Thursday, February 25, 2010

Sluts Save the World

From CBS News:

A study of fruit flies by the Natural Environment Research Council in the U.K. has found that promiscuous females of a species may be the key to that species' survival.

The reason is that when females partner with fewer mates, the likelihood that they'll have all-female broods rises. A so-called "sex ratio distortion" (SR) chromosome exists that kills Y chromosome (male) sperm before fertilization. Female offspring carry the SR, which will be passed on to their male children until there are all-female broods born.
Short version: Do it more, widen your brood-load and reduce the risk of getting all-female broods. Species saved!

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Olbermann: Help

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Orca is Latin for The Bringer of Death


A SeaWorld killer whale seized a trainer in its jaws Wednesday and thrashed the woman around underwater, killing her in front of a horrified audience. It marked the third time the animal had been involved in a human death.

Distraught audience members were hustled out of the stadium immediately, and the park was closed.

Trainer Dawn Brancheau, 40, was one of the park's most experienced. It was not clear if she drowned or died from the thrashing.
This is going to be a problematic story for the animal rights crowd which has championed whales as sentient beings. An incident like this has two possibilities: the orca knew what it was doing and is therefore guilty of an act of homicide, or it did not know what it was doing, or at least was acting instinctively, and is really no smarter or cognisant than other animals that we readily kill for food and clothing. Neither of these options bodes well for the dolphin.

But in either case, what fascinates me about this and similar incidents of cetacean violence is how it disrupts the new age notion of nature as a friendly, nurturing entity. Whales, perhaps beyond any other animal, have been bestowed with a public image of nature's benevolence and are paraded about as some defacto example of nature's moral goodness, and used to attack man's abuse of the earth. But the public image of whales and dolphins is as well crafted and stage managed as that of a politician and is the result of domestication, training, and myth making by the media.

Compare the public image of whales to sharks. Sharks do not lend themselves to domestication or theme parks; they don't click and whistle, they're not cute, and they don't jump through hoops. From the mid-1970s to the 90s, sharks endured very harsh public regard as a result of Jaws and its imitators (and for shark's tendency to occasionally attack people) but also because documentaries about sharks were always framed around images them feeding, attacking, or being menacing in general. Today much of that has dissipated due to a renewed sense of resonsibility for the enviornment and an awareness of shark's important place in the ecosystem. And ultimately, I think sharks may end up better off than whales because no thinking person would appeal to sharks as an example of morality. We have largely replaced fear with respect, which is what nature demands.

Those looking for morality should not look to nature. You just won't find it there.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Rules for Writing by Distinguished Authors

The Guardian has this compilation of lists of writing advice by high profile writers. Here are some gems:
Elmore Leonard: Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip. Think of what you skip reading a novel: thick paragraphs of prose you can see have too many words in them.

Roddy Doyle: Do not place a photograph of your ­favourite author on your desk, especially if the author is one of the famous ones who committed suicide.

Helen Dunmore: Reread, rewrite, reread, rewrite. If it still doesn't work, throw it away. It's a nice feeling, and you don't want to be cluttered with the corpses of poems and stories which have everything in them except the life they need.

Anne Enright: Write whatever way you like. Fiction is made of words on a page; reality is made of something else. It doesn't matter how "real" your story is, or how "made up": what matters is its necessity.

Richard Ford: Don't drink and write at the same time.

Jonathan Franzen: When information becomes free and universally accessible, voluminous research for a novel is devalued along with it.

Neil Gaiman: Write.

David Hare: The two most depressing words in the English language are "literary fiction".

Al Kennedy: Defend your work. Organisations, institutions and individuals will often think they know best about your work – especially if they are paying you. When you genuinely believe their decisions would damage your work – walk away. Run away. The money doesn't matter that much.

Michael Murpurgo: The prerequisite for me is to keep my well of ideas full. This means living as full and varied a life as possible, to have my antennae out all the time.

Ian Rankin: Get lucky.

Will Self: You know that sickening feeling of inadequacy and over-exposure you feel when you look upon your own empurpled prose? Relax into the awareness that this ghastly sensation will never, ever leave you, no matter how successful and publicly lauded you become. It is intrinsic to the real business of writing and should be cherished.

Zadie Smith: Work on a computer that is disconnected from the ­internet.

Sarah Waters: Read like mad. But try to do it analytically – which can be hard, because the better and more compelling a novel is, the less conscious you will be of its devices. It's worth trying to figure those devices out, however: they might come in useful in your own work. I find watching films also instructive. Nearly every modern Hollywood blockbuster is hopelessly long and baggy. Trying to visualise the much better films they would have been with a few radical cuts is a great exercise in the art of story-telling.

Jeanette Winterson: Be ambitious for the work and not for the reward.
You can also check out this article at Salon in which Laura Miller gives the advice of a reader to writers.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Is This a New Olympic Competition?

Now this could actually get me to watch the winter Olympics:

According to this piece at the Huffington Post, about 100,000 condoms have been distributed to those involved in the games. According to the article, that works out to fourteen condoms for each of the 7,000 athletes, coaches, trainers and officials.

Maybe I should have learned to ice skate after all.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Glenn Greenwald on the Right Wing's Human Rights Blind Spot

Glenn Greenwald has written this column for Salon about the defense of Baptist missionaries in Haiti who were arrested on child abduction charges. Pundits for Fox News and The National Review have been defending the missionaries and protested the conditions of their imprisonment while simultaneously advocating the continuation of Bush-era torture and incarceration policies. Greenwald concludes his attack on this hypocrisy as follows:

Would you rather be an American wrongfully accused of child trafficking even in the post-earthquake Haitian justice system (complete with lawyers, access to courts, and full due process), or a Muslim wrongly accused of Terrorism by the U.S. Government (and put in a black hole for years with no rights)? To ask the question is to answer it. The primary duty of a citizen is to protest bad acts by their own government. If you're acquiescing to or even endorsing serious human rights abuses by your own government, then it's not only morally absurd -- but laughably ineffective -- to parade around as some sort of human rights crusader when it comes time to protest the treatment of one of your own, however you might define that. It might produce some soothing feelings of self-satisfaction, but nobody will remotely take that seriously, nor should they.

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Is Your Vagina Shiny Enough?

Yes, you read the headline correctly. Just in time for Valentine's Day, here is an article about various medical procedures available to women who think their vaginas just aren't pretty enough. "Improvements" include vaginal deodorant, labiaplasty, and bleaching.

And to think most guys are happy just so long as the vagina is attached to a body with a pulse. I guess we have to start raising our standards. Or maybe women need to seriously ask themselves who they are doing this for and why.

The Family Research Council Would Criminalize Sex

This is an debate from Hardball in which Aubrey Sarvis, a former US serviceman who is also gay, debates repealing "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" with Peter Sprigg of the Family Research Council. Most of the segment goes through the same tired arguments on the topic except for the final minute as Chris Matthews asks Sprigg if he thinks homosexuality should be illegal. Quite amazingly, Sprigg says that he does.

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Tuesday, February 02, 2010

That John Lennon Was Full of Shit, Man

Valentine's Day is on its way again and with it comes the predictable shaming of those of us who are single, whether by choice or by circumstance. My (admittedly and unapologetically male) perception is that the social disdain towards the single status is worse for women than for men because society beats into women from an early age that their whole purpose in life is to get married and live happily ever after, and if they have not done that then they are some kind of a failure. Men are actually expected to refrain from an interest in romance and only agree to it after a long and bitter resistance. Of course, neither of these conventions is true; women can be quite happy and unmarried and there are plenty of men who do like to indulge romantic ideals.

In this book review for The Daily Beast, Liesl Schillinger inventories the new "dating self help" (better described as why-you-are-an-unloved-sack-of-shit) book by Lori Gottlieb called Marry Him: The Case for Settling for Mr. Good Enough, which tells successful but single women to lower their standards and settle down with a guy they might not like really like but comes close enough.

There is a lot to say about Gottlieb's argument but for this post, I'll just focus on this excerpt from Schillinger's review, as it applies to both men and women:

Many unpartnered women who grew up in Gottlieb’s era dated successfully for ages, but the relationships didn’t work out; others married and got divorced. Gottlieb moans about the misery of the sad, pathetic single woman, stuck at home with Netflix. But what of the misery of the sad, pathetic, partnered woman, stuck at home with a somnolent spouse or boyfriend who sits around watching TV and eating Chunky soup and won’t let her play her Netflix? What of the un-sad, un-pathetic single women who go to concerts, plays, films and parties, carouse with friends, date, travel, work out, dance, take classes, produce valuable work, and, generally, live life as if they were not coma patients? This is not to say that Gottlieb isn’t correct to assert that some single women are lonely (just as some single men are). This is merely to point out that a human being bears a certain amount of responsibility for his or her own entertainment; and that having a partner is no guarantee of a roaring good time or of a rich emotional life.
There is another thought I'd like to add to both Gottlieb and Schillinger's input: love and marriage inherently involve compromise. For that matter, all social interaction involves some kind of compromise. By having friends or significant others and sharing our time with them, we are inherently giving up some our freedom and autonomy. A completely single person with no attachments--familial, platonic, or romantic--would be the freest individual in the world, owing nothing to anybody. But human beings are also social creatures and to go without is unhealthy and probably not worth the benefit.

So does Gottlieb's general argument, that women (or men for that matter) should resign their standards, hold any water? In a way, yes, if she or he compromises on things that are ultimately negotiable and the benefits outweight the cost. But getting married just for the sake of having a ring on your finger and fulfilling some social expectation of having an elderly virgin call upon the imaginary space god to sanctify your sex life is not going to make anyone a better or happier person.