31 October 2014

Quotation of the Day

Atheism is completely meaningless if it means simply eradicating theistic beliefs without reducing the harm that generally follows in their wake.

30 September 2014

Happy Blasphemy Day!

Laws are made to protect and defend the people and to guarantee their full human rights and liberties. But this is not the case with blasphemy laws. These laws violate the right to freedom of religion or belief, the right to freedom of expression, the rights of minorities and ultimately the right to life. Blasphemy laws are weapons of religious oppression, persecution and discrimination. They target religious minorities including atheists, agnostics and freethinkers, religious apostates and dissenters. Blasphemy laws are used by religious extremists to justify and sanctify tyranny, hatred, intolerance, forced conversion, intimidation and violence. Blasphemy laws protect a religion or some religions from criticism at the expense of human rights and dignity.—Leo Igwe (Statement to the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights)
Things which corrupt moral sentiment, as obscene actions, prints and writings, and even gross instances of seduction, have, upon the same principle, been held indictable; and shall we form an exception in these particulars to the rest of the civilized world? No government among any of the polished nations of antiquity, and none of the institutions of modern Europe, (a single and monitory case excepted), ever hazarded such a bold experiment upon the solidity of the public morals, as to permit with impunity, and under the sanction of their tribunals, the general religion of the community to be openly insulted and defamed.—James Kent (People v. Ruggles)
There exists, I believe, throughout the whole Christian world, a law which makes it blasphemy to deny or to doubt the divine inspiration of all the books of the Old and New Testaments, from Genesis to Revelations. In most countries of Europe it is punished by fire at the stake, or the rack, or the wheel. In England itself it is punished by boring through the tongue with a red-hot poker. In America it is not much better; even in our own Massachusetts, which I believe, upon the whole, is as temperate and moderate in religious zeal as most of the States, a law was made in the latter end of the last century, repealing the cruel punishments of the former laws, but substituting fine and imprisonment upon all those blasphemers upon any book of the Old Testament or New. Now, what free inquiry, when a writer must surely encounter the risk of fine or imprisonment for adducing any argument for investigation into the divine authority of those books? Who would run the risk of translating Dupuis? But I cannot enlarge upon this subject, though I have it much at heart. I think such laws a great embarrassment, great obstructions to the improvement of the human mind. Books that cannot bear examination, certainly ought not to be established as divine inspiration by penal laws.—John Adams (Letter to Thomas Jefferson, 23 January 1825)
Truly I tell you, everything will be forgiven to the sons of humanity for their sins and whatever blasphemies they utter; but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit can never have forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin.—Jesus (Mark 3:28-29)
Blasphemy has been defined as speaking disrespectfully of my phemy; one does not observe among the followers of one faith any disposition to accord immunity from ridicule to the followers of another faith. The devoutest Christian can throw mud at Buddha without affecting his own good standing with the brethren; and if Mahomet were hanged in effigy from the cross of St. Paul's, Protestant Christianity would condemn the act merely as desecration of a sacred edifice.--Ambrose Bierce (The Dead Lion)
This law, reduced to its simplest terms, is this: 1. Whatever is sacred to the Christian must be held in reverence by everybody else; 2, whatever is sacred to the Hindu must be held in reverence by everybody else; 3, therefore, by consequence, logically, and indisputably, whatever is sacred to me must be held in reverence by everybody else.—Mark Twain (Is Shakespeare Dead?)
In fact, if truth be told, it would be simpler and quicker to say what is not blasphemy than it would be to give a complete account of what is. What’s not blasphemy? Ummmmmm…well to be honest that’s such a short list that there doesn’t seem to be anything on it. Let me put it this way – blasphemy is anything some pious group of thugs says it is at any particular moment when they want to shut people up by having them killed. It’s basically just any old thing; see? It’s whatever They say or do that We don’t like – that’s all.—Ophelia Benson (“Defining Blasphemy”)

27 August 2014

Quotation of the Day

… the world has made moral progress, while the churches haven’t. Their clinging to cruel and archaic views, like demands for women’s subordination and intolerance of homosexuality, makes them seem like relics, outposts of prejudice that more and more people reject. Many of the largest denominations have taken a sharply conservative turn, driving out liberals and moderates and imposing litmus tests of political orthodoxy, which has only accelerated the decline.

08 August 2014

Waiting vs. Hustling

Today’s question comes from a reader on a planet circling Arcturus, as far as I can tell. The truth is, I’ve lost my reference, so he or she may as well have come from some distant part of the galaxy. Anyway, our Arcturian wants to know when and where did Abraham Lincoln say “Good things may come to those who wait, but only what’s left behind by those who hustle.”

It’s a good question, I guess. I’m not familiar with the saying, actually, but I’ll take a stab at it. I mean, I know it’s a twist on that old saw that says “All things come to him who waits”, but I don’t think I’ve ever run into the bit about hustling. Come to think of it, it’s kind of a wretched proverb, extolling pushy behavior by those disinclined to wait their turns. All things come to him who gets there first, and to hell with fairness, sharing, and all that crap. With an attitude like that, why bother with civilization?

I doubt very much that Abraham Lincoln ever said it. It doesn’t sound like him. It does sound like something somebody might say—if that somebody was alive at the very end of the nineteenth century or early in the twentieth. (Abraham Lincoln, for the history-challenged, was assassinated at the end of the Civil War.) The word “hustle” is the giveaway. I suppose it could have been used in this sense in Lincoln’s time, but I didn’t find any example of it. “Hustle” (in this sense) belongs to the era of Teddy Roosevelt, Carnegie and Rockefeller, Horatio Alger and Edward Stratemeyer. The time when wake-awake bright-eyed young lads full of grit and drive set out to pull themselves out of the gutter by their own bootstraps, maybe with the aid of some wealthy elderly gentleman whose runaway horse they stopped before his coach got smashed to flinders.

Those guys were full of hustle; it was like a watchword for them. And in fact the earliest version of this saying I could find in an all-too-casual search appeared in the December 1895 issue of Railway and Locomotive Engineering, p. 772, as part of a reply to a railroad worker concerned about the rights of workers:
I believe, however, that our employers, if left free to act, will fittingly recognize all of us according to the measure of our faithfulness and capacity. I do not see how they can do otherwise. Industry and study surely make the road to preferment. When we do not progress as fast as we think we should, more and better work is generally necessary. There is no other way to succeed.

The length of time we have served and the fidelity that has characterized our service will influence (and very properly) our advancement.

A hundred men may start in the railroad service to-day, all on an equality. Ten years’ service, and what then? You will no doubt find ten, or less, of them near or at the top round of the ladder. The balance of the hundred will, in all probability, be about where they started or out of a job, quarreling among themselves as to the most deserving or who has been most sadly treated by Dame Fortune. The boys high up on the ladder, who carefully guarded the interest of those they served, who depended upon themselves and their own effort, have nothing to regret. The balance of the gang at the bottom of the ladder, who sought success by an easier and shorter road, will no doubt all agree that they “have a kick coming.” Have they?

A little time, my friend, will tell the story. In the meantime, remember that all things come to those who “hustle” while they wait.

And in an April 1897 issue of The Insurance Economist (p. 17) we read the following:
All things come to those who wait, is an ancient and much quoted proverb. But for our part we prefer the one which we've seen hanging in General Manager Moss's office (which, by the way, he lives up to), which says: “All things come to those who hustle while they wait.” This latter motto is more suited to the spirit of our age than the first, and the man who follows it is pretty sure to “get there,” whereas there are doubts about the other one.

The modification that presents it in a form like “Things may come to those who wait, but only the things left by those who hustle” seems to be much more modern—the only examples Google Books produced were from the twenty-first century—but the sense is much the same, and the derivation apparent.

Personally I doubt that Lincoln could have said it for another reason—are there any grounds for believing that the old saw about all things coming to him who waits was even around in his time? I mean, obviously, it could have been. But the only examples of it I see cited (at least in English) come from the 1870s and 1880s. It appears in an 1880 short story by Susan Coolidge (“The Boy and the Giant”, St. Nicholas Magazine, May 1880), for example, as “’All things come to him who waits,’ says the old proverb”, and as “All things come to those who wait” in an 1872 poem by “Violet Fane”. But the oldest use of it anybody cites is from the very year Lincoln died; it appears in the second volume of an 1865 novel by Annie Hall Cudlip entitled On Guard. It is part of a long passage of authorial comment on a character’s feelings:
We have probably all heard that the merry, merry sunshine makes the heart so gay. It is an axiom that has been set to music, and harmony always imparts an appearance of truth to a statement. When the sentiment is trilled out by a songstress in satin under a glaring gaselier, it naturally strikes us as veracious. The heat of the sun in the open—anything, anywhere!—is sure to be regarded as enviable, even as gaiety provoking, when our heads are throbbing from artificial heat, strongly impregnated with patchouli.

But there are certain conditions of mind when the merry, merry sunshine stabs rather than soothes. When we are unappreciated, unsuccessful, uncared for. When the light of love has gleamed over us, and for some reason gleams over us no longer. When the present is very dark and dull, and there seems to be nothing better in store. When all the hopes we ever had, lowly as they may have been, are fading fast. When the sense of our own inability is upon us crushingly, and we perceive the wounding truth that we are powerless of ourselves to help ourselves. When we feel left behind—not alone that, but trampled down by Fate, against whom we sulkily acknowledge that it is useless to struggle. When any or all of these things are, how terrible is the sunshine!

I suppose that we have all felt the terror of it—all of us, at least, who have temporal hopes, fears, and aspirations beyond the day. The brightness of it mocks, and the warmth of it burns us, and the glory of it irradiates each one but ourselves. We lose sight of the fact, that all these sensations are born of our own sense of defeat, perhaps—or of dyspepsia, or disappointment—therefore we do not look further back for causes, and discern that each one of these things is probably the offspring of incompetence, unworthiness, or—more likely still—of a weakness of will, a faltering of purpose which prevented our grasping and retaining firmly that which we desired to have. All things come to him who knows how to wait. All things are to be had by him who knows how to take.

Here it doesn’t appear in quotation marks, nor is there any reference to it being an old saw or well-known saying. That doesn’t mean it wasn’t—the whole passage reeks with cliché, and this could well be one of them. But if I weren’t specifically looking for those particular words, there is nothing about them that would make me think Annie Cudlip was quoting anybody else. All of which makes me wonder—is this the spring from which the trite river flows?

In any case, the many references to the saying in the 1870s and thereafter, and the complete absence of references before this make me wonder. Is it an old saying—or simply a passage from a novel that passed into proverb?

It is sometimes cited as a French proverb (Tout vient à qui sait attendre) as for example in this 1875 Punch cartoon. The French phrase is the title of the “Violet Fane” poem as well. Is there any evidence for a French connection?

Well, yes, there is. François Rabelais in his classic Fourth Book of Pantagruel (chapter XLVIII) has it in the form “Tout vient à poinct à qui peult attendre” meaning (more or less) everything comes to him who is able to wait. As the book was published in 1552 the saying clearly antedates Lincoln by some three centuries. At least in French.

I’m still dubious. Nobody cites any evidence to show that the saying circulated in English in Lincoln’s time—which is not the same thing as saying that no evidence exists. In any case there is no particular reason to suppose that Lincoln is responsible for the nineteenth-century twist on the saying, or for the twenty-first century take either. And I personally doubt that he ever said the original, either, though it’s not beyond the bounds of possibility.

16 July 2014

Something Sinister

Yesterday failed congressional candidate Matthew Burke found something sinister in President Obama’s hosting of the White House Iftar, an annual celebration for the past eighteen years. In a mere 280 words or so this “conservative” writer manages to cram more misinformation and outright lies than could be unpacked in an essay ten times the length. There’s probably a true word in there somewhere or other, but you’d be hard-pressed to find it.

All right, maybe the reverend Jeremiah Wright is or was an “(admitted) Marxist” as Matthew Burke claims; I don’t know, and Burke provided no citation for his assertion. Standard biographical sketches make no mention of this, so I’m dubious—but let it go. But it wasn’t Jeremiah Wright who said that Obama was “steeped in Islam” and “knew very little about Christianity” as far as the available record shows—it was Ed Klein, who was summarizing things he claimed Wright had told him in an interview. I don’t know how accurate Klein may have been in reporting Wright’s view—but the words are his, not Wright’s.

And again, Obama never “declared in 2008, completely on the wrong side of history, that America was no longer Christian.” Far from it. What he said was—and this is completely on the right side of history, so far—“Whatever we once were, we are no longer a Christian nation—at least, not just. We are also a Jewish nation, a Muslim nation, a Buddhist nation, and a Hindu nation, and a nation of nonbelievers.” As is well known, his original speech read “we are no longer just a Christian nation”; when he delivered it he accidentally omitted the word “just” and had to backtrack. He quite correctly noted that religious diversity (present since the founding) was growing in the United States, and that Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus and nonbelievers now have a substantial presence in the country. That’s a fact, by the way—not just the opinion of some self-described former Financial Advisor/Planner.

Yes, but the proper thing for the president of the United States to do is to merely tolerate Islam and other “legitimate religions” says this tea-party “writer”. The Father of our Country, George Washington, had a very different view: “All possess alike liberty of conscience and immunities of citizenship,” he wrote to the Hebrew Congregation in Newport, Rhode Island, on 18 August 1790, “It is now no more that toleration is spoken of, as if it was by the indulgence of one class of people, that another enjoyed the exercise of their inherent natural rights.” Ah, but what did he know? Who ya gonna to believe, America’s Founding Father, or some “Constitutional Conservative” with an anti-American axe to grind?

Oh, yeah, by the way—George Washington never said that line about it being impossible to govern without God and the Bible—it was some lawyer in 1893. You could have looked it up, Matthew—if you weren’t so busy making a goddamn jackass of yourself.

13 July 2014

Rosie O'Donnell: Egotist or Asswipe?

I hear that we should be glad and rejoice that Rosie O’Donnell is returning to The View, and I might be joining in the happy celebrations if I had any idea who or what Rosie O’Donnell and The View are. I gather that Rosie O’Donnell is a liberal champion of LGBT causes, and that The View is a long-running morning talk show of some kind. These things I learn from that vast repository of all human knowledge, Wikipedia. My curiosity does not extend much further, alas. I no longer have a television, nor even a reliable internet connection, so I’m going to have to leave it at that.

What caused me to look them up is a story going around that a picture exists of O’Donnell posing with a dead hammerhead shark, an endangered species. I’ve never understood the mentality of people who entertain themselves by killing endangered species. I mean, I get the idea of enjoying a rare experience, and of having a trophy to show for it that few others in the world can aspire to, but really—it is a sort of monumental selfishness that mocks the sport itself. Killing an endangered organism reduces the likelihood that future practitioners of the sport will ever have the same experience. It puts ego above the good of the sport, the killer above the needs of the species. It is the action of, well, an asswipe, to use a term O’Donnell applied to a critic.

31 May 2014

The Guy Was a Misogynist (guest post by Nick Sutton)

[My roommate posted this on Facebook and I’m totally stealing it]

What is eating me up inside these past couple days is that people can actually sit around and have, what seems to be, a legitimate conversation about whether or not a killer was a misogynist in a murder which he explicitly stated was carried out for misogynistic purposes. The fact that women were not the majority of those killed is irrelevant (he didn’t actually get in to the building where he planned to kill most of the women he was going to kill for one… But it doesn’t really matter, because the reasoning behind the murders was stated).

I mean, yeah… Guy was probably crazy, most mass murderers are, but when a white guy murders a number of black people, and leaves behind a tape saying “I’m gonna kill those N-gg-rs because…” we wouldn’t generally ask whether or not the man was a “genuine” racist, even if he killed white people because “they were talkin’ to n-gg-rs!” or some shit (Pardon my use of language but I am attempting to stress an important point).

The guy was a Misogynist. Period. He stated it clearly. He made it known to everyone. The very fact that we’re attempting to have a “legitimate” discussion about whether or not he was a Misogynist is seriously fucking insulting.

I see people trying to make this about gun control, about the state of mental health care and psychiatry in this country, and a growing number of people who seem to turn their backs on anyone who says that this might have to do with a young man’s ridiculously overblown opinion of himself and what he is entitled to… The man loathed women, he resented them, he held them in contempt. He was, by the very definition of the word a Misogynist and he states that what he did was being done because of that contempt.

Was he mentally ill? Yeah… Probably… But Probably every religious extremist who blows themselves up for their cause is insane, it doesn’t change the fact that the culture in which they lived somehow gave them the impression it was okay to blow themselves up and murder innocent people to get their point across.

It’s getting to me, and eating me up, that I see so many conversations on my Facebook feed with people being careful not to call a Misogynist a Misogynist because they’re afraid someone might think they’re a *Gasp* Feminist or something (yes the belief that Men and Women are equals and that women are not innately subservient to men is an insult in this country!).

Am I saying we should round up all the misogynists and burn them at the stake for this? No! Not even remotely… I am, however, saying, that we shouldn’t have to walk on our tiptoes around the subject of Misogyny when it is painted in bold letters right in front of our fucking faces, but we don’t want to because so many people are insisting that this has nothing to do with Misogyny and we don’t want to insult them… I mean he is part of an entire sub-culture dedicated to, essentially, hating women that I am just going to briefly mention here (though I could probably write a book length message about that topic too!).

I say fuck them! Or don’t fuck them… That’s why we’re in this situation in the first place right? Probably shouldn’t reward these assholes for shitty ass behavior to begin with. Sorry kiddos you don’t get to fuck everyone you want whenever you like in life… Fact of life… And it sucks ass, but it’s something you’ve gotta learn to live with at some point in your life.

The point is, YES HE WAS A MISOGYNIST, that is a fact. You can’t get around that fact. It was a defining characteristic of his person, it was something he openly displayed on his sleeve for all the world to see. If someone stands the fuck up and says “I am a racist and I hate black people because…” we don’t generally make the argument that they are not a racist… Because CLEARLY they fucking are! They might be insane to boot… But an Insane racist is still a racist, and an insane misogynist is still a misogynist.

That alone, should point out how truly sad a state equality between the genders in this country really is. It’s really, really, really fucking sad to me that this kind of situation is required to really shine a spotlight on it.

Copyright © 2005-2014