Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Random thoughts about my birthday and the joys of public transportation

So, it's my birthday tomorrow. I'm always a bit wierd about this...part of me wants to mark the occasion in some way and another part wants to pretend it isn't happening. I'm turning 32, and that makes me feel as if I should be much farther along in terms of a life plan and much more of a grownup than I actually am. It's a wierd age, as I feel like my continuing immersion in pop culture and general lack of house and a picket fence aspirations lead to me having very little in common with people in the 40+ bracket. On the other hand, teenagers seem very young to me, and I don't identify with them either. I suppose I still feel like I'm in my mid twenties (which is about the age people who don't know me usually assume I am). I'm not sure if that's a good thing or a bad thing. Am I tragically immature, or just deeply countercultural?
The usual "damn I'm getting old" birthday blues were alleviated somewhat by a recent BART encounter with the guy who I am describing to friends as "sexy Swedish dude". I was on my way in to work a few days ago and found myself sitting across the train from a very hot blond guy about my age (and I don't much care for blondes, so if I say a blond is hot then they're REALLY hot). Not having had my morning coffee yet I didn't notice the guy at first, until I got the "someone is watching me" feeling and looked up to find him watching me put on my lipstick. We did the glance and glance away, little smiles, general flirting thing until, alas, he apparently reached his stop and had to get off. Made me think of the line from Thelma and Louise...I hate to see him go but I love to watch him leave.
This little encounter helped to stave off the usual birthday-induced ageing-related depression. I'm getting older, true, but the good thing is that my taste in men seems to be evolving accordingly. Teenage boys look sort of larval to me, not sexy at all, and men in their early twenties often irritate me. The men I find sexist now all seem to be about my age, which is a good thing. Not that I'm planning to get rid of P any time soon, but it's always good to know that if one were to suddenly find oneself single one still has plenty of options and has not become invisible to the opposite sex. So let's all hail sexy Swedish guys who like to flirt with women on trains - they make the world a happier place.
Since we're on the subject, why don't American men know how to flirt? Encounters with my American brethren always leave me feeling as if they're either about to hit me over the head with their club and drag me back to their cave, or they're too scared to even make eye contact. American women aren't much better. Why are Americans so flirting-impaired? Why the underlying assumption that any flirting that doesn't actually lead to sex represents some kind of failure? Why can't they just enjoy flirting for the sheer joy of it, for it's ability to add a little spark to each person's day? I never have understood this. If anyone else gets it, please clue me in. It makes daily life a lot more boring than it needs to be.
In other commuting news, I saw a guy reading "The Selfish Gene" on the train this morning. I've never much cared for either the book or it's fans, and the guy this morning did a great job of reminding me why. He spent the whole trip giving me that combined lust/resentment look that always gives me the creeps. He refused to move his stuff so that someone else could sit down. On his way out of the train he barged the other commuters as if completely unaware of their existance. Is the person selecting reading material that reinforces his own basic beliefs, or is the book leading the person to behave in a way he otherwise might not? It the book the chicken or the egg? I'm not sure. I only got through a few chapters before giving up in disgust, and to a certain extent my discomfort with Dawkins is based on the way in which other have used his work, for which he is not necessarily responsible. Did anyone else actually read the whole book? If so, please feel free to chime in.

Friday, August 19, 2005

Friday Random Ten
This seems to be a lefty blog tradition, so I figured it was time for me to join in. So, what did my MP3 player send me today?

The Ramones - Sheena is a Punk Rocker
Ministry - Stigmata
Pulp - Babies
Hanoi Rocks - Malibu Beach Nightmare
Tone Loc - Wild Thing
Manic Street Preachers - From Despair To Where
Suede - Animal Nitrate
Blur - Boys and Girls
Soundgarden - Hands All Over
Placebo - Nancy Boy

It's not too hard to tell that I'm British, huh? What's everyone else listening to today?

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Britian's own entry into the Wingnut Olympics

It has come to my attention that this blog might easily be percieved by the uncharitable is American-bashing. So, in the interests of fairness, I thought it was time to point out that the UK has it's fair share of raving right-wing lunatics too. On that note, I'd like to introduce everyone to former TV chat show host, current head of UKIP and nutter extrordinaire Robert Kilroy-Silk. Here's a link to a quick BBC summary of his firing from his TV post.

And a more general overview of his career

And here's the man in his own words, as compiled by Private Eye magazine

I've often heard other British ex-pats compare Kilroy-Silk to Pat Buchannan. Now, I'm no fan of Mr Buchannan, but I do feel that the comparison is a little unfair to him. Buchannan is a crotchety old right-wing bigot, but Kilroy-Silk is absolutely barking mad. I once saw him on TV patiently explaining his theory that the world is run by a secretive cabal of gigantic 7 foot tall alien lizards (one can only assume that he was deeply traumatised by the crappy minseries "V"). No, I'm not kidding and I'm not making this up. Some rather more rational associate seems to have advised him not to mention the lizard theory in public since then, and it's hard to find any information on it (the man has very efficient lawyers), but it was the kind of thing that rather makes an impression on a young girl and I've never forgotten it.
For those of us Brits who often like to indulge in the delusion that our country is much more tolerant than the US Kilroy-Silk should serve as a national wake-up call. The man was for a while the whip of a national political party. He's an MEP. Comforting as it would be to dismiss him as a random loonie, the fact is that people actually voted for this man. There is a segment of our society that hears him say things like this, about the rising rate of TB infections, "The indigenous population is not responsible. The diseases are being brought here by refugees, immigrants and tourists... It is the foreigners that we have to focus on", and think "my, what a clever man, I think I'll vote for him".
It almost makes me wonder if this is the flip side of the famous British fondness for eccentrics. It's one thing when we're smiling at Vivienne Westwood's inexplicable handbags, or enjoying the antics of the Monster Raving Loony Party (which actually is a real national party, by the way), but is it that very love of wierdness which leads us also to tolerate dangerous wackos like Kilroy-Silk? Are people just failing to take him seriously? Or is it just that we enjoy keeping a few nutters around for the entertainment value? That wouldn't necessarily be a bad thing, but when we start ELECTING them the whole thing starts to seem a lot less amusing. Here's another couple of Kilroy-Silk quotes.
""The barmy liberals like Diane Abbott don’t like the word ‘swamped’ when used by the Home Secretary to describe schools and GPs’ surgeries being overrun by asylum seekers who cannot speak English. What word would they prefer? Overwhelmed? Drowned? Submerged? What is the problem with using proper English words to describe an appalling situation that many British people have to put up with?"
"It is simple enough. We station paratroopers a mile from the British end of the [Channel] Tunnel.. The paras herd the immigrants together and cart them off to Dover where they are dumped on a secure slow boat to -- wherever" (17 Mar 2002)."

Still think that Brits are so much more reasonable and tolerant? Somebody voted for this guy. Isn't that an uncomfortable thought?

Addendum : Since everyone may be feeling a bit bummed out by this point I thought I'd provide some comic relief, which after all is the way Brits usually cope with depressing things. Make sure to watch this with the sound turned up.

And another thought - what the hell is going on with all the former leftists who've turned into raving right wing bigots over the past few years? Christopher Hitchins, I'm looking at you (J'accuse, in fact, you hypocritical little bastard). A lot of the neo-cons used to be leftist too. What happened?

Saturday, August 13, 2005

Big Tent Feminism - Just how big is this tent, anyway?

I've been thinking a lot about differences between feminists recently. Differences in how we approach gender identity issues, differences in how we relate to men, differences between women of different races and classes. Part of what set me off on this path was the comments of the ever-perceptive Sydney at Alas on the ways in which white feminists marginalise women of color, which set me off on a quest to find non-Western feminist blogs (I found a few good ones if anyone wants links). The other thing that prompted my excursion into ideological self-criticism was reading a news article about Mary Daly, which prompted me to re-read some of her work.
So, the first thing to come out of my self-criticism exercise - I agree that mainstream feminism does indeed marginalise women of color. Not only that, it also tends to marginalise poor women. I don't think that this is the result of any kind of deliberate attempt to exclude these women, I think it's a combination of selfishness (ie I'm going to focus on the issues that affect me) and laziness (it's easier not to have to think about how other women's experiences may be different. Reaching out to others is work. Understanding is work). I think that this is a real weakness within the movement. It has become particularly apparent with the increasing dangers faced by women in Iraq. There are established feminist groups in Iraq that are trying to fight against the imposition of Sharia law and the erosion of Iraqui women's civil rights. There are feminist women in the West who want to help, and who have far more of the resources to be able to do so (money, access to the media) than the Iraqi women do. The problem is that there are no established connections between the two groups. Western feminists can't even send messages of support and solidarity, because we don't know who to send them to. This is a problem. There are also many women in Africa facing huge problems, frankly much bigger problems than women are facing here in the USA, and what are we doing to help and support them? Not much. That is also a problem. In fact, to my mind it's not just a problem, it's a betrayal of what feminism is supposed to stand for. If we believe in freedom and justice for women that needs to mean ALL women, not just the women who look like us.
The issue of how we deal with men is also a divisive one. This is where the work of Mary Daly comes in. I'm about to say something that will probably make a lot of other feminists very angry, but I think it needs to be said.
Reading Mary Daly makes me feel profoundly depressed. On some basic level I find her philosophies morally and ethically unacceptable. Part of what she says sound reasonable, even uplifting, and then we get to stuff like this.
"I think it's not a bad idea at all. If life is to survive on this planet, there must be a decontamination of the Earth. I think this will be accompanied by an evolutionary process that will result in a drastic reduction of the population of males. People are afraid to say that kind of stuff anymore."
It's not that I'm afraid to say that kind of stuff, it's that I don't agree with it (and I don't appreciate the implication that other feminists feel the same way she does and are just afraid to admit it, by the way). Why in the hell would anyone think that a "drastic reduction" in the number of men would be a good idea? This isn't feminism, it's eugenics. Eugenics is a deeply evil idea, an appeal to the twisted underbelly of the human psyche, and I don't much care what anyone's justifications are for why it's OK to be promoting it in their special set of circumstances. I think that at some point Daly took a wrong turn. She seems to have lost sight of the fact that patriarchy is a social system and has instead decided that patriarchy is men. Patriarchy is not men. It favors men, certainly, it hurts women in a far more direct and limiting way than it hurts men, but men are trapped in its web just as certainly as women are. She's oversimplifying, and when has that ever been a good idea?
This ties in to a number of experiences I had at university. I was a psych major but took a number of feminism classes. I loved the actual lectures, devoured the reading material, but there was always an undercurrent of gender essentialism among certain of the texts, certain members of each seminar group, that made me deeply uncomfortable. Anyone who's ever had any exposure to gender studies knows what I'm talking about. Woman as all-nurturing earth mother, man as warrior and destroyer of worlds. Gender as a dichotomy, with men and women as binary opposites, forever destined to misunderstand and conflict with each other.
I'm going to be frank here. This model is bullshit. It doesn't reflect my life, it doesn't reflect the lives of anyone I know. What about the soft, femmey men? What about the stone butches? What about the women like me who feel no particular inclination to be nurturing and earth-mothery? What about the vast majority of human beings who each have a unique combinatiion of traditionally "masculine" and "feminine" traits? Where do they fit in the binary theory?
Don't misunderstand me. The vast majority of feminists completely get that gender is a fluid thing, hard to pin down and subject to almost infinite variations. But what about the essentialists in our midst? What do we do about them?
Arwen started me thinking about this in a new way and gave me a word for what I do when I encounter essentialist theories. I matronize them. I don't take them seriously. In the back of my own mind I'm patting them on the head and saying "yes dear, I know, you're upset". I tuck them into bed with a nice cup of tea and a chocolate biscuit. I assume that something, some bad experience in their past, has hurt these women so deeply that withdrawal from men is the only answer for them. I don't mean withdrawal in the sense of lesbianism, I mean complete withdrawal, a drastic alienation from anything with the slightest tinge of maleness. And honestly, if they wish to withdraw themselves I have no issue whatsoever with that choice. It's not my decision to make. The problem is that they're advocting separatism as the only acceptable feminist option, and I'm not willing to accept that.
In spite of my overall respect for Dworkin there are bits and pieces of her theory that provoke this same reaction in me. I recognise the fact that what she's saying is true for her, and is true for millions of women all over the world, but it's not true for me. It doesn't reflect my life experiences.
This is where a bit of background might come in handy. From the age of 2 till 8 I lived in Libya. In our little expat community there were only a few families and a much larger number of men on what was called "bachelor status", men who worked there alone while their families stayed home, who only saw their wife and kids for perhaps a month out of every year. Whenever my parents would go to a party these men were my babysitters. My Mom threw frequent dinner parties at which there were always at least a few of these men - indeed a large part of the reason that she threw the parties was because she felt sorry for these men who were separated from their families for so much of the time. The reason I have never been able to swallow the "women are naturally nurturing and men are not" idea is that I spent my childhood surrounded by extremely nurturing men. They read me stories, they helped me take me baths, they kissed skinned knees and tended colds, they told me jokes when I was sad, they took me swimming and answered my incessant questions about how and why and what and where and dammit I need to know how everything works! In a way I was an incredibly fortunate child. These men lavished upon me all the affection that circumstances prevented them from lavishing upon their own children who were so far away. I loved every one of my "uncles", and I always knew that they loved me.
This is why the essentialist, separatist part of feminism is completely anathema to me. I love men. Not all men, obviously. I don't really love all women either. All human beings have the potential to be nasty and selfish and cruel, and all too many don't even try to be any better. Some try and fail, eaten up by their own personal demons. But there is nothing wrong with "men" in the abstract that the demolition of the patriarchy couldn't potentially fix, and I simply cannot accept the idea that some people cannot separate the social and political system that grinds us all down from the individuals who live within that system. To do so would be to deny my own life experience, and I'm not willing to do that.
I've been chewing this over in one way and another ever since university, hell probably since long before that, and for a long time I've just kept my mouth shut out of fear of angering and alienating my fellow feminists, and I'm not willing to do that any more. This is my movement too, and I demand the right to have a say in how it works. I'm not willing to write off half the human race, and I'm not willing to lend my support to those who do. I would also like to remind my sisters that in promoting essentialist arguments they are acually letting the men who behave badly off the hook. If we set up a binary in which men simply are "that way", if we "other" them, then are we not conceding that they are incapable of change, of being people whom we can work with rather than against? Does anyone really think that that's a good strategy? Furthermore, if we don't speak out against those of our sisters who are promoting deeply misguided philosophies, we are allowing their arguments to shape the public image of what the word "feminist" means. That's a very bad idea. Feminism is in serious need of a PR makeover.
In a way I suppose what's coming through here is the Second Wave vs Third Wave divide. I can understand why the women who came before thought differently. I respect their right to their opinions. I don't think that means that I, or any other younger feminists, need to defer to them when I think they're wrong. I think that if we ever want to gain any traction for the movement in the court of public opinion we need to make it crystal clear that the movement has progressed, that most people abandoned essentialist thinking long ago. That may mean speaking out against our sisters when they say things we disagree with. It may mean agreeing to disagree.
I think that we need to move towards a new vision of what feminism means. That new visions needs to be much more inclusive than the one it's replacing. We need to open up the conversation to include the voices of women of color, and when they start talking the rest of us need to shut up and listen. We need to reach out to poor women in language they can understand, and take their concerns seriously. We need to reach out to women in the Third World, and we need to recognise that their lives matter every bit as much as ours do. We need to embrace and work with men who share our basic philosophy.
How big is that tent anyway? Is it big enough for all of us? I suspect it is. If it isn't it's time to built a bigger tent.

Friday, August 12, 2005

Rant about the return of the NHL that really does have something to do with feminism, honest

OK, so I'm a hockey fan. I realise that this may make some people want to revoke my feminist credentials immediately but I don't care. I grew up playing field hockey, it's the only one of the American Big 4 sports that I give a shit about, and anyone who doesn't like it can bite me.
Now that we've got that out of the way, the NHL is about to return! After a nasty and protracted labour war there will in fact be hockey this fall and I (and most of Canada) am very happy about that. What I am not happy about is that the team that I have followed for the past few years (Colorado Avalanche) has been completely dismantled - our star goalie has retired, most of the key players have been traded away, and the idiots who run the franchise allowed the best player on the planet (Peter Forsberg) to sign with another team. Morons. So, I am considering switching my allegiance to another team. Bear with me, I will be getting to the feminist part soon.
The situation is that the aformentioned best player in the world is now signed to a team that I despise (Philadelphia Flyers). The reason that I don't like the Flyers is that their GM (Bobby Clark) is a perfect example of everything about American (and Canadian) sports culture that is noxious and deeply fucked up. He spent years trading for players purely on the principle of trying to achieve the biggest team in the league just so they could physically overpower their opponents. Skill was apparently not a consideration. He is most famous for being part of a team referred to as the Broad Street Bullies, and they're not kidding. He is particularly famous for, in an international game against Russia, going out on the ice and deliberately breaking the ankle of the Russian team's best player (who I might add was considerably more talented than Clark). I don't mean they got in a scuffle and there was an unfortunate injury, I mean he deliberately broke the guy's ankle to take him out of the series. This is not a nice man. He is also famous for presiding over the worst case of potential wasted and a promising career derailed in the history of the NHL in the form of a player by the name of Eric Lindros. Clark is a dinosaur, and I'm deeply uncomfortable with the idea of supporting any organisation that has him at the helm.
Here's where the feminism part comes in (and the comment about the ways in which patriarchy fucks over men too that I promised Brian). A little over 10 years ago there was this guy who entered the league called Eric Lindros. For those who don't follow hockey, as a kid this guy was one of the most hyped players in history and was generally regarded as a phenom. He can skate, he has great hands and superior skills, and he's built like a Mack truck. In theory this guy should have been the perfect hockey player, and for a while it looked like he was going to be just that. Then he got hurt. This is where the patriarchal fun starts.
It turns out that Lindros seems to be a bit injury prone. It also seems like there's some wierd genetic susceptability to concussions in his family, as he has had about 10 concussions to date and his little brother had to quit hockey in his early twenties due to a really bad concussion. The interesting part is how Mr Clark in particular and the hockey/sports press in general reacted when Lindros started to suffer from injuries.
To put it bluntly, Clark called him a pussy. In public, in front of reporters. What makes it even worse is that the "what a wimp" type comments were made in reference to an injury where the guy got hurt during a game but decided that he would probably be OK, went back to the hotel and took a bath, and then passed out in the tub and was found by his roomate unconcious and basically bled white. Turns out he had a punctured lung and was suffering from internal bleeding, and that it the roomate hadn't found him he would have probably died. There was apparently a fight between Clark and the roomate, with Clark insisting that Lindros get on a plane to the team's next destination and the roomate insisting that there was no way in hell he was going to let that happen and that the man needed to see a doctor. The roomate won, Lindros recovered, and the whole thing turned into a gigantic mess with the entire Lindros family claiming that Clark was basically trying to kill their son and Clark calling Lindros a big baby and a wimp for complaining and for letting his parents speak on his behalf.
Now that I've given the background (sorry that was so long, I'm assuming that no-one reading would know anything about the history and it's relevant to what happened later) on to what really bothered me about all this. To my mind this whole situation is a perfect example of the way in which a patriarchal culture constructs masculinity, and the way in which it punishes and tries to shame men who don't fit the stereotype. Here we have a guy who's a professional hockey player. He's huge, he's freakishly strong and he's notoriously tough and agressive (for a while even a lot of other hockey players were scared of this guy). You would think that this is exactly what the patriarchy wants men to be like, right? The problem is the guy is also unusually close to his parents (Dad is his agent, Mom helps out with the finances, both parents leap to his defence in the press whenever anyone says anything negative about him). He's also famous for crying at a press conference when his little brother was forced to retire (this fact is brought up in almost every single article I've ever seen about the guy). Also, he loves herbal tea (another fact that every sports writer feels the need to bring up), likes to take long baths (and this is a bad thing why, exactly?), and has been a vocal supporter of women's hockey. He also used to share a house in Jersey with a much older guy (another fact that is inevitably brought up). He once stated that his favourite movie was Priscilla Queen of the Desert. Reporters also tends to bring up how oddly humble and lacking in ego the guy seems, and how articulate he is (with the implication being that this is a bit wierd for a hockey player - apparently they're supposed to communicate in monosyllabic grunts).
I'll bet you can see where I'm going with this, right? For as long as I can remember there have been rumours that the man is gay. Many of the rumours seem to start with his former boss, Clark. When the gay implication is not made there is still the constant suggestion that his behaviour is somehow inappropriate for a hockey player, that he's a bit of a wimp. This despite the fact that the guy is famous for getting into fights and is generally a bad-ass on the ice. And that he really is alarmingly huge and physically imposing.
The way in which the sports media reacts to Lindros has always fascinated me. I have no idea if the guy is gay and I don't really think it should matter. What interests me is that people THINK he's gay apparently based on (1) "too close" to his parents, (2) speaks in complete sentences and does not appear to be functionally illiterate, (3)likes tea, likes to cook (how very unmanly!) (4) likes to take baths (this is a wierd one for me, I was not aware that men were only allowed to take showers - do bathtubs have girl cooties?), (5) is very polite (duh, he's Canadian), (6) cried when his little brother got hurt (apparently displaying normal human emotions is also a bit suspect) (7) gets injured a lot and does not return to the game until his doctors give him the OK (now there's a masculine stereotype within the patriarchy that clearly does harm men), (8) may have non-stereotypically masculine taste in entertainment and (9) tends to keep his personal life under wraps (ie no constant parade of simpering bimbos as accessories).
So, according to our friends in the sports press the only acceptable persona for a professional athlete is to be a grunting neanderthal who doesn't give a shit about his family, has no non-macho-approved interests and is impervious to pain. If someone doesn't fit that profile then clearly he must be a great big fairy, or a complete wimp. Does anyone really think this idea benefits men? Or that this is a healthy way to define masculinity? Is this really the way in which the majority culture views masculinity, or is it just a case of people projecting their wierd psychosexual fantasies onto professional athletes?
This also brings up the fact that, when it comes to defining what is and is not appropriate masculine behaviour, men are a lot more harsh in reinforcing the stereotype than women are. There are very few women reporters who cover hockey, but the few who do are all a lot more sympathetic towards Lindros and a lot less likely to start laying on the judgements than their male counterparts are. Amongst the hockey fans I know the women are also a lot more inclined to go easy on the guy or even to sympathise with him. I don't think that this is a coincidence.
This has all been on my mind lately not just because the NHL is back in business but because I've been running into a lot of MRAs, and most of them seem to subscribe to the same model of masculinity as the sports press do, and I think that's deeply fucked up. If you really want to help men shouldn't you want to remove the pressure for them to conform to a strict stereotype that just doesn't work for a lot of people? It seems to me that the stereotype being invoked here is genuinely harmful to a lot of men in that it's setting the bar so high in terms of what constitutes an acceptable masculine persona that few men will ever be able to reach it. It's also completely screwing over men who are naturally inclined to be quiet, or thoughtful, or intellectual, or emotional, or gentle, or just not interested in the extreme form of gender Kabuki that is being advocated here. What about all the guys who just aren't macho by nature? What do the MRAs intend to do about them? And do they really not see the many ways in which reinforcing this stereotype is hurtful and downright dangerous to men?
I'm confused. What does everybody else think?

Thursday, August 11, 2005

It's pledge week on PBS again
Now don't get me wrong, I love PBS, but why is it that every time they do into fundraising mode the audience has to be subjected to a week's worth of Celtic kitsch? I'm as proud of my country as the next Scot but this is ridiculous. There's a show on right now about Scotland that has lots of beautiful scenery, but what's with the "ye olde castles where the mighty clan chiefs once fought" voiceover? The music a moment ago got so maudlin that P quipped "who died?".
Well, I suppose I should be grateful that at least they're not inflicting Riverdance upon us any more. It has been replaced by the equally horrible "Celtic Women", whose entire musical repetoire seems to be based on "who died?" and "oh damn, jilted again".
I really would appreciate it if my countrymen would refrain from turning my culture into prepackaged kitsch. It's dreadfully embarassing.
Wierd pop culture musing involving women and weight

I just walked into the living room to find my husband (who shall from now on be referred to as P since the words "husband" and "wife" squick me out) watching a documentary about ABBA. The first thing that stuck me, after "why the hell is he watching ABBA", was how heavyset the women looked by modern standards. In the seventies these were considered to be very sexy women. Today both of them would be considered not just chubby, but positively fat. Both are, by modern standards, heavy in the hips and with rather small breasts. If ABBA were to appear today VH1 would probably refuse to play their videos unless the women lost about 30-40 pounds each (MTV seems to have almost completely abandoned the idea of showing actual music). The seventies weren't really all that long ago in historical terms. What happened?

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Scary science news of the week - the Siberian permafrost is melting

Remember the people who insisted that global warming was a myth? I now demand that they eat their own hats, or mine if they don't happen to have one of their own handy. The world's largest peat bog (a million square kilometers) in Western Siberia is melting. This area has been frozen since the last ice age. the peat bog in question contains huge quantities of methane gas which will soon begin leaking into the atmosphere. Groovy, huh?
I'm starting to lose my patience with the Christian wack-job anti-science people. Siberia is melting! How much more proof do these people need? Of course I suppose that if you think that the world is going to end within about 10 years it's not that big a deal, but for the rest of us this is a complete disaster. On Sunday I watched a talk given by Jared Diamond in which he talked about his new book, Collapse. One of the things that really jumped out at me was the fact that in many of the cases he described the difference betweeen cultures that survived an ecological crisis and those that did not was how the society reacted to the crisis. I'm boiling down an hour-long lecture to its essence here, but the basic message I took away was that failure to adapt to changing environmental circumstances and an unwillingness to abandon cultural beliefs that had become unworkable were the things that doomed all the failed civilisations. What's interesting is how that applies to us. At this point there are few rational people who don't believe in glabal warming, but what are we actually doing about it? Not much, to be honest. One country or another may be making small incremental changes but there doesn't seem to be any real sense of urgency. That frightens me, because many environmentalists believe that we are at or about to reach the tipping point, and if we don't act soon it may be too late.
Another interesting thing I picked up from the Diamond talk. There are only 2 significant First World nations who have refused to comply with the Kyoto Treaty, the USA and Australia. Interestingly enough these two countries share somewhat of a common background. Both are relatively "young" countries which were colonised by Europeans who displaced the indigenous peoples, often by violent means. There are a couple of other countries I can think of which fall into the same category, namely Canada and New Zealand. Both of the latter counries are cooperating with Kyoto. What's the difference between them and the two former countries? Among other things, they way they have treated the indigenous peoples who were displaced by the European settlers. Now by no means am I suggesting that the way in which Canada or New Zealand have dealt with their indigenous populations has been entirely or even mostly fair and decent, but it has most certainly been more fair and decent than the way in which the US and Australia have dealt with the same issue. How does that tie in with the refusal to cooperate with the Kyoto agreement? I'm not sure, and I'm still chewing the idea over, but I think there's some kind of a correlation. I'm thinking it has something to do with the issue of how flexible a culture is, how able it is to adapt ot challenges. What does everyone else think? I feel like I might be on the verge of a big idea here and I have a sense of what it is but I'm struggling to find a way to put it into words.

Here's a link to a story about the Siberian problem by the way.,12374,1546824,00.html

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

A few thoughts about Hiroshima, Nagasaki and what it all means to us

I spent much of the day Sunday watching the various specials about the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. I was going to post something then, but decided to wait a couple of days so that I could post on the day of the Nagasaki bombings, both because the second bombing often seems to get forgotten and because I used to know a boy from Nagasaki back when I lived in London. In a wierd and roundabout way this is for him (hugs, Hiro).
It bothers me that America has never really apologised for the atrocity that bombing these cities unleashed. It bothers me even more that there's almost a kind of celebration of the bombers themselves, a kind of veneration of the actual planes that were used. Most bothersome of all is that fact that, while Americans celebrated the bombings in Japan, no one even seems to have suggested bombing the other front in Germany.
In case anyone is wondering why the US decided to bomb one country and not the other, I think the answer is pretty clear - racism. It continues to amaze me that the idea of the "yellow peril" is still alive and well in America, and until 9/11 was increasingly being applied to China. Part of my anger is of course based on the fact that my husband is Asian and I get to see the racism that he encounters on a regular basis, but really it's more than that. There's a kind of veiled racism that permeates the way Americans talk about Asia, a tendency to subtly denigrate Asian people and use even their achievements against them (think of the stereotype of the scarily talented Asian musical prodigies that crops up every few years and was rampant in the eighties). There is also an increasing resentment of the fact that Asia is no longer a rural backwater which the West can look down on. Of course that has been the case for a long time, but apparently many Westerners are a bit slow on the uptake and it's taken them half a century to notice all those big, sparkly, futuristic cities like Tokyo, Osaka and (increasingly) Shanghai.
I particularly notice this wierd combination of sneering and subtle resentment and intimidation when Westerners talk about Japan. If you read any of the many web pages written by American or British people who have spent a few years living in Japan, often teaching English, this tone comes across loud and clear. On the surface there's a kind of "let's laugh at the foreigners and their quaint ways", but look at the subtext and what you see is the anger, resentment and fear that results when white privilege is threatened. I think that Japan in particular provokes this response because it is so clearly and demonstrably a successful modern culture that wants and needs very little from the outside world other than a few raw materials and consumer goods (imported food items, good French wine). Most of the people writing these pages tend to be young, and most seem to arrive in Japan (usually in Tokyo) expecting the kind of fawning and positive attention that Westerners often get when they visit poor third world countries. The fact that Japan is in no way a poor third world country, regardless of the long recession, seems never to have occured to them.
I think what really annoys many of these people about Japan is that the Japanese quite demonstrably do not aspire to be American. Japanese pop culture takes bits and pieces of American culture, remixes and repackages them and then sells them domestically to be sure, but the sort of aspirational admiration of all things American that many Western tourists have come to expect is notably absent in Japan. People there are polite, certainly, but Americans are unlikely to be fawned over, and many seem deeply offended that most Japanese people they encounter pretty much ignore them. To people who are accustomed to thinking of themselves as the center of the universe, and to assuming that everyone else in the world secretly wants to be American, the self-confidence and vibrant and unique pop culture of modern urban Japan seems to come as a nasty shock. It's funny to watch how tetchy people get once they realise that nobody really thinks that the fact they're American (or indeed British) is that big of a deal.
Bit of a confession - I'm a serious Japanese pop culture junkie, hence my interest in this subject. The one thing that I will actually make the effort to arrange my time so that I can watch on TV is anime, I grew up on Japanese kiddie culture like Hello Kitty and all other things Sanrio (although note that I have long since progressed to the more adult-oriented version of Japanese pop culture and would not be seen dead in sporting the truly embarrasing "middle aged woman with Hello Kitty purse" look). My favourite cartoon as a child was Gotchaman (known in the UK as Battle of the Planets). I adore Japanese horror movies (anyone who liked The Ring really needs to see the original version, by the way, it's much better), which tend to be far darker and more psychologically intense than their American counterparts. Having a partner who works in design I am also both surrounded and astounded by Japanese product design, and will react to finding myself in a Japanese grocery, book or department store with "kid in a candy store" type glee (I restrict myself to infrequent visits out of fear that I would soon run out of places to store all the loot if I didn't).
So, I have a notable obsession for all things Japanese, and am darkly amused by the fact that so many Westerners approach Japan with the condescending and deeply colonialistic attitude that Japanese people must naturally want to be American. Why should they? To be perfectly honest their youth culture is a lot more interesting than ours right now, and has been for years. From a fashion point of view Japan is light years ahead. What does it say about Americans that they tend to throw a hissy fit when confronted with a culture that is quite self-sufficient and has no desire to emulate America? I'll let the collective epidemic of sulking directed at the French over the last few years answer that question for me.
Anyway, I'm babbling. My point was that America as a nation does not really seem to regret dropping atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and that this is something we should all be ashamed of. My other point is that racism is not always as obvious as calling someone nasty names, it also manifests as a colonial mentality and a refusal to accept that the rest of the world does not necessarily want or need to be just like us. My final point is, what does it say about how deep racism runs in this country that dropping an atomic bomb on Germany was quite rightly dismissed as unthinkable, but dropping the same bomb on Japan was seen as not only acceptable, but as a wise and justifiable way to end the war? And that we did it not only once, but twice?
For anyone who wants a good view of the Second World War from the Japanese perspective I highly recommend an animated movie called "The Grave of the Fireflies". It's both terribly sad and incredibly beautiful, and is definately worth a look.

Creepy but ultimately encouraging postcript - do you know what they call the survivors of the bomb in Japan? "The living dead". Which gives a pretty good indication of how deep the wound to the national psyche runs. There is hope, however. Almost every single survivor of the bombings has become a fervant pacifist. I saw a 75-year-old man on TV addressing an anti-nuclear rally in New York who survived the bomb in Hiroshima, and despite all that has happened he had nothing bad to say about the US and no recriminations to make. His final words to the crowd? "No more war".

Friday, August 05, 2005

Pointless Friday blogging
I'm going to be without computer access all day tomorrow so I thought I'd just post an interesting little personality test that's an alternative to the Briggs Meyers. Here's the url
And below are my results. I'm a little annoyed about the "artistic interests" part since, being a psych grad, I know which questions were testing for that variable and I'm not convinced that one's lack of desire to sit through a dance recital says anything about, say, one's interest in music or art or literature. Personally I tend to regard dancing as something that one DOES rather than something that one watches. Maybe it's just because my parents used to torture me by taking me to see Cats and other similar horrors as a child. Anyway, here are the results. If anyone else takes the test I'd love it if you shared the results. I'm curious to see if there are any trends regarding the online people who I tend to like. Hope everyone reading has a great weekend!

This report compares Cassandra from the country USA to other adult women. (The name used in this report is either a nickname chosen by the person taking the test, or, if a valid nickname was not chosen, a random nickname generated by the program.)
This report estimates the individual's level on each of the five broad personality domains of the Five-Factor Model. The description of each one of the five broad domains is followed by a more detailed description of personality according to the six subdomains that comprise each domain.
A note on terminology. Personality traits describe, relative to other people, the frequency or intensity of a person's feelings, thoughts, or behaviors. Possession of a trait is therefore a matter of degree. We might describe two individuals as extraverts, but still see one as more extraverted than the other. This report uses expressions such as "extravert" or "high in extraversion" to describe someone who is likely to be seen by others as relatively extraverted. The computer program that generates this report classifies you as low, average, or high in a trait according to whether your score is approximately in the lowest 30%, middle 40%, or highest 30% of scores obtained by people of your sex and roughly your age. Your numerical scores are reported and graphed as percentile estimates. For example, a score of "60" means that your level on that trait is estimated to be higher than 60% of persons of your sex and age.
Please keep in mind that "low," "average," and "high" scores on a personality test are neither absolutely good nor bad. A particular level on any trait will probably be neutral or irrelevant for a great many activites, be helpful for accomplishing some things, and detrimental for accomplishing other things. As with any personality inventory, scores and descriptions can only approximate an individual's actual personality. High and low score descriptions are usually accurate, but average scores close to the low or high boundaries might misclassify you as only average. On each set of six subdomain scales it is somewhat uncommon but certainly possible to score high in some of the subdomains and low in the others. In such cases more attention should be paid to the subdomain scores than to the broad domain score. Questions about the accuracy of your results are best resolved by showing your report to people who know you well.
John A. Johnson wrote descriptions of the five domains and thirty subdomains. These descriptions are based on an extensive reading of the scientific literature on personality measurement. Although Dr. Johnson would like to be acknowledged as the author of these materials if they are reproduced, he has placed them in the public domain.
Extraversion is marked by pronounced engagement with the external world. Extraverts enjoy being with people, are full of energy, and often experience positive emotions. They tend to be enthusiastic, action-oriented, individuals who are likely to say "Yes!" or "Let's go!" to opportunities for excitement. In groups they like to talk, assert themselves, and draw attention to themselves.
Introverts lack the exuberance, energy, and activity levels of extraverts. They tend to be quiet, low-key, deliberate, and disengaged from the social world. Their lack of social involvement should not be interpreted as shyness or depression; the introvert simply needs less stimulation than an extravert and prefers to be alone. The independence and reserve of the introvert is sometimes mistaken as unfriendliness or arrogance. In reality, an introvert who scores high on the agreeableness dimension will not seek others out but will be quite pleasant when approached.
Domain/Facet........... Score 0--------10--------20--------30--------40--------50--------60--------70--------80--------90--------99
EXTRAVERSION...............87 ***************************************************************************************
..Friendliness.............70 **********************************************************************
..Gregariousness...........79 *******************************************************************************
..Assertiveness............87 ***************************************************************************************
..Activity Level...........43 *******************************************
..Excitement-Seeking.......99 ***************************************************************************************************
..Cheerfulness.............45 *********************************************
Your score on Extraversion is high, indicating you are sociable, outgoing, energetic, and lively. You prefer to be around people much of the time.
Extraversion Facets
· Friendliness. Friendly people genuinely like other people and openly demonstrate positive feelings toward others. They make friends quickly and it is easy for them to form close, intimate relationships. Low scorers on Friendliness are not necessarily cold and hostile, but they do not reach out to others and are perceived as distant and reserved. Your level of friendliness is high.
· Gregariousness. Gregarious people find the company of others pleasantly stimulating and rewarding. They enjoy the excitement of crowds. Low scorers tend to feel overwhelmed by, and therefore actively avoid, large crowds. They do not necessarily dislike being with people sometimes, but their need for privacy and time to themselves is much greater than for individuals who score high on this scale. Your level of gregariousness is high.
· Assertiveness. High scorers Assertiveness like to speak out, take charge, and direct the activities of others. They tend to be leaders in groups. Low scorers tend not to talk much and let others control the activities of groups. Your level of assertiveness is high.
· Activity Level. Active individuals lead fast-paced, busy lives. They move about quickly, energetically, and vigorously, and they are involved in many activities. People who score low on this scale follow a slower and more leisurely, relaxed pace. Your activity level is average.
· Excitement-Seeking. High scorers on this scale are easily bored without high levels of stimulation. They love bright lights and hustle and bustle. They are likely to take risks and seek thrills. Low scorers are overwhelmed by noise and commotion and are adverse to thrill-seeking. Your level of excitement-seeking is high.
· Cheerfulness. This scale measures positive mood and feelings, not negative emotions (which are a part of the Neuroticism domain). Persons who score high on this scale typically experience a range of positive feelings, including happiness, enthusiasm, optimism, and joy. Low scorers are not as prone to such energetic, high spirits. Your level of positive emotions is average.
Agreeableness reflects individual differences in concern with cooperation and social harmony. Agreeable individuals value getting along with others. They are therefore considerate, friendly, generous, helpful, and willing to compromise their interests with others'. Agreeable people also have an optimistic view of human nature. They believe people are basically honest, decent, and trustworthy.
Disagreeable individuals place self-interest above getting along with others. They are generally unconcerned with others' well-being, and therefore are unlikely to extend themselves for other people. Sometimes their skepticism about others' motives causes them to be suspicious, unfriendly, and uncooperative.
Agreeableness is obviously advantageous for attaining and maintaining popularity. Agreeable people are better liked than disagreeable people. On the other hand, agreeableness is not useful in situations that require tough or absolute objective decisions. Disagreeable people can make excellent scientists, critics, or soldiers.
Domain/Facet........... Score 0--------10--------20--------30--------40--------50--------60--------70--------80--------90--------99
AGREEABLENESS..............37 *************************************
..Trust....................75 ***************************************************************************
..Morality.................46 **********************************************
..Altruism.................53 *****************************************************
..Cooperation..............2 **
..Sympathy.................94 **********************************************************************************************
Your level of Agreeableness is average, indicating some concern with others' Needs, but, generally, unwillingness to sacrifice yourself for others.
Agreeableness Facets
· Trust. A person with high trust assumes that most people are fair, honest, and have good intentions. Persons low in trust see others as selfish, devious, and potentially dangerous. Your level of trust is high.
· Morality. High scorers on this scale see no need for pretense or manipulation when dealing with others and are therefore candid, frank, and sincere. Low scorers believe that a certain amount of deception in social relationships is necessary. People find it relatively easy to relate to the straightforward high-scorers on this scale. They generally find it more difficult to relate to the unstraightforward low-scorers on this scale. It should be made clear that low scorers are not unprincipled or immoral; they are simply more guarded and less willing to openly reveal the whole truth. Your level of morality is average.
· Altruism. Altruistic people find helping other people genuinely rewarding. Consequently, they are generally willing to assist those who are in need. Altruistic people find that doing things for others is a form of self-fulfillment rather than self-sacrifice. Low scorers on this scale do not particularly like helping those in need. Requests for help feel like an imposition rather than an opportunity for self-fulfillment. Your level of altruism is average.
· Cooperation. Individuals who score high on this scale dislike confrontations. They are perfectly willing to compromise or to deny their own needs in order to get along with others. Those who score low on this scale are more likely to intimidate others to get their way. Your level of compliance is low.
· Modesty. High scorers on this scale do not like to claim that they are better than other people. In some cases this attitude may derive from low self-confidence or self-esteem. Nonetheless, some people with high self-esteem find immodesty unseemly. Those who are willing to describe themselves as superior tend to be seen as disagreeably arrogant by other people. Your level of modesty is low.
· Sympathy. People who score high on this scale are tenderhearted and compassionate. They feel the pain of others vicariously and are easily moved to pity. Low scorers are not affected strongly by human suffering. They pride themselves on making objective judgments based on reason. They are more concerned with truth and impartial justice than with mercy. Your level of tender-mindedness is high.
Conscientiousness concerns the way in which we control, regulate, and direct our impulses. Impulses are not inherently bad; occasionally time constraints require a snap decision, and acting on our first impulse can be an effective response. Also, in times of play rather than work, acting spontaneously and impulsively can be fun. Impulsive individuals can be seen by others as colorful, fun-to-be-with, and zany.
Nonetheless, acting on impulse can lead to trouble in a number of ways. Some impulses are antisocial. Uncontrolled antisocial acts not only harm other members of society, but also can result in retribution toward the perpetrator of such impulsive acts. Another problem with impulsive acts is that they often produce immediate rewards but undesirable, long-term consequences. Examples include excessive socializing that leads to being fired from one's job, hurling an insult that causes the breakup of an important relationship, or using pleasure-inducing drugs that eventually destroy one's health.
Impulsive behavior, even when not seriously destructive, diminishes a person's effectiveness in significant ways. Acting impulsively disallows contemplating alternative courses of action, some of which would have been wiser than the impulsive choice. Impulsivity also sidetracks people during projects that require organized sequences of steps or stages. Accomplishments of an impulsive person are therefore small, scattered, and inconsistent.
A hallmark of intelligence, what potentially separates human beings from earlier life forms, is the ability to think about future consequences before acting on an impulse. Intelligent activity involves contemplation of long-range goals, organizing and planning routes to these goals, and persisting toward one's goals in the face of short-lived impulses to the contrary. The idea that intelligence involves impulse control is nicely captured by the term prudence, an alternative label for the Conscientiousness domain. Prudent means both wise and cautious. Persons who score high on the Conscientiousness scale are, in fact, perceived by others as intelligent.
The benefits of high conscientiousness are obvious. Conscientious individuals avoid trouble and achieve high levels of success through purposeful planning and persistence. They are also positively regarded by others as intelligent and reliable. On the negative side, they can be compulsive perfectionists and workaholics. Furthermore, extremely conscientious individuals might be regarded as stuffy and boring. Unconscientious people may be criticized for their unreliability, lack of ambition, and failure to stay within the lines, but they will experience many short-lived pleasures and they will never be called stuffy.
Domain/Facet........... Score 0--------10--------20--------30--------40--------50--------60--------70--------80--------90--------99
CONSCIENTIOUSNESS..........9 *********
..Self-Efficacy............89 *****************************************************************************************
..Dutifulness..............11 ***********
..Achievement-Striving.....16 ****************
..Self-Discipline..........13 *************
..Cautiousness.............17 *****************
Your score on Conscientiousness is low, indicating you like to live for the moment and do what feels good now. Your work tends to be careless and disorganized.
Conscientiousness Facets
· Self-Efficacy. Self-Efficacy describes confidence in one's ability to accomplish things. High scorers believe they have the intelligence (common sense), drive, and self-control necessary for achieving success. Low scorers do not feel effective, and may have a sense that they are not in control of their lives. Your level of self-efficacy is high.
· Orderliness. Persons with high scores on orderliness are well-organized. They like to live according to routines and schedules. They keep lists and make plans. Low scorers tend to be disorganized and scattered. Your level of orderliness is low.
· Dutifulness. This scale reflects the strength of a person's sense of duty and obligation. Those who score high on this scale have a strong sense of moral obligation. Low scorers find contracts, rules, and regulations overly confining. They are likely to be seen as unreliable or even irresponsible. Your level of dutifulness is low.
· Achievement-Striving. Individuals who score high on this scale strive hard to achieve excellence. Their drive to be recognized as successful keeps them on track toward their lofty goals. They often have a strong sense of direction in life, but extremely high scores may be too single-minded and obsessed with their work. Low scorers are content to get by with a minimal amount of work, and might be seen by others as lazy. Your level of achievement striving is low.
· Self-Discipline. Self-discipline-what many people call will-power-refers to the ability to persist at difficult or unpleasant tasks until they are completed. People who possess high self-discipline are able to overcome reluctance to begin tasks and stay on track despite distractions. Those with low self-discipline procrastinate and show poor follow-through, often failing to complete tasks-even tasks they want very much to complete. Your level of self-discipline is low.
· Cautiousness. Cautiousness describes the disposition to think through possibilities before acting. High scorers on the Cautiousness scale take their time when making decisions. Low scorers often say or do first thing that comes to mind without deliberating alternatives and the probable consequences of those alternatives. Your level of cautiousness is low.
Freud originally used the term neurosis to describe a condition marked by mental distress, emotional suffering, and an inability to cope effectively with the normal demands of life. He suggested that everyone shows some signs of neurosis, but that we differ in our degree of suffering and our specific symptoms of distress. Today neuroticism refers to the tendency to experience negative feelings. Those who score high on Neuroticism may experience primarily one specific negative feeling such as anxiety, anger, or depression, but are likely to experience several of these emotions. People high in neuroticism are emotionally reactive. They respond emotionally to events that would not affect most people, and their reactions tend to be more intense than normal. They are more likely to interpret ordinary situations as threatening, and minor frustrations as hopelessly difficult. Their negative emotional reactions tend to persist for unusually long periods of time, which means they are often in a bad mood. These problems in emotional regulation can diminish a neurotic's ability to think clearly, make decisions, and cope effectively with stress.
At the other end of the scale, individuals who score low in neuroticism are less easily upset and are less emotionally reactive. They tend to be calm, emotionally stable, and free from persistent negative feelings. Freedom from negative feelings does not mean that low scorers experience a lot of positive feelings; frequency of positive emotions is a component of the Extraversion domain.
Domain/Facet........... Score 0--------10--------20--------30--------40--------50--------60--------70--------80--------90--------99
NEUROTICISM................40 ****************************************
..Anxiety..................33 *********************************
..Anger....................74 **************************************************************************
..Depression...............26 **************************
..Self-Consciousness.......18 ******************
..Immoderation.............77 *****************************************************************************
..Vulnerability............34 **********************************
Your score on Neuroticism is average, indicating that your level of emotional reactivity is typical of the general population. Stressful and frustrating situations are somewhat upsetting to you, but you are generally able to get over these feelings and cope with these situations.
Neuroticism Facets
· Anxiety. The "fight-or-flight" system of the brain of anxious individuals is too easily and too often engaged. Therefore, people who are high in anxiety often feel like something dangerous is about to happen. They may be afraid of specific situations or be just generally fearful. They feel tense, jittery, and nervous. Persons low in Anxiety are generally calm and fearless. Your level of anxiety is average.
· Anger. Persons who score high in Anger feel enraged when things do not go their way. They are sensitive about being treated fairly and feel resentful and bitter when they feel they are being cheated. This scale measures the tendency to feel angry; whether or not the person expresses annoyance and hostility depends on the individual's level on Agreeableness. Low scorers do not get angry often or easily. Your level of anger is high.
· Depression. This scale measures the tendency to feel sad, dejected, and discouraged. High scorers lack energy and have difficult initiating activities. Low scorers tend to be free from these depressive feelings. Your level of depression is low.
· Self-Consciousness. Self-conscious individuals are sensitive about what others think of them. Their concern about rejection and ridicule cause them to feel shy and uncomfortable abound others. They are easily embarrassed and often feel ashamed. Their fears that others will criticize or make fun of them are exaggerated and unrealistic, but their awkwardness and discomfort may make these fears a self-fulfilling prophecy. Low scorers, in contrast, do not suffer from the mistaken impression that everyone is watching and judging them. They do not feel nervous in social situations. Your level or self-consciousness is low.
· Immoderation. Immoderate individuals feel strong cravings and urges that they have have difficulty resisting. They tend to be oriented toward short-term pleasures and rewards rather than long- term consequences. Low scorers do not experience strong, irresistible cravings and consequently do not find themselves tempted to overindulge. Your level of immoderation is high.
· Vulnerability. High scorers on Vulnerability experience panic, confusion, and helplessness when under pressure or stress. Low scorers feel more poised, confident, and clear-thinking when stressed. Your level of vulnerability is average.
Openness to Experience
Openness to Experience describes a dimension of cognitive style that distinguishes imaginative, creative people from down-to-earth, conventional people. Open people are intellectually curious, appreciative of art, and sensitive to beauty. They tend to be, compared to closed people, more aware of their feelings. They tend to think and act in individualistic and nonconforming ways. Intellectuals typically score high on Openness to Experience; consequently, this factor has also been called Culture or Intellect. Nonetheless, Intellect is probably best regarded as one aspect of openness to experience. Scores on Openness to Experience are only modestly related to years of education and scores on standard intelligent tests.
Another characteristic of the open cognitive style is a facility for thinking in symbols and abstractions far removed from concrete experience. Depending on the individual's specific intellectual abilities, this symbolic cognition may take the form of mathematical, logical, or geometric thinking, artistic and metaphorical use of language, music composition or performance, or one of the many visual or performing arts. People with low scores on openness to experience tend to have narrow, common interests. They prefer the plain, straightforward, and obvious over the complex, ambiguous, and subtle. They may regard the arts and sciences with suspicion, regarding these endeavors as abstruse or of no practical use. Closed people prefer familiarity over novelty; they are conservative and resistant to change.
Openness is often presented as healthier or more mature by psychologists, who are often themselves open to experience. However, open and closed styles of thinking are useful in different environments. The intellectual style of the open person may serve a professor well, but research has shown that closed thinking is related to superior job performance in police work, sales, and a number of service occupations.
Domain/Facet........... Score 0--------10--------20--------30--------40--------50--------60--------70--------80--------90--------99
OPENNESS TO EXPERIENCE.....98 **************************************************************************************************
..Imagination..............95 ***********************************************************************************************
..Artistic Interests.......54 ******************************************************
..Emotionality.............97 *************************************************************************************************
..Adventurousness..........96 ************************************************************************************************
..Intellect................79 *******************************************************************************
..Liberalism...............83 ***********************************************************************************
Your score on Openness to Experience is high, indicating you enjoy novelty, variety, and change. You are curious, imaginative, and creative.
Openness Facets
· Imagination. To imaginative individuals, the real world is often too plain and ordinary. High scorers on this scale use fantasy as a way of creating a richer, more interesting world. Low scorers are on this scale are more oriented to facts than fantasy. Your level of imagination is high.
· Artistic Interests. High scorers on this scale love beauty, both in art and in nature. They become easily involved and absorbed in artistic and natural events. They are not necessarily artistically trained nor talented, although many will be. The defining features of this scale are interest in, and appreciation of natural and artificial beauty. Low scorers lack aesthetic sensitivity and interest in the arts. Your level of artistic interests is average.
· Emotionality. Persons high on Emotionality have good access to and awareness of their own feelings. Low scorers are less aware of their feelings and tend not to express their emotions openly. Your level of emotionality is high.
· Adventurousness. High scorers on adventurousness are eager to try new activities, travel to foreign lands, and experience different things. They find familiarity and routine boring, and will take a new route home just because it is different. Low scorers tend to feel uncomfortable with change and prefer familiar routines. Your level of adventurousness is high.
· Intellect. Intellect and artistic interests are the two most important, central aspects of openness to experience. High scorers on Intellect love to play with ideas. They are open-minded to new and unusual ideas, and like to debate intellectual issues. They enjoy riddles, puzzles, and brain teasers. Low scorers on Intellect prefer dealing with either people or things rather than ideas. They regard intellectual exercises as a waste of time. Intellect should not be equated with intelligence. Intellect is an intellectual style, not an intellectual ability, although high scorers on Intellect score slightly higher than low-Intellect individuals on standardized intelligence tests. Your level of intellect is high.
· Liberalism. Psychological liberalism refers to a readiness to challenge authority, convention, and traditional values. In its most extreme form, psychological liberalism can even represent outright hostility toward rules, sympathy for law-breakers, and love of ambiguity, chaos, and disorder. Psychological conservatives prefer the security and stability brought by conformity to tradition. Psychological liberalism and conservatism are not identical to political affiliation, but certainly incline individuals toward certain political parties. Your level of liberalism is high.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Some thoughts about feminism and beauty

Ever since the Dove Wars broke out I've been thinking about what it means to be a feminist in terms of my approach to the beauty industry, and also what many other people seem to think it means. There's a pretty significant gap between the two, so I thought I'd try to thrash out my own views. If anyone else wants to chime in please feel free to do so.
I've been hearing a lot of the old "feminists don't shave their legs, wear comfortable shoes, or wear makeup" stereotypes trotted out. I've also been hearing some very apologetic "I think that maybe it's OK to be a feminist and still want to be pretty" comments from younger feminists. Every time I read one of those comments I want to smack the stereotype-wielder in the head with one of my Manolos, and the apologetic tone of the younger feminists makes me want to wail in despair (and to do a little head-smacking too, if I'm perfectly honest).
By the standards being invoked here I'm a very bad feminist. I own 5 pairs of Manolo Blahnik heels, including one pair of sandals that Manolo reps call the "Dominatrix" heels. I also own 3 pairs of equally spiky and sexy Prada shoes and have committed countless other shoe-related indulgences. Quite frankly my shoe collection is beginning to reach Imelda Marcos-like proportions, and if I don't do some pruning soon I'm going to need a bigger apartment. I also have a penchant for sartorial indulgence that once led an acquaintance to refer to me as "Little Miss Prada" (a sarcastic reference to Rush Limbaugh's habit of referring to Naomi Wolff as Little Miss Pravda). I frequently traipse around in the summer in flouncy little tulip skirts and sexy sandals. I am often seen at the office in pencil skirts and foxy little jackets. I own 2 pairs of Dolce and Gabanna jeans. I own precisely 3 pairs of comfortable shoes, 2 pairs of sandals and a pair of sneakers, none of which I would be seen dead in unless there is a serious amount of walking to be done. I've been shaving my legs since I was 12, I wear (very expensive) makeup, and I get my hair cut at a fancy salon. By the supposed standards of feminist deportment I should be excommunicated from the movement immediately.
The thing is, I'm not convinced that there are very many actual feminists who fit the stereotype at all. There are some, certainly, and I fully support their choice to look any way they please. I can see why the stereotype persists and is constantly invoked by anti-feminists, since nothing silences and marginalizes a woman in our looks-obsessed culture faster than telling her she's ugly (or fat), but I am at a loss as to why young feminists keep invoking the stereotype too. Do we honestly believe that we have some kind of moral obligation not to attempt to look good? I encountered this attitude in college, and am rather surprised that it still persists. But why does it persist? Or, to put it bluntly, why do we keep doing this to ourselves?
The weird thing about the prevalence of the hairy-legged feminist stereotype from my perspective is the way in which it often leads people to be very surprised when they discover my actual political orientation. There's a type of very shallow and often not very bright anti-feminist woman who my buddy Ginmar often refers to as "PrincessSparklePony". What she means is the kind of idiot who wears "Princess" t-shirts, has a license plate that spells out "spoiled rotten" in some grammatically tortured manner, and constantly polices other women's adherence to gender norms. The funny thing for me is that these women often mistake me for one of their own. They are invariably horrified to discover that they were wrong. This is the kind of woman who says idiotic things like "but you're too pretty to be a feminist". They always seem to be genuinely puzzled by my reluctance to join them in their pursuit of personal fulfillment through complete removal of one's spine and and opinion-bypass surgery. Frankly I'd have to be lobotomized to join them, but what does it mean that they think that I would?
The other odd thing is the way in which men react to women like myself who are feminists but don't fit the stereotype. There are of course the fervently leftist guys who insist that I'm betraying the cause by not owning a pair of Birks. A couple of years ago I volunteered for the electoral campaign of local Green Party candidate Matt Gonzalez. There was one guy in the campaign office who was absolutely convinced for the first few days I was there that I was a spy sent from the Newsom campaign to undermine their efforts. It's not just wingnuts who suffer from the tendency to stereotype. More conservative men are always convinced that they can win me over to their cause, and tend to assume that my feminism is a phase I'm going to grow out of. I first identified as a feminist as a tweener and I'm 31 now, so frankly the odds are not in their favour, but still they persist.
I often wonder if my publicly identifying as a feminist is helping or hurting the cause. Does the existence of overtly girly feminists in some way undermine the movement? That implication certainly seems to be there in the guilty way in which some young feminists admit to using makeup in a tone which suggests that they feel they're committing some sort of cardinal sin. But are they right? I think it's bullshit personally, and that every woman should be free to choose for herself to what extent she's willing to toe the gender line. Basically I think that a woman’s sartorial style sits right alongside abortion, choice of romantic partner, weight and every other personal issue in the “none of your goddamn business” file, and that questioning other women’s choices in any of these areas is intrinsically un-feminist, but it may be that others disagree. I'd love to hear some other people's take on the subject. It seems like this is one of those issues we often assume that there's some kind of consensus on, where in fact that may not be the case. And how does all this relate to the (to my mind very dumb) idea of the need for a "do-me feminist" to sell the movement to the media, a sort of feminist Laura Ingraham ?

Ps For anyone who’s interested Ginmar’s LJ is at and is definitely worth a look. Also please note that the guys are also welcome to chime in on all this.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

A few thoughts about The Kingdom

Isn't it funny that after all these years I still use that name? For those who may wonder what the hell I'm talking about The Kingdom is the name commonly used by citizens of Saudi Arabia to refer to their country. The strange and complicated country where I lived from the age of 9 to 15 has been on my mind today because the King, Fahd, died. My first thought was to worry that there might be a fight over the succession which might destabilise the country. From an objective point of view this seems unlikely, as Abdullah has been running the country for years and has had plenty of time to consolidate his power base, but given the Byzantine levels of corruption and intercine warfare within the Saudi royal family a succession battle seemed like a possibility.
In reality it looks like a fairly smooth transition is in progress. The question is, why was I worried that this would not happen? I have no love for the House of Saud, who run a brutal dictatorship that tramples all over the human rights of their people, treats women like pets and suppresses any sign of dissent. I'm not a big fan of royalty in general. So then why the worry?
I suppose on some level I'm just worried about the effect that chaos in the Kingdom might have on the rest of the world. At least a quarter on the world's oil reserves are in The Kingdom, and chaos there could have a severe impact on the world economy. I also worry about the effect that political chaos always has on a civilian population.
But in reality, there's a lot more going on than that. Like it or not (and I don't like it very much) Saudi has a disproportionate effect on the rest of the Middle East. Whoever rules The Kingdom is in a position to do either a great deal of good or a great deal of harm in the Middle East. By Saudi standards Abdullah is somewhat of a moderate. He has allowed modest increases in freedom within The Kingdom. He's far from ideal, but he's a good politician who seems to actually want The Kingdom to modernise at least a little, and there are many other factions in Saudi life who would be much, much worse.
I must admit that, when I want to take the temperature of political feeling in the Middle East, I often read the Saudi papers. Although they don't have anything approaching a truly free press yet they have become a great deal more free since Abdullah has been running the show. In recent years they have even criticised the government, which in the Middle East is almost unheard of. Most surprisingly, Abdullah himself wrote a piece in which he actually apologised on behalf of the Saudi government for not tackling the issue of Hussein's misbehavior both domestically and towards his neighbors. It was a strange piece which stuck with me and which I've been trying to find a link to (no luck so far), but the basic gist of it was the powers that be in the Middle East should "deal with" problems such as Hussein's agressiveness towards Iran and Kuwait internally and not allow a situation in which the Western powers feel the need to intervene. the tone was very much "if we don't deal with this stuff ourselves The West will continue to interfere, and we don't want that". I read this as partly a coded apology for the Saudi government's ill-fated decision to allow American troops to use The Kingdom as a base of operations in the first Gulf War and partly as a suggestion that Abdullah would like to see the Saudis use their power and influence to exert greater dominance over the region. Given that they already exert a great deal of economic influence through charitable contributions to organisations like Hamas and Hezbollah I am assuming that he meant a more direct kind of influence, which could be either very good or very bad depending on what he has in mind. I have been watching carefully to see how the other regional leaders react, and will post more if I see any interesting responses. I suspect that part of his piece may have been the kind of "we are a proud and poweful nation" posturing that all politicians do, but I really did get the feeling that he wants The Kingdom to play a far more influential role in the region, and there was definate suggestion of a wish to distance the Kingdom slightly from the US and to create somewhat of a EU-style regional nexus of power. This is very interesting stuff and it bears further watching.
By the way, if anyone wants to get an idea of what's going on in The Kingdom there are several papers that publish in English. The following site in particular usually has a good roundup of local and regional news and is considerably more work safe than Al Jazeera, which is very interesting reading but which I would strongly suggest that no-one try to access from a computer that can be traced back to them.(Call me paranoid, but I don't trust the Bush administation not to start going after people for accessing non-approved reading materials.) The relative loosening up of the press in the Kingdom under Abdullah has been quite striking, and within the Gulf region the Saudi papers are probably the most worthwhile reading (if you're interested in the Levant then the Lebanese papers are a good place to start, and I can probably find links if anyone needs them).

Also, a more general question. Would anyone actually be interested in reading more stuff about the Middle East in general and the Kingdom in particular? I've been obsessing about my childhood exposure the Islam and the ways in which it influenced my political beliefs lately, but I'm not sure if anyone else wants to read about that stuff (although I do owe a guy at Muslim Wakeup an article about Libya).