Monday, July 28, 2014

I Don't Admire Greta Cristina

A prominent representative of Atheism+, Greta Cristina is--as most are--horrible.  And I could be wrong.  To assess my thesis, I would like to consider several of her writings:

Cristina often admits to having severe depression, the inability to experience joy, to having kinky sexual tastes and more.  Cristina requests we embrace her as an anti-McCarthyite hero, but I don't think this is a worthwhile bargain.  Cristina certainly owes no one any apology for having depression, gourmet sexual tastes, et al.  The implicit bargain, unattractively, demands we suspend critical commentary due to the blogger's ostensibly blinding moral courage.  I don't quite see it.

To take Cristina's writing seriously is to straightforwardly ask whether her claimed exemplary moral purity deserves the accolades she requests.  Is it in fact beneficial for mentally ill individuals 'to come clean' with their ailments, within public fora?  I am skeptical as to the value of such publication (I don't at all find it overflowing with truthfulness)--and communicate studious neutrality to Cristina on the topic.  I emphatically refrain from congratulating her on her statements pertaining to her own mental illness:  I don't think they do her much credit; I acknowledge the failed effort.

Today I cringe noting Richard Dawkins has been browbeaten into issuing a PRC-style Joint statement by Ophelia Benson and Richard Dawkins on threats, bullying, bigotry, and harassment.  How silly; how sad.

To Richard Dawkins:  Maria Callas never performed at Howard Johnson's (a phrase I believe we owe to Camille Paglia)--and you have no business issuing any joint public statement with Ophelia Benson.  I am embarrassed to have to chide you so.

Completely unsurprisingly, the Dawkins grovelling in no way satisfies the Atheism+ expert:  '...And I hope this will get Dawkins himself to speak more carefully about these issues, and to be more careful about whose work he praises and promotes.'  She interprets Dawkins' apology as her own enthronement, as Just Judge.  To the dustbin!

Ultimately Cristina asks that we assess the legitimacy of her exalted social stature as public intellectual.  I flinch not:  She is mostly wrong and merits quite minimal exaltation.  I am interested in considering any contrary viewpoint.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

The Worst Atheist

Taking Greta Christina forward from the 11:00 mark:

She has a habit of piling on:  Christina is 'enraged by Catholic priests who rape children and then tell them that it's God's will.'   Had the priests merely kept their mouths shut after raping the children at least they wouldn't compound the crime with hypocrisy. 

Christina is angry that after 911 people of Middle Eastern descent were attacked and their businesses were vandalized.  A reasonable concern, I accept--though its relation to religious belief is at considerable remove.

Christina is of course a key champion of Atheism+--a non-dead tendency which dissidents correctly view as morally imperialistic and naive.

Christina is angry about female genital mutilation, though in her political correctness she misleadingly asserts that it is not exclusively a Muslim problem.  FGM today is in fact overwhelmingly associated with Muslim communities.  Wikipedia:
Outside Islam, FGM has been practised by the Christian Copts in Egypt and Sudan, and by the Beta Israel of Ethiopia, the only Jewish group known to have practised it. Judaism requires male circumcision, but does not allow FGM.
A bit of frankness on Islam would be pleasant, Greta Christina:  Why not simply say the obvious--that Islam in its present manifestation is more menacing than the average religion, even as anti-Muslim prejudice is a serious problem?

Photo: Marlo Gayle

Christina is angry that 'when a 9 year old girl in Brazil was raped, the doctors who performed an abortion on her--and the family who approved the abortion were excommunicated by the Catholic Church.  And I'm angry there was no excommunication for the man who raped her.'  [Check quote--sounds clunky /Ed]

I am essentially indifferent on the question of excommunication.  (An open atheist and an enrolled, listed member at my local Catholic church, I have informed my priest that I won't grumble if I'm excommunicated though I insist the decree arrive on letterhead suitable for framing.)
The chortling, upward-directed Christina visage [18:45], open-mouthed...absorbs the mob's adulation. 
Christina criticizes right-wing anti-atheist religious leaders for neglecting study of the object of their disdain.  To learn more about the splendors of atheism, Christina wishes they'd read major atheist bloggers such as herself.  If there is an atheist capable of engaging good-willed believers in meaningful dialog, it cannot be she can it, can it? 

At 23:00 Christina descends to her cheapest riff, reading out her worst anonymous-troll comments.  It is sad atheist feminists appear immune to disregarding troll comments; I don't think they get nearly the mileage out of them that they so clearly believe they do.

At 29:30 Christina refers to 'the horrors committed in the last Bush administration' in its promotion of democracy and freedom.  The great bulk of the suffering incurred by our Iraq fiasco had less to do with Bush administration errors of commission than with Iraqi fanaticism and despotism.  90% of the actual post-2003 suffering experienced by the Iraqi public is at the hands of Iraqi lunatics.

At 30:00 Christina asserts that politics and religion are different in an important respect:  Claims put forward by politicians get put to the test by experience, but religious leaders are not similarly tested.  Christina is incorrect on this point:  The ability of the general public to rationally assess political leaders' economic policies is not very good.  Politicians routinely propose economic policies which the economics profession overwhelmingly views as sub-optimal or even destructive, at no apparent political cost. 

At 36:00 Christina enters an ideological claim praised by Fr. Tarte:  Anger has benefitted previous social-change movements and thus merits our admiration and embrace.  Anger has benefited gays so we should adopt their strategy and get angry, goes the meme.  Not at all persuasive to me, though I require a pretty strong argument before I'll wear my strategic grimace.

By this point I think I'm done, though I promise I'll finish watching the vid, to give Christina her due.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Considering Greta Christina

Let me whisper in your ear, gentle reader:  I don't like Greta Christina.  Maybe I should, but I don't.  Today let us examine some recent evidence--and explore whether my misgivings have rational basis.

Yesterday on social media an ex-priest 'friend' had posted congratulating GC on congratulating herself on this video's 200,000th view.  Viewing just its first 11 minutes, I can conclude my distaste for Christina merits no apology:

To the extent that 'the atheist movement has moved into overdrive,' I am ambivalent.  Atheists should emit wide-ranging skepticism--and nowhere more than upon our own chest-thumping impulse.

The atheist movement does not merit uncritical embrace.  Recent discord within the grouping reveals considerable disunity, we ought to frankly admit.  Smart people seem to disagree on very central aspects of what our objectives ought to be.  Adopting the voice of ambassador to the poorly informed promises to be non-controversial, she unconvincingly demands.

A non-triumphalist approach to being a decent atheist involves acknowledging that there are good and bad aspects to living at the present moment.  A grave problem persists if we think our group--both metaphorically and in the specific instance mentioned--ought reasonably seek to police beverage offers among adults in elevators.  The fact that the preponderance of vocal atheist opinion exalts the accuser in the Hibernian lift demonstrates how non-triumphalist we non-fanatics ought to now feel.
When people approach insisting you ought to feel overjoyed about this or that, can one help but perceive a certain aggression in the professed good will?
Next the arm-waving Christina says that peaceful coexistence between atheism and religion is unlikely and we-the-hip are actively trying to urge people out of it.

Makes no sense, does it?  I often try to persuade people of the benefits of non-superstitious thinking, though to do so is not to suggest that peaceful coexistence cannot continue indefinitely. 

By 3:56 we note Christina--for the second time thus far--describes a binary and then flappingly points to herself as an example from the second category.  'Some atheists are angry about religion,' she flaps to the cognoscenti.  Weird.

"A lot of people are asking today, 'Why are you atheists so angry?!?'" she orates.  Untrue:  Almost no one approaches me asking that question.  Occasionally I encounter believing co-workers open to exchanging reasons for and against religion, but that 'Why are you atheists so angry' thing is media-specific and does not illustrate actual popular communication, I assert.  We're now at 5:40.

Christina claims she's not trying to speak for the entire atheist community, her opinions are hers alone.  Certainly the most self-deluded claim I have yet heard her utter.

Now she's going through the list of outrages justifying atheists' anger.  In Fr. T's comments section, I noted Christina's second item--she's angry it wasn't until 1961 that open atheists were allowed to serve on juries--is dumb.  I've been aware for a long time that atheists have long been mistreated in society:  I've known it so long I simply accept such prejudice was quite recently part of the fabric of American life.

When instances of prejudice occur today, I can sometimes perceive a mild jolt of anger; atheists' exclusion from jury duty 53 years ago does not similarly exercise me--call me hard hearted.
...Christina's faux-hectoring tone of pretend complaint...she is absolutely correct when she insincerely claims not to speak for atheists generally.
Judges deny custody of kids to atheists--today in America--explicitly because they are atheists, Christina broils.  Can someone provide an example of such?  Certainly not in Minnesota.  My own ex complained to a judge some years back of my 'aggressive atheism' and he told her in court his jurisdiction did not extend to theological positions--and that was the end of the issue.  If any judge in America is denying custody to anyone based solely on their atheism, that is wrong, though I doubt it happens much.

The exaggerated wide eye-opening, as Christina condemns Catholicism's objection to birth control, seems a bit much; the audience laps it up.

The trip around the world next moves to Mormonism, where--within some dissenting minuscule sub-sect--child marriage persists.  (In Nigeria--a country of 174 million--'20 percent of girls were married by age 15, and 40 percent were married by age 18.')  If you're concerned about the problem of child brides, schismatic-Mormon America constitutes a minute portion of the problem indeed.  Christina's gesture to internationalist neutrality doesn't remotely work.

That gets us to the 11:00 mark.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Highly Competent Women

I recently listened to my first Slate Money podcast--and will today issue several comments on statements made by Cathy O'Neil--scroll to 31:45, toward the end of the episode

Are people who favor reducing the importance of tenure in paying public school teachers necessarily ill-willed?  To hold that they are putting forward a red herring is to say as much.  To favor jettisoning tenure, one needn't defend the claim that doing so will end the achievement gap.  To effectively advance the goal of removing tenure from consideration does not require--that non-fictional red herring--'the vilification of teachers.'  Cathy O'Neil also says that removing power from teachers' unions is a bad idea. The democratic public errs in failing to elect leaders who are willing to increase teachers' pay and unions help correct for the voters' stupidity--goes the meme.  'Historically teachers have been under-appreciated and underpaid because its been one of the only jobs open to highly-competent women,' O'Neil states.  Low teacher pay, a living legacy of gender apartheid, demands the energetic moral condemnation of everybody, not simply the Amazon-boycotting and Uber-denouncing, goes the drumbeat.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Pshaw!

The default unionist co-worker identifies within a peer community that shares his bromides such as, 'The problem here lies entirely within Bad Management!'
I work the night shift as a mail handler for usps, a pleasant job in many ways that pays $14.03/hr.  It's the first time I've worked for the government.  Most workers in my position are members a public employees union, the NPMHU.

For decades I'd been conditioned to view unions positively, having participated lengthily in the DFL.  One benefit I inadvertently had:  For my first seven months on the job, I was working as a peon in a position not accessible to union membership.

While working as a 'Casual Mail Handler' I observed the lordly bearing of the entrenched, and I happened to meet a Sarah Palin-adoring weirdo old-timer.  Craig brought to my awareness that one isn't required to join the union, which mixed with my gut instinct that such unions are an inessential drag on the US economy.

I should preface my comments by acknowledging that this isn't the most important of issues confronting policy leaders--it's a lower-tier issue on which I've devoted a certain amount of bandwidth.  If it's not your cup of tea, fine, good day.  I'm pretty sure I've said this thing before, in any case.

When co-workers have politely pressured me to join the union, I inform them of my lifelong position:  We should view public policy questions from their disparate effects upon a wide assortment of individuals, not privileging tiny minorities such as employees.  'How much should a postal employee be paid?' should mainly be appreciated from the mindset of the person paying the employee--the vast public--not from the viewpoint of employees, who number over 600,000.

The typical shop-floor employee supports the NPMHU in its cheesy anti-management jeremiad--folk economics at its worst.  The economics profession does not endorse the general social benefit of public employee unions--and I share that skepticism.

The excessive emphasis on workplace democracy costs the public more than it benefits the tiny minority of workers over whom it holds sway.

Viewed from the perspective of the average citizen, the priority is in minimizing costs.  When labor rates are not pegged to performance, mischief ensues--as most of my co-workers profess.

One of the fundamental idiocies constantly limiting efficiency improvements at USPS is the fanatical devotion to seniority.  When you hire 600,000 people and pay them more and more, depending on how long they've punched the clock, you're asking for resource waste--it's that simple.

If you're a member of the union, you are contributing about $400 annually to an organization implacably opposed to the most basic principle of sound factory management--that employees be rewarded for exemplary performance and that bad employees be canned.

The American public does not owe me above-market wages in exchange for sorting mail.  If the American public is willing to pay me above-market wages I will accept--but I will not devote a penny to any collective action designed to perpetuate said hoodwinking.

So I've told curious co-workers that if I were offered union membership without having to pay dues, I would still not join--as I strongly oppose the entire concept of public employee unions.  And I think many co-workers agree--but people who joined our organization without having first adopted a rigorously independent-minded cultural stance are easily shanghaied into the union, sadly.  The large Ethiopian contingent issued an essentially collectivist (if non-religious) fatwa in favor of joining the union, so all of them signed on the line.

Leaving the union is only allowed during one week per year, and requires what amounts to an activist anti-union action--putting an extremely heavy burden upon average-Joe civilians not accustomed to machete-ing their way through the ideological jungle, as any blogger worth his salt learns to do.

Violating India

A horrible thing happened to me.  Even worse crap happens around the world.  Therefore, upright people must do X.

A letter in yesterday morning's paper caught my eye.

Rape is--gentlepeople agree--a detestable crime.  The FBI reports the nation's 'forcible rape rate' to be in pronounced long term decline--down more than one-third in several decades.  If we live in a rape culture it is a pleasantly moribund one.

An American interested in accelerating rape's ongoing nosedive ought to have some theory on what has caused our recent success in reducing rape--and what action we might take to bring America's rape rate further downward, at minimal cost.

Too often, the statistical trend analysis gets little or no attention--and the call to action has more to do with flattering feminists than making headway against a social scourge.  The letter-writer concludes:
Rape is common in India and other countries that have little or no respect for females, especially those in poverty. Besides the anger around the world for the treatment of women and girls, what will we do to make it a safer life for these vulnerable human beings? It’s up to all of us. Raise your voice in protest.
The writer appears to be on solid ground in claiming 'rape is common in India,' where '20% of men admit to forcing their wives or partners to have sex.'  Though the writer errs in claiming India is a country that has 'little or no respect for females.'  That is a slur--and an irrational one at that.  Indians have feelings, values and opinions; India is an abstraction.

Will 'raising your voice in protest' against rape genuinely move the needle?  Is 'public clamor' what's been central to our society's recent success in reducing rape?

Reducing rape in India is a problem best left to Indians.

Monday, June 16, 2014

A Tipping Point

Submitted via webform:

The other day I took my kids out for dinner at the local Champps.  Our waiter was friendly and helpful--and pointed out a pricing special currently available, which we took advantage of.  We were satisfied with both the food and the service.  At the end our our meal, however, something a bit unusual occurred:  Our waiter provided us with two checks--one our actual bill [$54] and one displaying what we would have been charged [$72] had we not taken advantage of the pricing special.  Our actual bill included calculations of various possible tips--calculated as percentages of the notional 'full price' [$72] check.  This struck me as weird:  I think my tip should be calculated in relationship to the actual check--and not in relation to any fictional document.  I'm writing to you today to ask how you feel about this question.  Who's right?

[Proud cheapskates please note:  I tipped her 15% of $54, or $8.10.]

***

The next day I received a telephone call from Champps' regional manager for Minnesota--who politely replied, 'You are correct--and your waiter should not have presented you with two checks.'  And in response to my next question, the fellow assured me our waiter would suffer no punishment related to my comment.

***

How much should I tip, in a Minnesota restaurant?

The moralistic arguments in favor of tipping are quite weak, though those based on the social advantages which accrue to the convention observing have purchase.  Your average daily restaurant tipping practice should merely seek to place you at the fifty percentile--so that staff view you as a perfectly welcome, unremarkable guest.  Finding reliable data on actual tipping practice is difficult; this site claims the average Minnesota restaurant patron's tip doesn't quite reach 14%.  Thus, I suggest tipping 15% in all cases, unless service is exceptionally bad.

The standard middle class narratives defending tipping in fact equate to passive aggressive demands for purchased flattery:  I voluntarily throw money at a peasant in exchange for the serf's apparent deep admiration for me.  In reality a lot of people earn little--if is your life mission to overrule employers' wage-rate decisions, you ought to begin by tipping at Wal-Mart.