WickedEye's Quotient

11/13/2016 at 21:32

Moving Party

Greetings, all. I have decided to move WickedEye's Quotient to WordPress, in large part because Blogger decided to make it impossible to keep my blog looking as it did at its inception. Struggling with formatting, etc. has not been worth the candle, so I've been posting mainly on Facebook.

You can find the new version of the blog here: https://wequotient.wordpress.com/

Cheers. I hope to see you there.

3/26/2015 at 23:50

Hope & Grief (or, Thank you, Mr. Nimoy.)

When Leonard Nimoy died, I could not comment...could not write at all. The loss went too deep; the space he left was so full of things I had never examined. Having now gazed into that space, I think that the very last of my childhood may have gone with him.

I am 40 years old. In some way or another, Star Trek has shaped my thinking since I was a child.

And it was Spock—of course it was—who caught my attention. I was painfully shy, awkward, ignorant of much of the cultural idiom; highly intelligent, an academic achiever who never understood the jokes or references my classmates made; always too serious. 

Always too literal. Too logical. 

Of course I identified with the half-Vulcan aboard the Enterprise. I too struggled with my humanity, with my day-to-day existence in an environment both bewildering and full of threats, amongst rules I could not control and barely understood. Spock's camaraderie with his companions in the face of all these things, their sense of shared danger and adventure and goals, was as mysterious and dazzling to me as an oasis amidst their planet's bare rock and sand would be to a Vulcan.

Spock represented something better than the flawed, violent, alienating world around me. And as I grew, all of Starfleet came to represent that alternative as well, far more so than Star Wars' urgings toward self-awareness (self-awareness had never been my problem). 

Starfleet's quest to discover, to understand, to explore without destroying, resonated deep within my 12-year-old soul. Here were people who did not think all difference was dangerous. Here were people who were strong, and instead of belittling or mocking or trying to destroy those who looked and behaved differently, they used their strength to learn from and benefit those they encountered.

Star Trek TNG accompanied me throughout my teens and early twenties, a font of intelligent, actively curious benevolence of a kind that was seldom found in the increasingly adult world I was trying to occupy. I had figured out the jokes, developed a sense of humor, become fluent in the cultural idiom, but still it was Spock to whom I turned—though it was his Vulcan traits which now fascinated me.
He bent emotion to serve reason, a still point in the churning frenzy of the Enterprise's ventures—at rest, yet never inert. Complex, responsive, rational. The best kind of human...and it was being half-Vulcan that made him so. The message was clear: We can evolve into beings greater than the sum of our parts. Feeling, or even being, alienated matters less than determination, than intelligence, than logic, than compassion.

I filled my 30s with a mix of Trekker and Trekkie movies, as well as TNG and TOS. Unquestionably the Federation shaped, and continues to shape, my ideals of a world(s) that is just, equitable, humane—of a society benevolent to all its inhabitants, both old and new. 

I watched Abrams' new Trek films as I neared 40, eager to embrace the newest iteration of a world and character that shaped my youth; there was much in them to enjoy. But, with the exception of Zach Quinto's acting (though of course I miss the original Spock), most of what I like about the new films has little to do with what I love about Star Trek. 

Abrams' Trek is space opera in the tradition of Star Wars: Most aliens not aboard the Enterprise are enemies or hostile; running, fighting, and overt emotion rule the day. The only characters who fully embrace rules and logic are scolding teachers who are disregarded, or villains who are later annihilated.

This is not surprising. Abrams has said, more than once, that he'd never before watched Star Trek—and didn't 'get' it once he had.

The intelligence, the wonder, the curiosity and reasoning—and the human emotions which drive these things, including fear—are largely missing from the brave new world. The things which gave me hope that the adult world could be more than what I experienced as a child, that helped me navigate it as I grew, that gave me hope and faith that we, that humans, could be better—could meet without disguise, and know each other, and come away wiser and more fully ourselves from the experience—these are missing. 

The new Star Trek has great production values, fight scenes, backstory—but for me, much of the warmth and wonder are gone from the adventure.

It may not matter. I am no longer a child. I have not been for a long time—since long before I knew what Star Trek was. My youth was not a place which forgave innocence. But this kind of realization—this loss of warmth and wonder—is a cold greeting even for middle age. I wonder if I am not letting Spock down by it. 

For I know that for all the reasoning underpinning my grief, Mr. Spock would indeed most likely say that I am being illogical. That all things change, including ourselves. That wisdom lies in learning continually, in shaping and choosing our own changes as we grow. That those things cannot happen in the absence of hope.

And perhaps it says more than anything I've written above that knowing what Spock would say is enough to square my shoulders and turn my gaze forward to the next 30 years. 

(Thank you, Mr. Nimoy. For all of this, for hope and grief alike—because for me the Trek wears your face, and always will.)

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at 23:25


My friend Drew commented on the "Sodomite Suppression Act" ballot initiative, which proposes to legalize the murder of LGBT people in California—how terrifying the detached rhetoric surrounding it was; how people were ignoring its violent insanity. This was my response.

I really do get how you feel about this, Drew, because I lived through 9/11 in the South looking as I do, and at the time was married to a dark-skinned 'furriner' with a perceptible accent on top of it. The idea that people all around you hate you and want to kill you for something you can't help—hearing, for example, a whole grocery store go quiet as you and your husband walk in, and talk restart in whispers all around you, and enduring this again and again and again, everywhere—the idea that the people around you are only barely restrained from violence by the law, is terrifying on a visceral level. It was also inescapable. There was no getting around it, day or night, and nowhere safe to go.

In the face of that kind of hatred, the "let cooler heads prevail" attitude gets me hot under the collar too. "Cooler heads"? Is this some kind of 21st-century idiom for "sane people"? 

After having read the proposal, I used the word 'psychotic' advisedly—this homicidal cretin is a full-bore, rubber-room-renting, delusional psychopath, and he and his psychotic Sodom and Gomorrah fantasies belong in an institution which also houses people who (to quote Lewis Black) are crocheting something that isn't there.

We as a society are lucky he raised red flags with this paperwork, instead of simply (!) turning into a serial killer.

And to be clear, I think the same thing of all of the people you just described who stopped and thought about this before deciding it "went too far." They may not be actively psychotic, but they are delusional or stupid or unbalanced or (probably) all three. Countenancing, even for an instant, the idea of serial murder of people because you don't like them makes you creepy and not fit for decent society and not sharing the same reality as the rest of us...and that's not really a hard diagnosis to make. 

What concerns me is that, because this man expressed his sociopathy through a religious ballot proposal, people fail to see how terrifyingly insane it is. Then again, people with a milder flavor of the same sociopathy are now protected in Indiana; instead of being barred from behavior that is antisocial and irrational, their antisocial, delusional behavior is being actively encouraged. 

It's all part of the same mindset—and it's terrifying that sane people across the country are failing so utterly to see insanity when it's shrieking, spittle flying, into their faces.

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12/10/2014 at 06:16

Play Spent

Today my class has to take the bus, or walk, from the clinic to the pharmacy to the grocery store, then plan a grocery list for a family of 3 for a week with $128.00. It’s an assignment designed to allow physicians-in-training to understand a little of what many of their patients have to cope with.

The alarm, dismay, and consternation displayed by some of my classmates when we were given the details of this assignment were a revelation. It’s no secret that I grew up on the wrong side of the tracks—which, not coincidentally, is where I live now (on which more in a moment). Public bus systems just aren’t that scary to me; I walked, or took the bus home from school, on and off from ages 12 to 16.

I came to medical school with a car that might or might not last, so my house is 9 blocks from school, and only 1 block and 6 blocks from St. John’s and Memorial hospitals (hence the high-risk location), with a grocery store 4 blocks away. I don’t expect grocery planning to be terribly challenging, either: Eating nutritiously (if uninterestingly) on the cheap is another ongoing hobby of mine.

All of which is to say that when I got the assignment, I wasn’t anticipating trouble completing it—unless I got really unlucky crossing the road.

But it turns out that there was another component to the assignment: Spent.

And that feeling smug goeth before a fall, and complacency before a kick in the rear.

I thought I understood some of my patients’ challenges. Turns out I don’t. No matter where I grew up, or where I live now, or what my intimacy with public transport, I’m not an adult with a family trying to survive at the federal poverty line.

Play ‘Spent’ in the next week, even if you do nothing else to understand those outside your circle and circumstances. Because no matter what you think you know about what it takes to survive on a low income…you don’t. You really, really don’t.

Go play. Have a good week. And share the game, where and as you can.

We’re all in this together. Pass it on.

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10/28/2014 at 18:36

Theobroma cacao (Greek “food of the gods” + Nahuatl “bean/berry”), Take 2

In honor of National Chocolate Day, I give you a (substantially rewritten) essay on the "food of the gods," originally from 2007.

Ah, chocolate. (Onomatopoeically rendered, that should read: Aaaaaahhhh,chooooocoolaaate…)

But moaning in pleasure doesn’t come close to conveying the gratification of this ecstatically wonderful confection.

Cocoa, the essence of chocolate, is named from the Spanish cacao, which in turn came from the Nahuatl (Uto-Aztecan) cacaua, root form of cacahuatl, “bean of the cocoa-tree.” The confection we call chocolate is a combination of solids from the seeds of the tropical cacao tree, Theobroma cacao, with sugar, cacao fat, and other additions. It’s been made, in some form, since at least 1100 BC.

From the time of its earliest making, it was associated with the goddess Xochiqetzal, bringer of fertility; it came to the Western world through the offices of Cortés, who brought the cocoa bean back to Spain. Thanks to the industrious Spanish monks—and the Duke of Savoy, Emanuele Filiberto, who brought cocoa beans back to Turin, Italy in 1559—cocoa-based confections were a luxury item to European nobility by the end of the 17th century. By the end of the 18th century, the Turinese confettiere Doret perfected the modern method of producing the solid candy we now think of as chocolate.

Its base, cacao, is as unique chemically as chocolate is historically, containing theobromine, a potent stimulant, as well as flavonoids and antioxidants. Humans also absorb a family of chemicals known as anandamides (named from the Sanskrit for “joy”), endogenous cannabinoids which—with chocolate’s tryptophan, phenethylamine, and ethanolamine content—give rise to mild neurosynaptic stimulation…and the legends of chocolate’s aphrodisiac qualities.

Making good chocolate is a long, intricate, and cash-intensive process whose subtlety and complexity resembles that of winemaking—with the added step of confection-making after the growth, fermentation, roasting, and grinding processes. The most expensive cacao varietals are the Criollos grown in Central America and the Caribbean. Beans sell for an average of $20.00 a pound raw and peeled, and the added costs of chocolate production bring the cost of a well-crafted 3-ounce single-origin Criollo bar to between $12-$22. The two best Criollo bars produced, the Château d’Yquems of chocolate, are the Chuao and Porcelana bars by Domori and Amedei: 70% cocoa bars that steal the breath and leave the skin prickling in delight at the sensual, velvety heaven they produce on the tongue.

The rougher, spicier bliss of the blunt and artless Forastero, the bean from which most of the world’s chocolate is made, has its appeal as well. As a chocolate gourmet who’s explored Southeast Europe on a budget, and its chocolate in small pieces, I’ve stumbled across some melting Forastero raptures on the way. One that stands out is Lindt’s Edelbitter Mousse Sauerkirsch-Chili 70% Cacaogehalt.

Lindt, whose founder invented the conching process that gives modern chocolate its smooth texture, is the finest mass-producer of chocolates in the world. Its exquisite 85% bar gives even the ‘grand-cru’ producers a run for their money; and its Mousse Sauerkirsch-Chili is a triumph of both confiserie and chocolatiering. Hearkening back to the very beginning of xocolatl (in which cacao was blended with chili and drunk), 70% cocoa solids encase a 70% mousse, which in turn envelops sour cherry extract, which enwraps a small core of chili extract. The distinct beginning, middle, and end notes deliquesce across the tastebuds; first the round, dark cacao, the barest trace of bittersweet coffee underpinning it, melting imperceptibly into the sourness of the cherry, finishing creamy on the tongue as the spice of the chili warms through the fruit until your tongue is left tingling and sated.

Ah, chocolate.

Read that last onomatopoeically. Better yet, read the words of Baron Justus von Liebig, a 19th- century German chemist who wrote that “Chocolate is a perfect food, as wholesome as it is delicious, a beneficent restorer of exhausted power…the best friend of those engaged in literary pursuits.”

I’m helpless but to agree. Voraciously.

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10/24/2014 at 20:44

The Unexpected Journey (or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb)

Peter Jackson’s first “Hobbit” film, “An Unexpected Journey,” was a terrible letdown.

I’ve been reading Tolkien since I was 9 years old (and rereading him every decade since). I’m still in awe of Jackson, Walsh and Boyens’ monumental, staggeringly beautiful “Lord of the Rings” films. But that very first Tolkien book, when I was 9, was The Hobbit—a very different tale, in style and content, than his epic The Lord of the Rings.

The Hobbit is Tolkien’s come-hither. It is the lure,the bait that leads the enthralled reader on a romp along the paths of Middle-earth until she never wants to leave; and it is a brilliantly effective seduction, precisely because it is so very different from The Lord of the Rings.

Where The Lord of the Rings is a somber and epic tale of struggling races and their defiance of grim, looming fate, The Hobbit is a simple adventure story—one of the best ever written. Merrily plotted, tightly staged, it moves at a cracking pace from start to finish, sketching Middle-earth in sparkling tones touched with only the barest hint of the shadows to come.

So Jackson’s self-indulgent, lumbering, ungainly rewrite—his incorporation of huge amounts of material extraneous to the original plot, most prominently Azog the orc, who is mentioned in a single sentence in The Hobbit (and only in the appendices to The Lord of the Rings)—is appalling. Mutilating the seamless scintillation of The Hobbit’s storyline by splicing it with The Lord of the Rings’ appendices and The Silmarillion shows unparalleled arrogance and presumption.

Jackson’s vanity in rewriting chunks of Tolkien’s legendarium and storyline around his filmmaking is all the more appalling because it’s completely unnecessary: Thorin Oakenshield needs no extraneous super-orcs to render him heroic. His prowess as a warrior could have been portrayed by other, less intrusive means—an extended sequence of the dwarves facing the goblins, or the trolls, or even Smaug, for instance.

Jackson is a director, not a writer—and certainly not a writer of Tolkien’s caliber (so very few are). His egotistical disservice to both Tolkien and Middle-earth has lost him, permanently, the ‘Poet-laureate of Middle-earth’ crown won by his “Lord of the Rings.”

But he’s still a very good director. And nowhere is that so evident as in his casting, and especially in his casting of Martin Freeman as Bilbo Baggins. Jackson’s ham-fisted egotism has ruined the storyline of which Bilbo is the star; but he nonetheless chose his Bilbo supremely well.

Martin Freeman expresses the duality of hobbits in a way no other actor yet has—in a way even his far more distinguished counterpart, Ian Holm, fell short of. Freeman nails every insular, disgruntled nuance of the staid and respectable Bilbo’s rejection of Dwarves and their irritating foreign ways, of Baggins’ distaste and dismay for the messiness and voraciousness and uproar and plumbing-dismantling carousing they bring to Bag End.

Freeman’s Bilbo reflects perfectly, in fact, the traditional British intolerance of ‘foreign’ habits, or indeed of anything which disturbs the mannerly, ordered rhythm of everyday life.

But Freeman also gives us the very best of hobbits/the British (there is no meaningful distinction), the qualities which shone with world-illumining heroism in the War of the Ring and in World War II. Freeman inhabits, without a second’s missed inflection, Bilbo’s willingness to brave great danger in the face of danger and discomfort and the terror of the unknown—for the sake of the irritating ‘foreigners.’

And his courage is devoid of any of the traditional trappings of heroism. Bilbo Baggins shares with Samwise Gamgee a quality which might be termed ‘heroic decency.’

Bilbo is no woodsman, no warrior. Unpracticed with weapons,clumsy on rough terrain—his chief talent, even before his acquisition of the One Ring, is the ability to go unnoticed. And to Freeman’s very great credit, his Bilbo—unlike Sean Astin’s wonderfully unselfconscious Samwise—makes sure we see that Bilbo knows that he is clumsy and unpracticed.

We see Bilbo’s knowledge of his unfitness for battle, for the company of the heroes with whom he travels. We see too that his knowledge of his deficiencies increases his fear of the journey. And we see Bilbo choosing to ignore his fear—his well-justified, entirely-founded fear.

Freeman’s Bilbo goes onward in the face of terror from the simple conviction that those whose homes were taken from them have been wronged. From the profound decency of a clumsy, unfit man who nonetheless knows he is in a position to help, and will not refuse to do so despite having opportunity to turn away—and despite knowing that it may cost him everything he loves.

This is Bilbo’s heroism, and Samwise’s…and Frodo’s, and Merry’s, and Pippin’s. A hobbit’s courage is the decency of a simple man faced with overwhelming evil—a man who knows that he is at best a farmer and not a warrior, knows that he cannot possibly win against so titanic a foe, and knows that even so he will not surrender.

A hobbit’s courage is that of small, solitary Britain, naked sword in fist, crying defiance at the gigantic Nazi war machine rolling toward it.

In this, Jackson’s hobbit’s-eye-view remains immaculate.

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2/15/2014 at 02:06

Congratulations, Ms. Page. Now, about your next role...?

The appropriate response—for everyone barring LGBT teens and their teachers/counselors—to Ellen Page's coming-out:
1) Congratulations on being so comfortable with that.
2) So, your next role...?

For those reflexively outraged that I should do less than rave with joy: Ms. Page's journey is relevant to a segment of the public—LGBT kids—as well as to her own private life; but the latter is what precludes the idea that anyone should ever stay closeted.

It's not that Ms. Page's journey shouldn't be honored...by those whom it affects: Her romantic partners, the LGBT kids she's trying to help, her friends and family, and possibly others who've endured the same struggle.

Others who comment on Ms. Page's sexuality have:
A) the manners of barnyard animals (just because it's common doesn't mean it's polite, ya'll), and/or
B) a supreme indifference to the distinction between public and private, and/or
C) pretensions towards being artistic or cultural analysts of some kind, and/or
D) a severe excess of free time/no social life of their own.
A, B, and D are the choices that apply to everyone who isn't a film critic, a Ph.D. in some branch of social science, or a fellow artist.

Ms. Page's sexuality is her own business. Full stop.

I know about this sort of barnyard nosiness because I've been asked, in both law and medical school, if I'm lesbian or bisexual—I headed the group for LGBT law students and their supporters for a time, and was bluntly unconcerned with dating. I don't decline to answer because I have something to hide; those I love will love me no matter what my answer.

I decline to answer questions about my sexuality because answering them means that the person asking has a right to ask.

If a public figure chooses to generously disregard her own privacy in order to help others suffering from the incredible bigotry and ignorance that afflict our society, it is an act of generosity. No one has a right to that information but her lover(s). Making revealed information about someone's sexuality—rather than that person's compassion and concern for others—into a huge news story does nothing but reinforce all the barnyard-mannered impertinence of the general public who think questions about sexuality are appropriate.

And as an added disadvantage, it perpetuates the idea that when thinking of someone who's LGBT, the very first thing that should leap to mind is her sexuality...in Ms. Page's case, bypassing the incredible talent that gave us Hayley Stark, Juno, and Ariadne.

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2/10/2014 at 20:08

The Most Glittering Kind of Poetry

How could anybody think of Bach as 'cold' when these suites seem to shine with the most glittering kind of poetry?
-Pau [Pablo] Casals


{Written September 19, 2012—for Bea and Omy, with much love.}

No composer will ever surpass Bach in my mind and heart; and few of his works have touched both so deeply as his Cello Suites.

I love most stringed instruments, but the cello has a special place in that pantheon. Its tones combine warmth and plangence, caress and demand, in a way I've never experienced with any other sound.

So of course I would love Bach's treatment of the cello best…of course I would; I love his treatment of everything best. And if I think his primary preoccupation—breaking the world into chords, then reordering it to refract shadow and light and fear and beauty, as it should—is particularly well-suited to the Scheherazadic strains of the cello, then perhaps that’s to be expected.

There is all this at the back when I listen to Bach’s Cello Suites. Yet even so, his first, in G minor, moves me as little else can. Its Prelude is certainly well-known for good reason; in no other music is the sumptuous timbre of the cello so well mated with the lucent, nuanced use of metal, wood, horsehair, and air at which Bach excels.

Pau Casals and Yo-Yo Ma are sublime envoys of that sound. In Yo-Yo Ma's hands, Bach is pellucid, serene, transcendent—the composer I fell in love with at 17. But Casals…in Pau Casals’ hands, the cello is ardent—fervent and earnest in a way I have heard nowhere else.

It is near-miraculous to me that the Suites can be played with such overwhelming feeling, plaint and paean and passion thrumming through the sound in a way that might startle the Kapellmeister himself. Perhaps that feeling rings so clearly because when I was last in Puerto Rico I saw an exhibit on Casals—Casals whose first cello was made from a gourd; Casals who found a copy of the Cello Suites in a thrift shop when he was 13, spent the next decade of his life learning them…and then the following six decades mastering them.

No-one has ever played Bach on the cello as Casals does. Perhaps that is because no other cellist has ever spent so much of his life consumed—and transported—by both the instrument, and the man who mastered its song.

Pau Casals playing Bach's Cello Suite No.1, Prelude; performed 1954, at Abbaye Saint-Michel-de-Cuxa.

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2/07/2014 at 08:30

Olympics-Sponsored State + State-Sponsored Violence = Olympics-Sponsored Violence

Russian art, literary and otherwise, is a vast vein of platinum-webbed gold--but the coal-mine poverty of Russian human-rights practices seems eternal.

Russia's treatment of LGBT people isn't merely hostile: Its 'propaganda' ban is the glossier side of a state-condoned lynch-mob mentality that smiles at indiscriminate violence against LGBT human beings...and human dignity as a whole.

The Olympic coming-together of the world to celebrate human potential is a high point of living in the modern age. But by that very fact, holding the Olympics in Sochi, Russia--flying the Olympian banner, however temporarily, over the kind of oppression that the Olympic Games are supposed, by their very existence, to oppose--makes a mockery of the Olympic ideal.

Hosting the Olympics is enormously politically profitable for the host country's ruling regime (see this article in The Economist on why countries undertake such massive expenditures). Hosting the Olympics constitutes, in fact, an endorsement from the International Olympic Committee of the host country's ruling regime. (It's also an Olympic sponsorship of the money-stripping apparatus through which athletic organizations and tourists are fed at each Olympic Games.)

Did the International Olympic Committee permit the Winter Olympics to be held in a country with such appalling ongoing human-rights violations because of Russia's economic and political clout? It's certainly possible. The IOC has denied lesser powers--Istanbul's Olympic bids have failed for more than a decade because of Turkey's state-sponsored violence against dissidents. Certainly the Committee is politically savvy enough to have recognized that Russia's 'propaganda ban' is merely boilerplate--palliating language that allows the Russian government to at best turn a blind eye, and at worst contribute, to a culture of horrific violence against LGBT people.

Why else, other than state sponsorship, would perpetrators of such violence feel free to post, en masse, tens of videos of organized assaults? (Be warned: Some of this video content is graphic, and unsuitable for minors or the workplace.)

Russia's 'official treatment' of LGBT citizens is detailed in this Human Rights Watch report: Government officials--including Putin--publicly term LGBT people “perverts” and “abnormal,” while equating homosexuality with pedophilia. A director of a government-controlled TV-and-radio outlet goes so far as proposing to “burn or bury” the hearts of LGBT organ donors rather than use them for transplants because they are “unfit to continue anyone’s life.”

This is the regime that the IOC chose to host the Olympic ideal--the Games that celebrate humanity's potential.

Whatever regrets the IOC may have about their decision--and IOC President Thomas Bach's statement that he's willing to consider including language on sexual orientation in the Olympic Charter's ban on discrimination does read, at least partly, as a statement of regret--cannot change my refusal to support that decision.

I wouldn't patronize a company that lent its prestige or contributed money, directly or indirectly, to the Klu Klux Klan or the Aryan Nations, or any other sponsor of violent bigotry.

I fail to see why flying an Olympic flag over a place that does the same is any different.

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1/26/2014 at 01:04

Subcontinental Gang-rape & Gay Rights

In 2002 Mukhtaran Bibi was gang-raped on the orders of her village council in rural Pakistan, in retaliation for her brother's association with a woman from another tribal group.

My 2007 essay on her can be found here. I wrote not about the problem of sexual violence against women in India & Pakistan, which I'd addressed the year before (my 12-year-old-girl learning curve is detailed here), but about Bibi's heroically humanitarian response to the verdict against her rapists: She used the money to open a school in her village...a school in which she first enrolled her rapists' children.

I bring up Bibi's case, and her extraordinary selflessness, not only because her 'crime' and 'punishment' parallel those of the Indian woman who was gang-raped on the orders of her village council last week, but because of Bibi's wise and apposite response.

Mukhtaran Bibi opened a school. She did that because the real problem with the treatment of women and non-straight-male persons on the Indian subcontinent isn't just--or even mostly--a lack of statutory protection. The reason women and other "minorities" are mistreated on the subcontinent is the rampant bigotry, born of insular and determined ignorance, that pervades the culture there.

That bigotry--against women, against homosexuals, against anyone who transgresses sectarian boundaries or other cultural taboos--is a Stone-Age norm across India (and, one can conclude from Bibi's ordeal, Pakistan).

Yes, Stone-Age. A woman from the most recent gang-rape-victim's village (I hope every human reading is cringing at the words 'most recent') justified the council's punishment by stating that the woman is "a bad character" who "was going around with this non-tribal man." This, in Stone-Age logic, justifies gang-rape: People from other tribes are, just as they were 10,000 years ago, threats to the village's food supply and lands and survival as a tribe. By that logic, fraternization should indeed be punished extremely--by gang-rape, at least; and stoning might not be out of the question either...

But civilized people don't act this way.

And that's the problem with the Indian subcontinent. That's the reason why women, Indian or not, aren't safe in India, and neither is anyone transgressing those Stone-Age norms: Vast swathes of the Indian subcontinent aren't civilized.

And contrary to the shrieks of outraged Indians at home and abroad, those vast uncivilized swathes aren't just located in West Bengal, or in backwards villages. (Or in Pakistan.)

No, many of those swathes of bigoted, backward, uncivilized, determinedly ignorant, Stone-Age thinking cut straight through the likes of Mumbai and Delhi, where Indian women are--less than their South Asian peers, but still increasingly--choosing to delay marriage because it spells unremitting, full-time child-rearing and the end of their careers, no matter how educated or successful a woman may be.

That bigoted, backward, uncivilized, determinedly ignorant, Stone-Age thinking also cuts straight through the Lok and Rajya Sabhas, the two houses of the Indian Parliament, who are consistently embroiled in sectarian bigotry of the most pernicious, and often fatal, kind--see Narendra Modi, leader of the minority BJP party, for just how deeply involved in this sort of bloodthirsty thuggery Indian politicians can get (apparently without repercussion).

And then there is the institution re-conceived in the Enlightenment, the common man's last defense against bigoted, backward, uncivilized, determinedly ignorant, Stone-Age thinking: the high courts. In this case, the Supreme Court of India.

Which means that that Court's re-criminalization of homosexuality last month was not only a blow against the human rights and civil liberties of a large portion (approximately 20%) of the world's LGBT population, but also a complete failure of the SCI's mandate as an institution.

As of December 2013, any homosexual sexual activity in India is once again punishable by a 10-year prison term. That's right, it's again punishable...because the Supreme Court of India, in order to purvey its own bigoted, backward, uncivilized, determinedly ignorant thinking, had to overturn a High Court ruling and uphold a law from the 1870 British Penal Code.

That's 1870 AD, ladies and gentlemen. A law imposed by India's British colonizers 143 years ago is once again the law of the land.

Not quite Stone-Age. But in this day and age, quite definitely uncivilized.

Personally, my view of the bigotry of Indian culture has been jaundiced in the extreme since I was 11 years old--when my mother, brothers and I were reviled for more than a decade by the Indian community in Nashville (while they welcomed my 'respectable' surgeon father) because my parents had divorced.

I learned first-hand about the hypocritical blindness of which the Indian community is capable when protecting its cultural norms, and in that awareness I chose to be American by acculturation as well as by birth. Only later, because my extended family--and living rough in India for a year--showed me the positive side of Indian familial culture, did I choose to adopt some of it (if in a decidedly piecemeal fashion).

So I'm biased both for and against, now. All of which allows me to see bigotry on the subcontinent with a clearer eye than most.

Indian technology has evolved over the past three decades, and via India's youth has begun to drag the culture (inch by inch) with it. And India's children are, just like India's geography is, a patchwork of truly high-minded, humanistic thinking scattered throughout the bigoted, backward, insular traditional gender and community roles--roles enforced by family 'elders' as well as by many of the younger Indians (largely male) whom those traditions benefit.

My cousins--from India to Australia to Singapore to Montreal--are excellent examples of India's evolution. They are, very nearly entirely, caring and high-minded human beings, and they're a large part of the reason I came to value being part of a wider Indian family. Many work for justice and equality in their day-to-day lives; most exemplify it to some degree or another.

Not everyone from an Indian family is so lucky. But lucky or not, those of Indian origin with high ideals and open hearts need to speak up against the bigots, both in India and abroad. Here's the key--an idea that, despite its logic, most of India wholly rejects (and America struggles with, especially post-Bush and post-Ed-Snowden): Being anti-bigoted, backward, uncivilized, determinedly ignorant, Stone-Age thinking doesn't mean being anti-Indian.

And if it does mean that to you, consider seriously what that means about your idea of being Indian.

Indians of conscience and humanism and goodwill need to speak up in the face of oppression instead of simply ignoring it (or even opposing it quietly) lest they offend their elders and those who raised them--who, in India, are nearly universally less open-minded, less humanitarian, and less conscience-driven than those who grew up with a wider view of the world and of themselves.

Respect for our elders is a worthy tenet--but as with any worthy tenet, when embraced unthinkingly it can be carried too far.

Back to the 1870s, for example. Or the Stone Age.

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