Friday, January 23, 2009


I'm not really back, but I spotted this at Sociological Images and thought it was entirely too good not to share.

This is a poster for a Berlitz language school from Israel. For those of you who don't read Hebrew, the bottom word כן means "yes" and is pronounced "ken."

Sunday, January 18, 2009


I'm currently dealing with really intense family trauma, so it's likely going to be a while longer before I really feel like blogging anything, unfortunately. I am okay, and the family will get through this problem, but I'm going to need to prioritise the non-essentials (like blogging) downward a bit.

Saturday, January 03, 2009

An Immodest Proposal

Imagine, if you will, Constant Reader, a world in which men randomly, or not so randomly, go around cutting the balls off other men, usually as a demonstration of social dominance. Abusive boyfriends and parents do it, random strangers do it, even acquaintances do it.

Members of the scientific establishment, usually dominant males, publish scholarly papers in high-impact journals chronicling involuntary castration in animal species, and popular media reports translate those findings into saying that castration is a fundamental part of men's essential natures, which serves to shore up centuries of popular belief. Evolutionary psychologists of the less reputable type come up with the usual just-so stories.

A victim gets taken to a Catholic hospital after being castrated and finds out that the medical staff won't treat the wound aside from basic first aid, because any infection or complications that the victim winds up with (including, say, osteoporosis and arthritis) are God's will and it would be immoral to interfere with God's plan for the eunuch. Besides which, eunuchs are Scriptural. When an incident of this type comes to light, a prominent legislator asks what the problem is with an alteration of the standard of care on religious grounds, being as "it shouldn't take more than a short ride to get to another hospital."

The victim is told to "just deal with it. It isn't so bad... It could be could be dead." Male friends and relatives of the victim, on finding out, promise to "revenge castrate" the perpetrator, usually as a distancing mechanism. Very few of the threats are ever carried out, mostly due to endemic societal disinterest in identifying and punishing the perpetrators.

Men who try to get cosmetic or functional repairs done surgically often have difficulty in finding a provider who will do the procedures, and most people are quite judgemental about it. A concerted political movement to ban reparative surgery exists, and has gained a lot of political traction in recent years. Laws are passed in a number of jurisdictions allowing store personnel to refuse to sell castrated men testosterone or the needles to administer it, even when the men in question have a valid prescription, on religious-objection grounds. These so-called "conscience laws" also allow store personnel to refuse to sell prosthetic testicles. Many stores do not carry any of these items, but also do not notify their clientele.

The victim goes to the police, and hears things like:

"Oh, honey, you know you shouldn't wear briefs in public. Men really like how those show off your package, after all..."
"Eh, I don't believe anybody really cut your balls off. You're just taped up down there to try to get sympathy."
"You're being hysterical."
"You're overreacting."
"You know there's no point in pressing charges; none of these guys ever get caught anyway."
"What are you, some kind of a whore that you're flashing your balls in public? Get out of here, before I have you investigated for sexual deviance."

In court, the victim rarely fares much better. Conviction rates hover around 10% of reported castrations. Needless to say, only a fraction of castrations are ever reported.

Laws banning cross-examiners from mentioning the victims' sexual and sartorial history only apply in certain jurisdictions and most of the laws have been passed within the last 20 years or so. In at least two high-profile cases, the prosecution presents videotaped evidence of the castrations, and the jury declines to convict.

Most media accounts refer to castration as "cosmetic surgery," and the actual castration as "the alleged incident." Perpetrators are almost always referred to as "the accused" or "the perpetrator," and never as "the castrator." If no conviction is obtained, a lot of people assume the victim is lying in an effort to get sympathy or social benefits.

Castration by a spouse or partner didn't become a felony until 10 or 15 years ago in most jurisdictions, and that only after a long and intense campaign by activists.

Well-meaning NGOs, municipalities, and other groups frequently run PSA campaigns directed at men, informing them how they can avoid becoming victims of castration. The advice almost always includes admonitions against drinking to excess, wearing certain clothes, going to certain places, and being out alone at night. When anti-castration activists point out that these activities amount to a comprehensive schedule of social control, they're often told "What are you complaining about? All of those things are common sense anyway. Everyone should be doing them. What have you got against good advice?" Very few of these campaigns ever focus on reducing the rate of castrations by preventing the perpetrators from committing the crime in the first place, or on ensuring swift, certain punishment for offenders.

Castrations of imprisoned men are disturbingly common, and people often make derrogatory jokes about so-and-so "getting cut" in prison. A Million Eunuch March on Washington, DC, to demand equal treatment for castration victims under the law was treated mostly as a media spectacle and joke fodder. CNN's main male newsanchor spent a lot of time chortling. Castration apologists abound on blog threads devoted to discussing the political, social, and physical implications of castration. People who make castration jokes rarely listen to victims' pleas to stop, saying they're "overreacting," and "being politically correct," and "humourless," and "don't appreciate edgy comedy," and often go out of their way to annoy victims with tasteless jokes...

Anybody out there sitting there reading with their hand over their crotch? Anybody flinch while reading this?

And that is why rape jokes really aren't funny.

Thursday, January 01, 2009

An Elegant Proof of Concept

According to this article in the New York Times, test pilots with Air New Zealand have successfully tested a biofuel-blend fuel in an aircraft engine. The biofuel in question is made from jatropha curcas, the oil of which can be readily converted to biofuel. (Incidentally, tests in Japan and the US are apparently in the planning stages.) This flight, as limited as it is, is noteworthy because it demonstrates very publicly that biofuels can be used other places than simply cars, trucks, and tractors; and it demonstrates an in-practice, real-world use (by a major commercial airline) of a fuel whose biofuel component is not derived from corn or soybeans, but is instead derived from a much more biofuel-suitable plant. This is particularly important, since the mainstream North American media seems intent on trying to make biofuels synonymous with (and only with) corn ethanol.

As I said before: Corn ethanol is not equal to "biofuels." Corn ethanol represents one type of biofuel, and only one type. Please stop referring to corn ethanol as "biofuels" as though the terms are synonymous. They are not. Doing so is unethical, flat-out dishonest, and bad journalism to boot.

The best part of the article is that even the usually biofuel-negative NYT can't avoid mentioning "jatropha needs little water or fertilizer and can be grown almost anywhere — even in sandy, saline or otherwise infertile soil. Each seed produces 30 to 40 percent of its mass in oil, giving it a high per-acre yield." (This extremely negative Reuters article seems to disagree on its being high-yield, but it also seems to contradict most of the information available on jatropha curcas as well. On the other hand, this wouldn't be the first time Reuters has lied about biofuels.)

Of course, the NYT does have to get in the usual food scarcity smear, claiming that "some observers1 [fear] that farmers could be tempted to grow jatropha rather than edible crops in the hope of getting better prices." Some other observers, namely this blogger, who isn't too chickenshit to put her pseudonym of eleven or so years on the claim, figure that since J. curcas grows just about damn anywhere including places other crops won't grow, farmers would be stupid to replace whatever their main cash crop is with jatropha, when they can grow it on their verges, on marginal land where other things won't grow, and so on. In fact, farming jatropha could make farmers out of people who own land that otherwise couldn't be farmed.

Also, while we're on the subject of making one's living from farming, I love this insinuation that nobody farms anything except for food. I guess cotton, tobacco, textile flax, seed grain, tree, mink and other fur livestock, commercial flower and decorative plant, textile bamboo, and industrial hemp farmers (among others) don't exist in NYT World. Also, seemingly, according to the author of this piece, nobody ever farms more than one thing at a time. (A friend's neighbour, whose main cash crops are tomatoes and trees in that order, might disagree.)

1 Obligatory journalistic integrity moment: "Some observers"? Like whom? Name two. Name names, or I'm going to figure that you pulled this out of your ass.