Wednesday, July 30, 2008

The "Right" not to be offended....

I really thought I'd leave "Crackergate" to bigger fish, the real bloggers, as everyone has already had their say and there are probably more posts on this than anyone could ever want to read....

...but hell, this is so much goddamn fun.

I'm going to assume that everyone already knows how the saga unfolded... PZ, inspired by some seriously ridiculous bullshit at UCF, threw a eucharist in the trash, which pissed a lot of people off.

A Eucharist is a consecrated cracker, believed by Catholics to LITERALLY the body of Jesus Christ. Yea, I was a fairly serious Catholic once upon a time, and I never managed to wrap my mind around that shit either. Some poor speaker tried to explain transubstantiation once... something about how wood is always wood, but if you build a chair out of it it, now it has chair-ness, or something. The cracker is given Jesus's "essence" some how.

Yea, I thought that was some crazy bullshit too. Um, dear, please stop, I think you're going to break your brain doing such poorly-executed mental acrobatics. Hint: you're never going to make this doctrine sense. Because it's ridiculous.

One last aside... why is SYMBOLIC cannibalism not enough? It works for most other Christians... but no, Catholics have to give their priests Magic Powers.

So obviously, there are two hilarious things about this situation.

Number one, people are seriously hurt and offended by this "kidnapping" of their savior (dude, what Catholic kid hasn't kept a host a bit longer than they should have to get a good look at "Jesus"...). It's crazy that anyone takes this doctrine seriously, and it's crazy to claim that cracker abuse is a horrible evil act. This one has been covered in detail and there isn't much to say beyond... yea, religions are just as crazy as we think they are.

Number two, not only people offended, they seem to thing that they have some kind of right to punish PZ by getting him fired or something, because he had no right to do what he did. And this goes beyond just crazy religious bullshit into the realm of a vast misunderstanding of the meaning of the right to free speech and freedom of religion, present in religious people but also in people involved in many other causes.

This is what the Catholic Clergy think our rights in this country entitle us to:

Lies and hate speech which incite contempt or violence are not protected under the law. Hence, inscribing Swastikas on Jewish synagogues or publicly burning copies of the Christian Bible or the Muslim Koran, especially by a faculty member of a public university, are just as heinous and just as unconstitutional. Individual freedoms are limited by the boundaries created by the inalienable rights of others. The freedom of religion means that no one has the right to attack, malign or grossly offend a faith tradition they personally do not have membership or ascribe allegiance.

What a... creative... interpretation of the constitution. To bad for them that it is total bullshit.

First of all... hate speech is a rather touchy issue, and I think many rules intended to stop hate speech can over step boundaries of protected free speech, but it is my understanding that "hate speech" rules, be they correct or incorrect, are intended to protect individuals from direct harassment. PZ did what he did in his own goddamn home, and though he did mean to provoke the crazy Catholics, all he did was post something to his goddamn website, he didn't do anything that any Catholic even had to see, much less be personally harmed by. So the hate speech comparison is bullshit, through and through. Purely an act invoked to play the victim.

But more importantly, the above quote invokes a completely imaginary right to not be offended. The scary thing is that groups of all kinds, though religions are the worst, have invoked this right so often and so noisily that many people actually believe that it is a right, or at least a courtesy required in all public discourse.

How many times have you heard "Well, I respect everyones' beliefs...," usually out of the mouths of well-meaning liberals. Hell, I know I used to say it, a lot. Apparently "respecting" others beliefs makes you open-minded and accepting and all sorts of other "nice" things to be (and saying it usually gets you brownie points whether you really mean it or not).

If there were one thing I could do to change the public discourse in this country, it would be to throw the tell-both-sides, all-ideas-are-equal, open-mindness-is-always-a-virtue BULLSHIT right out the window. I respect other people's right to HAVE whatever batshit insane beliefs they want. But no one can make me respect the beliefs themselves, or make me feel bad for not doing so.

And open-mindedness is great and all, but your mind should be guarded with a half-decent bullshit filter at the very least.

I've actually gotten into a disagreement about this with a very close friend of mine. She is also an atheist, although she doesn't exactly embrace the term, but she goes to a small liberal arts school that my boyfriend likes to say is "full of hippies." Her school has, on numerous occasions, had large battles or even cancelled classes because people were offended by something that one group or another posted... in the case that we fought about, it was some kind of vaguely anti-religion publicly posted signs implying that Jesus is an imaginary friend. She sided with the people who claimed that such signs were not appropriate because they're offensive. My response, so?

Now, if you want to have a debate about whether offending people is the best way to get them to change their mind about deeply held beliefs, we can do that. But the assumption that there is a simple right not to be offended is crazy.

Keep in mind, most of the groups asking for such special consideration think they have every right to offend people by "expressing their beliefs" (ex: You're going to hell because you're gay. What, you can't get mad, I'm just practicing my religion!).

And that's the thing. "You can't offend me" can be used to justify banning all sorts of things that don't actually HURT anybody. Gays holding hands or kissing in public places. Muslims playing their "call to prayer" loudly at their places of worship, much like church bells. Atheists publicly denying god. People choosing to have children outside of marriage and refusing to be ashamed of it. Throwing a cracker in the trash. You don't get to say that some of these things are more important than another (but religion is really important to people, can't we leave that alone so we don't hurt anyone's delicate sensibilities!), because the concept behind all of them is the same.

People have a right to have their beliefs. But I don't have to tip toe around dogma that I don't believe in because it's not "polite" to offend people. You do not have the right not to be offended. And all opinions do not deserve the same consideration or respect. You don't get a free pass because a "holy book" told you what to get offended at, or because your opinions are a couple thousand years old.

In the public square, we only have to abide by the rules of the country/state/city we're standing in, not the rules of each other's religions.
And those rules/policies have to be decided on based upon common reality... not bullshit you made up in your head. Calling it your "religious belief" or even your "personal belief" doesn't make it more special than any other idea. If you can't justify it out here in the real world, then we don't have to give a shit.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Book Meme, because I'm bored

I'm too little and new and quiet to get tagged, but this one seems to be going around and it's amusing, so here goes.

Bold = read completely
Italic = started and didn't finish
* = Read for school

1 Pride and Prejudice - Jane Austen
2 The Lord of the Rings - JRR Tolkien 
I know, I know, my geek credentials are being revoked as we speak... and I did like them, they just get... slow.  I never finished the last one.
3 Jane Eyre - Charlotte Bronte 
When I was about 11 I had exhausted the "good" children's books as well as as much as I could take of many fairly lame series (Babysitter's club? Really?  What was I thinking) at our local library, which was quite a small branch.  Our "young adult" section was only one shelf at the time and included lots of lame kiddie versions of adult sci-fi  (I distinctly remember the Young Jedi series. I only made it through one of those.), so that wasn't much help, and neither were my parents. Naive little kid that I was, I walked up to the librarian and asked her to help me find an adult book I might enjoy.  She looked baffled, but eventually led me over to the "Classics" and handed me this book.  I hated it, and unfortunately it put me off trying "adult" books again for awhile.  I've given it a second chance (because its my grandmother's favorite book), and a third (at the request of several overly romantic english major friends) , but my fifth grade opinion holds firm.  The story is alright, but the way it is written... I get annoyed--"Move on already." 
4 Harry Potter series - JK Rowling
*5 To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee
6 The Bible 
Does it count as "starting but not finished" if you never really planned to read the whole thing? I tried half-heartedly once, I didn't even finish Genesis.
7 Wuthering Heights - Emily Bronte
8 Nineteen Eighty Four - George Orwell
9 His Dark Materials - Philip Pullman
I really want to reread these now that I'm 1) an atheist and 2) more mature. I think there are things I "got" in terms of the story itself, but didn't fully appreciate what was going on.
10 Great Expectations - Charles Dickens
Dickens and me... same problem as Jane Eyre. The style just drives me nuts. Which is why I stick to mostly things written in the last century or so. I'd really like to find some book to rescue the Victorian era for me, because I feel like there are probably some things I'm really missing out on... but its not exactly at the top of my to-do list.
11 Little Women - Louisa M Alcott
Oh Little Women! One of the few books I've read after seeing the movie where I still am pleased with both versions.  That movie still  makes me cry every time.
12 Tess of the D'Urbervilles - Thomas Hardy
13 Catch 22 - Joseph Heller
14 Complete Works of Shakespeare
As with the bible, I never actually intended to read all of them, but between plays I've seen and plays I've read, I'd covered a lot of them.
15 Rebecca - Daphne Du Maurier
16 The Hobbit - JRR Tolkien
Liked it better than Lord of the Rings, actually.
17 Birdsong - Sebastian Faulks
*18 Catcher in the Rye - JD Salinger
Oh Salinger. Yuck. I have an aunt and a best friend who both love Salinger to death, but I found Catcher in the Rye annoying. I was an angsty teenager myself, but I didn't identify with Holden at all. In fact, he pissed me off. I've been meaning to give it another shot, now that I've read a lot more literature... but again, not at the top of my to-do list.
19 The Time Traveller's Wife - Audrey Niffenegger
20 Middlemarch - George Eliot
21 Gone With The Wind - Margaret Mitchel
*22 The Great Gatsby - F Scott Fitzgerald 
I read this for school the first time, and was rather indifferent about it. I read it again for school (changed schools) and really liked it. Then I took a class on lost generation literature (American writers, roaring twenties) and fell in love with his short stories. Unfortunately, I can't bring myself to read any more of his other books... I read a few for a research paper on how his life was reflected in his work (yes, I was a bit obsessed)..., but ultimately he only had one central story to tell, and he did it best in Gatsby. I still find many of his short stories beautiful or amusing, and Gatsby is good... but the adolescent crush has faded. Fitzgerald is an old boyfriend that I'm still fond of but don't quite fit with anymore. Not like I used to. Kind of sad actually.
23 Bleak House - Charles Dickens
24 War and Peace - Leo Tolstoy
25 The Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy - Douglas Adams
Amazing.  Just brilliant. Ridiculous, sure.  But that's the point.
26 Brideshead Revisited - Evelyn Waugh
*27 Crime and Punishment - Fyodor Dostoyevsky
Read this--BY CHOICE--for an over-the-summer, read-and-discuss-online-with-teacher class. Don't ever, ever try to read Dostoyevsky at the beach. First of all, the blinding contrast between the oppressive gritty depressing darkness of the book and the bright sunlight will make you nauseous, secondly, you'll look pretentious as hell, and finally... the book is so damn thick you'll never get rid of the sand. That said, I actually managed to enjoy it a little once I got to the last two pages. The first ray of light in the whole goddamn story is in the last two pages. And it's kind of dull, coming-from-a-long-way-away light, but by the time you get there it feels like cause for a fucking celebration.
*28 Grapes of Wrath - John Steinbeck
Same class as Crime and Punishment, yes that was a rough summer. I have a thing for Steinbeck too, though he seems more to me like a grandfatherly storyteller than brilliant but screwed up (and therefore attractive, for awhile) Fitzgerald. I liked East of Eden better than Grapes of Wrath, though that was back when I thought my elementary musings on what the book said about the concept of free will were like, important or something. I'm not sure if I would feel the same way about the book now--that one actually is on my list to reread.
29 Alice in Wonderland - Lewis Carroll
30 The Wind in the Willows - Kenneth Grahame
31 Anna Karenina - Leo Tolstoy
32 David Copperfield - Charles Dickens
33 Chronicles of Narnia - CS Lewis
Totally missed out on the heavy Christian influence here, though I don't know how. Being young is no excuse... it's so blatant! I tried to reread and enjoy it for the fantasy I liked as a kid, but I just can't do it... his meaning behind it smacks me in the face every two seconds and leaves me irritated and looking for a fight.
34 Emma - Jane Austen
35 Persuasion - Jane Austen
36 The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe - CS Lewis
37 The Kite Runner - Khaled Hosseini
38 Captain Corelli's Mandolin - Louis De Bernieres
39 Memoirs of a Geisha - Arthur Golden
40 Winnie the Pooh - AA Milne
41 Animal Farm - George Orwell
42 The Da Vinci Code - Dan Brown
Good-ish, as popular mystery novels go. Not all that remarkable. 
43 One Hundred Years of Solitude - Gabriel Garcia Marquez
I almost think books employing magical realism should come with some kind of warning label. I loved this book, but I would probably put it down thinking "there must be something I'm not getting here" if I hadn't had experience with the genre in a class.
44 A Prayer for Owen Meany - John Irving
45 The Woman in White - Wilkie Collins
46 Anne of Green Gables - LM Montgomery
47 Far From The Madding Crowd - Thomas Hardy
48 The Handmaid's Tale - Margaret Atwood
*49 Lord of the Flies - William Golding
50 Atonement - Ian McEwan
51 Life of Pi - Yann Martel
52 Dune - Frank Herbert
53 Cold Comfort Farm - Stella Gibbons
54 Sense and Sensibility - Jane Austen
55 A Suitable Boy - Vikram Seth
56 The Shadow of the Wind - Carlos Ruiz Zafon
57 A Tale Of Two Cities - Charles Dickens
*58 Brave New World - Aldous Huxley
Another one from the summer class, one of the few I thoroughly enjoyed.
59 The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time - Mark Haddon
60 Love In The Time Of Cholera - Gabriel Garcia Marquez
61 Of Mice and Men - John Steinbeck
62 Lolita - Vladimir Nabokov
63 The Secret History - Donna Tartt
64 The Lovely Bones - Alice Sebold
My mother had no idea what this was about when I read it, which is hilarious because she bought it for me without looking at it. A friend of hers eventually saw it around our house and was a bit horrified to learn that I had read it. After an explanation, my mother was as well. Psh. If I can watch law and order and read "literature," I really don't get the panic attack. Chill people. Chill.
65 Count of Monte Cristo - Alexandre Dumas
66 On The Road - Jack Kerouac
67 Jude the Obscure - Thomas Hardy
68 Bridget Jones's Diary - Helen Fielding
69 Midnight's Children - Salman Rushdie
70 Moby Dick - Herman Melville
71 Oliver Twist - Charles Dickens
72 Dracula - Bram Stoker
73 The Secret Garden - Frances Hodgson Burnett
74 Notes From A Small Island - Bill Bryson
75 Ulysses - James Joyce
My father's favorite book. Seriously. Sorry, I managed to enjoy Portrait of an Artist, but when am I ever going to have the time or the desire to read a book that takes that much goddamn EFFORT. I want to one day, for my father and because, difficult as he is, I kind of like Joyce (he was kind of a prick though, just fyi). But I doubt it will happen.
76 The Bell Jar - Sylvia Plath
This was actually hard to read, but I really did... like isn't the right word...appreciate it.  Immensely  This is printed in the front:
Mad Girls Love Song, by Sylvia Plath

I shut my eyes and all the world drops dead;
I lift my lids and all is born again
(I think I made you up inside my head.)

The stars go waltzing in blue and red; 
And arbitrary blackness gallops in:
I shut my eyes and all the world drops dead.

I dreamed that you bewitched me into bed
And sung me moon-struck, kissed me quite insane.
(I think I made you up inside my head.)

God topples from the sky, hell's fires fade;
Exit seraphim and Satan's men:
I shut my eyes and all the world drops dead.

I fancied you'd return the way you said,
But I grow old and forget your name.
(I think I made you up inside my head.)

I should have loved a thunderbird instead;
At least when spring comes they roar back again.
I shut my eyes and all the world drops dead.
(I think I made you up inside my head.)

77 Swallows and Amazons - Arthur Ransome
78 Germinal - Emile Zola
79 Vanity Fair - William Makepeace Thackeray
80 Possession - AS Byatt
81 A Christmas Carol - Charles Dickens
82 Cloud Atlas - David Mitchell
83 The Color Purple - Alice Walker
84 The Remains of the Day - Kazuo Ishiguro
*85 Madame Bovary - Gustave Flaubert
Again with that summer class. See, it came in handy... the number of bold titles on this list is much less embarrassingly small! In all seriousness though, being embarrassed about not reading the greats is kind of silly.

Anyhow, I hated Madame Bovary. It's supposed to be all feminism-y or something, but couldn't get beyond the fact that Emma is so self-obsessed and awful. I probably should get over my need to like, or at least identify with, main characters... but whatever. I felt much the same way about The Awakening, another supposedly feminist novel where a woman "frees herself from society" by sleeping around and eventually killing herself. The sleeping around in these books isn't enlightenment... it's just reactionary rebellion. And there is nothing wrong with a being a rebel, but in and of itself it does NOT make you a hero.  These books don't get beyond that... the women just kill themselves. And maybe that is what I can't take. Romanticizing suicide is total and complete bullshit. Suicide in healthy adults is almost without exception a selfish and tragic act, period. To quote a favorite post secret card:
“Fuck the poets of the past, my friends.
There are no beautiful suicides
just cold corpses with shit in their pants
and the end of the gifts.”
I guess I can't blame Flaubert for using suicide much in the same way as it has been used in lots of other novels--a dramatic, defiant exit, a refusal to continue in the conditions forced upon oneself--and maybe there is some place for its use in this way. But you're probably never going to get me to enjoy a book that in any way glorifies such a horrific act. Give me a character who actually finds a way to deal, or if you want to go on the tragedy side, gives up or dies without succeeding. Or give me a suicide, with a little more perspective. Please.
86 A Fine Balance - Rohinton Mistry
87 Charlotte's Web - EB White
88 The Five People You Meet In Heaven - Mitch Albom
89 Adventures of Sherlock Holmes - Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
90 The Faraway Tree Collection
91 Heart of Darkness - Joseph Conrad
Obviously I've read this one, as I've got a quote from it in the side bar. One of my favorites. Mesmerizingly dark and beautiful, live a river in a forest on a night with no moon.
92 The Little Prince - Antoine De Saint-Exupery
93 The Wasp Factory - Iain Banks
94 Watership Down - Richard Adams
95 A Confederacy of Dunces - John Kennedy Toole
96 A Town Like Alice - Nevil Shute
97 The Three Musketeers - Alexandre Dumas
*98 Hamlet - William Shakespeare
99 Charlie and the Chocolate Factory - Roald Dahl
I have read almost everything Roald Dahl ever published. His children's fiction was 3rd/4th grade, his autobiographical books and more mature short stories 5th/6th. I'm still in love with Matilda--what bookwormish geek wouldn't identify with the little girl an outcast because she's too smart? And really, I wanted to use my extra brainpower as superpowers. How fucking awesome would that be?
100 Les Miserables - Victor Hugo
I have promised my best friend that I will try... but don't hold your breath.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

O Gods of Smallest Clarity

I love this poem, the whole thing is lovely. But the line that really struck me when I heard the author read it was this:

....and those of us quietly/not anything to speak of....

Both its place in the poem, and the way she said it, made that line seem so sad. And I understand that sadness... the not-belonging to something, the loss of what--at least sometimes--seems like a rich and beautiful tradition. But I also feel that while the author had that tone, and felt that sadness, she wasn't apologetic or ashamed or unhappy about it...maybe she once was, but not now I don't think. But that's entirely speculation of course.

Anyhow, it's a great poem, I hope someone else out there enjoys it as well.

Full Text:


If only those perennial opposites, the bully
and the sweet worried one
slept, kept sleeping. Not side by side,
not the lion and the lamb, just that most
ordinary blind passage, brief
and profound, as it happens
all over the planet. I mean the prince
who's happy with gardening, and the other kind
plotting someone's downfall, each
going under for the night. Which is to say, not
our usual taking turns at it, not Greenwich
or daylight savings or eight flight hours from here
equals five hours early or late but right now,
this minute, by my marvelous powers
of desperation and delusion, it's
soldier and monk, Sunni and Shiite,
republican, democrat, all Muslims and Christians
and Jews and those of us quietly
not anything to speak of, no reason or rhyme or
respectively about it, no tit for tat
but everyone sleeping. And the president
curled fetal, his aides and think-tankers
all twitching in their dreams as dogs do,
on the scent or the chase, hours,
many hours to come. For that matter, the Pope is
drifting off and the greeter
from Wal-Mart, and the magician come out
of a long day's practice in a sword-crossed box
rests now, exactly like the oldest woman,
asleep on her side, empty as the young docent
at Ellis Island already certain
it's robot-work, telling the country's vast sad story
of promise and trouble. And I think so many
miners home from their dark to this
gladder one, sprawled out
on their beds where exhaustion is fierce, no longer
patient. Every child in the world is sleeping too,
hunger, once there was, but not here
in this dream, no gunflash, no flood.
Every mother minus panic. Every father
finding his daughters, his sons right where they should be. Even
the torturers gone into that place they might
nightmare for what they've done.
But not yet, not for a moment. And of those
who were done to, for them the rope and hood
and diamond-tooth wire, all banished
a few hours, forgotten
as dream is, in this, the real dream
to ink it out, beyond reach.
Believe me, I want to see
the despicable go down as much
as you do, and the innocent shine. But that's
sleeping too. Or so I try,
an experiment that may be stupid,
full of less not more, as in pointless, as in
hopeless, as in less than nothing
because--o gods of the smallest
clarity, let nothing happen
for an hour, for six hours. Rage.
Let that sleep too, its sorrow
no longer a brilliant rant, no longer anything,
a wash, a confluence of great waters
seen from a distance, the horizon a matter of
on and on where a speck out there
might well be a boat, the figure at the oars
untangling and stretching out. One eye
closed, then the other: welcome
no moon, no stars.

The poem is from her collection Grace, Fallen From.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Welcome COTG visitors!

This blog is ridiculously new, tiny, and poorly kept up, but I am here and I do appreciate your visits and comments. Thanks!