greensword: (Default)
I have spent a good portion of the morning talking to my coworkers about the neuroscience of orgasm. There's a fascinating area of research on women who are paralyzed and numb from the waist down who can still experience orgasm. This appears to be due to the vagus nerve. The word vagus comes from the same root as vagabond, and the nerve is named for the way it "wanders" throughout the body instead of going to the spinal cord and taking the traditional route up to the brain. So when a woman is paralyzed, there is still a way for signals of pleasure to reach her brain and therefore her consciousness*.

In the process of looking up the article that documents this, I also found out that there's research showing that when people orgasm, there's a drastic decrease in activity in their prefrontal cortex. This makes sense, since experiencing an orgasm makes you feel "out of control". Similar research shows that some men and women who have trouble reaching orgasm fail to decrease prefrontal activity. Of course, it's hard to know what's causing what, but it seems to bear out the common wisdom that thinking too much about trying to come only makes it more difficult to do so.

My coworkers and I agreed that this would be a fun line of research to pursue, but that we'd get embarrassed trying to explain our jobs at parties, so it's for the best that we study something more mundane, like morality.


* - The actual mechanics of orgasm, especially in men, can be induced without any conscious awareness, kind of like a crayfish's swimmeret system. (I knew something seemed familiar!)

Bullshit.

Oct. 15th, 2008 10:29 pm
greensword: (Default)
John McCain on ACORN:

We need to know the full extent of Sen. Obama's relationship with ACORN, who is now on the verge of maybe perpetrating one of the greatest frauds in voter history in this country, maybe destroying the fabric of democracy.


I think this is objectively repulsive.

There is a long and ugly history of voter suppression in this country, primarily of minorities and people living in impoverished areas. Urban areas given bad machinery that throws out a greater percentage of votes. A much higher ratio of voters to voting machines, so that lines at polling places in urban areas stretch out for blocks. People who have to work to eat forced to take the day off so they can stand for eight hours in line - while others who can take a day off can speed through the process in twenty minutes. Florida illegally removing the votes of (mostly minority) people who committed crimes in other states - and then also removing non-felons as well. Partisans challenging the residency (and therefore eligibility to vote) of people who are homeless or who have recently lost their homes. Flyers in minority neighborhoods advertising the wrong day to vote or falsely telling people they can't vote if they have outstanding fines or parking tickets.

But does anyone want to talk about that? No.

Look, what ACORN is being accused of is voter registration fraud. What is very different from voter fraud. Registration fraud just means some fake names are being registered. Well, I say, no harm, no foul. I don't care who's registered, so long as only eligible people actually come out and vote.

How exactly do you commit actual vote fraud? Well, to start off, you have to find someone willing to vote multiple times under different aliases. Given that the penalty for vote fraud is prison time, you'll have to pay these people a lot. And unfortunately, you can't risk them going to the same polling place twice, otherwise they might be recognized by poll workers. So you have to drive them around to all the different places they've fake-registered. Maybe you'll hit up a dozen polling places in a day. Maybe even two dozen. It's easier if you do it absentee, but even then, you've got to provide identification... identification that's a lot harder to fake than just filling out a form and saying your name is Mickey Mouse. Why would anyone try to register as Mickey Mouse? No one would. Most of these registrations are made up by lazy workers at registration drives who just want their $10 an hour, please. No one is going to try to get an extra vote out of these things.

And look, ACORN specifically has done everything they can to combat registration fraud. They're legally required to hand every single registration card they get over to authorities, but they've been patiently checking and double-checking and flagging anything they think is suspicious so that the local authorities can look into it further. Frequently, this information has been ignored. In Nevada, the authorities are accusing them of voter fraud, citing the same registrations that ACORN told them they should look at several months ago.

So there you have it. While voter suppression is blithely ignored, nonexistent voter fraud is suddenly the big scandal of the 2008 campaign. I mean, damn, has anybody been paying attention to what happened with the U.S. attorney firing scandal? Where the Bush department of Justice illegally fired U.S. attorneys - most of them Republicans - because they refused to follow up on allegations of voter fraud that were patently unfounded? Has anyone ever even heard of someone - anyone - going to jail for vote fraud?

And you know what? I'm going to go there: This is racist. This is completely racist. And classist, too, while we're at it.

They're actively suppressing the vote of poor people and minorities, and when groups like ACORN try to increase voter turnout among those groups, they try to smear them and say they're committing fraud.

I'm not saying the democrats wouldn't do exactly the same thing if they had the opportunity. But the fact of the matter is that right here, right now, the Republicans are trying to keep minorities and poor people from voting. And that's pretty damn disgusting.
greensword: (Default)
Do you have any good biographies and/or books about interesting periods or events in history that you'd like to share with me?
greensword: (Default)
Number of times I've heard Freud referenced by artists, literary critics, sociologists, political scientists, gender studies majors, schoolteachers and people at parties and dinners: 6 bajillion.

Number of times I've heard Freud referenced by psychologists, neuroscientists, clinicians, researchers, or psych/neuro professors: 0.

I've been in this field for five years. I was raised by a clinician. I think if there was a resurgence in taking Freud seriously, I would know.

FOR THE LOVE OF OEDIPUS, PEOPLE. GET OVER FREUD.

Psychology already has.
greensword: (braaaains?)
Do you believe in any sort of universal "right and wrong"?
greensword: (Default)
For St. Patrick's day - a story. I've told it here before, but now I have the aid of no less than William Butler Yeats. All the poetry excerpts are from his poem, The Wanderings of Oisin.

In ancient Ireland, before the coming of Christianity, in the time of fairies, gods, and kings, there roamed a band of fierce and noble warriors the likes of which has never been seen before or since. They were called the Fianna, or Fenians, after their leader, Finn MacCool, and their feats were legendary - it was said that a warrior of the Fianna could best nine men at once, buried to his knees in dirt and wielding only a sprig of hazel. Finn MacCool's son Oisin was fast, strong, and brave, like any Fenian ought to be, but he was also the most beautiful, and the best poet. One day, they were riding over the Firbolgs when a goddess appeared, one of the ageless fairies, a Tuatha de Danaan. Her name was Niamh. Struck by her beauty, Finn MacCool asked why she had come. She replied:

'I loved no man, though kings besought,
Until the Danaan poets brought
Rhyme that rhymed upon Oisin's name,
And now I am dizzy with the thought
Of all that wisdom and the fame
Of battles broken by his hands,
Of stories builded by his words


Hearing this, Oisin fell to his knees.

'You only will I wed,' I cried,
'And I will make a thousand songs,
And set your name all names above,
And captives bound with leathern thongs
Shall kneel and praise you, one by one,
At evening in my western dun.'


His father and his comrades wept and begged him to stay, but though Oisin was a brave fighter, he loved beauty more than war, and gladly followed Niamh into the land of the Tuatha de Danaan:

They led us by long and shadowy ways
Where drops of dew in myriads fall,
And tangled creepers every hour
Blossom in some new crimson flower,
And once a sudden laughter sprang
From all their lips, and once they sang
Together, while the dark woods rang,
And made in all their distant parts,
With boom of bees in honey-marts,
A rumour of delighted hearts.


There, the Tuatha de Danaan were much enchanted with him, and showed him all the wonders of their realm. Yet, when Oisin attempted to tell them of the land he'd left behind, of his mortal life, they were overcome:

And once a lady by my side
Gave me a harp, and bid me sing,
And touch the laughing silver string;
But when I sang of human joy
A sorrow wrapped each merry face,
And, Patrick! by your beard, they wept,
Until one came, a tearful boy;
'A sadder creature never stept
Than this strange human bard,' he cried;
And caught the silver harp away,
And, weeping over the white strings, hurled
It down in a leaf-hid, hollow place
That kept dim waters from the sky;
And each one said, with a long, long sigh,
'O saddest harp in all the world,
Sleep there till the moon and the stars die!'


Oisin lived for three hundred years with the Tuatha de Danaan, delighting in Niamh's love, and in his own immortality.

But here there is nor law nor rule,
Nor have hands held a weary tool;
And here there is nor Change nor Death,
But only kind and merry breath
For joy is God and God is joy.'
With one long glance for girl and boy
And the pale blossom of the moon,
He fell into a Druid swoon.
And in a wild and sudden dance
We mocked at Time and Fate and Chance.


At night, they cried out to the sky:

'You stars,
Across your wandering ruby cars
Shake the loose reins: you slaves of God.
He rules you with an iron rod,
He holds you with an iron bond,
Each one woven to the other,
Each one woven to his brother
Like bubbles in a frozen pond;
But we in a lonely land abide
Unchainable as the dim tide,
With hearts that know nor law nor rule,
And hands that hold no wearisome tool,
Folded in love that fears no morrow,
Nor the grey wandering osprey Sorrow.'


Oisin spent one hundred years like this, and another hundred battling the demons of the fairy realm, and another hundred deep in sleep, resting from his battle. When he awoke from his hundred year sleep, he told Niamh that he had dreamed of Finn and the Fianna, and that he must return to see them, if only briefly:

I cried, 'O Niamh! O white one! if only a twelve-houred day,
I must gaze on the beard of Finn, and move where the old men and young
In the Fenians' dwellings of wattle lean on the chess-boards and play,
Ah, sweet to me now were even bald Conan's slanderous tongue!


Niamh agreed to give him a horse and show him the way, but warned him that if his feet touched mortal soil again, he would be unable to return. Oisin confidently assured her that he would be gone for but a day. Returning home, he found the world much changed - three hundred years passed, his companions gone:

And I rode by the plains of the sea's edge, where all is barren and grey,
Grey sand on the green of the grasses and over the dripping trees,
Dripping and doubling landward, as though they would hasten away',
Like an army of old men longing for rest from the moan of the seas.

Making way from the kindling surges, I rode on a bridle-path
Much wondering to see upon all hands, of wattles and woodwork made,
Your bell-mounted churches, and guardless the sacred cairn and the rath,
And a small and a feeble populace stooping with mattock and spade,

And because I went by them so huge and so speedy with eyes so bright,
Came after the hard gaze of youth, or an old man lifted his head:
And I rode and I rode, and I cried out, 'The Fenians hunt wolves in the night,
So sleep thee by daytime.' A voice cried, 'The Fenians a long time are dead.'


Overcome with sorrow, Oisin wept - not just for his father and friends long dead, but at how men themselves had changed - how they had become weakened and miserable, with a new god to replace the old ones. Longing for Niamh, he turned to go, but as he did he glimpsed two men struggling to lift a large sack of sand:

And there at the foot of the mountain, two carried a sack full of sand,
They bore it with staggering and sweating, but fell with their burden at length.
Leaning down from the gem-studded saddle, I flung it five yards with my hand,
With a sob for men waxing so weakly, a sob for the Fenians' old strength.


But as he did, the girth of his saddle broke, and he fell to the ground. As his feet touched the soil, he transformed into an old man, three hundred years old in an instant, unable to return to Niamh and the fairy lands. Dying, he was tended to in his last days by St. Patrick.

The rest you have heard of, O croziered man; how, when divided the girth,
I fell on the path, and the horse went away like a summer fly;
And my years three hundred fell on me, and I rose, and walked on the earth,
A creeping old man, full of sleep, with the spittle on his beard never dry'.


As St. Patrick tended to him, he attempted to convert him to Christianity, as he had converted so many in Ireland:

The skies are choked with thunder, lightning, and fierce wind,
For God has heard, and speaks His angry mind;
Go cast your body on the stones and pray,
For He has wrought midnight and dawn and day.


But Oisin refused to heed him, instead lamenting:

In what far kingdom do you go
Ah Fenians, with the shield and bow?
Or are you phantoms white as snow,
Whose lips had life's most prosperous glow?
O you, with whom in sloping valleys,
Or down the dewy forest alleys,
I chased at morn the flying deer,
With whom I hurled the hurrying spear,
And heard the foemen's bucklers rattle,
And broke the heaving ranks of battle!
And Bran, Sceolan, and Lomair,
Where are you with your long rough hair?
You go not where the red deer feeds,
Nor tear the foemen from their steeds.


St. Patrick replied:

On the flaming stones, without refuge, the limbs of the Fenians are tost;
None war on the masters of Hell, who could break up the world in their rage;
But kneel and wear out the flags and pray for your soul that is lost
Through the demon love of its youth and its godless and passionate age.


St. Patrick begged Oisin to forget the past, Ireland's past, and save his own soul. But Oisin refused, vowing to follow the Fenians into heaven or hell:

It were sad to gaze on the blessed and no man I loved of old there;
I throw down the chain of small stones! when life in my body has ceased,
I will go to Caoilte, and Conan, and Bran, Sceolan, Lomair,
And dwell in the house of the Fenians, be they in flames or at feast.


*

Happy St. Patrick's Day.
greensword: (apathy kills)
If you had to choose between having a democratically elected government and having the bill of rights, which would you choose?

*

I just suddenly understood why my ancestors rioted in Hell's Kitchen and joined the confederacy (some of them) rather than fight for the union. I probably should have gotten it this past summer when I visited Ireland and heard about their six billion rebellions, but. What can I say, I'm slow.

The need to intervene when human rights abuses are taking place is entirely distinct from the need to fight to keep a part of your country from seceding, which is not a need at all, so much as a deadly affectation. It just got all mixed up in the Civil War.

I also hate the very idea of sovereignty.

*

I'm turning into such an anarchist.
greensword: (Default)
On a completely unrelated note, a while back I made an LJ post where I talked about how I find the restrictive aspect of vegetarianism/veganism unnerving because of how it reminds me of disordered eating. Well, apparently the topic has come up on some of the feminism and fat acceptance blogs I read, due to a book called "Skinny Bitch in the Kitch" which (allegedly) uses fat-shaming techniques to get people to go veg. There's some interesting commentary here and here.

Okay, I'm editing this. I was think about this while I was in the shower (I take very productive showers) and I think that more than anything else, this type of book hurts the animal rights movement. It explicitly encourages the idea that there are good foods and bad foods, that you're a bad person if you eat the bad foods, that other people will judge you if you eat the bad foods, that no one will love you if you eat the bad foods. And let me tell you, that is not a recipe for success. I have to listen to it every day at work, from otherwise reasonably rational people. "I lost nine pounds this month!" "I can't eat that, KC will be mad at me." "You eat so much chocolate. I wish I could eat that much chocolate." What you eat and what you don't eat is a huge fucking deal and linking weight loss to veganism only makes escaping that cycle that much harder. And you don't want people engaging those thought patterns in an attempt to become vegan because it will make them a) miserable and b) completely unsuccessful.

I'm pretty sure that a lot of people who aren't vegans or vegetarians right now would be if they didn't have such complicated relationships with food - due, of course, to the fucked up societal messages endorsed by the above book. I mean, I can only speak for myself, but I think I would have at least tried being vegan if I wasn't worried about the inevitable good food/bad food complexes that emerge and about people judging me if I fail. I've had people tell me "you've just got to view it as 'not food'" and they don't seem to get that for 90% of the population that just will not. work.
greensword: (Default)
Cross-posted to my blog. Comments welcome either here or there.

On Killing: The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill In War and Society is written by a soldier, and it shows. Lt. Col. Dave Grossman is a military psychologist, not a scientist, and as a scientist I found it incredibly frustrating to read this book - almost none of his assertions are sourced or cited in full. Additionally, Grossman's admiration for his fellow soldiers is made manifest throughout the book. Although he makes a good case that these soldiers deserve, if not admiration, at least compassion, his frequent, brook-no-argument assertions that most soldiers are "brave", "noble" people committing a "necessary evil" can be grating to those of a more pacifist bent.

In other words, it was not easy going slogging through this book. However, none of this means that Grossman doesn't have some incredibly thought-provoking things to say.

This book was written to explain a startling fact: throughout most of military history, up until the end of World War II, the vast majority of soldiers (between 75 and 95%) have refused to kill. Brigadier S.L.A. Marshall, who studied this phenomenon during World War II, found that no more than 20% of soldiers would "take any part with their weapons". These results can be found throughout time and across cultures, from Alexander the Great who lost only 700 men in years of fighting, to tribesmen in New Guinea who remove the arrows from their feathers before going off to war, to the soldiers at Rosebud Creek in 1876 who fired 252 rounds for each Native American they hit.

The Battle of Gettysburg is considered one of America's bloodiest battles, but as Grossman shows, it could have been a great deal bloodier... )
greensword: (Default)
My new roommate has a pretty nice DVD collection, so last night I picked out The Virgin Suicides and sat down to watch. I realize it is 4 a.m. but I'm going to attempt a review anyway. My apologies for any incoherence.

I think what it really comes down to is the title. How many meanings does the title have? Surely more than one, since a literal interpretation is incorrect - Lux Lisbon, as the film delights in detailing, is not a virgin by any definition by the time she kills herself. Well, then, perhaps the intent is to focus on the Lisbon girls' youth and purity, on the innocence which makes them symbols of teenage girls everywhere. But there is a deeper significance to the word and the concept "virgin", if one chooses to see it - virgin is the mystification and idealization of women, virgin is the definition of women by men, virgin is silencing and stultifying and ultimately violent. Virgin is the heart and soul of the story and my question is, did the people who made the film realize that? Because most reviews I've seen seem to entirely miss it.

In the end, the suicides are completely unexplained. You get glimpses of the girls' unhappiness - their incredibly strict parents, the boy who has sex with Lux on a football field and is gone the next morning - but no real reason for their actions. Reasons? They barely even have personalities. The narrator is a schoolboy, one of several schoolboys who watch them from a window across the street, who worship them decades after their deaths. From the movie's final monologue:

What lingered after them was not life, but the most trivial list of mundane facts -- a clock ticking on the wall, a room dim at noon, the outrageousness of a human being thinking only of herself. We began the impossible process of trying to forget them... So much has been said about the girls over the years. But we have never found an answer. It didn't matter in the end how old they had been or that they were girls...but only that we had loved them...and they hadn't heard us calling, still do not hear us calling them out of those rooms where they went to be alone for all time and where we will never find the pieces to put them back together.

The movie rightly condemns the way the media objectifies and sensationalizes their deaths, and highlights the suffocating strictness of their parents and their focus on keeping the girls pure, innocent, virgin. But it is unclear whether it realizes that the narrators themselves have a role in this process. Look at how the final monologue is worded. "Hear us calling them out", "thinking only of herself", "we will never put them back together". In the end this about the boys, not the girls, and while this is fine - the boys are people too - it is not a choice that can stand in isolation. Why tell this impossibly horrible story in a way that renders it "beautifully tragic"? Why silence the Lisbon girls? As some sort of meta context for the silencing that led to their suicides?

I'm not sure I can give the writer and director that much credit. Maybe I'm underestimating them. But from where I stand, this is one of the most despicable movies I've seen in a long, long time.
greensword: (Default)
Got an e-mail from another lab at NIH which wanted to set up an interview. That means I probably won't be getting back to the Valley until Tuesday (and also raises the possibility that they'd want me to start this summer and I'd have to give up my summer plans). Still, any job opportunity is something to be happy about, especially since my student loan statement came in the mail. $16,625! Makes me wonder how people with less financially stable careers planned are going to make out.

Also, remember way back when I was worried for the poor boys who complain about how hard they have it being a male in science?

Well, fuck that.

Woman Wins Gender Discrimination Lawsuit Against UCLA Neuropsychiatric Institute: The truly insane bit? The SECRET STASH OF MONEY they had to supplement the salaries of male scientists only.

Report on Women in Science: Women earn 20-30% of doctorates in the life sciences but only 10-15% of full professors are women.

Career vs. Children: The article is a case study in self-hatred, but it's the comments section that make me want to rip out my fallopian tubes and strangle someone with them. What she has so maturely, so providently grasped already - Lo! at such young age! - is that the concept of "PhD scientist" and "mom" are mutually exclusive. And if you haven't got your fill, you can read some nasty comments here, too.

Sexual harassment in the lab and the classroom.

Because even discovering a particle won't earn you some maternity leave.

$14,000 pay gap in the sciences between men and women.
greensword: (Default)
Here's a thought:

A lot of programs, especially government-funding programs such as summer REUs, will expressly advertise for women and people of color. Few are actually restricted to those groups, but there's definitely a bias, although there are many other programs that make no demographic distinctions (and I've noticed it a lot less in jobs than summer programs). I've talked about this to a lot of affected people recently - all white men, interestingly. Some have been bitter, some have been resigned, and some are actually very positive about it.

I actually tend to agree that aggressively promoting women is unfair, and I've felt this way for a while. My (admittedly not very nuanced) opinion is that women don't have the systematic socioeconomic disadvantages that people of color often have. I think the issue is one of class, not race, with people who grew up in poverty not having the access to opportunities the way that middle and upper class science-lovers do. Where would I even be if I didn't have constant access to books, a good public school system (even if I kind of hated it), and the option to do volunteer positions in science and politics because I didn't have to spend all my time working to support myself? I'm a woman, yeah, but I'm not oppressed, I'm privileged. And since women in general are no more or less likely to be poor than men, I figure, why favor us in the job hunt?

But I've started to realize that it's not about making up for missed opportunities in the past. It's about preparing for missed opportunities in the future. More than half of all college graduates are women but only 20% of tenured science faculty. Why is that? Unconscious or overt sexism on behalf of hiring committees? Institutional problems such as lack of day-care and no time off for pregnancy? A culture which still encourages women to give up their careers and sacrifice for their husbands instead of vice versa? (It happened in my family. Did it happen in yours?)

Whatever the reason is, it's there. And it needs to be fixed. Right now the best way seems to be flooding the graduate pool with women so that when we inevitably start dropping like flies a reasonable number is left standing. And maybe that's the only way it will be fixed, when there are enough women in positions of power to demand that these structural and cultural inequalities be changed.

Right now I look at my white male scientist friends and think "I don't deserve to be given an advantage over them". But maybe in ten years I'll look back and be thankful I was given one.
greensword: (Default)
This is not just a response to your post, Alex. It has been floating around in my head for several weeks now...

Here's what conceptualizing ourselves as vegetarians and non-vegetarians does. It limits us to two options - eating meat or not eating meat. There's no middle ground, no "Well, I'll try to eat less meat". But, from a pure economic standpoint - decreasing demand so fewer animals are killed for food - it's better to get three people to eat meat half as often as to get one person to give it up completely. And I think without a doubt the former would be easier to do than the latter.

Why do we have concepts like vegan and vegetarian, then? I think for any one individual, it makes more sense to be either vegan or a meat eater. If you think animals are capable of suffering and should not be killed for food in a society that has plenty of food already, it makes no moral sense to only go halfway. That's been my problem, actually. It doesn't make sense to just give up meat and not give up animal products, at least all those that aren't cruelty-free. But the scope of the task daunts me. So many foods have milk or eggs or butter in them. I eat cheese pretty much every day. And there is nothing more delicious than Hanger chicken. When you think about it in the context of this or this your stomach heaves a little and you kind of want to curl up into a ball and cry. But guess what? Most people can't carry that image in their mind. Most people just think about how yummy those wings are. And then they're ashamed to admit it afterwards...

And here's the other thing about this paradigm, and the way we're made to feel guilty for eating meat or animal products. Which is not to say we shouldn't feel guilty, but. It's just too fucking familiar. I mean, I've gone on diets. I know what it's like to label some foods as "bad" and to try to keep away from them at all costs and to feel worthless when I eat them and afterwards wish I hadn't. I think I've gotten off pretty light as far as eating and body image issues go but there's something just profoundly uncomfortable about the process of restricting foods. Otherwise why would we be so uncomfortable admitting, "I would totally be a vegan but damn, I love pizza."

Anyway, I know my friendslist is a mix of vegans, vegetarians, and meat eaters. Would like to hear what you all think.
greensword: (Default)
So, I think I've named my first monkey. The G-baby, Grace, is actually a boy, and so we were thinking up boy names, and they were going to go with Gilligan until I said, "What about Gomez?" And for a five month old cebus apella, G-baby does look oddly like Gomez Addams. So Gomez it is.

Speaking of G-babies... Gretel is already three years old. She looks much younger. The people in the lab think that her low rank might be stunting her growth. But recently she's gone up in the world, mostly because she's taken to attacking Goya, her older sister and the lowest ranking monkey of them all. Goya's got scars all over, and so much of her hair/fur has fallen out that she's more skin than brown. Just looking at her makes me want to cry.

We showed her to Devon from the field station, and he told us about one of their chimpanzees. He was attacked a few weeks ago by several of the other male chimps. They gouged out one of his eyes, and tore off half the lid. He had wounds on his arms and neck. But he's recovering pretty well. Devon also told us about a chimpanzee who was killed at another station. He said the other chimps took a long time about it, beating him to death one by one. "That's - that's torture - " one of the people from my lab said. Is it? We walk such a line between trying not to anthropomorphize these primates and drawing every conclusion we can from them, and applying it to ourselves. Well, it's an easy enough conclusion. The chimpanzees are our closest ancestors. They evolved the ability to torture, and we perfected it. But that's just one hypothesis.

Then I went to my desk and checked my e-mail and clicked on BBCnews. When a conflict has existed since before you were born, sometimes it seems eternal. And I can't bring myself to blame anybody, because who do you blame? The individuals on both sides who escalate the conflict - the suicide bombers, the war criminals - they're just individuals. As long as the situation exists, there will always be someone who will react that way to it. Colleen, a grad student in my lab, told me that capuchins in the wild don't act like ours do. The low-ranking capuchins don't get beat up, they just run away. But Goya has nowhere to run to. We do all we can to protect her, shouting at the other monkeys when they go after her, threatening them with the hose, distracting them with peanuts and froot loops. We're her greatest defenders. But we put her in that situation. We put Gretel into that situation. We're putting the G-baby into that situation.

Of course, if we released them into the wild, they'd all die sooner anyway. Goya might not get beat up but she'd starve to death when food got tight and the others took her food and refused to feed her. That's the practicality of the situation. Pidyon shvuyim, one of the greatest tenets of Jewish law, demands the redemption of captives. Israel in the past has traded thousand of prisoners - some innocent, yes, but some terrorists - for a single Israeli soldier. Today they decided on a different path. Maybe it was motivated by practicality. Maybe they thought they could save more lives by attacking rather than trading. At this point, who knows? Can anyone really find a solution garaunteed not to spill any more blood?

I don't have an answer. All I have is a guilty conscience, and a headache.
greensword: (Default)
I am bored. I can't go to sleep yet because the people next door are drinking and talking loudly, but really, I just want to go to bed so that I can wake up and have it be the day I go home.

Today my roommate was telling me about how she loves The Notebook by Nicholas Sparks. I have officially given her up for lost. She is clearly worthless, because - and I am not exaggerating here - The Notebook is clearly worthless. It is, in fact, the worst thing I have ever read, and that includes all those rejected high school lit mag submissions. Even the poetry. Especially the poetry.

I borrowed it from my mother without telling her because I needed something to read on the plane, and I spent the next several hours looking longingly towards the escape hatch. The only reason I finished reading it is because I refused to believe that a book could be that bad. Surely, there had to be one good scene, one original thought before the end. Maybe someone would get hit by a bus? ... no. It was the same sentimental, predictable drivel the whole way through. How could it be a bestseller, I wondered? How soul-crushingly mindless can the people of this country be? I thought I had accepted the idiocy of my fellow Americans after the 2004 election. But I hadn't. I was in denial. When I finished this book, I finally understood, and I accepted it, and I wept. And then I ate my little packet of peanuts.

For nearly a month, I despised my mother for owning this book. Then one day, when we were packing my room at the end of the semester, she found it and asked if it was her copy. I gritted my teeth and told her it was. "Oh," she said. "I was looking for it. I was going to donate it, but now I'm not sure I want to inflict it on anyone else." I looked up, hope and forgiveness in my eyes. "Can we burn it?" She shook her head. "I don't have any matches." In the end, we put it in the recycling. I like to think that its pages will be pulped and remade, wiped clean, if you will, and that some better story - that is, any story - will take its place.

That is all.

(Anyone on my friendslist who read and liked The Notebook can please defriend me now.)
greensword: (Default)
Re-reading Umberto Eco's Name of the Rose. The first time I read the book was for class, so I was hurrying, and caught up in the story anyway. Now I find myself appreciating the details and the background.

The most interesting character is not a character at all, but rather a historical figure discussed among the main characters - Fra Dolcino. It is said that Dolcino preached and practiced violent rebellion, and had obsessive, apocalyptic visions; this is generally accepted as true, although of course history is written by the victors, especially when the victors are the only ones who know how to write. That aside, Dolcino preached a number of remarkable things - humilty and poverty in the church, opposition to feudalism and the establishment of common property, sexual freedom and equality of the sexes.

He was, of course, burned at the stake.

In 1307.

I want to know more, but unfortunately there's not very much information on him, and most of it's in Italian. Apparently he's mentioned briefly in Dante's Inferno, which was written right in the middle of Dolcino's rebellion. Still, I think he's a remarkably interesting historical figure, and if anyone knows anything, please pass it my way.
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