. . . Things that scare me

. . .

Things that scare me: the wanton collapsing of inconsistent belief systems. E.g., from "Here Comes Santa Claus": "Santa knows that we're God's children; that makes everything right.... So let's give thanks to the Lord above that Santa Claus is coming tonight."

. . .

Things that scare me, a very special episode: Edina of "Absolutely Fabulous," dry-eyed and grimacing, forcing herself to hug her sobbing daughter while mechanically complaining, "Squish squish. Oh, squish squish. Sweety, you know mummie can't do that squish squish...."

+ + +

Things that don't scare me, a very special episode: Ray Harryhausen dinosaurs. As Hotsy-Totsyite Juliet Clark commented while watching the inexplicably controversial season finale of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer," "I can picture the Mayor guy ruling the world. I can't picture a computer-generated lizard ruling the world."

. . .

Things that scare me: During one of those "Who do you think is sexy?" discussions, an ex-lover of mine picked Tom Savini and Mister Rogers. I try to avoid those discussions now.

. . .

"She has a book on the subject of Fear in her hand" -- "Celebrity Art Party", The Embarrassment

Dr. Justine Larbalestier says I remind her of Casper the Friendly Ghost, and so it's entirely appropriate that my first movie should premiere at an art show titled "Facing Fear."

Besides being my first movie, this was my first opening, and, although no one threw a glass of wine in my face, on the whole it made me realize why my collaborator Christina hates 'em so much. It's like if I hung around a bookstore waiting for someone to pick up an anthology I was in and then waited for them to look at my story and then waited to see how far they read and what their reaction was. It's much nicer to have everyone remain anonymous unless they really don't want to be.

Also, it seemed too noisy for anyone to hear our fabulously detailed soundtrack through those dorky Walkman foam headphones. I'd sorta pictured big black hoods over all the TV sets, where you'd have to get under the hood to hear and see what was going on, but the curators didn't ask for installation advice. (One of them did ask for my theory of fear, though, and I apparently was quite the voluble informant. The combination of free drinks and serious attention is so heady.)

But as we left I saw a nice lady laughing out loud at our monitor, so that was OK.

. . .

A Halloween Homily: For most of us, Halloween brings thoughts of scary candy, hanged effigies that don't have our names pinned to their chests, and folks dressed up like San Francisco rock bands. In the coming weeks, let's try to remember the true meaning of Halloween, as exemplified by this Tale of Old Hollywood:

Tinseltown's most whimsical leading man was being interviewed in a favorite watering hole (one much like the Hotsy Totsy Club that surrounds us) when he became slightly miffed by the tone of a question.

Quickly snatching the young reporter's wallet from the bar, the star asked, "And how would you feel if I was to announce loudly to all and sundry that" (he peered into the gatefold) "your driver's license expired over two years ago? Or if I pressured you as to" (pulling a worn rectangle of newsprint from out the inner sleeve) "why you show such interest in --"

But here he stopped. For the scrap of paper held nothing less than the obituary of the very reporter before him. His interviewer was a zombie -- one of the walking dead!

Silently the grand old man of the screen replaced the precious souvenir; silently he replaced the wallet; humbly he admitted, "You know, I never realized how difficult it must be to maintain both interest and propriety in one's questioning." And the interview continued.

Yes, they had faces then. What's more, beating or not, they had hearts.

. . .

Things that scare me: When it comes to The Blair Witch Project, Need To Know has my number:

Americans must *love* passably competent executions of moderately original ideas.

. . .

Things that scare me:I know that George Bishop is trying to reassure me but still, check out the odds that highway drivers on all sides of you believe they're going to heaven.

The only thing that saves us from holy civil war is that the American God is a Personal God, complete with "God Is My Friend" bumper stickers and 900 numbers, a God who cares about your personal bank account and your personal football team and not about anyone else's. It's easier for a Protestant to form a new church than to argue. That's why there's no Protestant Aquinas. And in America every household has its own monogrammed household god who's not even all that interested in the ancestors -- otherwise, why would it have let them get Alzheimers?

Just in case things get hot, though, it's nice that Bishop told us the defusing trick: Elvis sung "I believe for every drop of rain that falls, a flower grows" with full fervor, but if you'd asked, "Mr. Presley, are you sure that it's true that there's a one-to-one correspondence between the number of flowers and the number of individual raindrops?" he might have waffled.

. . .

Top This Nightmare: I dream that I'm in a bookstore and I find The Uncollected Works of Laurence Sterne. But only Vols. VI and XXII! And they're still expensive! And there are travel ads in them!

. . .

He broke a kid's leg, broke a kid's wrist, and killed a kid? If this gets out, Crazy Clown Dentists will be the laughingstock of the industry! (via Obscure Store) (two Simpsons references in one episode dedicated to JC)

(But seriously -- nah, quiet down now, this is important. Dentists and oral surgeons are, if you think about it, even scarier than they are if you don't think about it. They're regulated less than doctors just because they cut up your mouth? Like my mouth isn't important to me? And to the rest of the world? Anyone working close to my tongue should be more regulated than anyone working close to something dopey like an, I don't know, appendix or spleen or something.... So write your congressperson. Choose your dentist wisely. And god bless.)

. . .

at the center...
"At the center, there is a perilous act, which is of the nature of thought itself." -- Robin Blaser
There's something that's always made me feel sick at writers conferences and exclusive parties and awards and academic intros -- and probably would at trade shows too if I gave a shit about my trade -- something about missing the point with so much fervor, and all of us participants cheering the process on....

Thus this Word of the Day is dedicated to the genuinely welcome return of Metascene:


derives from hypokrisis, "playact"...

which derives from hypokri, "explain"

The biggest problem with this roving critic shtick is the encouragement to play the smart guy. When what I like -- what I'm looking for when I find the stuff I like to write about -- is to not feel so smart: to be taken by surprise, to be changed.... That's why I hate teaching: no matter how self-deprecating you play it, you're still the guy in front of the class and therefore you're still the smart guy. Best you can do in those circumstances is keep the classes small and take lots of time off.

You may be sharp enough to play pure naif gorgeously, but only by losing the flexibility to say anything outside the role you've chosen. A role no closer to the naif-playactor than the smart-guy role is to me.

That's what's interesting about Metascene: a naif voice risking complicated subjects. Like any voice, it has constrictions which must be painful at times. (Thus the sabbatical?) But as constrictions go, I dig 'em.

If Metascene was speaking as a critic, I'd have to argue with him when he insists he's a bad writer. Instead he's trying to convey a mood, and the mood is perfectly expressed by his insistence....

... there is a perilous act

. . .

Seeing eye to eye: tips for the new practitioner

  1. The limited compressibility of noses and foreheads makes it impossible to proceed either from the traditional "missionary" kissing position or from the "69" you might be inclined to try instead.
  2. Thus an "arm-wrestling" or "side-saddle" posture is required and only two of the total of four eyes can be paired at any one time: right to right or left to left. (Which, by the bye, is why the expression uses the singular.)
  3. The eye not participating can be either open or shut, but should avoid blinking since that might precipitate blinking in the active eye.
  4. Do not wear contact lenses or a condition like braces-lock may occur. Of course, if either partner is suffering from pink-eye or another communicable illness, spectacles should be donned; in many large urban areas they can be obtained without a prescription.
  5. When the lashes first touch, there will be a natural flinching or pulling back, and again at the moment of actual contact. Don't panic -- even the most confident of us often have to endure a couple of false starts! Retry calmly, breathing regularly, with hands on each other's shoulders to steady your movements.

. . .

Extreme Unction, What's Your Function?

Here's our seasonal link from Beth Rust (thanks, Beth!), and our seasonal scary story:

His arm craned over his head, the back of his hand resting on the street. The posture might have been uncomfortable if he wasn't so tired; instead it was good not to have to move.

Without moving he watched the plashes, slow and steady, off the wrist.

Still going...

... 21, 22, 23, 24, ...

-- no, wait, you're supposed to count backwards, aren't you? A wave of confusion and shame overwhelmed him.

. . .

In an attempt to wrap our recent unplanned series of extremely morbid entries up in shiny black ribbon, I confess that yesterday's Robert-Benchley-lies-bleeding vignette was drawn from one of the many nightmares in which I've passed on due to car crash, plane crash, interpersonal violence, or atomic warfare. And when I say "passed on," I mean on: at the end of the dream I'm resting in peace and remain resting in peace for an indeterminate time after. Most people apparently wake up at such climaxes, but the CTO of my dream factory decided long ago that death makes a dandy cover for the transition from REM to deep sleep.

One thing about dying a thousand deaths is that you start to get used to the idea, and, although total extinction leaves me with an unpleasantly disoriented hangover, for waking up screaming and morning-long malaise it doesn't begin to compare with nightmares in which lovers walk out, my family falls into some disaster, or friends tell me what they really think.

. . .

Safety net as fishing tackle

I rely on words to get by, and when they fail me, they do so in a tangle: occasionally (mercifully rarely, these years), it seems that the wrong words have brought me into a situation so fraught that more words are desperately called for even though all I can find are more wrong words. I force a consonant out, or, when luckier, a vowel (less grating), and then stop, appalled at the inadequacy of what I'd planned to follow it with, race (a one-legged race in a burning building) through alternative follow-ons, find none of use, and go back to the first phoneme.

This quivering strangled stammer is rarely successful at easing whatever tensions triggered it in the first place. All that can be done is nothing: to let the web slacken.

Fig. 25

. . .

In other intellectual property news, the coming Dark Ages are getting nudged along in a big way by big Bill Gates. By buying up major photo archives and burying them deep in the earth, he's ensured that they're only (and barely, if ever, even so) available via electronic transfer. By then claiming copyright on those electronic reproductions, he basically removes the original works from public domain. A very clever scheme which will do for the history of photography (and America, for that matter) as Hollywood studios have been doing for the history of cinema: erasing it. BookNotes has done a great job of collecting information on the story.

Gates's plan depends on the seemingly absurd notion that digitizing counts as "a substantial creative act" and that his reproductions are therefore new, original, and copyrighted works. Instant Rationality: Just Add Money! Still, it's hard to picture a clearer example of what "public domain" was meant to protect than Matthew Brady's Civil War photographs, so maybe our cowardly crops of leased legislators will eventually be shamed into unprofitable action.

(I've never been big on the Bill Gates as Dark Lord propaganda, on account of every CEO I've ever encountered has been completely evil in the exact same way. But between this and XP licensing, Gates's recent innovations in evil must awe even weasels like Jobs and Ellison....)

. . .

I sent this letter before I read about the increasing use of the DMCA as a convenient way to suppress web sites (link via BookNotes) without the bother of legal justification: a particularly clear example of the DMCA stripping rights away from US citizens and draping them around well-padded corporate shoulders.

Dear Senator Feinstein:

In recent news coverage of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, I read the following quote from "Howard Gantman, a spokesman for Feinstein": "We need to protect copyrights and this law was designed to do that."

I find this attitude deeply troubling. Copyright was already well-established law, and laws are meant to be enforced, not protected. Human beings need to be defended and protected; laws do not, except in so far as legislators may try to defend a particular law against other legislators in debate.

If there's one common theme to the Bill of Rights, it's the need to protect American citizens from such "preventative" legislation. There's no doubt that police officers and public prosecutors would sometimes more easily enforce the law if those amendments, and other troublesome parts of the Constitution, could be conveniently dropped. But if those provisions did not exist, much too much added power would be gained by the wealthy and politically powerful at the expense of the relatively powerless. Our Constitutional protections help level the legal playing field.

The DMCA is a classic example of the kind of legislation that citizens need protection from:

  • It is based on a presumption by the powerful (large corporations) that the relatively powerless (the individual purchaser) is the guilty party in any dispute.

  • It specially privileges the rights of the wealthy (who can buy into patented encryption and distribution methods) over the rights of the less wealthy human beings who actually do the work of creating what corporate lawyers like to call "intellectual property" but who are unlikely to be able to afford the extra layer of protection.

  • In the name of protecting copyright and preventing piracy, it criminalizes human beings who have never themselves violated copyright or committed piracy.

Public domain and fair use are always under attack by large media companies, but defense of those concepts is absolutely essential to the cultural health and heritage of a nation. Profitability is the only rule that can be followed by a publicly-held corporation, but there are reasons besides profitability for making our culture and history available. (To take an example of special interest to California, much American film history will be forever lost over the next few decades: films deteriorate, inaccessible, in vaults because the multinational corporations which own them do not see sufficient profitability in making them accessible to the public.) Those non-profit-oriented reasons don't have a chance without public domain and fair use.

But the DMCA assumes that the best way to avoid disputes over public domain and fair use is to guarantee absolute power to the large media companies.

There is no requirement that a digitally protected work automatically unprotect itself once its content enters into the public domain.

There is no requirement for fair use workarounds to digital protection. On the contrary, even investigating such a workaround is criminalized.

There is no way for the consumer and scholar to protect themselves against the industry-driven shifts in media technology fashion which seem to take place every decade or so. To take another example from American film history, several of the great early sound movies of Ernst Lubitsch have never been released on VHS tape or on DVD, due to lack of anticipated profitability. They were, however, released briefly in the now-obsolete laserdisk format. Laserdisk players are getting rarer and more expensive, and will someday will be virtually unattainable. Purchasers of the Lubitsch laserdisks -- film schools, for example -- are able to preserve their investment by backing them up to another media format. If those disks had been copy-protected, the movies contained on them would effectively be lost to the public. Similarly, if 78 RPM records could have been copy-protected, there would be little left of the early history of jazz or blues by the time copyright restrictions ran out. Only the most consistently profitable works can survive such technological shifts.

There is no consumer protection against profit-gouging deals between large corporations. An early target of DMCA enforcers was software that allows DVDs to be played on the Linux operating system. Microsoft was able to cut a deal with the relevant media corporations, and thus gain extra leverage against any competitor; Linux, as a free operating system, could not. Should the manufacturer of a copy of a fifty-year-old movie really be given so much influence over the purchaser's home computer setup? Again, the DMCA criminalizes consumer protection.

Defense of our legal rights against the arbitrary rule of the powerful is what we look to our senators and representatives for. I believe that history will judge the DMCA as harshly as McCarthyism and the Alien and Sedition Acts. I urge the Senator to reconsider her support of this unjust and destructive legislation.

Ray Davis

. . .

The Consolations of Art

I woke around a quarter after three thinking how fundamentalist lunatics buying old weapons reminded me of the chilling final scenario of "Who's Next":

We'll try to stay serene and calm
When Alabama gets the bomb.
Given the oil money involved, I guess it's closer to Texas getting the bomb. And I guess in a manner of speaking Texas has the bomb already. Nevertheless, I think it would do national morale a lot of good if CNN would interview Tom Lehrer.

+ + +

"I can already see the anthrax ad copy" - Half Empty, 04/20/98

The proprietor of dangerousmeta is having an anthraxtastic! 42nd birthday:

dangerousmeta also links to the thoughts provoked in backwater fundamentalist Muslim students by video footage of the WTC attacks. They finally take shelter, of course, in the ready-at-hand theory proffered by every Islamic newsorgan I've looked at:
"I think that this is not the work of an ordinary human being. I think that the criminals are from within the United States. Maybe if a proper investigation is carried out, it may actually be the Jews."
More evidence that folks are pretty much the same all over!

(That is to say, fucking idiots.)

Anyway, not to pull age rank or anything, but I lived in NYC with a biologist who was researching AIDS before anyone knew what caused it or how it was transmitted, and anthrax fear doesn't begin to compare....

. . .

  Peace on Earth, Mistrust towards Man
Photos by Juliet Clark
The Elves of Teegeeack 3

Scariest sight during last month's visit to Los Angeles was the line of normality-starved families waiting to visit The L. Ron Hubbard Winter Wonderland ("Santa's Home in Hollywood").

Department store Santas are disturbing enough; can you imagine the MEST-scarring trauma of a Scientology Santa? "Well, Jimmy, your free personality test indicates that Santa will bring you EVERYTHING YOU WANT FOR THE REST OF ETERNITY if you'll just stuff these copies of Dianetics in your parents' stockings...."

In Hubbard's holiday homily, note his characteristic replacement of wishy-washy "love" with manly paranoid "trust." That was the true meaning of Christmas 2001, all right: No telepathic mind control, no peace!

The nicest sights were at the Getty Museum's Devices of Wonder exhibition. Gadgets through the ages isn't that novel a curatorial idea, but not many curators get to plunge fist-first into Getty-sized pockets: a Chardin, for example, is casually thrown on as illustrative spice....

As usual in high-concept historical surveys, the contemporary work included seems an ill-advised afterthought. I'm not even sure what they were afterthinking: our investment-oriented rhetoric-privileging high art world pointedly shares neither intent nor craft with infotainment manufacturers. Better to just borrow a corner of the Exploratorium, or fill a plastic tub with boing-boing-ed swag.

On the other hand, the Joseph Cornell boxes fit right in, especially the knock-down twist-around pick-me-up gorgeous "Beehive (Thimble Forest)" -- with silver bells/boughs sadly frozen, though, by the conflict typical of such exhibitions: the fine art museum relies on preservation whereas the artifact relies on manipulation, and they compromise in mere display. Perhaps deep pockets somewhere sometime might be persuaded to provide replicas in the gift shop...?

Beehive (Thimble Forest)

. . .

Nobody Knows I'm Dear

Turbulent Velvet is right that mean-spirited uncivil attack is the discursive norm in contemporary American culture, and that any public discourse left to its own devices will veer in that direction.

Alex Golub is further right that that same corporate-made-flesh norm drives us, mooing and ineffectually kicking those pressed close behind, to infinite extension, followed by suffocation, of copyright.

"Ideology" is too figureheading a word to reliably take a stand on any one ground, but there should be some term for a culture's mostly unspoken, slavishly followed, and clearly inadequate notions of human effort and pleasure: for that which is expressed and maintained passively through (paraphrasing T.V.) exhaustion and impatience as much as actively through fear or vanity or ignorance. In some cultures, altruism is the standard rhetorical stance and people are hypocrites about everything else. In ours, aggressively selfish he-with-the-most-toys-wins competition is the standard, and it's anything other than playing-to-win that's seen (and hidden and dismissed) as perverse.

My optimism (such as it is) rests (or exerts itself [such as it does]) in my knowledge of the failure of that norm to fully satisfy or explain human realities. There are delights and desires outside the purely competitive; even here and now, some people can sometimes share that recognition.

  Lest you think me insufficiently bitter and cynical -- I'm not, honest! -- I hasten to protest that sympathetic, kind, companionable, or harmlessly intrigued intentions in themselves are no guarantee of followthrough, success, coherency, or even sincerity. It's just I'm bitter and cynical enough to think the same caveats hold when people express intentions like greed, vindictiveness, power-grabbing, or lust. Most straight guys, for example, can't tell the difference between lust and a hole in the ground -- but that's another topic for another day. For today, it may be enough to remember how often vehemently expressed greed leads to bankruptcy. All motives are unreliable -- so why selectively repress sociable motives in favor of the sociopathic?

For every 19,800 announcements of eradicated Mr. Nice Guys, we gain only 75 restored or replaced Mr. Nice Guys. Since Mr. Nice Guys are, in fact, a defining comfort of civilized existence, what are we to do?

One of the things I like about the Journal of Personality & Social Psychology is, after they diagnose some way we're fucked up, they try to hack a workaround. (But that's social engineering! Yes, and just talking is social engineering. Coming up with the original hypothesis and putting experimental subjects through the embarrassment and publishing the results are all social engineering. And when newspapers rabidly seize upon some stereotype-reinforcing abstract and caricature it in headlines, that's primo social engineering.)

In "Norm of Self-Interest and Its Effects on Social Action", Rebecca K. Ratner & Dale T. Miller summarize earlier (North American, I presume) studies: Contrary to selfish assumptions, having a personal stake or vested interest in an issue doesn't unduly affect a person's attitudes or opinions about it. Stakes and interests do, however, make it more likely that one's attitudes will be acted on.

The easy, passive, explanation is that this reflects the miraculous power of selfishness.

Instead, it turns out to be caused more by a presumed injunction against altruism. Volunteers insist on explaining, no matter how unconvincingly, their motives as selfishness ("It gets me out of the house," "I like the people I work with"). Non-volunteers -- notably those who remain silent while others are slandered, or passed over, or pushed in -- point out that "It's not my place to interfere," "People will wonder why I'm making a fuss." It's like they'll be perceived as rude.

Horrifyingly, their presumption is right. Among the (North American, I presume) subjects of these studies, public action and public protest truly are likely to draw disapproval when there's no obvious self-interest involved. "Naturally," on the other hand, when there is obvious self-interest, the dominent whatsit is confirmed and strengthened.

But Ratner & Miller, tinkering with this awful machinery, found that if the action is framed to make it seem more legitimate or less objectionable (e.g., through anonymity, or by explicit inclusiveness, as in "everyone wins, it's a win-win, don't worry, people will think you're being selfish"), even nonvested citizens become much more likely to act on their beliefs. Once they grow accustomed to that luxury, who knows what might ensue? Multiple-issue politics even? A boy can dream.

Have we come to this? Imaginary vests and an underground of good intentions? Very well then, if that's the best we can manage....

Act on! Divested, invested, join us, who are not you! You have nothing to lose but your shirts!

. . .

Road Rage

If that fucking wingèd chariot doesn't stop tailgating me, I swear to god I'm just gonna slam on the brakes.

. . .

Rafe Colburn makes a good point but misses the bad one:

The simple fact is that resources for analyzing information are limited, even for the federal government. This became completely obvious in the months after 9/11, when it was gradually revealed that we had more than enough information to track down the hijackers, but we didn't have the resources to piece it all together. This new system is aimed at gathering huge additional amounts of information...
This would be a legitimate argument against IAO if legitimate arguments counted. But national security is not the goal. I'm not talking some "Who watches the watchmen?" subtlety here. If Al Qaeda has a nuclear weapon, John Poindexter is probably who supplied it. (Only for the good of the Party, of course.)

No, the goal of Total Information Awareness is to help the administration follow its real vocation: maintaining political power through hypocrisy; that is, through a combination of personal secrecy and public libel. The Bush family relies on confidential deals, insider trading, erased records, and so on, while the far-right Republican Party has proven to its own satisfaction that any criticism of their policies can be deflected by launching non-sequitur counterattacks on their critics. Intelligence agencies -- "I know everything about you; you know nothing about me" -- are the coziest nests for such rodents.

Poindexter's fully integrated database of information on American citizens would, Colburn's right, be useless for spotting terrorists or predicting attacks. But for tracking down damaging information on a named target, it would work miracles. If any inconvenient witness starts to bring up late-night transfers of funds to foreign banks, or mysterious absences from duty, or college drug use, or vote tampering, or lying under oath, or even what the daughters are doing, just submit a simple query, and opportunities for harassment, news leaks, or assassination will be available in record time.

Kenneth Starr in a box, 24-by-7! Now that's worth paying for!

. . .

All Harrows Even

Again and again Stanley Kubrick glimpsed real horror only to hide it behind catastrophe. (Don't look at its eyes.)

The Shining's church-basement Haunted House props and final popsicle mean nothing. The movie's real horror is how easily the madman we see at the beginning of the film is accepted as a normal husband and father, and how little the perks and pose of artistry require the production of art. The real horror is the certain existence of The Shining 2, The Shining 3, 4, 5, ...

The horror is that Jack D. Ripper retains command.

The horror is that Humbert Humbert never met Claire Quilty.

This is one reason my favorite Kubrick movie is Barry Lyndon. It seems to live in the same world we do, where our actions may or may not have consequences but at any rate remain inconsequential.

This is also one reason I like Patricia Highsmith. There's Ripley, obviously enough, but even scarier the pleasant tourists of Those Who Walk Away:

But it was the fact that Inez knew which fascinated Ray as he watched her laughing and talking, waving a hand gracefully. She might think him dead, murdered by Coleman, but it was not influencing her manner at luncheon. Ray found this fact absorbing. Coleman looked so pleased with himself, as if he had done the right thing, something commendable, something at any rate for which he would never have to apologize to anyone. In a way, it was as if the whole group, Antonio also if he knew, accepted his disappearance, maybe his murder, as no more than fitting.
The horror is we tug at the latex mask and nothing happens.

. . .

Educated and Uneducated Fools

"Mentalizing Deficits Constrain Belief in a Personal God"
by Ara Norenzayan, Will M. Gervais, & Kali H. Trzesniewski, PLoS ONE 7.5 (2012)

"Cognitive biases explain religious belief, paranormal belief, and belief in life's purpose"
by Aiyana K. Willard & Ara Norenzayan, Cognition 129 (2013)

"That's All" by Sister Rosetta Thorpe

"Mole in a Hole" by Richard & Linda Thompson

Many, maybe most, of the most understanding, generous, and actively good people I've known express (sheepishly, apologetically) some intuition of "a god" or "a soul." Which is why I haven't been gung ho for atheist proselytizers: I don't feel threatened by personal-belief-in-god(s) so much as by proselytizers.

Like other social psychology studies, these two rely on completely unrepresentative sample populations. However, as social psychologists have shown, we credit the accuracy of reports which confirm our prejudices. Therefore I judge them fine studies.

But also trouble from the get-go. You see, while the authors are professionally committed to secular causality, and presumably also willing to endorse Theory of Mind, they exhibit no opinion whatsoever as regards mind-body dualism and the existence of divinities. They aim to explain belief and disbelief by something other than those propositions' self-evident truth or error.

Which grossly flatters neither of the posited parties. Which means the ball's up for grabs.

And so I wished the papers' authors and editors had kept the likelihood of misreading foremost in mind. I appreciate their not using autism as headline bait in their title; still, they could have kicked off that starter-step more smartly.

Mostly they could have more forcefully distinguished "religion" from "belief in a personal god." A sense that there's something-bigger-than-Phi-il is just one of many nutrients bolted down the maw of the institution. It's neither sufficient nor necessary, and it doesn't link "mentalizing" to "religion-as-we-know-it-best." There's never been a Great Awakening of Unitarian Universalism; bible-belt airwaves don't thunder with embezzlements and threats from the Society of Friends; neither are lynch mobs and heathen burners celebrated for their empathy. And, on the supposed other side of the supposed great divide, although biological evolution isn't "just a theory," it can like the gospels provide fuel for "just another religion" whose salient points are blustering teleology, intolerance, and greed.

Oh, the researchers mention that "living in an area with greater religious attendance increased the odds of believing in God, largely independently of the influence of the cognitive biases"; they mention that applied analytical thinking decreases the odds of believing in God even among extremely helpful people. But with shit like this you gotta mention it every single paragraph, you gotta mention it like the warning on an Academy screener video, you gotta mention it till the rafters ring.

As is, the orthodox have exhibited their usual interpretive care. A SkepticInk member proposed that unequal access to religious feelings is, in itself, a knockout argument against God's existence. A Turkish authority explained the need to indoctrinate autistic children in Islam: "Researchers in the USA and Canada say atheism is a different form of autism." And an all-American troll drew his own mind-reading conclusions from the Turkish authority:

If u choose to leave me message, I will not even read ur comments let alone reply back because It's pointless to argue with a person who has limited cognitive ability, especially a person whose not even aware of it bait me into an immature, endless illogical argument. I don't wanna pick of the handicapped or as we say now in the era of political correctness..mentally challenged..So, I'm ready 4 all of your thumbs down, angry comments, general insults, personal attacks with no substance& illogical fueled bratty tirades. You can't handle the truth cause literally, you can't cause ur literally a cognitive misfit. I always knew there was something wrong with atheists and this proves it but I know atheists are goin2 try 2 downplay and discredit this study anyway because they don't like the results. That's typical..Well. you know what, it works both ways. They can't have their cake and eat it 2, even though it's their nature..

. . .

The golden age of postmodernism is fifty-six

The most ephemeral of unremunerative essays outlasts the most highly-priced products of my or anyone else's dayjob. Stream-dipping consistently outdraws source-immersion. Whatever melts into air fastest wins.


no dry ice in the house

My first lover and I tried to work our way through The Joy of Sex (a gift) and I can testify that even wet ice has its delights. (Unbeknownst to us, we were also working our way through Goodbye, Columbus, first editioned the year we were fucking born, which just goes to show why people hate nonephemeral writing.)

yes work is sublimation (but is it of the freudian or endothermic variety?)

David Auerbach efficiently condenses Georg Simmel: "money will always be there as a reminder that it will all be torn down soon enough."

. . .

Thoughts worth repressing

I have seen a cluster of such attitudes far too often in the last few years: ..., increased attention to the valorization of women's behavior along with decreased attention to what we used to call the oppression of women, an "encouragement" of men to broaden their "roles" fancy anyone talking about racial roles or class roles!
- Joanna Russ, letter to The Women's Review of Books, Sep. 1986
(from The Country You Have Never Seen: Essays and Reviews)

Possible parallels between "male feminists" and "anti-elitist" American oligarchs?

(Left at "possible" because no way am I going to tease that out myself, you think I'm crazy?)


Josh Lukin:
I attended a WisCon panel on masculinities wherein people were getting all excited about the celebration of male sensitivity that was Iron Man III. So yeah, very very possible.

. . .

Things that scare me ha-ha

I used to describe Ruben Bolling as "Tom Tomorrow except funny." Now I view him through a more beatified glow, like a cross between Herblock and St. Cassian (except funny), the one public voice perceptive and honest enough to have frozen into a continuous throat-shredding scream of disbelief and horror. How better to enjoy Hallowe'en than with his remake of Gaslight?


But, as Dr. Josh Lukin knows, nothing scares me more than dissent:

And a voice said, Nah, nah! You thought it was good...

. . .

Ba-lue Mun-deii Ba-lues-Are : Jolly Coppers

The Policeman
"Jolly Coppers on Parade"

They're coming down the street,
Coming right down the middle.
Look how they keep the beat.
They're as blue as the ocean!

How the sun shines down!
How their feet hardly touch the ground!
Jolly coppers on parade.

Here come the black-and-whites.
Here come the motorcycles.
Listen to those engines roar!
Now they're doing tricks for the children.

Oh, they look so nice,
Looks like angels have come down from paradise,
Jolly coppers on parade.

Oh, mama,
That's the life for me.
When I'm grown
That's what I wanna be.

Coming down the street,
Coming right down the middle.
Look how they keep the beat,
Coming through the heart of the city.

Oh, it's all so nice!
Looks like angels have come down from paradise,
Jolly coppers on parade.

"The Laughing Policeman"
- as sung by Charles Penrose

I know a fat old policeman. He's always on our street.
A fat and jolly red-faced man, he really is a treat.
He's too kind for a policeman, he's never known to frown,
And everybody says he is the happiest man in town.

Oh ha ha...

He laughs upon point duty. He laughs upon his beat.
He laughs at everybody when he's walking in the street.
He never can stop laughing. He says he's never tried.
But once he did arrest a man and laughed until he cried.

Oh hoo hoo...

His jolly face it wrinkled and then he shut his eyes.
He opened his great mouth. It was a wonderous size.
He said "I must arrest you!" He didn't know what for.
And then he started laughing until he cracked his jaw.

Ohhhh hoo hoo...

So if you chance to meet him while walking 'round the town,
Shake him by his fat old hand and give him half a crown.
His eyes will beam and sparkle, he'll gurgle with delight,
And then you'll start him laughing with all his blessed might!

Oh hoo hoo ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha!
Ooooh ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha!
Ahh ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha!
Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha!

The 3rd Degree: A Detailed Account of Police Brutality
by Emanuel H. Lavine, 1930

(The book's title page has it as "A Detailed and Appalling Exposé of Police Brutality," but Manny Lavine never sounds anything near appalled and so I'll stick to the cover's version. The linked PDF excises a few chapters of redundant jollity; if any dear readers simply must have more Lee-Tracy-ish sadism in their lives, let me know and I'll try to oblige.)

It's not what anyone would call an authoritative and deeply considered overview of American policing, but I found this relic of jaundiced journalism worthwhile in a 'twas-ever-thus-except-where-not way. Cops and criminals have always shared a code of silence, with swift vengeance taken against any transgressors (transgressors of the code of silence, that is; not of the law), but it's been far better preserved by the cops: they suffer less competition from amateurs and fewer interruptions by prison, and benefit from open advocacy groups and freely donated propaganda, guaranteeing generation upon generation of apprenticeship. The complicity of the crime reporter is explicitly in evidence. Even the pundit's favorite comparison point was a chestnut by 1930:

It is for the public to decide whether these practices are really necessary and inevitable. The police in Great Britain, infinitely more efficient than our own, operate without resort to violence....

And then as now the police were merely the most broadly distributed and frequently encountered layer of the American system of injustice, handing off to unjustly distributed attorneys and juries, unjust judges, and unjust punishments, with the powerless pushed farther down and the powerful lifted farther up each stage of the way.

What's changed since 1930? Well, here as everywhere else, Americans have become more productive. Quantified goals for fines, arrests, convictions, and prison populations have goosed the good old lazy beat cop. Across the country, civil forfeiture has formalized the shakedown, with great gains in efficiency. Abundant access to militarized weaponry combines with training on the importance of hysterical panic even in the face of underwhelming odds, so that routine-to-unnecessary tasks can begin already escalated and escalate on from there. There are fewer second-gen Irish on the force and more of anyone else who can follow the rules of the game. And we've now got a genuine fully-attested crook at the top of American law enforcement. The meritocracy works!

What's next? Frankly, I don't see much room for further improvement. Maybe it's time to outsource?


Copyright to contributed work and quoted correspondence remains with the original authors.
Public domain work remains in the public domain.
All other material: Copyright 2015 Ray Davis.