Wednesday, February 19, 2020

A Parroting Interlude

Have a singing and dancing Finnish parrot, Nakke:

My own current parroting/writing abilities are taking a vacation right now.  No joy in Snakepit Inc.

Nakke, by the way, appears to vocalize in a rather meaningful manner.  In the next video he drops a mug off the counter in the kitchen and then states "look."  When he drops the tea towel, he mutters "finished."

Sunday, February 16, 2020

My sensitivity To Tap Water

Last weekend I traveled to New York City and for various reasons, largely laziness, ended up drinking a lot of tap water and coffee and tea made out of tap water.  I then spent three days sick with stomach pains and extreme diarrhea.  My apologies for you having to read that. 

I cannot drink tap water now without getting sick.  If that sounds like something from the Twilight Zone, I understand.  I wouldn't believe me, either,  if I hadn't experienced this.

My problem began six years ago, two weeks after (as I found out later) my local water authority changed the way water is treated.  At that time not all areas had switched to the new water-treatment system, and for a few years I could drink tap water while traveling in areas which had not yet  made the switch.

Indeed, this was how I realized the connection to tap water, early on:

I had experienced some vague symptoms for about a week, when I went away for a week and all symptoms disappeared.  I returned home, and after two days the symptoms were back.

I had to make another week-long trip after another week or so, the symptoms disappeared again, only to return when I returned to the Snakepit Inc.   Clearly, then, whatever was affecting me was linked to my home.

I began testing foods  and thinking about any possible home-related stressors (I always react with my stomach to everything*, even to falling in love).  At some point I shifted to drinking bottled spring water and the symptoms, which by then had gotten worse, got better.  When I began making tea and coffee with spring water, too, the symptoms completely disappeared.

I then designed a set of tests and went through them, methodically, to see which types of water caused the symptoms, by spending three days drinking each type of water and then returning to a week of spring water drinking.  The results of these experiments were that tap water, boiled tap water, filtered tap water, and purified water all caused the symptoms**.  Only spring water did not.

Fast forward to the present, and I am perfectly fine as long as I drink only spring water.  I can use tap water in, say, boiling pasta, but I can't make coffee with it.  That boiling the water makes no difference suggests that I am not reacting to bacteria in the water but to something different.  The timing of this problem strongly suggests*** that it is linked to the use of ozone treatment in water purification, possibly a sensitivity to the residuals created by it, even when their total amount is below the legal upper limit.


*  When I was a child my family moved to newly built accommodations shared by several families, all getting water from the same new well.  We lived in those accommodations during the five-day work-week and went away for the weekends.  Every week I got a stomach complaint by Wednesday and every week I recovered by Sunday night.  A medical checkup found no reason for this.

The inspection of the new well had been delayed.  When it was finally inspected, it was found to be polluted with E. coli bacteria.  Many others had drunk the same water, including other children, but I was the only one who showed symptoms.

When it comes to the stomach, I am the princess from the Princess And The Pea story.

** I also had the house water tested and it tested fine.  As an aside, I found the same sensitivity to coffee and tea served in the local area cafes, which further supported the theory that the flaw wasn't about the plumbing at Snakepit Inc. but somewhere else.

***  I contacted a few experts at the water authority about it and this is as far as they came with their suggestions, when I finally managed to convince them that I wasn't a total Mad Hatter.  Sigh.  Now that was fun, that convincing.

Thursday, February 13, 2020

Short Posts, 2/13/20. Vanishing Tomboys, Feminist Porn?, UK Male And Female Homicide Rates, And Trump Obstructing Justice

1.  Tomboys.  Where did they go?

The New York Times article on this topic notes the disappearing tomboys:

But this kind of tomboy began to recede in the mid-1980s. Hostility to feminism emerged in that decade, with the rise of the New Right and shows like “Thirtysomething,” in which educated women were sent back to the domestic realm, as Susan Faludi charted in her book “Backlash.” This was followed by the pink-hued “Girl Power” of the 1990s, which moved away from the more masculine-presenting tomboy toward an image that seemed to comfort the male gaze. Jo gave way to Sporty Spice, Xena, Buffy — coifed, petal-lipped and sometimes baring midriff — with the message that one didn’t need to sacrifice femininity to have power.
It was an understandable counter to the somewhat limiting message of the earlier tomboy era, which implied that while masculinity was good for boys and girls, femininity was bad for both. But it also edged out a certain kind of acceptable masculinity in young girls, and came with its own confinements — namely the idea that girls could be strong, so long as they were also pretty.

A tomboy (1) is "gender nonconforming," i.e. at deviance with rigid sex roles based on stereotypical (and often sexist) views about femininity and masculinity.  That this now seems rarer than thirty years ago is disappointing for those of us who see rigid sex roles as one of the main channels cultures have used, and still use,  to maintain sex-based hierarchies.

2.   Porn as empowering women?  Some types of choice feminism ("I choose my oppression") offer me hours of hilarity.  This is one such example:

New York Fashion Week kicked off on Monday, marking the beginning of a month-long event where designers showcase their latest creations in four different cities. Where London is known for its celebration of emerging designers and Paris for its grandeur, New York is revered for its progressive values: its catwalks are often home to bold political statements, promoting diversity and body positivity along the way. Given this reputation, the news that Pornhub stars will walk the runway this Sunday in what has been deemed a “feminist statement” is puzzling.

Modelling for Berlin-based fashion label Namila, several adult film actors will showcase a collection named “Herotica”, alongside Pornhub’s ambassador Asa Akira. Nan Li, one of the designers behind the collection, aims to challenge the porn industry’s exclusive focus on men’s entertainment: “Porn isn’t something existentially male. Most women just have been excluded from determining the narrative.”

Although the idea of resisting pornographic tropes is compelling, the label’s hope to reclaim women’s agency fell flat when it chose to collaborate with a website that distributes footage made as a result of female exploitation. In yet another case of femvertising that claims to champion women while profiting from their mistreatment, the fashion venture is an insult to women who are trafficked, sexually abused and filmed in secret for Pornhub videos. Although the site encourages its users to report illegal content, as a hosting platform it takes no legal responsibility for the videos that are uploaded, making it a hotbed for illegal photos and videos.

It's not that porn couldn't be feminist, of course  (2), but this is not the way to go about achieving that.  Rather, such surface moves offer coverage for the abuse of women by Pornhub and similar sites without addressing the real issues violence in online porn has created.

3.  The new UK crime statistics for the year ending in March 2019 show an uptick in the homicide rates for female victims, though homicides, overall, have declined (3).  As has been the case in previous years, men were about twice as likely as women to be the victims of homicide.  Men were also vastly more likely to be found guilty of homicide than women.  Ninety-two percent of those sentenced were men.

Some additional differences between male and female homicide victims are also worth noticing:

There were large differences in the profile of victim-suspect relationships between men and women victims. In the year ending March 2019, female victims were more likely to be killed by a partner or ex-partner or a family member, while male victims were more likely to be killed by a friend or acquaintance, stranger or other known person.

Almost half (48%) of adult female homicide victims were killed in a domestic homicide (99). This was an increase of 12 homicides compared with the previous year. In contrast, 8% of male victims were victims of domestic homicide (30) in the latest year. This was an increase of six homicides compared with the previous year.

Reflecting the above quote about the relationships between the victim and the suspect, women were more likely to be killed in or near a house or dwelling (71%) than men (39%).

In one sense this reminds me of the argument that the most dangerous place for women is their homes, but this shouldn't be interpreted to mean that they'd be safer if they spent more time outside the home.  That's because male and female uses of space differ.  Women, on average, spend less time in such dangerous places as (secluded) streets, paths and alleyways where 30% of male and 6% of female homicides took place.

4.   There's a certain bitter satisfaction in watching Attorney General William Barr scold Trump for his tweets.  The whole farce about the sentencing of Roger Stone has offered me similar but ultimately hollow pleasure.

And now I feel quite small for that fleeting enjoyment.  But anyone who read through the Mueller Report can tell that Trump is up to his old crimes.  And he is now untouchable, because of the Republicans.

So it's only fair that they get at least a little trouble for orchestrating that outcome.   

1.  Its male equivalent is an equally important form of refusing to obey traditional (1950s) sex roles.  That equivalent doesn't have a very good name, sadly.

2.  At least we could do sex reversals on typical porn videos!  "Watch Justin Fucked Hard In All His Apertures And Loving It."

Just kidding there.  Or making the point that we must dig much deeper under the surface of porn to address its many problems before we can talk about feminist porn.

3.  Because homicides are a fairly rare event in the UK, annual numbers must be treated with some caution when trying to forecast trends.


Friday, February 07, 2020

Short Posts 2/7/20: Ripping Nancy Pelosi, International Day To End FGM And Funny Songs

1.  This is fun if you like making fun of song lyrics.

2.  Nancy the Ripper.  That's what I saw someone call Nancy Pelosi after she tore apart Trump's speech.  I have no idea if that ripping apart was a deliberate move or just one of those moments when the frustration boils over the edge of the political pressure-kettle.  What she said suggests the latter:

“It’s appalling the things that he says. And then you say to me: ‘Tearing up his falsehoods, isn’t that the wrong message?’ No, it isn’t,” she said, adding: “I feel very liberated. I feel that I’ve extended every possible courtesy. I’ve shown every level of respect.”
It's fascinating that some have attacked her for that move, given what Donald Trump has done to the rules of courtesy and comity:  They certainly have never been expected to apply to our Dear Leader!  But Pelosi shouldn't lower herself to his level, I hear.  That she tried the high road for such a long time makes me awed by her patience.  I would have eaten and digested someone many times during the last year, given that facts and such matter not at all.

3.   You probably didn't know that yesterday was the International Day Of Zero Tolerance For Female Genital Mutilation (FGM).  The tolerance is certainly not at zero level, though things are better than they were thirty years ago.  This article shows the three most common types of FGM:

The most extreme type, infibulation,  is getting rarer which makes me happy:

Women who have undergone infibulation – where the labia are cut and sewn together to drastically narrow the vaginal opening – have to be cut open again to enable sexual intercourse and childbirth. 

4.   I feel politically very alone.  Am I alone in this?  Heh.   

Tuesday, February 04, 2020

Recognizing Expertise Over Time. A Feminist Take.

I came across this picture somewhere online.  It's a joke about how the way we acknowledge expertise has changed over time:

The joke in the picture is a good one, suggesting that who qualifies as the expert on some issue has changed in undesirable ways over time.  In the 1990s the expert was a leading scientist, in the 1990s a PhD student, in the 2000s a media expert (whatever that means), and in the 2010s the expert is Karen on Facebook.

I agree on the punchline, of course I do!  Far too many people now get their news from the curated and biased smorgasbord Facebook algorithms and our friends and allies on social media offer us.  Though times were not necessarily that much greater in the past decades, it's certainly true that expertise now has much more to do with gut feelings than with actual demonstrated knowledge of a field.

But I can't avoid seeing cartoons such as the above from other angles, too.  For instance, it looks like everyone in the picture is white, though it's hard to tell with a cartoon, and of course acknowledged experts in the US mostly are white both for reasons of population numbers (whites are still the majority) and for reasons of racism (fewer people of color in the upper echelons of various fields and of those who are in the upper echelons,  fewer are seen as experts by others because of that race-tinted fog we all live in).

In fact, there are good reasons to keep all other things except for the punchline topic as constant as possible between the decades so as to drive the punchline home.  Those other things are not held constant, however.  The first three experts are clearly intended to be read as men, while the last one is intended to be read as a woman*.  If the name "Karen"** doesn't get you there, then the hairstyle should...

Would the story have been weaker if the last figure had been, say, Kevin, in a baseball cap, from Facebook?  Or is it the case that naming this Facebook friend "Karen" strengthens the case the cartoon is making?  After all, women are very rarely viewed as valid experts, even if the women in question wear lab coats and have PhDs.

This post is an example of those posts I write which are often deemed to be about nitpickery.  Or comma-fuckery, as Finns say. 

And the topic is trivial, of course, except in showing how diffuse and common those little reminders of sexist hierarchies are in our daily lives.  It also shows one of the reasons why it's so hard to get those real experts who just happen to be women the respect they deserve.


*  We have regressed so terribly when it comes to gender norms that one's hairstyle is now immediately coded as signifying gender or biological sex.  I have learned this in those parts of the social media young people use!

Boys have short hair and play football (and when they grow up they will wear lab coats and become experts or at least media experts).  Girls, on the other hand, have long hair and wear skirts and when they grow up they will become Karens on Facebook.   And yes, I know that this is an exaggerated take, but it's not as exaggerated as it should be.

**  I can't tell if the woman in the cartoon is called Karen because of the Karen meme.  That meme, in itself, probably partly operates so strongly because women are not supposed to complain and be vocal, so those who do tend to stand out in an unpleasant manner as strident and demanding.  I see this a lot in politics. 

And of course it's the case that women, too, from all demographic groups can be difficult and bossy and nasty people.   Karen in the meme is usually interpreted as a young-to-middle-aged white woman, often an ex-wife, who took custody of the kids.  That last interpretation adds a soupcon of open anger at women into the picture.

Even more generally, our unconscious sexism contributes to the success of memes such as the Karen one.  Because the rules for deciding when someone is strident and overly demanding vary by sex, a person like Karen looks so much worse than an otherwise identically behaving but male version of Karen.  Kevin, say.  We expect the Kevins of this world to be assertive, after all, so they have to break furniture while demanding service at some store before they are deemed entitled or strident or demanding.

Monday, February 03, 2020

Short Posts 2/3/20. On Impeachment, Nursing Salaries, Child Grooming Scandals, The New Inclusiveness, And Sudden Social Change

This post is a giant cupboard full of tiny snippet thoughts and links that I have gathered but have not had the energy (yet) to work into something bigger and more meaningful. 

1.  How best to view the impeachment process:  As kabuki theater?  Or as a game between two sports teams, each with acolytes who care about nothing but winning?  Or is it the case that one side cares about nothing but winning, even if that winning means beheading the umpires and scrapping all rules, while the other one wants to win only the "holier-than-thou-races?"

And how far have I fallen when I see the whole process from such a bitter and cynical angle?

Maybe the sanest approach to watching this while trying to predict the outcome of the next presidential elections is to return to seeing the importance of the material world:

Trump won't win if the economy goes bad enough rapidly enough to be seen as bad in the immediate environs of enough voters, but he might win if this doesn't happen, or if he starts yet another unnecessary war somewhere far enough not to matter a lot in those immediate environs of most voters (rah, rah, U.S. of A).

I sometimes think that many Trump voters don't actually like Trump's ethics and morals (or the lack of both, really), and view him as  a crook.  But he is their known-and-true crook, while the Democratic alternatives look filled with uncertainty.

Tuesday, January 28, 2020

Welcome to George Orwell's 1984. On The Politics Of Doublethink.

George Orwell, 1984:

To know and not to know, to be conscious of complete truthfulness while telling carefully constructed lies, to hold simultaneously two opinions which cancelled out knowing them to be contradictory and believing in both of them, to use logic against logic, to repudiate morality while laying claim to it, to believe that democracy was impossible and that the party was the guardian of democracy, to forget, whatever it was necessary to forget, then to draw it back into memory again at the moment when it was needed, and then promptly to forget it again, and above all, to apply the same process to the process itself--that was the ultimate subtlety; consciously to induce unconsciousness, and then, once again, to become unconscious to the act of hypnosis you had just performed. Even to understand the world "doublethink" involved the use of doublethink.

The bolding of the last sentence is mine, and it is bolded, because doublethink is everywhere in today's political debates.

So it goes, as another writer (Kurt Vonnegut) used to sigh.

Dealing with nonstop doublethink necessitates mental health breaks.  Mine (I need more of them, these days, it seems) consist of lying in the darkened bedroom, with chocolate at hand, watching Nordic noir (1) or similar crime stories from other European countries.  I talk back to the television screen, extremely fluently in Finnish,  fairly fluently in Swedish, less so in German, and barely at all in French and Italian.  But my accent always sounds wonderful.  Bastardo!  Merde!  Kusimulkku perkele!  

Sometimes, when the plots become too predictable,  I watch all the episodes on full fast-forward.  A goddess can have her fill of existential Angst, fantastic ultra-modern architecture, and grey landscapes where dead-eyed people with never-closing inner wounds (and more expensive furniture than they could ever realistically afford) struggle, stumble and fall.  But she might still want to know who is left standing at the end of the series, if anyone.

But I also re-read classics, to recuperate, and that's why this post begins with a big mouthful from George Orwell.

My mental health breaks are a different reaction to the same Weltschmerz:  Why bother reading or engaging with people online (2) when fairly identical  parallel conversations can be had by yelling at the television screen?  At least the television isn't terribly good at gaslighting.  Nowhere near as good as even the most rudimentary Twitter users, at both ideological extremes, not to mention Our Dear Leader on Twitter.