Monthly Archives: October 2012

Open Thread: Hard to spell

So, it’s Wednesday here.  Because this is being posted later in the day it might not be Wednesday where you are, but the point here is: Wednesday.

I’m not good at spelling it.  See that first “d”?  It either doesn’t exist in my accent or, on the occasions when it shows up at all is extremely understated and in a different place.
Trying to explain how a word is spoken across accents is difficult to do for those of us not well versed in the IPA but basically, barring major differences on the level of letters between your accent and mine, the word is either “Wenzday” or “Wendsday” with the d in “Wend” being barely pronounced.  Either way it definitely is not pronounced W E D anything.  And so, for my whole life, the word has tripped me up.  I read it without any hesitation or a second thought, but when I write it I have to stop myself and remind myself that it’s not how I say it it’s “Wed-nes-day”  breaking it into three triads of letters makes sure both that I get the first “d” and that I get it on the correct side of the “n”.
Are there any words, especially simple or common words, whose spelling routinely trips you up?
[Remember that this is an open thread with prompt, meaning that there is no expectation or demand that you stay on topic.  The prompt is to start conversation, not limit it.]

Dosado and Promenade Your Own

Stop reading and get up from the computer.

Okay, fine, read a little bit further, but I’m not joking. Up. Metaphorically, if you use a wheelchair or cane, but how you move doesn’t matter as much as how fast. Find or make an empty space at least ten feet by ten feet, and put on some music. It doesn’t much matter what music—this activity is traditionally associated with both kinds, country and western, but then there’s “Build Me Up Buttercup” (1960s soul), “Moves Like Jagger” (2010s pop), “Mickey Mouse Club March” (1950s Disney), “I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas”… (Okay, yes, and “Red Solo Cup”; nothing’s perfect.) The only requirement is that there be a good beat to the music, a good danceable beat.

Rutgers Promenaders 2012 Feb 19 dance, static square

Envision[1] yourself positioned (or, better, actually position yourself) in a square, two people per side. The person beside you is your partner, the person catty-corner to you is your corner. The person outside the square with the microphone is the caller, and if something goes wrong it is zir fault. The couple facing the caller and the couple facing that couple are the Heads, the other couples the Sides. Back to the caller? You’re couple number 1. Caller to your left? Couple number 2. Continue counterclockwise to couples 3 and 4. The place you’re standing now is Home. Oriented? Good.

visual aid for above paragraph

Join hands and Circle Left. Now Circle Right. Now Up to the Middle and Back.

Welcome to square dancing.

To successfully navigate a square dance tip, you need to remember a few things. Which hand is your left, and which your right? (My father has badges that say “Left” and “Other Left”. Just to help people remember. He switches which side he wears them on.) To which number couple do you belong, and does that make you a Head or a Side? Did you start out on the left side of the couple, or the right?

That last is very important to remember; most calls are directed at half the square, though many of them have instructions for both halves, and which half gets the directions varies: Heads or Sides, Centers or Ends, Leaders or Trailers, Left or Right of the couples of the moment, on the left or the right side of Home.

It is typically easier to remember that, when everybody is Home or in normal couples, Boys are on the left and Girls are on the right.

The gender binary pervades square dancing. Genderqueer? Tough; pick one. You can change at the end of the tip, or in the middle if you’re dancing with people who don’t mind doing two Trades where one was called and possibly confusing the caller and the rest of the square. But there’s no ‘bigender’ or ‘agender’ or ‘third gender’ in square dancing. There’s boys and there’s girls, and every dancer is one or the other.

Rutgers Promenaders 2012 Mar 04 dance, out-facing lines

Note the couple in teal in the foreground. The man is wearing slacks and a Western-cut shirt; the woman, a dress with a circular skirt and a crinoline underneath, and you know they’re dancing together because they’re wearing the exact same shade of teal. This is traditional square dance attire. A blouse and circle skirt is acceptable in place of a circle-skirted dress, as is a blouse and a prairie skirt. If the dance hasn’t been specified to be traditional attire only, no one will bat an eye at a girl showing up in jeans as the redhead on the left did, but if the dance has been so specified, a girl not in a skirt is Frowned Upon. A boy in a skirt is Frowned Upon regardless, but that’s not a square-dancing-specific issue.

There’s also singing calls. In contrast to patter, where the music is instrumental and the calls are spoken, the calls are sung and so are select lines from the original songs. For instance, in Charlie Daniels’s “The Devil Went Down to Georgia”, the line “Johnny rosin up your bow and play your fiddle hard” is followed by the line “‘Cause hell’s broke loose in Georgia and the devil deals the cards”. In this singing call version of “The Devil Went Down to Georgia”, “play your fiddle hard’ is followed by ‘Dosado[2], go once around, now Promenade your pard'” (square dancers like rhyme), and then while the dancers are Promenading, the caller sings “If you win you get this shiny fiddle made of gold”, which follows “devil deals the cards” in the original. The other relevant point distinguishing singing calls from patter is that in every patter figure, everyone ends up Home. In every singing call figure, the boys go Home while the girls rotate. Because reasons.

Then there’s the calls that simply cannot be done in same-sex couples. Swing: like in ballroom dancing, girl’s left hand in boy’s right, girl’s right hand on boy’s shoulder, boy’s right hand on girl’s waist, and rotate clockwise. Star Thru: girl’s left hand palm to palm with boy’s right, girl steps forward and turns a quarter left to the inside as boy steps forward and turns a quarter right to the outside. Even the calls that don’t have gender in the definition are often gendered: to Courtesy Turn, the right-hand side of the couple walks forward and the left-hand side backward in a semicircle so that they end up in each other’s footsteps facing the opposite direction. Well, that and some work with the hands. There’s no mention in the definition of gender at all. But it is rarely called from same-sex or arky (girl on the left, boy on the right) couples. This is probably because of the hands part of the call: right-hand dancer’s left hand in left-hand dancer’s left hand, right-hand dancer’s right hand on the small of zir back or working her skirt, left-hand dancer’s right hand on right-hand dancer’s right hand or the small of her back to guide her through her forward motion. For some reason, if it’s a girl on the left and/or a boy on the right, people find this awkward.

Courtesy Turn is also an example of one of those things CALLERLAB, the organization that maintains the definitions of all square dance calls, prefers to pretend doesn’t happen. In Courtesy Turn from normal couples, he’s courtesy-turning her, not the other way around. In California Twirl, he’s twirling her. Swing Your Lady is called more often than Swing Your Partner, even though they’re the same damn thing. Walk Around Your Corner is exactly what it sounds like: you face your corner and walk around same (distinct from a Dosado Your Corner in that you stay right shoulder to right shoulder the whole move, rather than staying facing a particular wall the whole move), but it’s often called as Walk Around the Left-Hand Lady. See Saw, Walk Around Your Corner’s counterpart move, is often called as See Saw Your Taw, because square dancers really like rhyme; ‘taw’ is a word I have never seen outside a square dance context, and it’s supposed to mean ‘wife’. (Wiktionary says ‘spouse’ or ‘dance partner’; good for Wiktionary. Every time I’ve been to square dance lessons when See Saw is being taught, I’ve heard that ‘taw’ means ‘wife’, and calling ‘See Saw Your Pretty Little Taw’ emphasizes that reading. In gender essentialism, men are neither pretty nor little.) In Run, the directed dancers do a half circle into the adjacent inactive dancer’s starting position while the inactive dancer steps sideways into the active dancer’s starting position, and it can be called as Boys Run, Girls Run, Ends Run, or Centers Run. Of Ends Run and Centers Run, I’ve noticed that callers don’t tend to prefer one over the other, but of Boys Run and Girls Run, guess which one gets called more often?

That’s right, it’s Boys Run. Little as CALLERLAB likes it, square dancing tends to give the direction to the boys and expect the girls to puzzle out their steps. That’s not true of the Ladies Chain family of calls, or of Teacup Chain, but I have never heard Men Chain and rarely Men Teacup Chain, and if the girls are active on those calls then the boys get the easy part. Also rare is Beer Mug Chain, but that is not an official call (not up to Plus level, anyway; I know nothing of Advanced or Challenge) and invariably breaks all the squares. Also notice how, apparently, only girls drink tea and only boys beer.

Boys typically get the easy part with choreography, too. Calls are meant to flow one into another. The call Roll, for example, is meaningless when starting from a static position instead of partway through another call; whichever direction you’re turning at the end of the call before Roll, you keep turning that direction another quarter turn. Or Wheel and Deal, then Zoom; in Wheel and Deal, both members of a couple are moving the same direction at the end of the call, and in Zoom, the first part of the call for the leading couple is turn your back on your partner. The boy keeps going in the same direction he was going, while the girl has to halt and reverse direction. This combination is called fairly frequently, generally but not always by male callers who are unfamiliar with dancing the girl’s part.

There’s also setting up and breaking down the dance hall (moving tables and chairs, etc) and providing the food. Guess which gender, in my experience, typically does which task?

Square dancing isn’t all rigid-gender-role doom and gloom. Girls do wear jeans to casual dances, after all.

Square dancers skew female, so to maximize the number of squares on the floor in any given tip, many female dancers dance the male part. And of course dancers who know both parts can switch genders as many times during the night as they like. Not I, if I can avoid it—I find it breaks my brain too badly to be raising the left hand to Star Thru in one tip and the right hand to Star Thru in the next—but my mother and my sisters can dance boy with ease, as can quite a few of the female dancers I know. (My mother, in fact, has made sashes in magenta fleece and sky blue in order to faciliate people changing gender between tips, because she’s sick of a tip pausing for the caller to point at one of the seven female-presenting people in the square and ask whether that person’s a girl or a boy.) Girls consequently usually win Battle of the Sexes tips, wherein half the squares are all women and the other half all men and the goal is to be in a square that doesn’t break down due to somebody doing the wrong half of Star Thru or whatever. On the other hand, when you get the caller interrupting the steady flow of patter to say “[Mama Murasaki], you’re a man”, you know something’s gone wrong.

Then there are LGBT clubs such as Philadelphia’s Independence Squares and Washington DC’s Lambda Squares. When the expectation that couples in the Home position will be boy to the left girl to the right collides with the expectation that couples in the Home position will be people who arrived together, the latter usually wins.

Dance-By-Definition clubs also exist. CALLERLAB wishes to emphasize (in the introduction to the Basic/Mainstream Definitions file) that “most of the calls are defined without reference to gender”, and DBD clubs cheerfully upend the gendered expectations about how these nongendered calls are done. It’s in these clubs that you’ll hear Courtesy Turn called from same-sex or arky couples, or Teacup Chain called immediately after Half Sashay (which moves couples from normal to arky). It’s also members of these clubs who have the least trouble dancing the opposite of their assigned gender.

Rutgers Promenaders 2012 Feb 19 dance, Dive Thru

I love square dancing. I do. One of my local clubs is closing, and I think that’s a tragedy. But as I understand it, this was one of the clubs that insisted on traditional attire and mixed-sex couples. Square dancing is changing to match a changing world: casual-dress clubs, LGBT clubs, DBD clubs, and clubs that skew young instead of middle-aged and elderly are proof of that. But I worry that square dancing isn’t adapting fast enough, that it can’t fully adapt to a world without the gender binary at all, and if square dancing can’t fit into a world with no gender binary, then this thing I love deserves to die.

[1]All images, except the static square diagram which I made myself, are from recent Rutgers Promenaders dances and are used with permission.

[2] ‘Do-si-do’ is an oatmeal sandwich cookie containing peanut butter, most commonly sold by Girl Scouts. ‘Dosado’ is a square dance call. Please do not confuse the two.

Troll Note

Board Notice: There are trolls in the Remembrance thread. We are letting this continue for the moment and not shutting down the thread because we want to have a planned discussion about how to moderate the board and we feel that the thread as it currently stands represents some of the problems the moderation team is facing. If you personally want to engage the trolls for the moment for lulz, feel free, but if you have trigger-issues I recommend staying out of that thread for the moment. Thank you.


Content Note: Disability, Infertility

Possibly my favorite two posts at Shakesville is Liss’ two-part series on disability and remembering. (Here and here.) Liss discusses something that I’m not sure I’ve ever seen discussed elsewhere: that part of being an ally to the disabled means remembering that they are disabled. That part of loving a disabled friend or family member means not forcing them to repeat, over and over, that they are disabled.

Failing to remember, thus obliging someone to repeatedly disclose a disability, also risks making that person feel like they’re “talking too much” about hir disability, or “complaining.” Many people with disabilities have experienced criticism for talking about their disabilities, or have been on the receiving end of exasperation expressed by someone who doesn’t want to hear about it, […] We often struggle to strike a balance between making sure people around us are aware of our disabilities and not playing into perceptions of attention-seeking, and “forgetting” makes finding that balance all the more difficult.

I know that this isn’t always easy. I know that there’s a big difference between living with a disability and knowing someone with a disability. I don’t expect people who are able-bodied to instinctively grok every facet of disability or to understand instantly and immediately every thing that a person with a specific disability can and cannot do. Disabilities infiltrate our lives in strange and unexpected ways, and I recognize that the ripple-effect is not something that can always be instinctively intuited. This is not a post about “grr, able-bodied people who are not psychic”. That is not this post.

But this is a post about life as a disabled person surrounded by people with able-bodies. People who sometimes fail to remember, and who perhaps sometimes don’t even try to remember. (If nothing else, consider this fodder for that disabled character you’ve always thought about including in your NaNoWriMo novel.)

Being disabled means that people who know that walking hurts you will still turn around and opine that you should walk more often because that’s what their health magazines recommend.

Being disabled means that people who know you cry at commercials with babies in them will still call to tell you that they bumped into your childhood friend at the mall and she had newborn infant twins.

Being disabled means that people who know that you have a handicap parking permit will still park at the back of the lot because it’s “less crowded” back there and everyone “needs the exercise” anyway.

Being disabled means that people who know you are infertile will still rush to tell you that they’re pregnant and will expect you to shriek with joy and ask All The Details because of course you must care.

Being disabled means that people who know you can’t easily sleep in hotel beds will still apply strong emotional pressure for you to come visit them because they haven’t seen you in so long.

Being disabled means that people who know you can’t walk long distances will still plan family vacations at enormous national parks with no public transportation options or handicap paths for wheelchairs.

Being disabled means that people who know you can’t have children will still expect you to listen to stories about their children and react with enthusiasm and happiness for them.

Being disabled means that people familiar with your lifetime of difficult and painful experiences with dozens of unsympathetic doctors will still insist that you just need to keep looking for the “right” one.

Being disabled means that people who know that an activity hurts you will still forget, and ask for an explanation again each time, for why it hurts you even if you do it just so as they suggest.

Being disabled means that people who know you are disabled will favorably compare you to all the other awful disabled people who aren’t really disabled, but just lazy and unhealthy.

Being disabled means that people who know you are disabled will express sympathy that you are disabled while still making it clear that you really need to stop talking about it “so much”.

Being disabled means that people who know you are disabled will explain to you why disability accommodations are bad for businesses and reflect inappropriate entitled attitudes.

Being disabled means that people who know you are disabled will tell you that your experiences and opinions are wrong because they know other disabled people who feel differently.

Most of all, being disabled means that usually when any of the above happens, it happens from someone you liked or loved or trusted. It’s family members, lovers, and friends who often drop an unthinking, unremembering sentence into the conversation, about how you should like cute babies more, or travel more often, or walk a little more for your “health”. It’s the people you trust who haul out platitudes about how wonderful the medical establishment is, despite being blissfully free of your own experiences with it. It’s the people you care about who get several months into planning that family vacation to hike up Mt. Everest before you have to remind them — gently, haltingly, tentatively — that thank you but, ummm, you won’t be able to attend. You have that whole disability thing, remember? And, no, you can’t just shake it off for the sake of seeing the whole group, even if everyone really was so looking forward to seeing you again. Sorry!

Being disabled doesn’t just mean missing out on dozens if not hundreds of fun things in the course of a single month. Being disabled doesn’t just mean counting and hoarding spoons, and having to consider things like “if I walk to the cafeteria with the rest of the group, will I have the ability to get back to my desk afterward?” Being disabled also means having to explain that thought process and the need behind it over and over and over again to people who are otherwise remarkably intelligent and possessed of strong memories. Being disabled means apologizing — profusely and obsessively — for not just having the disability, but also for having to remind people of it.

Being disabled means, more often than not, feeling terribly alone. Not because the people around you don’t care about your disability, but because they’re so unaffected by it that they have the ability to repeatedly forget about it.

If you are an able-bodied person, and if you really care about the disabled persons in your life, please try to remember that they are disabled. Create an opening for them to talk about it in ways that makes them feel like they’re not ruining your day by bringing it up. “I’d like to plan a group hike, but does that mean you won’t be able to come?” reminds them that you know about their disability and that they have a space to safely talk about it. “Would it help if I didn’t talk about cute babies for awhile?” gives them the space to say that, yeah, maybe that would help. “I’m sorry to have forgotten, but are you capable of doing this activity?” at least clarifies that you do remember their disability, even if you don’t remember every aspect of it. (And then when they tell you yes/no, don’t grill them about why or suggest alternative ways that they should try to approach the situation. Try to remember that living with a disability means that they’ve put hundreds more hours of thought into the problem than you have.)

Being an ally to people with disabilities means remembering that those disabilities don’t stop existing whenever you’re not looking.

Updated This Week In The Slacktiverse, October 27th 2012

In case anyone is wondering why some things read “Last week” instead of “This week” it’s because it’s not always possible to get everything in on time and anything added after the post goes live might be missed.

The Blogaround 

Francis wrote two posts:

Both sparked by the October 20 protest march in London.  One on the march itself and one on marching and music.
Do you hear the people sing?  – the march itself.
Singing the songs of angry men? – current protest music.

Ana Mardoll wrote:
Health: White, Thin, Hairless, Naked
(Content Note: Body Modification, Fat Phobia, Hair Removal, Beauty Expectations)

I am white, but not thin. I am far from hairless. Clearly, I do not conform to conventional USAian standards of attractiveness. Just as clearly, however, I do not conform to conventional USAian standards of visible health.

Narnia: Narnian Girls, Telmarine Boys 
(Content Note: Genocide, Appropriation, Violence Against Children, Unwilling Body Transformation)
So I guess it makes sense that we’d go the next logical leap and just call Telmarine girls “Narnian” girls because, meh, born in Narnia and whatnot. After three hundred years of genocide and imperialism and conquest who still cares about labels, am I right?

Coleslaw wrote: I haven’t written much this week, as I have been slowly getting some decluttering done, and did some errand running on behalf of our flea-bitten cats. I did post something Unkind about Ann Coulter (content note: ablism, othering), and wrote a review of the movie Argo.

chris the cynic writes: In the past week much of my time was spent taking what has become known as the Universal Lord’s Prayer but was originally posted under the title, “It is as generic and universal a prayer as can be crafted,” in response to someone saying just that of the actual Lord’s Prayer, into Latin.  Thus I now have, “Tam ea communis et universa precatio est quam creare posse” available on my blog.  Complete with some translation notes for anyone who wants to know how I got things like “GPS” “whachamacallit” and “jazz” into Latin.

I pointed to They Live as a movie everyone should see.

I wrote “Put The Candle Back! (A post about policy toward transgender students in a town I’d never heard of)” in response to hearing the good news about a certain school district and then hearing that they made a complete reversal in less than a week when bigots kicked up a fuss about treating transgender students with dignity and respect (content note: Transphobia).  This would be after I made the late addition to the “Things you can do section” which is in this post as well because it was a late addition.

My sister wrote a post on facebook trying to use people’s hatred of gay people to get them to vote for marriage equality in our state in the coming election.  I wrote a post in response to that explaining that, while her facts are accurate, I don’t agree with her approach or her methods (content note: Homophobia).

Finally, I want to find every newspaper in circulation in the US, or at least every English language one, that accepts electronic submissions.  Every single one.  There should be thousands and if there’s a way to locate them better than Wikipedia’s list of newspapers I haven’t found it yet.  So if you know of a better way, please tell me.

Froborr writes: I’ve had two posts in My Little Po-Mo this week:
The first post was called “I never thought it would happen. My friends have turned into complete JERKS! (The Ticket Master)“: I introduce the notion of problematic-yet-good art and discuss this episode as problematic from a feminist perspective and a getting-Rarity’s-character-right perspective.

Good gravy, girl! What’s wrong with you? (Applebuck Season): I discuss the technique of character collapse, in which we learn who a character is and what is important to them by watching mounting catastrophe strip away their every strength and trait one by one until nothing remains. But with ponies!

Last week Ana Mardoll wrote:
Deconstruction: Lies, Damn Lies, and Mansplaining
(Content Note: Rape Culture, Swearing)
We each have to set our own personal threat level because we are the ones whose lives that threat level most closely impacts. We are the ones who lose out X when we choose not to do Y, and we are the ones who have to decide whether Z is worth the risks that we, personally, perceive that it carries. You don’t get to make those choices for anyone but you.

Deconstruction: Oscar and Weather Girl

(Content Note: Body Policing, Fat Phobia)
This is your regularly scheduled reminder that women should be skinny and sexy at all times in order to be considered normal and non-aberrant. Women should also make sure they always are standing on their toes, and should additionally not expect to have names.

Buffy: A Picture of Abuse

(Content Note: Emotional Abuse, Misogynistic Language, Violence)
So let’s talk about Buffy the Vampire Slayer. And when I say Buffy the Vampire Slayer, specifically I mean Season 3, Episode 2, “Dead Man’s Party”, aka the most enraging episode of anything I have ever seen ever since I quit watching Everyone Loves Raymond.

In case you missed this/thing you can do

Literata has been officially recognized as a member of the clergy. (Via)

From last week:I recently read about a schoolboard that had put in place a policy to support and defend their transgender students, a group that -even in LGB safe places- often finds itself marginalized and unsafe.  This morning (Sunday the 21st) I read that they completely reversed course and rescinded that policy.  It seems like there must be something that can be done, it was outside pressure that made them go from taking a stand against bigotry to backing down, outside pressure might make them reassert their original position.  I don’t know.  I went looking for petitions, the standard means of applying outside pressure.  I found two, but both are from before the policy was rescinded urging not to rescind.  Until such time as there is one saying, “Put The Candle Back,” those seem like the best bet they are here:
Stop District 131 from reversing their new transgender policy!

Uphold the transgender protection policy you UNANIMOUSLY voted to adopt!!
[The second petition is now closed.]

I have signed both.  If someone knows of another, especially one more current, tell me and I’ll put it here.  Until then I recommend getting the word out.  The schoolboard stood up for the right thing, they have since backed down and transgender kids will continue to be hurt as a result.  Someone needs to tell them to stand back up.

–Co-authored by the Slacktiverse Community

The Other Side Wants To Know Too

I don’t remember where it came up. It might have been talking about religion; it might have been talking about Fox Mulder’s “I want to believe” poster.
Someone brought up the famous Carl Sagan-attributed quotation: “I don’t want to believe; I want to know.” And that stuck with me because, though the person didn’t do this and in fact used it well, I’ve seen the quotation used as a stick to intellectually bludgeon theists with at least since high school, probably longer.

And so while the quotation lingered in my mind for days on end, I flashed back to too many arguments to number, or at least too many arguments to remember the number, and what seemed like a fundamental misunderstanding at the core of all of them.

There are people who want to believe. There are people who want desperately to believe. But there’s also a lot of people who want to know, and the idea of “I don’t want to believe; I want to know” being some sort of magic argument that could convince people to abandon theism (thinking on high school now) or even being something anti-theistic at all (which includes a much wider swath than just high school) seems to miss a fundamental point:

The other side wants to know too.

In fact, I think that desire for knowledge over belief can reinforce the very kinds of theism that those trotting out the quote as if it were an argument would most oppose. Specifically extreme science-opposed fundamentalism.

Consider this obviously intended to be funny comparison of “science” and “faith”:

This image is described in the footnote linked immediately hereafter.

Now there are a lot of things that we can point out as wrong or misleading about it. For example it supports the idea that one cannot have faith and science both. The symbols around the “ignore contradicting evidence” section of the faith flow chart include: a crescent for Islam, the religion of Ibn al-Haytham and various other figures critical to the development of the scientific method; a cross for Christianity, the religion of such notable figures as alchemist and Bible code fanatic Issac Newton who provided calculus and our basic understanding of the universe until Einstein brought us General Relativity; a Star of David representing Einstein’s Jewish identity, though (it should be noted) not his faith which is difficult to pin down but definitely not Jewish. possibly not his faith which is difficult to pin down and doesn’t resemble the forms of Judaism I’m most familiar with but may well be Jewish.  (See the comments for the source of the correction.)

But after spending that paragraph pointing out that the dichotomy presented is misleading at best and intentionally hurtful at worst, I’m going to be going with that dichotomy. I’ve pointed out one problem with it, and there are many more, but let’s overlook that because I want to focus on the people for whom that picture is largely accurate.

The fundamentalists trapped by their own efforts, urged on by those around them, in a bubble that keeps out or shoots down all contradicting evidence.

Put yourself in their shoes. Assume that they don’t want to believe, they want to know.

Point to the part on the science side where they reach the point of knowing instead of believing.

That’s a trick, of course. There is no such point. The flow chart never ends. Any theory can be overturned, any belief can be shattered on the rocks; all it takes is some conflicting evidence. Either you have to modify the theory to accommodate it, or you have to abandon the the theory. Either way, it turns out what you believed before was wrong. You didn’t know.

That’s part of what accepting science is. It’s accepting that nothing can be known for sure. That, for what it’s worth, happens to be true. But it also means that you never know, and if you’re honest with yourself you never get to say “I know”. Because in two minutes someone might stumble over a piece of evidence that disproves the theory you believed and send you back to square one.

Now point to the part in the “Faith” side where you get to say “I know”.

Pretty much any place you want will work. So long as you stay in the “Ignore conflicting evidence” bubble you get to keep the idea forever and never have to say that what you thought you knew was wrong.

If you want to know, rather than believe, the fundamentalist model seems more appealing. Preacher tells you, it’s settled, you know, and nothing can change that. Of course you could be wrong. But you never know that you’re wrong. Because you never allow for the possibility that you might be wrong. How could you be? You don’t believe, you know.

From that point of view the inherent instability of science could seem downright frightening. You never reach the point where you get to stop. There is no end. You never reach the point where you can say “I know this”, only the point where you can say “Given the available evidence, this theory fits best and has loads of support, but the possibility still exists that it could be overturned.”

Thus a desire to know seems to reinforce fundamentalists’ isolationism and fight against science. They want it to be simple. “They said it in church, it’s true, done.” We see this in people who say, “God said it, I believe it, that settles it”, or “I don’t believe Jesus is the savior, I know he is.” The desire to know, the desire for certainty, seems to push people to cling to things that don’t get changed, or don’t seem to get changed.

Consider this quote from Men In Black: “Fifteen hundred years ago everybody knew the Earth was the center of the universe. Five hundred years ago, everybody knew the Earth was flat, and fifteen minutes ago, you knew that humans were alone on this planet. Imagine what you’ll know tomorrow.”

It’s a picture of change. It’s a picture of not knowing. It’s revealing that the world is full of uncertainty.

Now compare that with someone who says that they’re the purveyor of a religious tradition that remains true to the words of someone who lived two thousand years ago. It doesn’t matter if it’s not true, because the picture presented is one of certainty and lack of change: this was true then and it is true now. You can know.

Of course, there is an instability in the whole fundamentalist side of things. That is that science marches on. As early as Plato, we see religion incorporating what was then the cutting edge of scientific knowledge. The trouble is that now, that very same stuff seems absurdly unscientific. So if you start a religion right now, accepting all of the scientific theories accepted right now, and then don’t change, eventually you’re going to be believing things that science left by the wayside because it never stops changing. It never stops improving.

And those improvements can sometimes break through the bubble, and when they do… disaster.

At this point I direct your attention to Fred Clark; some excerpts are here but read the whole thing:

From the sound of what your aunt described, that’s going to be the really tricky part for you, because she says you were always taught that everything must be accepted unconditionally — that it mustn’t be tested and that it all, every bit of it, must be held on to forever. All of it or none of it.
And, based on what I heard from your aunt, you were always told that the whole concoction was inseparable — an all-or-nothing, take-it-or-leave-it deal. Instead of being encouraged, or commanded, to test everything and hold on to the good, you were told that you must either hold on to everything or abandon it all. And you were told that these were your only possible choices.
The all-or-nothing bill of goods she sold you when you were younger really is evil. It invites a crisis of its own making. It batters a child with a series of cruel non-sequiturs: If the earth is more than 6,000 years old, it says, then Jesus doesn’t love you. If there weren’t dinosaurs in Noah’s flood, it says, then life is meaningless. If Isaiah was anything other than a carnival fortune-teller, whispering secrets to be decoded millennia later by the magic formula, then all hope is illusion. 

This all-or-nothing mixture of sense and nonsense is a house built on sand. Eventually, it will be tested and it will fail the test. And it will fall with a great crash.

When one knows, then one doesn’t need to test. That’s what knowing is. And when one is trying to sell something as the Honest to God (emphasis on “God”) known truth, then one can’t let doubt seep in anywhere. Thus instead of “Test everything, hold on to the good”, which is a statement from (Christian) faith that I think is pretty well compatible with the scientific method, the seller teaches “Test nothing. You already know. I said so.”

This puts everything on the same level. Everything is known and thus untested. Everything has to be untested because doubt could undermine the whole game. “If my pastor was wrong about X, could he also be wrong about Y?” And if I’m right that a desire to know, a desire for certainty, plays a role in the embrace of fundamentalism, that’s the kind of question a fundamentalist doesn’t want to answer or ask.

And so the whole thing can come crashing down.

We know this because it has happened. There is evidence. But those within the bubble ignore conflicting evidence, so they don’t necessarily know this. They may have been taught the all or nothing approach to keep conflicting evidence of any kind out, but what should that worry them? They know all these things are true. They have certainty.

I think that’s the problem with those who use the “I don’t want to believe; I want to know” quote against religion. The fundamentalists are there beckoning, “We already know, come inside and you can know too,” where science offers only “We don’t know for certain, but we can offer increasingly close approximations of the truth.” If you want to know now, fundamentalist religion seems to have the better offer because they claim to know already, where as scientists are still working on it with no end in the flowchart. Certainly no end in sight.

I want to close by saying that while the (forgotten) recent usage of “I don’t want to believe; I want to know” was what got the phrase stuck in my head and eventually led to the post, it was not one of the seemingly endless times I’ve seen it used against religion. It was used appropriately and well, it just set off memories of it being used badly.

[Back to the image]

The image contains two flow charts. The first, labeled “Science”, goes like this:

1) Start. Go to 2).
2) Get an idea. Go to 3).
3) Preform an experiment. Go to 4).
4) Does the evidence support the idea? Yes = Go to 5). No = Go to a).
5) Theory created. Go to 6)
6) Use theory to better understand the universe. Go to 7). (This box is surrounded in yellow border with yellow stars.)
7) Discover new evidence. Go to 8)
8) Can theory be modified to explain the new evidence. No = Go to b). Yes = Go to 9)
9) Improve theory. Go to 6).

a) Bad idea. Go to 2).
b) Revolution! Go to 2).

The second, labeled “Faith”, goes like this:

1) Start. Go to 2)
2) Get an idea. Go to 3)
3) Ignore contradicting evidence. Go to 4) (This box is surrounded by a red border and religious symbols.)
4) Keep idea forever. Go to 5).
5) End.

Late Board Business Post, October 26th, 2012

I knew there was something to post yesterday, but I could not remember what it was, so I brushed it off and continued being preoccupied with translating the Universal Lord’s Prayer into a Latin version.  I shouldn’t have brushed it off because it was this post, and I should have posted it.  Sorry.

Irregular Business

I’ve been using Fridays to talk about the idea of a weekly deconstruction roundup (see: One where I suggested Friday, Two where it was on Friday, Three where it also was on Friday) and if all goes well next Friday will be the first such weekly deconstruction roundup post.

So this is a sort of a last call.  If you know of a deconstruction, present or past, not mentioned in the last post, now is the time to go to that post and make mention of it. 

Regular Business
Time to remind everyone about the weekend post.

Anyone who has submissions for the weekend post should send them in.  Some people wonder if they really deserve to be in the post.  Let me answer that.  You do.  So try not to be afraid and do try to send in submissions if you have them.

The sections of the post are as follows:

The Blogaround

Any denizen of the Slacktiverse who has posted an article to their own website since they last submitted to a weekend post is invited, enticed, and cajoled to send a short summary of that article along with its permalink to the group email. That summary and link will be included in the next weekend blogaround. This will help to keep members of our community aware of the many excellent websites hosted by other members.

In Case You Missed This

Readers of The Slacktiverse can send short summaries of, and permalinks to, articles that they feel might be of interest to other readers.  These should be sent, as you might expect, to the group email.

Things You Can Do

Anyone who knows of a worthy cause or important petition should send a short description of the petition/cause along with its url to the group email.

Please email all submissions to said group email address (SlacktiverseAuthors at gmail dot com). The deadline this week will be 2000 GMT on Saturday.
Urgent or time-sensitive announcements will be posted immediately rather than being held for the next regular “This Weekend” post.  But you’ll have to tell me they’re urgent or time sensitive because it’s liable to go right over my head if you don’t.

Lastly, feel free to consider this an open thread.  Completely open, no prompt, say whatever you like.

Open Thread: Make believe and believing

I was going to get a post up, but it’s been an unusual morning so no.  Though don’t let this stop anyone else from making a substantive post today, if they have one and they want to put it up.

It was traditional at the Slacktiverse at Typepad to have open threads with prompts.  So not just, “Talk amongst yourselves,” but, “Talk amongst yourselves, I’ll give you a topic.  Rhode Island is neither a road nor an island.  Discuss.”

And, obviously, the point of the prompt was to jumpstart conversation, not limit it, so if you’ve got something you want to say unprompted, go for it.

So here’s the topic/prompt thing:

My sister is considering becoming a Jew because she can believe it.  (The part of this that stuck in my mind is that someone put a Passover mark on our parents’ door once and theirs was the one apartment not broken into as a result, so mark on door means no plague here is embedded in her beliefs.  The parts I forgot were probably more important.)

The key part of this is “can believe”.  She believes that the world is full of magical things (I’m not sure if she means it literally) but we destroy the ability to believe with the lies that we tell.  Specific examples “There is a Santa; there is no Santa.  There is an Easter Bunny; there is no Easter Bunny.  There is a Tooth Fairy; there is no Tooth Fairy.”

Ok, so I was wrong before, that was the set up, here is the prompt:

What effect, if any do you think teaching children to believe in things (Santa/Easter Bunny/Tooth Fairy/whatever) which are not real has on their later ability to believe in things (specifically religion, but more generally anything you feel like bringing up)?

Hopefully that can get a conversation going, and the commentariat will get it the rest of the way.

The Dark Divinity of Passivity

Which of these three sentences makes you saddest?

Your favorite show has been canceled.
Your favorite show has been canceled by Republicans.
Republicans canceled your favorite show.

Which makes you angriest?

Behold the power of the divine passive. Let’s talk about its abuse.

Before we get there, though, let’s run quickly through what the divine passive is. Most of us learn two grammatical voices in school: active and passive. Consider these sentences:

The dog bites the person.

“Dog” is the grammatical subject (that is, the sentence is constructed to be about the dog) and “person” is the grammatical object (that is, the target of the verb). “Dog” is also the agent–the entity that causes the action of the verb–while “person” is the patient–the entity that is acted upon. A sentence where the agent is also the subject is said to use the active voice–it is a sentence about agents doing things, essentially.

The person is bitten by the dog.

In this case, even though the sentence describes the same action, and therefore the agent and patient are the same, “person” is now the subject. The agent, “dog,” has moved to a prepositional phrase. This sentence is in the passive voice–it is a sentence about things happening to a patient, incidentally caused by an agent.

The person is bitten.

I said “incidentally” because, grammatically speaking, “by the dog” in the second sentence was optional. You can drop it without rendering the sentence ungrammatical, and the result is the divine passive: the agent vanishes entirely. We are now in a world where things happen to passive patients, not because some agent causes them to, but because that is the nature of existence.

I hate the divine passive. Oh, sometimes it’s okay–I used it myself to define “patient” a couple of paragraphs ago–but it should be used very sparingly. The passive voice is for when you want to focus attention on the patient, but the divine passive erases the agent entirely. Thus, it should only be used when the agent is truly irrelevant, which is pretty rare.

Why does this matter? “Mistakes were made,” that’s why it matters.

The divine passive allows the speaker to erase the agents that cause action, and thereby erase responsibility. It encourages passivity by asserting that events are the result of impersonal cosmic forces so vast they can’t even be named, as opposed to the actions of agents.

Compare another pair of sentences:

One in ten people is unemployed.
Companies are not employing one in ten people.

Starting to see how it’s possible for the right to blame unemployment on laziness?

One in seven Americans is denied health care.
We deny one in seven Americans health care.

And so on. It’s amazing how many issues get much harder to do nothing about when you restate them in active voice.

And of course, let’s not forget the single most evil phrase in the English language, which derives its power entirely from the divine passive: “supposed to.” We’re so used to that particular instant of the divine passive that most of us never stop to ask, to quote the endlessly brilliant web comic Triangle and Robert, “Who is doing the supposing and what are their qualifications for doing so?”

Consider the vast difference in norm-setting power between these sentences:

Girls are supposed to like shopping.
I suppose girls like shopping.

How much vastly better a place would the world be for, well, everyone if we replaced all instances of “X are supposed to Y” with “I suppose X Y?”

Down with the divine passive!

Community reccing: The Lunaverse

So, what’s the Lunaverse, anyway?

The popularity of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic has led to the creation of lots and lots of fanworks. Some of these fanworks became more and more famous in the community, eventually spawning what Tvtropes calls ‘recursive fanfiction’ – fanfics of fanfics. See, for example, Fallout: Equestria, and Story of the Blanks, both of which have spawned numerous derivative works. Some of these works even incorporate the other stories into their canon, such as Pony Fall and Chess Game of the Gods. These are called shared universes; worlds where the original author is allowing others to write stories based off of their fic which are ‘canon’ in their fiction’s universe

The Lunaverse is one such universe. It’s a collection of stories, written by multiple authors, which take place in the same ‘universe’. The stories can build on each other to form arc and long-term plots, yet they can also be written by multiple authors, allowing for a wide variety of people to participate in the world.

The backstory and lead-in to the first story of the Lunaverse, as described by the universe’s originator RainbowDoubleDash, is:

[CW for these two paragraphs only: some links contain ableist language]

“1,000 years ago, Princess Celestia, who governed the day, grew power-hungry and wrathful, becoming the evil mare of fire and hate: Corona, the Tyrant Sun. She had to be sealed away by her younger sister, Princess Luna, who has reigned alone over the land of Equestria for a millennium. Now, however, Corona has retuned, and it is up to Princess Luna’s student, Trixie, and five other mares of extraordinary character – Raindrops, Lyra Heartstrings, Carrot Top, Ditzy Doo, and Cheerilee – to stop her machinations.”

After the first story, the canon stories mimic the format of the show’s episodes, with both self-contained plots and longer story arcs. Stories are both based directly on show episodes (parasprites show up, as does a traveling mare named Twilight who dislikes Trixie’s magic show and gets an ursa involved ), as well as new ideas created by the authors (Dinky wants to buy a present for her mother Ditzy, but the mare in charge of the jewelry store has a grudge against Ditzy; after a spell by Trixie transforms Lyra into a different body, Trixie and Lyra’s marefriend Bonbon must help Lyra perform at an important concert) Mimicking the series, stories are called ‘episodes’ and divided into ‘seasons.’ Season 1 is nearing the conclusion now.

So that’s what the Lunaverse is, but what makes it special? As mentioned above, there’s a lot of MLP shared universes, and even more where derivative works are encouraged, if not canon. Why is the Lunaverse particularly neat? 

1. The community. The Lunaverse includes a forum where the authors can discuss future ideas and the stories they are writing. This gives the community a much more close-knit feel than some of the other verses, where even when multiple people are contributing, they don’t really talk to each other. It’s a very supportive group who will happily proof-read and beta for each other, and will either praise good plots or help fix up bad ones. Discussions can get vehement sometimes, but it’s still low-key; people disagree with each other on the direction of the verse as a whole or individual stories without it getting personal. This forum also gives the Lunaverse a vast richness of detail, since even non-authors can come up with ideas that are then incorporated by the writers. I find it neat that so many people can contribute to making something creative, particularly something as cool as the stories in the Lunaverse.

There is currently one group-written story, plans for another, and a few other collaborative projects in the works. But even the works entirely written by one author are still filtered through the forum, giving more of a community aspect to even the most independent of the stories. Some ideas currently kicking around on the board include the marriage of Lyra with Bonbon, the Grand Galloping Gala (which will feature Trixie going up against the first season’s big bad), an episode where Carrot Top and Applejack take part in one of those dinner theatre murder mystery things, and a silly romp where Dinky and a few of her friends go on a Daring Do-esque treasure hunt through Ponyville. 

2. Quality control. As much fun as it is to write for an shared universe, there’s often the risk that the next writer will retcon the past story so that it was all a dream, kill off a main character and wreck everyone else’s future plans, add pointless gore and make it grimdark, or just write something bad enough that no one wants to be associated with it. The Lunaverse, though, has fairly strict quality control standards. Works that get added to the canon have to meet the rating requirements (the vast majority of them fit the ‘all ages’ tag on the website), work with the canon (so one person can’t take the story in a wild direction no one else wants to go), meet spelling/grammar thresholds, etc. It helps ensure that the Lunaverse will remain good, which influences me and others to be more invested in it and to keep contributing to it.

Stories that don’t meet canon standards aren’t banned or anything; they’re just listed in a separate, non-canon section of the Lunaverse. So far, we’ve had one story moved to non-canon for changing the plot too much (Dinky got a ghost friend), one for canon problems (brought in changelings too early and didn’t get them right), one for defeating the season 1 big bad before the end of the season (which would have weakened his arc), and one other for general quality standards. These stories can all still be seen (and several are enjoyable in their own right); they just aren’t part of the canon anymore.

3. Similarity to the canon. A lot of the other shared/recursive fanfiction universes deviate from the canon in fairly major ways. A few examples:

[CW for this section only: violence, death]

Fallout: Equestria: After an apocalypse that wipes out pony society, one survivor emerges from a bunker and travels across the battle-ravaged landscape. Extremely violent and gory.

Pony Fall: Ponies are turned human and dropped into our world. 

Chess Game of the Gods: Humans are turned into non-pony creatures like griffins, dragons, and diamond dogs, then dropped into Equestria by dracoequini who think that humans can make the world more chaotic.

Story of the Blanks: Apple Bloom goes to a Silent Hill-like town of ponies who killed a foal for superstitious reasons (she got her cutie mark, and they thought those were evil), and have been cursed to be monsters ever since. Follow ups usually focus on trying to save the town, or on the bad ending of Apple Bloom being turned into a monster as well.

[End CW]

I’m interested in MLP because I like the show, so I’m most interested in writing communities that actually correlate with what’s on the show. I like the episodes, the solving of friendship-based problems, the happy tone, etc. So a universe with characters that do that appeals to me. It isn’t that I don’t necessarily like the other stories — I actually really enjoy the original Story of the Blanks — but I think the Lunaverse is more interesting to write/edit stories in.

4. Differences from the canon. That all said, I also like that the cast and problems aren’t just like the main-universe cast 2.0. Trixie isn’t Twilight; she has a different personality, retaining a lot of her traits from her episode in the show, while also having the other sides of her filled out more. She can be a braggart, prone to exaggeration about herself, but she can also be a true and loyal friend. She also has different goals than Twilight, wanting to eventually earn a seat in the Night Court (the governing body that’s headed by Princess Luna), which leads her in different directions. Even her magic is different; unlike Twilight, whose talents seem to be conjuring and telekinesis, Trixie is an illusionist.

The same is true for the rest of the characters. Ditzy Doo (Kindness) isn’t a copy of Fluttershy; she’s more outgoing and confident, but also has some secrets in her past that have caused her to doubt if she really deserves her Element. Her being a single mother also provides for stories that Fluttershy’s character doesn’t. Carrot Top (generosity) lacks Rarity’s fastidiousness nature, but also a lot of her business sense. She’s a smaller-scale farmer than Applejack, and her envy of AJ’s wealthy farm and her dealings with her are also used for some plot points. Similar things can be said for Raindrops (honesty), a rain-loving pegasus who takes great pride in her work, yet has some anger issues; Cheerilee (laughter), a fun loving teacher who knows how to party hard and who can be somewhat condescending, and Lyra Heartstrings (loyalty), a skilled, if lazy, musician who is deeply in love with her confectioner marefriend Bonbon. 

There’s also the differences in the setting. Since Trixie wants to be on the Court, we get to see more of how Equestria is governed. The political implications of six ponies having vast magical power are explored, as is Canterlot society, both in terms of ponies we already know like Fancy Pants (a rich pony heavily involved with charity work) and Blueblood (a politician), and new characters like the season 1 big bad Duke Greengrass. Since the Lunaverse isn’t limited by things like an animation budget, there can also be more travel; stories and ideas so far include trips to the farming center of Trottingham, a small, poor village in the middle of nowhere called Oaten, the Spain-analog of Caballeria, and  the isle of Tambelon, where Grogar (a villain from a prior generation of MLP) once lived. This allows for deeper worldbuilding. 

Lastly, because the series doesn’t need to be self contained to attract new viewers (since new readers can always start at the beginning), the Lunaverse can have plot arcs. There’s been a couple so far, including Greengrass’s machinations as he tries to control the Elements, as well as a shorter duo of episodes involving another side pony, Octavia Philharmonica. This again ties the universe together and makes it feel more connected, and thus more fun to participate in. The ability to write episodes out of order (the very first one written is about seventh chronologically) also lets the writers tie in later events to an earlier episode, to bring the world together as a whole.

5. It’s fun to have a universe where characters can be gay (Lyra & Bonbon) or disabled (Ditzy, who has strabismus) without it being a big issue/deal, but just something that everyone accepts. As Ana Mardoll noted recently, a lot of works featuring marginalized groups are entirely about the marginalization, and while there’s nothing wrong with that, it’s nice to have something different too.

So that’s why I enjoy the Lunaverse. I think it’s got great stories, and it’s a splendid and supportive community. The current canon list features a lot of really good stories. Any folks who write or read MLP fanfiction should feel free to check it out; it’s a fun place, if I say so myself. 

Tvtropes (includes summaries of all the stories so far and the characters):