lucid writing.

(3) Such physical writing -- flavors, scents, details about landscapes and clothing and how the world feels.

(4) Social fucking justice.  Fuck yeah.

(5) And yet! Complex and complicated ideas.  Nothing is simple or simple-minded here.

(6) Animals.  I loved how the animals are characters, too.

(7) LGBT characters. Brown characters.  Multiple landscapes -- we have complex and complicated cities, we have complex and complicated environments, we have economic systems, we have different languages, we have scholars and working class and rulers and the understanding that the most informed person in a given household is not, in fact, the master, but the kitchen maid.

(9) Character who learn, and are allowed to learn, from their mistakes.  This is great.  This means we get characters who can be wrong, who can learn better and do better. I'm thinking of the trilogy (which I highly recommend) that starts with Freedom's Sisters, but it's true in other examples of Kritzer's works as well.

(10) Kritzer always starts with the ghost pigs.  Not a wasted word.

In summary, what are you waiting for?  Go and read!

Monday, July 06, 2015

I Guess I'm Gonna Talk About That Flag

I don't glower with contempt and hatred when I see people with that flag on the bumper of their trucks, or stitched to their jackets, or even flying in their yards.

I wince.

See, the thing is, I used to be one of those people.  I had, for a long time, a giant Confederate flag on the wall of my room. And I had Confederate flag stickers on many things. I even had a Confederate flag baseball cap.

From the time I was about fifteen, until I was well old enough to know better, I too thought the Civil War was fought over States Rights. I also would argue (with anyone foolish enough to try to set me straight) about how many Southerners owned slaves, and how the North was just as bad, and what happened to Atlanta, and Reconstruction, and how that flag stood for pride in the South, and nothing else.

And the thing is, I believed all of this. I knew all this was the real history, the stone truth,

Then, one day, one of my professors -- a professor I respected, a professor I admired, a professor whose opinion counted with me -- during a conference in her office, that professor glanced at the decal of that flag I had stuck on one of my notebooks, winced, and paused, and then continued with the conference.

That was all that happened. She very politely did not call me out.  She didn't ask why someone like me, someone she knew was intelligent and well-read and ought to know better had a symbol of racism and racist hate on the notebook which was filled with notes for her class.  She said nothing at all.

I was made uneasy, though.  Uneasy enough to start thinking about whether people who had, for years now, been arguing with me about the role of the South in that war might, well, might --

-- might be right.

It was a fracture.  It was a crack in my stubborn, thick-headed certainty that I was right.

And all y'all know what they say about cracks -- they let the light in.

I started reading with more of an open mind.  I started listening to other voices.

I didn't change my mind right away.  But I did change my mind.

I took the flag off my wall.

So when people -- my students, my fellow Southerners -- argue with me, in their ignorance, about what that flag means, I don't hold them in contempt.  I don't hate them.

I do feel sorry for them.  And I hold out hope for them, that they will open their minds, that they will, one day, be willing to learn better.

It's no sin to be ignorant.  But I think it is, perhaps, once the path has been shown to you, a sin to stay willfully ignorant.