Friday, June 18, 2004

How Life Imitates Life

This is my pondering piece for the weekend. I can do it without any research, so it's pure pleasure to write. This week's topic is on life imitating life, which is much deeper than you might think. It's a pun on life imitating art which is a pun on the reverse and so on, but it's also my feeble way to make the point that sometimes our little private circles reflect the big circles in which we are all just a bunch of caged hamsters.

For example, I have read today about the beheading of an American civilian in Saudi Arabia, and I have felt disgusted and so very sad for the family of the poor man who just happened to become a symbol of something in the hands of some people who no longer deserve being called people. The sadness isn't just about this one victim and those who suffer and suffered with him, but about the way the world seems to be changing: towards something coarser, more stupid, more elemental. I can't help comparing this all to the last days of Rome or the total outlawlessness of the early medieval period in Europe, and I feel like weeping and tearing my hair and scattering ashes on my sackcloth.

Instead of all that (which would be so unproductive), I am going to tell you about something that happened to me several years ago. I went out one night to walk the dog. It was pretty early, and I was slowly walking down a busy shopping street, looking at the goods in the shop windows, stopping to buy an ice-cream cone and sharing it with the dog and so on. Then I got an idea for a theory about something, and went into the private state one does when developing a new theory. The world went on at the same time, and what I didn't realize was that I was walking straight into a gang war. One gang was chasing a member with the other gang, and the chasers all had knives in their hands.

All the other pedestrians scattered away, of course, except for one very stupid goddess and her much smarter dog who was trying to get away, desperately. Some good soul pushed me into the entranceway of a restaurant, to protect me, presumably, but the poor guy that was being chased had had the same idea of this doorway being a sanctuary. So there we stood, side by side, squashed against the door which opened outwards, and all the chasers with bared knives were running towards us.

This is when I woke up and let the dog go. But I couldn't get myself out of there, and could just watch when the assailants reached us. For some happy reason the first one to reach us decided not to use his knife. Instead, he grabbed one of the steel chairs from the restaurant's outdoor section and tried to hit the member of the opposite gang with it. He hit me on the head instead.

I survived, of course, as goddessed cannot be killed. But I suspect that my head has never been the same. The dog also survived and wasn't even hit on the head, and neither was the gang member. This gang war had only one real casualty, and she had nothing to do with the war itself, except for the fact of having stepped into the same configuration of circles.

This is how I often feel about terrorism, the war against terrorism and the war in Iraq. The casualties are people who were thinking about something else, eating ice-cream or walking their dogs. That's one of the reasons why I don't write about these events very much, except to plead that they be stopped. Though of course I know that I am an intended participant in these wars, and that the terrorists for example have definite designs on how I should live (barely, and totally invisibly), but nobody ever really asked my opinions on how any of this should be run and most of the time I feel like a rabbit in the middle of the road, frozen in the headlights of all those cars and not knowing where safety is.

Today's Conservative Quote

From Bill O'Reilly, the conservative talk show host:

... Bill O'Reilly told listeners that he has "no respect for" the Iraqi people; that he thinks "they're a prehistoric group"; that they are "primitive"; and that the lesson from the Iraq war is that "we cannot intervene in the Muslim world ever again. What we can do is bomb the living daylights out of them."

Put that in you pipe and smoke it. Or if you're not quite so prehistoric, maybe this could be used as today's mantra by those who like to meditate on something that just rose from the premieval slime? And I don't mean the Iraqi people.

A Warm Welcome to Tucker Carlson

He's going to be the new conservative pundit on the Public Broadcasting System (PBS). The PBS was regarded as the heart and core of liberal brainwashing, so the conservatives have been busy trying to demolish it. No longer, alas. Now the PBS is to be brought into light and harmony by simply infecting it with the same virus: Limbaughus O'Reillitis Malovelensis which already runs rampant in most of the so-called liberal media. Tucker Carlson's show is one of two new conservative shows that will be broadcast from this week onwards. At the same time, Bill Moyer's show NOW, the only show in the whole American media universe which is unabashedly lefty, will be reduced from one hour to thirty minutes! This, my friends, is called balanced and objective broadcasting.

So what's Tucker like? Well, readers of this blog might be interested in his views on women, the other sex, you know. Here's a taste of Tucker's views:

In an April interview in Elle magazine, Carlson stated, "One area of liberal phenomenon I support is female bi-sexuality -- this apparent increased willingness of girls to bring along a friend. That's a pretty good thing." And, in response to a question about which woman he would most like to be, he answered, " Elizabeth Birch[former executive director] of the Human Rights Campaign , because you'd be presiding over an organization of thousands of lesbians, some of them quite good-looking."
In that same interview, Carlson said of women, "They want to be listened to, protected and amused. And they want to be spanked vigorously every once in a while." The following are statements Carlson made on CNN's Crossfire on the subject of feminists and feminism:
You will admit that at least 40 percent of any vote in a Democratic race is humorless feminists. (7/18/02)
The traditional anti-fun feminist point of view is that of course men are bad, and they make women do bad things. (11/20/02)
Who laughs less than feminists? (5/26/04)
To be a feminist, you could cut your hair really short. You have to be really angry about something. (5/21/03)
Carlson falsely claimed that complaints from feminists had prompted Attorney General John Ashcroft's Justice Department to cover with sheets the exposed breasts of The Spirit of Justice, the statue that stands in its Hall of Justice (6/03/02).
Carlson told Elle that his guilty fantasy is Senator Hillary Clinton (D-NY): "Every time I see her I think I could, you know, help.... She seems tense."

Clearly, his is a voice that is desperately needed on the PBS, and one for which I, for one, will gladly pay a contribution check every month.
I need to know that I like to be vigorously spanked, as it would never occur to me on my own. Instead, what does occur to me right now is that maybe it is Tucker that needs some vigorous spanking? But of course this whole interview is just a joke, don't you get it? If you don't you are a) a feminist and have too short hair and/or b) you have never heard of the great truth that anything the nutwings say that is insulting to others is just a joke and you have no sense of humor if you didn't laugh from the bottom of your belly.

If you don't want to have Tucker Carlson: Unfiltered, on your local PBS station, you can try to complain to the powers that be. This website will get you going.

Thursday, June 17, 2004

The Bare Branches

I listened to a rerun of this morning's Connection-show on the local public radio tonight. The topic was the security consequences of China's distorted sex ratio; currently 120 boys are born for every 100 girls, which means that there will be quite a few eternal bachelors (called bare branches) in China (or elsewhere if the Chinese start robbing brides from neighboring countries).

The experts noted that the sex imbalance is a result from the 'traditional desire for sons', combined with China's rigid policy to limit the number of children per families. More recently, increased availability of ultrasound has made it possible for families to abort female fetuses, though female infanticide is still also common. Add to this a new cause for increased loathing of girls: the return of traditional stereotypes of what a good woman is (mother and wife) as opposed to the communist stereotypes (the 'steel' woman who works hard). The traditional stereotypes are bad for girls, because being a mother and a wife is not valued in China as highly as being a good worker or a good farmer, so to be reminded of these women's roles makes girl babies look like worse investments (after all, they will be mothers and wives in some other family).

What was interesting about the program to me was the instrumentality with which women and girls are viewed, even in the good ole U.S. of A.
The experts were concerned about the possibility of large male gangs being created, and one expert noted that there were even rumors of polyandrous marriages in some areas: a clear no-no for the Chinese government. To be fair, they also noted that the scarcity of women does not work to the women's advantage (as free marriage markets would make us predict...), but rather the opposite. Women are more likely to be the victims of sexual violence, kidnapping and sale in the rural areas, and those men who still have wives will guard them more closely which reduces women's freedoms.

Still, the problem was largely seen as one of not accommodating these extra men in ways which would 'tame' them. I must admit that I don't want to be a lion tamer, and I don't really think that men want to see themselves as wild beasts in need of taming. The whole conversation reminds me of the consequences of similar sex-selection activities in India, where people now have woken up to the fact that all these sons they have can't find wives.

Of course not every program discussing the lesser valuing of girls and women needs to mention that this is bad not only for those instrumental reasons but also because women and girls are human beings.
But I admit to feeling hurt on behalf of all those girls that were not wanted simply because of their sex. Very hurt.

Inquiring Minds Want to Know

Via Hullabaloo, this cute comment from Rush Limbaugh:

LIMBAUGH: I remember way, way back in the '80s, at -- at one of the fractious moments when the militant feminists were ruling the roost and defining a lot of the national debate. ... The NAGs would have a press conference. Six NAGs would show up somewhere -- National Association of Gals -- don't misunderstand this, my pet name for the NOW gang. ... The NAGs don't represent the majority of female thought in this country, and they aren't -- they aren't determining who wins elections. White men are. And this is -- I'm not being sexist. This is just pure demographics.

Who taught Rush demographics? Who told him that white men vote in larger numbers than any other population segment? Probably the same person who taught him most of his politics.

And on the NPR today, I heard Rumsfeld defend the treatment of some ultra-important prisoner as 'humane'. How does Rummy define 'humane'?
I really want to know the answer to this question.

News and Commentary

It turns out that churches don't get a safe harbor, after all. The little tacked on piece to the Job Creation Act of 2004 was deleted in the House Means and Ways Committee. It would have reduced the taxes that churches must pay if they inadvertently engage in political campaigning. The deletion of this addendum is very good news for people who want to keep the church and the state separate. For the time being, anyway.

In Africa, AIDS and the traditional legal codes are hitting the widows especially hard. Inheritance traditionally passes in the male line, though women do most of the cultivation of the land. When a man dies of AIDS at a young age, he is unlikely to leave sons old enough to inherit his land which then passes to his brothers. The widow and any young children she has are then at the mercy of those brothers and their willingness to be charitable. Talk about adding insult to injury.

Finally, the United States and local pressure groups have succeeded in inserting provisions in the constitutions or provisional constitutions of both Afghanistan and Iraq which aim for a 25% female representation in the respective parliaments. Maybe it is now time to do something about the domestic situation? The percentage of women in the U.S. Congress is 14%, and the United States ranks 57th among 119 countries in the proportion of women in the lower houses of parliament. This makes me wonder why democracy is seen as being introduced from the United States to these countries.

The problem is at least partially in the two-party system, and the sorts of calculations it provokes in those who decide on the candidates. But there are other things that could be done to make it easier for women who want to run for office. If this was an important issue, that is.

On Heat - As Translated by the Shizzolator

You can compare this to the original version below. I think this one is loads better than the original.

It has been hella hot here today, hot 'n humid, know what I'm sayin'? There should be an equivalent expression that one we use 'bout da sort of cold that doesn't seem that bad when yo' ass go out, but which lodges in yo' hella bones 'n sends shivers out fo' hours afterwards: bone-chilling cold." Nothing can get yo' ass warm then, nothing n' shit. Fo' Real cold doesn't act that sneakily, that shiznit either freezes 'n kills yo' ass outright or not at izzall, know what I'm sayin'? It's da bone-chilling damp cold that does real damage, know what I'm sayin'?

What I has experienced today is bone-boiling heat 'n humidity." I didn't feel that hot outside; I even spent an hour in da garden." But I has been suffering ever since from deep internal simmering 'n boiling, 'n cold showers do nothing stop that shiznit." My skin is bomb diggity touch, but my eyes look like they are turning into marbles, 'n when I breathe out yo' ass can see flames, know what I'm sayin'? Well, yo' ass can imagine flames." As I'm not related dragons, as far as I know, this state is not a natural one n' shit.

This is probably why we be like that animals are in heat when they suffer in da throes of severe sexual frustration n' shit. It gots feel like this: a burning yo' ass can't slake, a boiling that will slowly turn yo' ass into cinders n' shit. Poor things."

I can now sympathize wit some other phrases, too, like 'in da heat of da battle', know what I'm sayin'? It's not 'bout sweating because of lifting a heavy sword 'bout as I used think; that shiznit's 'bout this deep heat which makes yo' ass want crack something open n' shit. But I will never again want be called a hottie; never, know what I'm sayin'?

Wednesday, June 16, 2004

On Heat

It has been very hot here today, hot and humid. There should be an equivalent expression to that one we use about the sort of cold that doesn't seem that bad when you go out, but which lodges in your very bones and sends shivers out for hours afterwards: bone-chilling cold. Nothing can get you warm then, nothing. Real cold doesn't act that sneakily, it either freezes and kills you outright or not at all. It's the bone-chilling damp cold that does real damage.

What I have experienced today is bone-boiling heat and humidity. I didn't feel that hot outside; I even spent an hour in the garden. But I have been suffering ever since from deep internal simmering and boiling, and cold showers do nothing to stop it. My skin is cool to touch, but my eyes look like they are turning into marbles, and when I breathe out you can see flames. Well, you can imagine flames. As I'm not related to dragons, as far as I know, this state is not a natural one.

This is probably why we say that animals are in heat when they suffer in the throes of severe sexual frustration. It must feel like this: a burning you can't slake, a boiling that will slowly turn you into cinders. Poor things.

I can now sympathize with some other phrases, too, like 'in the heat of the battle'. It's not about sweating because of lifting a heavy sword about as I used to think; it's about this deep heat which makes you want to crack something open. But I will never again want to be called a hottie; never.

Should Saudi Women Drive?

Sixty academics, journalists and writers, half of them women, gathered in Saudi Arabia last weekend to discuss women's rights, roles and education. Among the topics was the question whether women could be given the right to drive cars again and whether they could serve on the Saudi king's governing bodies. The meeting received publicity within Saudi Arabia:

According to the Christian Science Monitor, women's issues (such as the high unemployment rate for women and the current divorce laws favor men) were major themes that were debated in several Saudi television programs, newspapers, and radio shows leading up to the three-day conference. The Saudi television anchor and consultant for the Human Rights Commission, Rania al-Baz, said that need address social issues. "The reason more women don't complain about physical abuse by their husbands is social conditioning. We're not taught to speak out and ask for our rights. We need to change the way we view ourselves and our lives. We need to change from the inside out," she said, according to the Christian Science Monitor.

Similar questions are being raised in other Gulf countries, both because of external and internal pressure:

Before 1999, women did not have the right to vote in any of the six Gulf Cooperation Council members. In two of these states--Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates--neither men nor women can vote, so it was never a gender issue. (In Saudi Arabia, citizens air grievances in palace assemblies and the rulers of the seven emirates set policy in the United Arab Emirates.) But in the past five years women have broken voting barriers in the other countries. They have voted and run for office in Qatar, Oman and Bahrain. Now, Kuwait's parliament faces a vote on a bill conferring voting rights on female citizens.

Of course, Kuwait has had such votes before, and so far has not agreed to female suffrage. But in Bahrain, where women gained the vote in 2001, more women than men voted in the next municipal elections, and last April Bahrain appointed its first female minister ever, Dr. Nada Abbas Haffadh, to run the health ministry. Maybe change is in the air?

It's fascinating to note that despite the traditions and laws that affect women's opportunities in the Gulf countries the vast majority of university students in Saudi Arabia, Qatar and United Arab Emirates are female. In Qatar, for example, over seventy percent of university students are women.

This naturally casts considerable doubt on the right-wing U.S. argument that the (relative) lack of male students in American universities is somehow linked to an imaginary feminist plot not to pay attention to boys' needs. If countries where boys' needs definitely take first place face the same distributional patterns it seems pretty clear that the cause is not in feminism, even in its imaginary forms. Just wanted to mention that again.

I also want to mention that during the First Gulf War an ex-colleague of mine started advocating a ban on female drivers in the United States. He thought that it was very funny, though perhaps a little less so after I provided him with a few decades worth of reading on the actual accident rates by sex of the driver, adjusted for miles driven. Sigh. Some people just don't have any sense of humor.

Tuesday, June 15, 2004

Sun Myung Moon, the Washington Times and the Dirksen Senate Office Building

Sounds like the beginning of a story about the three little pigs, and in a way it is. Sun Muyng Moon is an eighty-four year old Korean billionaire, also known as the "True Father" of the Unification Church which has a most interesting religious dogma. The Washington Times is an ultra-conservative newspaper in Washington D.C., one which loses money every year. The Dirksen Senate Office Building is where Reverend Moon was crowned as the new Messiah in the presence of several ambassadors, U.S. senators and other politicians.

It's not for me to decide whether Reverend Moon is the new Messiah, but it's interesting that this coronation took place in the premises owned by the American people, and it's also interesting that such coronations are banned by Section 9 of the U.S. Constitution. All this is gleaned from the excellent research of John Gorenfeld whose blog is also listed in my links. John dedicates the whole blog to Reverend Moon which is necessary, considering that the mainstream media spends most of its time studying another billionaire who might also be sticking his nose into U.S. politics, George Soros. The reason why Soros is an important topic for the media and Moon is not has to do with the kind of politics they back: Moon is an extreme conservative whereas Soros is a liberal. Got it? Good.

Moon is the major financial backer of the Washington Times, the most hilarious source of a wingnut news in this country. The Times keeps on losing money, but that is not a problem as Moon has invested one billion dollars in its success. He is also major financier of other right wing causes. This probably means that Moon has friends in high places.

Some of them might find Moon's religious beliefs a little bit embarrassing. Not only does Moon argue that Jesus, Confucius, the Buddha and Muhammad have endorsed him, but he has even converted Hitler and Stalin to his cause. He calls homosexuals 'dung-eating dogs', and finds the salvation of the world to be in the strict enforcement of marriage a la Moon: Couples are paired off by Reverend Moon himself, then married on bulk ceremonies. Male dominance is to be honored within the marriage, and each person who is married is said to receive a holy handkerchief from the Reverend which is to be used to wipe the body before the first three sex acts of the couple.

Moon doesn't like the United States very much as it stands, of course. He's called it "the Satan's harvest", and he wants the separation between the church and the state to be removed so that the current system can be replaced by a sort of Moonland where he rules with his wife, "The True Mother" (the third of these, actually). Not that she'd rule very much of anything, of course, as Reverend Moon has a problem with sex which he assumes only exists in the shape of women.

Women are the cause of the original downfall of humanity in the mythical garden of Eden, according to Moon, who believes that Eve didn't just bite the apple but instead had a bit of hot sex with Satan himself. So now we all come from Satan's lineage. (Interesting. I wonder what he'd say about a goddess with a snake's tail. Not that I ever met someone called Satan in the upper spheres. I suspect that he's a Christian invention.)

Here's a snippet of Moon's thoughts about women. Ironically, they sort of link to some of my recent posts, which makes me very worried:

May 5, 1996 Belvedere -- Int. Training Center
Translator -- Peter Kim
"In order to have a relationship with your husband you have to be married. Women who refuse to marry will be condemned to death. If you were to survive, the universe would eliminate you. This is the truth. In that sense, following Father's teaching this morning, can we find a true original woman in the American secular world? (No.) Is there even one single woman who qualifies to meet Father's criteria? Does a woman with small hips have a good chance of bearing many babies? Do you American women prefer large, fully developed hips, or small, nice looking hips. Do you women prefer to have a slim body or a fat, well developed body? This question has something to do with our ability to bear children. Logically speaking, if any woman has small hips she is supposed to have small breasts as well. But usually it is the other way around. Even though women have small hips they have large, fully developed breasts. This means they are unbalanced. Whatever is unbalanced will eventually be eliminated by the universe."

But the conservatives don't seem too worried to have a friend like Reverend Moon funding many of their activities and getting coronated on government property. This is because Moon is an open secret in the media, one that is tacitly agreed to be below the radar of all respectable pundits who are anyway far too busy at studying Soros to check all this stuff out. Lucky for us that John Gorenfeld has taken the time instead.

Original inspiration via Atrios.

A Reminder from Mother Nature

That she's still all we have to live on, and that we are messing with her at our expense:

Climate change is already occurring and immediate steps are needed to both slow it down and adapt to the changes that will occur anyway, scientists said Tuesday.
There is no question there will be effects from climate change, Chris Field of the Carnegie Institution of Washington said at a briefing at the American Association for the Advancement of Science.
"We are already seeing impacts, the question is, at what level will we decide it is a problem," Field said.
William Easterling of Pennsylvania State University said: "The time to act is now." He spoke at a separate briefing held by the Pew Center on Global Climate Change.
Climate change, specifically warming, has become a growing concern for many scientists, who worry that industrial exhaust and other gases in the atmosphere are raising temperatures and will damage crops and human health, raise the sea level and cause other problems.
They cite records showing an average worldwide temperature increase of about 0.6 degrees Fahrenheit over the past century.
Some scientists disagree, however, saying the computer models that forecast climate changes are not yet accurate enough to be used as a basis for policy changes.
The climate models aren't good enough to say exactly how global warming is going to come out, but "they are good enough to tell us we should be doing something." Michael Oppenheimer of Princeton University said at the AAAS briefing

The polar ice cap will continue melting and the sea levels will rise. Low-lying areas along coast lines will disappear into the ocean, species of animals and plants will die. How fast this will happen and how much worse it will get depends on the humans. It also depends on the stubborn know-nothing policies of the Bush administration and on our incredible love affair with fossile fuels, with new addicts being created every day in India and China.

But the effects of these warnings will be nil. People will just turn to the other side and continue snoring. It's much more pleasant that way, don't you think? To dream about a bigger house and a SUV and a world with nary one regulatory constraint on the free markets.

Mother Nature doesn't mind really. She (why she?) will just redesign her surface levels to be more accommodating to the general well-being of all. If that means discarding humans as a failed experiment, well, her horizon is long enought to accommodate a few disasters.

Monday, June 14, 2004

Something Happier

I was in a very bad mood today, kicking the snakes if they didn't slither away fast enough, and otherwise causing havoc wherever I went.
Also, I made a crappy post, which should have made me feel better but didn't.

The only thing that really works to bring my temperature down in a safe way is meditation, preferably while moving. Bagua is my new favorite method of practising. Besides, it will make me capable of fighting eight enemies at the same time, a very useful skill for any minor goddess.

Meditation is like unhooking the world's pesky teeth one at a time. Sometimes it's easier than other times, but it's never very easy for me, partly because I've got my teeth deep in the world also, and I have to disentangle those, too. But the relief that comes from letting go is wonderful. Suddenly I notice what a lovely evening it is, how the wind feels on my skin and how the green in the trees has already grown stronger and more serious. Summer is coming.

Meditation works, but I'm not sure why it does so. Is it just letting your brain idle for a while that makes more space for new feelings and thoughts? Or is it something to do with our nervous system and it's ability to rejuvenate when it is not being overloaded with all the usual junk? Or just refusing to think certain thoughts for some time?

Other things work, too. A really good fight can be wonderful, but I can seldom find anyone who is willing to duke it out. I know, I know, fighting is not nice, and neither is annoying people which also tends to make me more cheerful. So I'm a good little goddess and practise my meditation instead.

News, Damn It! And none of them about Iraq!

I'm a very angry goddess today, for reasons unrelated to this blog. Let's see if I can hold my viper tongue.

Anyway, re my previous post: American women who have undergone breast augmentation and other cosmetic surgery in the Dominican Republic may have brought home more than a prettier-looking body, including a few nasty bugs:

The CDC said that it has yet to establish the source of the infection but that previous outbreaks in other places have been attributed to contaminated surgical equipment.

Elsewhere, the Supremos are singing a different song. Remember all that 'state rights' emphasis we have been hearing in recent recordings? Well, the state has rights, but not about taxes:

The Supreme Court ruled Monday that federal courts can hear constitutional challenges to state taxes, a decision that could leave tax credits in nearly every state vulnerable to federal court challenges.
Justices said such lawsuits are permitted despite a 1937 law that says federal courts may not interfere with the "assessment, levy or collection" of state taxes. The 5-4 decision was a defeat for Arizona and its tax break that helps fund private religious schools.
The case arose from income tax credits given to Arizona residents for donating money for private school education. Those contributions fund grants and scholarships and are part of a state effort to give parents more choices in educating their children.
A group of Arizona taxpayers sued the state in federal court, arguing that the tax credits are an unconstitutional promotion of religion.

I like this decision, of course. But I wonder why the change now? Of course, it's probably just a last hurrah by the waning liberal wing of the judges, the ones that will be put out to pasture come November. Anyway, as expected, our boys in brown (Rehnquist, Scalia and Thomas) were all strongly opposed to this decision.

And now to something serious: international trafficking in humans. Our beloved Colin Powell has spoken out against this issue. It takes a lot of courage in a politician to speak against trafficking, of course, but never mind. He does have a point:

Khan was 11-years old when she was kidnapped from her home in the hill country of Laos.
She was taken to an embroidery factory in Thailand. She and dozens of other children were made to work 14 hours a day for food and clothing. They received no wages.
"It's called slavery," Secretary of State Colin Powell said Monday in recounting Khan's fate as he released the State Department's annual report on human trafficking. He said the practice affects 600,000 to 800,000 persons each year.
"We're talking about women and girls as young as 6 years old trafficked into commercial sexual exploitation, men trafficked into forced labor, children trafficked as child soldiers," Powell said

The current cure for this problem seems to be to punish the violating countries by using economic incentives. I wonder if that extends to punishing those rich countries which are also the recipients of many of those trafficked, you know, the U.S., the Western European countries and so on? Let's check:

On this year's list of offenders are Bangladesh, Burma, Cuba, Ecuador, Equatorial Guinea, Guyana, North Korea, Sierra Leone, Sudan and Venezuela.

Hmm. No.

Finally, and in a more light-hearted mode, the official portrait of president Clinton was unveiled in the White House today. And George Bush gave a speech which expressed his great admiration of the Clintons. No, I'm not making this up:

With old political grudges left unmentioned, former President Clinton returned to the White House for the first time Monday and listened with delight as President Bush praised him for his knowledge, compassion and "the forward-looking spirit that Americans like in a president."
The occasion was the unveiling of the official portraits of Clinton and his wife, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton.
Hundreds of former Clinton administration officials, from Cabinet secretaries to low-ranking aides, filled the East Room and applauded Bush's warm testimonials. His remarks were a sharp contrast with his promise four years ago "to restore honor and dignity" to the White House after Clinton and the sex scandal that led to his impeachment.
Facing re-election and trying to reach across party lines for support, Bush went out of his way to be gracious to both the former president and his wife, a favorite target of conservatives who fear she will run for president. Bush even offered a plug for Clinton's biography, being published next week. Pausing in his description of Clinton, Bush said, "I can tell you more of the story, but it's coming out in fine bookstores all over America."
Terry McAuliffe, the highly partisan chairman of the Democratic National Committee, told reporters, "Today is a bipartisan day here at the White House. Everyone loves everyone equally here today."

Gag me with a spoon.

Sunday, June 13, 2004

On Breast Augmentation

Are your breasts big enough? I bet that you have never spared this a thought if you're a man, while if you're a woman you have certainly considered the likely answer to this question. What if the likely answer is that they are not big enough? Big enough for what, exactly? What do the breasts have to perform that would require a large size? Well, we all know the answer, and it has nothing to do with breastfeeding or with lifting weights with your mammary glands. It has even nothing to do with not being out of balance packwards or any other smart-alecky explanations I can think of. It's all in the eye of the beholder. If the beholder is a man, or, as I am going to argue, if the beholder is a male American*.

Science is wonderful. It has even come to the aid of those women who prefer larger breasts than nature's designs allowed. The operation is called breast augmentation, and it involves cutting the breast tissue open and stuffing it with bags of silicone or bags made out of silicone but filled with a saline solution. Then the breast is sewed up again and presto, you're a cup C or D now! Except that you aren't, not really.

Many women who choose breast augmentation do it for very good medical reasons. They may want to have their breasts reconstructed after surgery, for example. But many others have breast augmentation on perfectly healthy breasts. The medical problem they suffer from is that the society tells them their smaller-than-average breasts are not acceptable.

In fact, what is now becoming perfectly acceptable is to fix this size problem with surgery, even for girls under the age of eighteen whose breasts may not have actually stopped developing. Bigger breasts is a fashion item, something that would make a nice high school or college graduation present, and if mum and dad won't pay for them, well, there's always loans:

"When I graduated high school in 1990, the big thing was nose jobs," said Jo Trizila, director of media relations for the Greater Dallas Chamber. Now, 8 of her 10 friends have implants. Those who couldn't afford them took out a loan.

But getting breast implants is not like buying a new color of lipstick or eye shadow. Breast augmentation means surgery, anesthesia and recovery from surgery. All the usual risk factors of surgery and anesthesia apply. Add to this the possible side effects from having foreign material in your body, and the fact that no breast augmentation is for ever: practically every single patient will have to undergo more surgery later on in life:

Whether you are undergoing augmentation or reconstruction, be aware that breast implants are not considered lifetime devices and that breast implantation may not be a one-time surgery. You are likely to need additional surgery(ies) and doctor visits over the course of your life. You are also likely to have surgery to remove the implant with or without replacement sometime over the course of your life.
Many of the changes to your breast following implantation are irreversible (cannot be undone). If you later choose to have your implant(s) removed, you may experience unacceptable dimpling, puckering, wrinkling, loss of breast tissue, or other cosmetic changes of the breast.
Breast implants may affect your ability to breast feed. Also, breast implants will not prevent your breast from sagging after pregnancy.
With breast implants, routine screening mammography will be more difficult, and you will need to have additional views, which means more time and radiation.
Breast implant surgery and/or treatment of complications may not be covered by your health insurance. You should check with your insurance company regarding these coverage issues because, for some women, health insurance premiums may increase, coverage may be dropped, and/or future coverage may be denied.

The average cost of breast augmentation is 7,000 dollars in the United States. That would buy a lot of padded bras, and the amount is just for the first operation. Then there are all the possible things that might go wrong with breast implants: capsule contracture, capsule deflation/rupture/leakage, infection, hematoma/seroma, extrusion, necrosis and so on. While none of these effects occur in an extremely large number of cases, there is some cause for concern if breast implants are viewed as an innocent fashion item rather as a medical option with all sorts of nasty risk factors.

Now I'm beginning to sound schoolmarmish and prudish. But I hate to think of people unnecessarily exposing their bodies to all that cutting and drugging. There's plenty of opportunity for all that later on when the bodies get old. And I do think that the reason for much of breast augmentation is an unnecessary one: there is nothing medically wrong with smaller breasts; they might even be less prone to breast cancer than larger ones. But I'm not telling anybody not to undergo this surgery if they wish to. It's not my breasts that are being cut, and I can't know how someone must feel to voluntarily undergo such cutting. I just think that the culture could focus on something else than the female breast as a sexual marker for a while. Give us some breathing room, if you like.

This culture is largely the Western one. The Breast isn't that important in some other cultures. The Japanese traditionally found the nape of the neck in women the part that aroused men's sexual instincts, the Africans and Caribbeans tend to focus on the buttocks. Even in the Elizabethan England bare breasts provoked very little comment, as it was women's thighs which made men's hearts beat faster. And I can tell from my own multi-continent experiences that it is the American men especially who are mesmerized by the Breast, preferably a largish one.

That the focus on mammary glands as a sexual marker is so culture-bound is important to stress, as some wingnuts argue that breast augmentation is a natural evolutionary strategy for women to compete against each other in the search for the Best Sperm. This would make it unfair competition, by the way, but that's not the point of their argument. Rather, they imply that the yearning for better and bigger breasts is biological and therefore Just The Way Things Are. They are mistaken, as I so aptly point out in the preceding paragraph. The Breast is not somehow the naturally designated measure of a woman's sexual desirability; we have made it so in this particular culture.

What's worrying, too, is that fashions about breasts could change. Maybe suddenly breasts aren't the IT thing anymore, and then all the women who spent money on better breasts are no better off than they were initially. Of course, the culture would then tell women to carve out their thighs or to round out their noses or something, so a change in the fashions isn't a real answer. I don't know what the real answer would be. But it would help if we realized that this fixation on the Breast is a cultural one, and that there is much more to the sexiness of the body. It would also help if we all agreed that the breasts belong to the woman to whom they are attached, not to the advertizers or the movie industry or the pornographic industry or the FCC. But that's probably too much to hope for.

*I'm aware that many men are not fixated on large breasts, and I apologize for using the generalization device in this post. The reason is purely stylistic, as you will see if you try to amend the offending sentences.


This post is fluff if written by female bloggers (or goddesses) and it disqualifies the blog from being regarded as a Serious Political Blog. That's why I have to include it every once and a while. I shiver at the idea of Serious Political Blogging. Or Serious Anything, really. We all take ourselves far too seriously.

I just got up after having slept sixteen hours nonstop. Didn't even get into my pyjamas before I conked out. Why? It had something to do with lots of nectar and the world's largest chocolate ice cream cake with hot fudge sauce and whipped cream all over it. I used the whipped cream to write haikus on the tabletop about the pleasures of chocolate ice cream, and someone else ate the haikus. That's really awful, and I was so shocked that I had to go to bed.

The day had started badly enough. I slammed the phone down on someone who wanted me to write ten letters on behalf of leukemia sufferers and then to distribute them in my neighborhood so that for weeks afterwards people would run away when they see me coming. And then the self-recriminations started: How could I slam the phone down on all those suffering people? What sort of a monster am I? (Well, I know that one, but you know the idea behind the guilt.) Will I now get leukemia as a punishment?

This was so horrible that any counterargument from my Better Self (like the fact that I have already done this thing and know the consequences and that the majority of my so-called disposable income already goes to charity and that nine out of ten phone calls I get are like that one, and I always say yes) were drowned out. I was too upset to even do the laundry or the vacuuming, and the hours to nectar time seemed far too long. And then I started feeling guilty about not doing the laundry and the vacuuming just because I was upset and so it went on and on.

But of course this isn't about politics or sociology, no. The begging calls and letters are totally unrelated to the fact that we won't have the government support medical research and the poor adequately. And my guilt has absolutely nothing to do with the fact that I have been carefully brought up to think that good women are charitable and kind and just love doing laundry and vacuuming and saving all the children in the world. Even when their compassion well is running dry and all they can dream about is chocolate ice cream. Even then it's just about some idiotic personal drivel fluff about some things that everybody faces bravely and courageously on their own and never utters to anybody else. Now, something about John Kerry and his motorbike, that would be real blog politics!