Greetings seekers of wisdom. You may have come to this web site because you saw Duncan Black mention "krgthulu" on his web site Eschaton and you Googled the word. When Black uses that word, he's talking about Paul Krugman.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Honey Man vs. Occam's Razor

I've been criticizing identitarians (aka Social Justice Warriors) quite a bit lately, but what about their arch-nemeses the New Atheists? I've been documenting both sides of this public idiocy coin for a couple of years now, including their mutual contempt society.

So what have those New Atheists been up to?

Well it appears that Sam Harris is continuing to be a complete asshole but I will have to address that later because right now

Richard Dawkins is still obsessed with Mohammed Ahmed, the kid who was arrested when his Texas school teachers thought the clock he made for a class project was a bomb.

Now I'm sure Dawkins has heard of Occam's Razor, which is:
(a) principle stated by the Scholastic philosopher William of Ockham (1285–1347/49) that pluralitas non est ponenda sine necessitate, “plurality should not be posited without necessity.” The principle gives precedence to simplicity: of two competing theories, the simpler explanation of an entity is to be preferred. The principle is also expressed as “Entities are not to be multiplied beyond necessity.
The simplest explanation of Mohammed Ahmed's arrest would be this:
Conclusion: a Texas school's fearfulness over a teenager's science experiment led to an over-reaction and then an unsurprising lawsuit. 

Simple right? Or maybe just too simple for an Islamaphobe like Richard Dawkins. Dawkins was known as an Islamaphobe long before he ever heard of Ahmed Mohammed.

Using nothing more than hunches and suspicions Dawkins, supported by his sycophants and cheered on by right-wingers, has attempted to turn it into something much more complex. 

Dawkins tweeted his evidence-free suspicion that Mohammed Ahmed is not the victim of misjudgment but the perpetrator of a deliberate media scam.

Then, because the clock was not proven to Dawkins' satisfaction to be sufficiently original, Dawkins accused the kid again without any evidence of being the perpetrator of a deliberate hoax

The Twitter-verse, rightly, mocked Dawkins for his absurdity in picking on a 14-year-old kid's failure to live up to adult standards of inventiveness.

But Dawkins remained convinced of the kid's nefariousness and so when Mohammed's parents sued the Texas school district, Dawkins was ready to pounce.

First he doubled-down on the conspiracy theory that the kid deliberately made the clock look like a bomb.

Now remember, Dawkins never presented any evidence that the kid was a deliberate perpetrator of a clock-hoax or a media scam. He simply proceeds as if it was a settled case.

The real lesson Dawkins appears to have taken away from the negative response to his September tweets was that people dislike him for suggesting that a kid could be criticized like an adult. 

And so in order to demonstrate the children are just as culpable as adults, he tweeted this immortal tweet:

Now there are several things to note about this.

First, Dawkins seems to think that a 14-year-old is the prime instigator of the lawsuit against Texas. And because he makes this bizarre assumption, he then suggests that Ahmed isn't really a minor - by putting "kid" into quotes.

Second, he suggests that the 10-year-old in the photo is also culpable for his actions, even though the caption for the photo itself  - which Dawkins provided - says "child executioner... being forced by Isis militants to decapitate his victim.

It's as if Richard Dawkins does not come from this planet, and doesn't realize that minors generally are expected to obey the adults on whom they are dependent. In Mohammed's case, his parents, in the ISIS child's case, murderous extremists. But Richard Dawkins apparently feels that for being in a situation where they obey the will of their elders, children are no longer "kids."

And somehow Richard Dawkins and his followers are so mind-bogglingly obtuse that they believe that it's just wacky that the famously Islamaphobic Dawkins could be criticized for comparing Ahmed to an ISIS forced-murderer kid. Dawkins keeps insisting that it has nothing to do with both being Muslim, just that they both happen to be minors.

"All" Dawkins did was say that Ahmed and the ISIS kid were equally culpable for their crimes. Except of course Ahmed was guiltless of a crime. Except that Richard Dawkins persists in believing he is guilty of a crime. 

Now in spite of Dawkin's dark insinuations about Ahmed, what he keeps harping on the most is that Ahmed did not employ sufficient creativity in building his clock and yet referred to it somewhere as his "invention."

What Dawkins and his followers appear to be unable to grasp is the absurdity that a celebrity scientist is spending his days criticizing a teenager for either bad word choice or boastfulness. A teenager who did nothing  legally wrong and would be unknown still except for his wrongful arrest.

However this isn't the first time that Richard Dawkins used his celebrity to criticize a nobody. People in the atheist community are well aware of Dawkins role in "elevatorgate."

In 2011, Rebecca Watson, known only in atheist circles, complained in a video - very briefly - about a guy hitting on her in an elevator and Watson said "guys don't do that." And this one tiny thing caused Richard Dawkins to have a hissyfit - the story is told here on Watson's blog The Privilege Delusion. As a result of going up against Dawkins, Watson was inundated with rape and death threats that went on for at least three years.

Richard Dawkins finally apologized in 2014 for his Dear Muslima letter, although vaguely - it was too little too late, Watson had already been terrorized by his slavish fan-boys.

So Dawkins has a history of using his celebrity to pick on nobodies for petty reasons. And Watson was attacked by fellow atheists who had formerly been part of her in-group. Ahmed Mohammed was already a member of a hated minority in Texas before Dawkins began to smear him as a criminal mastermind. And at the present time the leading Republican candidate for president, Donald Trump, has suggested that there be a special database to track Muslims
On ABC News’ This Week, host George Stephanopoulos asked Trump, "You did stir up a controversy with those comments over the database. Let's try to clear that up. Are you unequivocally now ruling out a database on all Muslims?"
"No, not at all," Trump responded. "I want a database for the refugees that -- if they come into the country. We have no idea who these people are. When the Syrian refugees are going to start pouring into this country, we don't know if they're ISIS, we don't know if it's a Trojan horse. And I definitely want a database and other checks and balances. We want to go with watchlists. We want to go with databases. And we have no choice."
Trump’s exchange with Stephanopoulos seems to be the clearest explanation of his position. No, he would not rule out a database on all Muslims. But for now, he wants a database for refugees.
And in such an environment, with such slavish followers, Richard Dawkins is attacking this nobody Muslim kid, implying he's guilty of crimes and should be considered culpable for them as an adult. And he seems to be implying that the fact that the kid's parents are suing for due process violations indicates he is guilty of all Dawkins' insinuations.

What could possibly go wrong?

Dawkins got lots of well-deserved criticism for his insanity on Twitter and on web sites such as NYMagazine: Richard Dawkins Is Really Committed to Calling Muslim Clock-Making Kid a Liar.

Now in spite of the fact that Richard Dawkins has become batshit insane out of fear of Muslims, he's also been very irritated by airline security procedures - something that you would think he would appreciate. So when they took his honey, he became furious and began a series of tweets that came to be known  "honey gate." My favorite response to Dawkins' self-importance was this:

I should mention that I despised Richard Dawkins long before he ever got a Twitter account both because of his advocacy of evolutionary psychology and my personal run-in with him on the Pharyngula web site. That was back in 2009 when everybody still thought Dawkins was a cool guy. Now everybody except right-wing Islamaphobes and hardcore New Atheists know that Dawkins has lost it.

One more thing before I finish with Dawkins - I notice that critics for the New York Times revere New Atheists. A review of Dawkins recently publish memoir begins:
Some lumbering robot, this Richard Dawkins. “Lumbering robots” was one of the ways in which this scarily brilliant evolutionary biologist described human beings vis-à-vis their genes in “The Selfish Gene,” his first and probably still his most influential book — more than a million copies sold.
Yeah he's scarily something. I wouldn't say brilliant.

More of my thoughts on Richard Dawkins elsewhere on this blog.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

The guy who writes Dilbert is still a misogynist idiot

From Misogynist Dilbert Tumbler 
By way of We Hunted the Mammoth comes a reminder that Scott Adams, who became notorious for his misogyny and general douchebaggery in 2011, is still a complete MRA-sympathizing asshole:

In a blog post that is incoherent even by his standards, Adams compares the male-dominated societies of the Middle East with what he describes as “female-dominated countries” like the US.
In his mind, American men live in a matriarchal dystopia in which women force men to pay for dinner and open car doors for them: 
When I go to dinner, I expect the server to take my date’s order first. I expect the server to deliver her meal first. I expect to pay the check. I expect to be the designated driver, or at least manage the transportation for the evening. And on the way out, I will hold the door for her, then open the door to the car. 
Weird, because I’ve literally never had a date like that. And even if all this were true, as a general thing, it wouldn’t be proof that the US is “female-dominated.” Chivalry is part of patriarchy, not proof of matriarchy. 
When we get home, access to sex is strictly controlled by the woman.  
Er, dude, that’s how sex works. Both sex partners have to agree to it, otherwise it’s rape. And men have veto power when it comes to sex just like women do. Women aren’t allowed to force themselves on unwilling partners any more than men are.
WTF is it with some men going completely batshit with the misogyny once they hit about 50 or so? I had to unfriend my friend-since-high school Matt on Facebook earlier this year because his rants sounded exactly like Scott Adams'.

Adams responded to We Hunted the Mammoth, referring to its proprietor David Futrelle as "this Outrageist" and completely misrepresenting Futrelle's critique. There is something wrong with this guy.

Monday, November 23, 2015

The quotable... me?

I decided to try out Facebook's search feature and see where my name is popping up - hoping, I will admit, that I didn't find some identitarian talking trash about me.

Instead I got this much more pleasant surprise - I was quoted back in 2013, like I'm some kind of famous person. How about that?

That Cory Hardin, it must be said, is a man of taste and discernment LOL. And quite handsome too.

I originally said the quotation here. When I said "as I believe I've demonstrated" I wasn't talking about my plays, I was talking about three 10-minute plays that I analyzed for an essay "How do you write a good 10-minute play?"

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Identitarians in the theater

It looks like identitarianism has infested the theater. It's true that white people have dominated theater in this country (white men of course). This is the result of white male hegemony in this part of the world generally. But white people dominating theater is also partly through demographics and economics. There are just lots more white people here thanks to centuries of European immigration, and white people achieved economic dominance through various circumstantial advantages, and theater is a luxury that few who are not well-off economically can afford to indulge in.

There is certainly injustice to be found. But the problem with identitarians is that they let their dismay over injustice and their zeal to fix it carry them into witch hunts which only increases injustice in the world. It does make me wonder if what identitarians really want isn't so much justice as payback against white people - and not just intransigent, racist white people, but any and all white people.

I've previously discussed the methods of professional identitarian Robin DiAngelo, which demonstrate their program of revenge. A non-white woman complained to DiAngelo about "white women's tears" and as a result, DiAngelo told a group of employees at a session on police violence against African Americans that any white person who cried had to leave the room. And she made a white woman leave when she cried, to the woman's dismay. DiAngelo then proudly wrote an article for the Good Men Project about this incident, and she proceeded to justify her (probably illegal) action by blaming white women as a group for the 1955 murder of Emmet Till:
Men of color may also may come to the aid of white women in these exchanges, and are likely also driven by their conditioning under sexism and patriarchy. But men of color have the additional weight of racism to navigate. This weight has historically been deadly. For black men in particular, the specter of Emmett Till and countless others who have been beaten and killed over a white woman’s claims of cross-racial distress is ever present. Ameliorating the woman’s distress as quickly as possible may be felt as a literal matter of survival. Yet coming to the rescue of a white woman also drives a wedge between men and women of color. Rather than receive social capital that reinforces his status, a man of color put in this position must now live with the agony of having to support racism in order to survive. 
Robin DiAngelo decided that a good way to address the extreme racism towards black men and paternalism towards white women that caused the murder of Till was to use the small authority given to her in the workplace to single out an individual white woman for humiliation. And as you can see in the comments under the article, there are plenty of people who think this is commendable.

Scapegoatism is a favorite technique of identitarians. We can see this again in the recent controversy over casting decisions in a small Pennsylvania college. As it says in the NYTimes:
The cancellation of a college production of Lloyd Suh’s play “Jesus in India” over the casting of white actors as Indian characters has prompted a war of words over diversity in theater, with Mr. Suh arguing that the production could send a “dehumanizing” message to minority students and the school countering that the student actors on its rural, predominantly white campus were being “punished for their race.” 
The controversy broke out last week when The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported that Mr. Suh had withdrawn permissions for the production at Clarion University, a state institution in western Pennsylvania with a student body of about 5,400. It landed amid heightened national conversation about racial exclusion on college campuses, as well as ongoing debate in the theater world about how to promote greater diversity onstage.
Now after reading several pieces on this and arguing with people on Facebook it appears to me that there was miscommunication on both sides. But Mr. Suh made a statement about the issue and it doesn't add up. If Clarion was attempting to abrogate Mr. Suh's rights and produce his play without permission, why is casting even an issue?

And if the only reason why the play was not allowed to proceed was the casting, then why is the permissions status an issue?

It appears to me that what Suh is saying is that he would have allowed the play to proceed if he was satisfied with the casting. So apparently what Clarion did wasn't so objectionable that he would not still have worked with them, if he liked the casting. And the New York Times story reflects that.

At the heart of the matter though, is Suh's identitarianism, which leads him to use a disagreement with Clarion University as an exercise in scapegoatism.

Clarion is clearly a small school in a very white section of the country, and it's perfectly reasonable to assume that Indians were not cast because they were not available in the theater department. But to get around this clear logistical justification for the decision to cast whites in roles for Indians, Suh proclaims that it is not acceptable to him that college theater departments don't behave the way professional theaters do:
This includes university theater programs, which are a crucial part of the way professional theater is born. We are witnessing a moment on multiple college campuses where racial tensions are undeniable and extremely dangerous. I cannot grant university programs an allowance on these matters that I would never grant a professional theater.
If he "cannot grant university programs an allowance" then he shouldn't have allowed them to do his play, knowing that thanks to demographics it was possible there would not be enough Indians to take the roles.

There is a difference between university theater programs and professional theaters for a variety of practical and financial reasons, and Suh's proclamations on the subject won't change that, no matter how much he pushes the notion that lack of Indian students in the theater program is evidence of bigotry or somehow contributing to racial tensions.

But this is the way identitarians argue. When it is pointed out to Suh that theater departments don't work the same as professional theaters, his response is the equivalent of stamping his feet and shouting well they should be the same! And if they aren't changed on my command immediately, then they are obviously racists!

It strikes me as a bit of concern trolling that Suh mentions "racial tensions" when, if anybody has ginned up racial tensions, it would be himself. It's a safe bet the NYTimes would not have picked up the story of a humdrum cancellation over writers' rights. Only when Suh implied Clarion University is a pack of racists did this become noticed by anybody outside of Clarion.

Another item of interest - I pointed out in the discussion thread under Suh's Facebook statement that although Suh objected to casting of "Caucasians" in fact Indians have long been classified as Caucasians. Now of course race is not a biological concept but a cultural construct and "Caucasian" is just a label assigned over a hundred years ago based on the firm belief that humans are justifiably cast as "races". This is an important point - it demonstrates how much identitarians themselves adopt the mindset, assumptions and terminology of the racists. But even my pointing this out was deemed offensive by many people on the thread, including the infamous bullshitter Mike Daisey.

Mike Daisey achieved fame initially when the National Public Radio program This American Life invited him to share his monologue about the dire situation for workers in Apple factories in China, which was running at the Public Theater at the time. TAL took Daisey's work as reportage, and it appears that Daisey never corrected their mistake. And it's likely he didn't because TAL would not have been interested in his story of going to China and meeting 14 year old factory workers, and factory workers who had never seen an iPhone, if it was clear it was mostly bullshit. Or fiction, if you will.

But you can see that Daisey's tendency towards feckless fabrication would make identitarianism appeal to him. He would much prefer a simple good vs. bad narrative, with Clarion University cast as evil racists out to destroy a person of color who was standing up for the rights of all people to be represented in the theater, rather than a messy tale of miscommunication and logistics and peevishness. 

So for me to mention a minor but interesting point of fact that detracts from the simplistic identitarian narrative of "white power and dominance" is highly offensive to Mike Daisey.

Unfortunately what identitarians demonstrate is that the Left is no less susceptible to hysteria than the Right, even if they get hysterical over different boogeymen.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Just when you thought the Koch brothers couldn't be any more evil...

In the New Yorker by Jane Mayer who wrote the influential New Yorker article back in 2010 "Cover Operations" comes: Do the Koch Brothers Have Their Own Spy Network?

While it’s big news that the Kochs are now running their own private intelligence-gathering operation in order to track political opponents, including labor unions, environmental groups, and liberal big-donor groups, it actually isn’t surprising, given their history.
For decades, there have been reports suggesting that Charles and David Koch and Koch Industries have employed private investigators to gather inside information on their perceived enemies, including their own brother, Bill Koch, with whom they fought over control of the family business and fortune. My forthcoming book, “Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right,” which will come out in January, builds on earlier reporting about this, including my 2010 New Yorkerpiece. In fact, again and again, those who have challenged the Kochs and Koch Industries—whether they are federal officers, private citizens, or members of the press—have suspected that they have been under surveillance.
I doubt the Koch brothers think they have anything to worry about from me, but I have noticed someone visiting this site coming from Koch Industries a few times to read my mentions of the Koch brothers... although not very recently.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Words I use on Facebook

I could have sworn my biggest word would be "Krugman."

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

The trouble with heroes

Of course I was disappointed when I heard about Chrissie Hynde's new memoir:
Hynde went on to say that women who dress provocatively while walking down the street drunk were also to blame if they were attacked. “If I’m walking around in my underwear and I’m drunk? Who else’s fault can it be?” she said.
“If I’m walking around and I’m very modestly dressed and I’m keeping to myself and someone attacks me, then I’d say that’s his fault. But if I’m being very lairy and putting it about and being provocative, then you are enticing someone who’s already unhinged – don’t do that. Come on! That’s just common sense. You know, if you don’t want to entice a rapist, don’t wear high heels so you can’t run from him.
“If you’re wearing something that says ‘Come and f*** me’, you’d better be good on your feet ... I don’t think I’m saying anything controversial am I?”
Well controversial to those of us who recognize Hynde is engaging in old-fashioned victim blaming. And as if that wasn't bad enough, Susan Brownmiller did the same thing:
Culture may tell you, "You can drink as much as men," but you can't. People think they can have it all ways. The slut marches bothered me, too, when they said you can wear whatever you want. Well sure, but you look like a hooker. They say, "That doesn't matter," but it matters to the man who wants to rape. It's unrealistic. I don't know what happened to the understanding people had in the 1970s.
Which tells you just how ingrained the notion is that men cannot be expected to control themselves - if a woman wears certain clothing, men assume she wants sex and nothing she says or does will dissuade them from raping her and it's her own fault for expecting men to obey the law. Brownmiller is 80 and Hynde is 64, and so you might expect that attitude as a carry-over from people who were raised at a time when there were no rape crisis hotlines, rape test kits, etc. However it was especially shocking for Brownmiller since she wrote a ground-breaking book about rape, "Against Our Will." I had been a Facebook friend of Brownmiller until this happened and then I argued with her - and then friends of hers - and then she de-friended me for my refusing to back down on calling this out as victim-blaming. And that was fine with me. 

Today's case study in the importance of not having heroes: Susan Brownmiller. She was instrumental in making rape a political issue with her landmark 1975 book Against Our Will: Men, Women and Rape, but now she's let a "kids these days" urge overtake her feminist sensibilities. In an interview with The Cut's Katie Van Syckle, Brownmiller gets downright victim-blame-y, sneering at girls today with their booze and their clothes and their asking-for-it.
Chrissie Hynde was always a hero of mine. But as Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett writes in the Guardian:
The problem with having heroes is that, one day, they will open their gobs and inevitably say something you don’t like. The dawning realisation that an independent, sentient being’s value system doesn’t match entirely with yours can feel like a shock, especially in the digital age where the heroes you choose, and the quotes and photos of them that you share, have become a language conveying to others your own sense of identity. Learning to accept that you are going to feel a certain level of disappointment in your hero or heroine is an important rite of passage into adulthood.
I think Cosslett is right to make the connection with being a rock star in a man's world and Hynde's belief that she wasn't really a victim:
It might be thought that experiencing rape would automatically make you empathetic to other rape victims, but in a culture where women are encouraged to blame themselves for this crime, it’s not surprising that some victims would then apportion blame to other victims, too. It’s a curiously conservative mindset coming from an ex-punk, but also a relic of the era in which Hynde came of age. A time when, if you were a woman wanting to carve out some space for yourself – particularly in the music industry - you were on your own.
I think even more so, Hynde thought of herself as one of the guys, therefore should be exempt from being treated like a woman, like a helpless. So Hynde is in deep, deep denial. Although such an ability to identify with men against women probably helped her make it in the music industry. The denial is clear in this quote from 2014:
She's equally sceptical of the idea that a lack of female pioneers held women back in the music scene in the 1970s. "I just didn't have the confidence," she says. "There's always been women doing this, just not that many. I don't know what the feminists have to say about it. Over the years, you'd hear, 'We weren't encouraged.' Well, I don't think Jeff Beck's mother was saying, 'Jeffrey! What are you doing up in your room? Are you rehearsing up there?' No one was ever encouraged to play guitar in a band. But I never found it harder because I'm a woman. If anything I've been treated better. Guys will carry my guitars and stuff – who's going to say no? Guys always tune my guitars, too."
Actually that's not true at all that no one was ever encouraged to play in a band - John Lennon's mother bought him his first guitar. Paul McCartney's father had played in a jazz band in his youth and encouraged Paul to take piano lessons. But of course the lack of encouragement isn't only about families - although of course when Jeff Beck was growing up in the 1950s women were still expected to aspire primarily to motherhood, maybe doing some school teaching or nursing before they were married. Not to mention the sexist attitudes of men themselves, who already dominated rock and roll.

Really, Chrissie Hynde, you have no fucking idea what you're talking about. But as I said, Hynde considered herself one of the guys - so of course she's going to dismiss the claims of feminists, like many men of her generation.

And the horrible irony is that in her personal affect she was every feminist's dream - independent, talented, powerful and sexy. Who wouldn't want to be Chrissie Hynde? In so many ways she defied gender constrictions on women, including dating much younger men: her first husband Jim Kerr was eight years younger than her, her second husband was fourteen years younger than her, and her most-recently publicized relationship was with a man 24 years her junior. But then a male rock star would do the same thing with women. And Hynde is one of the guys.

At least Hynde didn't betray a book she wrote about rape. But on the other hand, she's one and a half decades younger than Brownmiller - or for that matter, Gloria Steinem - and really should know better by now.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Don't get me wrong

Recent performance of this great song

Performance from 1986

Acoustic version


Don't get me wrong,
If I'm looking kind of dazzled - I see neon lights whenever you walk by.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

DARK MARKET version infinity

Well the actors gave me a very nice reading of my DARK MARET play Sunday but they also gave me lots of good feedback for how to make the play better and I feel like I missed so many opportunities my current version of the play is crap.

I'll let it rest for a while before going back to it.

In the meantime, I have finally finished casting LOVE, DEATH & CHRISTMAS and created the logo. Rehearsals start December 4.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Woman not laughing alone with salad

What an odd experience - I had something to eat for dinner at a Le Pain Quotidian prior to going to a birthday part in Manhattan and as I was leaving a wizened old woman in a head scarf begged me to buy her one of the pre-packaged salads which were on display in a glass case near the door. Well I had been paid and was feeling flush and really, how could you turn down the request for a salad if you can at all afford it?

Well a young woman immediately got into my face and said "you don't have to do that, this happens all the time." And I said "that's OK I want to - who are you?" And she said "the manager of this restaurant." So the manager of the Le Pain Quotidian was actively discouraging me from spending money in her restaurant, to prevent me from buying a salad for this pathetic creature.

And I said: "well what do you think she's going to do, re-sell the salad on the black market and then use it to buy drugs?"

I mean Jesus Christ.

Now it's true this salad woman was a little presumptuous - she also insisted I give her the change left from the purchase. But you know, chances are if you are reduced to begging strangers to buy you food, you probably don't have a lot of social capital in the first place. And you know what, I don't care if she did sell the salad on the black market and use it to buy drugs - she needed something good to happen to her, whatever it was.

And everybody knows that salads put women into a good mood:

Friday, November 13, 2015


My bad. When I said yesterday that Kathy Chang's squandered $30,000 inheritance in 1981 was the equivalent of $100,000 in today's dollars, I overestimated. It was actually worth $78,529 and 70 cents in today's dollars, according to the Consumer Price Index Calculator.

It's still a terrible waste no matter how much it was.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

More Chang

Kathy Chang (wearing black, seated), my ex-husband (standing in
the brown jacket) and one of the figures to the right is Sandy McCroskey,
now a copy editor for The Nation magazine.

Some years ago I wrote about my tenuous connection with Kathy Chang, who self-immolated in 1996. She's in the news again because she's the inspiration for a performance piece reviewed this week in the NYTimes:  ‘Chang(e)’ Explores a Woman’s Self-Immolation.

One of my Facebook friends, Anita King (who knew my ex-husband since high school), is described as Chang's best friend in Chang's 1996 obituary in the Times. Anita does not like how Chang is described in the review and wrote a comment in response. King created a  web site about Chang. There is also a Facebook page devoted to Chang, which is where I found the photo on the left.

It's interesting to note that Chang would be 65 now. When I knew her, I had no idea of her biography, and reading about her now, I discovered that our lives intersected more than I knew:

For many years, she seemed content dancing for her cause at Penn or at the art museum, spending a $30,000 inheritance to renovate and illegally live in an abandoned building in West Philadelphia, being named ''Freedom Fighter of the Month'' in November 1990 by High Times magazine, which advocates the legalization of marijuana. 
My ex-husband was living in that abandoned building for a time. We weren't officially divorced, but we were separated by then, and sharing custody of our daughter through informal arrangement. Which ended when I went to visit him in this building and found that they were staying on the second floor, which had big holes in the floor. Our daughter was two years old. I was still a kid myself, but I was shocked and horrified to see that my ex could put our daughter into such a dangerous situation, so I immediately took her home with me and didn't allow her to stay with her father again until she was old enough to look out for herself, and use the phone to call me if necessary.

I hadn't realized that Kathy Chang was the sponsor of this "squat." What a horrible waste of $30K (which would be more like $100K in today's dollars.) One more reason I find it hard to romanticize Kathy Chang and her friends from West Philadelphia.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Evan Marc Katz against equality

Remember when I pointed out that Evan Marc Katz is urging women to be passive in order to snag a man? This is what he said:
Men win you over by giving to you. We ask you out. We call you. We pay for dates. We initiate sex. We ask for commitment. We propose marriage. We give. You receive. Reverse this order by asking him out, initiating sex, asking for commitment, or proposing marriage, and a masculine guy will feel, well, emasculated. Thus, if you want a masculine guy, your greatest move is to embrace your passive feminine side.
So I checked in with Katz lately to see what mischief he's been getting up to and I had to LOL - apparently he has done a complete turn-around: it's no longer men who want passive women, as he has been claiming - it's women who are forcing men to be active so that they can be passive:
In my opinion, men can complain all they want about how unfair it is that they’re supposed to call, plan and pay for the first few dates, but you’ll find few women who prefer passive men...
Whatever happened to women "choosing" to be passive in order to prevent a masculine guy from feeling emasculated? Apparently that's something that men don't really want. At least that's what Katz is saying now.

What more do you need to know to realize these dating advisors have no idea what they are talking about?

The concept of equality never occurs to Katz or any of his co-star hucksters - men and women trading off responsibilities and paying for things as equally as possible. There are actually men and women out there who believe in trying to achieve equality. We may not always be perfectly successful - we've all been raised in the cesspool of patriarchy and are influenced by it to some degree. But we have an ideal we are trying to achieve. We apparently don't exist as far as  dating hucksters are concerned.

If somebody doesn't do a study on the insanely regressive, anti-feminist dating advice industry soon I will have to do it myself. I will have to talk to my friend Maxine Margolis, author of True to Her Nature: Changing Advice to American Women about how to begin.

More of my thoughts on Evan Marc Katz.

Monday, November 09, 2015

More picking on Sophie Blackall

Well my intention was to find examples of good work by Sophie Blackall, just to be fair, but as Blackall herself knows, what we intend and what we achieve isn't always the same.

And besides, when I scoured the Internet to find examples of her work that I liked, I discovered that she's made in-roads into the adult market in addition to the dread subway car art card, and it makes me feel much less charitable towards her. Ugh, Time Out New York, what were you thinking??? And looking at dozens of examples of her work does not put me into a good mood.

I do like her drawings of animals more than people, as faint praise as that is, because she refrains from giving them pink circles for cheeks. Wombats excepted. Ugh.

I was pleased to see that of the work displayed in Google images, for the most part she avoids putting figures on three-dimensional backgrounds which is a very very good thing, since she can't handle perspective at all.

Of course that doesn't solve the problem of her utter incompetence with human bodies. She cannot draw people mouth kissing at all. Arms are another serious problem for Blackall - look how the man's arms must be more than twice as long as the woman's in the picture on the right - her entire arm is about as long as his upper arm alone.

The casual viewer might not notice these issues, but instead is left with a slightly queasy feeling of something not being right. So while some are worse than others, virtually all of Blackall's illustrations give me at least a slightly queasy feeling. The only drawing I've found by her that I could say I sort of like is this book cover.

This is good because it solves all of Blackall's drawing insufficiencies:

  • It uses a limited palette of solid, vibrant colors instead of an excess of fussy washed-out pastel shades.
  • It is a flat layout - no perspective to screw up.
  • Only a single head and a pair of hands are visible - no arms or kissing to screw up
  • Good composition - but somebody else probably handled the design work, placing the type at the bottom to balance the yellow graphic accent at the top.
If Blackall stuck with illustrating children's picture books about Chinese culture she'd be doing the world a big favor.

Sunday, November 08, 2015

More thoughts on illustration and why exactly the work of Sophie Blackall is so bad

The flip side of criticizing bad work like that of Sophie Blackall is appreciating good illustration. The New Yorker will reliably present at least 5 or so really great covers each year (they publish weekly) that demonstrates what good illustration is all about. I've liked some so much I've gotten framed prints of them.

Unfortunately now that I've stopped getting hard-copy versions of the New Yorker I often don't even notice the covers most of the time - they are online - sometimes they are even animated (?!) but mostly I access articles now via posts on Facebook, and it's a whole other experience from having a magazine in your hands. It's a shame. On the other hand, if it weren't for the Internet I wouldn't have this blog. It's always a trade-off.

When I criticized Blackall's subway card a few years ago, one of the commenters said:
...I mean, it's really absurd to want all illustrative artwork to be representationally accurate, in terms of perspective, proportions etc. Haven't you heard of artistic liberties?
The commenter appears not to have read what I actually wrote, and their comment was out of Art Appreciation 101, but it's probably reflective of many people's attitudes - the only real issue in art is whether or not something is representationally accurate. Of course it is not, and that's obvious from my critique of the subway card - it isn't that she can't draw people realistically, it's that Blackall doesn't make consistent stylistic choices, and the choices she does make are ugly. I mean what the hell is the point of drawing a group of people like this?

This isn't about lack of realistic representation, this is about making aesthetically repulsive choices, and quite possibly sheer laziness. I already discussed what is wrong with this portion of Blackall's art card, but I can't help yet again being repulsed by the fact that the second face from the left seems to be a conjoined twin. Let's zoom in, shall we?

Now if the drawing had been cropped vertically down in the center of the blue-helmetted skateboarder you would assume the face at the skateboarder's chest was part of an entire figure - but since Blackall went to the trouble to extend the background of the subway car seat, with under-shadow, and the floor all the way to the end of the drawing, we can see there is no body!

Why would you do that? To be "clever" somehow? Because you're so unobservant (not a good trait for an artist) that you didn't even realize you extended the background while forgetting to provide a body for the head there? No matter what the reason, it's just plain ugly. Art isn't always about realism, but it should have some aesthetic value, or it isn't good art. It's bad art.

Of course there is no accounting for taste, but for those who don't get why the work of Sophie Blackall is so bad, just viscerally, just by looking at it, perhaps I can break it down for them even further, by comparing it to some good work by New Yorker cover artists.

First let's look at one with a completely unrealistic representation of the human form:

This New Yorker cover by Tom Gauld displays a virtual stick figure. Nobody would mistake this for an actual human being - but it's clear this is a stylistic choice. The figure's arm is a geometric curve, not a real elbow - but that's fine because the face is just a circle with a dot for an eye and a triangle for a nose. This stick figure by itself would not suffice as a satisfying work of art. But it is part of a beautifully balanced composition. There are only two bits of orange in this image, the figure's dress and the leaf in the window. And the position of these colors on the two-dimensional plane are perfectly balanced. The orange area of the leaf is much smaller than the area of the dress, but it is contrasted against a stark white background, which gives it more power in spite of its size. And then there are the books. The artist did not try to realistically portray stacks of books as they would look in real life - all the books stacked on top of each other to impossibly high heights are at an angle, in two different directions. This is the artist's choice, not because the artist is incapable of drawing a book along the spine - obviously since the books in the shelves are showing spines - but to give a unified appearance. 

Composition is one more of Sophie Blackall's artistic failings. If you look at the image from the children's book from yesterday's blog post you'll note the right-side candle is not only a fire hazard, it demonstrates Blackall's bad composition choices.

She apparently decided there had to be three candles on the table, but she couldn't figure out how to have both a candle and the girl slave on that side of the composition. She could have just left out the woman whose back is facing us - nobody would care if there was one fewer person at supper. That would have been the much better solution, compositionally - she could have lined up the candles along the horizontal axis. Instead she sticks the right-side candle, nonsensically, near the edge of the table - so this candle is a fire hazard for two reasons: the red fan cord grazing it; and because it could be easily knocked to the floor. Although if it burnt up that unnecessarily busy geometric-pattern rug and they had to replace it with a solid crimson rug to balance all the crimsons at the top of the image, that would be a big improvement.

Blackall has a terrible time with positioning objects in three-dimensional space. She could solve this by making compositional choices in which she doesn't have to worry about it - the Gauld cover doesn't bother trying to represent the walls of the library - and that works perfectly. The artist isn't going for a three-dimensional look. Blackall is going for a three-dimensional look and failing. And there's no reason for it. Instead of leaving out the left wall entirely, she crammed it in there with a badly-drawn table, and not only does she fail at perspective she ends up portraying what must be one of the tiniest dining rooms in all of the antebellum South. The room barely holds the table - it's about the same size as the dining room we had in our house when I was a kid - and I did not grow up in a Plantation-era mansion.

In this Tomine cover, the perspective is drawn beautifully. But even so, the color palette is more limited than in Blackall's dining room. Realism is no excuse to ignore abstract values like color and composition. And then there's the portraiture aspect, another thing at which Blackall fails. She really doesn't do individualized faces. She has a template - including round rosy cheeks, not only on all the  men, women and children but on all people regardless of skin tone. Why? Why would you make that stylistic choice? And she doesn't just do this for childrens' books - she did it for the subway art card too.

I have nothing against art for children, by the way. I adore the work of Heidi Gonnel, as I blogged about here.

The Tomine is not only beautifully drawn with excellent color and composition balance, it's an editorial piece as well - usually that's an aspect of this artist's work that I don't enjoy, because the editorial he usually expresses is some tiresomely wry commentary on life in the big city. But in this case, it's a very specific moment in history: Mayor Bloomberg at the end of his term, with an extra-large beverage cup - which he had banned during his administration. Notice the big cup is the only thing with red in it. That isn't realistic - but it is a good artistic/editorial choice.

And you don't have to have hard edges to have a beautiful illustration as this Drooker cover demonstrates. This is a painterly image, and quite realistic - it could easily be a photo tweaked by Photoshop - but it works for abstract qualities of color and composition.

While I was looking at New Yorker covers I came across this one. It isn't my favorite, artistically, (although it's much better than anything by Sophie Blackall) but I was fascinated - although it looks straight out of the 1970s, this image of women wearing sleeveless pantsuits with wide pants legs and bright colors and big hats and bangly bracelets and coordinating sandals standing confidently at a bar is from 1933!

Saturday, November 07, 2015

Blackall strikes again

Since I expressed my dismay over the work of Sophie Blackall three years ago, after I had a chance to examine it thoroughly thanks to its being shoved in my face constantly on my daily subway commute, I admit I haven't thought much about Blackall.

So when this image popped up in the NYTimes web site Friday, I glanced at it, and even before I read about the controversy surrounding the book, I was aware of a feeling of irritation. There was something about the figure... its tentative, half-assedness and simpering expression on the girl's face. So I checked the byline. And guess who turns out to be the illustrator of this book?
The book, “A Fine Dessert,” written by Emily Jenkins and illustrated by Sophie Blackall, shows four children at different points in history making a blackberry fool with a parent. The parallel stories highlight both technological changes in kitchens and the shifting social relationships that determined just who did the cooking.
Oh baby Jesus, Blackall is even worse at picking projects than she is at draftsmanship. Blackall defends presenting enslaved peoples in a cozy home-style American families scenario in a not-suprisingly-delusional way:
The dinner table scene is set up to show the deep injustice of the situation. The people who worked so hard over the dessert don’t get to eat it. A very small enslaved child pulls a cord to fan the white family throughout the duration of the dinner. The enslaved mother and daughter are somber and downcast...
 3) The act of having to hide in the cupboard to lick the scrapings from the bowl is the thing children have responded to most viscerally. They are horrified at how unfair it is. There is nothing whimsical about hiding in the cupboard. It conveys a complete lack of freedom.
In what world does Sophie Blackall live? No child is going to be able to understand just by reading this book that hiding in a cupboard is a horrifically unfair situation - kids often enjoy hiding out. They certainly aren't going to understand the significance of hiding in the cupboard.

Here is that page, which Blackall presents on her blog. What this demonstrates, more than anything else, is what a terrible artist Sophie Blackall is. I recommend you click the image to get the full effect of her ineptitude.

Note the little boy on the right with his feet aligned on the same exact plane, as if an ancient Egyptian tomb painting - something she does not do for the woman on the far left, so it isn't a consistent style choice. 

Speaking of inconsistency, there's the matter of Blackall's handling of fabric patterns. She manages to make the stripes conform to the draping of the curtains at the window, but when it comes to patterns on clothing, just forget it - she draws straight vertical lines down the dresses of the slave woman and girl in defiance of the contours of the clothing.

And then there is the two legged-table in the lower-left corner. I suppose it could be a two-legged wall-mounted table, but the leg is a couple of inches away from the wall, while the top of the table appears to go at least half a foot beyond that leg, right into the wall. So maybe it's a curved-inward wall. That's the only logical answer. 

And then there is the matter of the red fabric cord the boy is pulling, which appears on the verge of going up in flames. If I was a kid that would be the first thing I would notice.

Three years after I critiqued her subway poster Blackall still hasn't become acquainted with human anatomy - once you notice the freakishly-elongated upper arm of the woman on the right you cannot unsee it. To get a sense of the failure, note that the elbows of the people with their backs to us line up with the second-down cross-piece on the back of the chair, while the elbow of the woman on the right lines up with the fourth-down crosspiece.

Blackall describes the expressions of the slave mother and daughter in this picture as "somber and downcast" - which is perhaps what Blackall was going for. It is not what she achieved. The little girl appears to have a smile, probably due to Blackall's inability to draw faces from that angle. And as far as the mom, she has the same expression on her face as the women in this medieval illumination. Surely the medieval artist meant to convey horror at being handed a freshly decapitated human head. Like Blackall he has not succeeded in the realistic presentation of human emotion.

Clearly Blackall graduated from the the same school of anatomy as Renoir. Although I imagine Blackall is not at all displeased by the comparison, thanks to the Dunning-Kruger effect, and because in spite of Renoir's inability to draw, he made a living as an artist too.

And don't even get me started on the tablecloth. I don't have all day.

Friday, November 06, 2015

4 Short Christmas Plays

Looks like I am doing four of my 10-minute plays as part of a night together with a play called "Swordfight Christmas." We run December 16 - 20 at the Producer's Club (ugh).

My plays:

YULE COUNTY- a two-person play about a college freshman who is considering suicide on Christmas morning. I did this as a reading in my 10 min playfest in 2008. This will be the first time it will be on its feet.

MISTRESS ILSA'S CHRISTMAS - a completely new sequel to MISTRESS ILSA - Mistress Ilsa is whipping willing subjects for an audience at Christmas time.

THE VERY DARK ROOM - a completely new play I've been wanting to do for several years -  a woman in despair at Christmas argues with her brain as Death eagerly awaits the woman's suicide.

CHRISTMAS BLESSINGS - I did produce this in 2009 but I am looking forward to doing this again - it's my first play to mention Ayn Rand.

I've been trying to think of a name for the collection - so far I've only thought of "Christmas Fun."

More details to come.

Thursday, November 05, 2015


Our president is a brilliant speaker - but his superb comedic stylings are not appreciated enough, in my view. This video represents Obama at his best. Unfortunately it's not available on Youtube yet, so those without Facebook access can't see it. As soon as it is available I will embed it in this blog. In the meantime it's here.

Wednesday, November 04, 2015

Since when has Rupert Murdoch needed ANY fact checkers?

From the Washington Post

The National Geographic Society of Washington will lay off about 180 of its 2,000 employees in a cost-cutting move that follows the sale of its famous magazine and other assets to a company controlled by Rupert Murdoch. 
The reduction, the largest in the organization’s 127-year history, appears to affect almost every department of the nonprofit organization, including the magazine, which the society has published since just after its founding in 1888. The reduction also will affect people who work for the National Geographic Channel, the most profitable part of the organization. Several people in the channel’s fact-checking department, for example, were terminated on Tuesday, employees said.

Tuesday, November 03, 2015

Mr. Rogers earns 20 million dollars with his mouth

At first I thought Senator Pastore was pretty snippy with Fred Rogers - but apparently it was the snippiness of respect.

Forbes wrote a piece about this hearing: How Emotional Intelligence Landed Mr. Rogers $20 Million
On the 1st of May in 1969, Mr. Rogers addressed the Senate to argue that $20 million in funding for PBS should not be cut. John Pastore, the Senator from Rhode Island who led the hearing, had never seen nor hear of Mr. Rogers’ television show. It took Mr. Rogers just six minutes to convince the gruff and impatient Senator from Rhode Island that the $20 million was well worth it.

This video about 35 Facts about Mr. Rogers is great too, especially the anecdote about the limo driver.

Monday, November 02, 2015

Happy Blogger-versary!

Wow, here it is, 10 years since my first blog post on November 2, 2005

Since that date:

My former partner and I won against Edward Einhorn and his copyright scheme ~ I wrote an article for the Dramatists Guild here. I got to know playwright David Ives a little since he was editing the Guild magazine at time. And I got an anecdote about David Ives and the bullwhip out of that one.

I did lots of self-productions which can be seen at my Mergatroyd site. One of them, Jane Eyre, nearly drove me into bankruptcy. And I became an award-winning playwright.

I turned NYCPlaywrights into a money-making venture instead of a money-losing venture. Of course it is not a lot of money. But it's still better than losing money.

I wrote sonnets because I was in unrequited love with a complete mediocrity. You're never too old to be a fool for love. But I did enjoy writing the sonnets. And some of them are not bad.

I got my first booty call, and from the son of a movie star yet. I did not take him up on it.

Obama became president Oh, yeah, that. Kind of a big deal. I was very excited when it happened, although I had been rooting for Hillary during the primaries. But I liked Obama too, and I think he's proven to be an unusually effective president, in spite of the hideousness of the Republican party.

I often expressed my love for Jon Stewart. And Paul Krugman. And my contempt for Ayn Rand, New Atheists and Social Justice Warriors.

I lived through unemployment and cancer, as well as being personally lied about and smeared by identitarian bully Mikki Kendall and famously bad movie director/producer Andrew Bellware.

I have received responses to this blog from the dread Daphne Merkin and from the cool yet somewhat out-there Cindy Gallop, as well as Santa Claus.

My proudest moment for this blog was when I contributed to preventing the greater mainstreaming of professional bio-racist Razib Khan.

Some blog statistics from blogger - unfortunately they only go back to 2010 so they're not entirely accurate over the last 10 years.

My 10 most popular posts of all time. #4, about Schopenhauer, is pretty surprising.

Top Countries by Pageview

United States
United Kingdom

Surprising that a French-speaking country is ahead of the UK.

Number of blog posts per year according to my archives. Clearly 2011 was my big blogging year so far. And since 2008 I have been averaging over one blog post per day.