What Makes a Person an “Atheist” Parent?

Monday, 26 January 2015 06:33 am
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Posted by Libby Anne

I was going back through my feed reader lately, and came upon a post on the Friendly Atheist from December. In it the author, Kate Cohen, writes about her interest in how atheists are represented in TV shows and movies shown on TV. She focuses especially on the representation of atheist parents.

She leads with this:

I found one! I found one! I found an atheist mom on TV!

She goes on to explain that she is talking about Doris Walker in Miracle on 34th Street. I’ve never seen Miracle on 34th Street, so I can’t speak to either it or the character, but what stuck out at me was this, from Kate’s discussion of atheists on television more generally:

It’s OK if a grown-up has doubts about God, even if she doesn’t believe. It’s not so OK if she raises her kids that way. “Bones” Brennan on Bones is a staunch atheist, too, but turns out to be “open-minded” enough to have her daughter baptized.

Sigh.

So imagine my surprise at finding an atheist mom in a classic Christmas movie.

I can’t speak to Miracle on 34th Street, but I can speak to you on Bones. I’m very familiar with Temperance Brennan and have followed her character’s lack of faith with interest, and I’ve found her arguments about religion with her devoutly Catholic partner Booth fascinating—and amusing, of course.

So here’s where I’m confused: Why is Bones allowing her daughter Christine to be baptized worthy of a “sigh” here? Christine’s father, Booth, is, as I’ve mentioned, a devout Catholic. Parenting a child with a partner with different religious beliefs of necessity involves compromise. This isn’t about Bones being “open-minded.” This is her being reasonable, and respectful of her partner and his role in raising their daughter.

What, exactly, is an atheist parent anyway? Is an atheist parent simply an individual who happens to believe in God and is also a parent? That does not appear to be the definition Kate is using, or she would not be annoyed with Bones for allowing Christine to be baptized. Kate says “it’s OK if a grown-up has doubts about God, even if she doesn’t believe. It’s not so OK if she raises her kids that way.” But what does that mean, exactly?

I don’t want to make overly much out of Kate’s use of Bones as an example, but anyone familiar with the show knows that Bones won’t be keeping her lack of belief in God a secret from her daughter. Indeed, her willingness to have Christine baptized was rooted partly in her very intellectual anthropological understanding of religion as a social function rather than a spiritual reality. If Bones warrants a “meh” as an atheist parent, what exactly does an atheist parent look like?

I’ve been thinking lately about the definition of the word “atheist.” The term gets qualified in a variety of ways, with discussion of “dictionary atheists” who simply lack a belief in God but don’t necessarily pursue activism or find identity based on that, and “New Atheists,” who see religion as a problem and are willing to be confrontational. I’ve seen people argue that everyone who doesn’t believe in a God should identify as “atheist” both publicly and on surveys, and I’ve seen people argue that those who don’t believe in God but don’t see religion as a problem in need of challenging aren’t really atheists. Which is it?

I suspect something similar is at play in Kate’s discussion of the representation of atheist moms on television. An atheist mom is not simply a mom who does not believe in God, but rather a mom who teaches her children not to believe in God. In other words, an atheist parent is one who is raising atheist children—and explicitly so, not just through omission.

Personally, I think my own parenting tends to be more in line with Bones’ parenting. (We actually had our daughter Sally baptized even though Sean and I no longer believed in God at that point, for complex reasons that had less to do with coercion and more to do with community and heritage.) I intend to be honest with my children about what I do and do not believe and why, but I am not setting out to raise atheist children. I want my children to chose their own beliefs.

I don’t believe in God, and I am a parent. I will be honest with my children about why I do not believe in God, but I do not intend to teach them that religion is a problem. Would Kate consider me an “atheist” parent? I’m not sure. I think I would personally define an “atheist” parent as any parent who does not believe in God and will tell their child as much if asked. I don’t think either an effort or a desire to raise children who are also atheists is necessary to make one an “atheist” parent. But then, I also think anyone who does not believe in God is technically an atheist, whether they claim that term or not, and regardless of how they view religion.

I found Kate’s post fascinating because it applied the disagreement I have seen over what makes someone an “atheist” to what makes someone an “atheist” parent. While I’ve thought a lot about how people define “atheist,” I hadn’t applied that question to how we define what it means to be an “atheist” parent.

What do you think? What makes someone an “atheist” parent?

A Changed Life

Monday, 26 January 2015 05:06 am
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Posted by Micky Jones

  Dreaming is surely a way of seeing, of seeing with the mind’s eye. More than that, it is the soul’s perception of the world, it is an exposure made by the imagination, an involuntary record, a spiritual index, if you will. Do you know, I have been dreaming of the river that runs below. [Read More...]

Paperback Book List

Monday, 26 January 2015 10:51 am
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Posted by Shannon Young

My unread books shelf

One of my goals for the year is to read all the paper books I've acquired and not yet read since moving to Hong Kong. I still get most of my books on my Kindle, but sometimes I buy paper books at events and I actually really love getting them as gifts. The problem is that I get through these books much more slowly. My Kindle is always with me, but the paper books tend to sit on my shelves looking pretty. This year I am going to catch up. It helps that I no longer have a long commute. I'm much more likely to read a paperback at home than out and about. My Kindle has also been behaving fitfully lately, so I may need to order a new one soon if I can't get it sorted out.

Here are the paper books on my list for the year:

The Dreamer by Rajeev Balasubramanyam
The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery
Paper Tigress by Rachel Cartland (from my publisher!)
Kisses for Katie by Katie Davis
Empty Mansions by Bill Dedman and Paul Clark Newell, Jr.
Blind by Rachel DeWoskin
11/22/63 by Stephen King
Salem's Lot by Stephen King
About a Boy by Nick Hornby
Unexploded by Alison Macleod
Owen's Daughter by Jo-Ann Mapson
Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
The Accident by Chris Pavone
The Mime Order by Samantha Shannon
Rough Justice by Lisa Scottoline
Home Leave by Brittani Sonnenberg
Before I Go to Sleep by S. J. Watson (I borrowed this from someone, so it's the #1 priority!)
Petals from the Sky by Mingmei Yip

What's on your reading list for the year? Do you sometimes feel like you have a lot of catching up to do?!


P.S. Last week I recorded an interview for RTHK's State of the Art program. I'll let you know in advance when it's going to air! I was also on RTHK during the literary festival. Here's the link for the 10-minute segment.

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Posted by Fred Clark

The federal government struck a blow for religious liberty this month in a Clarksburg, West Virginia courtroom. The case is fascinating and hilarious, and the winning argument has the paradoxical benefit of upholding a man’s right to a religious claim that the court’s ruling proves to be factually ludicrous.

The case also neatly disproves the absurd “Christian persecution” narrative promoted by perpetually aggrieved privileged hegemons and the hucksters who rile them up, like for example Fox News TV-talker Todd Starnes.

Matt Harvey has the story for the local paper, the Exponent Telegram,Jury rules for worker in religious discrimination suit against Consol Energy” (via Christian Nightmares):

A federal jury Thursday [Jan. 15] ruled in favor of a general laborer at the Consol Energy/Consolidation Coal Co.’s Mannington mining operations who said he was forced to retire because of his religious beliefs.

The jury returned $150,000 in compensatory damages for Beverly R. Butcher Jr. …

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission had sued Consol Energy on behalf of Butcher. The federal agency’s filing asserted Butcher, an evangelical Christian, was told he must submit to biometric hand scanning for time and attendance tracking, even though that is against his religious beliefs. …

The jury found that Butcher “had a sincere religious belief that conflicted with an employment requirement” and that Butcher informed his employer of that belief.

The jury also found that Consol Energy failed to provide a reasonable accommodation for Butcher’s beliefs and that it wouldn’t have been an “undue hardship” to do so.

That’s a pretty good summary of the legal questions at stake. A conflict arose between employment requirements and the sincere religious beliefs of a worker. When that happens, the worker has a free-exercise right to a reasonable accommodation of their religious beliefs — provided that such an accommodation is possible without creating an undue hardship for the employer.

Note that all of these legal matters are a bit fuzzy and subjective. Questions of sincerity, reasonableness and whether or not a solution would be an “undue hardship” are not easily quantifiable. They all involve judgment — which is why cases like this often wind up in court.

TheologyBut while they may be subjective, such questions have unavoidable legal significance. The trickiest of these is probably the matter of sincerity. Courts do not usually want to be the arbiters of religious sincerity — they lack the capacity and the clear jurisdiction to evaluate such a thing, and often prudently seek to avoid getting entangled in such a murky matter. Yet sincerity has a clear legal significance in cases like this.

Suppose, for example, that I decide I’d prefer not to work on Saturdays, and so, between bites of a cheeseburger, I inform my employer that I’ve suddenly converted to Orthodox Judaism. The EEOC wouldn’t take up my case because my religious claim would be obviously and demonstrably insincere, and my employer is not legally bound to find a reasonable accommodation for my unreasonable, insincere religious claim. Sincerity and insincerity are not always easily determined, but the point of that example is to show why such a determination is legally necessary.

In this Consol Energy case, the worker’s religious sincerity is not in dispute. Both the EEOC and the coal company mostly agree that Mr. Butcher’s religious beliefs are genuine.

Consol Energy apparently did attempt to show that Butcher’s religious beliefs were, if sincere, somewhat incoherent. But even though they were right about that, it didn’t help their case against the EEOC.

This is, for me, the fun part, because Mr. Butcher, it turns out, is an End Times, “Bible prophecy” Rapture enthusiast and a devotee of the pseudo-Christian folklore promoted by the likes of Tim LaHaye, Hal Lindsey and Jack Van Impe.

Butcher, in other words, is not so much an “evangelical Christian” as he is a devotee of anti-Antichrist-ianity. He’s obsessively worried about the Antichrist, and he balked at his employer’s use of hand-scanners because the weird, Barnum-esque folklore he’s swallowed has taught him that such devices are a tool of Nicolae Carpathia.

The company that makes those hand scanners, Recognition Systems Inc., seems all-too-familiar with the fear that causes anti-Antichristians to recoil from their technology. They’ve tried to engage those fears by taking these folks’ concerns seriously. Over the years, I’m sure, they’ve heard from a lot of people like Beverly Butcher or Tim LaHaye — people who say they are opposed to the use of hand-scanners because they “take the Bible literally.” And Recognition Systems recognizes that the Bible passage at issue is this one, from Revelation 13 (quoted here in the King James Version preferred by anti-Antichristians):

And I beheld another beast coming up out of the earth; and he had two horns like a lamb, and he spake as a dragon. And he exerciseth all the power of the first beast before him, and causeth the earth and them which dwell therein to worship the first beast, whose deadly wound was healed. And he doeth great wonders, so that he maketh fire come down from heaven on the earth in the sight of men, And deceiveth them that dwell on the earth by the means of those miracles which he had power to do in the sight of the beast; saying to them that dwell on the earth, that they should make an image to the beast, which had the wound by a sword, and did live. And he had power to give life unto the image of the beast, that the image of the beast should both speak, and cause that as many as would not worship the image of the beast should be killed.

And he causeth all, both small and great, rich and poor, free and bond, to receive a mark in their right hand, or in their foreheads: And that no man might buy or sell, save he that had the mark, or the name of the beast, or the number of his name.

Here is wisdom. Let him that hath understanding count the number of the beast: for it is the number of a man; and his number is Six hundred threescore and six.

Recognition Systems takes these people literally when they claim to take the Bible literally. That was the premise of the letter they provided for Consol Energy to give to poor, frightened Mr. Butcher:

Butcher’s employers handed him a letter written by the scanner’s vendor, Recognition Systems Inc., according to the lawsuit.

Addressed “To Whom it May Concern,” the letter “discussed the vendor’s interpretation of Chapter 13, Verse 16 of the Book of Revelation contained in the Bible; pointed out that the text of that verse references the Mark of the Beast only on the right hand and forehead; and suggests that persons with concerns about taking the Mark of the Beast ‘be enrolled’ (meaning, use the hand scanner) with their left hand and palm facing up,” the lawsuit asserted.

“The letter concludes by assuring the reader that the vendor’s scanner product does not, in fact, assign the Mark of the Beast,” the lawsuit asserted.

That last assurance is naively optimistic. It won’t help to reassure folks like Mr. Butcher that the hand scanner “does not, in fact, assign the Mark of the Beast,” because that’s exactly what they’d expect the Beast to say. “He deceiveth them that dwell on the earth,” after all.

Recognition Systems’ suggestion that Butcher simply scan in with his left hand is a perfectly logical response to his claim to be motivated by a “literal” reading of Revelation 13:16. But it, too, is naive — too credulously accepting that he is using the word “literal” to mean anything of the sort.

In any case, it doesn’t matter whether Recognition Systems Inc. or Tim LaHaye has the more “literal” interpretation of Revelation 13:16. The jury in Clarksburg was not being asked to adjudicate between competing interpretations of the Bible, and no jury should be asked to do that. Their task, rather, was to look at employment law — at Mr. Butcher’s rights as a worker — and to determine whether or not Consol Energy complied with that law.

And Consol Energy did not. The main problem, legally, turned out to be that the vendor’s use-your-left-hand suggestion was the only proposed accommodation that Consol Energy was willing to provide for Butcher’s religious belief (his whackily unorthodox, stupid, and laughably incoherent — but questionably sincere — religious belief).

And that was why Consol Energy lost this case. That was why Consol Energy deserved to lose. They broke the law.

Religious liberty, if it is ever to mean anything at all, must include the freedom to be wrong. It cannot matter, legally, whether or not a religious belief is orthodox, or coherent, or part of a longstanding established tradition. Protecting religious liberty means protecting the right to believe in the implausible, the idiosyncratic, the offensive, the stupid, the factually insupportable, the demonstrably false. Otherwise we’d wind up putting the state in the position of adjudicating between legitimate and illegitimate religious beliefs.

And that, we should have learned by now, never ends well. That’s a recipe for inquisitions and for sectarian violence. That reduces religious liberty from an inviolable human right to a privilege contingent on the religious perspective of the current regime.

Beverly R. Butcher Jr. is wrong. And he has every right to be wrong — even to be ludicrously wrong, as he is. Defending religious liberty means we have to defend the right of people like him — or like Tim LaHaye, or Ken Ham, or Cindy Jacobs, or Tom Cruise, or David Green — to be ludicrously, offensively, exuberantly wrong.*

So the absurdity, stupidity and foolishness of Butcher’s religious beliefs can have no bearing on his legal right to a reasonable accommodation. Such an accommodation should have been easy for Consol Energy to provide, but they refused to do so:

Company officials rejected Butcher’s counter offer to either keep a written record of his hours, as he had been doing, or to check in and check out with his supervisor, the lawsuit contended.

At many different jobs, I’ve checked in and out using old-fashioned punch-card time clocks, digital time clocks, written time sheets, and informal nods to the boss. I’ve never used a hand scanner. Most people haven’t. Most companies haven’t. So allowing Butcher to clock in using any of those other methods surely wouldn’t have been an “undue hardship” for the company.

That’s why the EEOC won this case for Butcher and why Consol Energy lost.

But consider the delicious irony of what that outcome means for the content of Mr. Butcher’s religious claim. The good guys here — the advocates defending his case — were the feds. And the feds actions here proved that the existence of hand-scanner technology does not mean that “no man might buy or sell, save he that had the mark, or the name of the beast, or the number of his name.”

By winning his case, the EEOC proved that the substance of Butcher’s religious claim — his “Bible prophecy” religious objection to hand-scanners — was nonsense. By defending his religious liberty, the EEOC proved that the content of his religious claim was false.

The EEOC just proved that Beverly R. Butcher Jr.’s religious beliefs are wrong — and that he has the right to be wrong.

- – - – - – - – - – - -

* Note, however, that the right to be absolutely wrong does not entail an absolute right to force others to agree or to comply with you. Every belief, no matter how obviously wrong, has the right to a “reasonable accommodation,” but not to an unreasonable accommodation. Everyone has the right to be wrong, but we do not have the right to create an undue hardship for everyone else.

Thus, for example, as a Scientologist, Tom Cruise has every right to refuse psychological and psychiatric care, and we can reasonably accommodate his religious liberty on that point. But accommodating Tom Cruise does not mean that health insurers cannot be allowed or required to insure psychiatric care for everyone else.

Similarly, David Green is a devout anti-abortionist. That’s his religion — a religion even more dubious than Scientology in that it includes the factually untrue dogma that equates contraception with abortion. Green’s religion may be loopy and dumb, and it may be dependent on false claims about human biology, but he has every right to be so utterly, demonstrably wrong. His sincere foolishness, like Cruise’s, should be afforded reasonable accommodation.

But, just like Cruise, Green does not therefore have the right to create an undue hardship for everyone else. He does not have the right to require others to be wrong as well. Just as Scientologists do not have the religious liberty to prohibit everyone else from having psychiatric care or insurance for such care, so too anti-abortionists do not have the religious liberty to prohibit everyone else from using contraception or from insurance that covers it. That’s why the Hobby Lobby decision was incorrect — why it makes about as much sense, legally, as Cruise’s ideas about Xenu and Dianetics.

A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Linkspam

Sunday, 25 January 2015 07:51 pm
[syndicated profile] geekfeminism_feed

Posted by spam-spam

  • Feminist Bloggers Cannot Be Your Therapists | Brute Reason (January 11): “Why are people blaming feminism–the feminism of the 1970s or 80s, no less–for failing to cure what appeared to be a serious psychological issue? Why are people claiming that the solution now is simply for feminist writers and activists to be more compassionate and considerate towards male nerds like Aaronson, as though any compassion or consideration could have magically fixed such a deeply layered set of deeply irrational beliefs?”
  • Bringing back the Riot Grrrl | Marlena’s Blog (January 20): “What I found is that no matter how much I read and worked at not being an asshole or finding the “right way” to say things or get my opinions across, I could never be silent enough.”
  • Smash Bros. Community Boots Harassing Host of Their Largest Tournament | The Mary Sue (January 20): “Over the past day or so, the Smash Bros. community has come together in a big way to denounce years of harassment by the host of the largest Smash Bros. tournament around: Apex. With Apex 2015 rapidly approaching the last weekend of January, Jonathan “Alex Strife” Lugo has been forced to step down from his position at the tournament in a huge win for safety in the fighting game community.”
  • Infamous, Thoughtless, Careless, and Reckless | Mark Bernstein  (January 15): A series of posts discussing the Wikipedia Arbitration Committee’s decision to prohibit feminists from contributing to Wikipedia on issues related to gaming, gender, or sexuality. “The infamous draft decision of Wikipedia’s Arbitration Committee (ArbCom) on Gamergate is worse than a crime. It’s a blunder that threatens to disgrace the internet. “
  • Gaming while black: Casual racism to cautious optimism | Joystiq (January 16): “Freelance gaming and media writer Sidney Fussell summarized the pushback as follows: “I’ve been writing about blackness and games for about two years now and a huge majority of the negative feedback I get boils down to this: Race doesn’t belong in video games. White commenters tell me racism in games isn’t a problem. Only attention-starved reverse racists, dragging it up for clicks from white-guilt-addled gamers, still want to talk about racism. This is the burden of being a black gamer: I love games, but if I want to talk about them critically, my motives are questioned, my social ties are strained and suddenly I’m a member of the ‘PC Police’ who wants to go around ruining everyone’s fun.”
  • We’re going to keep talking about women in tech | The Daily Dot (January 14): “Here are 25 straightforward things you can do to create change – many of which won’t take more than two minutes of your time.”
  • Abusing Contributors is not okay | Curious Efficiency (January 22): “As the coordinator of the Python Software Foundation’s contribution to the linux.conf.au 2015 financial assistance program, and as someone with a deep personal interest in the overall success of the open source community, I feel it is important for me to state explicitly that I consider Linus’s level of ignorance around appropriate standards of community conduct to be unacceptable in an open source community leader in 2015.”
  • Support diversity in Linux by attending an Ally Skills Workshop at SCALE 13X | The Ada Initiative (January 21): “The Ally Skills Workshop teaches men how to support women in their workplaces and communities, by effectively speaking up when they see sexism, creating discussions that allow more voices to be heard, and learning how to prevent sexism and unwelcoming behavior in the first place. The changes that reduce sexism also make communities more welcoming, productive, and creative.”
  • The Elephant in the Keynote | Project Gus (January 19): “And while younger white male software developers are having their opinions panned by the respected older generation on stage, what does this mean for actual marginalised groups? If FOSS is ever going to achieve broad adoption, it has to appeal to more than a privileged few.”
  • OPW Successes and Succession Planning | The Geekess (January 15): “It’s been a busy winter for the FOSS Outreach Program for Women (OPW).  On October 13, 2014, seven (yes, seven!) of the former Linux kernel OPW interns presented their projects at LinuxCon Europe.”

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Thanks to everyone who suggested links.

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Posted by Victor Mair

"Chinese character" is the name for a moth in this Wikipedia article.  At first when I read the article, I thought that there must have been an error.  But when I started to check around, I discovered that the same English name for Cilix glaucata occurred all over the place.

See, for example, Moths and Butterflies of Europe and North Africa, also UKMoths, an online guide to the moths of Great Britain and Ireland.

Here we learn something else weird about this moth besides its name:

This unusual-looking moth combines its wing-pattern and resting posture to give the appearance of a bird-dropping, thus avoiding the attention of hungry birds.

UKMoths is not the only website that maintains this view about the appearance of the Chinese Character.

Norfolk Moths:

When at rest, with its head tucked away under its thorax, and its feet well hidden away under its wings, the moth looks just like a bird dropping!

This moth has delicate silvery markings on some of the veins, and these suggest a character in the Chinese alphabet, hence its common name.

While I might, with some reservation and effort, accept that this pretty silvery white moth resembles a bird dropping, no matter how hard I look at it I can't see the Chinese character, much less "a character in the Chinese alphabet".  It may take someone with more imagination than me to see a Chinese character in the markings on the wings of Cilix glaucata.

I thought I'd look around and see what Cilix glaucata is called in other languages.

For German, I consulted dict.cc (English-German Dictionary):

Silberspanner
Silberspinner
Weißer Glanzspinne
Schlehen-Sichelflügler
Silberspinnerchen
Weißer Sichelflügler

I found another German name on Lepiforum:

Eulenspinner

There are many clear photographs of specimens with the wings fully extended on this site, but I still don't see the Chinese characters that English people claim to see.

For Dutch, I looked at Vlindernet:

witte eenstaart

For French, I checked Lépi Net:

La Petite Epine

For Norwegian (bokmål), we have Artsdatabanken:

Slåpetornsigdvinge

For Welsh, we have the Wikpedia in that language:

gwyfyn arian y drain

And this from the Finnish Wikipedia:

valkosiipi

Still no Chinese character in sight, at least not for me.

Here's the best photograph of Cilix glaucata that I could find, and I still can't see a Chinese character on its wing.

Does any other language beside English call Cilix glaucata something like "Chinese Character"?  Do any Language Log readers see a Chinese character on the wings of Cilix glaucata — whether or not you think it looks like a bird dropping?

If it were up to me, I'd probably call it "milky silverspot".  Compare Myrtle's silverspot and Behrens' silverspot, which are butterflies.

[Hat tip Michael Carr; thanks to Richard Warmington]

Look correct

Sunday, 25 January 2015 06:20 pm
[syndicated profile] languagelog_feed

Posted by Mark Liberman

From reddit, a road sign in Leopardstown that translates English "Look right" to something like Irish "Look at correct":


In the comments, someone linked to a sign near Cork Airport reminding English and German speakers to drive on the left, while advising the French to drive on the right:

[h/t Shane Roberts]

Sunday Comic: Undercover

Sunday, 25 January 2015 05:00 pm
[syndicated profile] rookie_feed

Posted by Lena

Ola Szmida is a drawing addict who runs the one-person studio Ollywood. You can see more of her work here.

This video uses the following sounds from Freesound: “Dog-panting” by Keweldog; “Bees” by Benboncan; “Zipper” by Empraetorius; and “Outdoor-pool-atmosphere-2” by Fogma.

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Posted by Jonny Rashid

From Matt Feldman:
Primex Garden Center is hiring team members for the 2015 season. Part
time & Full Time positions are available. We are looking for a range
of experience from seasoned gardeners & horticulturists to students
with room to grow. Compensation is dependent on experience.

Follow this link for job descriptions: http://primexgardencenter.com/jobs/

Weekend availability is a must! Please send your resume &
availability, along with position requested to
jobs@primexgardencenter.com

Primex Garden Center is located in Glenside, PA – 15 minutes from NW
Philly.  We are a family-owned, independent, all-seasons garden
center, nursery & greenhouse serving our local community and the
greater Philadelphia region since 1943.


The humanities in an alternate universe

Sunday, 25 January 2015 12:15 pm
[syndicated profile] languagelog_feed

Posted by Mark Liberman

A couple of months ago, I got a copy of The Chronicle Review with a cover story by Arthur Krystal called "Neuroscience is ruining the humanities".

Actually there are two semi-falsehoods in that sentence.

In the first place, I actually got the physical publication in the mail about a week ago, even though the issue is dated November 28, and the online article is dated November 21. That's because I live in a university residence, and my university apparently picks up the mail from the post office from time to time, sends it somewhere to be sorted at leisure, and then delivers it to its various destinations by occasional caravan.

The second misleading statement concerns the article's title: the online version is now called "The shrinking world of ideas". Since the URL is still "https://chronicle.com/article/Neuroscience-Is-Ruining-the/150141/", we can guess that the online article's title was changed after the fact. Thereby hangs a tale, though I can only guess what it is.

In a blog post back in November, The Neurocritic observed ("The humanities are ruining neuroscience", 11/24/2014) that the inflammatory title was changed in the online version, and notes that the "4,000+ word piece can in fact be summarized as 'postmodernism ruined everything'":

In the olden days of the 19th century, ideas mattered. Then along came the language philosophers and some French historians in the 1920s/30s, who opened the door for Andy Warhol and Jacques Derrida and what do you know, ideas didn't matter any more.

Or, as Arthur Krystal put it, "when literature professors began to apply critical theory to the teaching of books they were, in effect, committing suicide by theory".

So how do the neuroscientists come into it? The Neurocritic continues

That's fine, he can express that opinion, and normally I wouldn't care. I'm not going to debate the cultural harms or merits of postmodernism today.

What did catch my eye was this: “…what the postmodernists indirectly accomplished was to open the humanities to the sciences, particularly neuroscience.”

My immediate response: “that is the most ironic thing I've ever heard!! there is no truth [scientific or otherwise] in postmodernism!” Meaning: scientific inquiry was either irrelevant to these theorists, or something to be distrusted, if not disdained. So how could they possibly invite Neuroscience into the Humanities Building?

Here's how Krystal puts it:

[W]hat the postmodernists indirectly accomplished was to open the humanities to the sciences, particularly neuroscience. By exposing the ideological codes in language, by revealing the secret grammar of architectural narrative and poetic symmetries, and by identifying the biases that frame "disinterested" judgment, postmodern theorists provided a blueprint of how we necessarily think and express ourselves. In their own way, they mirrored the latest developments in neurology, psychology, and evolutionary biology. To put it in the most basic terms: Our preferences, behaviors, tropes, and thoughts—the very stuff of consciousness—are byproducts of the brain’s activity. And once we map the electrochemical impulses that shoot between our neurons, we should be able to understand—well, everything. So every discipline becomes implicitly a neurodiscipline, including ethics, aesthetics, musicology, theology, literature, whatever.

The Neurocritic concludes that Krystal is just confused; but the explanation may be deeper and more interesting. I sometimes find that I've stumbled on literary artefacts from a parallel universe, and the most parsimonious explanation for Krystal's essay, I think, is that it's happened again.

I wish I lived in a world where "postmodernists" had "[revealed] the secret grammar of architectural narrative and poetic symmetries" and "provided a blueprint of how we necessarily think and express ourselves", thereby "[mirroring] the latest developments in neurology, psychology, and evolutionary biology". But in the universe I unhappily inhabit, it was I.A. Richards who tried to start down that path a century ago, representing a generation of literary scholars that the postmodernists scornfully rejected.

As I wrote a few years ago ("Literary Evolution", 8/3/2008):

The idea of approaching literary criticism in a scientific spirit is nothing new — I.A. Richards, for example, saw literary analysis as a form of rational inquiry no different in kind from psychology, linguistics, or anthropology. In Practical Criticism (1930), he analyzed the responses of dozens of anonymized undergraduates to dozens of anonymized poems; and he notes that because in that way "we gain a much more intimate understanding both of the poem and of the opinions it provokes", he was "not without fears that my efforts may prove of assistance to young poets (and others) desiring to increase their sales. A set of formulas for 'nation-wide appeal' seems to be a just possible outcome."

And could it be this same transdimension wire-crossing that created the confusion about the title of Krystal's essay? It's true that headlines are normally written by editors rather than writers — but perhaps this title switch represents a conflict between the journal's Krystal World editor and her mundane counterpart.

Anyhow, for more dispatches from Arthur Krystal's universe, see "What we lose if we lose the canon", 1/5/2015, featured on the cover of the January 9 issue of The Chronicle Review under the alternate-world title "How We Read Now". I look forward to future cover stories on how biochemistry is ruining anthropology, and philately is ruining astronomy.

Episcopal liturgies

Sunday, 25 January 2015 10:54 am
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The altar party at Mechelen - basically everyone who was not tied down to their own home parish that day. I am in the back row, between the two mitres

Last Monday for the feast of the Epiphany was part of a full-blown episcopal liturgy in the attractive church late 19th century church the Roman Catholics are letting us use in Mechelen, 30 km from Brussels and the historic centre of Roman Catholicism in Belgium.

Usually I don’t much care for episcopal liturgies, with their complex choreography (I inevitably get dirty looks from the bishop for being in the wrong place), their constant changes of omophore (stole) and the centrality of the figure of the bishop. Fortunately there are young men who seem to love all this and I leave them to get on with it. My preference has always been for small weekday liturgies with one priest, one deacon and perhaps 10 people in church

Yet at the same time, I am beginning to smell something important in these big liturgies. It ties into a primitive need for ritual, going back beyond Christianity into man’s general religious past (religio perennis as some call it – I prefer the German term religiöses Gemeingut). Something you perhaps do not understand very well, but instinctively you know to be important to your humanity. Something which feels right when you have completed it properly. Something that, if the Church does not provide, other will, starting with Freemasons. Also, in a Christian context, linking in to the permanent liturgy going on in heaven (even if I hope that, if and when I get there, the heavenly liturgy will be simpler than the Orthodox episcopal one, or that kindly angels will ensure I am always in the right place with my censer…).

The other thing that was right – and almost for the first time ever in my 20 years in Orthodoxy – was to hear the canon of the liturgy of St Basil (the very long one, now relegated to a few big festivals) read out aloud correctly, without being cut (as Fr X does) or gabbled at breakneck speed (Fr Y’s manner) and done in silence so only God hears (Fr Z). I am rarely laudatory of our bishop, but I thank him for that.


[syndicated profile] lovejoyfeminism_feed

Posted by Libby Anne

By Melissa

Originally posted at Permission to Live

Young_Girl_Reading_by_Jean-Baptiste-Camille_Corot_c1868I read constantly. It was a way to find out more about the world outside my parents home, and escape from the day in day out monotony, and other than our family movie nights, some of my only entertainment.

Some books that I read, were not approved. I speed-read them without my parents knowledge in the library (The Princess Diaries Series, Star Wars Sci-Fi) and later when I had access to book stores bought them and hid them in the cabinet that was mine (Leon Uris and Chiam Potok). Sometimes unapproved books made their way into our house from grandparents downsizing (Readers Digest collections) or a large box of classics a distant relative or friend dropped off for the homeschool kids, which would then sit in the corner of the living room until my mom had a chance to sort and approve which we could keep. In that window of time I would do my own sorting and read as much as I could before books were disposed of.

Sometimes I was caught reading unapproved materials, and I would be lectured on the dangers of reading such things and the book would be put away or thrown out. There were a few times as a teen where I was banned from all reading other than my bible or theology books (for days, weeks or months) until my attitude improved, or I consistently got all my chores done on time, or until my dad randomly decided my punishment had lasted long enough.

Some of the books I read were marginally or grudgingly approved. Books like the Dear America Series, these were Historical Fiction, written in the first person from the perspective of a young girl at some point in history. My mom originally approved them on a case by case basis, but at some point couldn’t keep up with my speed reading and gave up policing which ones I could or could not read, and I devoured them all, including the ones about girls who were not Christians, and the ones that talked about suffrage. Another one that squeaked by was “The Diary of Ann Frank” I’m still not sure what caused it to be approved, but I remember my grandma expressing surprise that I wasn’t allowed to read it, and then eventually I read it.

All of these books shaped me, but the books I’m writing about today are the books that were unequivocally and heartily approved by my parents, but contained messages about women daring to step outside the conservative box of their time, that I don’t think my parents intended me to find. I suppose I am using the term “Feminist Literature” somewhat loosely here. These books are all at least 100 years old, were not LGBTQ inclusive or racially sensitive, and they gave a lot of simplistic boy meets girl type scenarios to conclude the story, but they also introduced me to ideas of womanhood that I am not sure I would have encountered otherwise. Also interesting to note, all of these books have female authors!

“An Old Fashioned Girl”- by Louisa May Alcott

I read so many books by Louisa May Alcott. My mom read “Little Women” aloud to us when I was young, and I read as many other books as I could find in print. Alcott’s stories tend to have heavily moralized themes, but I still value her ability to make her main protagonist female most of the time, and that she always tucked in a spinster character somewhere as a subtle nod to the fact that life can be lived as a female with out being a man’s partner. I mention this title in particular because I remember being impressed with the fact that Polly (the main character in the story) moved away from home to live in the city at 20 years of age. She got her own place, supported herself, and navigated her own relationships, all of which were forbidden in my home of origin at the time. I wondered what it would be like to live as an independent woman, without having every decision fielded by my parents.

“These Happy Golden Years”- Laura Ingalls Wilder

This is another series I loved. I got “Little House in the Big Woods” when I was 7, and my aunt gifted me the rest of the series when I was 8. My mom also read this series out loud to the family. Through the whole series Laura struggles to fit the stereotypical image of femininity, she runs instead of walks, lets her bonnet fall down her back instead of shade her face, and likes to hang out with her dad. “These Happy Golden Years” is at the end of the series, and Laura is closing in on adulthood. I remember being surprised when Almonzo starts to show interest, they go for enumerable buggy rides, without a chaperon, which by purity culture standards meant Laura’s reputation must be compromised! But no one in the story seemed to feel that way? Also when Laura and Almonzo get married, she makes a specific request that the word “submit” be left out of the vows, because she would not promise to obey anyone. This was shocking to me, and intriguing.

“Anne of the Island”- L.M. Montgomery

I am not sure why the Anne of Green Gables series was approved, when L.M. Montgomery’s other series “Emily of New Moon” was not. I read all of the Anne books several times over, and reveled in her magical dreaming, and lived vicariously through her close friendships. I went with this title (the third in the series) partially because of the story-line of her moving away from home to get her degree, but also because of the relationship that happens in this book. Throughout this era, Anne is involved with a “tall dark and handsome” young man, but near the end of the book realizes that he doesn’t really fit into what she wants in a mate, and she dumps him. She feels horrible about breaking his heart, but life goes on. The idea that a woman could legitimately end a relationship that was not working for her was a big one in a belief system where dating was practically equal to marriage, and marriage was forever no matter what.

Girl of the Limberlost- Gene Stratton Porter

This book I received from my grandpa, who got it at an auction. It was a first edition, with a torn jacket and worn binding, and I read it many many times in my teen years. While the girls in the other books I mentioned here had either support, or mild disapproval to deal with from their parents, Elnora in this book deals with much more on that front. Her mother is neglectful, depressed, and vehemently against Elnora pursuing her education. But Elnora is determined to go to high school anyway, and she does, despite having older clothes and used books. She builds a support network, figures out how to support herself, and persists in her goal despite the almost constant negativity from her mom. This stood out to me, because it was so hard to ever imagine standing up for myself like that. I wanted to please my parents so badly, the idea of pursuing something they did not approve of was mind-boggling. But I read the book again and again, hoping that maybe one day I would have courage (like Elnora) to be myself, despite the obstacles.

So there you have it. Fundamentalist approved Feminist Literature I grew up reading. Books that were so old, they had to support the fantasy world the fundamentalist culture was trying to re-create, right? Except even 100 year old books were more progressive than the conservative worldview I grew up in.

What subversive ideas did you glean from parent approved reading?

Nervous cluelessness and getting there first

Saturday, 24 January 2015 08:58 pm
[syndicated profile] languagelog_feed

Posted by Geoffrey K. Pullum

An email correspondent working for someone who is (evidently) a clueless would-be grammar purist appealed to me recently for help:

I am working with a client who insists that it is grammatically incorrect to use Get There First as a tag line. For the life of us, we cannot figure out what is grammatically incorrect about this phrase. Can you shed any light on our mystery?

Of course I can! Here at Language Log we solve half a dozen grammar mysteries of this sort before breakfast. I can not only finger the client's reaction as classic nervous cluelessness; I think I can identify the etiology of the mistake.

My guess would be that the client thinks that because first is an adjective (which it certainly is, hence noun phrases like a first approximation or the first customer), it therefore cannot be used as an adverb. After all (the client might reason), with an adjective like immediate, which certainly occurs as an attributive adjective in a noun phrase like an immediate response, it is not grammatical to use it as an adverb:


*We must go there immediate.

 We must go there immediately.

You have to add -ly to get the related adverb immediately, and use that instead of the adjective.

What the client has not noticed, though, is that there are a number of adjectives in English that have corresponding adverbs that don't take the -ly suffix. There is nothing wrong with words like fast, late, or hard being used either as adjectives or as adverbs, without the -ly:

  fast late hard
adjectival uses:  a fast car a late lunch a hard shell
adverbial uses:  She drove fast. Let's arrive late. They tried hard.

No one (I assume) would think that the adverb uses are ungrammatical in Standard English. And the plain fact is that the ordinal numeral adjectives first, second, third, etc., belong in the same class as fast, late, and hard. In noun phrases like the first person to do it we see them in their adjective guise, and in clauses like I did it first they make fully grammatical appearances as adverbs. Similarly for second, third, and all the others.

One thing that may increase people's anxiety about using unsuffixed adverbs is the fact that informal American English is inclined to use unsuffixed adverbs more freely, and American students may recall getting told off in writing classes for being overly informal. You'll need to get there quick sometimes gets corrected to You'll need to get there quickly, and so on. Moreover, with some words more than just style is at stake: phrases like love me tender and treat me nice (both familiar as Elvis Presley song titles) are not grammatical in Standard English at all, regardless of formality level. So using unsuffixed forms as adverbs certainly can be ungrammatical in some cases.

But the client made the mistake of not considering this question: Which of the following is grammatical?

 I hope we get there first.
*I hope we get there firstly.

It's the asterisked one that is hopelessly ungrammatical, in all dialects and at all formality levels. And the first example is fine.

There is a further point: the adverb first can even occur (with a slightly different meaning) before the verb it modifies:

We first have to get there.

Normally unsuffixed adverbs can't do that: you can say We'll arrive late but not *We'll late arrive. That's one of the small syntactic differences between the two adverbs: late happens not to have developed a pre-head modifier use. The -ly adverbs usually can occur before a verb (as in Elvis immediately left the building, or We quickly grabbed our coats). So first is even more like a typical adverb than late is!

It took only a few seconds on my laptop to determine for sure that a respectably edited source like The Wall Street Journal agreed with me: I searched 44 million words of WSJ articles to see if get there first ever occurred there in the text of an article (rather than in direct quotations from speech), and it did:

With talk of raising federal levies on those items and gasoline, some states that need revenue are moving to get there first.

So to summarize, the client is totally, totally wrong. There is not a whiff of ungrammaticality (or even informality) about the phrase get there first in Standard English.

I hope the client can be convinced. But I wouldn't bet on it: people just dig their heels in on such matters. With their fingers in their ears they just scream that what they think they remember having once been told by an English teacher is right, and all the professional grammarians in the world are wrong and none of the evidence of usage is relevant. Explaining to them that grammatically their head is stuck in a bodily aperture where the sun never shines is even trickier when they are the client and you are working for them and you'd like to keep the contract.

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"This is my prayer: that your love may overflow more and more with knowledge and full insight to help you to determine what is best."
-- St. Paul's Epistle to the Philippians 1:9-10

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