I can’t bear a modern American church service

So how intolerable do you think a Nazi church service would be?

In contrast to the post-war myth-making that tried to paint the Nazis as pagans and atheists, Stephen Waldron points out that instead, Nazi Germany was soaking in Christianity, and that the Nazis themselves were fanatically devout, seeing religion as an obliging tool to gain support for an agenda that was anti-semitic, anti-feminist, and anti-intellectual.

We can easily forget how deeply Christian Nazi Germany was. As historian Doris L. Bergen puts it, “Christianity permeated Nazi society” (9).

Although Hitler was not very pious, the 97% of Germans who identified as Christian mostly convinced themselves that he was. [Sound familiar? –pzm]

Most Protestant Christians at the time were ecstatic at the creation of a newly Nazified world. And they went to church.

This new world demanded a renewed church with reinvented liturgies. In the midst of a fierce struggle for control of the churches, the pro-Nazi “German Christian” faction preached sermons, edited Bibles, revised hymn-books, altered liturgies, and changed the church calendar.

The whole thing is terribly familiar. Every aspect of this story reminds us that fascism was something imposed from above by a strong leader, but bubbled up from the inclinations of the citizenry, often tied to religious beliefs in their superiority over others. It’s happening here, right now.

What can we do with the knowledge that Nazi church services were public, masculine, anti-intellectual, anti-Jewish, and nationalist?

Especially in the U.S., we can let go of the idea that the real danger is that fascism could happen. Fascism can happen in everyday life without government control or a dictatorship, and it’s not any better because it isn’t full-blown.

The fact that Nazis were able to recycle already-existing aspects of church services in the service of their ideology should disturb us all. We can already find U.S. flags at church altars, desperate attempts to make church more masculine, and anti-Jewish readings of New Testament texts. That’s bad enough.

We might get rid of Trump, eventually, and we’re lucky that he’s an incompetent boob…but we’re still going to have to do something about the christofascist churches and the right-wing thugs who cloak themselves in the new holy trinity of God, guns, and capitalism.

Liam Neeson will play him in the movie

Andrew Therrien was getting dunned for payment on a loan he never took out, so he went on a one-man vendetta against loan sharks. He had special skills: not guns, but persistence and persuasion, and he eventually tracked down the company and the man who had made millions by inventing fake debt and selling it to collection agencies.

Therrien soon obtained two crucial sets of documents to that end. In March 2016 he flew to California to meet a debt broker, who handed over some contracts Tucker had signed. Separately, Therrien received an email from the manager of a collection agency, to whose conscience he’d spent weeks appealing. The email, whose subject line read “Have faith in the good in heart,” included actual phantom-debt files, with names and Social Security numbers. The metadata yielded a new name: Rob Harsh, Tucker’s IT guy. (The author of the email died of a drug overdose a few months later.)

In May 2016, Therrien emailed his discoveries to the FTC. A lawyer replied right away: “Andrew, we need to talk about this.” Therrien also gave his intel to some private lawyers who were going after Tucker in Texas. They contacted Harsh, and in August 2016 he submitted an affidavit to the court. Harsh, who declined to comment for this story, testified that Tucker had asked him to manipulate a database of almost 8 million payday-loan applications, writing in a made-up lender and adding an amount owed of $300 for each person.

Therrien had been right all along.

What’s discouraging, though, is that there were all these cracks in government regulation in the first place, and that the agencies that should have been hunting down and crushing these cockroaches weren’t getting anywhere.

Finally!

I’ve about had it with these incessant articles from an incredulous press, where some reporter runs off to some exotic (to them) rural locale where the locals mostly voted for Donald Trump,
and they goggle a bit and report back that, amazingly, the people here belong to the genus Homo
and have two legs and two arms and two eyes, and gosh no, they ain’t racist, no, not a bit — they’re just economically distressed. It’s a genre of lazy reporting that also includes all those interviews prior to an election with “the undecided voter”, as if finding the least informed, most chicken-shit citizens in the country will reveal some great insight.

Finally, though, one reporter turns that all on its head and journeys to the heart of anti-Trump country to report on the savage opinions of the well-educated. He goes to Mount Airy/Germantown in Philadelphia. I knew those places well, although I was apparently not well educated enough, liberal enough, or wealthy enough to actually be able to afford to live there.

In Philadelphia’s 22nd Ward, which covers Germantown and parts of Mount Airy, Clinton got 12,050 votes in 2016, and Trump received a mere 342 — and I did not run across any of those lonely 342 during my reporting. One of the more ethnically diverse neighborhoods in the city, Mount Airy and Germantown are also well-educated spots, described once as “a Ph.D ghetto.” More than the numbers, though, I wanted to see a place where, in the words of one Nobel laureate, there was “There was music in the cafés at night/And revolution in the air.”

As you might expect, all is not well among the aboriginals.

“Everybody here hates Trump — that’s why I like to live here,” said Raab — a sentiment I heard from more than one person. “I have a neighbor who couldn’t eat for four days” after the election. Like many folks, Raab has turned to activism — joining the January 21 Women’s March in Center City and giving away what she called “tons of money” to groups like the ACLU and Planned Parenthood. Despite all that, Raab said she feels pessimism about where America is at after one year of Trump, hours after the president used Twitter to threaten war with North Korea. “I don’t have hope,” she said, “as everyday there’s something worse and worse.”

I’m not giving up all hope just yet, although it is only hanging on by a sliver. I’m still hoping the next election will be a massive uprising to overthrow the known-nothings and bigots.

Skeptic Magazine: rots from the head

Hoo boy, but the influence of its malignant editor is making itself felt this month with some utterly terrible articles. One is from Carol Tavris, which is incredibly disappointing — her talks were always a highlight at the old Amazing Meeting — but now she has decided that the #metoo movement is a “moralistic crusade” with bad consequences. To make that argument, she has to resort to the false dichotomy fallacy.

Whenever a movement is fueled by rage and revenge, it is more important than ever to tolerate complexity and ask questions that evoke dissonance. We can all imagine the ways in which “Me, too” might benefit women, but how might it backfire? Because it will. Moralistic crusades to censor “sexist” pornography, for example, led to suppression of lesbian books, sex-ed books, and plain old sexypleasure books that someone thought offensive. What might be the consequences of a moralistic crusade to root out any behavior that might be misconstrued—now, next week, in 10 years—including affectionate touches, supportive hugs, jokes? Do professional women really want a Mike Pence world where they cannot have a business dinner or go to a party without a chaperone? When feminists find themselves in bed with right-wing puritans, they are going to get screwed.

Hear that ladies? Quit complaining about the butt pats and the groping and the sexual demands to advance your career, or next thing you know it’s going to be Mike Pence ruling over the Republic of Gilead! Which would you prefer, a few Harvey Weinsteins going berserk in Hollywood, or Cotton Mather convening some new witch trials?

You know, #metoo isn’t about Puritans demanding all sex be suppressed. It’s about ordinary women demanding some professional respect and human dignity. There is a difference, and most of us can see it fairly clearly.

Also, Mike Pence is a poor example of a guy who will end all public displays of prurience. He’s the happy enabler of the Groper in Chief. He represents the status quo, the perpetuation of male sexual privilege in the workplace. I don’t think most of the #metoo women are anticipating jumping into bed with Pence.

If you want a lot more — I mean, a lot more — criticism of the Tavris piece, HJ Hornbeck has a multi-part beat-down. I’m just kind of appalled at the ongoing corruption of everyone associated with Michael Shermer.

But holy hell, the Tavris piece isn’t even the worst thing published! They’ve published a defense of Jerry Sandusky! Look, Jerry Sandusky was found guilty of 45 counts of child sexual abuse. He’s a convicted pedophile. The prosecution brought in a long train of witnesses and evidence of criminal behavior spanning at least 15 years and 10 victims, and this case found him guilty in a community that was full of fanatical Paterno/Sandusky defenders. Anyone remember the riots and protests when the Paterno empire fell? You can’t have a witch hunt when the targets are regarded as holy saints — the evidence was just so overwhelming and undeniable that even angels by repute could be defrocked at last.

The article in question tries to argue that a) it was a conspiracy theory, with all these people conniving to railroad a beloved family man (wait, why?) and b) and then goes through each of the witnesses, disparaging their testimony and wondering why these boys would maintain an outwardly cordial relationship with an abuser. That never happens! There’s no such thing as a nurtured dependency or fear of reprisal. It sounds exactly like the smears made against the women who finally spoke out against Harvey Weinstein: all you have to do is find a photo of the woman smiling in Weinstein’s presence, and obviously she must have been lying about his abusive behavior.

The most shameful part of a shameful article is how it ends: with a picture of Bo, the beloved family dog. Bo died while Sandusky is in prison. Free Jerry so he can mourn for this lovely innocent dog!

I fwowed up. Fucking professional Skeptics™.

But then, lately, that’s all I can do when the stench of Shermer’s magazine wafts my way.

If you’re multicellular, you can’t help but be mosaic

I quite liked this article by Emily Willingham on the male/female brain: she points out something that is obviously true, that individual brains are a complicated mosaic of traits, and that you simply can’t reduce all of the variety to a simple binary.

Humans want tidy patterns, to have things link up neatly and make sense. Our brains strain to make these connections whether they are genuine or not. What’s more difficult is looking past illusory patterns and thinking more deeply about what we’re really seeing. As tempting as it is to collapse a human’s entire being, including the brain, into a single term – male, female – an honest look at how we really behave makes such reductionism look shallow, at best.

The most observant among us manage this in-depth examination. These acute observers are not the scientists, who can be remarkably myopic and rigid within their corners of research, but the storytellers. You can’t tell a good story about people if you’re not a keen observer of human behaviour, and it’s in our storytelling traditions that we find example after example of an inherent if unconscious understanding of the mosaic brain.

It was good, but the article didn’t go in the direction I expected it to go — I guess I’m more reductionist than I thought. When I started reading about brains being a mosaic of different properties, I first leapt to the idea of epigenetic variability in the regulation of of “male” and “female” genes. (Isn’t that where you go, too?)

Here’s the deal. You know that there is this beautifully intricate process called X-chromosome inactivation, or dosage compensation, in which individuals with more than one X chromosome epigenetically shut down most of the genes on all the additional X chromosomes. It’s a really cool process — think about it, the molecules involved have to count chromosomes, and I don’t understand how they do that — but it’s also leaky. About 15% of the genes on the X chromosome escape inactivation, by unclear mechanisms. And further, some of those genes are variable in how frequently they escape inactivation.

For a given gene, escape from X inactivation is not necessarily consistent between individuals or between tissues and/or cells within an individual. A comprehensive survey in human confirms the original observation that some genes only escape X inactivation in subsets of cells. Interestingly, many genes (∼10% of X-linked genes) behave in this manner, resulting in potentially variable expression levels between female tissues and individuals. Whether, in turn, this generates female phenotypic variation is an interesting possibility that remains to be explored. Partial or variable escape from X inactivation is in agreement with progressive incorporation of genes into the X up-regulation/X inactivation systems once the Y paralog degenerated.

Female brains are literally mosaic in their patterns of gene expression — some cells will have one X chromosome active, others will have the other X chromosome switched on, and further, there is a random pattern of genes on the X chromosome that are variably silenced, and different patches of the brain will use different alleles.

And guys, don’t think you can escape this phenomenon: epigenetic regulation is simply a little bit sloppy, and so your brains have random inactivation of some undetermined set of regulated alleles. It’s not as simple as having a boy set of genes and a girl set of genes that are uniformly and universally working in a predictable way in every brain.

But that’s only adding to Willingham’s points. Male and female are clearly insufficient labels to pigeonhole the complexity of the human brain.


By the way, if you want to see the inverse of this argument, take a look at this inane tweet.

Among sexually-reproducing multicellular organisms, nearly every species has two distinct gamete types (“anisogamy”).

Female: big, cytoplasmically rich, sessile.
Male: small and mobile.

That is true. If only we could reduce human beings to single reproductive cells, the gender binary would be valid. Unfortunately for their perspective, it isn’t. Our brains are not single-celled gametes, and I would hope don’t even contain any gametes, which would be creepy and icky.