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Why eggs and bunnies aren’t ‘pagan symbols’ (long, pedantic, dull, sorry)

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Today’s topic is something that’s haunted the Eostre debate for years, dragging in such luminaries as Eddie Izzard and Bill Hicks, and it is this: aren’t eggs and bunnies obviously pagan symbols of fertility, though?

In my experience, you can cite sources and quote Bede and quote Grimm and quote Hutton and point out the limits of what’s known until you are blue in the face and still you will hear the retort ‘yeah well that’s all very interesting, Cav, but at the end of the day, eggs and bunnies are obviously pagan fertility symbols, aren’t they? I mean it just makes sense. Fertility, innit?’

Okay, let’s break it down. First, let’s look at the evidence.

Do we have any historical evidence that eggs or bunnies were used as symbols of Easter fertility by European pagans?


There is precisely jack shit direct evidence that either the Anglo-Saxons who gave us the word ‘Easter’ or any other European pagans used eggs or bunnies as symbols of fertility, or indeed as symbols of anything.

There is a widespread assumption that they did so, but it is not based on evidence.

So where has the extremely widespread belief that eggs and bunnies were pre-existing pagan symbols come from?

In general terms, it has come from people following these steps in their thought:

1. It’s an long-established tradition

2. It’s not obviously Christian

3. Therefore it must have been pagan

4. Therefore the Christians must have stolen it.

In specific terms, the speculative association of the Osterhase or Easter Hare with the pagan goddess Eostre begins with the folklorist Adolf Holzmann in his Deutsche Mythologie (1874) while the speculative association of Easter eggs with pre-Christian pagan rites begins with the folklorist and linguist Jakob Grimm in his Deutsche Mythologie (1835). Yes, they are two different books with the same title.

So how long-established are the egg and bunny traditions of Easter?

We can’t say for sure. The Easter Hare is first mentioned in 1682. Easter eggs, in the sense of eggs decorated and/or eaten as part of a Christian celebration of Easter, are first mentioned in 1610. Textual sources from the 17th Century trace their origin to the early Christians of Mesopotamia.

Are there Christian explanations for the egg and bunny traditions that people have overlooked?

Yes. The Osterhase or Easter Hare was a bit of a Santa figure in that he rewarded children for being good little Christians. It’s also worth noting that hares were used to symbolise chastity rather than fecundity.

So far as the egg goes, as well as the Mesopotamian custom of dyeing eggs to represent the blood of Christ, we have to consider the role of eggs as a foodstuff that was banned during Lent: ‘In the medieval era eggs were considered to be dairy products (they were derived from animals without causing harm or the spilling of blood) so they were banned for Lent. This gave them a tinge of luxury when the 40 days of fasting was over… people were eager to eat them again.’ (Historian Greg Jenner.)

But weren’t pagans all about Symbolism?

Well, no.

Here’s what actually went down. Back in Victorian times and for a good while thereafter, a bunch of learned gentlemen were very eager to show off how learned they were. They got it into their heads that the ancient world, including that of their own European forebears, was just awash with Symbols. Tomb walls, monuments, artefacts, ritual costumes… so many juicy, enigmatic Symbols there for the interpreting. And being both learned and male, they decided that it was they who were going to do the interpreting.

There’s a lot to say about colonial attitudes here, in which the pompous white western academics have an Educated Overview which the mere common folk who actually perform the traditions do not. But that can wait.

To the Victorian folklorists, the appeal of 'symbols’ was that you could take the remnants of former civilisations and read whatever narrative you liked into them. This went double when it came to treating folk customs as the remnants of former ritual practices. Nobody was going to tell you you were wrong, after all; the ancients weren’t around to correct you and the commoners weren’t educated like you were. Some of your fellow academics might have variant theories, but that just made for a good back-and-forth in the journals and a respectable debate or two at the club.

So the belief that eggs and bunnies are 'pagan fertility symbols’ is modern.


What people are actually saying when they claim 'eggs and rabbits were obvious pagan fertility symbols’ is 'eggs and rabbits remind us of reproduction, and those pagans were all about Fertility weren’t they, so they must have been fertility symbols’.

Remember, if you’re going to claim that a naturally occurring phenomenon is a 'symbol’, you have to show evidence of its USE as a symbol in a particular context, as verified by participants in the culture in question. In itself, an egg is just an egg. So, 'bats are used in Chinese art to symbolise good luck’ is a coherent & potentially verifiable statement. 'Eggs are pagan symbols of fertility’ isn’t.

As mentioned above, the problem we so often face is that learned men have, for years, decided that they are more equipped to decipher the 'symbolism’ of various folk traditions than are the people who actually practice those traditions. We are thus confronted with a horrendous backlog of prescriptive analyses of alleged 'symbolism’ which, on being investigated, inevitably prove to be the pet theories of some folklorist or other of the last century. Ron Hutton is particularly brilliant in his acid condemnation of these people:

’…it was assumed that the people who actually held the beliefs and practiced the customs would long have forgotten their original, 'real’ significance, which could only be reconstructed by scholars. The latter therefore paid very little attention to the social context in which the ideas and actions concerned had actually been carried on during their recent history, when they were best recorded. Many collectors and commentators managed to combine a powerful affection for the countryside and rural life with a crushing condescension towards the ordinary people who carried on that life.’

Eggs and Bunnies in modern media
When people refer to 'the eggs and bunnies’ of Easter, they don’t generally specify which artistic or other cultural context they’re referring to in which said eggs and bunnies appear.

So what is that modern context? Well, long before chocolate Easter egg packaging and cartoons were a thing, greeting cards played a big part in popularising imagery. Easter postcards are believed to have originated in 1898 or thereabouts and employed the familiar motifs of yellow chicks, eggs and anthropomorphised rabbits. (They also featured cherubic children, lambs, little gnomes, fairies climbing out of eggshells, and a host of other peculiar images such as a child driving an egg-shaped chariot.)

So we have a rich visual heritage of modern Easter imagery that involves eggs and bunnies. This explains why we associate those images with Easter. We’ve been drowning in this iconography since childhood.

It’s worth noting here that the greetings card industry thrives on cuteness. Fluffy chicks are cute. Fuzzy bunnies are cute. Foxes were not seen as cute. This may be part of the reason why the other egg-bringers of Easter, such as the Osterfuchs or Easter Fox, are all but unknown now. The Easter Fox, the Easter Stork and the Easter Cuckoo are all recorded egg-bringers in various parts of Germany, but the bunny has long since eclipsed them all. I believe we can blame the greetings card industry for the bunny’s usurpation of the Easter Hare, too: it was the Osterhase, the Easter Hare, that was the egg-bringer in the earliest recorded mention of an Easter Egg-bringing animal (in De Ovis Paschalibus). Rabbits are cuddly, whereas hares are staring-eyed and a bit mad.

So what did eggs and bunnies symbolise to the people who printed and sold the Easter greetings cards? I think we can safely conclude that they symbolised market appeal, while selectively tapping into familiar pre-existent traditions.

Turning to the actual tradition of a hare bringing eggs, it’s difficult to see how the hare can 'symbolise’ anything, because it’s not being employed in a context in which a symbolic subtext could meaningfully apply. In England, we have a legend that the Devil spits (or pisses, depending on who you ask) on the blackberries in the hedgerows on October the somethingth, so we shouldn’t eat them after this date. The practical purpose of this tongue-in-cheek legend is to prevent us (and our kids) from eating blackberries after a frost. The Devil doesn’t 'symbolise’ anything.

The functional purpose of the Easter Hare is readily apparent: he allows parents to prepare a tasty, colourful treat for children while pretending that they were not responsible. In this respect he is exactly like the Tooth Fairy or Father Christmas. Nobody wastes their breath arguing what the Tooth Fairy may 'symbolise’. We just understand.

Let’s remember, too, that Adolf Holzmann considered the Easter Hare tradition 'unintelligible’. The best he could do was to speculate that the hare might have been the 'sacred animal’ of his speculative Goddess. So when the German folklorist who first tied the bunny to the Goddess has nothing more solid to say than that, maybe the rest of us should be hesitant about slapping it with the 'pagan fertility symbol’ label.

Easter Imagery Before The Greetings Card Era

We cannot say whether rabbits, eggs or hares were used to symbolise anything in pre-Christian Anglo-Saxon sacred art, because there aren’t any known examples of such a use, symbolic or otherwise (to the best of my knowledge & research). It is therefore seriously pushing it to claim any of these things were 'pagan symbols’. The claim is made not by reference to Anglo-Saxon religion itself, nor to documentary or archaeological evidence thereof, but by reference to activities in an entirely Christian context that were first documented many centuries after Christianization and are imaginatively supposed to be dim and distant echoes of a forgotten pagan past. Such an interpretation, long after the fact, is exactly the kind of learned speculation-from-without that Hutton condemns above.

There is a tradition of rabbits and hares being used in a symbolic manner in Christian art. Wikipedia is pretty good on the subject. Strikingly, we find that rabbits and hares were employed as symbols of virginity as well as symbols of fertility or lust. This should act as a warning against any simplistic, generically 'pagan’ interpretation of perpetuated images.

The Problem With Eggs

It is often pointed out that the decorated eggs from the Zoroastrian New Year celebration of Nowruz 'represent fertility’; indeed, Nowruz is inevitably referred to in discussions of Easter’s alleged pagan roots, as if one non-Christian spring festival somehow set the template for all others to follow, regardless of cultural, temporal or geographic distance. The symbolism does not appear to be universal; other descriptions of Nowruz eggs hold them to represent creativity and productivity. Decorated eggs are only one optional element of a Haft-Seen and do not form one of the seven S-items.

In Easter greetings card art eggs are frequently depicted as freshly hatched, with unrealistically fluffy chicks peeping out. This calls our attention to a singular problem with the notion that eggs represent 'fertility’. It is impossible to tell by looking whether a given egg is fertile or not. In fact, the eggs that are typically eaten are NOT fertile, for a very good reason. Unless you are deliberately trying to breed chickens, you don’t let the cockerel fertilise the hens’ eggs. Fertile eggs run the risk of containing developing chicken embryos, which (at least in western Europe) isn’t something you want to run into. (There are issues about whether fertile eggs are kosher, recalling the inarguable and evident influence of Passover upon the Christian Easter.) So unless you show an egg in the act of hatching or shortly after, there’s no way to demonstrate that what you’re showing is a fertile egg.

The typical symbolism accorded to Easter eggs is that they do not celebrate 'fertility’ but rather new life, a subtly different concept. 'Fertility’ has (entirely non-coincidental) steamy associations, smacking as it does of Summerisle-esque pagans frolicking naked under the full moon, whereas 'new life’ puts one in mind of lambs and fluffy yellow chicks. If we look at what our modern heritage of Easter iconography really depicts, it’s not fertility, which is merely the passive potential to produce life. It’s the actuality of new life. Little lambs, hatching chicks: spring’s busting out all over.

Lambs and chicks, by the way, provide a very useful thought experiment. Why is it that people always mention 'eggs and bunnies’ as 'pagan fertility symbols’ but never mention the other, equally common symbols of Easter, namely fluffy yellow chicks and white lambs? The obvious answer is that fluffy yellow chicks and white lambs do not make us think of pagan fertility rites. They’re too innocuous, too cute. They don’t put us in mind of sex. So to harp on about 'eggs and bunnies’ and ignore the other, incompatible imagery is disingenuous, focusing selectively on only those Easter images that pander to our preconceptions of pagans.

Next time you hear the 'eggs and bunnies’ argument trotted out, try saying 'So fluffy chicks and white lambs make you think of sex, do they?’ while stroking your chin thoughtfully. You may see some surprising results.

So What Is A 'Pagan Symbol’ Anyway?
Glad you asked. 'Pagan’ is bloody useless as a cultural signifier, because it’s exclusive, not descriptive. It describes what something is NOT, not what it was. It’s like claiming something was a 'barbaric symbol’ or a 'gentile symbol’.

Which specific pre-Christian faith do we mean when we say 'pagan’? Norse? Celtic? Saxon? Greek? And which time period are we talking about? Neolithic? Bronze age? Early mediaeval?

The moment we begin to speak of 'pagan symbols’ we inevitably invoke the Pagan Sausage Machine Fallacy, i.e. the delusional belief that there was such a thing as a common 'pagan’ identity in which the various pre-Christian faiths shared, and that there are fundamental factors common to them all. 'Pagan symbolism’ means thinking of 'pagan’ as a mindset; a naive, scary but oddly appealing, fertility-obsessed, nature-worshipping, openly and frankly sexual way of seeing the world. If this seems familiar, it’s because the Victorians created it (and dreaded it) while the neopagan movement embraced it and tried to identify with it. It may be compelling, particularly when it’s used as a stick to beat Christianity with, but it’s not real. It’s nothing but the exaggerated, idealised contrary to urbanised humanity; what we needed our ancestors to represent back then, rather than who they actually were.

Yeah But Fertility Though
The same woolly-minded thinking that tends to cludge all diverse pre-Christian beliefs into 'paganism’ also tends to posit 'fertility’ as one of the pagans’ prime concerns. This is because such an image was the very antithesis of the modern post-industrial society that produced Frazer et al. To the Victorian and post-Victorian folklorists, the bestial primitivism of the 'pagans’ produced a sort of horrified fascination. They spoke of 'fertility rites’ as a sanitised way of discussing the phallicism and ritualised sexual behaviour that they believed was going on.

In Margaret Murray’s case, the belief in an underground pagan 'fertility cult’ ran so deep that she attempted to connect it with historical accounts of witchcraft. This in turn led to Gardner’s creation of Wicca, which was nothing more than an attempt to make Murray’s theory into reality. Murray’s work has of course been long debunked, but the intrusion of flawed theory into real-world practice helps to perpetuate the misconceptions; self-indentified pagans are now asserting that 'their’ traditions really do reflect an ancient preoccupation with fertility, now construed as healthy and natural, in the face of censorious Christian prudery.

'Fertility’ is such a darkly evocative term, isn’t it? This is especially true when it is used in the context of pagan religion. Whose fertility is being implied? The fertility of the land? Of the beasts? Or of the people? Or, most likely, some generic boundary-crossing 'fertility’ in which land, beasts and people are blent together in a piquant, sweaty, atavistic fug.

To speak of 'pagan fertility symbols’, then, is to perpetuate an ignorant and condescending view of the past that said a lot more about the respectable scholars who created it than it does about the people we seek to understand.

It’s illuminating to look at the frequency with which the term 'fertility symbol’ occurs in published works over the last couple of centuries. As you can see, a phrase (and concept) we take completely for granted has only come to prominence very recently.

The pagan Anglo-Saxon culture that gave us the word 'Easter’ (from Eosturmanoth, as Bede attests) has one known 'fertility symbol’ of which I am personally aware, and that is a cake. Cakes were placed into ploughed, barren fields in order to restore fertility to them; see the Acerbot, a (barely) Christianised ritual.

What you will not find are eggs and rabbits.

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24 days ago
Seattle, WA
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By sciatrix in "We're Going to Build a Wall (No Guarantee It Will Hold)" on MeFi

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I am on my way to the state Capitol to deliver a hastily written printed testimony. Couldn't get away from work early enough to read it, but I can make enough time to do that much today. And this one I don't have to spit out in under 60 seconds either.

To whom it may concern:

Hello. My name is [sciatrix], and I'm a biologist right here at UT Austin. I am writing to you to express my strong opposition to SB 6. I believe this bill is unscientific, that it is ineffective at the stated goal of making bathrooms safe for women, and that it is unenforceable without severely violating the privacy of Texans. More importantly, I believe this bill is just plain evil and immoral because it encourages harassment of people who have done absolutely nothing wrong beyond, I suppose, having the temerity to exist in public. Texas is better than this.

I said I was a biologist, and in fact I have made a special study of the development of sex and differences between sexes, not only in humans but in a number of different species. As it turns out, it is not a simple thing to declare a line in the sand of "biologically female" vs "biologically male." We biologists have finally had to resort to defining femaleness or maleness in animals by the size of gametes--egg or sperm cells--that each class of animal produces, because every other measure we could come up with was violated by some species' natural way of dividing sexes. Even within a species, distinctions between male and female are never as clear-cut as the law often assumes.

For example, did you know that every single human embryo develops with the exact same genital structures to start with? It's true. Over developmental time, the basic building blocks of anatomy become organized towards a pattern we associate with male or a pattern we associate with female, but sometimes things get a bit confused along the way and infants are born with anatomy that isn't so clear cut. Sometimes when the sex of a baby is being determined, the delivering obstetrician has to go "well, uh, if this genital is longer than an inch I guess it's a penis, so this kid's a boy.... and if it's shorter than an inch guess it must be a clitoris and this is a girl." Sometimes that guess doesn't match so well with how the kid acts and feels later on, but from genitals there isn't always a clear answer for determining if a child will grow up to be a girl or a boy. And in the interim--well, where should the child pee? What happens if you guess wrong?

(There was a famous case, honored legislators, where a baby's penis was accidentally removed through a botched circumcision shortly after birth, and the boy was raised as a girl. He decided, when he hit puberty, that he was really a young man and went on to live a rather happier life as a man. Was that the wrong decision for him to make? Where should he have gone to use the toilet? If he had chosen to go along with the sex that doctors decided he should be raised with when he was born, where should he have used the toilet?)

When I tell these stories, I often hear from exasparated folks that we should use the genotypical sex then--XY for all men, and XX for all women. My initial response to this is usually that we don't actually know the karyotypes--that is, the pattern of sex chromosomes--for any given person just by looking. In fact, I have been karyotyped, and I know for a fact I'm XX; and I know for another fact that when the topic comes up in conversation, I am always the only person in the room who knows my chromosomal status for a fact.

See, it's not uncommon for people to exist who have sex chromosome statuses like X (only one copy!) or XXX or XYY or XXY. Where should they go to pee? And, honorable legislators, lest you think that well, those cases are just unusual edge cases... well, first, those unusual edge cases are people too, and they have to pee sometimes same as anyone else. And secondly, sometimes a baby is born looking perfectly female with an XY karyotype. There's a condition called Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome, you see, and it means that even if the gene that says "become male" is present on that Y chromosome, the tissues of the developing baby don't notice it talking to them and develop along the default path instead. (The default path, of course, is female in mammals.) Those little girls usually grow up without noticing anything is different about them and don't even find out that they're XY and not XX until they go to the gynecologist because they aren't getting their periods. Like any little girls, though, they have to pee sometimes. Where should they go?

Now, I am not only a biologist; I'm also a woman. I have short hair for a woman, but I'm otherwise fairly run of the mill. I mean, I naturally produce high levels of testosterone, as high as some young men's last I was checked, when you pull my blood for titers. But that's true for my mother and my aunts too. Turns out that you can't really divide women by hormones either, especially when the condition that puts high androgen levels into my system is thought to affect something like 20% of all women. Mostly it just makes my bleeding cycles a bit irregular, but it doesn't really hurt my self-concept as a woman.

(Oh, and that karyotype I mentioned having had done? Came back XX. I'm not trans. But I am a common and natural point on the spectrum of all women, and it turns out that when you start talking to us, these clear cut sex differences start to get... complicated. About the only thing I do find to be true of all the women I meet is that sometimes we have to pee when we're out and about.)

I said I thought this law was unenforceable, and I say it because finding out what my status is and finding out whether you define me as female enough, honorable legislators, requires me to disclose quite a few details about what's in my pants and my personal (and private!) medical history. I find the concept of having to tell some gatekeeper all of this every time I go to pee to be frankly horrifying--to say nothing of the cost of the salaries of hypothetical bathroom police intended to be used to enforce this law. It seems like a bit of a waste of taxpayer money, to tell you the truth.

What I do think this law will do is embolden people who want to harass their neighbors. I mentioned I had short hair, as far as women go, and I've been harassed for that before. Because folks weren't sure on first glance what my gender was and that upset them, they felt entitled to scream slurs at me while I was out walking my dog wearing a heavy sweater when I was just seventeen. My wife has been harassed in bathrooms before because another lady there felt she wasn't entitled to pee, even though she was using the bathroom your law would entitle her to use. Many of my friends, both transgender and cisgender, have encountered some form of public harassment based on their gender presentation not being what some random person on the street would like.

Honorable legislators, I'm afraid of this bill. I'm afraid someone will hit me in a bathroom because they don't like the way I cut my hair. I'm afraid my wife will get hurt by some jerk while she walks our dog because someone thinks she's not dressed like a woman should dress. I'm scared my friends will get beaten or worse, and I am terrified for my students here at UT Austin who are just beginning to figure out how they want to present themselves in public and trying to find out a safe environment. I'm especially afraid that anyone who doesn't like the way I look will try to publicly make me disclose all these details of my private life and my genital configuration as a way of making me uncomfortable and unwelcome, and I think this law will give them a perfect tool with which to do it.

That's why I think this bill is evil, honorable legislators. And that's really why I think you should vote it down. It's not as simple as the folks who put it together made it seem to be, and the costs to many of us Texans are too damn high. Please vote it down.
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52 days ago
Seattle, WA
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We understand the tantrums already, can we stop reinforcing them now?

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Ann O’Connell is sad. She voted for Trump, and now people are judging her.

I love Meryl Streep, but you know, she robbed me of that wonderful feeling when I go to the movies to be entertained, she said. I told my husband, I said, ‘Ed, we have to be a little more flexible, or we’re going to run out of movies!’

I know your pain, Mrs. O’Connell. I can no longer enjoy Rob Schneider movies, myself. But look on the bright side: we can still hate Susan Sarandon together!

We also have the tiresome Jonathan Haidt, professional apologist for conservatives, who is very concerned about how we “react” to the actions of right-wing craptastic nincompoops.

We are in a trust spiral, said Jonathan Haidt, a social psychologist at New York University. My fear is that we have reached escape velocity where the actions of each side can produce such strong reactions on the other that things will continue to escalate.

The whole article has this tone, that gosh, it’s awful how people are horrified at what the current administration is doing, and we should all just stop being upset and be nice to the Mrs. O’Connell’s of America. Conservatives are wrecking the educational system, they plan to demolish the EPA, they’ve made a goddamn racist the Attorney General, but those rude liberals are making people uncomfortable at Meryl Streep movies. The New York Times, and lots of media outlets, love these stupid little stories that let them be all charitable towards cranky old racist people who elected a cranky old incompetent racist, while at the same time chastising those horrible liberals and practicing a little veiled extortion. You better tell Mrs. O’Connell how sweet she is, or else!

Protests and righteous indignation on social media and in Hollywood may seem to liberals to be about policy and persuasion. But moderate conservatives say they are having the opposite effect, chipping away at their middle ground and pushing them closer to Mr. Trump.

Oh, fuck that noise. If ‘moderate’ conservatives think they have to vote for a bumbling buffoon who is taking a wrecking ball to our country because a hippie called them a mean name, then they weren’t so moderate to begin with, and they are making bad decisions on invalid grounds. I will not have sympathy for that, and it doesn’t matter how sternly Jonathan Haidt wags his finger at me.

These pieces are annoyingly common: we need to understand these awful people. We need to empathize with them, or they’ll keep doing the same stupid things. Unfortunately for these myths, the strategy doesn’t work. The people in the NYT story are unrepentant, would do it again, and all they’ve got is so-called moderates threatening to do it some more if they don’t get their way! I don’t believe it. This is what the regressives always do: “give me a cookie and maybe I’ll stop doing this.” Then, a minute later, “Ha ha, suckers!”

As for understanding, here’s what these stories always miss: yes, we already understand these people. We understand them all too well. Why are you whining at us? We’re not interested in trying to understand them even more, but in getting them to stop wrecking everything. That’s all.

Here’s a case in point: a very long, very thorough explainer about 4chan, lulz, Pepe the frog, anonymous, gamergate, and the rise of Trump, etc., etc., etc. We know it all already. There’s this subculture of young adults who are resentful of their circumstances (I can even sympathize with some of that resentment — they can have valid reasons for their unhappiness with those circumstances). Some may be single and living in their parent’s basement, for instance, and I know it’s tough getting a job, getting a job with prospects for advancement, finding a partner, finding a partner who actually respects you as a person, and so forth — but that does not justify erupting into ranting anti-feminism, just as the unemployment rate does not explain lashing out and electing a billionaire (reputedly) who isn’t going to do a thing to help those circumstances…but might cause others to suffer, too. We’re told over and over again about how miserable these shitlords are, and I understand, but I’m done with understanding. I want to know what to do next.

So that extremely thorough article ends with this:

However, as we have seen, the right’s anti-feminist message is one that only provides a momentary sense of relief (“you are acting powerful by retreating into video games and the internet!”) but like scratching a mosquito bite, it ultimately causes more dissatisfaction. That is to say, they only solution they can offer is, “keep retreating!” Likewise, Trump and the mocking cruel anguish he represents is not a genuine solution to the electorate’s powerlessness, but rather, simply the one closest at hand.

An adult does not freeze in mute horror when a child throws a tantrum. Nor do we generally regard such emotional outbursts as meaningless. Likewise, the left should not be paralyzed with horror by the deplorables, but rather view them of as a symptom of a larger problem, one which only the left can truly solve.

Fine. They’re spoiled children. My wife and I are familiar with kids: we raised three. And yes, when they were very young, they would occasionally have tantrums, and we would patiently (or impatiently) reprove them, and remove them from the circumstances that triggered the problem, and we gave them time and opportunity to learn and grow up, and they got better, much better, and became responsible, thoughtful, intelligent adults. Parents are familiar with these behaviors, and responsible parents can deal, and lead children to more mature responses.

The 4channers are in their 20s and 30s. Mr Medford, the guy who complains about being ‘pushed’ to vote for Trump, is a 46-year-old business owner. Mrs McConnell is 72. Or look at PewDiePie, the 27-year-old who gets paid $15 million a year to shriek on YouTube for the gratification of alt-right wanna-bes. What are we supposed to do? Give them a time-out? Tell them no, they don’t get to buy that cheap plastic toy at the supermarket check-out stand? Be patient and wait for them to grow out of this phase?

The answer so far seems to be that we’re supposed to reassure them that the mean liberals will be clucked at if we call them out, they’ll get a fawning interview with Bill Maher, and the NYT will run a reassuring feature on their sad plight. Even after they put a blundering, bush-league, racist, sexist in the most powerful position in the country.

Yeah, there’s a larger problem. The responsible Left is not going to solve it by continuing to coddle and reward stupidity, even if it is perpetrated by privileged 72 year olds having a tantrum and demanding special treatment.

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67 days ago
Seattle, WA
67 days ago
Overland Park, KS
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2 public comments
67 days ago
“If ‘moderate’ conservatives think they have to vote for a bumbling buffoon who is taking a wrecking ball to our country because a hippie called them a mean name, then they weren’t so moderate to begin with, and they are making bad decisions on invalid grounds. I will not have sympathy for that, and it doesn’t matter how sternly Jonathan Haidt wags his finger at me.”
Washington, DC
69 days ago
«If ‘moderate’ conservatives think they have to vote for a bumbling buffoon who is taking a wrecking ball to our country because a hippie called them a mean name, then they weren’t so moderate to begin with, and they are making bad decisions on invalid grounds.»
Louisville, Kentucky

Butcher: which part of the leg do you want? Me: All of it, in five pieces please

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This ABC News chart seemed to have taken over the top of my Twitter feed so I better comment on it.


Someone at ABC News tried really hard to dress up the numbers. The viz is obviously rigged - Obama at 79% should be double the length of Trump's 40% but not even close!

In the Numbersense book (Chapter 1), I played the role of the Devious Admissions Officer who wants to game the college rankings. Let me play the role of the young-gun dataviz analyst, who has submitted the following chart to the highers-up:


I just found out the boss blew the fuse after seeing my chart. The co-workers wore dirty looks, saying without saying "you broke it, you fix it!"

How do I clean up this mess?

Let me try the eye-shift trick.


The solid colors draw attention to themselves, and longer bars usually indicate higher or better so the quick reader may think that Obama is the worst and Trump is the best at ... well, "Favorability on taking office," as the added title suggests.

Next, let's apply the foot-chop technique. This fits nicely on a stacked bar chart


I wantonly drop 20% of dissenters from every President's data. Such grade inflation actually makes everyone look better, a win-win-win-win-win-win-win proposition. While the unfavorables for Trump no longer look so menacing, I am still far from happy as, with so much red concentrated at the bottom of the chart, eyes are  focused on the unsightly "yuge" red bar, and it is showing Trump with 50% disapproval.

I desperately need the white section of the last bar to trump its red section. It requires the foot-ankle-knee-thigh treatment - the whole leg.


Now, a design issue rears its head. With such an aggressive cut, there would be no red left in any of the other bars.

I could apply two cuts, a less aggressive cut at the top and a more aggressive cut at the bottom.


The Presidents neatly break up into two groups, the top three Democrats, and the bottom four Republicans. It's always convenient to have an excuse for treating some data differently from others.

Then, I notice that the difference between Clinton and GW Bush is immaterial (68% versus 65%), making it awkward to apply different cuts to the two neighbors. No problem, I make three cuts.


The chart is getting better and better! Two, three, why not make it five cuts? I am intent on making the last red section as tiny as possible but I can't chop more off the right side of GHW Bush or Reagan without giving away my secret sauce.


The final step is to stretch each bar to the right length. Mission accomplished.


This chart will surely win me some admiration. Just one lingering issue: Trump's red section is still the longest of the group. It's time for the logo trick. You see, the right ends of the last two bars can be naturally shortened.


The logo did it.


Faking charts can take as much effort as making accurate ones.

The ABC News chart encompasses five different scales. For every President, some percentage of dissenters were removed from the chart. The amount of distortion ranges from 15% to 47% of respondents.






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74 days ago
74 days ago
Seattle, WA
74 days ago
Earth, Sol system, Western spiral arm
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2 public comments
73 days ago
"Faking charts can take as much effort as making accurate ones."
Baltimore, MD
74 days ago
where is the Broadcast Television Graphic Artist Intern Code of Ethics we so desperately need
Bend, Oregon

Mom Adopts a “Dog”

1 Comment and 5 Shares



So y’all keep blowing up my notes with the various Family Lore stories I’ve been telling, so I guess I should tell one on my parents now.

My Mother’s Father was part of the United Auto Worker’s Union, and during the 50′s and 60′s, was on strike a lot. My point is, grandpa got himself an entirely deserved reputation for being a sucker who loved animals, so people would dump thier pets on him. Hence, my mother grew up in a house with pets such as Picket the one-eyed tomcat, Tweety the Bald canary, Dummy the cat, Stupid Son of Dummy, Spooky Garbage Dog and Chiquita the Tarantula.  Eventually Grandma put her foot down when Grandpa brought home Gerta the Saint Bernard.

I say all this because it provides some context for how the following occured.

Mom and Dad had just moved in together (my parents dated for six years and were engaged for 13 days, driving everyone on both sides insane), and unfortunately, My mother’s German Shepherd, Cops, has just passed away due to bone cancer.  After mourning for a bit, Mom and Dad decided to get a dog together, as a couple.  

For context, my father had never owned a dog in his life.  His mother had ‘Pretty Bird” the budgie as a child but parrots are alien life forms, not pets.

So they go to the Palo Alto Animal shelter to adopt.  The year was 1987, and at the time, Palo Alto was… not a great place.  Lots of drugs, gangs and poor civic managment.  Mom told me that she learned to identify different types of gunfire while living there. They get there, and mom explains that she’s always had a preference for Big Dogs, and the guy’s face lights up.  Oh Yes, he says, We have a Big Dog.  For expirienced owners, yep, adoptable today, here we’ll give you a discount even-

Somehow my parents were not suspicious about this.

They were shown to the Animal in question, a Gorgeous blue-sable beastie with pretty golden eyes who immediately pressed herself against the fence and gave them the best PUH-LEEEEEEASE TAKE ME HOME puppy eyes 100lbs of canine can do.  Mom and Dad fall in love instantly.  They sign all the paperwork and take her home for $10, and name her “Mazel” as in “Mazel Tov.”

Within the hour, it becomes clear that something is amiss.

Cops had lived with his kibble stored in a plastic garbage can in the garage for six years without incident.  Mazel figured out how to open doors and got the locking lid off the can in six minutes, horking down about four pounds of the stuff before my mother notices that it’s been weirdly quiet.  Most dogs bark at or chase squirrels.  Mazel stalked and caught one the second day, presenting it to my mother like an offering.  Mazel knew all her commands but would clearly stop to consider before obeying, and trained my dad to give her good treats within a week.  The locks on the side-yard gate were undone, and she took a stroll around the neighborhood, but always retuned home for dinner.

After a week of gradually realizing that Mazel was smarter than most of the professors my mom worked with, they took her to the Vet for a routine checkup.

Dr. Hamada walked into the exam room, dropped the clip-board and said “Where the HELL did you get a Wolf?”

After a bit of prodding and a very-angry-dr.hamada-calling-the-pound, they determined Mazel was a high-content hybrid, probably with a husky, but was going to be a lil shit her entire life.  OK, said Hamada, I don’t like destroying animals and you’ve got a lot of expirience with dogs, so I’m okay with letting you keep her, but you should keep her away from small children because her Prey Drive could kick in.

Two years later, mom got pregnant with me.

Mazel noticed instantly, and reacted by digging a large hole in the yard and catching even more squirrels for mom, because she needed the protein or something.  That what you do when the Alpha Bitch is preggers, right?  Dig a den and ply her with food?  On the advice of my grandmother, my mom stayed overnight at the hospital once I was delivered, and dad went home with a shirt that had moms and my scent on it.  Mazel spent the whole night puzzling over it.

The next morning, when mom came home with me, there was the sudden and instantaneous recognition of PUPPY!!!!!! :D:D:D!!!!! PUUUUUUUPPY!!!!!!  and Mazel turned into the most aggressively maternal being I’ve ever met.  Playing with me on the blanket, sitting under my chair at meals (I was a messy eater), sleeping under my crib, teaching me to walk by letting me hang onto her fur and shuffle around.

Dr. Hamada thought mom was a madwoman, until he saw me holding Mazel’s mouth open and sticking my face in so i could look at her teeth.  He gave up when my mom announced she was pregnant with my sister.

I’m making living with a Wolfdog sound awesome, but it did come with some drawbacks:

  • Mazel did have to be muzzled at the vets, because she had Opinions about having things stuck up her butt.
  • HAIR.  One of my chores growing up was to brush her out every week and I’d frequently end up with more hair than animal.
  • the only way we could reliably get her to stay in the yard was with an overhead tether with a STEEL cable, which she chewed through anyway.
  • Do you like waking up by being hit in the face with half a dead animal? No? Wolfdogs may not be for you.
  • More than capable of opening the fridge and eating everything if you’re not watching
  • Will get into everything if not otherwise occupied.  Including eating your tax forms.
  • Howls along with sirens at 4 AM.

PROS of growing up with a wolfdog, as a small child in the 90′s

  • I was afforded a degree of freedom normally associated with a pokemon trianer. It was no big deal for me and my sister to walk three miles through my not-really-good neighborhood to the Froyo if I took Mazel with us. People tended to leave us alone when we had 100lbs of overprotective Apex Predator following us around.
  • WINNING at Pet Day at school.  There wasn’t actually a compettion but Billy’s hamster sucks in comparison to an animal that is perfectly willing to demonstrate how she can snap an oak branch in half on command.
  • PTA moms losing their shit because Mazel would walk down the block by herself to come pick ups up from school.
  • Grew up associating the word “Bitch” with teeth and the willingness to rip an asshole’s face off for being rude.  Never changed the definition.
  • Learned the I-Own-This Strut and Murder-Stare from the absolute best.

When she was 17, Mom and Dad decided to add another room on to the house.  They rigged up the overhead tether so she could be outside but not underfoot for the contruction guys.  One morning, mom came out to notice them all milling in the side yard entrance, muttering worriedly.  When mom asked what was wrong, one of them explained that Carlos forgot to bring the Hamburger.  What do you need a hamburger for?  Asked mom, and they pointed down the side yard to where Mazel was sitting, doing her best Viscious Alpha Bitch Stare.

Apparently they’d never realized that she was on the VERY end of her tether there and couldn’t actually get to them, and had been scamming them for a big mac a day for a month.  Mom had my six-year-old sister pull her away to show she wasn’t dangerous and tired her best not to laugh but kind of failed.

Mazel ended up living to be 19 and a half, and except for some minor arthritis, remarkably hale until the day she passed away in her hole in the back yard while taking a nap.  I maintain that Death had to wait until she was sleeping to get a crack at her, or she would’ve taken his scythe for a chew toy.

tbh this sounds like one of @seananmcguire‘s stories and I do not doubt it a bit bc I know all of Seanan’s stories are true. XD

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81 days ago
OMG I totally had to go back and check that this was not a Seanan story when I was halfway through. :D
81 days ago
Laughed until my eyes watered!
81 days ago
Seattle, WA
81 days ago
Overland Park, KS
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The Food Lab's Top 30 Hot Sauces, in No Particular Order


Naming a "best" hot sauce is an impossible task, so I won't even attempt to limit my hot sauce recommendations to a single bottle, or even to a top five or 10. Nope: These are 30 of my favorite hot sauces. Read More
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81 days ago
Seattle, WA
81 days ago
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