7 things @ 11 o’clock (7.18)

1. Let me echo Rob TsinaiJim Burroway and many others in offering my hopes, prayers and best wishes for Thomas Peters, and in soliciting yours for him as well. Peters, the communications director of the anti-gay National Organization for Marriage, sustained a major neck injury in a swimming accident. As Burroway wrote:

We all hope and pray for Peters’s epiphany on the central questions surrounding our families. More so, we hope and pray for his speedy recovery so that epiphany can occur. But in any case, whether that epiphany will ever occur or not, we hope and pray for his speedy recovery.

2.Same-sex marriage becomes law in England and Wales.” This seems appropriate.

3. After the dismal experience of watching Doc Gooden struggling through his appearance on Celebrity Rehab, I’m happy to learn that Darryl Strawberry is doing well. Make that the Rev. Darryl Strawberry. The 12 steps, I think, are excellent preparation for pastoral ministry and an education in the theology of grace. Here’s hoping he abides in that grace. I’d hate to see him wind up on Dr. Drew’s couch.

4. My initial reaction to Russell D. Moore replacing Richard Land as the Southern Baptist Convention’s new “ethics” spokesperson was that we were in for just more of the same, but with a younger, smiling face and bit more media savvy. But it’s impossible to imagine Richard Land ever saying something like this. Granted, a measure of skepticism is reasonable here, and Moore’s comments may in part be a savvy response to Land’s earlier, awful comments on the slaying of Trayvon Martin. Yet for all that, it’s a surprisingly apt response from an unexpected source. (I was also pleasantly surprised by the empathy expressed by Moore’s mentor, Al Mohler.) The SBC has a long way to go, but these are small steps in a better direction.

5. Rep. Michele Bachmann continues to astonish. Earlier this week there was her interview with the right-wing website WorldNetDaily in which she said, of President Obama, “He has a perpetual magic wand and no one’s given him a spanking yet and taken it out of his hand.” That’s the sort of thing one can only say if one is too innocent to realize one is not innocent at all. Marcus Bachmann is a clinical psychologist. He’s studied Freud, so he knows that sometimes a magic wand is just a magic wand — but sometimes it isn’t.

Which brings us to the second Michele Bachmann story this week, courtesy of Buzzfeed: “Documents Detail Implosion at Leading Conservative Christian Political Firm.” That’s not the fun part. The fun part is in the subhed: “Strategy Group for Media CEO Rex Elsass lost the faith of his employees and the control of his office. Also, he may have accidentally mailed a vibrator to Michele Bachmann.”

An email thread from May 29 … featured Strategy Group’s former voter-contact consultant P.J. Wenzel making reference to Elsass sending “female pleasure machines” to Bachmann. … One person familiar with the story told BuzzFeed that Elsass had intended to give Bachmann a vibrating head massager to help alleviate her migraines, and that the employee he sent to buy the gift accidentally purchased something that more closely resembled a sex toy — and sent it to her office.

Now go back and re-read Bachmann’s comment on Obama. OK, then.

(Oh, and speaking of politicians and their wands — Bob Filner, the Democratic mayor of San Diego, needs to step down. I don’t think every politician who gets caught having an affair necessarily needs to resign, but affairs are consensual. This isn’t. He should go away now.)

6. In an odd coincidence, shortly after I posted this yesterday, MaryAnn McKibben Dana posted her own musings about religion, improv, and a magician. She tussles with a quote from Penn Jillette — one that I think means both more and less than he thinks. Wholly apart from the tired theist/atheist sparring, though, I think there’s something in that quote that could be fruitfully mined by all kinds of storytellers, Here’s what Jillette said:

If every trace of any single religion were wiped out and nothing were passed on, it would never be created exactly that way again. There might be some other nonsense in its place, but not that exact nonsense. If all of science were wiped out, it would still be true and someone would find a way to figure it all out again.

There, I think, we have the set-up for at least two — but probably many more — speculative novels. His point about science is narrowly true, but there’s no reason to assume that scientific discovery must always follow the same precise path at the same pace. There’s all manner of world-building fun to be had by toying with that history and making it unspool in a different order — accelerating some discoveries or postponing others. And set aside the silliness of thinking that because religion is rooted in the context of human experience and human history it must be nonsense and instead just focus on the delightful storytelling possibilities of the hypothetical scenario Jillette provides.

Science fiction writers have been doing both of these things for a long time, of course, creating alien worlds with wholly different scientific and religious histories, but Jillette’s remark, it seems to me, neatly frames the challenge and the possibilities.

7. The photo for yesterday’s 7 things post was of former Pittsburgh Pirates second baseman Rennie Stennett. He was holding up seven fingers because he had just set a new Major League record with seven hits in a nine-inning game (a 22-0 rout of the Cubs). Stennett’s record is one of several that I think will never be broken — the others are held by Cy Young, Joe DiMaggio, Johnny Vander Meer, Fernando Tatis, and Chan Ho Park. Of all of those, Park’s is probably the most secure. No one would ever want to break Park’s record, but I doubt they’d ever get the chance, since if you’ve given up two grand slams to the same batter in one inning, there’s no way you’ll be allowed to pitch to him again if he comes up a third time with the bases loaded.

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  • I’m glad you confirmed it, or I would have had to ask, because the reasoning seemed to lead directly to that source.

  • Glad I’m not the only one whose first thought was of James Burke.

    (A few years ago, something or other caused me to finally put together who James Burke was before he did Connections, and finally understand what the whole thing was really about)

  • Baby_Raptor

    4 is also the best, in my opinion. I play Beyond the Sword. Tried 5, didn’t get into it.

  • MaryKaye

    Mightn’t it make a big difference whether you stopped for a long time at one of the good-enough approximations, or went straight to the more complex and more correct form? Thinking of physics here, and how almost all the laws we’re taught in freshman physics are wrong–they ought to have c in them, but at everyday speeds you don’t notice. The physics of an alien species which for some reason had to grapple with c from square one might develop *quite* differently.

    There are also parts of science that are less cut and dried than physical laws. We struggle to define “species” but despite being fuzzy the concept really matters in thinking about evolution. If the people who first tried to nail down “species” had been botanists–especially tropical-tree botanists!–instead of zoologists I think we would define it very differently. If they had been bacteriologists I’m not sure we would have “species” at all. All of the twisted and entangled lines of descent that make up the real world would still be there, but our understanding of them would not be the same, and I think it would matter.

    To point out one practical way in which it matters–UC Berkeley got a century plant to flower while I was there. I asked what they were going to do with the seeds. Nothing, they said; it’s a hybrid; not valuable. I heard the exact same thing from the sanctuary that had the last half-dozen buffalo wolves. Why did you sterilize them? There aren’t enough to repopulate…. If either group had thought in terms of gene pools rather than of species, they might have used a different strategy, one that saw more value in hybrid individuals.

    (I am still really sad about those buffalo wolves. We could have a lot of not-purebred buffalo wolves by now; instead they’re all dead. Damn.)

  • Baby_Raptor

    I am an Atheist. I call lie to your “irrefutable proof” that humanity is universally religious.

  • Baby_Raptor

    So does that mean that us non-married people cannot have them?

    If so, I might be in trouble.

  • Which sounds sort of uncomfortably like what Nietzsche predicted would happen if some great man (hint hint) didn’t take life by the balls and show mankind how to take control of his own destiny and become the Ubermensch and all that jazz.

  • Matri

    They were originally medical treatment devices.

  • Matri

    … dafuq?

  • In all honesty, I liked Civ1 better than 2 or 3. After civ1, I felt they crossed the threshhold past which the game was so complicated and visually noisy that it detracted from me focusing on the things I enjoyed in the game.

  • Well it is; marriage is about sex; that’s the only thing it’s about. That’s why we can’t allow TEH GAYZ to get married, because if my precious child sees two men being married that is LITERALLY THE EXACT SAME THING as showing him hardcore gay porn.

  • banancat

    I’ve heard others use this excuse that Martin should’ve just called the police, although usually it’s framed in a wishy-washy that they were both at fault or something. One woman decided to wax poetical about how she always teaches her children to just call 911 and never resort to physical defense. I’ll go out on the tiniest limb here, but I’m pretty sure this woman and her children are not black, or if they are, they live in a very different geographical area and type of culture that Martin lived in. If Martin had just called the police himself, there’s a good chance that they wouldn’t have taken him seriously. He has grown up in a world where police act as enemies of black men nearly as often as they act as protectors. In an environment like that, it’s no wonder Martin’s first thought wouldn’t be to turn to them for help.

  • banancat

    I think it really bothers a lot of people that Tsarnaev looks not just normal, but actually attractive. It’s scary for them to live in a world where monsters aren’t identifiable by sight alone. If an attractive young man can be a murderer, then literally anyone in your life could be a monster too. Everyone is trying really hard to forget this fact of life and they’re mad to be reminded of it. And frankly, it is scary. But pretending it isn’t true won’t make it go away.

  • JustoneK

    that is amazing. and everyone _in_ the session is just cracking the hell up. how is “instructional aid” for safe sex better when at the same time it’s all abstinence only?

    (anyone know the etymology of the word dildo, incidentally? it’s always been one of those inherently silly words to me.)

  • JustoneK

    I p much agree with that, but I do wonder about “balance” therein, if there was a slightly better internal computating thingy about how fast different AI civilizations moved along compared to you, etc. The main thing Civ1 needed? Multiplayer.

  • I’ve also heard it speculated that if you put off heliocentrism, you might get calculus a few centuries early (Once you start plotting the motion of the planets in detail, you pretty much either have to give up on the idea of them orbiting the earth or you need to invent calculus to describe really complex geocentric orbits.)

  • Carstonio

    I don’t see how he could be attractive, and not because of my orientation. His eyes remind me of other infamous killers.

  • (Imagine a society where all famous people were secretly CGI or holograms.)

    1. That would be truly outrageous. Truly, truly, truly outrageous.

    I see what you did there. (And now I have an earworm, thank you VERY much.)

  • “The failure mode of clever is ‘asshole.'” —John Scalzi

  • Space Marine Becka

    Previously a transgender person was given a temporary GRC that was used to get a legal annullment on the grounds of being the wrong sex. The partner could try and fight a divorce prior to that point but once a person had their temporary certificate they were powerless to stop the anullment. Now they can tie people up for months and years.

  • Space Marine Becka

    There may be a matter of degree. Most people (myself included) consider debt peonage and chattal slavery to both be slavery and sweatshop workers are often debt peons.

  • Brad Ellison

    There’s an Australian movie called Perfect Creature that plays a little with genetics being discovered a few centuries early. There are also vampires, who end up coming out of the shadows after the new science emerges and become the backbone of the Church with a symbiotic sharing of blood becoming the new communion, but steampunk genetics play a key role.

  • caryjamesbond

    Well, yes, that’s all true- although I don’t think you give modern science enough credit for already overcoming a lot of difficulties. Probably the biggest breakthrough in scientific thought was Karl Popper’s assertion that we can no longer look at science as a puzzle, with each new discovery being a pure bit of fact Instead, as one of my professors so neatly put it its a “pile of constantly superseded theories.” Newton described F=MA which is true for certain cases but isn’t quite there. Einstein came along and added Relativity and an understanding of what happens at high speeds, someone else will come along and add something new.

    It’s not that Newton was WRONG, its that Einstein was MORE RIGHT. And yes, different cultures would discover different things in a new order- one of the most interesting things I’ve heard was that all the knowledge necessary to build decent telescopes/microscopes- that sand could be melted into glass, that some substances could be worked into tube even that glass blobs could magnify- was available for pretty much the entire known history of humanity- but only because a big deal with Galileo and his contemporaries. A society that developed microscopes at the time of the egyptians (nothing they couldn’t handle, technologically speaking) would be extremely different.

    But, and the point that Penn is making there- they would still, eventually, discover that the simplest atom had one proton and one electron. Which is why we send representations of hydrogen on gold tablets that we shoot into space- they may not look, think, act, believe or be anything we can understand- but if they interact with the physical universe at a level significant enough to notice this plaque, they know what hydrogen is, and what it looks like. They know what Pi is, as well.

    Although, I don’t think religion would be as varied as Penn might thing. If everything was walked back to square one- no stories, no knowledge, no nothing, I think we’d still have the sacrificial god that led to the Christian mythos. We’d have fertility gods, the Egyptians would probably create some myth about the Nile that would look almost exactly like Egyptian mythology as we knew it, because the Nile will still flood every year.

    Honestly, given how deeply it seems to resonate across cultures, the story I would expect to come back and be almost assured of finding again, in some form, is Oedipus Rex.

  • caryjamesbond

    Hmm- as per my other comment- a lot of stories and archetypes seem to arise independently of each other, or resonate deeply across many cultures, indicating that in the situation Penn describes, we probably WOULD see something very similar arise- a sacrificial god, and fertility gods, and so on.

    SO question- in the event that all human knowledge was wiped, and you came back 10,000 years later, after civilization had been rebuilt- what stories would you expect to find pretty much unchanged, albeit with different names? I’ll wager you could find something that was almost exactly Oedipus Rex, and whoever lived along the Nile would have pretty similar mythologies about the flood.

    Any other suggestions?

  • Daniel

    Seeing the woman in the sex shop denying they sold dildos with a case full of them in front of her made me wish it was John Cleese and Michael Palin instead “it’s not much of a sleaze shop, is it?” “Finest in the district!”

    I want to get this straight too- big government, which is bad, is one that intrudes on a person’s life to an unnecessary degree. Small government, which is good, is one that doesn’t intrude except to tell you how and with what you may wank. Is this correct?

    And finally, do Texans think there may be some questions that desperately need answering when it is easier to buy six guns than six dildos? And do they think there may be any link between the legislated difficulty in wanking and the enthusiasm for guns?

  • Daniel


  • Nick Gotts

    What is the evidence for your belief that “no one really took it seriously during most of the middle ages”? What about the Crusades, heresy trials, cathedral building, monasticism, pilgrimages, religiously-motivated persecution of the Jews? All these continued for centuries: the Middle Ages were saturated in religion. Incidentally, the term “scientist” did not exist during the Middle Ages.

    More recently, there is clear evidence of a sustained decline in religiosity in Europe, Australasia, Canada and to a lesser extent the USA over the past century: in what people say about their beliefs, in church attendance, in the closure of churches, in priestly “vocations”. For Europe, where the evidence is best, see here and here. Just in the 10 years between the 2001 and 2011 censuses in the UK, the proportion of those identifying as Christian has declined from 72% to 59% (and no, the difference has not been made up by the growth in other religions – it’s gone almost entirely to “no religion”).

    Of course, you will always be able to deny that the decline is permanent – such a claim is by its nature unfalsifiable; but if you are at all interested in actual evidence, I really don’t see how you can maintain the claim that it has not declined.

  • Nick Gotts

    Why “uncomfortably”? What do you see as wrong with people getting on with their lives without bothering about its “meaning”?

  • Daniel

    The etymology of the word dildo is unclear. The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) describes the word as being of “obscure origin”.[1] One theory is that it originally referred to the phallus-shaped peg used to lock an oar in position on a dory (small boat). It would be inserted into a hole on the side of the boat, and is very similar in shape to the modern toy. It is possible that the sex toy takes its name from this sailing tool, which also lends its
    name to the town of Dildo and the nearby Dildo Island in Newfoundland, Canada. Others suggest the word is a corruption of Italian diletto (for “delight”).[2]

    According to the OED, the word’s first appearance in English was in Thomas Nashe’s The Choice of Valentines or the Merie Ballad of Nash his Dildo (c. 1593).[Note 1] The word also appears in Ben Jonson’s 1610 play, The Alchemist. William Shakespeare used the term once in The Winter’s Tale, believed to be from 1610 or 1611, but not printed until the First Folio of 1623.[Note 2]

    The phrase “Dil Doul”, referring to a man’s penis, appears in the 17th century folk ballad “The Maids Complaint for want of a Dil Doul”.[3] The song was among the many in the library of Samuel Pepys.

    Olisbos (pl. olisboi) is a classical term for a dildo, from the Greek ὄλισβος.[4] i.e. a dildo that was usually made by leather. A godemiché is a dildo in the shape of a penis with scrotum.

    In some modern languages, the names for dildo can be more descriptive, creative or subtle—note, for instance, the Russian фаллоимитатор (“phallic imitator”), the Hindi darshildo, the Spanish consolador (“consoler”), and the Welsh cala goeg (“fake penis”).

    With thanks to Wikipedia.

  • alfgifu

    I think there’s a further wrinkle here with religion (or anything else) that is assumed to be a cultural construct. Because culture comes from humans, and we’re still working with humans in the alternative history.

    The same underlying human nature – based on brains with the same range of perceptions and biases – causes some things to replicate across different cultures. There’s also progression in culture, just as in science – you have to have instruments before you can have jazz. I don’t know if you have to pass through realism to get to impressionism, but I wouldn’t be surprised.

    If anything, I’d expect cultural concepts to reappear (looking a bit superficially different) in the same sort of order they already have. So you’d probably see a range of cooperating cults before polytheism before monotheism, for example, with one sort of understanding giving rise to the next. With science, because it’s all out there to discover rather than in there to construct, the order could be far more scrambled depending on when different discoveries were made by chance.

    I think this would be the case even if religion is seen as being based on reality (and, as a believer, this is the camp I fall into personally) – because religion is a journey of understanding which varies a lot from person to person, often tries to express the inexpressible, and is communicated and interpreted very differently by different people. So even if it is underpinned with facts (as in real things that actually happened) the interpretation – which is most of the mythology and the ritual and the theology – will remain a cultural construct.

  • alfgifu

    Speaking as someone in the UK who participated in both the 2001 and 2011 census, I’m fairly sure that the fall in the numbers of those identifying as Christian was to do with a general shift in the default option.

    There’s this perception that the UK is ‘Christian’ and its one of our defining characteristics – we have more churches than mosques, we have an established Christian church, we have a lot of history in which religion = Christianity.

    Anecdotally (so, you know, caveats), lots of people who are not believers and would self-identify as atheists if pressed on their actual position, put ‘Christian’ down even in 2011. These people, and those like them (who would have been called ‘Christian but not religious’ in the past) are now more comfortable putting ‘none’ instead.

    So I see this as a measure of how socially acceptable it is to not belong to the dominant religion, not necessarily a measure of how many people would a) consider themselves a believer, b) take part in religious activities, and/or c) self-identify as religious to their friends or people they trust.

  • alfgifu

    I think it likely that the idea of spirits / gods dwelling certain places or objects would prove tenacious. Or perhaps a slightly more abstract concept of a holy place – that one goes right back to ancient days.

    It also does depend a bit on what happens with scientific development. Just-so stories that fill in gaps in human knowledge would still exist, but the gaps they fill in would vary according to the progress of science.

    In particular, I’m imagining a world where genetic techniques are developed early and widely understood, so evolution is utterly uncontroversial – but outside genetics an understanding of the properties of matter is really delayed / confused, so alchemists are still trying to make gold and eternal youth.

    Bonus points if the biologists develop actual life-extending techniques before the alchemists give up on gold.

  • Nick Gotts

    Speaking as someone in the UK who participated in both the 2001 and 2011
    census, I’m fairly sure that the fall in the numbers of those
    identifying as Christian was to do with a general shift in the default

    Also speaking as someone in the UK who participated in both censuses, I’m fairly sure you’re wrong. Of course, the fact that we both took part in both censuses is irrelevant, but if it was relevant, our participation clearly cancels out, so can you produce any actual evidence for your view? The decline is in line with the broader multi-decadal trend across Europe, for which I provided references. What appears to be the case from those references is that self-identified religious identity is fairly stable once one is an adult, but each cohort has been less religious than the last.

    Church attendance in the UK has been in steady decline, according to this Christian source, while the average age of attendees has been going up. So there’s direct evidence contradicting your view with regard to religious activities.

  • Amaryllis

    I don’t get why many retailers think the photo glorifies him or makes him look like an attractive rock star.

    Because, by definition, if you’re on the cover of The Rolling Stone, you’re a rock star. Because there’s no thrill that’ll getcha when you get your picture On the cover of the Rollin’ Stone. Because, while hopefully no one would commit mass mayhem just to get his picture on the cover of anything, the idea of all that attention, even after they’re dead, is supposed to be one of the attractive factors to somebody evil or unbalanced enough to be considering such an act, and therefore it’s not a good idea to play into that mindset.

  • Amaryllis

    Well.. it has its issues. It was of its day. But I admit, it’s pretty fascinating. (Didn’t care for the sequel, but I can’t remember now, why not.)

  • Lori

    It would seem that the solution to that is for the courts to expedite divorces in such cases. At least in the US it’s tough for a person to drag out a divorce for years if the court won’t play along.

  • histrogeek

    Karen Armstrong called this orthopraxy (right practice) as opposed to the more common Christian expectation of orthodoxy (right belief).

    Armstrong actually talking about Islam but it applies to modern Paganism and my own Anglican tradition to a large extent.

    I think Christianity has badly harmed itself getting bogged down in the minutia of very specific belief and expelling all that isn’t that belief to outer darkness. The tradition comes from Hebrew monotheism though Judaism had several guards against that temptation, but also Greek philosophy, which provided the tools to be super-specific, and Roman imperialism, which provided the desire for uniformity. it’s become a very bad model for religion in pretty much every way.

  • William Burns

    Can’t believe no one’s mentioned Hack Wilson’s single-season rbi record when it comes to unbreakable records.

  • Wednesday

    I’ve never seen the show, but I’ve had a lot of bad experiences with _fans_ of the show, to the point that I’m wary of anything associated with either of them. The first thing I heard about P&T’s BS show was that they “proved” anti-semetism never ever occurred in US academia, because Jewish people are over-represented in academia.

  • MaryKaye

    I think that myths which tie into fundamental and emotionally charged aspects of the natural world would reappear. Sun-origin myths are all over the place–I like to tell the Pacific Northwest one and the Mayan one back to back–and they are emotionally meaningful even to people who also have a scientific understanding of where the sun came from. For people far from the equator, seasonal myths are obvious, especially if the winter (or summer) is dangerous and hard.

    I think there will always be myths about death and the dead as well.

  • dpolicar

    I’d expect immortality myths of all sorts… afterlives, undead, immortals, resurrection, reincarnation, ghosts, etc. In an agricultural context I’d expect resurrection myths, particularly.

    I’d expect myths about supernatural judges who punish the guilty.
    In a culture with significant inequality and limited mobility, I’d expect myths about supernatural redeemers.

    I’d expect mythological structures that project the default family unit for the society on a cosmic scale. (E.g. “God the Father” in a strictly patriarchal culture.)

    I’d expect “just-so stories”… that is, myths about how the seasons got that way, and how the constellations got that way, and more generally explaining any regularity in the environment for which available evidence didn’t support a compelling explanation.

    I’d expect mythological cultural origin stories and myths about culture heroes.

    The specifics of all of these would vary wildly.

  • Daniel

    That’s why, to quote Jeremy Kyle, you should “put something on the end of it!” – in this case a sponge. Turn that baby up to 11 and apply it to plates, saucers, cups- it’ll even clean inside vases! I’m Billy Mays for CockBlock, the dildo-based cleaning accessory to really aid your marriage! Cleans wet or dry, but it’s best when wet to be honest.

  • Launcifer

    Bang and the dirt is gone?

  • Daniel

    You little bastard…that’s brilliant.

  • Launcifer

    Madison Avenue here I come…

  • Lectorel

    . . .what.

    That’s like arguing medieval serfs never experienced abuse because they were over-represented in the population. Total numbers within a group do not matter as much as distribution of power and social influence. That’s why tiny groups of ‘elites’ can maintain control. That’s a fucking basic formula of power and control.

  • Daniel

    They were bloody awful and I’d only infect you with this because you beat me to a brilliant joke. Let this be a lesson- I will, periodically, seek revenge for imagined defeats:


    I’ve almost certainly lowered the tone. I am sorry.

  • Daniel

    I notice from your profile you’re Canadian so… was either of those shops in Dildo in Newfoundland?

  • Launcifer

    I used to have a pet Newfy, so I’d just like to take a moment to tell you that reading this gave me a truly horrifying image from which I may never recover, m’kay?