The courage of Gwyneth Paltrow

I can hardly believe how brave she is. Would you believe she actually sells psychic vampire repellent?

If it were me, I’d be afraid to stock something that would repel or destroy me, and I sure wouldn’t be selling it to people, not even for an outrageous $30 for 100ml, who might spritz me with it. Especially not when it’s been infused with such dangerous things as moonlight and reiki.

The psychic vampire repellent may not be FDA evaluated, but who cares when it has sonically tuned water, moonlight, love, reiki, and gem elixirs which is totally not left over water from a rock polisher. It must be very potent as there is a double dose of reiki. I’m not sure how they get all that reiki in the bottle because reiki isn’t an object but no conversation needed here because ancient gem elixir physics, duh! One should spray it around one’s face to “safeguard” one’s aura and “banish bad vibes (and shield you from the people who may be causing them).” I mean that’s some potent, women empowering health shit right there, you know? Just don’t empower it into your lungs.

I’m assuming that Psychic Vampires are real, because no way would Gwyneth sell a fake remedy to a fake problem. That would be, like, a double-fake. Which confuses me, because wouldn’t a double-fake mean it’s real?

Also, it’s obvious that Gwyneth herself is a psychic vampire. She’s leeching the minds out of people.

The rest of the story…

Everywhere I turn the last day or two, someone is posting that spectacular video of a Nazi getting punched in Seattle — and really getting walloped, ending up flattened and unmoving on the sidewalk. The puncher knew what he was doing.

I approve of Nazi-punching. I know, it’s violent action, but when you’re dealing with people advocating for genocide, a little ramping up of the response is appropriate and necessary. Not whip-out-a-gun-&-shoot escalation, not run-’em-over-with-a-car execution, which is what they have done, but we can’t avoid a sock-’em-in-the-jaw response to fighting words and extreme provocation. And yes, I think it’s fair to regard parading about in Nazi gear is extreme provocation.

The Stranger also has more background on the incident.

  • Obviously, the man is wearing an armband with a Nazi swastika on it, on public transportation,
    in Ballard and center city. He’s spoiling for a confrontation.

  • He harassed a black man on the bus.

  • He was wandering around, yelling at random people — it was characterized as “Alex Jones” style yelling.

  • Other people were alarmed enough that they called the police.

  • He threw a banana at someone and called them an ape.

  • When the police arrived, nothing was done because the Nazi would not press charges, nor would anyone else complain.

It’s fair to say he was trying to provoke a reaction. He got one. I’m actually a little more troubled by this than I am by the punching:

When the man in the armband began to recover, he rolled over onto his hands and knees and reached up to someone for help, but “nobody wanted to help him,” Duff said. Soon, police officers patrolling the area arrived to the scene and the crowd dispersed.

“Everyone was so joyous,” Duff said. “It was like a bonding for the community.”

No. Don’t be joyous. Punching Nazis is an unpleasant, necessary action, not something to celebrate and bond over. Let’s take this seriously: we have a genuine problem with a subset of the citizenry advocating for racism and normalizing deportation and mass murder, and we have to take a range of actions, most of them political and social, against them…and sometimes that may involve physically subduing them. Let’s not do it because it’s fun. Do it because we want to suppress violence.

Also, boy do I miss Seattle. I need an excuse to get back there and recharge…but unfortunately it’s not going to fit into my travel plans for a while.

Jesus H. Christ!

This is painful to watch, so I’ll summarize it and spare you.

Ron Wyatt, biblical fantasist extraordinaire, claims to have found dried blood in the rocks below the place where Jesus was crucified. He took it to an Israeli lab where they reconstituted it, and then cultured it in a growth medium, and discovered that the blood was still alive. A miracle! Especially since if you took some old rock scrapings and threw them in growth medium you probably would get something to grow…it just wouldn’t be human cells.

Then, further, they looked at it under a microscope and counted the chromosomes. How, I don’t know; you can’t see chromosomes with a light microscope unless you squash the cells undergoing mitosis and stain them, which would require killing Jesus’ cells.

But they counted them anyway, miraculously, I guess. They discovered that Jesus’ cells — we have now leapt straight into the assumption that this is actually blood from a named person 2000 years ago — contained 24 chromosomes. Twenty three from Mary, which gave him his human form, and a Y chromosome from Jehovah to make him male. So the old joke is right: the “H” in his name is for “Haploid”. Also, he’s aneuploid.

Of course, it’s a bit odd. Old guy comes into the lab with some flaky red stuff scraped off a rock; lab technicians accept that it’s two millennia old human blood. They cultivate it on growth medium and get some cells, and they still accept his claim that these are human. They magically count chromosomes in these cells, and they have a non-human number; they still assume it’s human, and even that it is from a specific human. None of this makes any sense.

After that revelation, the video goes on and on about another old evangelical Christian chestnut: there is a molecule called laminin that is vaguely cross-shaped, which is somehow supposed to imply that we’re held together by Jesus. Only (?) problem is this guy spells and pronounces it “liminin”.

We are compelled to accept the inevitable truth. Jesus was haploid, and he was from New Zealand.

The only other possible explanation is that Ron Wyatt is a liar, and these gullible Christians are mind-bogglingly stupid. But that can’t possibly be.

Support Skepticon now

If you’ve been paying attention to the Skepticon blog, you’d know that they’ve been trickling out announcements about their speaker roster. It’s looking good so far! At least this is one conference I know isn’t going to screw it up with a bunch of alt-right jerks.

You can register for the con right now! Be prepared to open your wallet and pay…nothing. It’s free, except for that sometimes painful business of traveling to Springfield, Missouri. If you’re feeling flush, do donate so those less prosperous can experience the event.

I’m going! I’ll see you late in the evening of 10 November, and all weekend long!

Building a sex is harder than most people imagine

Now will you believe me? I keep saying that sex and sex determination are far more complex than just whether you have the right chromosomes or the right hormones or the right gonads, and now here’s a lovely diagram that illustrates some of the steps in sex determination.

The biology is set up to favor driving an individual to one side or the other, but there are so many detours that can be taken en route that it is ridiculous to ignore all the people who end up following a more unique path.

The obituary Jerry Pournelle deserves

Pournelle died earlier this month. He (and his writing partner, Larry Niven) were big, popular names back in the 70s, and long ago I read several of his long tomes. I will say this for him: he could write an engaging potboiler, where the plot kept churning along. But in every one of his books, there was a “what the hell am I reading?” moment, followed by a period of introspection in which I had to admit to myself that if I’d been paying attention, I would have noticed that there were clear hints that this regressive conclusion was exactly what he’d been building towards all along. Then I read a few more and realized that you could predict exactly how the story would proceed from the first chapter on: the solution would always be a gushing militaristic/Libertarian fantasy. So I stopped reading him.

Except for one thing: those were also the heady days of the microcomputer revolution, and I read Byte magazine every month. Pournelle had a column in there, that was apparently popular to some people, but that I found plodding, unreadable, and useless. Well, not quite unreadable: I’d hate-read him. His house, which he called Chaos Manor, was stuffed with random computer gadgets, most of which seemed to be mainly there as techno-trophies. And every month there’d be some glitch that he’d solve by calling up one of his connections in the tech industry, and they’d mail him a new gizmo, or more insufferably, some fawning gadget-freak would show up at his door and install it for him. He was a boastful poseur. I much preferred Steve Ciarcia’s columns, where he’d actually do something and explain how it worked.

Anyway, the Daily Beast summarizes Pournelle’s career — schmoozing with Gingrich, promoting the military-industrial complex, praising Reagan and Trump, his grandstanding for the impossible “Star Wars” missile defense system, and includes excerpts of some of those “what the hell am I reading?” moments. Pournelle was overtly political, but strangely, his fans always seem to assume that radical conservative militarism is a non-political stance. Underlying it all, too, was the nasty racism of the well-connected white man.

The line that connects Pournelle, Gingrich and Trump is a view that the future must be secured through aggressive force, and specifically through authoritarian institutions (governmental or non-governmental) that group together humanity’s best and prevent the rest from stifling them. The difficulty, as always, lies in identifying “the best,” and in who’s doing the identification.

At the bottom of Pournelle’s website is the quote, “Freedom is not free. Free men are not equal. Equal men are not free.” It’s not attributed, but the sentiment is an old saw of the far right, going back at least to John Birch Society co-founder and segregationist Thomas J. Anderson in 1961. Today, Pournelle’s particular phrasing is most commonly attributed to white supremacist and anti-semite Richard Cotten. It’s one more indicator that Trump was far from the first to eliminate the line between right-wing thought and outright bigotry.

Most of the obits I’ve seen were pablum. I’m glad someone was willing to call out his pernicious influence.

I also read where someone called his “Chaos Manor” columns “witty”. That person needs to have their license to write retracted.

An ungraceful exit

Mythcon, this conference by Mythicist Milwaukee, has lost another one. Aron Ra withdrew from participation over the fact that the con was featuring a trio of alt-right-leaning, incompetent pseudoskeptics, the Armoured Skeptic, Shoe0nHead, and worst of all, Sargon of Akkad (see previous post on the bad history of the alt-right). Now, surprisingly, Seth Andrews has announced his withdrawal as well. I say “surprisingly” because he was the one lashing out most viciously against critics of the conference. Like this:

He wasn’t accusing alt-right neo-Nazis of frothing hyperbole and fear-pimping by bad-faith agents of chaos: the bad-faith agents of chaos were those fellow atheists who saw him being exploited by people who wanted his name on a roster just to legitimize those three awful people. That’s been his reaction ever since — accusing anyone who said he should not use his (formerly) good name to support this group as part of the Outrage Brigade, among numerous other insults.

Unfortunately, while announcing that he is respectfully withdrawing from the conference, a large chunk of his tirade is, once again, aimed at everyone who told him this was a bad idea. Here is his third and longest point in his announcement.

The hysterics (who I’ve winkingly dubbed The Outrage Brigade) warned that MythCon would be some kind of frothing Thunderdome, a roiling cauldron of racism and misogyny, a white male circle jerk, and (my favorite) a neo-Nazi training camp. (Of course, the participation of Iraq-born Faisal Saeed Al Mutar and Singapore-born Melissa Chen would make this the most bizarre Klan camp in history.)

Extreme voices like Dan Arel – who broadcasts from his latest residence in the town of Oblivion – gleefully poured gasoline on every spark, going so far as to call the hotel with alarmist tales of possible disaster. (Remember that this is the same guy who thinks we should punch Nazis, and that all police officers are terrorists. We can move on, folks. Nothing to see here.)

I watched with my jaw on the floor as The Outrage Brigade digitally tarred and feathered friends, fellow activists and wonderful humanists (Dillahunty, etc) with accusations of being white supremacists, rape apologists, and a long laundry list of other disgraceful slanders. It’s unconscionable.

Beyond the ALL CAP, profanity-spewing freak-out fringe, there has also been a swell of legitimate, good, mature, and genuinely concerned people who feel, correctly, that Sargon doesn’t represent good faith and respectful dialogue, but has instead demonstrated a penchant for inflammatory, click-bait, shock-jock controversy unworthy of a seat at the adult table.

Man. The thing is, that he is now being compelled to admit that all of his critics were right about this conference, that Sargon is a disgrace, the other two are “vague, lazy, hyperbolic”, and Jesus but does he resent being exposed as wrong. If hyperbole is a sin, what does he call what he just wrote? Maybe he thinks pettiness is his salvation. I’ll also note that he threw me into his Outrage Brigade, and here is what I wrote about the event. I forgot to include the ALL CAPs. I even forgot the profanity. I must have been sick that day.

And then he ends with this sentiment.

We have a long way to go, but I desperately want for us to find and travel the High Road toward a more rational, more compassionate, more beautiful world.

Sorry, guy. Your High Road looks rather ugly. That you’re oblivious to it doesn’t make it attractive to the rest of us.

Classicists and atheists of the world, unite!

The alt-right have a fondness for justifying their beliefs with mangled historical references and assertions that only white people have contributed significantly to culture. The historians and classicists have noticed, and are beginning to marshal resources to fight back. So here you go, a preliminary list of articles that rebut fascist claims. The Nazi wanna-bes are going to hate it. But, as Donna Zuckerberg frankly admits, there is a danger of temptation.

The Alt-Right is hungry to learn more about the ancient world. It believes that the classics are integral to education. It is utterly convinced that classical antiquity is relevant to the world we live in today, a comfort to classicists who have spent decades worrying that the field may be sliding into irrelevance in the eyes of the public.

The next four years are going to be a very difficult time for many people. But if we’re not careful, it could be a dangerously easy time for those who study ancient Greece and Rome. Classics, supported by the worst men on the Internet, could experience a renaissance and be propelled to a position of ultimate prestige within the humanities during the Trump administration, as it was in Nazi Germany in the 1930s. Classics made great again.

This is my call to arms for all classicists. No matter how white and male Classics once was, we are not that anymore. In spite of the numerous obstacles that remain, our field is now more diverse than ever, and that is something to be proud of.

These men are positioning themselves as the defenders of Western Civilization. Classicists, when you see this rhetoric, fight back. We must not allow the Alt-Right to define what Classics will mean in Trump’s America.

But she also points out what needs to be done.

It is time for Classics as a discipline to say to these men: we will not give you more fodder for your ludicrous theory that white men are morally and intellectually superior to all other races and genders. We do not support your myopic vision of “Western Civilization.” Your version of antiquity is shallow, poorly contextualized, and unnuanced. When you use the classics to support your hateful ideas, we will push back by exposing just how weak your understanding is, how much you have invested in something about which you know so little.

She also provides a specific list of actions classics experts should take, as the alt-right continues to invade and appropriate their discipline, especially in light of the fact that classics already has a problem with people who see the field as “the study of one elite white man after another”. Boy, does this resonate: this is exactly the problem we have in atheism, too. Some of these solutions apply to us.

  1. When you hear someone —be they a student, a colleague, or an amateur — say that they are interested in Classics because of “the Greek miracle” or because Classics is “the foundation of Western civilization and culture,” challenge that viewpoint respectfully but forcefully. Engage them on their assumed definitions of “foundation,” “Western,” “civilization,” and “culture.” Point out that such ideas are a slippery slope to white supremacy. Seek better reasons for studying Classics.

  2. In your scholarship, focus on the parts of antiquity that aren’t elite white men. Read and cite the work of scholars who write about race, gender, and class in the ancient world. Be open about the marginalization and bias that exists within our discipline. Model a kind of Classics that isn’t quite so congenial to the neo-Nazis of the Alt-Right.

  3. As the Alt-Right becomes more vocal and normalized, we may face pressure to frame our research and teaching in a way that will appeal to this new audience of Classics enthusiasts. Resist that pressure.

  4. Do not write content for these men. Sometimes they publish articles such as “Mate, Hate is Great! A Philosophical Defense of Misogyny”; if you are approached to contribute to such a blog, refuse and write about the incident instead.

  5. Consider coming out in support of progressive student and community movements. Classics has a long history of regressive politics, and if we are serious about social justice and activism, we must speak out.

  6. Write to professional Classics organizations, including the Society for Classical Studies, and encourage them to take a stand against these groups. Samuel Huskey has written and shared a lovely example of such a letter.

  7. If you are so inclined, engage with the classical reception that these men produce. There is a narrative blooming that you can see in that Breitbart Guide to the Alt-Right, where the writers claim, “Skinheads, by and large, are low-information, low-IQ thugs driven by the thrill of violence and tribal hatred. The alternative right are a much smarter group of people — which perhaps suggests why the Left hates them so much. They’re dangerously bright.” But the Alt-Right are not “dangerously bright.” They are young men — if you’ll excuse the pun, the kids are alt-right — whose inane readings of classical texts often provide a window into their intellectual shortcomings.

  8. I am considering creating a Tumblr to document examples of Alt-Right Classics. If you are interested in contributing, contact the Eidolon team (eidolon@paideia-institute.org).

Note especially #4, which is particularly relevant given recent attempts to draft popular atheists to attend and speak at alt-right conferences. Zuckerberg’s response to that would be…don’t.


I have to add this statement from the Society for Classical Studies:

…the Society strongly supports efforts to include all groups among those who study and teach the ancient world, and to encourage understanding of antiquity by all. It vigorously and unequivocally opposes any attempt to distort the diverse realities of the Greek and Roman world by enlisting the Classics in the service of ideologies of exclusion, whether based on race, color, national origin, gender, or any other criterion. As scholars and teachers, we condemn the use of the texts, ideals, and images of the Greek and Roman world to promote racism or a view of the Classical world as the unique inheritance of a falsely-imagined and narrowly-conceived western civilization.