Friday, June 27, 2014

Cynical Political Humor for Today

1.  On the question of how the US is to determine which parts of the Syrian opposition it should arm and abet, a possible list of questions is presented here.  What on earth could possibly go wrong by choosing to ship more arms into a particular battle zone?  Come to think of it, we should send a lot of drones, because they can be reused to bomb quite different parts of the globe.

2.  Here's an example of a lovely person who runs an alternative pregnancy center for Fallen Women and what she believes about women and contraception:

There is a war on women, but we’re not waging it,” Pinto added. “It’s coming from the pit of hell, like it did in the book of Genesis, when he told the women — when she bit the apple, he said, ‘You will not die.’”
“It’s the same lie. It’s the same war. And it’s not just on women, it’s on humanity. It’s on every aborted baby girl and baby boy. And every woman, and every man that has impregnated her.”

Don't you just love that term "impregnated, especially when expanded to every woman having been impregnated by every man?"  Then there's the reference to the original sin of being born female.  We should all try to avoid that, if at all possible. 

Elsewhere she calls the women who attend her center human wreckage.  Remember, SHE is the alternative the forced-birth right offers women.  So sweet.

3.  Dunlop suggested these golf tees as a good Father's Day gift.  They are shaped like headless naked pink women.  You put the golf ball where the head should be and then you whack off!  It's clearly something every dad fervently wants to own.  If nothing else, it's a good topic for discussion:  You hate all the bitches, too?  No? Really?  I thought everyone does.  Why would Dunlop sell these things otherwise?

4.  This piece is about the danger of pitchforks.  It's a semi-comical essay on one of the risks of being  super-rich when wealth and income inequality increases.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Connect The Dots: Matt Lauer Interviews General Motors CEO Mary Barra. Morocco Prime Minister Bemoans Working Women.

The horrors of employed mothers!

In Morocco,  Prime Minister Abdelilah Benkirane has spoken about the deep disaster that working women have caused in his country.  He compares women safely inside the home to lanterns or chandeliers. If the lantern walks out of the home, the home will be in darkness.

He then continues: complaining that the “sacred status God gave” to mothers who stay at home was being disrespected. “We will continue to defend our position against this modernity that is trying to eliminate family in our lives by reversing the roles of men and women,” he said.

There's an "I'm-Not-A-Chandelier" response to his comments in the social media.

So it goes.  What I like about Benkirane's statement is the open admission that he fears a role reversal.  How horrible it would be to have him viewed as a chandelier!  How horrible it would be if he wasn't allowed to go out or participate in politics!

I planned to write about his views as one stage in the process of greater gender equality, perhaps comparing it to the fears some Americans had that the suffrage of women would result in apron-clad-men having to stay at home and care for the children while the women went out, dressed for business and smoking cigars.  That was based on an old anti-suffrage poster.

Luckily, I didn't have to go quite that far back in the US history, because we heard from Matt Lauer so very recently.  His interview with the CEO of General Motors Mary Barra contained several daring questions about the true meaning of womanhood and motherhood:

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Conservative Writers on Campus Rape

Remember that George Will column about the coveted nature of being a victim of a sexual assault on US college campuses?  I wrote about it earlier.  The column brought poor George some trouble, partly because of the illogical and furious voices on the net.  Or so he thinks.  The St. Louis Post-Dispatch also dropped his column after the controversy.

What's so terrible about suggesting that being raped is a coveted status, Will appears to ask us.  It's a legitimate intellectual position to take, to argue that sexual assaults can be just bad sex, bad choices by the victim. 

Perhaps he should ask that question of those victims or survivors who spend years, decades even, in therapy, who try to bind together the frayed bits of their lives, who desperately try to trust people again, who strive for healthy sexuality and fail, over and over again.  Who are afraid to go out, for instance.  Those sufferers are not all women, either.

My apologies for that paragraph.  Will's column didn't have paragraphs of that sort, and their absence was part of the problem.  If you are going to write about the "nonexistent" sexual assaults, also write about the "existent" ones,  unless you are willing to hear from the sufferers of those, to correct your oversight.

This whole topic lures odd stuff out of the woodwork.  For instance, this one:

A George Will column about sexual assault, which received lots of criticism and caused one newspaper to drop the longtime syndicated conservative columnist, had all male editors, the Washington Post's Erik Wemple reported on Friday.
“On that day, there were three males, if that is important to you,” Alan Shearer, CEO and editorial director of Washington Post News Media Services, which is the company that syndicates Will's columns, told Wemple in response to a question about whether any women had reviewed the column.
Is it important to you?  And if it is, what do we learn from that?  I'm not sure.  Are we to assume that male editors couldn't identify with being a victim of a sexual assault but would identify with, say, being falsely accused of one when sex turns out less than wonderful? 

What are the statistical odds of a man being either the victim of a sexual assault or of being falsely accused of one?  My guess is that the former group is larger than the latter group, but a group of three editors would be unlikely to have anyone from either group, given the overall statistics. So are we to think that men, as a class, cannot identify with the victims of sexual assaults but women, as a class, can?

That may be the case.   When I call these arguments odd I don't mean that they wouldn't have actual content or that they wouldn't be worth investigating.  At the same time, there's a sense of war fronts being set up in a certain way, with conservative writers worrying about the rights of college students who are accused of sexual assault to due process and liberal or progressive writers worrying about the same rights for college students who allege that they are raped or sexually assaulted.  If you omit gender references, that's what you get.

But you can't really omit gender in this conversation.  The conservative writers quickly fall back to "innate" positions where the women are supposed to be the gate-keepers, where they are supposed to be modest and to cross their legs, where they are not supposed to get inebriated, and where nobody explicitly negotiates sex, unless it's for money. 

None of that has saved India from a wave of publicized gang rapes or killings, by the way, and neither has the idea of "implicit consent" worked anywhere where "consent" can be interpreted as being out in the streets without a chaperone or having a short skirt or whatever other cultural rules are being used to define "consent" from one extreme angle.

Is there anything at all useful in these conservative writings about sexual assault?  Perhaps what I have revealed above?  That the debate is about where to draw the line which defines that we have moved from sex to sexual assault, and that different people have very different ideas about where that line should be drawn.  Remember the legitimate rape arguments?

Still, it would be a great idea to create a short question which everyone can use about sex, a question which isn't too clinical or too weird, one which can be answered in the affirmative by anyone who wants to have sex with the one popping the question, with full understanding of what it is one has agreed to.  We don't have that in our cultures, and we need that.


Monday, June 23, 2014

Anna Katherine Green. The Mother of the American Detective Novel.

She wasn't the father of the American detective novel, but her first novel, the Leavenworth Case (1878), was one of the first detective novels ever written*.  One site describes the book's  importance as follows:

That device has, of course, been used time and time again in mysteries, and for this and other reasons, it is sometimes tempting to fault The Leavenworth Case as a clichéd work…until one realizes that this is the book that established the situations and lines that would later become clichés (for instance, when asked whom he suspects of the murder, Gryce cryptically replies: “Every one and nobody”).

Arthur Conan Doyle and Wilkie Collins admired her work, and Agatha Christie specifically mentioned her as a role model.

I'm writing about her because I read quite a bit of her work over the weekend.  Her style is Victorian florid, with upper class young women depicted as virginal frail flowers, wilting in the wind, petals dropping off if the woman forgets to wear a hat and so on.  It may be that writing style which has kept Green in the shadows**.  And the books I read have plenty of the kind of sexism and classism etc. which grates on the modern reader.

But Green was born in 1846, and for a woman to write in those days she  had to write the way Green did, at least in the sense that the female characters had to comply with the then-common gender norms.  A lot of fainting, a lot of trembling, and those would excuse her clever plot schemes.  She can also create realistic characters when her pen describes older men or older women or charladies and others of lower class.  Then she is both funny and perspicacious.

I wasn't familiar with Green's writings before.  Perhaps you are, if you like detective novels.  But it was pretty exciting to meet and spot the prototypes of Miss Marple, the basic plot of the Pale Horse and several other plot devices later writers have used.  As that first quote pointed out, her work seems full of cliches until you realize that she created many of the ideas which now look old hat to us.

Why was I excited about all that?  Because it's always nice to find how the magic trick was done, where, say, Agatha Christie and others got their basic ideas and how they built on those, and because it's nice to slot some of the missing puzzle pieces into the history of the detective novel.  Anna Katherine Green certainly belongs there and is a major piece in the overall puzzle.

*She probably wasn't the very first woman to publish a detective novel in the US, so in that sense she wasn't the mother, either.  Stepmother?
**On the other hand, the fainting and trembling women are not exactly uncommon in the books written by Victorian men and neither is the florid language.

Fairness And Other Nonsense in the Gospels

I don't think Erick Erickson is a Viking, despite the name.  He's a conservative pundit who recently wrote about Christianity and the "gay mafia" (his term), the point being that Erick's  god will smite (smite!) gays and lesbians and orders true believers to disapprove of same-sex love.  That particular god also approves of the stoning of adulterers and otherwise matches the ancient models of the gods of thunder. 

Because humans interpret and define divinity on the basis of their own understanding, warlike cultures get war gods and so on.  The views of divinity change over time.  That's why the god in the Bible appears to have multiple personalities.  Only some of those, for example, want to oppress women a lot.  Jesus doesn't have much to say about the importance of keeping women down or about the perfidy of gayness.

Which brings me to the quote from Erick, the son of Erick, which I find most illuminating:

When preachers give up that prophetical role and focus only on the pastoral, we get people claiming the gospel is about fairness and other nonsense.
I'm for fairness and other nonsense myself.  But it's certainly true that any religion with staying power will be fuzzy and muddled enough (and even more so after a lot of interpretations) that almost anyone can find something in it to match their desires about how the divinity should be.  Thus we get the smiting god, the god who drinks blood, the god who chases the traders out of the temple, the god who defends the prostitute, the jealous god, the grieving god, the loving god, even the fairness-and-other-nonsense god.

And if your particular variety isn't catered for, you can always start a new sect.  For instance, one which tells that rich people are rich because god wants them to be rich, or one which tells you that you can have as many wives as you wish.

Religions also have wonderful aspects, great messages and the ability to help those who suffer.  At the same time, humans interpret presumed divine words (or their ideas of those) pretty poorly, on the whole.  We are very clever at stressing the bits we like and ignoring the bits we don't like.  Those who support literal readings of holy books are not much bothered by the fact that they talk about aspects of cultures which existed centuries ago and sometimes refer to very specific historic events or by the fact that literal readings are ultimately not feasible, because of both the internal inconsistencies they create and because of the problems of interpreting the meanings of ancient languages today.

What are you going to nail your view of life to?  That might be the ultimate question which religions try to answer, but as the case of Erick Erickson demonstrates, the answer depends on the wielder of the hammer.