Gentlemen, this will be your last day on Earth

The plans have been leaked. We now know what will happen at the woman-only screenings of Wonder Woman. Gal Gadot is going to turn to the audience, and…

“Man’s time is over,” she said. “They have done all that they will do, all they are capable of doing.” And then she grabbed Chris Pine by the hair and slit his throat with a big double-edged axe that we’re pretty sure was not in the comics but that’s Hollywood for you.

“This is the labrys,” she told the audience as Chris Pine sputtered and choked on his own blood. “A symbol of woman’s power. It cuts away that which is false. It is a problem and a solution. Look under your seats.”

Each woman pulled a similar double-edged axe from under her seat. We do not know where they came from. We did not put them there. The Alamo Drafthouse did not arm the first Amazon Death Squad. We want to make that perfectly clear.

I’m hoping my wife likes me enough to keep me around to do the cooking and cleaning, but if she doesn’t, I have to look at the current occupant of the White House and agree, we fucked up badly.

Wonder Woman and the alt-right conservative cult

The Wonder Woman movie is coming to Morris this weekend! I’m looking forward to it and will be there, even though I’ve been disgusted and disappointed by all the recent DC comic book movies, and despite the fact that the whole Wonder Woman concept has a complicated and somewhat fraught history. I have hopes that this one will be a step up.

But of course the news is all about the men. Alamo Drafthouse theater chain has announced several screenings for women only, and naturally enough, some arrogant privileged men have staggered back in horror and compared themselves to Rosa Parks for refusing to bow down to this awful discrimination.

I’ve got news for them: this is an advertising gimmick. It is not an announcement that they plan to perpetuate ongoing oppression of men, because men as a class are not oppressed. I know this is a shocker, but you can still see Wonder Woman at another showing, not all theaters are trying this promotion, and besides, why do you want to go to a wussy movie that stars a woman as the hero? Aren’t these the same people who were outraged that Ghostbusters was rebooted with a female cast?

Maybe they should go catch a showing of Bound, or Julia, or Tru Love, or The Hours, which are all woman-centric stories, and men are not restricted from watching them. Or maybe Y Tu Mamá También, very sexy, but also confusing for the manly macho types.

Roy Edroso has thoroughly dismasted all the poor boys complaining about giving women only a first shot at the movie, so I won’t rehash all of it, but his opening paragraph brought up something else of concern.

The Trump Presidency is making it hard for even conservatives to take conservatism seriously, so rightwing outlets increasingly avoid The Leader’s nonsense and console themselves with culture-war fantasies. National Review, for example, recently featured long paens to the conservative values of Billy Joel and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, and celebrated the holiday weekend with “The Politically Incorrect Guide to Memorial Day Movies” — which they advertised as “films certain to drive your liberal friends crazy,” because they’re war pictures and liberals all think “serving one’s country in uniform” is just something to be “dismissed or derided.” Take that, Hanoi Jane!

I’ve been getting a fair bit of email from young assholes along the lines of “Your son joined the army? You must be so ashamed of him, you pinko liberal pacifist!”, because of course in the republic right now,

  • believing that we should throw soldiers unprepared with no achievable goal into random combat adventures around the globe is patriotic, while

  • believing that a leaner army with less exploitation by defense industries and commitment only to necessary, limited interventions and defense means you hate our troops.

I have a lot of respect for a responsible, restrained military, and none for the armchair generals and gung-ho bloodthirsty civilians who think war is a glorious thing. To assume that as a liberal I dismiss or deride the men and women in the armed services is equivalent to suggesting that because I think Betsy DeVos is a criminally incompetent twit I must also hate education. It’s a stupid deduction.

I am also proud of my army captain son, as I am of all three of my children. One of the things I can be proudest of is that all of them grew up to be their own independent people with their own ideas (that they actually think about). That I was never tempted to join the military does not imply that I consider that decision to be a bad one. I didn’t raise my kids to be my clones.

I also had grandparents and in-laws and uncles who served with distinction in the army, navy, and marines in WWII; I have family in my generation who served; I have nephews who were in the military. The conservatives have a cartoon version of liberals in their heads, and aren’t shy about projecting it on us despite all evidence that they are wrong.

Another demonstration of the destructiveness of dogma

This is where 4chan, Reddit, and YouTube comment sections have gotten us: the murderer who was arraigned in a Portland court shouted stupid memes at the press.

FREE SPEECH OR DIE, the asshole shouted. Ah, yes, the self-righteous cry of every jerk who gets blocked on twitter or on a blog. He believes he has a right to harass others, and that this is an American right enshrined in the Constitution. Free speech is absolute, and trumps every other privilege, including the right to live. He also doesn’t mean that he’ll die if you abridge his right to say any dumbass thing to anyone, anywhere, any time — he means that he’ll kill you if you don’t respect his right to compel you to listen to him.

YOU CALL IT TERRORISM, I CALL IT PATRIOTISM, he claimed in response to nothing at all. You know, every terrorist kills out of a sense of loyalty to a faith, a country, an ethnic group. You can be a patriot without punching people in the neck with a knife.

He hoped his victims all died, and THAT’S WHAT LIBERALISM GETS YOU. Incorrect. That’s what decades of demonization of liberal thought gets all of us, it breeds mindless haters who recite cant to justify their crimes, who kill people in righteous indignation at being argued with, who go to prison convinced that they are in the right after committing horrible uncivilized acts.

If you’re wondering where he got radicalized, it wasn’t in a mosque.

Please, no more martyrs

Two good men gave their lives in Portland to defend innocent women from a right-wing hate-monger.

Ricky John Best was a father of four and an army veteran. He ran for political office, saying, “I can’t stand by and do nothing”, something we should all be saying.

Taliesin Namkai-Meche was a college student. His last words as he was taken away by the medics were, “Tell everyone on this train I love them”.

The survivor of the attack, Micah David-Cole Fletcher, opposed prejudice against Muslims and said “I just hope that people are listening and try to do something about it.”

The women are horrified.

Republican party representatives, on the other hand, are looking at this situation and suggesting that maybe they ought to hire more white nationalist religious fanatics as security guards.

Multnomah County GOP chair James Buchal, however, told the Guardian that recent street protests had prompted Portland Republicans to consider alternatives to abandoning the public square.

I am sort of evolving to the point where I think that it is appropriate for Republicans to continue to go out there, he said. And if they need to have a security force protecting them, that’s an appropriate thing too.

Asked if this meant Republicans making their own security arrangements rather than relying on city or state police, Buchal said: Yeah. And there are these people arising, like the Oath Keepers and the Three Percenters.

Asked if he was considering such groups as security providers, Buchal said: Yeah. We’re thinking about that. Because there are now belligerent, unstable people who are convinced that Republicans are like Nazis.

Hmm. Maybe if you don’t want to be thought of as like Nazis, you shouldn’t be identifying with murderous fascist kooks and suggesting that far right white nationalist groups and rabid anti-government militias like the Oath Keepers and Three Percenters are legitimate supporters of your political party.

But please, no more deaths of good people. Let’s destroy these goons at the ballot box.

Pornographers, spiritual and secular

I was just reading this thought-provoking essay by Alan Levinovitz, The Awful Pleasures of Spiritual Pornography. Oooh, “spiritual pornography”, I wonder what that is, I thought. Levinovitz provides two examples: this is a review of Out of the Ashes: Rebuilding American Culture by Anthony Esolen and The Benedict Option: A Strategy for Christians in a Post-Christian Nation by the unpleasant Rod Dreher. And I have to say, this kind of pornography isn’t fun at all.

…the soul of these books is not love of God; it is bitter loathing of those who do not share it. They are a kind of spiritual pornography that works against spiritual regret, designed to arouse climactic cries of Yes! Yes! in its readers, pleasing the soul’s darker parts by swapping a hollow fantasy of physical union for an equally hollow fantasy of moral warfare: a Manichean vision of a virtuous few battling mightily against everyone else.

The basic engine of what I read — and its intended effect on readers — is little different from that of 19th-century anti-Catholic literature, the Left Behind series, Frank Peretti’s This Present Darkness, and Jack Chick’s wild-eyed cartoon tracts. Spiritual pornography, in all of its incarnations, stars easy heroes and villains. The heroes are idealizations of the target audience, which encourages narcissism, and the villains are caricatures of The Other, which encourages bigotry. And although a little spiritual pornography probably does no lasting harm, frequent, concentrated doses can seriously damage individual souls, and, worse, society at large.

I have to wonder if Dreher would find the comparison to Jack Chick to be terribly déclassé, but still rather flattering, in a vulgar way. He might think you’ve gone a bit too far if you point out another example of spiritual pornography, The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, which similarly treats the outgroup as literal child-murdering servants of Satan. But then this review makes a fairly safe accusation: that it’s not Jews or Catholics that are the new targets, but those damned liberal secularists. Dreher and Esolen would be fine with that, because their entire oeuvre is about how they deserve condemnation.

“Anti-Catholicism has always been the pornography of the Puritan,” observed Richard Hofstadter in his classic essay, “The Paranoid Style in American Politics,” using as his exemplar a hugely popular 19th-century fabrication by one Maria Monk, who accused priests of systematically raping nuns, then baptizing and murdering whatever children resulted.

The 21st-century equivalent is not anti-Catholic but anti-secular, a category capacious enough for atheists, reform Jews, New Age mystics, nihilist Nietzscheans, even liberal Christians — the last of these described by Dreher, derisively, as “moralistic therapeutic deists,” and Esolen, appallingly, as Persecutors and Quislings — anti-anyone, really, whose religiosity is deemed less austere than that of the pornographer.

Calling spiritual pornography a fantasy helps to evoke its psychological appeal, but the world it conjures up is closer to that of the fairy tale. Both genres are built on two foundational features: dramatic arcs that proceed from Order to Disorder to Order, and clearly defined roles and rules that map neatly onto good and evil. It’s a world that trades humans for archetypes, nuance for simplicity, and the tangled skein of history for the orderly vectors of myth — but if you’re on the side of the angels, living in it feels really, really good.

I have to confess that I think this is where the atheist movement has gone astray, and has too often veered into secular pornography — we possess a kernel of truth, that there is absolutely no evidence for gods, or even a coherent definition of what a god is, and it’s all too easy to segue from that grain of true knowledge to an absolute certainty that those who don’t agree with us are total idiots in all things. We demonize them right back.

It gets worse when the only time atheists find common cause with religious absolutists is when they find another scapegoat to abuse. Right now we have a sect of atheists who have decided that one religious group, the Muslims, are wronger than another religious group, the Christians, so they argue about which one is more evil and form alliances to wage war on whole cultures and suggest that maybe we should convert them from one wrong philosophy to another wrong philosophy as a tool of pacification.

What we should be arguing, as atheists, is that all of them are wrong about the indefensible god-nonsense, but that all of them, like us, are humans who have one life to live, and who come from long lines of humans with rich histories and diverse cultures that we ought to acknowledge and respect. Our obligation as atheists is to protect the rights and dignity of all of our fellow human beings, not to use differences in belief as a pretext to deny those rights and dignities to other human beings. We should, as people of science, be in universal agreement that all people are people, with equal rights, including a right to live and think freely.

Yes, it feels really, really good to live in the reality of True Science and Reason. It feels a lot less good when you’re trapped in that reality with people who seriously argue that all those outside of our shared intellectual domain ought to be arrested, deported, bombed, and tortured, who doubt the intellectual capacity of people with darker skins, or people who were brought up in a different faith tradition. You’ve joined the so-called Rationality Club only to discover it’s also open to secular pornographers.

It’s kind of disillusioning.

The pig-man gets more press

The media do like their kooks. They’re far more entertaining than the truth. So once again, the ludicrous Eugene McCarthy, the man who believes humans are the product of hybridization between pigs and chimpanzees, gets a long write-up that dwells far too long on McCarthy’s pathetic rationalizations. His justifications are superficial and often wrong: they amount to looking in a mirror, and noticing that we’re kinda mostly hairless, just like pigs, and we have lots of body fat, like pigs, and we have organs, just like pigs, and we’re bipedal, just like pigs, and we have tusks, just like pigs, and we have nipples, just like pigs, and we have 12 of them, just like pigs, and we’re even-toed ungulates, just like pigs…you get the idea. He’s an idiot, but he’s an idiot who makes long pseudoscientific lists with sciencey terms, so he impresses the rubes.

His ill-informed views get another long airing in which he gets to present his self-pitying schtick of being a martyr to intolerant scientists, and how he’s a true revolutionary who’s going to change the modern paradigm. He’s basically full of shit. The whole article could have been truncated to its early statement of the premise:

Since the early ‘80s, he has believed that humans are the result of an errant sexual encounter between our closest relative, the chimpanzee, and the animal with which we seemingly share all aforementioned traits: the pig.

Followed by this one paragraph buried deep in the story:

The most damning refutation of McCarthy’s hypothesis is “the absence of any pig or pig-related genes in the human genome,” according to Roger Butlin, a professor of evolutionary biology at the University of Sheffield in Britain. Instead, the human genome is “entirely consistent” with the explanation that humans are great apes, most recently sharing an ancestor with living chimps and bonobos, he said.

Yep. If we were pig-chimp hybrids, it would jump out at us from the data. The sequences aren’t there. We’re done.

But the article goes on. McCarthy has an excuse — he always has an excuse.

If McCarthy did crave more recognition from mainstream experts (he doesn’t, he insists), his best bet would be to look for a signature unique to pigs in the DNA of humans but not other apes, said John McDonald, a biology professor at the University of Georgia and a former advisor of McCarthy’s.

A few years ago, McCarthy tried to do just that. He and a friend wrote a computer program to search the human genome for traces of pig hybridization. But the task was too computationally intensive. “It would have taken a lifetime to process the data on the small computers we had access to,” he said.

So he tried to reinvent BLAST, a publicly accessible program that you can run on NIH’s computers over the internet, and couldn’t get it to go. You know, ya great goofy loon, you could also pick up any of a number of molecular phylogeny papers and find that other people have done the work for you. That’s what molecular phylogeny is all about: you gather a bunch of DNA sequences from a bunch of different species, and you compare them and weigh the differences, and you throw them into a computer program that churns through all the species and all the genes and spits out a summary of how closely related they are. It’s been done! The pig and chimp lineages separated in the Cretaceous.

Can we just be done with this? Media, ignore the clown capering over there — there are good science stories to discuss.

I do have to end with one final quote from McCarthy.

There’s also another reason McCarthy remains so attached to his ideas: He believes altruism, not competition, is the way of the world. With neo-Darwinism and natural selection, competition is a fact of life, and that logic can be used to justify war, conflict, and ethnic cleansing (“Darwin’s biggest fan was Hitler,” he said).

That’s a common creationist claim, but it’s wrong. Hitler was not a fan of Darwin, and even if he were, it would not have the slightest implications for the truth of the theory.

Jim Watson needs to retire to a nice, remote beach somewhere far from everyone else

Dr. James Watson, Cold Spring Harbor, NY, 7.23.06

It’s long past due. He’s been shooting himself in the foot and then stuffing it in his mouth to gnaw on it for decades. He was in the news for his racist, sexist views ten years ago.

The article is like a summary of Watson’s greatest gaffes.

In 1997, he told a British newspaper that a woman should have the right to abort her unborn child if tests could determine it would be homosexual. He later insisted he was talking about a “hypothetical” choice which could never be applied. He has also suggested a link between skin colour and sex drive, positing the theory that black people have higher libidos, and argued in favour of genetic screening and engineering on the basis that “stupidity” could one day be cured. He has claimed that beauty could be genetically manufactured, saying: “People say it would be terrible if we made all girls pretty. I think it would great.”

Zuska has another one.

He smiles. “Rosalind is my cross,” he says slowly. “I’ll bear it. I think she was partially autistic.” He pauses for a while, before repeating the suggestion, as if to make it clear that this is no off-the-cuff insult, but a considered diagnosis. “I’d never really thought of scientists as autistic until this whole business of high-intelligence autism came up. There is probably no other explanation for Rosalind’s behaviour.

At that time I thought he was a horrible old man but I argued that he ought to have the right to speak freely…and he does. He speaks very freely. But what he says is neither intelligent nor insightful, and he doesn’t deserve respect for his stupid opinions. Especially when tolerance just means he never learns and keeps doing the same thing over and over again.

Now the Carl Woese Institute for Genomic Biology at Illinois has cancelled an invitation to speak.

A research institute at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign agreed to host James Watson, a Nobel laureate whose work is credited with discovering the structure of DNA, to give a lecture there. But the event was quickly called off amid faculty concerns about whether it was appropriate to host someone like Watson, whose statements have been widely condemned as racist.

Watson has made numerous controversial comments over the years and also has been condemned for sexist and homophobic statements.

But his comments on race have led many to say he should be shunned.

In a 2007 interview, he said that he was “inherently gloomy about the prospect of Africa” because “all our social policies are based on the fact that their intelligence is the same as ours — whereas all the testing says not really.” Further, he said that while people hope that all groups are equal, “people who have to deal with black employees find this not true.” (He also said that some black people are smart, and has apologized, although many question the sincerity of his apology.)

I had dinner with Watson at a small restaurant in New York several years ago. It was the most uncomfortable two hours of my life. All he wanted to talk about was race, and the conversation was all about our geneaology. He asked what my ancestry was, and when I told him half Scandinavian, half Scot/English/Irish he immediately judged me acceptable company, and started explaining my personality to me. Scandinavians are intelligent but cold and aloof, and share the same problems that the Japanese have: they are among the smartest people in the world, but they lack the passion and drive to accomplish great things. You know who may not be as intrinsically intelligent, but make up for it with their aggressive need to get things done? The Scots/Irish! Best people on the planet! The perfect combination of ambition and smarts!

I think he thought he was flattering me, but I just wanted to sink into my chair and down through the floor and drop into a subway tube. Heck, dropping into a sewer line would be preferable.

It was difficult to get a word in edgewise with this guy, but after that pronouncement he looked at me expectantly — I could tell there was a question he wanted me to ask. So I obliged, knowing exactly what the answer would be. “So, Jim, what’s your ancestry?”

“Scots/Irish!” he cackled.

And then he regaled the table with tales of brave explorers and pioneers and soldiers, all his people. I tried to strike up a conversation with his wife, instead, who seemed very nice and a little distressed at her husband’s mania.

So, yes, I’ve heard more than enough of Jim Watson. I think we all ought to be a bit Watsoned out at this point, and I don’t see any purpose in inviting him to give public lectures anymore. You never know: he might launch into a fact-free fairy tale about having dark skin, being fat, and being over-sexed as linked properties caused by exposure to the sun and living in tropical countries, illustrated with a slide show of women in bikinis.

He really did that.

I’m just surprised that any professional organization would be so unaware of his reputation that they’d invite him in the first place.