A tree poll!

I mentioned that one of the dignified trees in our yard was marked for death — we got the detailed diagnosis. It’s Dutch Elm disease. We have some guys coming by on Monday to hack it to death and haul away its dismembered limbs.

But it’s not all sad and grisly news. We’ve also talked to the city, and they’ve given us their list of trees to be planted around town this fall (the number is how many of each they have on hand), and we can get on the list and name a preference.

10) Accolade Elm
10) Acer Sienna Maple
5) Hackberry
5) Deborah Maple
5) Thornless Hawthorn
10) Cathedral Elm
5) Ivory Silk Japanese Tree Lilac
10) Siouxland Poplar
5) Ironwood
5) Bur Oak
10) Northern Acclaim Locust
5) Silver Maple
5) Willow Weeping

We’re going to do some research ourselves, but I thought I’d be lazy and ask all of you readers — which ones do you like and why?

YouTube, where atheism goes to rot

I haven’t been on YouTube for quite a while. I wonder why?

Oh. This is why.

I stopped bothering because I didn’t want to be associated with these goons, and it didn’t matter what I said…any video would be swarmed with abuse. Every once in a while I tell myself I shouldn’t surrender the medium so easily and that I should at least make a little effort now and then, but meh…I’d have to come up with a vainglorious name, figure out how to animate a goofy avatar, and learn how to overlook a lot of gross logical fallacies.

Maybe I should take up some invitations to appear on more youtube podcasts, but the latest one I got just today…hoo boy. I don’t accept blindly, so I looked up some of their recent videos, and first thing I saw was one announcing that transgenders are mentally ill, and decided that no, I can just ignore that person forever and not miss anything of interest.

We might be able to get a few of us on FtB to try a joint project, but again, I think they all share Steve Shive’s impression of the youtube atheist community.

Gender Workshop: The Joys of Hospitalization

As always, Gender Workshop is brought to you by your friendly neighbourhood Crip Dyke.

For the past two months I’ve been staying in a hospital – you know, one of the places where people are relentlessly educated and re-educated on ending the stigmatization of health conditions. Even better, I been staying in a Canadian hospital, where the perfect joy of a Utopian health system goes entirely uninterrupted.  [Read more…]

O’Reilly needs to join Ailes in exile

Michelle Obama has reduced the right wing to spluttering excuses with one simple fact: slaves built the White House. But it’s true! The White House is located in the South, between Maryland, a slave state which didn’t ban slavery until 1864, and Virginia, which fought on the other side in the Civil War. Of course slaves were heavily used in the construction.

But now we’re seeing standard neo-Confederate apologetics on Fox News. But the slaves were treated kindly by their masters, suggests Bill O’Reilly.

After Michelle Obama’s speech mentioned “a house built by slaves” as part of a beautiful rhetorical arc putting the lie to the idea of some fabled perfect America of some unspecified past, the usual suspects have been performing their gymnastics, trying to reclaim the myth of the perfect Founding Fathers. Bill O’Reilly is just one of them, but yup, he uses the phrase “Slaves that worked there were well-fed and had decent lodgings provided by the government.” He needs to watch Roots again, but the thing that gets me on these usual suspects is, they so often seem to be the same ones bleating “give me liberty or give me death” when confronted with what seem to me to be constraints that are… a little bit less than actual enslavement.

Exactly. People who wax wroth about losing their twitter privileges or having to leave their assault rifle at home are now protesting that slavery wasn’t so bad for the slaves.

O’Reilly needs to be fired. It won’t be so bad…he’s rich, he can count on steady revenue from speaking engagements with the KKK and the League of the South. He’ll continue to be well fed and have decent lodgings. As long as he’s got that, we can do anything we want to him.

First frost can’t get here soon enough

I try to get out to walk a few miles twice a day, which is normally fine and pleasant, but conditions have changed. Right now…

  • It is warm

  • We’ve had almost daily rainstorms for the past several weeks

  • This is Minnesota.

Do you know what this means, boys and girls?

The air is equal parts humidity and mosquitos. I walk down the sidewalk doing a slappy dance, fighting off clouds of carnivorous chitin, screaming out stuff like “Aaargh, not in the eye, you filthy bugger!” and “Yikes, how did you get in there?” and assorted incoherent epithets, occasionally having to spit out bugs, which is the downside of opening your mouth to cuss ’em out. Avoid bushes. Do not step in the grass. Anything with vegetation is a hive of evil that will stir itself at any dissturbance.

I’ve finally arrived at the safety of my office, raked the mangled corpses out of my beard (I have that bit of protection going for me), and can relax a little bit. I imagine it’s a bit like living in the Carboniferous.

Now you know why Minnesotans don’t mind winter so much. It murders the vicious little bitey bastards.

Stop making Tarzan movies, please


We just got back from the new Legend of Tarzan. It was a mistake to go. It was a mistake to make this movie. Please, Hollywood, next time someone proposes to make a Tarzan movie, haul out the original source books and slap someone with them hard. You simply can not make a movie from them anymore.

I say this as someone who grew up on the Tarzan novels — my father had first edition hardcover copies of these things (which, as a child, I ruined by scrawling all over them in crayon), and I read them and enjoyed them. It was only as I got old enough to actually think about the content that I became uncomfortable.

They are irredeemably racist. They are built on a foundation of racist theories, and they openly revel in racist stereotypes. I could find them entertaining as an oblivious white kid, but once you grow up, you have to wake up to the context. And the context is intolerable.

Consider the stories. “Tarzan” is a word in Edgar Rice Burroughs’ fictitious ape language that means…”white skin”. The apes in the story knew of humans, but only black humans — and being white was the singular remarkable feature of the foundling child who was raised by the apes. This whiteness — and the fact that he was the child of an English lord — bestowed upon him remarkable physical and mental abilities, so that he was able to teach himself both French and English from primers that his deceased parents had rescued from the shipwreck that stranded them on the savage coast of Africa.

Note that Tarzan’s parents died almost immediately after he was born, so he had no knowledge of language or writing, but could bootstrap himself into literacy from moldering books in his parents’ cabin. I know, it’s a fantasy story, but this is a genuinely superhuman feat by a baby who was being fed on grubs and fruit by a family of apes.

A frequently ignored element of the books is the nearby African village, which is inhabited by classic stereotypes. The black people living there are cruel, superstitious, and stupid; many of the early stories are about how Tarzan gleefully torments and steals from the village, which he’s able to do because, well, he’s a white man, and they’re mere simple-minded negroes. This is treated as entirely natural and appropriate for an English lord to do. This feature is not in this current movie, but take a look at the portrayal of Africans in the old movies. You should cringe.

There are odious assumptions galore here. Burroughs wasn’t particularly original in his best-selling novel — the story used implicit prejudices common in Western culture at the time. For instance, take a look at the swamping argument of Fleeming Jenkin against evolution — doesn’t this sound very familiar?

Suppose a white man to have been wrecked on an island inhabited by negroes, and to have established himself in friendly relations with a powerful tribe, whose customs he has learnt. Suppose him to possess the physical strength, energy, and ability of a dominant white race, and let the food and climate of the island suit his constitution; grant him every advantage which we can conceive a white to possess over the native; concede that in the struggle for existence his chance of a long life will be much superior to that of the native chiefs; yet from all these admissions, there does not follow the conclusion that, after a limited or unlimited number of generations, the inhabitants of the island will be white. Our shipwrecked hero would probably become king; he would kill a great many blacks in the struggle for existence; he would have a great many wives and children, while many of his subjects would live and die as bachelors; an insurance company would accept his life at perhaps one-tenth of the premium which they would exact from the most favoured of the negroes. Our white’s qualities would certainly tend very much to preserve him to good old age, and yet he would not suffice in any number of generations to turn his subjects’ descendants white. It may be said that the white colour is not the cause of the superiority. True, but it may be used simply to bring before the senses the way in which qualities belonging to one individual in a large number must be gradually obliterated. In the first generation there will be some dozens of intelligent young mulattoes, much superior in average intelligence to the negroes. We might expect the throne for some generations to be occupied by a more or less yellow king; but can any one believe that the whole island will gradually acquire a white, or even a yellow population, or that the islanders would acquire the energy, courage, ingenuity, patience, self-control, endurance, in virtue of which qualities our hero killed so many of their ancestors, and begot so many children; those qualities, in fact, which the struggle for existence would select, if it could select anything?

Everyone took for granted the natural “physical strength, energy, and ability of a dominant white race”, and that it was only to be expected that “he would kill a great many blacks in the struggle for existence” and that he would rule over the inferior inhabitants of Africa. Burroughs took this presumption and combined it with a feral child story, and voila, Tarzan.

The new movie struggles to overcome the racist subtext of the story, but fails. It’s implicit. In this case, the writers have made some heroic black characters, and rather than robbing and tormenting the black tribes, White Skin has now arrived to save them from colonial marauders.

I shouldn’t have to spell out the problem with that.

Note also that — SPOILER ALERT, I’m about to tell you the end of the movie, but really, you should not care

[Read more…]