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Archive for March, 2012

Monogamy is not the problem, and doesn’t need curing. But there’s definitely a problem.

– An MP and a Knight of the Realm thinks gay marriage is going to lead to censoring Shakespeare. He says the idea shouldn’t be dismissed as “fanciful”, so I’ll dismiss it as hysterical and moronic instead.

Geometric porn. Possibly NSFW, depending on the creative imagination levels of your co-workers.

– And a thing I wrote elsewhere about Trayvon Martin.

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One important aspect that seems to have been largely left out of the debate on forced and unnecessarily penetrative medical procedures for women, which is becoming legally mandated in a number of states of the USA, is the role of the doctors performing these procedures. In particular, those who morally disagree with the mandate just as much as the lay folk who’ve been protesting it.

It’s not like medical professionals don’t have their own strong opinions about patient care, after all. Most of them wouldn’t be happy to simply carry blithely on with an invasive medical procedure that they thought was traumatising and unnecessary. Aren’t some of them outraged as well? Aren’t some of them standing up against this?

Yep.

An anonymous medical acquaintance of John Scalzi’s has guest-posted on his blog, calling for what they call “a little old-fashioned civil disobedience”. After several points of advice as to how physicians who “should” be performing these procedures can respond ethically, here’s the conclusion:

It comes down to this: When the community has failed a patient by voting an ideologue into office… When the ideologue has failed the patient by writing legislation in his own interest instead of in the patient’s… When the legislative system has failed the patient by allowing the legislation to be considered… When the government has failed the patient by allowing something like this to be signed into law… We as physicians cannot and must not fail our patients by ducking our heads and meekly doing as we’re told.

Because we are their last line of defense.

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So I’ve finally seen this movie that you probably lost interest in months ago, and I has some thoughts. (And some spoilers, though not much more than is given away by the title.)

I’m not a proper film critic type, so I don’t really know how to integrate the various levels on which the film acts, or how much weight to give them. On a scientific level, for instance, it was seriously problematic. The “gene therapy” that gives the apes super-intelligence is well beyond even plausible science fiction, and acts as a mixture of miracle and MacGuffin in its ability to do what the story needs it to. A single treatment, and every chimpanzee it’s exposed to suddenly acquires human-level thinking. In humans, the same stuff cures Alzheimer’s overnight. (And it’s aerosolised, for no good reasons that aren’t contrived by the plot.)

The notion of just what intelligence is bothered me as well. The apes don’t just get smarter, they essentially become different-looking humans. Every facial expression, every tic, every gesture, is clearly recognisable and understood when you watch them. You can follow the thought processes behind every decision they make, and even their manual dexterity suddenly seems to mirror that of humans in a way I don’t think is natural to chimps. I get that this kind of relatability is generally something you want in your protagonists, but it jarred here. Andy Serkis does a brilliant job in the whole motion capture thing, but that may be part of the problem. It felt like there should be a less lazy way to humanise these characters – or, perhaps, to make us care about them even when humanising them isn’t appropriate.

(At the same time, the extent of the apes’ physical superiority to humans was off-puttingly exaggerated. They regularly leapt through plate glass as if it literally wasn’t there, and fell forty feet onto concrete ground as if hopping off a bus. I know they could all kick my ass without breaking a sweat, but this was a bit much.)

The counterpoint to all this, on the other hand, is that I’m not sure how much it matters.

Well, no, I’m sure that a lot of it does matter, partly for aesthetic reasons and partly for the sake of internal consistency. But on another level (if I can talk about there being, philosophically, “another level” to a film without sounding like either a pretentious twat or someone trying to retro-actively buzz-market Dane Bowers’s music career) it’s not really about any of these things. It’s about an uprising; it’s about oppression; it’s about a race realising what their rights are, and that they’re being trampled on, and that they can fight for them.

On some level, it is about different-looking humans.

It’s not that the apes are simply a metaphorical stand-in for black people, or Native Americans, or the proles, or anything that straight-forward. They’re apes. But maybe some of the technical details need not be as important as the story that the film’s trying to tell, and what it says about the world. The apes treated with the gene therapy unquestionably have intelligence, personalities, “personhood”, and just about everything you’d expect to see in an agent deserving of human respect and dignity. But they’re seen as less than human, as pets, as experimental subjects. They’re hated and feared, in a way that shows up our prejudices, rather than reflecting their own nature. We act like we can treat them essentially however we like, and when they rebel they display unexpected levels of intelligence, self-control, and humanity.

Never mind for a moment that it’s not technically realistic in apes. Do we see something like this anywhere else in the world?

As a simple tale of rising up against bondage, it’s entertainingly told, but even this could have been handled better. The antagonists are too… antagonisty. (Thought I should remind you I’m really not a proper film reviewer.) We’re not given anything at all to like about David Hewlett’s character; he first appears only to exemplify the prejudice with which the apes are seen, when he violently threatens a chimp who leaps playfully onto his property without meaning any harm. (In fact, given what we know about chimpanzee behaviour in the real world, he would have had every reason to be seriously frightened for the safety of his children – a significant problem with the set-up of the apes as unfairly maligned underdogs.) Draco doesn’t get any more of a rounded character when he turns up; he’s just a total bastard all the time, and when your bad guys are all just total bastards all the time, I think it weakens the power of your allegory.

I haven’t seen the film The Help, but I read one criticism of it which seemed insightful (though might not be fair, for all I know). The attitudes toward race and racial roles in the film (as I read) are basically divided between two types of characters. Some are as magnificently progressive as you’d hope anyone could be (even by today’s standards), believe that any discrimination between whites and blacks is an injustice, and sympathise deeply with the plight of all the African-Americans in question. The others are entirely callous to the notion that black people might have any feelings worth worrying about, openly scorn and despise them, and ridicule the very idea that anything needs to change.

All of which ignores a substantial and vital aspect of the history of race relations: decent people who genuinely meant well, and weren’t evil or heartless by any means, but were so unable to see past their standard view of the world that they contributed little to any progressive movement either.

I think Rise of the Planet of the Apes has a similar problem. The baddies are very obviously baddies, because of how they’re mean to animals and stuff. But I think it could have been a more profound allegory if it had done more to take into account the role of complacency and rationalisation in tyranny and subjugation.

Thomas Jefferson owned slaves. It’s not always about inhumanity and malice. Sometimes people are just wrong.

Three stars.

(Abrupt ending due to losing my train of thought a bit and deciding I’ve probably made my point quite well enough, whatever it is.)

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Why are you atheists so angry?

Greta Christina’s got 99 answers.

 

 

She answers a few more things about the book here. Knowing Greta, it’ll be well worth a look, either if you regularly find yourself dealing with the kind of religious idiots who ask why it matters so much to atheists what other people believe, or if you’re one of those idiots yourself.

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The headline’s meaning is pretty unequivocal. Of all the people taking our hard-earned money in some sort of disability benefits, fully three-quarters of them are a bunch of spongeing fakers who don’t deserve a penny, and are just lazily avoiding doing a proper day’s work.

There’s not really any other way it could be interpreted. And it was a front page story on one of the country’s biggest newspapers.

And it’s entirely untrue.

The Department of Work and Pensions seem to have been complicit in allowing their data to be so maliciously misinterpreted, though, and there’s been much less fanfare around a new report, which confirms that most people voluntarily ended their own Employment Support Allowance claim because their health had improved.

The data that gave rise to the scary 75% headline actually indicates that, when it came to ESA being withdrawn, 41% of cases where when someone had found permanent work, and 30% involved people still looking for work but no longer claiming sickness benefits. 12% claimed that they were unable to work, permanently or temporarily, but still had their ESA closed for whatever reason.

As far as I can tell, the 75% figure is a complete fabrication. But look at that front page and its headline again. Picture the world it describes. Imagine living in a country full of these scroungers, where anyone claiming it to be unfit to work is more likely than not to be faking it. Then contrast that with knowledge of the struggles that disabled people actually have to face, particularly by people who seem to have bought into the tabloid narrative.

Are you holding these ideas in your mind?

Holy fuck how corrosive is the attitude being perpetuated by the media here.

Seriously.

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– I support men’s rights. This is not what I mean by that.

– It’s not a Cracked list, but this summary of the 7 Worst International Aid Ideas is still pretty tragically funny in places. Where it isn’t just tragic.

– Turns out Facebook aren’t too thrilled about employers demanding your passwords either. You know it has to be pretty fucked up for Facebook to be unequivocally on the right side of a privacy issue.

– Man, some white people really love to get racially offended.

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Here’s an article about targeted drone strikes.

Here are a few choice phrases from the article, presented largely without comment, which make my head hurt.

In this new age of drone warfare, probing the constitutional legitimacy of targeted killings has never been more vital

There are contested legal issues surrounding drone strikes

Awlaki’s killing and others like it have solid legal support and are embedded in an unprecedentedly robust system of legal and political accountability

Whatever else the term “force” may mean, it clearly includes authorization from Congress to kill enemy soldiers

Congress as a whole is well aware of the president’s targeted killing program

The Supreme Court has ruled in many contexts that due process does not always demand judicial scrutiny

There is simply no way to wring all potential error from the system and still carry on a war

While the Obama administration can improve its public explanations for targeted killing, its critics have wildly overstated the legal concerns about the practice

There is every reason to think that the government was super careful

Super careful, you guys.

And finally:

President Harry Truman, for example, received a great deal of advice about whether and how to drop the atomic bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, but it didn’t come from lawyers advising him on the laws of war.

Thank Christ we’ve come so far from those horrible days, when world leaders didn’t have the reassuring presence of legal experts there to assure them that killing millions of foreigners was technically fine as far as the paperwork was concerned.

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