How to Win Any Argument

Thursday, 28 August 2014 03:30 am
[syndicated profile] rookie_feed

Posted by Hazel

Illustration by Ruby A.

Illustration by Ruby A.

I like arguing. Not the screaming and shouting kind—what I enjoy is calmly, respectfully, and thoughtfully debating people whose opinions differ from mine. And if I can get them to change their minds and agree with me, that’s the most fun.

Some people can’t stand even the idea of arguing. I get that we all have different tolerances for conflict, but I also think a lot of these people are confusing arguing with fighting. To me, at least, a fight is yelling, screaming, Judge Judy, etc. Arguing, on the other hand, is presenting your point of view effectively in the face of an opposing one—which is just a basic skill you want to have in life. Whether you’re campaigning for class secretary or writing a college essay or taking issue with how someone treats you, what you’re essentially doing is trying to persuade another person to agree with you, or at least see your side of things.

This seems reasonable (hopefully), but it’s not always easy to express your opinions, especially unpopular ones—especially if you’re a girl, because you have probably been taught from a baby age to be quiet and agreeable and to downplay your successes. Many people seem threatened by women who are extremely confident in our abilities and unafraid of speaking our minds, so they try to shut us up, or get other people to hate us too, by calling us “shrill” or “strident” or “a bitch.” Whatever. Don’t even argue with such people—they’re not worth your time.

In 11th grade, we had to read this book called Thank You for Arguing, by Jay Heinrichs, for English class. I initially kind of brushed it off as bullshit (as I did with like 90 percent of the books that were forced on me in high school), but there were a lot of points in there that stuck with me. Even now, lo these three years later, I find myself reaching for some of the strategies I learned from ol’ Heinrichs. It turns out they work IRL, too, and not just in a tiny class debate.

Can you win every argument? Contrary to the title of this piece, no, you can’t, unless you’re a robot—though, actually, even robots occasionally lose. But there are ways to get all but the stubbornest of opponents to come around to your worldview and get on board your spaceship of awesomeness. Here are just a few of them. Use them whenever you find yourself in a Twitter fight, writing an essay, or just plain fucking pissed off at your little brother for whatever the hell he did this time.

1. Fight fair.

“To win a deliberative argument, don’t try to outscore your opponent,” Heinrichs writes in his book. “Try instead to get your way.” Basically, arguing with someone effectively doesn’t mean trying to SLAM DOWN everything they think or say. Insulting someone’s intelligence just because they disagree with you will not only hurt their feelings, but you’ll probably both come out of the argument feeling less understood than when it started. The best way to avoid this outcome is to listen to them and don’t assume the reason they disagree with you is that they’re stupid, or JUST WRONG. Your goal isn’t to make them feel mad, dumb, or smart—it’s to help them absorb and understand your point. Keep your eye on that ball.

2. Balance thoughts and feelings.

Facts are important. So are people’s feelings, yours included. A really good argument considers both.

In the real world, you’re not necessarily going to throw down a bunch of paperwork and statistics in front of your parents about, say, the lifelong benefits of childhood puppy ownership. At the same time, “I reaaaaalllllly want it” is not the most persuasive argument. Before you talk to them, think about what their disagreements might be, and have some facts at the ready to counter each one. It could be something as simple as “Hey, mom, I have a text from you from two weeks ago that says I can sleep over at Becky’s house tonight, but now you’re saying no. That seems unfair to me. Can we talk about it?” Or maybe you’re arguing with a classmate over the legalization of weed and they’ve got the health facts all wrong—wouldn’t you like to be able to prove that to them?

There are times, however, when facts and figures are totally ineffectual, and that is in the face of strong emotions. When someone you’re arguing with bursts into tears and is like, “Why do you hate me?!?!?” it will only fan the flames if you respond with “If you check the public record (aka Facebook), you will see that, actually, I have attended 83 percent of your parties in the past four years.”

I myself am a sensitive person who can quickly go, in the words of Drake, “0 to 100,” anger-wise, in the middle of what was previously a rational argument. This often works against me, especially if I start saying mean things instead of talking reason. But passion has its place, and that place is helping someone understand why you feel so strongly about a given subject.

Let’s take an example from my real (online) life! When it was announced last spring that someone wrote a new book about twee, a cutesy pop music genre that is dear to my heart, I perked up. Imagine my stinging disappointment, then, when the press release used the word twee as a catchall semi-pejorative, and included Rookie in its list of examples (alongside “artisanal pickles, food trucks, crocheted owls on Etsy, ukuleles, [and] kittens”). I will concede that this here website’s color palette does tend toward the pastel, and that our aesthetic is somewhat girlie (weird, for a website for girls), but that book’s author was trying to define us as part of a nonthreatening, cutesy aesthetic movement that fetishizes naïveté—even though we are a magazine, not a design scheme, and our content includes articles on BDSM, racism, mental illness, etc., as well as deeply felt paeans to glitter (we just like it, OK?). So, yeah, maybe I took this a bit personally and got defensive. But the whole idea of someone taking something I loved—twee, as in the genre—and misusing it against not just Rookie but so many other things (Sylvia Plath, Judy Blume, Girls, etc.) that can be complicated and thorny and dark in a decidedly unchildlike way, pissed me off. And it was this feeling, not the “facts” behind it, that I felt was important to communicate. So I wrote a with a curt but (I think understandably) frustrated blog post that asked is this writer was “fucking kidding me?” The many thoughtful responses that post received were proof that I had effectively argued my point.

Showing emotion doesn’t mean you’re weak or manipulative (two things people often accuse teenagers, especially the girl kind, of being). There’s no way someone’s gonna know how you feel about something unless you show/tell them, and if that’s going to help them get what you’re talking about, don’t hold back.

3. Argue an hour in their shoes.

“One way to get people to agree with you is to agree with them—tactically, that is,” Heinrich writes. “Agreeing up front doesn’t mean giving up your argument. Instead, use your opponent’s opinion to get what you want.” Get into their head, in other words. If you’re trying to persuade your introverted friend to go to a party with you, paint a picture of the night as a noncommittal experiment, not forced fun. E.g.: “I know parties can be kind of lousy sometimes, but if it seems annoying, we can totally just leave.” You anticipated that your friend was dreading another night stuck at some crowded nightmare of a party, and you assuaged that fear before she even had to express it.

Or what about arguing with your parents? Think about what would resonate most with them, not necessarily what’s most important to you. Here’s an ineffective argument: “But EVERYONE I KNOW has a tongue piercing!!” Instead, try: “Mom, dad, I understand that you disagree with me, but when you were my age, did your parents ever attack your personal choices in [clothing/friends/politics/etc.]? Well, remember what that felt like, because that’s how I feel now.” Assuming your parents were young once too, that statement might make more sense to them that the first version. One time a bouncer took away my fake ID at a music venue, and I got it back by using this trick. I dunno, maybe he was just easy, but he didn’t budge until I dramatically made prayer hands and did the “you were young once!” thing.

4. Redefine the argument in your terms.

I actually hate it when people do this to me, but, under certain conditions, it works. A lot of arguments get caught up in semantics. Like, maybe at the beginning of this article, you were like, “What?! There is no difference between an argument and a fight! Why would I read an article by someone who doesn’t even know what words mean?!” Then we could get in a 20-minute [insert you preferred term here] that went like:

You: God, you’re dumb. How are you even a writer? You don’t even know what a fight is.
Me: Yes I do.
You: No you don’t.
Me: Yes I do.
You: No you don’t!

And so on. Annoying! It doesn’t have to be so nitpicky and petty, though—when implemented carefully in the right contexts, it can help someone see things from a different perspective. Like so:

Alison: That girl is horrible because she’s a slut.
Katie: I don’t think being a slut is a bad thing to be, though.

Alison’s argument is basically stupid now because Katie totally redefined the word it hinged on. Now, if Alison wants to explain why this girl is so horrible, she’s going to need to be more specific. Another example:

My mom: Hazel, you’re being lazy, do your homework.
Me: I’m not being lazy, I’m just decompressing. Sometimes I need to decompress after school so I’ll have enough energy to do my homework later.

Wow, look how much better I seem now!

Is this tactic foolproof? Nah, but it’s a good tool to have in your arsenal.

5. Pick your battles.

Some arguments are just unwinnable, and it’s important to recognize those quickly, so you don’t waste your valuable time and energy. One surefire sign that you’ll never get through to someone is their ignoring the point of anything you’re saying and just calling you “dumb” or “wrong” or “naïve” no matter what you say. Another is if they just repeat the same shit over and over again, but more loudly each time. Get outta there! You deserve better.

You can’t actually win every argument, but that’s OK! Sometimes you’ll pull out of a conversation because you can tell it’s going nowhere. And sometimes the other person will change your opinion about something. They could help you see the world from their perspective, and your mind will be expanded—maybe even blown! Which—I take back what I said before—totally counts as a win. ♦

Patriarchy: What’s in a Word?

Thursday, 28 August 2014 03:25 am
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Posted by Libby Anne

Today Michael Farris published a white paper titled “A Line in the Sand.” In it, he called out patriarchy and legalism directly, and condemned both. I am grateful for any additional freedom his words may bring children in Christian homeschooling families influenced by his words, but I am very concerned that we are once again getting caught up in what amounts to a word game.

I’m going to leave aside that the biggest reason Farris gives for “treating children well and treating women well” is that “if public policy makers believe that the homeschooling movement promotes teachers and teaching that have a strong likelihood of damaging people—particularly children and women—then our freedom will suffer.” I’d like to think that Farris would speak against discrimination and abuse even if he didn’t think the freedom to homeschool was on the line, but I honestly don’t think he would. But again, that’s fodder for another post. What I want to get at here is a slightly different point.

Here is an excerpt from Farris’s white paper:

Phillips’ teaching of patriarchy goes far beyond even a very traditional view of Scripture’s teaching about the roles of men and women. Some people who subscribe to nothing more than traditional complementarian views (as do I) have occasionally used the term patriarchy (something I would never do). However, there is a real distinction between complementarianism and Phillips’ form of patriarchy. In this article, we seek to address teachings about the subservience of women, which can never be justified from Scripture.

In sum, patriarchy teaches that women in general should be subject to men in general. The Bible teaches no such thing.

That’s . . . not what anyone says “patriarchy” means. I’ve used the term plenty of times and I’ve never meant that. Even Doug Phillips never believed that women in general should be subject to men in general. No, the idea is that wives are to submit to husbands, that women’s primary role is in the home, and, in the case of Phillips, that adult daughters should obey their fathers.

Farris mischaracterizes Phillips’ position throughout. Phillips would never say that his daughters Liberty or Jubilee are to be in subjection to all men rather than simply in subjection to him. Similarly, Farris later claims that Phillips taught that adult daughters must not leave home until marriage, but this is not true. Phillips taught that daughters could leave the home at their fathers’ behest—that is how the young nanny Phillips sexually abused came to live with them, sent there by her father.

Farris also plays fast and loose with his own. Farris stated above that he ascribes to “traditional complementarian views,” but isn’t very upfront about what those involve. Instead, he describes his views as follows:

While people are entitled to personal opinions within a broad range, there are some views within the patriarchy movement that go too far. Women are not to be the de facto slaves of men. Women are created with dignity equal to that of men. Women have direct and unmediated access to God. Daughters should not be taught that their only and ultimate purpose in life is to be the “helpmeet” of a man. While being a godly wife is a worthy ideal, the only statement that is universally true for every woman is that she should love and serve God as her highest priority. My wife and I raised our own daughters to believe that being a wife and mother was a very high calling but did so in a way that would not crush them if God’s leading had been different.

Farris contrasts his views to those of Phillips, presenting himself as reasonable and even egalitarian. But he’s not. He’s very, very not. He’s a complementarian, which means he believes in male headship and female submission, but there’s more than that. I recently broke down and bought his 2003 book, The Spiritual Power of a Mother, because I was tired of guessing what was in between the tantalizing sentence excerpts available on google books. It’s of course possible that Farris has changed his views on male headship and female submission since 2003, but I find this unlikely, especially given his continued espousal of the term “complementarianism.”

Here is an excerpt from The Spiritual Power of a Mother:

I have been in marital counseling situations where the wife says essentially, “I am quite willing to follow my husband except when he is wrong.” (Please leave aside the rare situations where a husband asks his wife to do something that is morally or legally wrong such as joining him in cheating on their income taxes. We will return to these situations a little later.) The real test of being submissive is being willing to follow her husband when a wife thinks he is making the wrong decision.

He then explains that “many men were once willing to lead their wives” but that “after constant resistance, they have just given up.” He uses the example of a teenage boy who breaks his curfew so frequently that his parents eventually give up to illustrate this phenomenon. He goes on:

When you are truly willing to follow your husband, even when you think he is wrong, you are on the first step toward contentment for you. This is the most important thing you can gain out of the situation. Your decision may prompt him to be a better leader. But even if this doesn’t happen right away (or ever), you have gained contentment, which is to be highly prized.

Note that all of this is stated as fact, not opinion.

Farris addresses what a wife should do if she believes God is leading her to homeschool but her husband wants their children in public school, explaining the proper course of action as follows:

In the preliminary stages it is fine for a wife to do some research and give answers to her husband’s questions on the subject. She can also attempt to show that homeschooling is consistent with his goals and priorities for the children. But she should not continue this at length. It is fine for a wife to say: “I accept your decision about priorities and goals. Is it OK if I try to put together some information to show you that homeschooling meets your priorities and goals?” It is inappropriate for a wife to keep going on and on about a subject, because both of them know at some point that she does not really accept her husband’s decisions about goals and priorities and that she is just trying to get her own way.

Farris tells his readers not to make the decision to submit to and obey their husbands without worrying that their husbands may abuse their power. “Don’t get sidetracked by such thoughts,” he says. Yet he does admit that abuse can happen, and says that a wife need not obey her husband “if he demands that you do something illegal, immoral, or unhealthy.” Farris then discusses Matthew 18, which urges believers to approach another believer who is sinning against them, then approach them with a witness, then take it to the church. Farris applies this to the husband/wife relationship as follows:

Here is where the immoral, illegal, or unhealthy requests of a husband can be appealed. If your husband asks you to cheat on your taxes or violate some clear moral command of the Word of God or does something that compromises your health or safety, then he has sinned against you. If you resist and this becomes a point of contention, then you may well need to go to your church leaders or to appropriate family members (his father, for example) and appeal. If he simply makes an improper demand and you say no and he leaves it at that, then you should leave it alone as well.

. . .

Let me sound one additional caution in all of this. Unless you are in a situation where you are in some realistic danger, I think that it is imperative that you take the second step in the Matthew 18 process only with your husband’s advance knowledge. Ask him if he is willing to go have a talk with the elders to get some help resolving the dispute.

If there is actual physical danger to the wife or children, Farris urges the wife to go to the church elders or another trusted spiritual leader alone, without first consulting the husband. Never does he suggest going to the police.

Finally, Farris deals with what he calls “practical questions.”

Should I take my children to church alone? By all means. If your husband doesn’t forbid you, then the issue is easy. Take them to church. If he forbids you from taking the children to church, then you probably need to follow his directions in this. Teach them at home. If he doesn’t forbid playing sermon tapes, do that instead.

But what if he takes them to the house of worship of a false religion? This is the most difficult issue of all for me. But I think you need to follow the example of Moses’s mother. Her son was taken into the house of Pharaoh. We should assume that he was exposed to the education, philosophy, and religion of the Pharaohs. Moses’s mother undoubtedly prayed for her son and taught him the truth whenever she could. You should do the same. . . .

Do I have to go with my husband to a house of worship for a false religion? No. But make sure you are talking about a clearly false religion and not a denominational dispute between varieties of churches that essentially teach the fundamental truths of the Christian faith.

This entire chapter runs contrary to Farris’s claim that he does not endorse patriarchy—and his claim that he is against legalism. These views—what Farris calls “complementarianism”—are patriarchal. They are also legalistic in that they involve a myriad of rules drawn from a text rather than placing people and their needs first.

One more thing. Let’s look at this passage from Farris’s white paper:

It is not sinful to hold a very conservative view of gender roles or child rearing. If people believe such ideas are wise, then our legal system should protect their choices, provided those choices do not result in abuse. My own views, while certainly moderate within the Christian homeschooling movement, might be considered too conservative by some on the extreme cultural left.

What I should not do is claim that my personal views are universal commands of God. Those more conservative or more liberal than I am should not claim that their personal views are universal commands of God. God speaks for Himself, and He does it in the Bible.

People are misled when human ideas are wrapped in false claims of being God’s directives. Different forms of critical analysis are necessary when one is examining God’s words versus man’s words. Innocent people follow teachers in good faith thinking they are following God. And when the directives turn out to be only man’s ideas, the followers often find that someone in their family has been damaged in the process. Only God’s ideas are infallible. Man’s ideas will always fall short.

. . .

We have a really easy way to know God’s universal commands. They are written in the Bible.

In other words, Farris draws a distinction between human ideas and God’s universal commands, and argues that both Phillips and Gothard were issuing mere human opinion. Farris claims that he, unlike them, would not portray his personal views as the universal commands of God—but is that true?

Let’s look at this bit from Farris’s book:

I need to give the reader a caveat right now that flows from the fact that I am active in politics. There are people who read everything I write to try to find a basis for attacking me politically. We are about to embark on a lengthy discussion that assumes that it is a good thing for a wife to be submissive to her husband, as the New Testament teaches in Ephesians 5:22-24. No one requires a wife to believe the Bible. That is a free and voluntary act. I am writing to women who believe the Bible and want to follow what it says in every area of life including this one. It is unthinkable to me to enact the teaching of Ephesians 5 into the civil law of the United States. Feminists want to push their philosophy of life into the law in a way that takes the rights and lives of others—abortion taking the life of the unborn child being the chief example. But the vast majority of Christians reject the notion of using the government in this way. If you don’t believe in the principles of Ephesians 5, you are not going to agree with the rest of this chapter. Fine. No one forces you to follow God. That is up to you.

Farris equates believing in his own personal interpretation of Ephesians 5 with following God. He equates his words in this chapter with God’s universal commands. Farris may not realize this, but he is not so very different from Phillips or Gothard. Both of them believed they were teaching God’s universal commands, based not on human opinion but on the teachings of the Bible. No Christian leader sets out to teach the commandments of men—and no Christian leader thinks that is what he (or she) is doing. Farris probably thinks it’s different in his case because he honestly believes his views on things like wifely submission are God’s universal commands—but that is exactly what makes him so little different from Gothard and Phillips.

Farris can’t actually break with patriarchy because he truly believes wives are commanded by God to submit to and obey their husbands. But, distressed by the downfall of Phillips and Gothard, what he can do is create and then burn a strawman effigy of patriarchy, thus symbolically and rhetorically distancing himself from them and seeking to avoid being swept away in the whirlpool that is their demise. And he is right to be worried—his family’s embrace of Gothard goes back decades, and Phillips was a close colleague of his for years and has remained a partner in business.

Farris probably thinks he deserves a pat on the back for his white paper. I can’t give him that, for some very good reasons.

  1. Farris did not speak out against both Phillips and Gothard until both had fallen, even though he now claims he has had concerns about both for decades. Real leaders speak out against dangerous teachings or leaders when speaking out is still difficult rather than letting others do the heavy lifting and waiting to speak out until speaking out is easy.
  2. Farris has yet to speak out against a single leader who is not already engulfed in scandal, in spite of the fact that there are numerous other powerful figures who hold the same dangerous ideas and run in the same circles. In fact, both Farris and HSLDA continue to associate publicly with many of these individuals. Farris’s unwillingness to call out anyone who is not already down speaks of cowardice and of putting his own interests over principle.
  3. Farris’s beliefs and teachings continue to have huge gaping problems. Unless he comes out against wifely submission—and he won’t—Farris’s beliefs remain both toxic and dangerous. He may condemn the idea that fathers have authority over their adult daughters, which I do appreciate, but he doesn’t say a word against the belief that husbands have authority over their wives, and that silence is deafening. His continued insistence on parental rights over and above children’s rights is also both patriarchal and profoundly troubling.
  4. Farris appears to be more concerned about the potential of legal threats to homeschooling than he is about actual harm done to homeschooled children. This is apparent in everything he writes or says on the subject—it’s always about the potential of “threats to homeschooling” and never about simply doing the right thing. It’s also apparent in his continued opposition to legal protections for homeschooled children.

Farris thinks he is the solution to a problem he doesn’t realize he is a part of.

Kirk Cameron’s Citizen Cane

Thursday, 28 August 2014 12:22 am
[syndicated profile] slacktivist_feed

Posted by Fred Clark

Uh-oh, it seems our favorite white evangelical movie star has set his sights on Saving Christmas.

As Hemant Mehta says, “If someone filmed a parody about the ‘War on Christmas,‘” it might look just like this upcoming, family friendly holiday treat from the man who was once Buck Williams.

Click here to view the embedded video.

Glenn Beck’s website, The Blaze, reports on the upcoming film: “Hollywood Actor Says His New Movie Will Hammer Political Correctness and Frustrate Atheist Activists.”

I’m guessing that headline is true. This looks like a movie that will “hammer” and “frustrate” everyone who sees it.

Beckling Billy Hallowell reports:

Actor Kirk Cameron is taking political correctness to task this fall with a new movie that aims to deflate arguments regularly made against Christmas, while simultaneously pushing back against atheist activists’ annual attacks on the holiday.

In “Saving Christmas,” Cameron plans to tackle some of the most controversial and disputed issues surrounding the celebration of Jesus Christ’s birthday — claims that he says have had a profound impact on the way believers and nonbelievers alike view the Christian celebration.

The odd thing, judging from Cameron’s comments and description of the project, and from what we can see in the trailer, is that Saving Christmas isn’t going after more than just the usual targets in the annual Fox News “War on Christmas” faux-persecution festival. That’s part of it — Cameron’s voiceover in the trailer laments the phrases “Happy Holidays” and “Seasons Greetings.” He sneers, “Whatever that means,” because, apparently, he’s unaware of when winter begins and he’s never heard of Hannukah or New Year’s Day.

The movie’s unoriginal tag line – “Put Christ Back in Christmas” — follows that same Fox agenda of asserting sectarian hegemony. But Cameron also seems intent on defending all the rest of the cultural accretions associated with the holiday — Christmas trees, boughs of holly, stockings, candy canes, partridges in pear trees, silver bells, the Detroit Lions, Black Friday … maybe even Frosty and Rudolph — as being specific, sectarian expressions of Christian faith.

“It’s all about Jesus,” Cameron’s character says in the trailer, seeming to insist that everything we associate with Christmas is somehow directly related to Jesus and the story of the Nativity. The Blaze article seems to suggest that too:

Unlike some of his more recent projects, Saving Christmas isn’t a documentary. It’s a comedic narrative that weaves together educational elements that, through a character-driven storyline, address these common complaints and critiques.

Cameron said some of the claims that will be addressed in the film include: the notion that Christmas is really a church co-opting of winter solstice celebrations, that Jesus was not born on December 25, that Christmas trees are pagan and that consumerism is overshadowing the true reason for the season.

Hoo-boy. Sounds like Cam-Cam is saying that he’s going to try to convince us that December 25 is Jesus actual birthday. And also that consumerism is really an expression of “the true reason for the season.”

So let me just pre-emptively post this snippet from the page on the origin of the candy cane:

In recent years several different stories have been advanced claiming that the candy cane was designed to be fraught with Christian religious symbolism, variously offering it as a secret form of identification used by European Christians during a time of persecution, a sweet treat created to induce children to behave well in church, or a confection dreamed up by a candymaker in Indiana to express his Christian faith. 

CAMCAMThe first of these claims — that the candy cane was intended as a means by which persecuted Christians could furtively identify each other — is directly contradicted by history. Even questionable accounts regarding the origins of the candy cane place its origins no earlier the latter part of the 17th century, at which time Europe was almost entirely Christian. By then, only people who were not Christians would have been the ones in need of this form of “secret handshake!” Like the apocryphal tale of the “true” meaning of the song “The Twelve Days of Christmas,” this claim is a modern day attempt to infuse a primarily secular holiday artifact with Christian origins and meanings. 

Another popular account claims a choirmaster in Cologne, Germany, as the inventor of the candy cane. … However, this account also presents significant historical problems. Despite the authoritative-sounding appeal to “church history,” no one has yet produced any documentation that either verifies this account as true or reliably dates it to the 17th century — it exists only in the form of anecdote, recorded no earlier than the mid-20th century. Moreover, English-language references to “candy canes” (1866) and their association with Christmas (1874) didn’t begin to pop up until the latter part of the 19th century, two hundred years after the treat had supposedly been invented and popularized as a Christmastime confection. 

… Claims made about the candy’s Christian symbolism have become increasingly widespread as religious leaders have assured their congregations that these mythologies are factual, the press have published these claims as authoritative answers to readers’ inquiries about the confection’s meaning, and several lavishly illustrated books purport to tell the “true story” of the candy cane’s origins. This is charming folklore, but one should not lose sight of the fact that such stories of the candy cane’s origins are, like Santa Claus, myths and not “true stories.” 

Here is my bet with you, dear readers. I’ll wager that some variation of this “charming folklore” about candy canes gets presented as fact in Cameron’s movie.

The stakes of this bet are very high: If I lose, I have to watch the entire thing.



August 27, 2014

Wednesday, 27 August 2014 11:30 pm
[syndicated profile] rookie_feed

Posted by Caitlin H.

Caitlin's illustrated diary entry. She assures us that she's "not sad, just tired."

Caitlin’s illustrated diary entry. She assures us that she’s “not sad, just tired.”


I am learning to hurt myself in productive ways. Read More »


Telling me to play center back is like telling a trumpeter to play the tuba. Read More »


“Tell us about yourself,” someone says, and you freeze. Read More »

Editor’s note: Marah was too busy studying for her exams this week to write a diary entry, but we’re so happy to let you know that she passed them all with flying colors and that her diary will resume next week!

[syndicated profile] ms_magazine_feed

Posted by Stephanie Hallett

We know what you’re thinking: “You heart PLAYBOY?! Oh no, Ms., you’ve lost all your feminist cred.” But hear us out! published an infographic earlier this week that, on first glance, seems typical of the historically sexist publication. However, further investigation revealed the graphic to be delightfully—and surprisingly—feminist.

The first part of the graphic, pictured below, certainly gave us pause.

Screen shot 2014-08-27 at 10.38.24 AM

Scroll down a little further though, and you’ll discover that the only times it’s appropriate to catcall a woman, according to Playboy, are a) if the female in question is literally a cat, and b) if “you know her and have both consensually agreed to shout sexually suggestive comments to each other in public.” To that we say, well done!

Don’t get us wrong, there’s still plenty of sexist content on But we do think this is a step in the right direction. Click here to see the full flowchart. We hope the lad mag will keep up the good feminist work.

Get Ms. in your inbox! Click here to sign up for the Ms. newsletter.

Infographic published with permission from



Stephanie Hallett is research editor at Ms. Follow her on Twitter @stephhallett.

[syndicated profile] slacktivist_feed

Posted by Fred Clark

What’s the harm of bombing [ISIS] at least for a few weeks and seeing what happens?

This is Bill Kristol’s idea of foreign policy. Drop some bombs and “see what happens.”

"What's the harm ...?"

“What’s the harm …?”

You may remember Kristol and his Neoconservative friends for advocating this same idea back in 2003 — “What’s the harm of invading Iraq at least for a few weeks and seeing what happens?” I’m so old I can still remember how that turned out.

This is the basis of the Neocons’ preferential option for war: Hey, what’s the worst that could happen?

One of the many problems with that mentality is that it tends to produce an answer to that question.

We don’t need to take a careful look at the jus ad bello criteria of just war theory to consider whether Kristol’s argument for war is justifiable. It’s not simply that his argument violates those criteria, but that it refuses to acknowledge that there are or ever could be any criteria for whether or not war is a reasonable or just measure. For Kristol, war is the default — the perpetual first resort.

We could kill a lot of very bad guys,” Kristol said, revealing he’s still committed to the simple, neat and wrong idea that shaped American policy during the Bush administration — just kill all the bad people and all your problems will be solved:

As jaw-droppingly awful as it is to realize that Kristol hasn’t learned anything from his complicity in the biggest, deadliest blunder of a generation, it’s just as awful to realize that many others haven’t learned anything from that mistake either. “Someone said on a panel with me,” Kristol says there — because he’s still regularly invited to sit on panels and to offer advice. It’s the same advice he offered in 2002 and 2003 and yet, despite everything that came of that, people still imagine it’s worth listening to.

As James Fallows wrote last month for The Atlantic, the lethal debacle of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq means “Some people have earned the right not to be listened to.”

Fallows boggles at the fact that Paul Wolfowitz and Scooter Libby — two men who were definitively and massively wrong about everything from 2002 on — were recently hired to teach a course titled, “The War in Iraq: A Study in Decision-Making.”

For a bit of contrast from a saner time, here’s a snippet of Anthony S. Pitch’s piece marking the bicentennial of the burning of Washington by British troops in 1814:

The man most responsible for the catastrophe was none other than the Secretary of War, John Armstrong, of whom it was said, “Nature and habits forbid him to speak well of any man.” When a frantic head of the capital’s militia went to see him, the officious and stubborn secretary of war belittled the threat to the capital.

“They would not come with such a fleet without meaning to strike somewhere. But they certainly will not come here!” he said. “What the devil will they do here? Baltimore is the place.” Later he would become the most reviled man in the country and resigned from office.

Armstrong’s resignation and his complete disappearance from public life was necessary. His becoming “the most reviled man in the country” was wholly appropriate.

But Armstrong wasn’t as massively, sweepingly wrong as people like Kristol, Wolfowitz, Libby, Chaney, Rice, Powell and Bush were in 2002. And the consequences of Armstrong’s catastrophic wrongness were not as vast and enduring as the ongoing catastrophe chosen by those fools.

Plus Armstrong at least had the decency to go away. Kristol, et. al., refuse to do so.

They’re still on TV, on the radio, online and in print. And they’re still saying the same foolish thing: “We could kill a lot of very bad guys. … What’s the harm of bombing them … and seeing what happens?”

The recklessness and pride of that still-influential ideology, I think, gives an answer to Scott Paeth’s recent question: “Has the ‘Niebuhr Moment’ Passed?” No, it hasn’t. It hasn’t even arrived yet.

Theme Song: Honeyblood

Wednesday, 27 August 2014 07:00 pm
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Posted by Anne T. Donahue

Photo by Laura Coulson.

Photo by Laura Coulson.

Like many good things, the Scottish band Honeyblood is the product of friendship. After a pal suggested that the singer-guitarist Stina Tweeddale approach the drummer Shona McVicar about collaborating, the two instantly adored each other, and it was off to the races. Since their formation in 2012, they’ve been writing songs, performing, and creating mix tapes, which they put out independently.

The two have gone from DIY hustling to getting swooped up by FatCat, who released their self-titled debut album last month. When I called them this week, they had just arrived for a gig in Leeds, but were still happy to chat about the car games they play on tour, the beauty of a friendly audience, and recording this month’s theme song: a cover of Liz Phair’s “Mesmerizing” produced by former Hole and Smashing Pumpkins bassist Melissa Auf der Maur.

ANNE T. DONAHUE: Can you tell me a little bit about how this cover came to be?

SHONA: We were in America and Adam at our record label suggested that we maybe speak to Melissa Auf der Maur. She’d actually listened to our album and thought it was great, and was happy to work with us [on the cover]. So she popped down to the house we were staying in, which conveniently had a studio in it, and spent the day with us while we recorded the song. It was a chill way of doing it, but we were so happy to work with her.

I like that your friendship takes front and center stage in your band. It seems like a huge component in the music that you make and the live dynamic that you have, and I think it’s an exciting time for friendship [like that] in pop culture right now.

SHONA: Yeah! You couldn’t be in a two-person band and spend every minute together travelling and touring and sleeping in a hotel room together and playing together and collaborating together if there wasn’t that.

STINA: Definitely – again, one of the things that’s pretty apparent is that I [couldn’t write] the songs without Shona, and the music’s who we are, isn’t it? [Our friendship] goes hand in hand with what we make. We like to see other bands in the same tradition as well. It’s a big thing at the moment.

How did you meet? I know you were both in different bands—is that where everything started?

STINA: Not really. The way it came about, I was actively looking for some people to start a band with. A mutual friend was like, “Hey, you should talk to this girl. She plays drums, she’s probably into the same things as you, and she’s really good.” Shona didn’t even know this until a couple months ago, but I stalked her on the internet for a wee while to find out who she was. Then, by chance, we met at a bar one night when we were with our other bands. I went up to her and said, “Hey, I heard you play drums. Do you wanna jam songs that I wrote?” She said yeah, we had a practice and that was it!

That’s so cool! What kind of bands did you bond over?

STINA: At the time, the Best Coast album had come out. We both loved it, and it gave us a bit of inspiration that we could play music and do everything just ourselves. We also like a lot of similar stuff: PJ Harvey and the Breeders are big influences on our music. We like to play heavy and fast as well, so it all kind of crosses over.

Is that what you listened to growing up?

STINA: Riot Grrrl and rock bands were my kind of thing. On the other side, my biggest childhood vocal influence was the Smiths. I love Morrissey, so I grew up listening to a lot of Smiths stuff. Shona is more into punk —she’ll tell ya!

SHONA: Yeah! It’s like Stina said, we liked a lot of the same music: I’ve never met anyone else’s who’s known them, but there’s a girl-band called Tuuli that we both love. [I also listened to] a lot of punk bands that are a bit heavier. Between us, we have a lot of diversity, which is good, because it makes our songs what they are.

And in September, you’re embarking on a UK tour.

SHONA: We’ve done one before, but this is the main one after the album. It’s exciting, because after the album came out, we did a few album launch parties, but we really want to go back and do proper shows.

Has touring challenged your friendship or has it made it stronger?

STINA: I think we’ve gotten to know each other a lot better! It’s nice to have someone to chill with. Otherwise, it’d be boring to take, like, a 10-hour drive every day. We make up little games and stuff, and now we’ve got a lot of good memories—probably more memories together than we have with anyone else.

Ooh—what games do you play?

STINA: The last time we were in America, we had The Jogging Game. There were always a lot of people out jogging wherever we went, so when you spot a jogger, you got a point—

SHONA: You’d have to shout, “Jogging!”

STINA: You got more points if they had a headband or excessive sports gear on.

This is actually the best—a jogger actually ran past my house when I was talking to you!

STINA: It got pretty intense! I got a bit angry because Shona kept winning, but she was the dark horse. Once, I’d been steady, and then she got six points when a group of joggers went by at the same time, and they all had headbands on, and that just wasn’t fair.

When you guys were in America, what other novelties did you observe?

STINA:: The way that we interact with people who come to our shows is different in America, because in America, people will come up after and talk to you just like you’re their friend. I love that. I think that’s great. In the UK, a lot less people do that, maybe because they’re a bit nervous, but in America, they just come up, and it makes us feel really welcomed. We’re far away from home, so it’s nice to meet people who get excited about our music and who are really friendly and lovely.

They see your friendship and want to absorb those vibes.

STINA: Well, cool! Thank you! ♦

Anne T. Donahue is a pop culture and comedy writer originally from Cambridge, Ontario. You can find her on Twitter and Tumblr, or at any location where chips are sold.

Night falls, Mr. Moonlight

Wednesday, 27 August 2014 06:58 pm
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Posted by Fred Clark

• “Another world is not only possible, she’s on the way and, on a quiet day, if you listen very carefully you can hear her breathe.”

• Joel Duff reviews Conversations on Geology: Comprising a Familiar Explanation of the Huttonian and Wernerian Systems; the Mosaic Geology, as Explained by Mr. Granville Penn; and the Late Discoveries of Professor Buckland, Humboldt, Dr. MacCulloch, and Others.

They just don’t title books like that anymore. And Mr. Granville Penn, I think, is what we’d get if Kurt Vonnegut had been a 19th-century creationist.

• A Cry for Justice — a blog about domestic violence and abuse in evangelical churches — recently posted a dismayingly perceptive piece describing the 11 steps to nowhere of “What a Victim Can Expect in a Typical Evangelical Church.”

Even more dismaying — take away some of the sectarian specifics and you’re left with “What a Victim Can Expect in Any Typical Institution.” The dynamic of institutional preservation — especially as described in Steps 9, 10 and 11 — reminds me of The Wire (it’s almost like part of the outline for Season 6). And just to be clear, when your institutional dynamics recall The Wire, that’s a Very Bad Thing.

• Groups like the American Family Association’s “One Million Moms” speak longingly of the lost innocence of the white Protestant hegemony of the 1950s America they imagine they’d grown up in. If One Million Moms had been around in the ’50s, I wonder if they’d have called one of their boycotts against Crunchie bars:


• “Say what you will about Harold Camping, but he didn’t get rich off of his crazy beliefs; instead, he lost everything in trying to be true to them. Without demonstrating any such willingness to be proven wrong (or right), Ken Ham nevertheless insists that his crazy beliefs are the only way to honor God and his word.”

• Competition is a market mechanism for keeping prices in check. That’s part of capitalism. Yet when the city of Somerset, Kentucky, took that rule of capitalism seriously, businesses that had previously enjoyed a price-gouging monopoly cried “Socialism!”

Businesses in a small Kentucky town are crying “socialism” after the mayor got tired of constant price gouging and opened a city-owned gas station.

According to the Associated Press, the Somerset Fuel Center was a hit with consumers when it opened [last month]. It served 75 customers in the first three hours, and has been averaging about 300 fill-ups per day ever since.

Mayor Eddie Girdler said that residents of Somerset … had complained for years about high gas prices, which the town estimated were 20 to 30 cents higher per gallon than surrounding cities.

So for less the $75,000, the city was able to open the fueling center, with 10 pumps and no frills. The station doesn’t sell snacks or do repairs.

While the mayor expected to break even on the operation, he said that the goal was to lower the overall price of gas in Somerset. And it seems to be working. Nearby stations had already cut prices by 10 cents.

Mayor Girdler didn’t take over the existing businesses. Nor did he try to impose price caps on them. He just expanded the market in which they have to compete by adding a public option. I like that idea, but like it or not, you can’t call that socialism.


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Posted by Anita Little

Screen shot 2014-08-25 at 6.13.17 PMThe growing club of feminist celebrities welcomed its latest member over the weekend when Taylor Swift, after years of side-stepping the label, came out as a feminist. In an interview with The Guardian, the country-pop singer put all doubts about her feminism to rest:

As a teenager, I didn’t understand that saying you’re a feminist is just saying that you hope women and men will have equal rights and equal opportunities. What it seemed to me, the way it was phrased in culture, society, was that you hate men. And now, I think a lot of girls have had a feminist awakening because they understand what the word means. … Becoming friends with Lena [Dunham] … has made me realize that I’ve been taking a feminist stance without actually saying so.

There you have it folks, T. Swift finally embracing feminism with the help of Girls creator Dunham, who some consider a face of millennial feminism. Dunham applauded Swift, tweeting:

Screen shot 2014-08-25 at 5.56.21 PM

Love the Ms. Blog? Join the Ms. community and support our fierce, feminist reporting!

Swift has garnered many an eye roll from feminists in the past for the virgin/whore dichotomies she employs in her songs and for her avoidant comments regarding feminism. When asked whether she was a feminist in a 2012 interview with The Daily Beast, she replied:

I don’t really think about things as guys versus girls. I never have. I was raised by parents who brought me up to think if you work as hard as guys, you can go far in life.

She’s definitely come a long way, and her evolution in a social milieu where starlets balk at claiming feminism feels like a breath of fresh air. Though I would hold off on making her the new feminist “it” girl, there’s unmistakable value in a mainstream pop-culture icon coming to terms with the meaning of feminism. Swift has millions of fans, most of them young women, so for her to gave a tacit endorsement of the feminist  movement could encourage fans to explore the meaning of feminism for themselves.

Who knows what the next steps of T. Swift’s feminist awakening could be? Sampling lines from Gloria Steinem’s “If Men Could Menstruate” in a new single? Having Kathleen Hanna open for her next time she’s on tour? A feminist can only dream.

Get Ms. in your inbox! Click here to sign up for the Ms. newsletter.

Photo of Taylor Swift and Lena Dunham at the 2013 Grammys courtesy of Swift News via Creative Commons 2.0.



Anita Little is the associate editor at Ms. magazine. Follow her on Twitter.



Charity for Society’s Canaries

Wednesday, 27 August 2014 03:47 pm
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Posted by Leah Libresco

After Robin Williams’s suicide, SlateStarCodex wrote a thoughtful meditation, and I’d like to highlight one of the points he wound up making.  Scott works in mental health, and he wound up discussing the idea of “being a burden” and pointing out that this isn’t an intrinsic fact about a person, but the result of who they [Read More...]


Wednesday, 27 August 2014 03:05 pm
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Posted by Mark Liberman

Kyle Massey, "‘Burly,’ a Word With a Racially Charged History", NYT 8/25/2014:

As protests raged after the fatal shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., two articles in The Times on Aug. 16 referred to both Mr. Brown and the state police captain overseeing security in the case as “burly.” Both Mr. Brown and the captain, Ronald S. Johnson of the Missouri Highway Patrol, are black.

Readers wrote to say that “burly” has long been a racial stereotype; the word hasn’t appeared in this context in The Times since the readers’ notes.

So here is the tale of a troublesome word with a fraught history and how The Times came to reconsider its use.

Like several others who have mentioned this to me, I found this surprising, so I thought I'd look for evidence one way or the other.

The OED gives the first (now obsolete) gloss for burly as "Stately, dignified, of noble or imposing presence or appearance", with the most recent example being "A burly band Of warlike wights", from Floddan Field, 1664.

The second obsolete sense of burly is glossed as "poet. Of things: Goodly, excellent, noble. Obs. (As an epithet of spear, brand, the meaning may have been ‘stout’: cf. boisterous adj.)" This time the most recent citation extends into the second half of the 19th century:

1873   J. A. Symonds Stud. Greek Poets v. 124   My wealth's a burly spear and brand.

Then we get to the main current sense, which is

2.a. Stout, sturdy, massively built, corpulent; of large body or trunk.

For some reason, sense 3. "'Big'; domineering, bluff" is listed as archaic.

In any case, none of the citations have anything to do with deprecated races or classes, except maybe this one from sense 3:

1605   J. Sylvester tr. G. de S. Du Bartas Triumph of Faith in tr. Deuine Weekes & Wks. 558   The Circumcised Crew Of Cabalists, and burly Talmudistes.

The OED starts its discussion of the etymology this way:

Middle English borlich , northern burli . Usually identified with Old High German burlîh , Middle High German burlîch exalted, lofty, stately, < *bur- cognate with Old High German burjan to lift up + -lîh = -ly suffix1.

Then there's some complex stuff about problems with the word not being attested in Old English or Old Norse, and problems with details of the phonology; but anyhow, any possible negative connotation of burly clearly isn't etymological.

The American Heritage Dictionary glosses burly as "Heavy, strong, and muscular; husky".

Wiktionary gives "Large, well-built, and muscular", and also these local variant usages:

Originating from the east end of London, England. An expressive term to mean something is good, awesome, amazing, unbelievable. e.g That goal was burly, or Räikkönen is a burly Formula 1 driver.

Originating from surfer culture and/or Southern California. An expressive term to mean something is of large magnitude, either good or bad, and sometimes both. e.g. "That wave was burly!" (meaning it was large, dangerous and difficult to ride). "This hike is going to be burly, but worth it because there is good body surfing at that beach." (meaning the hike is going to be hard work).

The Century dictionary gives a hint of negative connotation, along with a clearly false assertion about a change in usage:

Great in bodily size; bulky; large; stout: formerly used of things, but now only of persons, and implying some degree of coarseness.

Merriam-Webster gives simply "strongly and heavily built :  husky".

What about actual patterns of usage?

In today's Google News index, aside from the NYT piece, most of the examples are in sports articles: "Burly, blue-collar Big Ten West is wide open" (with a photo showing three white football players and one of indeterminate race); "Storm struggle against burly Beavers"; "CFB AM: Watch horde of burly Mizzou linemen 'twerk' at practice" (again a picture of mostly white football players); "Burly Narre Warren spearhead Kerem Baskaya slots 15 in slaughter of Doveton, needs one more for Casey Cardinia Football League season century" (where "burly" Kerem Baskaya appears to be blond as well as white); etc.

I found one story ("Camden County police adding K9s") that featured a "a burly former detective with more than 20 years experience" who appears from the photo to be African-American. But the other racially-identifiable non-sports references included one to St. Peter as "a burly fisherman"; "Stan Ellsworth, 'a big, burly, biker dude' who happens to be a former high school history teacher" [link]; and some "burly and heroic" Mongolian wrestlers.

But the NYT article says that

A reader named Joseph McBride pointed out that the word was often used as a racially loaded term in the Jim Crow South, and elsewhere, and conveyed the idea that big black men are especially fearsome and threatening.  

“As far back as my childhood in the 1950s or early ’60s, I remember the Milwaukee Journal stylebook stating that the phrase ‘burly Negro’ was not to be used,” Mr. McBride wrote. “I asked my father, a Journal reporter, why that expression was singled out, and he explained that it was a racial stereotype.”

Several publications have had formal or informal strictures against using the phrase, but not all were codified in stylebooks. The Times’s stylebook is silent on the subject.

So I looked back at the 200 years of examples indexed in the Corpus of Historical American English. I don't have time this morning to check every example — there are a total of 1447 of them — but looking at a sample over the years, I couldn't find any evidence that burly has been especially associated with people of color. Indeed, it looks to me as if the proportion suffers from the usual neglect of such references.

But it is true that the phrase "burly negro" occurs 12 times (though by no means all in deprecatory contexts), and this is large compared to the counts for "burly policeman" (10), "burly farmer" (8), "burly captain" (7), "burly Englishman" (4), "burly Frenchman" (4), "burly German" (4), etc.

And a check of the Google Books ngram viewer indicates that "burly Negro" did have a small usage boom in the early 20th century, reaching a peak frequency of about one per 6.25 million words, and pretty much dying out by 1940 or so:

So it's plausible that there might have been some sensitivity to that phrase in the past, though the evidence so far gives very little reason for it. At present, it doesn't seem to be true that the word burly itself has any particular racial association. Is there a reason to be concerned that news stories tend to mention the bodily dimensions of African-American men more often than other individuals, whatever terms are used? I don't know the answer to that question — it would make a good term project for someone, in a variety of different sorts of courses.

Dorothea Lange’s Unforgettable Social Truths

Wednesday, 27 August 2014 12:30 pm
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Posted by Susan E. King


Dorothea Lange in her Bay Area home studio, 1964, as seen in “American Masters – Dorothea Lange: Grab a Hunk of Lightning.” Photo Credit: ©1964, 2014 Rondal Partridge Archives

You don’t want to miss Dorothea Lange: Grab a Hunk of Lightning, which premieres this Friday, August 29, on PBS’s American Masters series.


“Migrant Mother,” captioned “Destitute pea pickers in California. Mother of seven children. Age 32. Nipomo, California.” Pictured: Florence Owens Thompson with three of her children. Photo Credit: Dorothea Lange, 1936

Migrant-MotherMigrant-MotherYou probably know Lange’s work from her photograph “Migrant Mother,” taken in 1936 at a pea picker’s camp in Nipomo, CA. The photo of a migrant working mother, stranded with children in a tent, became the most famous photograph of the Depression. This documentary by Lange’s granddaughter, Dyanna Taylor, gives us a sense of Lange’s working process in her own words by using vintage footage of Lange’s preparation for a major exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

Taylor shapes the film around Lange’s marriages. In 1920, Lange marries Maynard Dixon, part of the bohemian scene in San Francisco. Twenty years her senior, Dixon, an accomplished painter of the American Southwest, disappears on extended painting trips and leaves Lange caring for their children. His absences, as well as the poverty they endured as artists working in the Depression, take a toll. As Lange’s photography becomes more rooted in social documentary, she bonds with Paul Taylor, an economist at University of California, Berkeley. Taylor gets a job for Lange through Roy Stryker at what would become the Farm Security Administration. Taylor and Lange marry and have a working and personal relationship that supports Lange until her death in 1965.


“Enforcement of Executive Order 9066. Japanese Children Made to Wear Identification Tags,” Hayward, California, 1942, as seen in “American Masters – Dorothea Lange: Grab a Hunk of Lightning.” Photo Credit: Dorothea Lange, 1942

Lange’s project to photograph the round-up and the internment of Japanese Americans living on the West Coast during WWII was particularly difficult. Bay Area Japanese-American families were forced to leave homes and businesses and were sent to the Manzanar relocation camp. She was hired by the government to photograph inside the camp, to show how “humanely” the Japanese Americans were being treated. The U.S. military was horrified with the result and impounded her photographs for being too sympathetic to the internees. Commentaries by scholars, relatives, other photographers and her biographer add to our understanding of the photos throughout the film, and in the instance of Manzanar, Paul Kitagaki, a photographer and descendent of one the families Dorothea photographed, talks about the photos of his interned family that include his dad, a boy at the time who later enlists in the American army to show his patriotism.

Lange had an ability to capture major social changes of the early and mid 20th century and to personalize the experience for the viewer. Her photos succeed as social documents of the times, but go beyond that to remain compelling images stuck in our collective memory



Susan King is an artist and photographer. She lives in Kentucky.

Is James Foley a Martyr?

Tuesday, 26 August 2014 08:55 pm
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Posted by David Gibson &#124; Religion News Service

From the moment news broke that U.S. journalist James Foley had been beheaded by Islamic State extremists in the Middle East, many Christians, especially Foley’s fellow Catholics, began calling him a martyr, with some even saying he should be considered a saint.

Yet that characterization has left others uneasy, and the discussion is raising larger questions about what constitutes martyrdom.

Foley’s parents seemed to validate the martyrdom label when his father, John, spoke at an emotional news conference outside the family’s New Hampshire home and said he and his wife “believe he was a martyr.” Foley’s mother, Diane, added that her son “reminds us of Jesus. Jesus was goodness, love — and Jim was becoming more and more that.”

In an interview two days later with Katie Couric, Foley’s younger brother, Michael, recounted how Pope Francis had called the family to console them and in their conversation “referred to Jim’s act as, really, martyrdom.”

Numerous commentators had already picked up on that idea, holding Foley up not only as a witness to the Christian faith but as a spur for believers in the West to take more seriously the plight of Christians in Iraq and elsewhere in the Middle East who are being persecuted to a degree that some say is comparable to genocide.

But in the Catholic Church, determining whether someone is a martyr is not so easy. Historically, two conditions must be met.

First, even if martyrs weren’t saintly or pious Christians throughout their lives, there should be evidence that they held fast to their faith in their final moments, and that this witness can serve as an example to others.

Foley certainly seemed to take solace in his faith under duress.

In a 2011 essay he wrote for the alumni magazine of Marquette University, his Jesuit-run alma mater, Foley spoke movingly of his belief in prayer, and especially his recourse to the rosary to sustain him when he was imprisoned in Libya earlier that year while covering the downfall of Moammar Gadhafi.

That was also the heart of a message that Foley managed to send from his captivity at the hands of the IS; after the episode in Libya, Foley, a photojournalist, went to cover the civil war in Syria and was kidnapped there on Thanksgiving in 2012. He was held with as many as 17 other prisoners and had a fellow captive, who was later released, commit to memory a letter in which Foley spoke of how prayer and faith kept him close to his family.

“I feel you all especially when I pray,” Foley said. “I pray for you to stay strong and to believe. I really feel I can touch you even in this darkness when I pray.”

The second factor in determining whether someone is a martyr is that they must be killed explicitly because they are a Christian, or “in odium fidei,” out of hatred for the faith. That’s where martyrdom arguments can get complicated, and messy.

For example, Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Romero, who lived under constant threat for his advocacy on behalf of the poor and in defense of human rights, was immediately hailed as a martyr in 1980 when he was assassinated by paramilitary forces while celebrating Mass.

But under the papacies of John Paul II and Benedict XVI, Romero’s canonization cause was repeatedly stalled because conservatives in the Vatican argued that Romero had become an icon of liberation theology and was killed for political rather than religious reasons.

Only this month, in fact, Pope Francis — who has long revered Romero — announced that the archbishop’s sainthood process had been “unblocked.”

Francis also indicated that he wanted the church to consider whether those who are killed “for performing the works that Jesus commands us to do for our neighbor” are martyrs just as those who are killed for professing the creed. If that happens it could mark a significant shift in the church’s understanding of martyrdom.

Yet some also worry that Foley is being promoted as a martyr in part because he can serve as a Christian rallying cry against extremist Islam, or as a way of building momentum for a more forceful Western intervention in Iraq.

So the question then comes down to parsing the rationale of Foley’s killers: Did they murder him because he was a Christian or because he was an American? Did they kill him because he would not convert, or did they kill him to provoke the West? Was he a martyr for the faith or, as Foley’s father added, “a martyr for freedom”?

Can we ever know? Should we try?

“It would be vulgar to indulge in speculative fiction that claims James Foley was praying during what are now his famous last moments on Earth,” Alana Massey wrote in a Religion Dispatches column taking issue with the instant canonization of Foley.

Massey said she found it “off-putting” to read others describing Foley as a martyr “not only because he was killed explicitly for his nationality and not for his religion, but also because the prospect of the hellscape that is the battleground on which ISIS fights becoming a destination for competitive martyrdom can do no one any good.”

Many more seem to disagree with that view and think that whatever the perils of calling Foley a martyr, he ultimately qualifies as one — and in doing so his death, and life, point to a modern-day example of martyrdom that has moved millions of people.

“We don’t want to cheapen the meaning of the word ‘martyr,’” the Catholic blogger Pia de Solenni wrote in a detailed meditation on Foley’s death. “But this is real. It’s happening everywhere. It’s making extraordinary witnesses out of ordinary people. We should not cheapen their witness by ignoring the reality of their sacrifice, their martyrdom.”

Photo courtesy of Shawn St. Hilaire/Democrat Photo.

The post Is James Foley a Martyr? appeared first on OnFaith.

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Posted by Mark Steele

The land of Contemporary Christian Music (CCM) was not always the too earnest every-worship-song-sounds-identical tableau we have today. The mid-eighties through mid-nineties brought us some of the kitschiest youth group anthems this side of a “God’s Not Dead” theme song.

Some tunes pushed a little close to self-parody, but trust me — they are so bad, they are GREAT. Here are the ten absolute best. (As an added bonus, they’re all up-tempo, so if you had an evangelical upbringing, you can dance your disillusionment out to the playlist.)

degarmo10. “Boycott Hell” by DeGarmo & Key (The Pledge, 1989)

Following a slew of too-clever CCM turn-of-phrase hits, DeGarmo & Key decided to take the tongue-in-cheek route themselves. What could be more relatable to Christian teens than a Labor Union metaphor? They might as well have called the song “Get All AFL-CIO on the Devil.”

This was Hoffa’s favorite song about Jesus (it still is).

Key lyric: Bury your foolish pride. We gotta unionize. / Hey, don’t you think it’s time to boycott hell? Flannery O’Connor wishes she could be so subtle.

fritz-front-cover9. “This Disco (Used to Be a Cute Cathedral)” by Steve Taylor (On the Fritz, 1985)

We all owe Steve Taylor a debt of gratitude. He single-handedly ushered CCM out of self-seriousness and was both resident Einstein and class clown for a decade. Too bad he didn’t have more listeners.

In-between the mad genius of Meltdown and I Predict 1990 (and before the breathtaking Squint), Taylor hit his personal nadir with this overcute ditty about a dance club residing in an abandoned church.

Musically, this is Taylor’s weakest offering within his oeuvre (it certainly didn’t need it’s own dance remix). However, it’s downright prescient. How many churches today don’t feel like a dance club with a Starbucks in the lobby? Avoid this track if you must, but pop the cassette in anyway and stick around for “Drive, He Said” and “Lifeboat.” They are the exact opposite of the ten songs on this list.

Key lyric: This disco used to be a cute cathedral / Where we only play the stuff you’re wanting to hear.

Petra-beat-the-system18. “God Gave Rock & Roll to You” by Petra (Beat the System, 1985)

Originally written and performed by the Brit rockers Argent, Petra co-opted this unspeakably ridiculous anthem and sucked all of the rock out of it until it was little more than a synthesizer squeak.

In a way, the band pulled off an impressive feat: they sang a Christian song about rock music that had no potent Christian message and did not rock.

Key lyric: God gave rock and roll to you / Put it in the soul of everyone. Also seen on a kitten poster in a Hallmark.

7. “Got 2 B True” Steven Curtis Chapman (Steven_curtis_chapman_the_great_adventureThe Great Adventure, 1992)

Fun fact: most every successful male CCM artist of the early 90’s was required to have TobyMac break down a rhyme in lieu of the song’s bridge. Especially if their own music style was in complete contradiction to TobyMac’s aesthetic. Case in point: this unfortunate entry from one of Christian music’s most earnest and impacting troubadours. The uberirony: the song is about being genuine.

Key lyric: You see, I like rap music and the beat box groove and sometimes I gotta admit I close all the doors and wave my arms around and I pace the floor. But then I crack up laughing, I gotta stop and just face the facts: the boy don’t hip hop.

Stryper-THWTD-1st6. “To Hell With the Devil” Stryper (To Hell With the Devil, 1986)

If you look at it one way, Stryper is attempting to rattle the religious establishment by co-opting the most milquetoast of all swear words into their faux metal anthem. On the other hand, they’re telling Satan to basically go back to his house. And yes, those four shirtless angels on the cover are supposed to be buff versions of the band. And yes, they are ripping Satan limb from limb with their bare hands and a flying V guitar.

And yes, Satan is wearing boot-fit jeans.

Key lyric: He’s never been the answer. There’s a better way. We are here to rock you and to say to hell with the devil.

album_5896_cover_85. “Trains Up in the Sky” by Mylon LeFevre & Broken Heart (Sheep in Wolves Clothing, 1985)

Where exactly do I begin? The color palette of the album sleeve? The parachute shirts (SHIRTS!) the band wears with spandex? The mullets? The keytar? The bad-boy album name? No. I will start with the fact that when performing live, Mylon could never remember the lyrics. THESE lyrics:

 Get up – try and find a way.
 / We will find a way today.
 Try and find a way. /
 Get up. Trains up in the sky.

Theologically, I hear Gungor doesn’t believe this part of the album. 

white heart2394. “Convertibles” by White Heart (Don’t Wait for the Movie, 1986)

Key lyric: I haven’t got a care. Feel so good and free. / Just like God is sittin’ next to me. / God made convertibles. As the High and Mighty’s known – He’s not a manufacturer.

You have to hand it to White Heart. They finally found a word that rhymes with “manufacturer” (they did not). Silly at best, this song feels more like a commercial for antidepressants — with a guitar solo where there should be a list of disclaimers.

Go_West_Young_Man_album_cover3. “Love Crusade” by Michael W. Smith (Go West Young Man, 1990)

This album was AWESOME. Not just because my girlfriend’s mom had that blazer and that hairstyle — and not just because Smitty sang every song imitating Caroll Spinney.

This album borders on epic because MWS raps. Oh, how he raps. He pours out his heart after uncorking it with that black fedora on the album cover and drops this violent rhymebomb:

Hatred’ll spoil the feast. That’s the nature of the beast. / So, don’t ever let your heart be swayed. Draw the sword, slay the dragon. / Get on the bandwagon and be a fighter on the Love Crusade!

This bloodlusty imagery is, of course, followed by a chorus of na na’s.

41BNEND900L._SX300_2. “Who’s in the House?” by Carman (The Standard, 1993)

I know what you’re thinking: how is Carman not #1? You’ll see. In this song, Carman hip-hops onto the white-man-rapping bandwagon and it sounds like your grandmother flashdancing.

Key lyric: Born, born, born, BORN to a virgin named Mary on Christmas Day! / He bled and He d-died on the cross to take sin away. / You take Him high. You take Him low. / You take JC wherever you go.

Exactly who in youth group is taking him high? And should we report them to the police? Someday, this will rest in a hymnal on page 153, opposite “It Is Well With My Soul.”

BTW, JC is Jesus.

51Lk8Nt3ZiL1. “I Don’t Want It (Your Sex — For Now)” DC Talk (Free at Last, 1992)

This one actually is a parody, right? Right? No? Impossible. I mean, the lyric obsesses over teen sex more than George Michael’s biggest hit. And that song was actually called “I Want Your Sex.”

No abstinence song has made more teens think about sex in an infinite loop than this song about refusing sex. No wait — this song about refusing sex . . . for now. I suppose we will need to ask the singer again in ten minutes.

Key lyric: Yo, s-e-x is a test when I’m pressed. So back off, yo, with less of that zest. / Impress this brothah with a life of virtue. The innocence that’s spent is gonna hurt you. / Safe is the way they say to play, then again safe ain’t safe at all today. / So, just wait for the mate that’s straight from God and don’t give it up ’til you tie the knot. / I don’t want it, your sex — for now. Your sex, your SEX, your s-e-x — for NOW.


The post Top 10 Christian Songs That Also Work as Parodies of Christian Songs appeared first on OnFaith.

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Posted by David Gibson &#124; Religion News Service

The Vatican said Monday (Aug. 25) that its former ambassador to the Dominican Republic, who was defrocked in June for sexually abusing children in the Caribbean nation, has also been stripped of his diplomatic immunity and could face extradition once he has exhausted his appeals in the church courts.

The Vatican’s decision to quietly recall Jozef Wesolowski to Rome last year to face charges there rather than in the Dominican Republic, prompted an outcry and, critics said, undermined Pope Francis’ vow to get tough on clerical abusers no matter who they are.

The Wesolowski saga was recounted in detail on Sunday (Aug. 24) in a front-page story in The New York Times, which prompted a response late Monday from the Vatican’s chief spokesman, who insisted there was no cover-up and that the Vatican had acted “without delay and correctly.”

The Rev. Federico Lombardi said that Francis has been “duly and carefully informed” of the status of the Wesolowski case and wants to address it “justly and rigorously.”

“We must finally state that since former nuncio” — the Vatican title for an ambassador — “has ended all diplomatic activity and its related immunity, he might also be subjected to judicial procedures from the courts that could have specific jurisdiction over him,” Lombardi said.

What that could mean for Wesolowski is unclear. The Vatican does not have an extradition agreement with the Dominican Republic, though Italy could decide to try or extradite him if he leaves the confines of the 108-acre Vatican City State.

In June the former archbishop was spotted by a Dominican prelate as he was strolling around Rome’s historic district. “The silence of the Church has hurt the people of God,” Victor Masalles, an auxiliary bishop of the Santo Domingo Archdiocese, wrote in a tweet reporting the sighting.

Authorities in Wesolowski’s native Poland have been seeking his extradition there, as well.

Also complicating matters is the fact that, as Lombardi noted on Monday, Wesolowski has appealed his defrocking. He said that appeal would be judged “without delay” and is expected to be resolved by October, which is unusually speedy by Vatican standards.

At that point the “punitive procedure” of the Vatican’s “civil judiciary departments” — which are separate from the canonical church courts that generally govern matters related to clerics and the sacraments — would begin. It’s not known how long that process could take, and how or whether the Vatican could punish Wesolowski if he is convicted.

According to the Times, the Vatican City laws say that anyone found guilty of sexual abuse could face a maximum of 12 years in prison and a fine of nearly $200,000.

Despite being hailed for a series of bold moves and reforms during his first year as pope, Francis faced growing criticism for not moving nearly as quickly to address the scandal of the sexual abuse of minors by clerics.

Earlier this year, Francis finally set up a blue-ribbon panel to try to establish uniform norms for churches throughout the world, and this July he invited several victims of sexual abuse by priests to in a series of meetings that were praised as moving and proof of his commitment to set a new course. He has also insisted that bishops as well as priests should be held to account. “There are no privileges,” the pope told reporters in May.

But critics say the pope needs to do more, and move faster, and they have cited the Wesolowski case as an example of the special treatment they say bishops still receive.

The Times story recounted how Wesolowski used to cruise the oceanfront promenade of the Dominican capital wearing black track pants and a baseball cap pulled low over his head and gave shoeshine boys money to perform sexual acts hidden behind some rocks or at a monument to a 16th-century Spanish friar.

Wesolowski, 66, was ordained more than 40 years ago by the then-Archbishop of Krakow, Karol Wojtyla, who later became Pope John Paul II. He was named nuncio to the Dominican Republic in 2008 by Pope Benedict XVI, who retired in February last year.

Here is the full text of the statement from the Rev. Federico Lombardi, head of the Holy See Press Office:

Former nuncio Jozef Wesolowski has recently appealed, within the prescribed limit of two months, the most serious canonical sentence of a return to the lay state that has been imposed upon him. The appeal will be judged without delay over the course of the coming weeks, most likely in October 2014.

It is important to note that former nuncio Wesolowski has ceased functioning as a diplomat of the Holy See and has therefore lost his related diplomatic immunity, and has been previously stated, the punitive procedure of the Vatican’s civil judiciary departments will continue as soon as the canonical sentence becomes definitive.

Regarding stories that have appeared over the past few days in various media, it is important to note that the Authorities of the Holy See, from the very first moments that this case was made known to them, moved without delay and correctly in light of the fact that former nuncio Wesolowski held the position of a diplomatic representative of the Holy See. This action relates to his recall to Rome and in the treatment of the case in relation to Authorities of the Dominican Republic.

Far from any intention of a cover-up, this action demonstrates the full and direct undertaking of the Holy See’s responsibility even in such a serious and delicate case, about which Pope Francis is duly and carefully informed and one which the Pope wishes to address justly and rigorously.

We must finally state that since former nuncio Wesolowski has ended all diplomatic activity and its related immunity, he might also be subjected to judicial procedures from the courts that could have specific jurisdiction over him.

Image via Shutterstock.

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Posted by Herb Silverman

Each of the books below changed my worldview and my way of thinking to varying degrees. They are listed in the order I read them — and all but the last I read before the age of 20, when most of us are probably more open to learning about and considering new ideas. 

download (6)1. The Bible by authors unknown

I “knew” as a trusting child that the Bible was God’s word, and consequently the most important book in the world. I learned Hebrew in my Orthodox school by reading the Hebrew Bible (which we called Torah). We were praised for our ability to read fluently and follow rituals, but not so much for understanding what we were reading. Later we learned to translate and to converse in Hebrew. And, thankfully, my best Hebrew teachers encouraged us to question. And unlike Ken Ham, I found no answers in Genesis.

Teachers in my public school in the 1950s used to start the morning by reading biblical passages. One passage from 1 Corinthian 13:11 captured my evolving views about the Bible: “When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things.”Long before Judy Collins had any hit songs, I could say: I’ve looked at Torah from both sides now, from Orthodox Jew and atheist, too. But it’s Torah’s illusion I recall. I really don’t know Torah at all.

For better or worse, the Bible and the monotheistic religions it spawned have deeply influenced our culture and the world. For that reason alone, the Bible is worth reading. I regard it like Aesop’s fables, with some moral lessons and universal truths (along with talking animals). My problem isn’t so much with so-called holy books, but with adherents who take them literally. I’ve written here about the value I find in the Bible.

cvr9780743487566_9780743487566_hr2. The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne

This novel was required reading in my high school sophomore English class, which means I didn’t expect to like it. I was wrong. I identified strongly with Hester Prynne, who was required to wear a Scarlet A on her chest as punishment for her “sin” of adultery. She refused to reveal that her baby’s father was the respected Reverend Dimmesdale.

Though shunned by her community, Hester lived an exemplary life and raised her daughter to be a fine young woman. Dimmesdale, on the other hand, suffered in silence and died a broken man.

Atheists are familiar with the symbol of the Scarlet A, which has evolved today into a redA that some wear proudly as part of an Out Campaign for atheists. From The Scarlet Letter I learned that to be comfortable in your own skin (or letter) is better than hiding who you are in order to please those you don’t respect.

3. Why I am Not a Christian by Bertrand RussellRL3176_1

After first reading Hawthorne’s classic, I wondered about scarlet letters I might be hiding. I hadn’t told anyone that I no longer believed in God, thinking I might be the only one in this country. Then, in 1958, when I was sixteen, I discovered Bertrand Russell’s Why I am Not a Christian in the public library.

I felt better about myself after learning that Russell was more than just not a Christian. He was as many “nots” as I was, and brave enough to say so. Bertrand Russell transformed the lives of many in my generation. For the first time we heard articulate arguments that confirmed and gave voice to our own skepticism and doubts. Even some true believers were led on a thoughtful journey toward altered religious states.

Learning that Russell was a logician and a mathematician at least partially inspired me to become a mathematician.

96404. A Collection of Essays by George Orwell

George Orwell is my favorite author. He was thoughtful, insightful, wrote clearly, and was honest about himself. I read this collection of essays as a freshman at Temple University, before I had even heard of 1984 or Animal Farm. Three of the essays stood out for me.

“Shooting an Elephant” begins with “In Moulmein, in Lower Burma, I was hated by large numbers of people — the only time in my life that I have been important enough for this to happen to me.” I wondered at the time if I would ever be important enough to be hated by any group of people. That day came in 1990 when I became a candidate for Governor of South Carolina (see book #5 below) to challenge the state constitutional prohibition against atheists holding public office.

Orwell’s “Politics and the English Language” clarified for me the importance of honest, clear language, and how misleading and vague language can be a tool of political manipulation. Orwell taught me to never use a long word when a short one will do. He said that those who simplify their language would be freed from the worst forms of orthodoxy, and that when you make a stupid remark its stupidity should be obvious, even to yourself. Political language, he worried, was designed to make lies sound truthful. (These thoughts must have been on his mind when he later wrote 1984.)

In the essay “Why I Write,” Orwell explained the motives that inspired him: sheer egoism, aesthetic enthusiasm, historical impulse, and political purpose. Those motives spoke to me then, and even more so now.

What I didn’t know at the time I first read Orwell was that he was an atheist. In 1984, the character “Big Brother” appears to be an omnipotent, omniscient, eternal, authoritarian figure who demands absolute obedience. Here’s Orwell’s explanation: “In 1984, the concept of Big Brother is a parody of God. You never see him, but the fact of him is drilled into people’s minds that they become robots, almost. Plus . . . If you speak bad against Big Brother, it’s a Thoughtcrime.”

51h1TnzSsLL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_5. Candidate Without a Prayer: An Autobiography of a Jewish Atheist in the Bible Belt by Herb Silverman — or possibly your own life story

This last inclusion is not meant to be a shameless plug for my own book, though I’m not above doing that. Through my math profession, I discovered that one of the best ways to learn a subject is to teach it. I also discovered that one of the best ways to learn about yourself is to write about yourself, which is an enterprise I recommend for almost everyone. (It’s also cheaper than therapy.) We should write about what we know well, and you are likely the world expert on yourself.

But writing your life story is something like being a suicide bomber: you only get to do it once.

The post 5 Books All Atheists and Other Outsiders Should Read appeared first on OnFaith.

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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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