Archive for the ‘Musings’ Category

Cat Helps Write Controversial Weble Post

Tuesday, December 1st, 2009

I am on the email lists of a lot of liberal/progressive groups (shocking, I know), and one heading that irks the hell out of me is the “Animal Helps Do Good Deed” formula. I just got one: “Cat Helps to Convict Child Abuser.”

First of all, no, I doubt that the cat actually helped, as in deliberately committed a particular action with an outcome in mind. I guarantee the cat isn’t aware of what happened as a result of his/her actions and probably wouldn’t give a shit either way. Being the right place at the right time doesn’t count. If I stretch out my arm to check my watch and happen to catch a baby falling off of a balcony, I’m not a hero; I was just in the right place and doing the right thing at the right time.

But I think what bugs me more about these sorts of stories is that they create the impression that we should treat animals humanely because, on occasion, we need them and they do good things to “help” us.¬† It’s all very instrumental and calculating. And it puts non-human animals on par, in terms of intellect, cognition, and motivation, with humans.

And that’s fallacious and, I think, deeply problematic to the core ideas of the animal welfare movement, which are that we treat all sentient beings with consideration because they possess the same ability to suffer that we do. Arguments invoking the intelligence and usefulness of non-human animals, then, become irrelevant because neither the lower intelligence of non-humans nor their general usefulness to our own lives has any bearing on that central point: To paraphrase Jeremy Bentham, the question is not can they speak or reason but can they suffer?

Which makes promoting the need to treat non-humans humanely contingent on their usefulness to humans a dangerous direction to take. We can all chuckle over the story of the dog who dials 911 when his guardian collapses after a heart attack but promoting the action as some kind of heroism is a dangerous direction to take. Suddenly, that animal is valued for its … use to humans. Welcome back to Square One.

Things I Don’t Understand

Monday, November 23rd, 2009

The phones have been all fucked up at work because some of the pipes in the basement were corroded and, whenever someone (usually I) ran the kitchen sink, water would pour out of them and down the wall over the telephone circuits and short out the phone lines. So, sometimes, the phone rings but won’t let me answer it. This has been an interesting experiment in human behavior and in annoying Dawn because it’s interesting to see how many times people will continue to call a phone line that hangs up on them every time.

Today, someone keeps trying to call the 39 line. Only the 39 line isn’t working. (Also, no one ever uses the 39 line, so I suspect it is a wrong number to start and nothing important.) This person has probably tried to call a dozen times in the last ten minutes. The phone rings 1.75 times and then disconnects. They call back. Ring! Rin–! Click.¬† Call back. And so on.

What’s worse is when my coworkers–who know the phones are acting up–will continue to call a line that is demonstrably not working. I suppose they don’t give any thought to the fact that I have to sit in the office and listen to the phone ringing and ringing and ringing and ringing and ringing, knowing that I can’t answer it (because all I hear is a dial tone). I suppose they don’t give much thought to how annoying that is.

¬†Another thing I don’t understand: there are new guidelines for breast cancer screenings that push the recommended age to start mammograms back from 40 to 50 years of age. This is nothing new. I have seen research and recommendations in the past few years touting this. What I don’t understand is why people are so upset. And I’m not talking about the right-wingnuts who are shrieking over “Rationing! Rationing!” (as though a health insurance company deciding that a patient is too expensive and deciding to cancel the person’s policy isn’t rationing, but I digress). But when I hear,

1. Studies are showing that we can keep you just as healthy with less of *insert uncomfortable medical test here* (pun intended) and

2. Studies show that too much of *insert uncomfortable medical test here* will produce false positives that are more likely to do you harm than not having the test at all,

then my reaction is “Woohoo! Fewer uncomfortable medical tests! What’s not to like??”

So I don’t really get why women are upset that they won’t be recommended to squish their boobs in a machine at age 40 anymore because said squishing tends to do more harm than good.

Maybe they don’t trust medical science. But if they’re having their boobs regularly squished, apparently they trust it enough to tell them when they should go ahead and hack off a body part. But they don’t trust medical science to make recommendations about testing? Hmm. The mind boggles.

The Secret Stories of Books

Saturday, October 3rd, 2009

The thought occurred to me the other day that books contain the stories that are printed on their pages, but there are other, secret stories on those pages too. I was reading The World According to Garp at Q’doba, and I turned the page, and there was a perfectly preserved little bug in the pages. It wasn’t even that squished. It was quite dead, however. It made me think of how it got there. Maybe the reader who checked it out before me was reading outside? Or near the compost bowl?

The other day, I was reading the same book at lunch, and the pages kept flopping over, so I pinned them down under the microwavable tray of kofta curry that I was eating. I had my fork nowhere near the book, but a big splat of sauce ended up on the edge of one of the pages. So, now, page 148 has a kofta curry stain in the margin.

Some reader after me will doubtlessly see it and wonder how it got there. Probably, they’ll think I’m an asshole who is careless with my library books; in fact, I feel quite bad about the kofta curry stain on page 148 and am not particularly careless with any of my books. In reality, the kofta curry stain speaks of someone who eats lunch alone each day and so reads while eating for company. That could infer a lot of things about me: that maybe I don’t have any friends (not true) or that I don’t like people (a little bit true, sometimes) or just that I don’t feel much of a connection with the people around me at work (which is closest to the truth) and so get more enjoyment from the company of books. What is said about a woman who eats kofta curry for lunch? That I am Indian? (I’m not.) That I’m vegetarian? (I am.) That I’m one of those rare Americans who would sooner eat something “foreign” and without cheese and gravy? That’s true as well. From those facts, all sorts of inferences can be made about me. I probably voted for Obama. (I did.) I’m probably a regular at the farmer’s market and slightly obsessed with recycling. (Both, true.) I probably drive a hybrid car (I don’t, unfortunately) or ride around a lot on buses (I wish I did, but again, I don’t).

All of these inferences could come from a splotch of kofta curry in the margin of a library book. And so my copy of The World According to Garp now contains a new story. So, I wonder what the dead bug means?

One of my favorite “secret stories” is when I acquire a book at the library and find, in the cover or on the first blank page, a person’s name scribed in neat, italic handwriting. I imagine, then, that the book probably belonged to a person old enough to be of the generation that actually learned to write with neat, italic handwriting. My grandmother had beautiful handwriting. The person is now deceased and her/his (usually her) family just didn’t know what to do with all those books. So they donated them to the public library. It seems a nice way for one’s name to go on: in providing stories and knowledge for others in the future.

Or a passage will be underlined (hopefully in pencil, lightly, though sometimes in ink and deep enough to leave an impression on the next page), and I imagine the high-school student hunching over the book when there is a flutter in the heart that comes from one of those magical passages that beg to be underlined (hopefully in pencil, lightly), even if they prove nothing toward one’s thesis.

My first Silmarillion looks like it might have been leashed on a piece of twine and bounced behind a schoolbus Napoleon Dynamite-style. It has marginalia and underlined passages (in pencil, lightly) that have become smudged from years of turning the pages on which they reside. None are particularly insightful to me anymore; in fact, some are downright banal, but I leave them because these represent my first thoughts kindling on this book and this world that would come to change my life in so many ways, some bad but most good. If someone tried to donate this Silmarillion to a public library, I doubt they’d take it; but oh, what stories it tells!

Talkin’ ’bout My Generation

Thursday, September 24th, 2009

At one time, I had high hopes for my generation. After all, these were the same people who managed to be more liberal than me in college, who voted for Nader (I voted for Gore), and marched around campus with No Blood for Oil! signs. I figured that we would be the generation to buck a lot of the bad habits into which our predecessors had fallen, namely letting our lives be ruled front and back by corporate interests.

Early adulthood was promising. The “Millennials,” as we came to be called, were giving corporate employers a fit, demanding things like four-day work weeks and time to go to the gym and more casual dress codes. Every sneering, snide report I saw disparaging the millennials “lackadaisical” work ethic had me cheering. It seemed, to me, that the other generations were jealous. Why didn’t we think of this? they probably wondered. It is certainly rather silly to protest being treated better by one’s employer. I was proud of my generation for putting our collective foot down and demanding that our work would not rule our lives.

But then I go into Columbia for lunch. And I see these earnest-faced young adults around my age or younger, all done up in their corporate tool get-up with their ID badges blazoned on the fronts of their suit coats and polo shirts like some kind of prize and their belts laden with an arsenal of tech gadgets so that they can be at the beck and call of some corporate master who will work them eighty hours for a measly promotion in a few years and, meanwhile, collect accolades and bonuses fed by their sweat. One always has one of those cell phone ear pieces that seem to announce, “I am a drone. Robots have penetrated and taken over my brain.” And they talk of nothing but work work work while eating their Panera sandwiches and taco salads: clients and sales and meetings and WTF, Generation? Do you ever look in the mirror in the morning and realize what a fucking tool you are?

I suppose I just don’t understand why anyone would want to go work for a corporation that does work one is not interested in, doesn’t believe in, or even outright opposes, working one’s fundament off to make some CEO who doesn’t even know one’s name rich. So that, in a few years, one can be passed over for promotion or laid off or, at best, settle into an unfulfilling life in middle management.

But I suppose it pays better than government.