Friday, September 27, 2013

Comparing Elephants and Tony Makris

Contents:  Cruelty towards animals.

Both elephants and NRA Lobbyist and NBC Sports Network host Tony Makris  seem capable of anger.   Makris shot an elephant in the face and then accused those who criticized him of being like Hitler.  Elephants also feel anger and grief.  On the latter:

One of the most moving displays of elephant emotion is the grieving process. Elephants remember and mourn loved ones, even many years after their death. When an elephant walks past a place that a loved one died he or she will stop and take a silent pause that can last several minutes. While standing over the remains, the elephant may touch the bones of the dead elephant (not the bones of any other species), smelling them, turning them over and caressing the bones with their trunk. Researchers don't quite understand the reason for this behavior. They guess the elephants could be grieving. Or they could they be reliving memories. Or perhaps the elephant is trying to recognize the deceased. Whatever the reason, researchers suspect that the sheer interest in the dead elephant is evidence that elephants have a concept of death. In UNFORGETTABLE ELEPHANTS, when Erin is wounded, Echo and the family never wander far from her over the course of several days, leaving only to drink. After Erin's death, her family touched and smelled the bones, as filmmaker Martyn Colbeck says, "as if they were trying to understand what had happened."

On the former:

Terror, rage and stress, unfortunately, are also commonplace in the elephant repertoire of emotions. Terror afflicts baby African elephants who wake up screaming in the middle of the night after they have witnessed their families murdered and poached--a type of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

Some researchers suggest a species-wide trauma is taking place in wild elephant populations. They say that elephants are suffering from a form of chronic stress after sustaining decades of killings and habitat loss. The recent surge in cases of wild elephant rage reported by the media is a sad indicator of the kind of stress that wild elephants are undergoing. Nearly 300 persons are killed every year by wild elephants in India. But the increasing numbers of deaths are closely correlated to the ever-increasing human presence in traditional wild elephant habitats, as well as the the effects of climate change, and loss of territory and resources. The ongoing competition between elephants and humans for available land and resources is leading to ever more unfortunate and often deadly consequences.

Human activity does more than put a stress on elephants to find resources. It can often disrupt the complex and delicate web of familial and societal relations that are so important in elephant society. Calves are carefully protected and guarded by members of the matriarchal elephant family. Any perception of danger triggers a violent reaction from the matriarch and, subsequently, the entire family. The extremes a family will go to protect a vulnerable new calf are reported in the news stories as fits of unprovoked "elephant rage." Charging a village, storming into huts where harvested crop is stored, plundering fields and, if disturbed, turning violent are some of the instances reported by the media.

The Price of an Engagement Ring: Three Hundred Sandwiches.

You can read all about this publicity stunt (for a book?) by a New York Post reporter here.  A snippet:

My boyfriend, Eric, is the gourmet cook in our relationship, but he’d always want me to make him a sandwich.
Each morning, he would ask, “Honey, how long you have been awake?”
“About 15 minutes,” I’d reply.
“You’ve been up for 15 minutes and you haven’t made me a sandwich?”
To him, sandwiches are like kisses or hugs. Or sex. “Sandwiches are love,” he says. “Especially when you make them. You can’t get a sandwich with love from the deli.”
One lazy summer afternoon just over a year ago, I finally gave in. I assembled turkey and Swiss on toasted wheat bread. I spread Dijon mustard generously on both bread slices, and I made sure the lettuce was perfectly in line with the neatly stacked turkey slices.
Eric devoured the sandwich as if it were a five-star meal, diving in with large, eager bites. “Babes, this is delicious!” he exclaimed.
As he finished that last bite, he made an unexpected declaration of how much he loved me and that sandwich: “Honey, you’re 300 sandwiches away from an engagement ring!”

So what can a girl do?  Make three hundred sandwiches, naturally.  The story is cute, all about love and feeding those you love and the sandwiches probably are delicious, too, right?

Then there's the side with the baby monsters.  She's making these sandwiches in exchange for a wedding ring because
Things were moving at a natural pace, but I wondered what it would take for him to propose. I’m in my mid-30s, and my parents have been happily married for more than 35 years. I have always valued the commitment and dedication it takes to get married and stay married. Call me old-fashioned, but I’d like to raise a family with someone who feels likewise.
Maybe I needed to show him I could cook to prove that I am wife material. If he wanted 300 sandwiches, I’d give him 300 sandwiches — and I’d blog about it.

One way to read that is that he's not keen to marry her unless she makes him sandwiches, that the marriage is something she has to buy from him, that she has to wait for him to propose.  And then there's the fact that this contract between her labor and his future payment for it (the ring) cannot be enforced in any court.  So she may end up having made all those sandwiches and then he just moves on.  Except that this is probably a publicity stunt.

Why it isn't a very good stunt is because of this: "Make me a sammitch, bitch!" is the most common   response of sexists to anything by an uppity woman (an article, a piece of music, a sports achievement).  Typing it out doesn't take much thought.  Even a brainless person can use it, and the intention is to remind that uppity bitch that she is supposed to be subservient.  I have read that thing gazillion times.

So the way I interpret this story is as a female subjugation story.  Come to think of it, that's how it might be intended to read?  Maybe the book or blog or whatever is going to be 2013's answer to that 1970s book about how to obey your husband best so that he will buy you a deep freeze.

On the other hand, that commercial flavor of the transaction smacks of something different.  We might be able to pick and choose which tired image of women we wish to use here (obedient mate, manhunter/golddigger).  But in any case, as the happy sammitch-man, Eric, states:

“You women read all these magazines to get advice on how to keep a man, and it’s so easy,” he says. “We’re not complex. Just do something nice for us. Like make a sandwich.”

I thought it was 300 sandwiches, in exchange for a ring?   And there's the third tired image of women and men, the dichotomy of men as very very simple creatures, as long as they get fed and of women as sandwich presses.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Speed Blogging 9/26/2013. On the Pope, Revenge Porn, Girls Having Cooties and Affirmative Action Bake Sales

Katha Pollitt asks whether the new Pope is actually any better for women than the previous ones were.  

Emily Bazelon talks about revenge porn and the fact that there is no current legal remedy to the harm it causes. 

Soraya Chemaly writes about the way we teach boys not to be girly in the US.  I think the boys' school crisis partly links to the idea that if girls can do education it's not worth doing, at least in some subcultures.  The other (and bigger) reason, as I've written before, is that what women can earn without college education is chicken feed and whatever we call women (chicks) they cannot bring up a family on those earnings.  The average male earnings based on just a high school certificate are considerably higher than the average female earnings based on the same certificate.

The Young Conservatives of Texas had another bake sale to protest affirmative action.  The idea is to sell cookies for less to members of minorities and women, to show how wrong this is.  What I've always found hilarious about the concept is that the average earnings of all minorities except for Asian-Americans are lower than those of non-Hispanic whites, and the average earnings of women are less than the average earnings of men.  So there's a sense in which we could have a bake sale about that or at least to realize that the relative sacrifices different kinds of people have to make for the same cookie actually ARE different.  But that's probably too difficult.

Finally, just for fun, pictures of medieval head-dresses created in an airplane toilet.

Men Eating Menstrual Pads. David Gilmour on Teaching Real Guy-Guy LIterature

Suppose you read this from a professor of literature:

I’m not interested in teaching books by women. Virginia Woolf is the only writer that interests me as a woman writer, so I do teach one of her short stories. But once again, when I was given this job I said I would only teach the people that I truly, truly love. Unfortunately, none of those happen to be Chinese, or women. Except for Virginia Woolf. And when I tried to teach Virginia Woolf, she’s too sophisticated, even for a third-year class. Usually at the beginning of the semester a hand shoots up and someone asks why there aren’t any women writers in the course. I say I don’t love women writers enough to teach them, if you want women writers go down the hall. What I teach is guys. Serious heterosexual guys. F. Scott Fitzgerald, Chekhov, Tolstoy. Real guy-guys. Henry Miller. Philip Roth.

Bolds are mine.

What would your reaction be?  If you were told that this was said in 2013 and is actually happening in Canada, where the person speaking there, David Gilmour, teaches short stories at the University of Toronto.

My reaction was an odd one.  The usual pain in always being regarded as the other, the usual notice of the idea that something like "real guy-guys" is a valid literary genre to teach, and the usual observation that this is a Catch-22 problem for women writers, because they cannot become "serious heterosexual guys" in David Gilmour's world and therefore can never become writers worth covering.  Except for Virginia Woolf, the usual honorary gentleman.

Gilmour's principles are at least partly gender-essentialist.  More precisely, he likes great literature which approaches pornography, and that's why he likes Henry Miller whose books are pretty much built on misogyny, I think:

I teach Tropic of Cancer to the first-year class. They’re shocked out of their pants. No one teaches it except for me. Sometimes their parents actually question me about it, they say, Listen, this is really outrageous. I say, well, it’s a piece of literature that’s been around for 60 years. It’s got something going for it.
There’s an even dirtier one that I teach, by Philip Roth, called The Dying Animal. I save it ’til the very end of the year because by that point they’ve got fairly strong stomachs, and they’re far more sophisticated than they are in the beginning. So they can understand the differences between pornography and great literature. There are men eating menstrual pads, and by the time my students get to that they’re ready.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Objectivity in Journalism. It Does Not Mean Reporting He Said, She Said.

What it does mean might be debated.  But it probably doesn't look the way NBC White House correspondent Chuck Todd assumes:

Appearing on MSNBC's Morning Joe today (9/18/13), Todd responded to Ed Rendell's claim that Obamacare opponents are full of misinformation about the program by explaining that this was because Republicans  "have successfully messaged against it." But wasn't journalism's job to expose misinformation? No, Todd insisted; if the public was misinformed about the Affordable Care Act, it was the president's fault for not pushing back:
What I always love is people say, "Well, it's you folks' fault in the media." No, it's the president of the United States' fault for not selling it.
Of course, if it's not the job of the media to provide facts, the job of the media just got a lot cushier.  No need to do research, no need to learn about a new field, no need to do much anything but be a recorder.

News About Sexism

On Hillary Clinton:

Discussing speculation that Clinton might run for president in 2016, Washington Times' editor emeritus Wesley Pruden, began his September 24 column by noting that Clinton's interview with New York magazine had revived speculation on her political plans, adding, "the lady knows how to keep everyone guessing. Only her roots are showing." Pruden concluded by saying that Clinton's age is "not particularly old for a man" but "a woman in public life is getting past her sell-by date":
Will she or won't she? Not even her hairdresser, who is only called in occasionally, knows for sure. But the lady knows how to keep everyone guessing. Only her roots are showing.
But what do they actually know? Hillary would be 69 on Inauguration Day 2017, not particularly old for a man not out of sight of his prime, but a woman in public life is getting past her sell-by date at 69. John F. Kennedy, who never had to grow old, got it right when he famously remarked that "life is unfair." A second failed race for president would not be much of a capstone for a distinguished career in politics, and life at the hearth with Bubba and the dogs would be more rewarding than indulging the parasites of another campaign.

Bolds are mine.  What is funny about that quote is the way it is sorta the reverse of reality.  As women live longer, on average, than men, a 69-year old man is, statistically speaking, closer to his sell-by date than a 69-year old woman.  But Pruden is not talking about that.  He's talking about whether a woman's looks appeal to him or not.

What John Lydon said:

John Lydon is no stranger to shocking television appearances, but the former Sex Pistol provoked fury today by ordering a female host to “shut up when a man is talking”.
The 57-year-old was branded a “sexist, misogynist pig” after his appearance on the Australian talk show The Project on Channel Ten.
With apologies to all pigs who are charming and smart creatures.

Finally, and slightly late, the discussion about racism in the Miss America contest gives an interesting example of one of those cases where different social justice concepts clash.  Is it an advance if something sexist becomes less racist?  Or something racist becomes less sexist?  You work that one out.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Monday, September 23, 2013

Mother Blaming. The Gift Which Keeps On Giving

This time it's from the Finnish Helsingin Sanomat, in an article pleading for zero tolerance when it comes to alcohol and pregnancy.  This, my friends, means essentially that all fertile women should stop drinking, and that certainly no pregnant woman should ever have a glass of wine.

The latter is because "nobody has established a safe level of alcohol consumption during pregnancy."  But that's partly because the existing studies are about severe alcohol consumption by women who qualify for the label "alcoholics."  The recommendation of no alcohol is made on that basis, and because alcohol consumption is purely optional.  So there's no real loss, the thinking goes, when women are told that even a teaspoonful of alcohol could cause havoc with the developing fetus, whether that is the case or not.

And all that may be fine.  What's NOT fine is how the story in Helsingin Sanomat goes.  I have translated some bits from it, to explain what I dislike about it:

Vähäinenkin alkoholinkäyttö raskauden aikana huolestuttaa alan tutkijoita. He vetoavat nollatoleranssin puolesta.
Asiantuntijat ovat huolissaan raskaana olevien suomalaisten alkoholinkäytöstä.
Monet raskaana olevat juovat lasillisen silloin tällöin, mutta tämäkin huolestuttaa asiantuntijoita. Näyttöä riskirajasta tai turvallisesta rajasta ei ole.
"Mehän emme koskaan voi tehdä ihmiskokeita tällaisella asialla", raskaana olevien naisten päihteiden käytöstä väitellyt erikoislääkäri Hanna Kahila.
Suomessa syntyy vuosittain arviolta kuusisataa lasta, jotka ovat selvästi äidin raskaudenaikaisen juomisen vaurioittamia. Lisäksi vuosittain kaikkiaan 3 600 lapsen arvioidaan sikiöaikanaan altistuneen äidin runsaalle alkoholinkäytölle.


Even very limited consumption of alcohol during pregnancy worries the experts in the field.  They appeal for zero tolerance.

The experts are worried about the alcohol use of pregnant Finns.  Many pregnant women have the occasional glass of alcohol, but even this troubles the experts.  There is no evidence about the risk limit or safety limit.

"We can't carry out human experiments in this area," states the specialist Hanna Kahila whose dissertation concerns women's use of alcohol.

Approximately six hundred Finnish children are born each year, clearly damaged by the mother's alcohol consumption during pregnancy.  In addition to that,  3600 children are estimated to have been exposed during pregnancy to the mother's plentiful use of alcohol.

Note two things in that excerpt.  First, the story speaks to all pregnant women.  Second, the data on children with alcohol-related problems probably is linked to cases of real alcoholism.  To put the latter into perspective, in 2012 the number of live births in Finland was 59,493.

A second quote:

Naisten alkoholinkäyttö ja nuorten naisten humalajuominen on lisääntynyt rajusti viime vuosikymmeninä.
Asiantuntijoiden pelkona on, että tämä näkyy myös sikiövaurioiden lisääntymisenä.
Tutkimusten mukaan joka toinen raskaus on suunnittelematon, Kahila ja Autti-Rämö sanovat. Moni nainen juokin itsensä humalaan, kun ei tiedä olevansa raskaana. Kuitenkin juuri raskauden alkuvaiheessa syntyy perusta keskushermostolle ja muille elimille, Autti-Rämö muistuttaa.


Women's use of alcohol and the drinking by  young women to inebriation has radically increased in recent decades.  Experts fear that this will also show in increased fetal abnormalities.


According to studies, every other pregnancy is unplanned, Kahila and Autti-Ramo state.  Thus, many women may drink themselves into inebriation while not knowing about being pregnant.  Yet it is at the beginning of the pregnancy that the foundation for the central nervous system and other organs are created, Autti-Ramo reminds us.

And what does that suggest to you, hmh?  Perhaps we should insist that no fertile person with female sex organs ever has a drink anywhere?  Even if there are no studies about the effect of having the occasional glass of wine etc.  Because, after all, we are talking about the whole lives of potential future people here!  Only very selfish bitches would disagree with something like that (and, oh boy, do we get the selfishness of women discussed in the comments!).

Those of you who are familiar with this blog know already that I'm not advocating alcohol for anyone and certainly not for people (both male and female) who try to conceive.  But there's something truly odd about these sermon-type articles, aimed at women.

They try to push the guilt buttons of all women, they always imply that any sacrifice is acceptable and they misuse data to get to that conclusion.

On the latter,  take the reference to half of all pregnancies being unplanned.  As the study was not quoted in the article, I may be mistaken in assuming that it's the US study.  But let's assume that it is.  Then note this, about that study:

Two-thirds of U.S. women at risk for unintended pregnancy use contraception consistently and correctly throughout the course of any given year; these women account for only 5% of all unintended pregnancies. In contrast, the 19% of women at risk who use contraception inconsistently or incorrectly account for 43% of all unintended pregnancies. The 16% of women at risk who do not practice contraception at all for a month or more during the year account for 52% of all unintended pregnancies (see graph).[13]

Why does this matter?  Because the conclusions one draws are quite different.  If a woman wants to have the occasional glass of wine, she can do so pretty safely for any potential future fetuses by using contraception properly.  The conclusion of the "experts" in that article are rather different, implying that women, as a class, should not drink at all.

Then, of course, there's the fact that these kinds of stories are rarely aimed at men who consider becoming fathers, even though no study has shown the safe amount of alcohol they could imbibe, without damaging their sperm.  (Yes, this is a quip on the previous discussion of safe limits.)

Let me finish with the beautiful (beauuuutiful!) end to that Helsingin Sanomat article.  Here we really get into the mother blaming:

"Jokainen voi mennä peilin ääreen ja kysyä siltä peilikuvaltaan, että onko äidin oikeus juoda ja käyttää päihteitä suurempi kuin lapsen oikeus syntyä terveenä", toteaa sosiaali- ja terveysministeriön hyvinvoinnin ja terveyden edistämisen johtaja Kari Paaso.

"Each and every one of us can stand in front of a mirror and ask that mirror image if the right of a mother to drink and use drugs is greater than the right of a child to be born healthy."  notes Kari Paaso, the manager in the advancement of health and well-being at the ministry of social matters and health.

The comments to the story run wild with all these ideas, as you might imagine.  The selfishness of women is mentioned in several, and a few speculate that all children with difficulties at school have those because of what their mothers did during pregnancy!   Almost anything and everything can  now be assumed to be the fault of women during pregnancy.  And if they deny ever drinking or smoking, well, we all know they will lie.

I guess my annoyance with this piece is partly because they are so very very many, but only when directed at women, and because anything having to do with being a mother is discussed as a problem for ALL women and ALL mothers.  So if some women drink too much, then all women must be given a strict sermon.  And so on.  One becomes subject to this simply be being female, by the way, not by anything one does.  And then lots and lots of people join in policing those female bodies.  Because of the aquaria aspect. 

Yet we don't carry out these types of sermons when it comes to other large groups of people.
Added later:  The way to make this something less than hectoring at all women (with implications of selfishness etc.) would have been to state the recommendation:  zero tolerance, and then to explain why that is the case (no safe amount known).  Then one might have added that taking care of contraception is recommended for women who like to drink alcohol and are fertile, and that both partners  should avoid alcohol while planning for conception and, once pregnancy follows, the woman should abstain from alcohol.  That would still not give all the evidence there is but at least it would be respectful of the intended audience (women).