WickedEye's Quotient

11/24/2007 at 12:00

Magdalene, Thistles, and Beauty

A dedicated iconoclast, I normally don't plug nonprofit organizations- even those to which I belong.

As an organized-religion-phobe, religious nonprofits normally don't register on my radar- with the exception of those with which I worked growing up (if you want to know about either set of organizations, contact me).

But Magdalene is something different. It's a community of women who are working to escape prostitution and drug addiction, founded by an Episcopal pastor.

Magdalene is free. It doesn't discriminate based on race or religion. And Becca Stevens, the pastor who founded it, set the program length at two years- long enough for the women to truly kick their habits and restructure their lives, to begin healing and building new lives for themselves.

It's a program that's not only compassionate but genuinely useful- that's designed to ensure that the women it helps really escape the horrors they work to leave behind.

I bring up this amazing place at this shopping-crazed time of year for a reason.

One of the ways in which Magdalene funds itself is by its bath-and-body "Thistle Farm" products. (Thistle, because it's considered a weed and it grows anywhere- including the concrete alleys where some of the women of Magdalene used to live. But its flowers are beautiful, and strong, and its roots grow deep and wide.)

Made by hand by the women who live at Magdalene, they're not only all-natural and high-quality, they're also an integral part of the rebuilding that Magdalene does.

The women of Magdalene make products that are wonderful, useful, healing. And with them they build the knowledge and confidence that they can contribute positively to the world around them, can create beauty and happiness both directly and indirectly.

The products are excellent (I love the Rose Grapefruit body balm), and the people who make them are outstanding too. All funds received go directly to the Magdalene program and residents.

Here's the website: Thistle Farms

And the story that goes with any gift you buy- the knowledge of what the people who buy (and use) Thistle Farm products are doing for the women who make them- is as good as the products themselves.

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11/19/2007 at 17:03

Woe to the hand that shed this costly blood!

...Over thy wounds now do I prophesy,
Which, like dumb mouths, do ope their ruby lips,
To beg the voice and utterance of my tongue
A curse shall light upon the limbs of men
-Julius Caesar, Act III, Scene I

In my customary role of perennially didactic annoyance, I’m going to give you some information about lashing. That’s lashing, as in “being bound with one’s hands fastened above one’s head while being beaten across the back, shoulders, and buttocks”.

But first I’ll tell you why it’s relevant: A 20-year-old woman who was gang-raped by 7 men in Saudi Arabia has had her sentence doubled. Her original sentence? 3 months in prison and 100 lashes.

Yes, the rape victim’s sentence.

The woman is being punished for her lawyer’s public discussion of the case- as the Saudi court put it, “her attempt to aggravate and influence the judiciary through the media”. 200 lashes are what she will now receive, and since lashing is not something with which we in this country are familiar, let me give you a rundown on what exactly is going to happen to her.

Lashing is, as I said above, a punishment in which the hands are tied above the head of the prisoner to limit movement and expose the greatest possible skin area to the whip or cane. In Saudi Arabia, the traditional whip has been replaced by the bamboo cane in the case of women, probably between 50 to 100 years ago; it was around that same time that being lashed to death fell out of favor as a punishment.

Presumably this change came about because of humanitarian considerations (yes, I realize the irony in using that phrase to describe the substitution of beating to death with beheading). Although unconsciousness from hypovolemic shock (shock resulting from blood loss) is the inevitable result of continued flogging, it takes different victims different amounts of time to reach unconsciousness, time in which they will suffer extensive trauma and excruciating pain. (Even after unconscious, one Victorian observer wrote, “the prisoner’s body convulsed at every stroke of the whip”.)

Bamboo canes are less likely to leave permanent scars than a whip. They are also used because, although they cause massive edema and hemorrhage in the soft tissues of the back, they do not cause enough blood loss to allow the victim to bleed to death in a relatively short time. It is to ensure that the prisoner does not die that a doctor is present to monitor the proceedings, that the flogger holds a copy of the Qu’ran under the arm which swings the cane (to ensure that his arm does not have momentum enough to inflict bone-breaking force), and that lashes are typically inflicted in sessions of 50 each, spaced over 2-3 weeks (with variations depending on the size and health of the prisoner).

So, now that you have a brief methodology and history, let me give you the forensic pathology of what is going to happen to this young woman.

When a bamboo cane hits flesh it causes, in pathological terms, blunt trauma resulting in extravasation- crushing of soft tissue and the rupture of small- and medium-sized blood vessels. The blood diffuses from the injury, often along fascial planes- it spreads in the direction the tissue lies- forming ‘tramline’ bruises, consisting of two parallel bruises separated by an undamaged section of skin. This unbruised strip of skin results because the impact of the cane forces blood from the vessels at all points of contact, emptying them and making them incapable of leaking blood.

The skin surface is split or torn, the force of the blow damaging all layers of the skin, so that the lacerations will bleed profusely. Ragged wound edges are also characteristic, since the skin has been torn apart rather than having been cut. The healing process may take weeks or months depending on the severity and number of the wounds, and severe scarring is not uncommon.

She’s been sentenced to undergo this 200 times.

On top of having been gang-raped.

These people are our allies.

Ah, justice.

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11/15/2007 at 21:26

What the hell is the matter with you? Why did you do that?

A colleague recently posted a bit of prose (see below this entry) that has, to put it mildly, hacked me off.

She prefaced it with the notation that “No matter how many times it's told it’s still good!”—meaning, presumably, that this narrative gem is an item commonly posted. In all likelihood, she posted it because she thought that her friends—many of whom attend the same school I do—would enjoy it too.

I go to a law school. A law school. If most of my colleagues (or even some of them) think that this story represents discourse, that this is an acceptable way to interact with people who openly contradict the beliefs those colleagues hold, then we are all—man, woman, dog, and child—in so much trouble.

To summarize the tale, a college professor expresses doubt that there’s a God- in fact, publicly challenges God to knock him off a platform. (Which makes it clear that whoever wrote this was someone who’s never known any atheists. Like most other folks who aren’t schizophrenic, they don’t go around talking to people they think aren’t there.) The Marine who’s the hero of the story obliges the professor by knocking him out and then informing him that God is busy protecting the “soldiers who are protecting your right to say stupid shit and act like an asshole”.

There are several pieces of this narrative that utterly and completely floor me. And because I’m prepping for finals, I’ll outline them:

1) The professor/villain is “a vowed [sic] atheist and a member of the ACLU”. Apparently being a member of either group—let alone, horrors, both—automatically makes you a suspect character.

Hmmm. Some of the smartest, funniest, most principled people I know are atheists. Some of the most passionately apple-pie Americans I know are members of the ACLU. And it’s the American Civil Liberties Union, more than any other organization, which brings First Amendment/freedom of speech suits to protect those rights which the Marine is supporting by hitting college professors.

2) Expressing doubt that there is a God—or stating publicly and challengingly that you don’t believe that there is a God—qualifies as “say[ing] stupid shit”. Evidently, it also makes you an asshole.

Huh. So being loud about unpopular or unorthodox beliefs qualifies you as an asshole? Whew. Good thing the men listening to the suffragettes plead for women’s right to vote didn’t have this response. As far as being mouthy: No-one in law school has any business criticizing brazenness. It’s prized and cultivated in some highly accomplished legal circles, as is making your point dramatically.

3) Physical violence against someone who says something which contradicts your beliefs is acceptable and, by the smugly laudatory tone of this little anecdote, admirable.

Wow. Wonder what the Puritans who fled England to escape precisely this kind of treatment would think of this? Or for that matter, the abolitionists who were elemental in getting rid of slavery? Or the loudmouth on the corner shouting about his odd little religious sect? Or any one of a hundred principled social reformers who stood up and took an unpopular position at great risk to themselves? People like Gandhi and MLK Jr. endured a great deal of violence to put forth their beliefs. That doesn’t mean it was necessary or right.

4) Our soldiers are fighting for America and its protection of its citizens’ right to say what they want. Except, apparently, in front of those soldiers.

Saying something which challenges or contradicts a soldier’s belief in front of him, it would seem, is grounds for cold-cocking. They’re only protecting people’s right to free speech when they don’t have to listen to it? Freaking bizarre.

This story is supposed to be funny. It’s supposed to make those who dislike atheists, and others who challenge beliefs they value—including, obviously, members of the ACLU—feel good about themselves.

To feel vindicated in disliking those people. To feel smug in vilifying those people. To feel justified in retaliating against those people.

Here’s the trick, ya’ll: it isn’t funny.

It isn’t funny precisely because it promotes dislike of and disdain for and disregard of other people’s opinions. It isn’t funny because it encourages the kind of denigration and condemnation of other people that splits families and schools and countries.

It isn’t funny because it incites the kind of irrational assault against ideological opponents that perpetuates violent and unthinking bigotry.

Disagreeing with someone’s point of view? Well, that doesn’t make him/her an asshole.

Beating someone up for disagreeing with you? That does make you an asshole.

I wonder if someone at the law school’s gonna beat me up now...


A United States Marine was attending some college courses between assignments. He had completed missions in Iraq and Afghanistan. One of the courses had a professor who was a vowed atheist and a member of the ACLU.

One day the professor shocked the class when he came in. He looked to the ceiling and flatly stated, "God, if you are real, then I want you to knock me off this platform. I'll give you exactly 15 minutes."

The lecture room fell silent. You could hear a pin drop. Ten minutes went by and the professor proclaimed, "Here I am God. I'm still waiting." It got down to the last couple of minutes when the Marine got out of his chair, went up to the professor, and cold-cocked him; knocking him off the platform. The professor was out cold.

The Marine went back to his seat and sat there, silently. The other students were shocked and stunned and sat there looking on in silence.

The professor eventually came to, noticeably shaken, looked at the Marine and asked, "What the hell is the matter with you? Why did you do that?"

The Marine calmly replied, "God was too busy today protecting America's soldiers who are protecting your right to say stupid shit and act like an asshole. So, He sent me."

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11/01/2007 at 21:36

The Gaze of Calculation [Posted on request]

Perhaps it is only Samhainn, All Souls, Dia de Los Muertos- the chill of this Day of the Dead, with its dying year and its beginning of the descent toward Midwinter's long dark.

But I don't think so.

I see things as they are.

There is a storm coming.

This is one of the times when my bones creak and rasp. But its grey, glacial, ungilded sight- without tarnish or feeling, without the world a searing scald at every image- does not scare me.

This is an intricate, icy array of facts too frigid for fear.

This is one of the times when I know the stretch of my time and age. Old, old, old- ages echoing themselves down through my skeleton. Centuries old.

This is remembrance of my past. When I remember some of the things that have happened. When I consider some of the things I have done. When I fear some of the things I have failed to do.

This is one of the times when my spine rustles with secrets. It is a shifting murmur that holds a near-shattering weight. Heavy, grave, precarious- a stack of bricks balanced on the point of a crystal prism.

This is a burden of memory and unsought knowledge singing along fine edges.

This is one of the times when my hands are ugly. Very few things glitter without aid of gilt, and for now I have spent my store.

This is Cold, and Quiet. And Weariness.

This is one of the times that I feel a primeval wind rattling through my marrow. Rare and precious that all that remains is the truth, cushioned in a merciful void in which it does not wound.

This is that I comprehend too much; I say too much. (But never all of what I comprehend. Only what I know.) I have seen too much; I have felt too much. (But never only about what I see. Always also about what it causes.) I care too much; I am too close. (But never close enough to be found. Only close enough to keep the secrets given me safe.)

This is one of the times that mark seconds like weeks, ticking relentlessly against the seams of my skin.

This is one of the times that I am not big enough to contain my own life.

This is one of the times that it has spilled, pouring down through me, flooding through synapse and sinew into story. Into statement.

And into sense.


The full of joy do not know; they need not
know. Nothing is reconciled
They flash the light of heaven indeed.
Let them have it, let them have it, it is mild.

Those who suffer see the truth. It has
murderous edges. They never avert
the gaze of calculation one degree.
But they are hurt, they are hurt, they are hurt

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