Contest: Win two tickets to a Dawkins/Julia Sweeney event in Grand Rapids, Michigan

A kind reader who planned to go to Richard Dawkins’s conversation with Julia Sweeney in Grand Rapids, Michigan, couldn’t make it, and offered me her two tickets to give away. Here are the details of the event, sponsored by the Center for Inquiry:

Monday, November 7, 2016, 7:00 pm – 9:00 pm
Fountain Street Church, 24 Fountain Street NE, Grand Rapids, MI, View Map


The two tickets are worth $58, but you can get them for free! Just send a picture of one of your pets to Professor Ceiling Cat (it doesn’t have to be a cat), or a picture of an animal that YOU took. Grania will judge them and the winner will get an email entitling them to entry at the event.

DEADLINE: Nov. 2 at 5 pm Chicago time. 


Thursday: Hili Dialogue

Good morning!

Grania here. Jerry is in the air en route to Singapore right now, so I’m looking after the morning Hili dialogue.

Today is the day that Ronald Reagan delivered his Time for Choosing speech in support of then candidate Barry Goldwater in 1964. Goldwater did not win the election, but the speech is widely regarded as redefining American conservatism.

It is also  the birthday of Welsh poet Dylan Thomas (1914) and South African lawyer, politician, teacher and activist Oliver Tambo (1917). Oliver Tambo was one of the key leaders in the anti-Apartheid struggle.

My favourite Thomas poem has to be this one, I find it poignant and moving every time I read it.

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Over in Poland Hili is no doubt referring to the duplicity of politicians as the recent debate over abortion now are back to square one as leaders still are considering removing access to abortion in cases of fetal congenital disorders. The Guardian quotes activist Anna Leszczyńska: “It’s a strange thing to say about a country in the middle of Europe, in the 21st century, but this is how it works – nearly all politicians here are afraid of the Catholic church,” and Agata Piotrowska: “The Catholic church helped the government win the elections. And it is using this legislation, among others, to pay its debt. We have a group of religious radicals hijacking the Polish juridical system to make it reflect extremist beliefs.”

Hili: We Polish females know what to think of them.
A: And what do you think of them?
Hili: Nothing good.


In Polish:

Hili: My, polskie kobiety, wiemy co o nich myśleć.
Ja: I co o nich myślicie?
Hili: Nic dobrego.

Folly at Tufts University: Cops could investigate questionable Halloween costumes, students could be expelled

The College Halloween Costume Follies are spreading, and I can only imagine how ludicrous they will be next year. From The College Fix (you’re not going to read this in PuffHo), we hear about the costume policies of Tufts University in Medford, MA. That’s just outside Cambridge, MA, and the academic home of Daniel Dennett.

First, the Greek Life Council at Tufts (recall that the use of the word “Greek” in conjunction with fraternities and sororities was recently deemed a cultural appropriation) sent a letter to the heads of the university’s fraternities and sororities outlining the kinds of costumes that are verboten. You can see the full letter here, and this is an excerpt:

Greek Brothers and Sisters have worn costumes that appropriate cultures and reproduce stereotypes on race, gender, sexuality, immigrant or socioeconomic status. Outfits relating to tragedy, controversy, or acts of violence are also inappropriate. We need to set a precedent that people’s customs cannot and will not be our costumes. As you will agree, the values illustrated by such costumes do not align with the values of the Greek Community at Tufts. It is our mission to promote spaces that allow members of the Tufts community to have fun without feeling as though any part of their identity is being misrepresented or targeted. In order to accomplish this, we ask that you relay this message to your chapters. Please read this email to your chapter during your weekly meetings. When choosing a costume, be aware of the impact your costume might have on others, and be cognizant of any statements—including, but not limited to, cultural or violent messages—your outfit may make, intentional or not.

Tragedy, controversy, or acts of violence? No cowboys or Indians, no zombies or skeletons, no people with arrows through their heads? What are these people thinking?

The letter then adds a threat of reporting to the police, as per University policy. Note the last sentence, in which students are ENCOURAGED to report those wearing “inappropriate and offensive costumes.”

There are consequences for wearing an offensive costume. Mary Pat McMahon, the Dean of Student Affairs, described the consequences as follows: “The range of response for students whose actions make others in our community feel threatened or unsafe, or who direct conduct towards others that is offensive or discriminatory, includes OEO and/or TUPD investigation and then disciplinary sanctions from our office that could run a wide gamut depending on what is brought to our attention and the impact of these actions on others. Any complaints will result in full investigation by University officials and could result in serious disciplinary sanctions through Judicial Affairs.” We encourage all students that feel like they have encountered someone who is wearing an inappropriate and offensive costume to please file a report by filling out [this link].

Have a look at that link. It’s surely Big Brotherism in action! And while Tufts University disassociated itself from the letter, they then reassociated itself in a statement (my emphasis):

In a statement emailed Monday to The College Fix, campus spokesman Patrick Collins clarified that “Tufts University does not have a ‘Halloween costume policy.’”

“The letter was written by students, for students, to encourage a thoughtful and considerate celebration of Halloween within our diverse and inclusive community and to stress the importance of alcohol safety and sexual consent,” Collins said. “We commend the leaders of our Greek Life councils for proactively raising these important issues with their fellow participants in Greek Life and encouraging responsible behavior. As is the case at any time, students whose actions are discriminatory or threaten others can face a range of disciplinary sanctions. Depending on their seriousness, such actions, when called to our attention, can prompt investigations by the Office of the Dean of Student Affairs, the Office of Equal Opportunity or, in certain circumstances, the Tufts University Police Department.”

Stay tuned; Halloween isn’t here yet, so lots of students could face punishment.

Non-empirical evidence: technology > religion

by Grania

For your amusement only. God bless the Internet.

I didn’t get groped!

TSA PreCheck is the best thing ever. It must have taken me three minutes to get all the way through security, and this was at O’Hare. I didn’t have to take out my computer or liquids, remove my shoes, my belt, or my laptop from the bag.  And. . .NO GROPING. Let the plebeians be groped!

On another note, as I’ll be traveling, please limit the emails you’ll be sending to one every few days or so. The exception is Readers’ Wildlife Submissions, as I didn’t bring the ones at home with me.

And. . have a cat gif. Is this cultural appropriation? If so, by whom?


Paul Beatty wins Man Booker Prize, a first for an American writer

Although I haven’t read Paul Beatty’s novel The Sellout, I will now, for it’s just won the Man Booker Prize, Britain’s most prestigious literary award. I’ve found the Booker Prize a reliable source for good literature: that’s the way I originally came upon Paul Scott’s The Raj Quartet (its sequel, Staying On, won the Booker in 1977), a book that I keep recommending to people and which nobody ever reads (note that Christopher Hitchens also thought the book was marvelous). Other Booker winners I loved were Pat Barker’s The Ghost Road (1995), part of her Regeneration Triology, a mesmerizing account of soldiers and their psychiatric treatment in World War I (read all three books), and Yann Martel’s Life of Pi (2002, I haven’t seen the movie), which was a masterpiece of imaginative fiction despite its religious overtones. Finally, although Ian McEwan won for Amsterdam (1998), I still prefer his runner-up novel Atonement (2001), one of the finest books of the last several decades.

The New York Times describes Beatty’s award:

Paul Beatty’s novel “The Sellout,” a blistering satire about race in America, won the Man Booker Prize on Tuesday, marking the first time an American writer has won the award.

The five Booker judges, who were unanimous in their decision, cited the novel’s inventive comic approach to the thorny issues of racial identity and injustice.

With its outrageous premise and unabashed skewering of racial stereotypes, “The Sellout” is an audacious choice for the judges, who oversee one of the most prestigious awards in literature.

“The truth is rarely pretty, and this is a book that nails the reader to the cross with cheerful abandon,” Amanda Foreman, the head of the judging panel, said at a press briefing in London before the winner was announced. “It plunges into the heart of contemporary American society.”

And a precis of the plot:

The novel’s narrator is an African-American urban farmer and pot smoker who lives in a small town on the outskirts of Los Angeles. Brought up by a single father, a sociologist, the narrator grew up taking part in psychological studies about race. After his father is killed by the police during a traffic stop, the protagonist embarks on a controversial social experiment of his own, and ends up before the Supreme Court.

He becomes a slave owner to a willing volunteer, an elderly man named Hominy Jenkins who once played understudy to Buckwheat on “The Little Rascals,” and seeks to reinstate segregation in a local school.

In his acceptance speech, Mr. Beatty waded into the raging debate about cultural appropriation. “Anybody can write what they want,” he said. “Cultural appropriation goes every direction.’’

Yay for that last remark! Beatty was able to win because although the Booker used to be restricted only to authors from Britian, Ireland, and other Commonwealth countries, it’s now open to any novel written in English and published in Britain.

And do read The Raj Quartet! It is the greatest unappreciated English novel (or, rather, five novels) of the twentieth century.

Here are all the nominees; caption and photo from WSFA12.

The Man Booker prize short list writers pose for the media, with the books ,they are from the left-Paul Beatty, "The Sellout", Deborah Levy , "Hot Milk" Graeme Macrae Burnet, "His Bloody Project", Ottessa Moshfegh "Eileen", David Szalay "All That Man Is", and Madeleine Thien, "Do Not Say We Have Nothing", during a photocall for the Man Booker Prize for fiction in London, Monday, Oct. 24, 2016. This will be the third year the £50,000 (61,000 US$), prize has been open to any writer, writing originally in English and published in the UK, irrespective of nationality.(AP Photo/Alastair Grant)

The Man Booker prize short list writers pose for the media, with the books ,they are from the left-Paul Beatty, “The Sellout”, Deborah Levy , “Hot Milk” Graeme Macrae Burnet, “His Bloody Project”, Ottessa Moshfegh “Eileen”, David Szalay “All That Man Is”, and Madeleine Thien, “Do Not Say We Have Nothing”, during a photocall for the Man Booker Prize for fiction in London, Monday, Oct. 24, 2016. This will be the third year the £50,000 (61,000 US$), prize has been open to any writer, writing originally in English and published in the UK, irrespective of nationality.(AP Photo/Alastair Grant)

Jesus ‘n’ Mo ‘n’ Woo

Today’s Jesus and Mo strip came with this caption:

An interesting study from Helsinki is the basis of this strip.

That study, from researchers in Helsinki shows that believers tend to accept other forms of woo, like the consciousness of inanimate objects like rocks. An excerpt:

Researchers said their findings suggest people’s lack of understanding about the physical world means they apply their own, human characteristics to the whole universe, “resulting in belief in demons, gods, and other supernatural phenomena”.

This confusion between mental and physical qualities “has [also] been recognised mainly among ancient people and small children”, they added.

The scientists compared religious believers to people with autism, saying both struggle to distinguish between the mental and the physical, although autistic people are at the opposite end of the spectrum because they often see the world as entirely physical and struggle to understand the mental state of others.

Strong stuff! And of course the Pair of Prophets doesn’t like it:


Wednesday: Hili Dialogue

I am off today for Singapore: 4.5 hour flight to San Francisco, five-hour layover, and then a 17 hour flight to Singapore, arriving at 6:30 a.m.! Oy! But I have TSA Pre-Check which should prevent me being groped.

Most of the following post (save the Gus photo) was written by Grania, who will be your host during my absence in Asia. As I said, I’ll try to post as often as I can, for the food is abundant and delicious where I’m headed. I’ll hand you over to Grania now. . . .

Good morning!

Today is the anniversary of Gunfight at the OK Corral in Tombstone, Arizona back in 1881 when characters such as Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday walked into legend, albeit one that is not without controversy.

The next event was no less controversial; in 1984 Baby Fae Beauclair received a baboon heart transplant in an ultimately failed attempt to save her life. Paul Simon referenced the case in his song Boy in the Bubble.

It’s the birthday of Hillary Rodham Clinton born in Chicago this day in 1947. It is also international Intersex Awareness Day, a day aimed at increasing awareness about unnecessary surgical procedures, as well as lifting the taboo and secrecy surrounding those who are born intersex.

[JAC: Hili was out in the rain the other day and returned home complely sodden. Andrzej had to dry her off with a towel.]

Hili: It’s a dog’s life – now cats get wet out of doors.
A: You didn’t have to go to the forest.
Hili: I had to, I’m the conscious factor of natural selection.


In Polish:

Hili: Pieskie życie, koty na dworze mokną.
Ja: Nie musiałaś chodzić do lasu.
Hili: Musiałam, jestem świadomym czynnikiem doboru naturalnego.

And out in Winnipeg, where winter has temporarily withdrawn to allow a brief return of fall, Gus watches the leaves fall:


Eiynah decries the glorification of hijabs in NOW magazine

As far as I know, Toronto’s “counterculture” NOW Magazine has been pretty much like PuffHo: celebrating the hijab and other Islamic coverings as signs of both diversity and courage (e.g., here). But of course they are mostly signs of religious oppression—of a modesty imposed on many women against their will. Even in Western countries, I tend to doubt many of those who say they wear the hijab “by choice”.

Canadian writer, artist, and ex-Muslim Eiynah, also known on her website as “Nice Mangos,” has bucked the NOW tide with a new piece in that magazine called “Liberal Muslims face an uphill battle.” Besides detailing the threats received by ex-Muslims like her and Ali Rizvi, she pushes back, properly, against the liberal trend to glorify the garments of Muslim oppression. An excerpt:

During last year’s federal election and the controversy surrounding Stephen Harper’s veil ban, Tabatha Southey of the Globe and Mail tweeted“By fighting a veil ban, Ms. Ishaq schools us on how to be Canadian” with very little regard for what the face veil represents to many other Muslim women – like those who are forced into veils and are fighting to be free of them. Around the same time, The Huffington Post Canada declared, “someone made a ‘Niqabs of Canada’ Tumblr and it’s Great, comparing them to hockey masks, helmets, scarves and hoods shielding from the cold – all of which have other purposes than to shame women into modesty.

The Guardian touts headlines like “My hijab has nothing to do with oppression, it’s a feminist statement” with seemingly no appreciation for what kinds of strict modesty guidelines lay behind the wearing of hijabs. Yes, some women in the west have the privilege of choice, but many, many of the women wearing face veils or headscarves in the Muslim world do not have such a choice, especially when it is mandated by the state. Even in the west, there lies the threat of being shunned by your family if you reject religious dress code. Articles glorifying this are doing women in vulnerable positions no favours at all. Yes, we must oppose anti-Muslim bigotry, but we must keep in mind that this doesn’t mean glorification of modesty codes that target women.

My social media feeds are inundated with well-meaning liberal friends sharing article upon article praisingcelebratingglorifying religious garments like the hijab/niqab. But it’s a garment used exclusively in its original form to ensure women cover up lest they provoke the lust of men. Ironically, even Playboy has jumped on this trend. The Muslim girls who want to be ballerinas, athletes or models and aren’t hijabis simply aren’t given very much coverage. All this achieves, is that it synonymizes Muslim with “conservative Muslim,” which is incredibly unhelpful to our community in this political climate.

As someone who immigrated to Canada from Saudi Arabia, who was forced by morality police to cover her hair, threatened with a cane, I cannot stomach the fetishization and praise surrounding these practices that are primarily used to control and hold women back.

Here’s one of Eiynah’s cartoons, “Naughty Niqabis”—a recurring feature on her website and Twi**er feed:


Samantha Bee on Catholic hospitals

Several readers sent me this clip from Samantha Bee’s comedy show “Full Frontal”, concentrating on the expanding Catholic healthcare system in America, and the invidious restrictions that places on women’s healthcare. It’s both funny and scary; get a load of how the Catholic men (viz., “Friar Suck”) justify Catholic healthcare policy. I’m lukewarm on Bee, but here she’s right on, showing a mixture of comedy and political passion not seen since Jon Stewart left The Daily Show.