Monday, December 15, 2008

The financial reports are bad (though sometimes amusing) and here in Scotland the days are getting much shorter (sunrise today was at 8.38 and sunset will be at 15.33) - so it's nice to escape for a while to the Mekong...

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Health Care: a lot for the few or a little for the many?

As I get older, and realize that I will probably not live forever despite my strict adherence to a wine and cheese diet, I appreciate more the importance of good health care. 

When I lived in Kentucky I worked a decent job that provided some health care. This covered, wonderfully enough, my dental needs but not my need for old-lady prescription glasses and contact lenses. I never had a hospital experience there so I can't really comment on that, but I know I would have had to pay a certain amount for each visit.

Since coming to the UK I am consistently amazed at the 'free at point of care' concept. Now I have no insurance but, because we are on a low-income, I get free dental care (which is also offered to every woman for the first year after she gives birth). I just enjoyed having my wisdom teeth out for free - joy.
For the general population, if you can find an NHS dentist over here (good luck, they are out there) then you get a portion of your basic dental care covered.

Everyone gets free eye tests and a discount on glasses.

I especially appreciated the health system when I got pregnant. Not only did I receive free care and advice, I had a midwife who visited my house and talked me through everything. There were lots of options from which I could choose, in terms of the type of hospital stay and birthing plan (including access to a birthing pool). Of course, some of this was determined by my location. In the end, a hospital birth made the most sense because I did not want to be in screaming agony (epidurals are not generally offered at birthing centers) - but to each their own.

The follow-up care is also pretty comprehensive. You get a health visitor who, well, visits. Trust me, this is very valuable when you have just had a baby, haven't showered in weeks, are still bleeding/scarred, and when you've not been through it all before.

All in all I have a pretty positive view of the NHS. Granted, I read about MRSA and I've waited for hours in waiting rooms, but I prefer this broken-down system to the broken-down system in the US no question.

The trick is, however, to find a balance between the 'advanced and innovative' health care in the US (advanced and innovative being code words for expensive) and the 'free and egalitarian' health care of the UK (free and egalitarian being a code words for inefficient). 

One of the differences between the two systems (outside of the structural, bureaucratic differences) is the focus in the US on the individual paying for their own health care needs. That is, if you have private insurance, or even employer-based insurance, you are paying now for some circumstances that might occur in the future to yourself. Even then, of course, there is no guarantee that you will be covered for everything. 

The same might generally be said of the UK except that, because the NHS is a national behemoth, the cost of healthcare comes out of your paycheck in taxes and is poured into the NHS system. Your money might be paying for some little child's cancer treatment (as long as it's not new or experimental) or some junkie's methadone dose

I know this isn't actually how it works - certainly not on the US side where your money paid to a private insurer covers them just in case one of their other clients gets dreadfully ill and they actually decide to pay out - but there is a fundamental difference in ethos that I think is important. It is the reason why people like Michael Moore look over the pond and think "If only...", ignoring the many problems with the NHS.

The NHS is not a solution for the US. But neither is allowing health insurers to dictate policy

One of the main benefits of paying into a system that is free at the point of care is that it encourages people to visit the doctor. You see that chunk of money come out of your paycheck and you feel entitled to have a doctor or nurse look at your mole or listen to your phlegmy throat. This means that illnesses are often dealt with at an earlier stage, saving costs in the long run. 

The prenatal care women receive is also important for their mental health and the health of their child. My older brother, a pediatrician in New York, was impressed at the prenatal care I received and despaired that more comprehensive care was not offered to people in the US. 

A recent Reuters article called the American system of health care 'costly and inefficient'. This epithet is also often applied to the NHS, despite its attempts to keep costs low by only paying for the cheapest drugs for any particular illness. 

I hope there is a middle ground somewhere, between what seems like a lack of accountability of the health insurance companies, which puts consumers on uncertain footing, and the political accountability of the NHS, which means they can't be seen to be 'wasting' money on costly treatments.

In both cases many of the people paying into the system don't seem to be getting what they want or need. However, at least in the UK you can get decent treatment (equal treatment) even if you are not paying into the system at the time of medical need.

Monday, November 03, 2008

What To Wear

I was looking for style tips today (not my usual internet activity but we've been invited to a wedding) and stumbled on a fashion advice site for transgendered men. I won't link it here - I'm sure anyone that is curious can find it through a search. 

I found myself drawn in by the concerns and insecurities of these women, all in various stages of changing. It put into perspective all of my own insecurities.

Also, I'm always heartened whenever I see anyone completely embracing who they are. Less intense examples would be those geeks who dress up in costumes to go to Comic-Con and other conventions; or people who wear their D&D shirts around town; or goths with extreme black eyeliner and white foundation; or even people of various religions who choose to wear marks of their belief.

Of course, you don't have to dress to extremes to BE a certain thing - but I admire anyone who can wear their soul on their sleeve.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Moving to the Granite City

It is a time of upheaval - though it's not upheaving as fast as I would like.

This is a picture of somewhere in Aberdeen, found on I didn't notice any excessive grayness in Aberdeen when I went up for my (horrible) job interview, but I've been living in Scotland for a while so perhaps I am desensitized to grayness. 

At least in this picture the sky is blue.

I looked up information on Aberdeen City Center and found a story on a new type of fungus

For those of you who don't know, Aberdeen is an oil town. The industry is huge here and, as such, there is a lot of money floating around. It will make quite a change from Dundee, where there are few major industries left.

Wish us luck!

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Messing with Our Minds

Today's post is brought to you by the scientists at CERN, who have just started the most ambitious experiment ever (probably). I recommend visiting their website for a good walk-through of the LHC (Large Hadron Collider) particle accelerator and an explanation of how this will not, I repeat not, cause a black hole (most likely - but, hey, even if it does it'll just be a quantum one so no worries).

One of the interesting aspects of this experiment, as explained on the website, is that the energy involved is concentrated in a very small space: "What makes the LHC so extraordinary is that it squeezes energy into a space about a million million times smaller than a mosquito."

The general purpose of this experiment is 'to recreate the conditions existing a few moments after the Big Bang. This allows us to study how our Universe evolved and how it works today. Particle accelerators allow us to look into the inner constituents of matter where a goldmine of open questions is still hidden." 

That last bit makes it sound like they are looking for more questions, rather than for answers. How very Socratic - appropriate for a place that has a Theory Corridor.

Some of the questions they are hoping to find more specific questions about include the origin of mass, unification of fundamental forces, particles or phenomena responsible for dark matter, and the mystery of antimatter. As I said, see the website.

Due to the nature of these big questions it may take a while before major changes in theories about the Universe and Everything trickle down to affect our perceptions of our mundane existence. I'm looking forward to it.

That said, science can only go so far in disturbing our world-view, or even our self-perception. 

Darian Leader recently published an article in The Guardian about Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) and how it is representative of a shift in treatment of mental illness and behaviour disorders. One of his main concerns is that CBT offers a more 'scientific' approach for those needing to quantify results (like the NHS).
In some ways this article suffers from the kind of simplistic diagnostic approach for which it criticizes CBT. While I agree that a quick-fix approach to mental distress runs the risk of ignoring deeply set issues in an individual, I do not believe that CBT has no place or that the kind of Freudian psychotherapy that Leader prefers is always relevant.

What I did like in the article was this:
The divided self dear to the 60s has vanished, along with the recognition that grief, despair and frustration strike at the heart of our image of self-possession and fulfillment. The psyche has become like a muscle that needs to be developed and trained. There is no place for complexity and contradiction here: the modern subject is represented as one-dimensional, searching for fulfillment. The possibility that human life is aimed at both success and failure and never simply at wealth, power or happiness no longer makes sense. Suddenly the world of human relatins described by novelists, poets and playwrights for the past few centuries can just be written off. Self-sabotage, masochism and despair are now faults to be corrected, rather than forming the very core of the self.

Leader gets a bit shrill, but I feel I can recognize some of my own anxieties in this. How do we balance correcting faults, so that we can function, with accepting our faults as a feature of our personalities?

Later in the article, Leader sniffs at the story of a bipolar man who uses a simple method, taught to him through CBT, to manage his mood swings and function in his job. While this may not delve deep enough into the man's inner world and unravel his psyche the way Leader would like, it helps him live in this world. Leader believes that "traditional therapies do not aim to give access to a common 'scientific' reality but to take the patient's own reality seriously" but these therapies still define problems with a set of labels. 

Change without understanding may have limited value in some cases; in other cases a person may be well aware of their inner life but unable to change what is essentially a physical, neurological or hormonal problem. Leader wants those facing mental challenges to pay psychotherapists hundreds of pounds per hour to be put through the psychological wringer - and if we reject this suggestion we are shallow and unwilling to face our selves, as well as feeding the great capitalist machine. 

Oh, and he probably wants us to buy his book too. 

Monday, September 08, 2008

Last Week in Liverpool: Spider Attack!

In case you missed the street theatre last week, here's a little taste. Also check out this link for the spider's last moments.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Political Points System 2008

This was just too good (from Huffpost): 

If you get 18 million people to vote for you in a national presidential primary, you're a "phoney." Get 100,000+ people to vote you governor of the 47th most populous state in the Union, you're "well loved."

SoyAA says: If you are biracial and born in a state not connected to the lower 48, America needs darn near 2 years and 3 major speeches to "get to know you." If you're white and from a state not connected to the lower 48, America needs 36 minutes and 38 seconds worth of an acceptance speech to know you're "one of us."

If you spend 18 months building a campaign around the theme of "change," it's just "empty rhetoric." If one week before your party's national convention you SUDDENLY make your candidacy about "change," that's "red meat."

The article also mentions the fact that Obama has been called "uppity" because he got a scholarship and ended up president of the Harvard Law Review. 

As per my last post, I'm not sure why being highly educated is problematic. Why does it suggest to some people that you are out of touch with reality. Contrary to that opinion, I have found that people who are educated and civically minded tend to be well-informed, not just about the goings-on in their own backyard but about how their backyard affects other people's backyards in America and across the world.

HuffPost has also helpfully printed excerpts from The Daily Show on the hypocritical nature of the Republican's choice for VP:

While Rove recently praised Palin's experience as the mayor of Wasilla, Alaska, Stewart showed video of Rove trashing Virginia Governor - and former Richmond Mayor - Tim Kaine's executive experience, listing all the cities that are bigger than Richmond and calling such a pick "political."

Then, after recent video of O'Reilly describing Bristol Palin's pregnancy as a family issue, Stewart showed a clip of the Fox News host blaming Jamie Lynn Spears' parents for her teenage pregnancy.

Finally, after showing video of Dick Morris complaining about the rampant sexism in the media coverage of Sarah Palin, Stewart unveiled a clip of Morris saying that Hillary hides behind the sexism defense, and that anytime "the big boys" pick on Hillary, "she retreats behind the apron strings."

"In Dick Morris' defense," Stewart said, "he is a lying sack of sh*t."

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Bumps in the Nicht

Another birthday has come and gone and I am no closer to my goals for self-improvement. Everything's on the back-burner at the moment, eclipsed by a major move that's coming up.

Politics goes on as usual, though I feel out of the loop here in the land of Loch Ness and fried Mars bars; though, if you really want to boil Scotland down to two things it would be 'dreich' and fake tans.

I met a famous singer on my birthday - Stephen Malkmus. It was ace, which was good because the rest of the day was dreary and tiring.

In reading some recent comments by Sarah Palin I am struck by the politics of commiseration. That is, the assumption that because someone is from a small town they understand 'small town issues', or because she has a child with Down's Syndrome that automatically makes her a nice, understanding person.

Okay, that latter part may well be true, but does it make her a good politician? Because folks, that is a good part of what people in Washington have to be. Whatever is said about egalitarian politics and the need of our leaders to understand the Concerns of the People, the machine that exists in Washington D.C. does not run on small-town goodwill or brownie points for being a good mum.

The Republicans keep talking about executive experience because Palin was Governor of Alaska (which is, yes, very far removed from Washington). It is true that a lot of Presidents were Governors; but it's not a rule or even a real test of ability (not naming any names here).

Obama may lack notches on his belt but he has direct experience with the Washington monstrosity of Congress/lobbyists/judiciary/cabinet/President etc.
Funnily enough, the fact that he hasn't been there very long is probably a good thing - less time to make enemies on the various committees and less time to get mired in Congressional to-ing and fro-ing.

I don't want a President that is interested in micro-managing the Concerns of the People because they once had a kid on the hockey team, but someone who can broaden their worldview enough to see how America fits in the larger puzzle.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Art Post

Constantin Brancusi, Romanian, 1876-1957

Monday, May 19, 2008

Virago Tales

Apropos of what I posted a couple of days ago... I was alerted to this article in the New York Times via BitchPhD. In it, Peggy Orenstein discusses the misogyny evident in reactions to Hilary Clinton's campaign. She eschews abstract debates in favor of a more personal approach, wondering what to think about such misogyny and how to teach her daughter about the real world. 

"Will the senator be my example of how far we've come as women or how far we have to go? Is she proof to my daughter that 'you can do anything' or the hell that will rain down on you if you try?"

She goes on to point out the inherent problem in books that are meant to espouse a 'can do' attitude for girls: namely, that there is anything that says they 'can't do' in the first place. Orenstein is hesitant to even mention this aspect of the problem to her daughter and I wonder if she hasn't struck on something quite important.

While we are not yet at a point where women can take opportunities for granted (see Orenstein's statistics on women in powerful positions) the consistent reminder of the barriers seems a double-edged sword. 

Because things are still so difficult for women entering traditionally male professions it would be disingenuous to teach our daughters that all those open doors come with no price. At the same time, it does seem to bolster those same misogynistic traditions by suggesting that women can break the rules but not change them, or that any women entering these professions are precious exceptions rather than a new rule. 

I'm not saying I dislike these stories where girls or women overcome male obstacles - but do they really show up how stupid these traditions are? Or do they simply put an extra sheen on a woman's achievement - that is, she could do these things all along but now she has been accepted by the men and so can be considered successful? 

And how often in these stories do we see what other women think? Do other women come in to support and speak up for the heroine? Is their approval enough?

I guess this all goes towards the fact that women entering this male-dominated and male-created institutions may become engulfed in those male fraternities. When a woman is accepted by the men is she accepted for being herself or does she have to change herself to fit that institution (in which case, is it much of a victory)?

** Quick addendum to this post. I just read this article by Arianna Huffington regarding the Hilary campaign and was touched by a personal approach similar to that in the Orenstein article. It gladdens my heart to see that which is so often lacking in politics and political commentary: respect.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Is It Easier to Hate the Ladies?

A BBC article looks at the disproportionate number of women on a list of most-hated celebrities (and all of the most-loved seem to be men).

It's a British study and they have a particular kind of relationship with their celebrities here. A lot of this has to do with the type, and volume, of tabloid news-magazines they have here. This, of course, suggests that the reason why more of the hated celebrities are women is because of the way they are portrayed in that press. 
Okay, so if most of the readers are generally accepted to be women, why do the tabloid editors see it as good business to dish out dirty gossip on so many women, while lavishing praise on men (at least the handsome ones)? The glib answer would be that of course, "Women hate other women and love men." 

Another answer, suggested in the article, is that the readers of these tabloids hold women to a higher standard than men. A double-standard?

I'm a bit too tired to tackle this issue fully tonight - but I'll leave the link here. Feel free to comment.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

The Organic Debate

I just read this article in The Independent regarding organic food. It is a measured response by Peter Melchett of the Soil Association to a previous article written by Rob Johnston. 

I have had good experiences with organic food - specifically organic yogurt, which I find tastes better than non-organic yogurt. I feed my daughter as much organic food as possible, given our budgetary constraints (because, yes, Organic food is still a bit of an elitist product). 

Both Melchett and Johnston used statistics and studies to their advantage. There does not seem to be a hard and fast reality here that the average consumer can take hold of. 

Here is one choice bit from Melchett's pro-organic article:

"Published research shows that, on average, organic food contains higher levels of vitamin C and essential minerals such as calcium, magnesium, iron and chromium, as well as cancer-fighting antioxidants...
Ten per cent of children in the EU now suffer from eczema. Following research in Sweden, a Dutch government-funded study published last November showed a 36 per cent lower incidence of eczema in children fed on organic dairy products compared with children consuming non-organic dairy products."

What parent or guardian wouldn't read that and think twice about non-organic products. The other key statistic regards the pesticides found in children's urine, which disappear if they are fed on organic products. That's all well and good - but if the pesticides are being pissed out then they're not staying in the body, are they? The truth is, besides vague proclamations about an increased cancer rate (an apocryphal story, says Johnston) there are no clear links between the pesticides that are now allowed and illness. 

What's interesting is that, despite Johnston's claim that GHG emissions are higher in organic farming, there does appear to be a clear difference in benefit to the environment and the animals and plants within it. Those farms that dedicate themselves to organic farming and wildlife cultivation, as well as good treatment of their animals, are certainly doing the environment a favor. 

Why isn't that enough?

Many of us who buy organic food, whether regularly or (like me) sporadically, are attracted to the idea that we are buying a product from people who are at least pausing to think about the effect their farming techniques will have on us and on the environment. That's not to say there isn't a lot of bandwagon-jumping and some organic farming that leaves much to be desired.

All in all, however, organic farming and the larger movement that supports it are part of a trend towards more conscientious living. Many that support organic farming are not just concerned with their own local markets, but want to see sustainable solutions for the rest of the world as well. 

It's not just a matter of focusing on one issue or another - such things are rapidly embraced and then forgotten - it is a matter of changing our lifestyles.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Alan Watts - Animated!

An animated take on some lectures by Alan Watts, by the South Park creators 

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

KtB Says Goodbye

I mourn the passing of Killing the Buddha. I've linked it on blog after blog before and it should still be a useful site for those interested in exploring ideas about religion - how it's practiced, what it means...

The archive will be around, as site says, 'until the internets fall down'.

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Sex in Politics

I'm not sure where to start with this article from Vanity Fair. It's basically a man arguing for greater understanding for men who cheat on their wives - or, sorry, politicians who cheat on their wives. 

His argument is that it is simply a matter of male desire (though he does offer a brief and garbled look at Hillary Clinton) and that, since sex matters anyway in our voting, we should let it out in the open.

This article is like fingernails on a chalkboard. Michael Wolff would have us believe two things to support his argument:
1) "The middle-aged man's middle-aged experience, lacking sympathetic and firsthand interpretation, has become mere reality TV - just about humiliations and buffoonery." That is, since men (according to Wolff) no longer write as many novels detailing their illustrious careers as conquering heroes, or tomes about their miserable and oppressed middle-aged lives, they cannot rush "to defend and explain the exigencies and nuances of the actions and desires of middle-aged politicians."
That is, they can no longer defend themselves against...
2) the "consensus on sexual politics that is driven by women, striking in its asperity and lack of generosity." 

If this is true, it certainly smacks of hypocrisy - after years of sexual oppression women should now be fighting for sexual liberation for everyone (especially if it's like the sexual liberation involved in, say, the Open Source Boob Project). But Wolff's only evidence that there is such an active, puritanical female consensus is that men now feel oppressed and unable to properly justify their dalliances - only women would do this to men, of course. Because of these damn women it's no longer just a quirk of a man's personality that he is unable to sexually commit (and let's not forget all the men that manage to achieve this remarkable feat of fidelity), it's an actual fault.

But let's think about who runs the most newspapers? Who has most of the talking-head shows on TV? Who draws most of the political cartoons? Wolff cites one paper, reputed to be aimed at women, which had a (rather unoriginal) cartoon on the front regarding the Elliot Spitzer affair (except it wasn't just an affair, it was consistent use of prostitutes, but I digress). So does Wolff simply think that men are so berated by their wives/partners/mothers/daughters that they adopt this puritanical attitude towards sexual freedom? 

Wolff also seems confused. On the one hand he bemoans the current lack of texts and movies that can assuage the guilt of the lecherous middle-aged man - on the other hand he seems disappointed that men can no longer hide their affairs because of too much media scrutiny.
I agree that America needs to learn how to let go of some of its hang-ups about sex, certainly when it comes to politicians, but also with women, homosexuals, transsexuals, etc. Wolff's approach, however, involves shrugging our shoulders at behaviour that is illegal (in the case of prostitution) and incredibly selfish (in the case of banging the secretary). 

And lets not even get started on the question of prostitution and the objectification of women (Wolff certainly doesn't).

Saturday, May 03, 2008

Short Saturday Post

Rob Helpy-Chalk writes, 'The more I think about it, the more Chris Rock is right on Reverend Wright: 'A 75-year-old black man who hates white people. Is there another type of 75-year-old black man? Do you realize his whole third grade class was lynched?'"

Good stuff. It does make me despair that we don't seem to be able to dialogue very openly about things that truly concern us or make us angry. We're not supposed to be angry, right? Either you are supposed to get over so-called past ills or current setbacks and look on the bright side (a distraction tactic that Karen Healey calls "Look: a monkey!"), or you are so privileged what right do you have to be upset about anything, or you are lucky you're allowed to exist at all so shut up.

Friday, May 02, 2008

The Goddess and The Boob

After a slight dressing-down yesterday regarding my ignorance over the Lincoln-Douglas (not Douglass) debates discussed on Fox News, I am licking my wounds and dipping my toes into the comfortable waters of comic books.

Whenever I need to get my energy levels up and really get the blood moving I can rely on Karen Healey. 

I just read her post from April 24 regarding the Open Source Boob Project at Penguicon. That is where girls wearing a button stating willingness had men approach them asking to touch their breasts.

"Livejournal's the Ferrett, an early adopter of this... oh, let's say 'astonishing' endeavour, wrote a rapturous post about how great it was that he "touched at least fifteen sets of boobs at Penguicon" in the spirit of totally non-tawdry empowerment of women.
For some bizarre reason, not everyone responding embraced the notion that empowering women to mystically heal the wounds of men with their breasts heralded an exciting movement towards a feminist utopia."

The link to The Ferrett's page now comes up with an updated post apologetically stating that "what works in a microcosm does not work in a macrocosm". 

His arguments stink of misogyny however and even more so when I scrolled down and read the original post. Here's just a delicious taster:

"This should be a better world," a friend of mine said. "A more honest one, where sex isn't shameful or degrading. I wish this was the kind of world where say, 'Wow, I'd like to touch your breasts,' and people would understand that it's not a way of reducing you to a set of nipples and ignoring the rest of you, but rather a way of saying that I may not yet know your mind, but your body is beautiful."

Ahem - I had trouble typing there because my fingers started shaking in anger. I don't even know if I can comment on this because it seems so damn obvious. But let's just consider briefly the fact that if you meet someone you find attractive perhaps it would be less reductive to try to get to know their mind, rather than focusing on touching their tits. 

And why does it have to be touching? Can't it just be "Wow, you have nice tits" - some men already don't mind saying these sorts of things. But then there is that old power move of conquering - touching as having/owning, putting their mark on you. A compliment, however brilliant and eloquent, is just too cerebral. It asks for a response. Whereas if you're touching someone's boobs all they have to do is stand there.

While Ferrett argues that this 'project' was meant to make women feel safer, marking out the physically open from those not interested in letting men paw them, it seems, especially given his 'friend's' comments, that it is meant to make men feel safer.

I am also curious as to what Ferrett really thought was happening when women pushed their chests towards him. Did they all really think he was 'worthy' of touching them? This is part of that whole Goddess myth - that men truly worship women and feel privileged when allowed near or in their bodies. 

Let's disabuse anyone of that notion: 
"By the end of the evening, women were coming up to us. 'My breasts,' they asked shyly, having heard about the project. 'Are they... are they good enough to be touched?' And lo, we showed them how beautiful their bodies were without turning it into something tawdry."

As Healey puts it, the demarcation (where some women could opt-in with a button, while others did not participate thus opting-out), was simply a "reification of the cultural gender binary where women's bodies are always rendered as either 'available' or 'unavailable', and never as a body actually belonging to the woman in question."

I guess it also comes down to the fact that, even if women participated in the project, how many women who want sexual liberation (vaguely defined, at best) are thinking "Gee, I wish men felt more comfortable asking to feel my boobs"? Let's think back to the sexual revolution and all of those Free Love groups where many women felt pressured to have sex with multiple partners.

While Ferrett admits that the expression of male power makes such an experiment potentially dangerous one feels, if he was a socially minded as he seems to think, he should have thought of all this before. But of course, when a man gets a handful of generously proffered boob he must have more and finding a way to do that with minimal conversation (aha! buttons) becomes a passion if not a grand quest.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

"None of them seem to know how this state of affairs came to be."

I just have to share this from Atrios.

More evidence of the media being unable to see itself for what it is. It's quite funny, really. {sob}

The Flow of Money

From The Independent, Unholy Water: Delhi's rotting river: 

"On Delhi's sacred Yamuna River, beneath a wrought-iron bridge built by the British more than 100 years ago, the remains of the dead were falling on the living." 

The article goes on to say how children waiting below the bridge, like the girl in the picture, gather the bags of ashes and flowers after they fall and rip them open to collect the polythene. 

Despite the fact that the Yamuna is worshipped by those of the Hindu faith it is pumped full of sewage. "For the vast majority, the toxic black ribbon that slices through the east of the city ... is largely out of sight and out of mind. For those not forced to scrape their survival, there is little reason to visit the Yamuna, except for cremating the dead and scattering their remains according to Hindu tradition." (italics mine)

It is interesting to me that something involved in a holy tradition is not more protected, suffering because of more worldly concerns. 

"Manoj Misra, who heads... Yamuna Jiye Abhiyaan, or Save the Yamuna,... said that because the river received no fresh flow of clean water," due to a dam used to extract water for the city, "and yet received a huge daily input of sewage, the toxicity of the water was getting ever more concentrated."

The sewage apparently comes from corroded pipes that do not allow the waste to reach treatment plants,  not to mention those parts of the city that are not even connected to the main sewage system.

I wonder about this lack of proper infrastructure, especially in such a populated place, and looked for more information as to the divide between rich and poor in India. According to a 2006 Guardian article, water subsidies in India "skew benefits to the rich....While incomes are going up, public cash is not percolating downwards. A large part of the reason is the government, which cannot seem to funnel wealth generation into human development."

Of course, as in other countries, the problems do not lie solely with governmental mismanagement or corruption. This 2006 article in The Guardian discusses controversy surrounding Coca-Cola's misuse of water in countries like India, where supplies are limited. Such companies give token effort, and sometimes just words, towards investment in improving living conditions. 

Setting aside the problems these companies create when they abuse the environment and people directly, how far can we expect companies to go in terms of investment in local issues? I am thinking specifically of infrastructure issues, such as those corroded sewage pipelines in Delhi.

On the positive side, those living in rural communities in India are getting help from NGOs like WaterAid, which is building latrines and initiating education programs to teach people about hygiene. What might be useful is if more huge multi-nationals invested in NGOs already working in the areas near their factories or plants. This may save the money from being misdirected by corrupt or inept governments. 

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

No More Card-Carrying Commies

I promised myself I would just log in, check things out and then leave to save my eyes from the glare of the computer screen.
Of course, I break promises to myself all the time.

While trolling through the blogs on my links list I ran into this article, (a commentary on some issues raised by this article) on BitchPhD.

In brief, the author of the post, Sybil Vane, discusses the antipathy many students feel towards identifying themselves as 'feminists'. She touches briefly on this point, and the weak arguments people make against Feminists, but then broadens the scope to examine another factor in the equation.

"When these young women (and men) say, 'I don't need to identify as a feminist, I already believe X, Y, and Z,' they are saying that they see no value in collective identification. It does not mobilize them or expand their perceptions or confer strength or bolster confidence. It merely reduces them to a member of an 'ism', one whose tenants can be nominally severed from the ideology itself. In part, this is individualism run amuck, but it is also a real poverty of imagination, one that can only see collective identification as hegemonic."

This made me think about those whom I've known who join groups to take collective action for a cause, but who would not place a label on themselves. Now people say "I believe X" rather than "I am X". I wonder, blindly, whether this could be the result of some trickle-down effect after Communism/Marxism proved such a losing strategy. 

People of more recent generations have born the brunt of the repeated failures of collective political and social groups - that is, the radical ones. Many of those groups had clear political ambitions, visible (if ultimately unattainable) goals. Their failures taught us that such group actions, however committed, simply do not work (at least not in a Western political context).

In the case of Feminism, many women simply do not see the point anymore. Young women in the West will have had little or no exposure to blatant sexism - and identity issues are perhaps too subtle (though desperately important) for many young women to understand.

That is not to say collective action does not take place, but those that march outside the White House, World Bank, et al, seem more ad hoc and temporary. I do not agree that radical action is unfashionable (as some commentators on BitchPhD argue), in fact I think it has been reduced to mere fashion. People can join groups at random, perform only those actions they wish to perform. It absolves them of responsibility to others in a group and allows them to commit only as far as is convenient.

As for feminism, it is fair to say that the students are reacting to the fear of how they might be judged, rather than basing decisions on their own judgement of Feminists. Furthermore, I am dismayed at how the same old cliches are being trotted out to put down Feminism, by people who have had no exposure to Feminists such as Julia Kristeva or Luce Irigaray. They do not seem to be reacting to students on their own campus who want to spell 'woman' as 'womyn' but are perpetuating the meme.

One more point, I used to be skeptical about some of the language and image issues that crop up in feminist discussions, though I always identified myself as a feminist. In the end, it is important for people, women especially, to realize that feminism is not always about sexism. To me, the most striking and important aspect of feminism has to do with identity. 

I will save that discussion for another time.

The Elitists

On investigating the Harper's website further I discovered, much to my dismay, that the whole site now requires a subscription. No longer can I feed on the leavings and scraps of previous months for free. This is quite a blow since a subscription from the UK costs over $40, an amount I simply cannot spare at this time. Still, it is a fair price...

At least still offers its free pass. Here's something that made me chuckle.

Monday, April 28, 2008


Back already. The baby has a banana to keep her happy, but my coffee's gotten cold.

I am officially registering my dismay at the new Harper's magazine website. What is this red tab nonsense? They've gone from simple dual columns to links overload. Time will tell if this makes it easier to navigate but the look of it leaves a lot to be desired.

All of that said, I am currently debating adding a 'third column' to my blog. I've seen it done other places and it looks nice - but I don't think I have enough content at the moment to justify it. So I guess I too feel the lure of glitzy YouTube boxes, photos and links lists.

Back with a Vengeance

I haven't been here for a while - too tired to rant, I guess. I've noticed there are lots  of comments on here now. Hooray for spam!

With the election coming up this November I suppose I should get back on my soapbox. But, of course, now I'm living in the UK so my perspective is a bit different. Too much BBC World Service, not enough Fox News.

However, it also means I get my news (such as it is) about five hours before those of you in Stars and Stripes land. This may not mean much as I am now also a full-time mother and am too busy watching soaps and making my man's dinner to keep up with a blog. 

I could promise to try. . . nah.