Sunday, March 31, 2019

I'm Offended

On the social media sites, nearly everybody loves that moment when someone pipes up and says
That Offends Me!,
because now we all get to all gleefully call that person BUTTHURT or some other expletive. 
We all now get to laugh at the brave person who said NO MORE

For nearly all of history the quiet, the nice, the introverted, the timid, the trampled on, the sensitive, the wounded, the abused, the neglected, the disenfranchised people have silently accepted and allowed all words to pass them confrontations.

No confrontations, no rebuttal, no contradictions, no self-defense, no assertively saying NO, no audacity, no guts, no challenge, no friction. No comment. And those who seem to not notice their abusive ways could safely ignore the wounded human being who became collateral damage to the wit, the sarcasm, the venting, the anger, the aggression, the narcissism, the self-aggrandized bloviating.

But something is happening and I, for one, am DELIGHTED.
For it is happening to me as well.
The silent have begun to stand up for themselves, for their sensitivities, for their rights. This silent underbelly has begun to stand up and say NO, that is inappropriate and you have injured me or others with that statement. And I'm going to take it anymore.

This is NOT the same as saying Hey I disagree with you, nor is it Your opinion is different from mine nor is it I need you to think the same way that I do, though that is the accusation leveled at the assertions belatedly- and bravely-spoken, accusations made by the person who is unwilling or unable to self-reflect.

Allow me to let a few memes speak for themselves:

Now allow me to speak for myself:

I miss the good old days when I could actually have an opinion without offending someone.
GUESS WHAT: you DID offend someone. They simply kept it to themselves and took the hit. 

You never noticed.
You get to have any opinion you want. But you now are being called on the carpet for your boorishness. Rather than learning from the brave person who stood up to your brashness, you have decided to deprecate the speaker, to ignore their brave message, and to feel offended yourself.
IRONIC. And manipulative.

AND, what you actually miss, is the days when you could spew your anger, your disdain, your negativity without anybody having the nerve to tell you that you are being rude and hurtful...

It's called a joke. We used to tell them before people became offended by everything.
 GUESS WHAT: some so-called jokes are very thinly-veiled criticism or verbal abuse hidden as humor. This isn't funny, nor are we buying it anymore. This "take down" culture has gotten out of hand and has created an entire generation of people who actually think that sarcasm suggests some kind of intelligence.

Your racist, genderist, ableist, abusive "jokes" are being called out for what they actually are: simple-minded ignorance from someone who believes that they are clever. I see, again, that you are missing this opportunity to become woke. It's very difficult confronting someone with little to no self-awareness.
And, from the number of times I see you posting memes such as this, I see that you are missing the point. What you miss is the days when you weren't called out on your acerbity.

I'm not being rude, I'm just saying what everyone else is thinking.
GUESS WHAT: you are being rude. Incredible that this has to be explained to you. Again, and this is becoming tiresome for me as well, you are missing this chance to learn appropriateness, courtesy, kindness, consideration, gentleness, respect, manners, decorum, honor, civility, class, politeness, etiquette, moderation, humanity, decency, forbearance, affability, stop me when you get it...

Before you get all butthurt and offended, ask yourself why it bothers you so much. Maybe the problem is you, not it. Only the weak are constantly offended by things that have nothing to do with them.
GUESS WHAT: This sounds exactly like  a narcissist telling me how wrong I am to be offended by rudeness, ridicule or sarcasm. Even in the meme itself is an attack.

Maybe you are weak: OR, maybe I'm strong and you aren't used to it.

Well get used to it, because we're going to keep getting stronger, wiser, braver!

If I say that what you are saying is offensive, you don't get to say that I'm wrong about your words being offensive. That is totally my call to make. You can call me butt hurt, but, again, that is simply name-calling, no better than a child, and missing the chance to freaking LISTEN and improve our relationship. OR, you can minimize my claims, ignore me, consider it my problem, and never ever learn to be a better person.

Welcome to the era of over-sensitive, easily offended whiners.
GUESS WHAT: Welcome to the era of those of us who have had it and are saying NO MORE. Welcome to the era of people expecting you to face the consequences of your words and actions. Welcome to the era of people refusing to silently accepting your crass, rude abuse sitting down. Welcome to the era of learning clear and healthy communication. Welcome to the era of being empowered to no longer accept toxicity.

Standing up and telling you that your words are offensive is not whiny, it's strong and it's bad ass AF.

Being constantly offended doesn't mean you're right. It just means you're too narcissistic to tolerate opinions different than yours.
GUESS WHAT: "Being constantly offended" probably means that I'm living with a toxic, obtuse narcissist. Feel free to use the word narcissist, but do so with the knowledge of what it means...and you're using it incorrectly here. If someone is suggesting to you that they are constantly offended when they are around you I honestly think it's time you take an honest look at your behavior. Getting angry that I'm angry with you shows a clear lack of self-awareness as well as an unlikely opportunity to learn to take a moment and think about the people around you, rather than yourself, first.

Take the chance to learn how to be assertive rather than aggressive. Learn some self-awareness. You do these smalls bit of self-improvement and no one will, ever again, tell you that you've offended them.

More and more people are learning to no longer tolerate negativity and toxicity in their lives and, sometimes, this means that they are standing up to and calling out the people who criticize, insult, and put them down in condescending manners.

And that takes courage!
It takes practice!
It takes an amazing quantity of self-awareness!
It takes utter maturity to respond to abuse with assertiveness.

SO, when you see the memes about how ridiculous I am for being BUTT HURT, KNOW that I am looking back at you and wondering when you are ever  going to get it...

...because I know the truth.
Some of us are learning to stand up for ourselves and others and some of us are continuing to ignore those around them. They won't change, but WE WILL.

What do you think?

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Friday, March 29, 2019

What Makes You Laugh?

I'm in a writing group with a couple of friends, one where we give each other prompts and then write for a certain length of time...
Anyway, about two years ago, I was given the prompt Write What Makes You Laugh and Why is That Funny to You. I recently discovered these three pages of loose writing stuff in a pile of junk on a kitchen shelf as I was spring cleaning, pages where I answer this question. 

I LOVE that I write because I truly have a terrible memory and I forget some of the best stuff. Here is an excerpt of what I wrote to that prompt and I do hope you find it as wonderful as I do:

My husband makes me laugh.

There is a bag of Reece's Peanut Butter Cups in my kitchen and I'm powerless to them. I asked my daughter to hide them from me and, yet, I saw them immediately. (I wasn't even looking for them!) So I asked John to hide them and I found them in a thing that I used almost daily - though he doesn't use it at all, so it didn't occur to him. I asked my husband to hide the bag.

The next day I find the bag! Holding it and going into the living room, I'm exclaiming
LOL You guys suck at hiding these things! and I tell the story of finding the candy and everyone is laughing.

I say,
And Jer! You hid it in the easiest spot yet!
He shrugs, smiles, and continues what he was doing.
I sit down to read and to eat my Reeces's. When I open the bag I discover that he has replaced the candy with a small bag of rice!

Me makes me laugh at myself.
He helps me to see my own ridiculousness.

I left that bag on the end table in the living room and I laugh out loud -- for real -- every time I see it.

Honestly, his humor is like love to me. His face in mirth is beautiful and makes me entire body feel full of love and laughter.
 What Makes You Laugh?

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Thursday, March 28, 2019

Hope Never Dies by Andrew Shaffer

Just read it.
Hope Never Dies: An Obama-Biden Mystery. It's hilarious, easy, cheap, liberal-loving, and available at your local library.

This book was a gift from a dear friend, Ronnie, who knows that I feel strongly about President Barack Obama. He gave it to me for my birthday, but my book stack was too tall to get to quickly. It's been sitting here mocking me for months. 

I finally read it.

Long story short, it's a total bromance, crime-fighting, time-passing trip inside of Joe Biden's mind. Can you imagine this crime-fighting duo? Can you picture a comical Joe Biden knocking over the coffee while his sidekick, Barack lifts an eyebrow and says Really Joe? Really?

In some ways, I would rather be in Barack Obama's head, with Barack as the main voice. But I can't even imagine that! Barack's too smooth, too cool, too suave to let us know what's running through his mind. But Joe Biden? He's every man. He's average.

...Hey, he's running for president this time, isn't he?

Without giving a summary of the story, just know that the story is solid. But even better, the comedy had me literally LOLing for most of the book. One time my husband even came into the room where I was reading and asked WHAT are you doing???  I flapped the book at him and he said I want it next.

Let's just say this, if you long to see President Obama taking down a lowlife scum of a dude, you'll want to read this book. If you want to visit the shady side of town with the white bread Joe Biden narrating the whole time, you want to read this book. (Imagine a white old man as Stephanie Plum...) And if you have a fondness for dudes caring about each other with sarcasm, dirty looks, and hilarious bromance tรชte-ร -tรชte, Girrrrrrl, you want to read this book.

I just discovered that Andrew Shaffer put out a second book in this series and I'll get myself out to get it, because I'm giving this fun read six stars, only six because it's not a serious piece of literature.

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Thursday, March 21, 2019

The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton

Last week I read Edith Wharton's book
A House of Mirth and loved it. This week I read her book An Age of Innocence. And loved it. Sometimes I immerse myself in a single author, enjoying their worlds, enjoying their words. I've done this with Herman Hesse, Barbara Kingsolver, Michael Crichton, Karen Armstrong, and Alexandre Dumas, to name a few.

Edith Wharton books, though, now that's an acquired taste. Wharton isn't the first author I'd recommend to someone. In fact, a new online friend of mine, Julia, thought she might read Wharton and I suggested that, perhaps, she start with something more fun.
Like Jane Austin.

The Age of Innocence is another book by Wharton that was made into a film, this one starring Daniel Day Lewis as Archer, Michelle Pfeiffer as the Countess Ellen Olenska, and Winona Ryder as May. Man, I dislike knowing the casting of a film of a book. I so prefer to visualize characters myself. But there you are. In every case, I always prefer the book to the film, though I do plan on watching this movie later this week. I don't see how there is enough content to make a full-length movie of this book! There is so much musing, remembering, thinking, planning, etc...

Here's a quick look at the story of The Age of Innocence, just enough to whet your whistle:

Our protagonist, Newland Archer, a man brought up in a life of extreme privilege living in New York society in the 1870s, is engaged to the lovely May Welland, a young woman of a similarly high-society family. May's cousin, the Countess Ellen Olenska, is returning to New York society after leaving her husband in Europe. Dear Countess Ellen is followed to NYC by her untoward reputation, whispers of her behavior in leaving her husband, gossip of her bohemian ways, and concern for her ruined position in society.

May's family protects and nurtures Ellen to the best of their ability. As a part of the protection and recovery plan, May asks Newland, her affianced and, eventually, her husband, to treat Ellen with public respect, lending his upstanding reputation to hers. It is through the early conversations between the stodgy Newland and the worldly Countess that Newland begins to see the wool removed from his eyes with regards to the upper crust of his class. He begins to see the world more as it is, and this, he owes to Ellen. His respect for and understanding of the countess rises. Furthermore, his work as a lawyer helps her involvement with legalities regarding her pending divorce, all of which adds to the depth of the intimacy and secrecy of their exchanges.

Newland begins to see her in a new light, as well as seeing the small cadre of socialites in a new light, including May and her family. Thus begins the forbidden attraction between Newland and Ellen.

Who doesn't love a good love triangle?
In the culture of 1870's New York society, important things are not discussed openly, even in the most intimate of relationships. The convoluted, stilted dialogue of the cream of society is painful at worst, almost comical at best, and completely confusing most of the time for nothing of importance is ever spoken of clearly, concisely, or openly. Important issues are discussed through allusion and suggestion. How any understanding ever comes about is a real testament to the ability of the
crรจme de la crรจme  to read nonverbal communication so well, or did they?
He had to deal all at once with the packed regrets and stifled memories of an inarticulate lifetime.

A lift of the eye. A slight coloring of the cheek. Hesitation in speech. All of these tiny physical movements carry large amounts of information. How handicapped we would be to reply on these types of non-communicative communication in 2019. How handicapped were they then? Again and again I found myself rereading sections of text, wondering if I'd missed something crucial that was, now obvious in the story.
 In reality they all lived in a kind of hieroglyphic world, where the real thing was never said or done or even thought, but only represented by a set of arbitrary signs.

I found myself amused and constantly wondering why Wharton would put so much energy and effort into describing homes, rooms, and property...that is, until I discovered that Wharton also wrote books on home decorating in her time! She also seemed to enjoy writing on the history or time line of developing New York City and city culture. I found her exploration of cultural advancements entirely fascinating. Writing in the 1920's, Wharton is looking back a period of fifty years in this book.
...he remembered that there were people who thought there would one day be a tunnel under the Hudson through which trains of the Pennsylvania railway would run straight into New York. They were of the brotherhood of visionaries who likewise predicted the building of ships that would cross the Atlantic in five days, the invention of a flying machine, lighting by electricity, telephonic communication without wires, and other Arabian Night marvels.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art is also visited several times by the protag Archer who muses, wouldn't it be interesting to see this museum get larger and more grand?  Wharton entertains her readers (and probably herself as well!) with a variety of historical references, including a beautiful moment when one character is being gaped at by passers by as she writes a note on paper on her knee in the park using the new stylographic pen, such an unwonted sight! Another wonderful moment on this cultural timeline is when our literate socialite protag, Archer, opens a crate of the newest and most popular books and authors of the time...another beautiful moment in time.
That evening he unpacked his books from London. The box was full of things he had been waiting for impatiently; a new volume of Herbert Spencer, another collection of the prolific Alpohonse  Daudet's brilliant tales, and a novel called "Middlemarch," as to which there had lately been interesting things said in reviews...he turned the pages with the sensuous joy of the book lover..."

Considering some of the characters in this novel, the Countess Ellen Olenska is, likely, considered the most interesting character in the book, but I have to give props to the innocent and simple  May. Living within the restrictive confines of her role as a newlywed lady of society, she has to find a way to both live with the fact that her husband is straying in his heart and to move through all social and family gatherings with her head held high. While Newland is discounting May as boring and the epitome of noblesse milquetoast, she is actually stronger than he is and capable of surviving and winning at a life that is unfair to the weaker sex.

Newland Archer, on the other hand, I must give some credit to for being able to open his eyes and see the facade inherent in the gentility of pedigreed high society. His romantic heart, however, proves to be a bit too bothersome to this middle-aged reader. I might have sighed over his amorous pronouncements to Ellen, given in hushed tones in the private places, when I was younger: Each time you happen to me all over again.  As an older reader, though, I found him tiresome, weak, and a tiny bit annoying at times. He does have several moments of marked saving grace, and he is  living during a time of immense social change, so I'll let him off of the hook and give him credit for making the most of his burgeoning awareness of a larger world. Coming from his Old Family, and having been brought up in the traditional way, I guess we can give Archer credit where credit is due.

The truth is, if the story had been set in the 2000's, it would have been over in a month. May would have moved on to a more worthy wealthy guy. Newland and Ellen would have had a weekend affair and then bored one another to death. Ellen would move on to a wonderful European decade, involved with a variety of dark, wealthy men while Newland would boringly work as an attorney and, forever, feel slighted. ๐Ÿ˜„

As a more mature reader myself, I wonder if I would have appreciated the fullness of this novel in my younger years. Edith Wharton's irony and humor is wonderfully placed throughout the novel. The subtlety and subtext of the writing is probably intended for an older audience, though some younger readers might appreciate the love story. A deeper historical understanding of the social changes in which this story takes place moves the novel from merely entertaining to quite superb. 

I'm delighted I decided to read this book before the stack of other books I have waiting for me. I give the surprising An Age of Innocence a high score of eight stars.

"Ah no," Newland thinks as he realizes May's similarity
 to her mother, "he did not want 
May to have that kind of innocence, 
the innocence that seals the mind 
against imagination and the heart against experience!

  Have you read it? .

Thursday, March 14, 2019

A House of Mirth by Edith Wharton

I am not surprised in the least that Edith Wharton's A House of Mirth was a smash in the ladies magazines of the early 1900's or that her novel sold over 800,000 copies. Her revelations of the superficiality and machination of the upper class of society must have been quite a mirror for some women to glance into and quite an image for many women to see clearly. Wharton actually took the title for this novel from a bit in Ecclesiastics which says The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning; but the heart of fools is in the house of mirth. Quite an accusation she is directing at the upper classes! I almost wish I could have been there to see their reactions.

This book was difficult to read entirely due to the stilted, formal language in which it was written. But I enjoyed that because I looked up every single word and French phrase that I didn't know; it was a veritable cornucopia of dated and obsolete language and I'm just the nerd to enjoy that.

To give you a little teaser of the story:

Lily Bart is a beautiful and an unusually intelligent women on the doorstep of the upper echelon of New York society in the early 1900's. She mingles with the wealthiest of the wealthy and plays in their parlors. A wealthy husband would be just the thing for Lily to attain the heights of social standing, but Lily is unwilling to accept any arrangements. At the age of 29, she knows that she is nearing the time when her appearance will no longer afford her the good graces of society and she is exquisitely aware that her finances are dwindling; she must find an arrangement. As Lily explains as to why she craved wealth,
She herself had grown up without any one spot of earth being dearer than another: there was no center of earth pieties, of grave endearing traditions, to which her heart could revert and from which it could draw strength for itself and tenderness for others.

Perhaps with a certain inflated view of her personal worth, Lily lets several important and wealthy suitors slide by, all the while keeping her eyes on various other suitable and eligible wealthy bachelors. In the midst of this play acting, her wealthy female friends play with her attention almost like a pet. They groom her, show her, coddle her, present her as a sign of their own wealth and relevance. All the while, beautiful and charming Lily is skating on thin ice.

I had no idea...
It's a movie!
Several severe financial hits and a few important blows to her reputation, and Lily is in a critical free fall in social circles. One can't help but wonder why someone as intelligent as Lily would maintain such an aspiration as moving in these circles. The emptiness of the relationships (or, as Lily herself thought, Under the glitter of their opportunities she saw the poverty of their achievement), the precarious nature of being a part of the in  group. One can only assume that the wealthiest parlors are pretty heady to elicit such goals in Lily. These same parlors, however, were hotbeds of gossip and illicit business schemes, all of which could brutally tear an unprotected woman down, and they do, all while she had little ability to rescue herself or to recuse herself from accusations.

Without giving much more away, suffice it to say that Lily's story shows the devastatingly tiny grasp a woman of that time held on her own life. She was completely at the mercy of the men in her life, to the elders in her family, and to anyone else who could offer her scaffolding for existence in the city. As a beautiful woman, unfortunately, she garnered the attention of several men who were able to fully tarnish her reputation without Lily herself having any hand in the maintaining of that reputation. And that's not fair!

Furthermore, because of the mores of the time, Lily was utterly powerless to make a living for herself or to better herself in any way. Her entire role as a woman was as an ornament for the man. Several women from the lower class play pivotal roles in the novel. Some of these women held Lily in contempt while others were kind to her, just as some of the wealthy women were scornful of Lily while a few tried to prop her up socially while they could. In the end, nearly everyone is unforgiving. But the differing social expectations and behaviors between the upper class and lower class women was interestingly explored in this novel.

Edith Wharton
Although this story sounds very Austin-esque, do not assume that this book is anything like a Jane Austin novel, though Austin wonderfully explores some of the same issues that women had to suffer. This novel is far more developed, far grittier, far more modern, and far better! The book might be seen as a quintessential feminist novel because Edith Wharton was born into the wealthy and privileged of the upper class of New York City and lived these female roles. In The House of Mirth, Wharton calls out the callousness of those in positions of power. In writing about the mores of the social class to which she had been born, Edith Wharton gained incredible success as a writer.  And I'm so glad.

A few times, while reading A House of Mirth, I literally said out loud MARRY THAT GUY!,  All the while, knowing that Lily couldn't marry that guy and that That Guy couldn't marry Lily. I mention this because I found myself so very drawn in to this book. It was unexpected in the various shades of grey it explored. While I found the writing difficult to read at times, I wish the story was longer because I loved it, which is interesting because I'm not even sure that I like Lily! ...though she did find a way to endear herself to me later in the book where she really got real with herself and her position.

Get this, I read somewhere that Edith, born Edith Newbold Jones, was born into such wealth and privilege that her family actually inspired the phrase keeping up with the Joneses!

Edith Wharton also wrote The Age of Innocence and Ethan Frome as well as several novellas and some poetry. Having loved Ethan Frome (set in the complete opposite kind of place), I can confirm that The Age of Innocence is now on my TO READ list! 

For the quality of writing and for the explored depths of the social milieu of 1900 New York City (I love being a sociologist taking a peek into this culture), for the well-drawn lady Lily, and for the exploration of Lily's life and times and relationships, I have to give this book a surprising eight stars!

I always like to post my favorite bits from the books I review. Here are a few quotations that I highlighted on my ereader as I read A House of Mirth:
Everything about her was warm and soft and scented; even the stains of her grief became her as raindrops do the beaten rose.


No insect hangs its nest on threads as frail as those which will sustain the weight of human vanity


Selden and Lily stood still, accepting the unreality of the scene as a part of their own dream-like sensations. It would not have surprised them to feel a summer breeze on their faces, or to see the lights among the boughs reduplicated in the arch of a starry sky. The strange solitude about them was no stranger than the sweetness of being alone in it together.


[Selden] had preserved a certain social detachment, a happy air of viewing the show objectively, of having points of contact outside the great gilt cage in which they were all huddled for the mob to gape at. How alluring the world outside the cage appeared to Lily, as she heard its door clang on her! In reality, as she knew, the door never clanged: it stood always open; but most of the captives were like flies in a bottle, and having once flown in, could never regain their freedom. It was Selden's distinction that he had never forgotten the way out.


That's Lily all over, you know: she works like a slave preparing the ground and sowing her seed; but the day she ought to be reaping the harvest she over-sleeps herself or goes off on a picnic.


The noble buoyancy of her attitude, its suggestion of soaring grace, revealed the touch of poetry in her beauty that Selden always felt in her presence, yet lost the sense of when he was not with her. Its expression was now so vivid that for the first time he seemed to see before him the real Lily Bart, divested of all the trivialities of her little world, and catching for a moment a note of that eternal harmony of which her beauty was a part.

Just a few favorites to whet your whistle.

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Monday, March 11, 2019

Atheist Pride Day and Week

My Religion
is Kindness
In past years I have noticed on Facebook events called National Ask an Atheist Day, Atheist Pride  Day, Atheist Day, and Atheist Week. I decided to check out the 2019 dates for these events and I was met with nothing but confusion because, whoever creates these days, there are a number of conflicting dates.

To solve this one, I've decided to simply make the entire year of 2019 the Year of Atheist Pride!  ๐Ÿ˜…

Join me if you like!

I made the clip art above for Atheist Day one year and I love it for its simplicity and beauty, so I'm going to keep using it. I will be posting it along the side of my blog for the rest of the year AND I will be using it on my FB profile anytime I'm not posting gorgeous pics of my granddaughters!  ๐Ÿ˜…

I'm posting it here to invite you to copy and use it as much as you like! It states, My Religion is Kindness and it is exactly where I am in life! If you are here too, please join me in using this little meme.

Here are the various dates that I discovered in the two seconds I looked for dates. You can see why I just decided to use the entire year for PRIDE for being a logical, reasonable, free thinker.
  • National Ask an Atheist Day 201, Thursday, April 18, 2019
  • Atheist Pride Day 2019 observed on Wednesday, March 20th and on Thursday, June 6th, 2019
  • Atheist Day 2019 is on Monday, April 1, 2019
  • Atheist Pride Day 2019 is observed on Wednesday, June 6, 2019

Whenever it really is, I always enjoy National Ask an Atheist day on Facebook because I get asked the loveliest questions!  ๐Ÿ’œ๐Ÿ’™

If you know correct dates, 
please advise me.

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Sunday, March 10, 2019

Behind the Curve: What Can We Do?

In a past post I was exploring some of the hype behind a movie called Behind the Curve, a film that looks at Flat Earthers and I got to wondering why people believe weird things. This question is on many of our minds and Michael Shermer, of course, offered his book called Why People Believe Weird Things, I book I highly recommend!

My next question after the whys  is the whats.  Specifically what can we do, as people who know or love these people who chose to believe weird things. If anything. Since this is a blog and not a scholarly journal, of course, my writing is just exploratory...

I think that some skeptics often wonder how can I help this person lose their illogic or dogma?  In response to this question, I honestly don't think there are any magic words or magical interventions.

My son was on campus last semester when he came upon a group of Right to Lifers speaking to a gathered group of students. John attempted some debate, with some success. But he came home that day with high energy and very motivated to be able to debate believers in a situation like that. So he spend weeks reading and informing himself and figuring out what he would do or say if given the same opportunity.

Last week, on campus again, that opportunity arose.
He stood for nearly an hour in conversation with the Right to Lifers, addressing their claims, bringing in his research, pointing out many of their erroneous bits of information, and generally holding his own with intellect, wit, and confidence. He even pulled out his phone several times to Google claims that were being made, finding factual evidence in response to those erroneous claims being made. As he left the event, he was stopped by several people who told him "I thought I was a Right to Lifer, but I now see that I have some learning to do." And "Thank you for remaining calm." And "Thank you for having the courage to stand up there, pull out your phone, and look for information right in front of the crowd."

And THAT is what we can do.
We can inform ourselves and offer our sincere, patient, and calm-voiced counterpoints. We can openly research the claims. We can offer our evidence quietly and calmly. And we can know that those around us are watching. We can focus less on the primary debater and more on the circle of listeners.

We may never effect change in the people on the podium, but we can and will effect the people who are listening. If the believers who have the solid floor and are never openly debated, the crowd begins to quietly accept their outrageous, poorly-informed point of view. The majority wins again.

Our voices are essential.
In every way, every day, I will stand up there and be openly skeptical. Because, for some, I am the only face of atheism, skepticism, or freethought that they know. I cannot count the number of times someone has said to me "But you are so nice!" and I will reply, YES, I am, I wonder which other of your assumptions are incorrect..? I also have many examples of believers in positions of power in various churches who have said to me, You make sense and you've got me thinking. That's about all I can ask for.

Further, there is a mindset we can hold. We can be aware that the fringes of belief call to some people because those fringe communities beacon them welcomingly. If I can be welcoming, if I can offer a place where a person can verbalize their beliefs, maybe, just maybe, my welcoming and patience can show them that there are other welcoming ports in the vast exchange of ideas. If our shaming of their beliefs pushes them away, how can we be surprised at their departure from reason?

Holding on to illogical beliefs, weird ideas, philosophies that make little or no sense happens for a reason. These people are getting some emotional need met by their belief. What is it? Maybe explore that a bit.

No shaming.
No angry debating.

No shouting.
No name calling.
No shows of supremacy.

Just a welcome port for an honest exploration of ideas.
Let's explore ideas together. What, then, will we find?

Join me in this new way of peacefully representing reason, logic, skepticism. Because I, too, am tired of the bloviating bullshit and buster of nonbelievers.

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There But For the Grace...

Saturday, March 9, 2019

Edith Wharton's The House of Mirth

Here's a book you will find on most Books You Should Read Before College lists, yet, again, I don't agree, at least not at this point in the book. It's Edith Wharton's The House of Mirth. 

First, read this summery from 

First published in 1905, THE HOUSE OF MIRTH shocked the New York society it so deftly chronicles, portraying the moral, social and economic restraints on a woman who dared to claim the privileges of marriage without assuming the responsibilities.

Lily Bart, beautiful, witty and sophisticated, is accepted by 'old money' and courted by the growing tribe of nouveaux riches. But as she nears thirty, her foothold becomes precarious; a poor girl with expensive tastes, she needs a husband to preserve her social standing, and to maintain her in the luxury she has come to expect. Whilst many have sought her, something - fastidiousness or integrity- prevents her from making a 'suitable' match.

I'm now nearing the end of the book, so I will be writing a review of it soon but at this point I have a few observations more apropos of a while reading post.

Scribner's for March, now ready.
Everybody is talking of
The House of Mirth
by Edith Wharton in Scribner's.
Are you reading it?

We have the beautiful and flawed Lily Bart, 29 year old protagonist, a young woman moving about through high society on Manhattan at the end of the 19th century. Being of marriageable age, Lily struggles with her strong craving for wealth and status at a time of her life when the truly wealthy matches of her past are long gone. She is aware that her beauty is paling and that her eligible marriageable status will continue to fade as quickly as her reputation is fading. Further, and more importantly, Lily is aware that her internal self is incongruent with this external appearance. 

She is in dire financial straights and is having to balance her strong need to be bailed out with her sincere desire to marry well. She has an exciting and unfortunate growing affection and attraction to Lawrence Seldon, an attorney acquaintance who moves through these upper echelon social circles in spite of being of a lower economic status. Lawrence Seldon is a wonderful counterpart to Lily, being her Devil's advocate, her confessor, someone with whom she can be truly herself. Sadly he does not and cannot offer Lily the financial status and social status that she strongly desires.

Seldon's compelling attraction to Lily elicits hope in the reader. Can he save her? Will he try? Will she be open to the genuine affection he can offer her in a world where people use one another ruthlessly and personal allegiance does not survive social suicide. The reader begins to hope that his willingness to be vulnerable before her will bring her to him. That remains to be seen.

Like any fully-drawn character in the great works of fiction, Lily Bart is a woman of substantial intellectual and emotional force as well as being a woman who is elementally flawed and who, in due time, will be the saboteur of her future. The reader begins to be aware that she will steer her life down the rails of some unsavory arrangement instead toward the man she loves. It is clear that she will destroy any semblance of happiness in her life, as was the tragic reality for a women without means of her own. (Isn't this still so to some degree?) It also seems clear through her internal conversations that she is highly self-aware and does seek to live a life of some ethical choices, but we know that the frisson of the novel occurs between her desired ethics and the reality of what is permissible for her in 19th Century Manhattan high society.

Edith Wharton
and two dogs
I'm over half way through the novel, taking my time, and truly enjoying Edith Wharton's labyrinthine, obfuscating, sly, elaborate writing. Problems are, as in high society, eluded to in complex prose. I have looked up about a hundred words that, for most intents and purposes, have fallen out of the English lexicon. It has been a delight in spite of the obvious plot catastrophes to follow. 

The author, Edith Wharton, drew upon her insider's knowledge of the upper class New York "aristocracy" to realistically portray the lives and morals of Manhattan's Gilded Age. Her family was very wealthy and socially prominent. According to Wiki, despite not publishing her first novel until she was forty, Wharton became an extraordinarily productive writer. In addition to her fifteen novels, seven novellas, and eighty-five short stories, she published poetry, books on design, travel, literary and cultural criticism, and a memoir. I have not read any other novels by Wharton, but I'm interested in Age of Innocence

More to come so stay tuned.

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Thursday, March 7, 2019

MJ and my Shame

I have to confess some things about Michael Jackson. Lots of people online are talking about the movie called Leaving Neverland and for awhile I thought people were talking about the Kate Winslet, Johnny Depp movie called Finding Neverland so I didn't pay much attention to the conversation at all and I didn't understand all of the controversy.

Of course I finally got my head out of the clouds and I've been following the discussions a bit trying to get a better understanding of what is on everyone's mind. I see people angry, some forgiving, some in denial, and others who couldn't care less. Where am I in all of this? At one point I was involved in a short conversation on a friend's board where I admitted something. I'm conflicted.

There should be no conflict.
I should have no mixed feelings about this.
These boys are accusing Michael Jackson of long-time pedophilia, deliberate and typical grooming behaviors, and relationships and vile behaviors with young boys based on sexual abuse. Those boys get my full support and they deserve 100% credibility, though they and MJ are continuously being tried by the public in all of social media. The people seem split 50/50 on this one.

So what is my freaking problem?
Why is my heart so troubled by having to let go of my lifelong love for Michael? I have fought the evidence. I have not wanted to believe it. I have pushed the doubts way back in my mind for many years now. I have tried to save the goodness of those early days of loving the Jacksons and Michael and Jermaine!.

As I've been thinking about writing this blog post, I got to wondering how yesterday's post might be relevant, the blog post on why people believe weird things  because I am admitting that, for years now, I have been willing to ignore the facts and I've given Michael Jackson a pass on all of the evidence because his music has been the soundtrack of my life.

Is it because my intuition was that his sweetness and goodness made such abuse impossible (Intuition)? Is it because I grew up loving him, loving his smile, loving his music, loving him for his troubled past, loving him for the controversies that have always surrounded his oddities of behavior so much so that I thought I knew his heart (Subjective Experiences)? Is it because I have simply overlooked damning evidence and sought out information that acquitted him of any wrong doing (Confirmation Bias and Cherry Picking)? Is it because I simply didn't want to, or couldn't bare to, accept the truth (Denial)? Is it because I gave him miles of latitude in behavior because of his abused past (Underdog Protagonist)?

Yes to each one of these.

So now, here I am today, finally acknowledging my own need to accept the truth. I have to give him up for now. Maybe in a hundred years his pedophilia won't still be an issue and fans can enjoy his music again without guilt. But for now, it's over.
I owe it to those boys to make this ethical decision.

I'm curious.
Do you have a similar story?

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Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Flat Earth: Behind the Curve: Members Around the Globe

I'm not sure where I saw it first or what it was that got me interested enough to watch it, but I did it. I watched the movie about the people claiming that Earth is flat. Behind the Curve is the name of the movie, now available on Netflix. So go watch it and chill.

So, what are the claims?
According to the Flat Earthers, the earth is a flatish disc that is a plain covered with a dome like a terrarium. The Flat Earthers claim that the entire story that Earth is spherical is a huge conspiracy perpetrated on We, the people, for some reason. I can't say that I know what that reason is. What is to gain from such a conspiracy? I have no idea. But the spherical earth, according to the main spokesperson in the movie, noted Flat Earther Mark Sargent, is like a sound stage, like The Truman Show, like a Hollywood set to confuse us.

Why we are being duped into believing in a spherical earth? 

I don't know, exactly, I don't think the WHY was explored on the film, but I could have missed it. The parties who are tricking us, though, according to Sargent and some of his compatriots may be the Jews, the Masons, Satanists, the Vatican, NASA, the CIA, or some other conspiracy group like that. Wink.

Is it true? Are there, truly, a growing number of Flat Earthers, a claim we often hear? The idea of a growing number of people rejecting science concerns me and, frankly, sounds like the beginning of some post-apocalyptic novels I have read. More importantly, why am I giving this film and these claims any air time at all? Why not ignore it? Especially when the Flat Earthers in the film carried out several experiments that they hoped would show the flatness of our earth, that they hoped would prove that we have all been fooled. Of course, those experiments unequivocally did not support their claims. 
Isn't that enough?

Sadly, it is not enough. Flat Earthers, conspiracy theorists of many kinds, and people who make supernatural claims are not convinced by facts or evidence. Isn't that interesting? Yet it also creates a unique problem: how can we engage with one of these people, address their claims, and bring them into the light of reason? How can we address the claim that our entire educational system and scientific community is out to perpetrate this huge hoax when a simple trip to the edge of the Earth would end the controversy? How can we move these people beyond their anti-science bent?

The truth is, we can't.

People believe strange things for a reason. They maintain their illogical beliefs through a series of specific mind tricks, denial, and sheer will. For many Flat Earthers and others, it is a decision to eschew scientific knowledge. Maybe this rejection of science is based on fear. Maybe it's based on the feeling that they can't understand advanced science. Maybe it's based on a need to sit outside of the circle. Maybe they are simply responding to the negativity they feel around them by moving closer to the fringe.

I think it's worth it to take a moment to understand why these people are willing to go out on this precarious limb, why they are willing and able to own the bizarre claims, and why their minds are not effected by evidence or reason. I think that Flat Earthers, various conspiracy theorists, and most people who hold supernatural world views make a choice in some moment to reject science. But why? And why do I think it's worth looking at the whys? Because every single person who embraces these claims is another person who could have been a scientist. Every one of these people is another person who could positively contribute to the planet, yet they do not.

Interestingly, the film itself is not a movie about Flat Earthers. Instead it is something better! It is about the WHY of Flat Earthers, about trying to understand why these people hold on to these misguided beliefs in the face of convincing and compelling evidence. I'm disappointed with myself for not getting the name and credentials of the mental health professional who appears in the movie and explains why people believe weird things. He was awesome and respectful and he explained the whys quite well. If I get back to the movie, I'll put his name HERE.

Here is a quick summary of the points he made through the film.

Intuition: These people tend to listen to their intuition over scientific, esoteric data. They can look long distances on Earth from high vantage points and not see a curvature of the planet, including when in an airplane at high altitudes.

Subjective Experiences: They are more likely to give more weight to their own experiences and senses than to scientific claims that are not obvious to their senses, including gravity, night and day, seasons, etc.

Dunning-Kruger Effect: According to Wikipedia, the DKE is a cognitive bias in which people of low ability have illusory superiority and mistakenly assess their cognitive ability as greater than it is. (Now that you know this one, you're going to use it to explain alot more in the world, aren't you?)

Cult of Personality: People who join or support cult-like groups are often chasing the energy of a charismatic leader of sorts. I can't say that Mark Sargent is charismatic, but some of the other people appearing in Behind the Curve might be people who engender this type of follower.

Confirmation Bias: We skeptics understand this one, how people who believe in magic ignore the evidence and grasp onto anything that vaguely supports their claims, how they search for evidence that supports their belief. People display this bias when they gather or remember information selectively, or when they interpret it in a biased way. The effect is stronger for emotionally charged issues and for deeply entrenched beliefs.

Cherry Picking: Another bias where the believer seeks to confirm a particular position while ignoring a significant portion of related cases or data that may contradict that position.

All of these usual cognitive biases as well as issues like wanting to believe in a complicated/esoteric/mystical/ or magical idea, distrust of authority, being isolated and misinformed, the oddly welcoming community of the fringe, identification with the underdog protagonist, the propensity to feel special from being the center of existence, wanting to be unique, are all qualities that can strongly attract a certain type of person, a person who is not interested in science, logic. or reason.

Does this make sense?
GOOD, because the next step, now that we understand the attraction of the magic or woo, is to figure out how to engage these people...

Coming up, next.

Did you see the film?
What did you think?

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Tuesday, March 5, 2019

We are Called to Rise: A Novel by Laura McBride

I love when you pick up a book, not knowing what is going to happen, not knowing who you are going to meet, not knowing what kinds of issues will be explored and the next thing you know you're a brand new person, wondering how you got to where you are.

It's a hundred small moments.
That's the answer to how we got here.

Laura McBride begins her book with this quote from Emily Dickinson, jump starting the book with optimism. Optimism tinged with the wonder of the unknown, tinged with our knowledge of the pain of life, tinged with the fear that the rising may be beyond us:

We never know how high we are
Till we are called to rise;
And then, if we are true to plan,
Our statures touch the skies--
~Emily Dickinson

It all starts with Avis, a woman wondering how she has gotten to this place. I was immediately there with her. How had the small things, decisions not made, answers not given, choices not taken, moments allowed to melt into nothing, brought Avis, or any of us, to this exact moment in our lives, a life that suddenly feels like we are looking through a glass of water, into a skewed mirror, or through the eyes of another. Laura McBride takes us there in simplified, yet poetic prose, leading us through a series of Avis's life moments, moments that would explain nearly any unexpected turn of events. For we now know that Avis is going to be a lynch pin for events, a lynch pin that is incapable of spinning true, a center of shapes that have no center.
She is a hero.

Then we meet Bashkim, an unlikely protagonist, a shape with no center, for he is likely walking along the street with his head in a book, unawares of the movement, the sound, the tripping curb, the nearby rushing traffic. Bashkim, the 8-year old son of Albanian immigrants, is acting American through and through. He is part of the city. He cannot escape the knowledge that, in his family, he is the only one of them who is not a square peg in the round hole of American culture and living. Bashkim understands that he is ill-equipped when moving his fractured and PPSD family through the city streets of their days, unable to leave Albania behind, unable to embrace the streets of Las Vegas.

He has some inchoate support, building and building, as school and community begin to see what he is carrying through his days, through the days of being American, of being Normal, of being Here, of Fitting In. Bashkim is living from one heartbreaking moment to the next. We must make this work for Bashkim for he, too, is a hero.

Luis. Luis is another shape with no center. In fact, he is struggling to accept the fact that, somehow, he Is. As a young military man seeing action in the Middle East, he is aware that life and chances and odds are all wrapped up in the here and now. He knows that each moment has the same odds of survival as every other moment. He has learned that life is tragic and we cannot escape that. Life is a place where a small boy with a grey bag might be the bringer of death.

When we meet Luis he is in a tragic, dark place thinking Someone is near me. There is pressure on me, somewhere. I think, what is a hand? What is someone? And I slip backward again. Luis has decided to take those odds of surviving life into his own hands. But not before sending a red hot bullet across the sea and into Young Bashkim's hands, destroying Bashkim's heart just a bit more.
Luis is one of our heroes.

And finally Roberta shows us the underbelly of Las Vegas, Las Vegas being the fifth living character in this book, the metaphor for who she will never be. Roberta has been existing in her life like a ghost seeking meaning. After her heart-rendering losses, she wishes to make meaning where ever she can. In spite of the fact that meaning is non-existent and has no center.

Roberta, too, is a hero.

Roberta brings her philosophical choices into the scenarios when she muses The way I see it, nothing in life is a rehearsal. It's not preparation for anything else. There's no getting ready for it. There's no waiting for the real part to begin. Not ever. Not even for the smallest child. This is it. And if you wait too long to figure that out, to figure out that we are the ones making the world, we are the ones to whom all problems -- and all possibilities for grace -- now fall, then you lose everything. Your one shot at this world.
I get that this one small life is all we have for whatever it is that we are going to do. And I want in.

I can relate to Roberta. I want to be like her, somehow knowing that you can just choose to be a hero and then be one. Instead, I often find myself believing one of the other, best quotes from this book, a moment when Luis thinks Sometime it's not that you don't want to help. It's that you can't bear to be offered help that just keeps turning out not to be enough after all.
That's what life seems like to us, yes?

Forgive my airy sound.
I'm still living in this story a bit.
It may have ended too optimistically. Yes. But, perhaps it is simply showing the fact that life goes on. And I'm grateful for that because otherwise, I could not have born it, for Bashkim is still with me. We all need to be there for him. 

I love it that the very things that we think of as the weaknesses of each character somehow morph into strength. Perhaps life is really like this too. Furthermore, I love it that my heart recognizes those small choices that brought us here, those silences and questions that brought us to this place, under one roof.

One of my favorite quotations from this book is quite long, quite optimistically pessimistic. I will share it here:

It all matters. That someone turns out the lamp, picks up the windblown wrapper, says hello to the invalid, pays at the unattended lot, listens to the repeated tale, folds the abandoned laundry, plays the game fairly, tells the story honestly, acknowledges help, gives credit, says good night, resists temptation, wipes the counter, waits at the yellow, makes the bed, tips the maid, remembers the illness, congratulates the victor, accepts the consequences, takes a stand, steps up, offers a hand, goes first, goes last, chooses the small portion, teaches the child, tends to the dying, comforts the grieving, removes the splinter, wipes the tear, directs the lost, touches the lonely, is the whole thing.

What is beautiful is the least acknowledged.

What is worth dying for is barely noticed.

Laura McBride is a poet and I hope she writes more!
For moving me in a hundred different ways when I did not think I could be moved and for being a book that I simply picked up at random off of the library shelf, I give this book a solid seven stars.

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