Andrew Sullivan's Blog

October 19, 2014

In a follow-up interview to his comments featured in our “The Trouble with Islam” thread, Reza Aslan elaborates on what the New Atheists get wrong about religion:

I think the principle fallacy of not just to the so-called New Atheists, but I think of a lot of critics of religion, is that they believe that people derive their values, their morals, from their religion. That, as every scholar of religion in the world will tell you, is false.

People don’t derive their values from their religion — they bring their values to their religion. Which is why religions like Judaism, Hinduism, Christianity, [and] Islam, are experienced in such profound, wide diversity. Two individuals can look at the exact same text and come away with radically different interpretations. Those interpretations have nothing to do with the text, which is, after all, just words on a page, and everything to do with the cultural, nationalistic, ethnic, political prejudices and preconceived notions that the individual brings to the text. That is the most basic, logical idea that you could possibly imagine, and yet for some reason, it seems to get lost in the incredibly simplistic rhetoric around religion and the lived experience of religion.

How he responds when especially problematic verses in sacred texts – such as those permitting the faithful to kill nonbelievers – are pointed to in debates about religion:

This is the thing — it’s not that you can interpret away problematic parts of a scripture. It’s that the scriptures are inundated with conflicting sentiments about almost every subject. In other words, the same Torah that tells Jews to love their neighbor also tells them to kill every single man, woman, and child who doesn’t worship Yahweh. The same Jesus who told his disciples to give away their cloaks to the needy also told them to sell their cloaks and buy swords. The same Quran that tells believers if you kill a single individual, it’s as though you’ve killed all of humanity, also tells them to slay every idolater wherever you find them.

So, how do you, as an individual, confront that text? It’s so basic, a child can understand: The way that you would give credence or emphasis to one verse as opposed to the other has everything to do with who you are. That’s why they have to sort of constantly go back to this notion of an almost comical lack of sophistication in the conversations that we are having about religion. And to me, there’s a shocking inability to understand what, as I say, a child would understand, which is that religions are neither peaceful nor violent, neither pluralistic nor misogynistic — people are peaceful, violent, pluralistic, or misogynistic, and you bring to your religion what you yourself already believe.

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Published on October 19, 2014 06:32

In an interview about her forthcoming book, Becoming Un-Orthodox: Stories of Ex-Hasidic Jews, Lynn Davidman offers a glimpse of what life is like in Hasidic communities:

They’re taught to be modest: Aside from dressing in an unrevealing way, this means not talking in a loud voice, not wearing gaudy colors, generally not calling attention to yourself. Men, when walking down the street, will look down so they don’t catch a woman’s eye. Before marriageable age, there is complete and utter separation of the sexes. Inside the Satmar community, there are Yiddish signs indicating which side of the street men walk on and which side of the street women walk on.

The entire day is filled with ritual.

When you wake up, you are not allowed to walk more than three steps from your bed before you encounter a big bowl of water that was placed on the floor the night before. There’s a cup with two handles; you pick it up and pour it over each hand three times. Then you say a prayer thanking God for returning you from sleep. Then you go to the bathroom. There’s a special blessing to say after you go to the bathroom — you thank God that all your organs are functioning. Then there are more prayers, especially for the men. The men are obligated to pray every morning by a certain time. If you go to breakfast, you’re supposed to say a blessing over each food. There’s an order in which you say the blessings. If you have a fruit salad, but you have granola too, which do you bless first? One idea is that if the fruit’s grown in Israel, you bless that one first. There’s a whole system.

Her summary of what typically prompts someone to leave:

They generally have had some childhood experience that doesn’t fit with the ideal Hasidic way. They’re taught that this is the ideal life — but if they’re subject to un-ideal conditions, they start to question what’s wrong. Sometimes there’s verbal or physical or sexual abuse. Perhaps they have two parents whose levels of religiosity differ. This is confusing for a kid, because [they’re taught that] there’s one right way. If their parents disagree, they start to wonder: Is there really one truth? Other people may have cousins or relatives who are secular. One woman said [of her cousins], “They go skiing, they have such a great time — and nobody’s punishing them.” People who leave are mostly young, up to around 25 years old. If you’re married and starting to have kids, it’s much harder to get out.

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Published on October 19, 2014 05:37

Emma Green highlights some surprising findings about how childhood influences churchgoing as an adult:

[B]irth order seems to matter: middle children are more likely than their older or younger siblings to lose their attachment to religion as they get older. Perhaps this is because of underlying personality differences. Compared with their brothers and sisters, these kids were rated more “rebellious” as well as less “agreeable” and “conscientious”—two traits the authors associated with religiosity. In another twist, although those with bachelor’s degrees have historically had lower levels of religious affiliation, a study published this year found that this isn’t true for people born after the 1950s. In fact, college grads born in the 1970s are more likely than nongrads of the same age to identify with a particular faith. Maybe there’s something about contemporary campus life that makes people more, not less, likely to gravitate toward traditional institutions—or maybe college grads have simply learned that religion is pretty good for you.

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Published on October 19, 2014 04:35

October 18, 2014

EJ Dickson profiles Nica Noelle, “a veteran porn director and performer turned ASMRtist”:

Nica has been interested in doing erotic ASMR [autonomous sensory meridian response] since she first stumbled on the community a few years ago. Her project, she tells me, is twofold: She wants to fuse the basic principles of ASMR with traditional POV porn, but she also wants to make the relationship between the viewer and performer more intimate; she wants to turn the viewer on, but she also wants them to feel nurtured, cared for, needed. In short, Nica is trying to capture a feeling that no other porn director has ever tried to replicate before: Love.

But, like some Dish readers, not everyone is thrilled with sexualizing ASMR:

[I]f the ASMR party line is that it’s not intended to be sexual, Nica’s channel, which features her massaging her breasts and speaking in low, seductive tones, doesn’t necessarily support that view point. …

Nica doesn’t have any patience with the argument that her erotic ASMR work makes mainstream ASMR-tists “look bad,” or invites male viewers to give them unwanted sexual attention. “It’s very simple: If you don’t want to add a sexual component to your artistic expression, then don’t,” she says. But she admits she was shocked by the backlash she received for her erotic ASMR channel, though she says she anticipated it to a certain extent.

“Many ASMRtists are already on the defensive about being viewed as doing something dirty or creepy, when actually they feel ASMR is a pure, almost childlike artistic expression; the antithesis of porn,” she told me via email. “I can see why someone who makes videos of themselves clipping coupons or shining shoes doesn’t want to be viewed as a pornographer.” …

As she talks about her new HotMovies project, which will likely feature “erotic ASMR” as a new fetish category, it seems that Nica’s general artistic project has switched focus somewhat: Instead of trying to convince the ASMR community at large that sexualizing brain tingles isn’t dirty or bad, she wants to convince porn viewers that porn isn’t necessarily dirty or bad, that it can be loving and intimate and nurturing and highly erotic, all at the same time. Put another way, she’s transitioned from trying to apply porn principles to ASMR, to applying ASMR principles to porn.

Previous Dish on ASMR here.

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Published on October 18, 2014 17:56

Michelle Cottle examines how technology is making it easier to cheat – and easier to get caught:

In an earlier era, a suspicious husband like Jay might have rifled through Ann’s pockets or hired a private investigator. But having stumbled upon Find My iPhone’s utility as a surveillance tool, Jay wondered what other apps might help him keep tabs on his wife. He didn’t have to look far. Spouses now have easy access to an array of sophisticated spy software that would give Edward Snowden night sweats: programs that record every keystroke; that compile detailed logs of our calls, texts, and video chats; that track a phone’s location in real time; that recover deleted messages from all manner of devices (without having to touch said devices); that turn phones into wiretapping equipment; and on and on.

One might assume that the proliferation of such spyware would have a chilling effect on extramarital activities. Aspiring cheaters, however, need not despair:

software developers are also rolling out ever stealthier technology to help people conceal their affairs. Married folk who enjoy a little side action can choose from such specialized tools as Vaulty Stocks, which hides photos and videos inside a virtual vault within one’s phone that’s disguised to look like a stock-market app, and Nosy Trap, which displays a fake iPhone home screen and takes a picture of anyone who tries to snoop on the phone. CATE (the Call and Text Eraser) hides texts and calls from certain contacts and boasts tricky features such as the ability to “quick clean” incriminating evidence by shaking your smartphone. CoverMe does much of the above, plus offers “military-grade encrypted phone calls.” And in the event of an emergency, there’s the nuclear option: apps that let users remotely wipe a phone completely clean, removing all traces of infidelity.

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Published on October 18, 2014 17:23


Photographer Visarute Angkatavanich captures Siamese fighting fish:

His intimate, crystal-clear photos of Siamese fighting fish (betta) make it seem as though they are suspended in air instead of water. Angkatavanich recently told Popular Photographythat he only started photographing the fish after encountering them for the first time three years ago at a fish show and has since become obsessed with the different species which vary greatly in size, shape, and color patterns.

Angkatavanich spoke about his inspiration in an interview last year:

“When I was young, my father gave me some goldfish, guppy and Siamese fighting fish. A few years ago I went to pet market and saw so many bettafish mutants from those I saw when I was young. Those are my inspiration for this photo set.”

The brilliant coloration, and long flowing fins of Siamese fighting fish make it one of the most well-known aquarium fish. They have been line bred for over 120 years in Thailand and Cambodia to achieve today’s stunning colours and long finage. A long history of captive breeding has changed the shape of the species and today virtually all species for sale are captive-bred.

See more of his work here and here.

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Published on October 18, 2014 16:59

David Chang explains why he prefers a frosty Bud Light to artisanal microbrews:

I remember watching my grandfather mow the lawn on a ninety-degree day in Virginia, and as soon as he finished, he’d ask me to fetch him a can of ice-cold beer. He’d tell me, “One day, you’ll understand what it’s like to drink a really cold beer when you’ve earned it.” I was like, “What the fuck does that mean?” In high school, we drank cheap beer because we could afford it—we’d buy it by the case. But when I became a cook, I learned what that beer meant to my grandpa. Working alongside the Hispanic guys who really work in a restaurant kitchen, I learned that the world south of Texas makes amazing bad beer: Imperial from Costa Rica, Presidente from the Dominican Republic, Tecate from Mexico—all excellent bad beers.

For all the debatability of my rant here, let me make one ironclad argument for shitty beer: It pairs really well with food. All food. Think about how well champagne pairs with almost anything. Champagne is not a flavor bomb! It’s bubbly and has a little hint of acid and tannin and is cool and crisp and refreshing. Cheap beer is, no joke, the champagne of beers. And cheap beer and spicy food go together like nothing else. Think about Natty Boh and Old Bay-smothered crabs. Or Asian lagers like Orion and Singha and Tiger, which are all perfect ways to wash down your mapo tofu.

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Published on October 18, 2014 15:33


Dish poetry editor Alice Quinn writes:

James Laughlin, the founder and publisher of New Directions, shepherded a list, from 1936 until his death in 1997, which Peter Glassgold describes in his introduction to The Collected Poems of James Laughlin, 1935-1997 as one that “steadily expanded to include an astonishing pantheon of contemporary authors, primarily of the Modernist avant-garde, and quite literally changed what educated Americans read and the way American writers wrote and the kinds of poetry and fiction that were taught in our schools.” Today, ND is just as vital a force in contemporary literary culture, and the backlist is, of course, astounding.

Laughlin considered himself primarily a love poet and was encouraged by a number of his treasured authors—among them William Carlos Williams, Thomas Merton, Kenneth Rexroth, and Guy Davenport, who has praised his poems as “witty, elegiac, sexy, satiric, naughty, poignant, wise.” But Ezra Pound whose “Ezuversity” in Rapallo, Italy proved foundationally crucial to Laughlin’s literary education “ruled them hopeless,” he recalled. When prodded as to what path he should take, Pound replied, “ Go back to Haavud to finish up your studies. If you’re a good boy, your parents will give you some money and you can bring out books.” And so they did, launching one of the great publishing houses of the century.

Glassgold tells us that more than three-quarters of the 1,250-odd poems in the new volume date from Laughlin’s last fifteen years. When I was at The New Yorker, we published a number of his poems, which I found so captivating and dear. I loved the one below, which we wanted to publish but couldn’t because I discovered it had already appeared in a book. When I called to give J (as he was called) the sad news, he replied, mischievously, “Poor Gramps—ejected on a technicality!”

“Grandfather” by James Laughlin:

Sits on a chair at the

Kitchen table shelling

Peas into a bowl. He

Looks contented, even

Happy, smiling as he

Works. If you ask him

A question he probably

Won’t answer. He has

No idea what my name is,

Or even, I guess, that

I’m his grandson. He’s

93 but he has to be kept

Busy or he’ll start to

Root around in closets

All over the house. What

Does he think is lost?

No matter, he has been

Asked to shell peas.

He’s happy doing it. And

We’ll have peas for lunch.

(From The Collected Poems of James Laughlin, 1935-1997, edited with an introduction and notes by Peter Glassgold © 1995 by James Laughlin. Used by permission of New Directions Publishing Corporation. Photo by Nicki Dugan Pogue)

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Published on October 18, 2014 14:49


Jackson, Wyoming, 7.30 am

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Published on October 18, 2014 14:14

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