Monday, November 30, 2015

Gender - what does it really mean?

I've wondered a lot over the years what we really mean by masculinity and femininity, what makes a woman womanly or a man manly.

What is tripping me up is that there's no quality I can think of, that a real man ought to aspire to, that a woman ought not to have as well; and vice versa.

And when I think of characteristics that we associate with boys and men, or girls and women, there aren't any that aren't a trainwreck if taken to the extreme. Men who are too aggressive. Women who are too invested in their appearance. Women who smother their children so they have to make a complete break to get away. Men who have to dominate everyone around them.

Here is Rudyard Kipling's "If". It goes through a lot of "if you can" this and that, and ends
"Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And — which is more — you’ll be a Man, my son!"

Does he really mean "man", or does he mean "grownup"?

Look at this part:

"If you can bear to ...
... watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools"

Think about a mother who did the best she could to raise her child but in his teen years he fell in with the wrong crowd. Drugs. Problems in school. Maybe he develops an addiction, or actually ends up in prison. The mom addresses his problems at the same time that she loves him unconditionally, which is to say no matter what, and never gives up on him. Is that not womanly?

This part:

"If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss;"

That's cool, but if you are gambling away the rent money or any money beyond your discretionary spending, you may or may not be a man, but you're definitely a fool.

So anyway, suppose you take a quality like nurturing. Maybe women tend more to have this quality than men. That doesn't mean that any given woman is nurturing. That doesn't mean that men aren't. When I am sick my husband takes very good care of me. I don't see that as womanish. I see that as my life partner caring and stepping up. Why would I want a partner who didn't.

When I've tried asking this before I've never gotten a straight answer. I have read where feminists (dunh dunh DUNH!) assert that there is no difference between men and women. I don't see other feminists saying this and I don't say it either. I know we're different. Of course we are. I'm just not sure exactly how.

Thoughts?

Saturday, November 28, 2015

On Rehabilitation

What is the extent to which words, customs, practices and music with unsavory pasts are permitted to overcome those unsavory pasts and be rehabilitated?

There's a beautiful piece of music by Haydn.  Christians who attend churches that still sing traditional hymns would recognize it as the tune for "Glorious Things of Thee Are Spoken," and Christians have been singing it to those words for 200 years.  When Hitler came to power, that tune became the tune of the Nazi national anthem.  Today, the Nazi national anthem has been grandly forgotten -- I'd be surprised if one German in a thousand could recite the words to it -- and Christians continue to sing Glorious Things of Thee Are Spoken.  Some would say that the tune's use by the Nazis precludes it from being used in polite society.  Others would say that the world does not deserve to be robbed of a  beautiful piece of music just because it was appropriated by the Nazis.  If you want to hear what it sounds like, you can listen to it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s0oywMbpo24

What about Halloween?  Today, it is a silly children's holiday.  Once upon a time, it was a fairly bloody pagan religious ritual.  Its celebration was forbidden in the deeply religious home in which I was raised, in part for that reason.  Why should we celebrate an event that at one time caused much suffering?  On the other hand, there is no one alive who remembers that past, so should we deprive ourselves of what is today a bit of harmless fun for children?  The candy industry certainly hopes not.

Remember Yosemite Sam from the Buggs Bunny/Road Runner Hour?  Sam loved to cuss, and one of his favorite expressions was "cotton picking."  As in "ya cottin pickin varmint."  That term is of racist origin; it disparages the Black slaves who picked cotton in the South.  Probably none of the children watching Saturday morning cartoons in the 1960s and 70s made the connection.  A few of their parents might have made the connection.  But for most, it was simply a silly cartoon character saying silly things.

Reasonable minds may differ on the question, and it probably needs to be considered case by case.  But I'm of the mind that the better plan is to take power over words and music by not allowing their past to dictate our present.  Just because Hitler enjoyed Haydn's music doesn't mean I can't.  Just because slaves were disparaged doesn't mean I can't take some pleasure by watching a Yosemite Sam rerun on You Tube.

By doing so, we tell yesterday's bigots that we are stronger than they are; that while they are dust and ashes, we will transform their malevolence into joy. 

There was once a restaurant that, in the 1950s, had a sign that said "No faggots allowed."  Time passed, and eventually the restaurant was sold to a gay man, who decided not to take down the sign.  He transformed it into a restaurant with a mostly gay clientele, and he still didn't take the sign down.  He left it up because every day the business opened with a gay owner and a mostly gay staff and a mostly gay clientele, was a day that he and his staff and his clientele were giving the finger to the sign and its previous homophobic owner.  Kind of like a dog taking a leak on a sign that says "No dogs."

The sign isn't there any more; a bunch of humorless bureaucrats from the local human rights commission didn't see it that way and made him remove it.  Pity.  I liked his message so much better.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Gun control?

Man accidentally shot when customer's gun falls to floor while at Sanford Cracker Barrel
The Seminole County Sheriff's Office said after interviewing witnesses at the scene, deputies determined that a customer was on his way to the register to pay for his meal when his legally carried firearm fell from his holster onto the floor, discharging one round, which struck a male patron in the lower leg.

The shooting was determined to be accidental and no charges are expected to be filed.

The man who was shot was taken to the hospital with non-life threatening injuries.
I don't know why charges weren't filed. I'd like to see the following gun control law: You have to control your gun. Fell out of his holster, really?

Monday, November 23, 2015

How to read the Bible (part 1, maybe)

3 Some Pharisees came to him to test him. They asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason?”

4 “Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ 5 and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’? 6 So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”

7 “Why then,” they asked, “did Moses command that a man give his wife a certificate of divorce and send her away?”

8 Jesus replied, “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning. 9 I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery.”

10 The disciples said to him, “If this is the situation between a husband and wife, it is better not to marry.”

11 Jesus replied, “Not everyone can accept this word, but only those to whom it has been given. 12 For there are eunuchs who were born that way, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by others—and there are those who choose to live like eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. The one who can accept this should accept it.”
This is Matthew 19, of course, and it's one of several passages where divorce is addressed. Interestingly, in Matthew 5, when Jesus talks about divorce during the Sermon on the Mount, he mentions the sexual immorality clause, but in the corresponding verses in Mark and Luke, that is left out.

I am NOT a fan of "I'm not happy" divorces. There have been some of those in my family and among acquaintances. It seems like people sometimes just wake up in the morning and say "I want out" and despite their spouse's pleading, won't articulate any specific problem and won't go to counseling. Among the people I can think of that that has happened to, they're about evenly split between the men and the women.

Sometimes the spouse has articulated a grievance, and the other dismisses it until it's too late. It's sad when that happens, and the offending spouse promises to go to counseling and the whole nine yards - and maybe does go - but the offended spouse just has no love left. That still doesn't make it all right, of course, but one could wish that the offending spouse had not been quite so closed-minded about his/her faults.

I think part of the picture is what the disciples touch on here - if it's that grim maybe people just shouldn't get married. Definitely engaged couples should understand that they are in it for the long haul, and "for better or for worse" isn't just a phrase we say b/c it sounds nice. I am willing to bet that the number of starry-eyed lovers who believe what they're told, that the day will come when they are so mad at their loved one they could kill him/her, could be counted on one hand. But still, you enter marriage hopefully understanding that there will be bumps and you have to cling together and get through them.

All that to say this:

When you look at this passage in Matthew, if you were to pick one of these as being more central to Jesus's point than the other, which would it be?

1 - It's wrong to make up reasons why it's OK to divorce frivolously. God takes marriage very seriously. Don't try to weasel out of your commitments.

2 - Let me present to you an exhaustive and comprehensive list of acceptable reasons to divorce. Whoops, there's only one.

Things can happen nowadays that simply weren't possible 2000 years ago. Suppose your spouse has been rightfully convicted of serial murder and has been imprisoned for life w/o parole. You have little children to raise. Are you doomed to being a single parent, and your children doomed to growing up in a single-parent household, just because your killer spouse never committed adultery? How could Jesus have addressed this? They didn't imprison people like that. A serial killer would simply have been put to death, freeing his/her spouse to remarry.

Once you open that door, then there you are. When is divorce OK? When is it not?

I think ... I think ... that rather than to try to find ways to shoehorn specific exceptions to the no-divorce rule, like abandonment is OK b/c Paul said ... and abuse is a kind of abandonment ... the thing to do is to try to get at the purpose behind all of this, which is to say that once you've married somebody you shouldn't try to get out of your marriage unless you have a truly drastic reason. Yes, that can be abused. OTOH it's not right to put unbearable burdens on people for no good reason, especially if we're not the ones who will ever have to carry them.

Is anyone else willing to touch this with a nine-foot pole?

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Intelligence Lied About ISIS

The New York Times has a couple of articles this morning.

Pentagon Expands Inquiry Into Intelligence on ISIS Surge
State fighters overran a string of Iraqi cities last year, analysts at United States Central Command wrote classified assessments for military intelligence officials and policy makers that documented the humiliating retreat of the Iraqi Army. But before the assessments were final, former intelligence officials said, the analysts’ superiors made significant changes.

In the revised documents, the Iraqi Army had not retreated at all. The soldiers had simply “redeployed.”

Such changes are at the heart of an expanding internal Pentagon investigation of Centcom, as Central Command is known, where analysts say that supervisors revised conclusions to mask some of the American military’s failures in training Iraqi troops and beating back the Islamic State. The analysts say supervisors were particularly eager to paint a more optimistic picture of America’s role in the conflict than was warranted.
What the heck? Why would they do this?

Obama Says He Won’t Relent in Fight Against ISIS Amid Questions About Intelligence Reports
He rejected the use of the term “mastermind” to describe the man who authorities believe planned and helped execute the attacks in Paris on Nov. 13. He said the man “got his hands on some fairly conventional weapons, and sadly it turns out if you are willing to die, you can kill a lot of people.”

“The most powerful tool we have to fight ISIL is to say that we’re not afraid,” he said, “to not elevate it, to not somehow buy into their fantasy that they are doing something important.”

He called the group merely “a bunch of killers, with good social media.”
This is Obama, in Malaysia right now, at a press conference.

I like the first paragraph, and the third, but the second: that can't be the most powerful tool we have. Seriously? Was he channeling FDR here?

I recall that after 9/11, GWB ordered the FBI and CIA to stop fighting between themselves and figure out how to pull together. Apparently each had information they were shielding from the other because it was so important to score against the other side. And now these folks in military intelligence, not the analysts but their bosses, once again prioritizing something - personal power? - over forthright sharing of information where it needs to go. I don't know how it is that these folks take their eye off the ball and worry more about internal politics than they do their primary job of providing intelligence. Is it something about the personalities of the people who gravitate to these agencies? Do they think it's a game?

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Witness to a Death

He was not a nice person.  He had committed at least five known murders, and probably at least twice that many more for which he had not been caught.  He killed for money, he killed for revenge, and he killed because he decided that he enjoyed killing.  As a journalist, I had interviewed him twice and been struck by the complete lack of emotion he projected; I may as well have been talking to a machine.

On the day of his execution, it took four guards to get him into the gas chamber, not because he was actively fighting, but because he was scared out of his wits.  The man who had committed multiple murders with the same emotional detachment with which most of us swat a fly had, when faced with his own mortality, suddenly discovered that fear and dread are real emotions.  One wonders if he had an epiphany and realized that he was feeling what his victims had felt.  That's probably hoping for too much.

The gas chamber is a contraption straight out of the Middle Ages.  It was built in the 1930s, and the first thing one notices about it is just how noisy it is.  The door screeched as it was opened.  The clang of the door slamming shut rang throughout the witness area.  There is the blub-blub-blub of the hydraulic seal hermetically shutting off the inside of the chamber from the outside world.  I thought it was odd to hear water running through the pipes until I realized it was hydrochloric acid being pumped into the pan beneath the chair.  And even though I knew to expect the sound of the cyanide pellets drop into the acid, I found myself jerking when the sound came.

The late Warden Clinton Duffy of San Quentin Prison, who supervised the gassings of 88 men and 2 women, said that gas is a quick, easy and painless way to die.  He lied.  Cyanide is a miserable, miserable way to make one's exit.

Essentially, oxygen's function in the body is to aid in the conversion of food into energy, somewhat like the catalytic converter in your car.  Without oxygen, the ham and eggs you had for breakfast cannot be converted to the energy needed to power your brain, heart, and other vital functions.  With no power to run those systems, your body shuts down.

Structurally, cyanide closely resembles oxygen, so much so that when your body encounters it, it thinks that it is oxygen, and it gets sent out through the bloodstream to perform the work of oxygen.  Only since it doesn't perform the work of oxygen, your body gets none of the vital energy it needs to continue to function.  Essentially, death from cyanide gas is being strangled without a rope.  Most poisons work as poisons because they are structurally similar to some other important nutrient necessary to the body.  Arsenic, for example, is structurally similar to potassium, without which muscles do not work.

But this does not happen quickly.  Pain is the body's way of telling you that there is a problem.  As one vital organ and system after another realizes that it is no longer being powered, sharp spasms of pain ricochet across the body.  The muscles are flooded with lactic acid, which causes severe cramping.  The lungs gasp for air, but this simply results in more cyanide being delivered.  Finally, the brain, the lungs and the heart all fail, and death results.  The unlucky ones may fade  in and out of consciousness a few times first.  I had a good view of the proceedings, and I have no doubt that the prisoner was fully awake, and in pain, for a good five minutes after the cyanide entered the chamber.

After it was over, another journalist and I went to get some breakfast.  We made small talk to pretend that we hadn't seen what we had just seen.  We then went back to our offices to write our stories, before going on to the next story, and then the next story, and then the next story after that.

I wish I could tell you that this was just another story, but it isn't.  More than twenty years later, I still think about it, almost every day.  If I could erase from my consciousness just one memory, that execution would certainly make the top five.

I am deeply, deeply ambivalent about the death penalty.  If I were a member of the state legislature I would probably vote to repeal it.  At the same time, I'm not really sure what the argument is for why society is better off keeping someone alive who killed a dozen people in cold blood.  Maybe some people are so badly broken that permanently removing them from civil society is the best alternative for dealing with them, I don't know.

I do know this: Actually participating in the execution process changed me, and not for the better.  I will never look at life and death the same way again.  Maybe there are some rituals we really are better off without.

AGW/CAGW/Climate Change: There's either something rotten in Denmark or there's not.

No bad outcomes here:


which is why everyone should welcome this:


If Rep. Smith can’t prove his charge, he’ll be well and truly exposed.  If he can, Karl and NOAA will be.  So no matter how anyone feels about these issues, all honest people should welcome this inquiry.  About the only bad thing I can see is if the results turn out inconclusive; a “he said - she said.”  The best thing that can happen is a smoking gun, no matter which way it points. Either “I fudged the numbers on cue” or “Let’s lie and say he fudged.”

Regardless, I submit we are all better off getting one of those futures well and truly proven.  There's either something rotten in Denmark or there's not.  We all need to know which.
 
Kelly

Friday, November 20, 2015

Talking About Race

First, how about these for ground rules:

1 - Assume good faith in the other person unless they give you reason to do otherwise.
2 - Don't explain other people's experiences to them.

Then, when you hear someone's complaint about racism they have experienced, and you've listened with an open mind and thought it, your response will be one of a possible range of responses. I'm going to list them. See if you agree.

Starting with zero:

0 - The described experience is in the range of normal things that happen to people from time to time and is really not worth mentioning.

1 - The described experience is not very nice. The complaining person should try to put it behind them.

2 - The complaining person definitely has a grievance.

3 - An event amounting to a hate crime has happened and somebody needs to [lose their job, go to prison, etc.].

Working backward from zero:

-1 - The person is seeing racism where it doesn't exist. Could be an honest misunderstanding or just someone wanting attention.

-2 - The person is outright lying about what happened.

-3 - The person perpetrated the hoax they are now complaining about, and should now [lose their job, go to prison, etc.].

Does that about cover it?

Donald Trump Says He’d ‘Absolutely’ Require Muslims to Register

NEWTON, Iowa — Donald J. Trump, who earlier in the week said he was open to requiring Muslims in the United States to register in a database, said on Thursday night that he “would certainly implement that — absolutely.”

...

When asked how a system of registering Muslims would be carried out — whether, for instance, mosques would be where people could register — Mr. Trump said: “Different places. You sign up at different places. But it’s all about management. Our country has no management.’’

Asked later, as he signed autographs, how such a database would be different from Jews having to register in Nazi Germany, Mr. Trump repeatedly said, “You tell me,” until he stopped responding to the question.

Here's the article.

So: Tone-deaf idiot? Or dangerous fascist? (Or both?)

Thursday, November 19, 2015

test by kelly

test

What would you do?

Here is an opinion piece in the New York Times, written by a doctor who is concerned about a case before the Supreme Court in Washington State.  In the course of making his point he tells this little story:

Patients allow physicians into their private lives on the condition that the information we learn will not be used against them. I once took care of a business executive in the emergency room who had hired call girls during a weekend drug binge. When he saw a police officer outside his room, he quietly handed me an envelope containing a large amount of white powder. I wasn’t sure what to do with it, so I discarded it. For the next several hours the patient eyed me suspiciously, probably wondering whether I had ratted him out. But it never occurred to me to do so.
Hm.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015