Caturday: Team Tabby on the Cat Condo

And now, some cute pictures of our kittens.

We’ve taken to calling Talisker and Comet “Team Tabby.” The two of them just seem like a unit sometimes: they love to tussle, and they love to snuggle, and they love to chase each other up and down and up and down and up and down the hall. They very much have their own distinct personalities, and even their own distinct looks… but sometimes when they snuggle, it’s hard to tell who is who, and it just looks like an undifferentiated tangle of tabby parts. We got so lucky, getting kittens who are so happy to hang out together.

Here are a few shots of them hanging out together on our cat condo. Which they adore. (And for those of who’ve been asking where we got the cool wicker cat condo: We just got it at PetCo. It’s their eco-groovy brand.) [Read more…]

Happy 50th Birthday To Me… and My Half-Century Cocktail Recipe

Happy birthday to me
I don’t live in a tree
But I look like a primate
Because I am one!

Happy birthday to me! I’m 50 years old today, a fact that I’m mildly weirded out about. On the other hand, as they say, it beats the alternative. And I plan to spend my fifties exploding stereotypes about people in their fifties… so that should be fun. I think the next fifty years are going to RAWK! (Insert embarrassing mental image of middle-aged person making the devil-horns rock-and-roll gesture.)

And we invented a cocktail tonight in honor of the occasion! I’m calling it a Half Century. It’s not wildly freaky or anything — it’s roughly a whiskey sour made with lime juice and cardamom simple syrup — but it’s awfully damn delicious. And it has qualities both of a classic cocktail and a weird modern spicy cocktail, which seems appropriate for the occasion. Plus it has cardamom! Nature’s perfect food. [Read more…]

#mencallmethings: “irrational cunt”

Comment posted here on this blog, in the comment thread about Internet misogyny:

“Go fuck yourself with a knife you irrational cunt.

“We will continue to act as we please and you can continue to bitch and moan, but it’s just going to antagonize us.”

#mencallmethings .

I don’t think this one needs any analysis.

Fashion Friday: Gray

I have been re-thinking gray.

For years, the color palette of my wardrobe was almost entirely either (a) vivid jewel-tone colors or (b) black. What can I say. I’m a sensation junkie. I like extremes. Royal blue, scarlet red, strong black-and-white prints, cobalt, peacock, black black black black black… that’s for me. Forget about earth tones and pastels and browns. They work fine for other people, but on me, they just feel boring. And I felt the same way, only multiplied tenfold, about gray. The word itself evoked tedium, conformity, institutionality, even depression.

But I’ve been paying closer attention lately to what kinds of outfits get my attention on other women. That’s often a clue to directions I should consider for my own wardrobe. And I recently realized that my attention was frequently being caught by gray. So I’ve been re-thinking it. I’ve been experimenting with it. And I’m finding that I’m quite enjoying it.

If I want a neutral to frame a color or a black-and-white print, I don’t always want the harshness/ extremity/ severity of black or white. And gray is often the answer. Gray is still within the basic concept/ palette of black and white, and it does much the same job: being the background vocal to the lead singer, giving a strong signature piece a platform to stand out and do the talking. But gray is softer than black or white, and less demanding of attention. (Ivory or cream is also a good option, for many of the same reasons.)

Gray is also a great way to set off black, in a way that’s not distracting. If I’m wearing a black dress and black boots, for instance, and I want the blackness to be highlighted but not upstaged, gray tights are often a good way to go. Again, it stays within the basic concept/ palette of black, but it’s different enough that it makes the black stand out. Patterned gray tights can be especially sweet: a gray pattern or print adds visual interest to a look, without being too distracting. And on me anyway, I think gray against black looks more thought-out and put-together than the standard all-black ensembles I used to wear so reflexively. (A topic of its own, for another day.)

I also think gray can be interestingly sexy. Because gray is more subtle and muted, it calls attention to texture, inviting you to think less about how the clothing looks and more about how it feels. So if your textures are actually sensual and inviting, that can be very yummy indeed. And because gray is more subtle and muted, you can go shorter in a dress or skirt with it, and still not look trashy.

And I’m finding myself especially intrigued by interesting combinations of grays. If someone is wearing all gray — but it’s all different grays, like a darker gray dress with lighter gray tights and deep charcoal gray shoes, all in different textures and patterns, with silver jewelry to add shine while staying within the theme? If that’s done well, it can look elegant, sophisticated, thoughtfully understated: like an authoritative person speaking in a quiet voice to get attention, or a partygoer who’s confident enough in themselves that they don’t need the whole room to pay attention to them. And it will totally make my head swivel.

You have to be careful with gray, I think. It can be hard to pull off: if it doesn’t work, it can in fact look boring and mousy and institutional. And that’s especially true for an all-gray outfit. All of the pieces have to be interesting and beautiful, with some sort of cool texture or pattern to them, if you don’t want it all to blend into a blobby background sameness.

But if it’s done right, gray doesn’t have to say tedium, conformity, institutionality, depression. Instead, it can say subtlety. Elegance. Class. Calm.

And those are all things I’m interested in saying right now.

Why “Yes, But” Is the Wrong Response to Misogyny

“Yes, but… not all men are like that. And if you’re going to talk about misogyny, you have to be extra-clear about that.”

“Yes, but… misogyny doesn’t just happen in (X) community (atheist, black, gay, etc.). In fact, it’s worse in some other communities. So it’s not fair to talk about misogyny when it does happen in (X) community, as if it’s something special that we’re doing wrong.”

“Yes, but… (X) community where misogyny happens has some great things about it, too. It’s not fair to paint everyone in it with the same brush.”

“Yes, but… the woman/ women in question could have done something to avoid the misogyny she got targeted with. She/ they could have stayed anonymous/ concealed her gender/ dressed differently/etc. I’m not saying it’s her fault, but…”

“Yes, but… the woman/ women in question didn’t behave absolutely perfectly in all respects. Why aren’t we talking about that?”

“Yes, but… the person writing about this incident didn’t behave absolutely perfectly in all respects. Why aren’t we talking about that?”

“Yes, but… there are worse problems in the world. Starving people in Africa, and so on. Why are you complaining about this?”

“Yes, but… gender expectations hurt men, too. Why aren’t we talking about that?”

“Yes, but… people are entitled to freedom of speech. How dare you suggest that speech be censored by requesting that online forums be moderated?”

“Yes, but… calling attention to misogyny just makes it worse. Don’t feed the trolls. You should just ignore it.”

“Yes, but… do you have to be so angry and emotional and over-sensitive about it? That doesn’t help your argument or your cause.”

“Yes, but… what about male circumcision?”

“Yes, but… Rebecca Watson or some other feminist said something mean or unfair in another conversation weeks/ months/ years ago. Why aren’t we talking about that?”

“Yes, but… why is it so terrible to ask a woman for coffee in a hotel elevator at four in the morning?”

It’s depressingly predictable. When an instance of misogyny gets pointed out on the Internet, in a forum big enough to garner more than a couple dozen comments, you’re almost guaranteed to see some or all of these types of comments. It’s happening now. In case you haven’t heard, there was a recent incident on Reddit/ atheism, in which a 15-year-old girl posted a photo of herself holding a copy of Carl Sagan’s Demon-haunted World that her mother had given her for Christmas… and was almost immediately targeted with a barrage of sexualized, dehumanizing, increasingly violent and brutal comments. Including, “Well 15 is legal in many places, including my country, so I’ll only have to deal with abduction charges.” “Relax your anus, it hurts less that way.” “Blood is mother nature’s lubricant.” “Tears, natures lubricant.” “BITE THE PILLOW, IM GOIN’ IN DRY!” And including comments blaming the girl for posting a picture of herself in the first place.

Rebecca Watson and others — including Stephanie Zvan, Ed Brayton, Jason Thibeault, Jen McCreight, John Loftus, and Ophelia Benson — have been pointing out how revoltingly misogynistic this is and why. And the “Yes, but…”s have been coming thick and fast.

It’s depressingly predictable. And it’s depressing that anyone should have to explain why this is a problem. It seems totally obvious to me. But apparently, it’s not so obvious. So I’m going to spell it out. [Read more…]

More Rational Than Thou: When Atheists Buy the “Straw Vulcan” Fallacy

Don’t get me wrong. I think it’s great when atheists and skeptics criticize each other, and point out each others’ mistakes in reasoning. That’s supposed to be one of the cool things about us: we don’t have any sacred cows, we’re willing and indeed eager to question and be questioned, and to change our minds if we’re mistaken.

But I’ve been noticing a type of disagreement cropping up in atheist conversations, and it’s bugging me. It’s when atheists and skeptics criticize each other’s rationality… about entirely subjective questions.

I’ve seen atheists argue that it’s irrational to enjoy drinking. Follow sports. Care about fashion and style. Love our pets. And it’s bugging me. I think it’s pointlessly divisive. I’m fine with being divisive if there’s a point to it — I want us to debate our differences, I don’t want us to march in lockstep — but pointless divisiveness, not so much. And I think it’s a mis-application of the principle of rationality. The “more rational than thou” attitude towards subjective matters is, ironically, not very rational.

Let me start with a premise: Yes, rationality is the best way of determining what is and is not most likely to be true in the external, non-subjective world. What causes rain? Why do people get sick? How did life come into being? Do we continue to live after we die? These are questions with answers. The answers are true, or not, regardless of what we think about them. And the best way to find those answers is to suspend/ counteract our irrationality and our cognitive biases, to the best degree that we can, and gather/ examine the evidence as rationally and carefully as we can. Flashes of irrational insight can sometimes point us in the right direction… but to determine whether that really is the right direction or a ridiculous wild goose chase, rationality is the best tool we have.

But not all questions are questions about the external, non-subjective world. Some questions are subjective. The answers aren’t the same for everybody. If you enjoy drinking/ sports/ fashion/ pets, then you do. If it’s true for you, then it’s true.

Yet atheists and skeptics often treat these subjective questions as if they were objective ones… and scold one another for being irrational when some else enjoys different things than we do. [Read more…]

No, Virginia, There Is No Santa Claus

(For those who aren’t familiar with it — here’s the original.)

“Dear Editor: I am 8 years old. Some of my little friends say there is no Santa Claus. Papa says, ‘If you see it in The Sun it’s so.’ Please tell me the truth; is there a Santa Claus?”

-Virginia O’Hanlon

Virginia, your little friends are right. There is no Santa Claus. It’s a story made up by your parents.

Your friends have been affected by the skepticism of a skeptical age. They do not believe except when they see. And good for them. Skepticism is healthy. It keeps us from being duped by liars and scam artists and people who want to control and manipulate us. More importantly: Skepticism helps us understand reality. And reality is amazing. Reality is far more important, and far more interesting, than anything we could make up about it.

Your friends understand that there is plenty about the world which is not comprehensible by their little minds. They understand that all minds, whether they be adults’ or children’s, are little. They see that in this great universe of ours, humanity is a mere insect, an ant, in our intellect, as compared with the boundless world about us. But your friends also see that the only way we can gain a better understanding of this great universe is to question, and investigate, and not believe in myths simply because they’re told to us by our parents and teachers and newspaper editorial writers.

Or maybe they don’t. Maybe they simply understand that Santa Claus does not freaking exist.

No, Virginia, there is no Santa Claus. Love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy. But Santa Claus does not exist. He is a story made up by your parents. You should be extremely suspicious of anyone who tells you otherwise.

And far more importantly: You should be extremely suspicious of anyone who tells you that you’re a bad person for not believing things you have no good reason to think are true. You should be extremely suspicious of anyone who tells you that, in order to experience love and generosity and devotion, you have to believe in Santa Claus, or any other mythical being there’s no good evidence for. You should be extremely suspicious of anyone who tells you that “childlike faith” — i.e., believing things you have no good reason to think are true — is somehow in the same category as poetry and romance. You should be extremely suspicious of anyone who tells you that the world would be dreary without Santa Claus: that without Santa Claus, the light of childhood would be extinguished, we would have no enjoyment except in sense and sight, and existence would be intolerable. That is one seriously messed-up idea.

Adults know that there is no Santa Claus. If they tell you otherwise, they are lying to you. That’s okay: some parents tell their children that Santa Claus is real as a sort of game, and there’s no evidence that this does any real harm. But if anyone keeps lying to you — about Santa Claus, or anything else — when you ask them a direct question and explicitly ask them to tell you the truth? That’s a problem. And if anyone tries to make you feel ashamed, or inferior, or like your life will be dreary and intolerable, simply because you don’t believe in this lie they’re telling you… you should be extremely suspicious. They are trying to manipulate you. It is not okay.

Not believe in Santa Claus! You might as well not believe in fairies! And that would be excellent. That would be exactly correct. Fairies don’t exist, either. You might get your papa to hire men to watch in all the chimneys on Christmas Eve to catch Santa Claus, and if they did not see Santa Claus coming down, what would that prove? A fair amount, actually. The Santa hypothesis claims that Santa comes down chimneys on Christmas Eve and gives presents to children: if every chimney is carefully watched on Christmas Eve, and nobody sees anybody coming down any of them, that’s very strong evidence that the Santa hypothesis is incorrect. Nobody sees Santa Claus — and that’s a good sign that there is no Santa Claus. There are certainly some things in the world that we can’t see directly — atoms, black holes, radio waves — but we can see or hear or otherwise detect the effect they have on the world. The most real things in the world are those that children and adults can see, or hear, or otherwise detect. Did you ever see fairies dancing on the lawn? Of course not. Nobody has. Nobody has seen any fairy tracks, or fairy nests, or any signs of fairies whatsoever. And that’s pretty good evidence that they are not there.

Nobody can conceive or imagine all the wonders there are unseen and unseeable in the world. But we can try. In fact, trying is one of the finest human aspirations there is. We may tear apart the baby’s rattle and see what makes the noise inside — and if we do, we might get a better understanding of how the rattle works. And in doing so, in understanding how this one small rattle-shaped part of the universe works, we might gain a better understanding of the universe as a whole. But there is no magical veil covering an unseen world. And not the smartest person, nor even the united intellect of all the smartest people that ever lived, has ever given us any good reason to think that there is.

Fancy, poetry, love, romance… all of these are delightful, incredible, hugely important parts of human life. But they are part of the physical world. They are processes of the human brain, developed through millions of years of our evolution as a creative, exploring, social species. That doesn’t make them any less magnificent or wondrous. In fact, many people think it makes them even more magnificent and wondrous. Many people look at the fact that, out of nothing but rocks and water and sunlight, living beings have developed with the capacity for fancy and poetry and love and romance… and we’re knocked out of our seats by how marvelous that is. But there is no supernal beauty and glory beyond the natural world. There is only the natural world. Ah, Virginia, in all this world there is nothing else real and abiding.

And it is completely messed-up to say that faith — i.e., believing in things we have no good reason to think are true — is in the same category as fancy, poetry, love, romance. Fancy and poetry and love and romance connect us with reality. Faith tells us to ignore it. Faith cuts us off from it.

No Santa Claus! That’s right. He doesn’t live, and he never did. A thousand years from now, Virginia, nay, ten times ten thousand years from now, he will still not exist — and no amount of fatuous, manipulative bloviating will make him real. And the heart of childhood is still made glad: by fancy, by poetry, by romance, by beauty and joy, by truth and knowledge, by love and generosity and devotion, and by the boundless magnificence of the universe.

(Oh, and while we’re at it: Your Papa is high. If you see it in the Sun, it is not necessarily so. Do not believe everything you read in the newspaper. Including this one.)

Fashion Friday: Boots

Here’s where I want to start with boots.

There’s this tricky fashion conundrum I’ve been wrestling with for some time. I keep trying to find shoes that look dressy and non-frumpy with skirts and dresses, and that are comfortable enough to walk in for miles.

I walk a lot. Walking is my main form of transportation. If the place I’m going to is an hour’s walk or less, I will almost always walk. It’s exercise; it gets me outside into the sunshine and the world; and I know exactly how long it’s going to take me to get where I’m going, without having to build in a cushion for late buses or bad traffic. Besides, I just love it. Walking a lot feels physically good.

But walking a lot means that my everyday shoes need to be super-comfortable. And I don’t mean “comfortable enough to walk in for a few blocks,” or, “comfortable enough to wear to work when I’m sitting most of the time and walking to other people’s desks now and then,” or, “comfortable enough to stand around at a cocktail party for an hour.” I mean, “comfortable enough to walk in for miles.”

So I need shoes that I can walk for miles in. And at least sometimes, I want to look dressy and non-frumpy when I get there.

(Tangent: And do not freaking tell me about ballerina flats. I don’t know if I have weird feet, or have been buying the wrong ballerina flats, or what. But every pair of ballerina flats I have ever owned has provided me with zero arch support, and has chewed the hell out of the backs of my ankles to boot. My four-inch stilettos are more comfortable. I keep trying, and I keep thinking that this time will be different, and I keep being disappointed yet again.)

My answer, so far: Boots.

Boots look freaking awesome with skirts and dresses. They can look sporty. Rakish. Tough. Sexy. Cutting-edge, retro, timeless. Delicately feminine, swaggeringly masculine, entertainingly genderfucked.

And — very importantly — they do not have to have high heels to look freaking awesome. Low or flat- heeled boots — ankle boots, knee boots, thigh boots — can look entirely gorgeous.

So I can walk in them for miles. I have boots that are more comfortable to walk in than sneakers.

And voila! Dressy and non-frumpy with skirts and dresses; comfortable enough to walk in for miles. Conundrum solved. (Much of the time, anyway.)

But there’s more to it than that. Like I wrote a few weeks ago, in my disquisition on shoes and why so many women get so obsessed with them: Shoes affect how you stand and walk. And in boots, the way I stand and walk is confident, assertive, even athletic. In boots, I have a strong stance, an easy stride. Boots — flat- or low- heeled boots, anyway — give an air of freedom, of being ready for anything: ready to walk for miles, climb a fence, run for a bus, run from the cops, kick someone in the balls, dance all night, fuck all night. Just by how you stand and walk in them.

I guess what I’m saying is: Power.

There’s something about that blend of comfort and confidence, ease and roughness, earthy practicality and showy swagger. It all adds up to power. They make me feel like a pirate. A superhero. Amelia Earhart. Emma Peel.

And, of course, there’s the fetishy aspect. Boots, for whatever obscure reasons buried in the history of sexual culture, are considered by many to be kinky and domme-y and fetishy. Less so with low- and flat-heeled boots — but even those tap into the archetype to at least some extent. (And depending on the low-heeled boots, they can tap into a stone butch or Tom of Finland archetype, if that’s what you’re going for.) Boots, for many people, evoke John Willie and Dita von Teese, Sacher-Masoch and the Velvet Underground’s whiplash girl-child in the dark. And even for people who don’t go there consciously, the echoes and shadows and implications are often still there.

And that makes them powerful, too.

Boots aren’t always perfect. They’re sporty and rakish and so on… which means that for some events and outfits, they’re just not dressy enough, or elegant enough. Sometimes you really need something delicate and strappy and subtle, or delicate and strappy and not-so-subtle. (A different kind of power.) I’m still on the hunt for the perfect pair of dressy, non-frumpy, shoes that I can walk in for miles. Of the non-boot variety, that is.

But the boot variety makes me pretty freaking happy.