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Are Women Human?

The DNA evidence has come in, and the answer is clear. Women are human beings. Who knew? Consider all the evidence to the contrary.

Skip lightly over the centuries when women were explicitly defined as property. Skip likewise over Samuel Johnson’s famous commen when he said, “A woman’s preaching is like a dog’s walking on his hind legs. It is not done well, but you are surprised to find it done at all.” He is said to have been intelligent, witty, devoted to his wife, and kindhearted. It was the 1700s, and DNA hadn’t been discovered yet.

We know better now, right? No, not exactly. Catholicism, Islam (except Sufism, I believe), Judaism, some Protestant sects, the Mormons, many organized religions in fact, tell us that women cannot commune with God well enough to minister to others. Given that the argument can be made, and has been made, that religious awe is what divides us from animals, exclusion from the priesthood says something about the attitudes involved. Especially so when you consider that it can be the same people making the argument and doing the excluding.

It would make sense if women, at least, avoided religions that relegate them to irrelevance, but that’s not what happens. It is, perhaps, the strongest proof that (some) of reality is a social construct. Women don’t mean much even to women.

Consider some examples. There are plenty to choose from. After Pope John Paul II’s death, someone who’d had enough of the eulogies pointed out that his policies had led to millions of excess deaths. Well, I thought, if you add up all the unwanted children who’d died as the pope implemented his policies, and the women dying in unwanted childbirths and botched abortions (e.g. for one year: WHO, world health report 2005), as well as AIDS deaths due to unprotected sex (UNAIDS,2004), it would easily reach into millions. But it turned out the speaker had been thinking only of AIDS. The others were invisible.

Another example is a discussion I had regarding Iraq. I pointed out how braindead it was for the US to let violence and fundamentalism disenfranchise women. The US was wasting a huge bloc of moderate, non-violent voices of the kind they kept saying they wanted. I was told that the issues in Iraq were much bigger than “women’s rights.” I was speechless. The right to freedom of movement, to free assembly, to vote–these are women’s rights? I had thought they were human rights. Furthermore, if women are human, we’re talking about half the population. Of course, if they’re not, then it makes sense that their rights are secondary.

Now, on a personal level, this seems crazy. People, men and women both, care about the women in their lives, and there aren’t many who would insist that their own wives, mothers, sisters, and daughters are some kind of different order of being. It’s hard (but not impossible) to live with someone and not realize that you both have hopes, fears, dreams, and hardships. Thinking of women as belonging to some other species is not something that anyone does. It’s something “other people” do.

Take one example. Ask any father whether he loves his children, and he will say yes. However, look at the marriage statistics of brides who were pregnant at the time and who knew the sex of the child-to-be. The couple was more likely to be getting married if they were expecting a boy (Dahl and Moretti, 2004). Few people see this in their own lives, but, in the aggregate, it happens. Most people’s contribution to the rush of events is so small, it can’t be seen, like a molecule of air. But put all the contributions together, and, like air, they can make people live or die.

The peculiar attitude to women, in the aggregate, can be seen in every aspect of life, but people are tired of being reminded about the world’s social backwaters. However, troglodyte fundamentalists aren’t the only problem. For instance, the left side of the blogosphere had a discussion recently about female bloggers and the relative lack thereof at the top of the blogging tree. Why, we pondered, were there so few female bloggers with huge readerships who were linked to by other important bloggers?

There were many explanations. Women are less techie, so there’s a smaller pool to draw from. Women’s writing of the same quality gets linked to just as much, and the lack of links indicates lack of quality. Women write perfectly well, but the topics they write about have less general interest. And so on. All of these explanations may have some merit, and yet the 800-pound gorilla sitting in the middle of the room was missed.

There are a number of classical experiments in psychology where researchers looked at attitudes to writing based on whether the author had a male or female name. Regardless who the actual author was, papers apparently by males were significantly more highly rated. Yet this obvious explanation was not brought out by the heavy hitters, nor was it noticed when I contributed it.

The big problem, in other words, is not with the women doing the blogging. The problem lies with the audience and with the many small, unnoticed moments of inattention that end up making a huge pattern. To take an analogous, far more extreme situation, the level of analysis in blogspace would have been like that of an Abolitionist who said that slavery was bad . . . and then asked what was wrong with blacks that they were trapped in it.

Sex, like religion, is central to who we are, and the same pattern is repeated. Women are irrelevant. No, really. Think about it. Even the definitions give the game away. Sexually repressed women have to dress in tents. Free women can wear lipstick and thong underwear. And this is supposed to do exactly what for women? (I’m talking about heterosexuals, of course. Homosexuals don’t have to contend with the X-challenged world in quite the same way.) Being “allowed” to be attractive to men is not the same as having men who are willing to think about what a woman might want. Defining a situation in a way that works for you is freedom. Living inside someone else’s reality is not.

I’m sure I’ve hit a sore point by bringing up what women want. Men’s regular complaint is that they can’t figure this out. Well, how about the same things men want? Such as pleasure, perhaps? Such as someone who’s both willing and wants to please, like the nice young women in all the ads? The specific way a man acts who wants to please would be different, because he’d look stupid batting his eyelashes. And what he does would also depend on the specific woman in question, since women don’t actually come out of a mold down at the female factory. However, the principle, surprisingly enough, is the same.

The irrelevance of women is particularly evident in mainstream ads, big movies, and other dominant myths. The images of women of reproductive age all tend toward the slightly exaggerated breasts-forward, tush-back, pleased-smile look. It’s something that anthropologists call “presenting” when they observe the equivalent in a troop of, say, rhesus macaques. It says, “I want sex,” and it is the female equivalent of an erection. To spell it out, in case it’s not clear, that message is aimed at males. Not females. Is there any equivalent message of obvious and willing male sexuality for women? Have you ever seen even a hint of an erection shown in any medium intended for general audiences? Ever? It’s as if only men have sex. Women have children.

The usual objection to exposing general audiences to actual male sexuality is that it would be bad for the children. However, given that children survive exposure to blatant female sexuality, that doesn’t seem like the real problem. Men, on the other hand, would be in the novel position of seeing themselves as sex objects for women, something which seems to make them squeamish. (That may sound implausible, but there is a difference between wanting sex and doing what someone else wants.) Having said that, personally I don’t think I’d like seeing men on display the same way women are. Sex seems to work better in private, where it’s more interesting (and more feasible), and I’d rather not have either side of it relentlessly in my face. But what do I know? I’ve never been surrounded by images of men with tastefully concealed erections lining up to please me, 24/7, selling everything from broadband to soap to themselves.

So far, I’ve been discussing religion and rights and sex. These are all optional, on some level. Survival isn’t, and the weirdness in attitudes is at its most stark in the reaction to crimes against women.

We had an election for governor not long ago in California. During the campaign, news came out that Schwarzenegger had perhaps praised Hitler, and people even grew concerned about his father’s activities during the World War. There was a great deal of back-and-forth, lots of digging for facts, and it came out that, no, he did not admire Hitler, and that his father had not committed atrocities during WWII. His campaign came back on track.

Shortly before the election, he was accused, by the woman involved, of groping her on a movie set. There was a certain amount of disbelief, but then six other stories surfaced of similar behavior (e.g. LATimes, Oct. 7, 2003) with other women, spanning 25 years right into very recent times. It began to look like he might have had a habit of forcing his attentions on women, to use an old phrase. However, it was not essential to his campaign to show his innocence before the election. He lost a few points in the polls, but only enough to feel called upon to apologize for “playing.” And people voted for him. Women voted for him. The point here is not what he did or did not do. The point is the difference in people’s reactions to accusations of antisemitism versus accusations of anti-women behavior. The point is that people didn’t care enough. Somehow, although nobody agrees with the statement when face-to-face, crimes against women just aren’t that important.

Then there are the attitudes to a far more serious crime: female genital mutilation. The attitudes in Africa vary in ways that are painful to discuss, but what about attitudes here in the progressive West? There are a number of confounding issues: it’s happening “over there,” and it’s happening in a very different culture. Except when it isn’t. At least in the US, I haven’t noticed that it’s much of a priority to prevent this heinous child abuse by the relevant ethnic groups living in this country. (For some statistics on the practice, see, e.g., Dr. N. Nour, African Women’s Health Center at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Boston, “Number of women, girls with or at risk for female genital cutting on the rise in the United States”)  The British make slightly more effort (see, e.g., this BBC report).

The objection is that, well, it’s highly regrettable, but it is their culture and who are we to interfere? The practice has also been intertwined with religion, so for a while it was excused on religious grounds, until people more familiar with Islam pointed out forcefully that the Koran sanctions no such thing. Either way, there is no other group for whom culture or religion is allowed to trump the most basic human rights. Imagine the reaction to a headline that said: “Penises cut off to keep men faithful.” (Subtitle: “Strangely effective!”) You might as well excuse cannibalism on cultural grounds. That’s only possible if the people involved really are “long pig,” as that particular meat was called by Fijians in the very old days.

Consider the archetypal crime against women: rape. We’re all agreed it’s a very bad thing. We’re all agreed it’s a hate crime. Consider the New Yorker, a magazine with impeccable liberal credentials. They published a book of humor a few years ago, and since like many people the first thing I look at in the magazine are the cartoons, I was sure it was going to be good. I trotted right down to the bookstore. There, at the beginning of the book, was a funny story about rape. To say that I was stunned would be putting it mildly. I returned the book to the shelf and didn’t read any of the rest, so I don’t know if there were jokes further in about lynching, or gas chambers, or murders of gay men. Somehow, I doubt it.

Rape is not a joke. Rape is not a regrettable form of sex any more than foot-binding is a regrettable form of shoes. Rape is a type of torture that uses sex. Like other torture, it is primarily meant to break the spirit, not the body. Its intention is to turn the victim into a tool of the torturer. Obviously, torturers aren’t likely to be the introspective type and articulate all this. But the actions can be judged by the results, whether it produces women who stay in their place or compliant prisoners.

The BBC did a report a few years ago on a brave woman living in one of the predominantly Muslim housing projects outside Paris. She didn’t wear a veil, as per the local thugs concept of propriety, so they gang-raped her. Instead of being intimidated, she spoke out against the reign of terror directed at women. So they gang-raped her again. As the reporter said, “Who in such a system would dare to speak, or even know, her own mind?”

Well, yes, you might say, that’s all very dreadful. But it doesn’t touch me. It has nothing to do with my life. Maybe not, but I see women who think crimes against women are isolated incidents, even as I watch them rearrange their whole schedule to avoid the late-night train. I see men who want everyone to understand that it’s-not-their-fault-they-found-it-that-way, and who are tied in knots about how to approach a woman so she doesn’t misunderstand their intentions.

The threat of physical danger focuses anyone’s mind, male or female. When faced with an unknown man, women go through some millisecond decision-making about the need for fight or flight or whether they can go off red alert. After all that, if he’s trying to be friendly, comes the question of whether he was worth all the bother. The sexual landscape women have to live in is so different from the one inhabited by men that obvious male sexuality is often considered repellent rather than attractive. That makes as much sense as men being put off by sexy women. Imagine how much damage it would take to achieve that effect, and you start to have an idea how much crimes against women complicate everyone’s life, male and female.

The various points raised in this essay are not new. We’ve known about all this forever, or, at least, it feels like forever. Many people, certainly among those reading this, would agree that the human rights of women haven’t been any too good in the past, and that very serious issues still exist in benighted sectors. But the feeling is that the problem has been identified, we dealt with all that years ago, and this is the post-feminist era. The “Mission Accomplished” banner is up and it’s time to move on.

The only problem is that we haven’t actually moved on. Besides the vast swamps of pure-bred ignorance, even progressives don’t always seem to know which species women belong to. It’s not time to move on. It’s time to get back to work.

I know that’s an unwelcome message. Adjusting gender attitudes is the open heart surgery of the soul, and there’s no anesthetic. However, the thing about surgery is that it’s a lot better than the alternative. I’m not suggesting that some sort of new millenium would break out afterwards, but simply that we’d be free of a whole set of aches and pains. Nor am I saying that it’s up to men to do all the work, since there’s plenty of attitude adjusting for women to do too. Actually, it would be surprising if that weren’t the case. We are, after all, only human.

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Free Markets Cost Too Much

It is a given in the United States that free markets can solve all problems. Bureaucratic inefficiency? Give the job to competing businesses and waste will disappear. World hunger? Nothing some free trade can’t cure. Global warming? If there’s a problem, free markets will let the best solution win. Unfortunately, despite the application of capitalism, the problems on the ground get worse, not better. However, that’s supposed to be because we still have too much regulatory baggage for the benefits of freedom to show through. The more problems there are, the more free trade we need.

That kind of thinking reminds me of the communist party line, which said that communism would solve all problems, and the only reason it hadn’t was that those miserable bourgeois were still gumming up the works. China’s Great Leap Forward was supposed to root out these remnants, and we all know how smoothly the communist economy functioned after that.

So I would like to cast a jaundiced eye on the free market, and explain why I think we can’t afford more of it than we actually need. My background is not in economics, which is ample qualification to discuss the subject. Economists, after all, are the ones who assume that decisions about buying and selling are based on rational thinking. Stop laughing for a second, and take stock of just how far away from the real world these people must live. Another thing economics teaches us is that supply and demand are always in balance in a free market. It’s impossible, for instance, for oil to run out because supply balances demand. Totally gaga, right? It took a translation from econospeak for me to make sense of this. To an economist, demand equals ability to pay, and not demand in the ordinary sense of the word. So, if there is only one shipload of oil left in the world, it will cost billions of dollars, and there will be few buyers bidding for the meager supply. And, they point out, you can always squeeze out another barrel or two, so the supply never actually runs out. These are the people managing the world’s economies.

(I should, perhaps, attach a humor alert to the previous paragraph. And even though economics deserves much much of its reputation for having no clothes, I would never have understood the little I do understand about it without the help of some very sharp economists willing to talk to the rest of us. E.g. Brad DeLong, Kash and others at Angry Bear, Paul Krugman, James Hamilton at Econbrowser, Mark Thoma, excellent articles in The Economist.)

The biggest recent failure of unreal economic theories was communism, but that doesn’t make capitalism right just because it’s the opposite. That is not good logic. It’s also more than a theoretical fallacy, since capitalism shows symptoms of the same problem of trying to fit human nature to economies, rather than the other way around.

Economic theory still seems to have a tenuous grip on how people work. It was born in the era of the Gas Laws, the subsequent invention of the steam engine, and its transformation of society. Everybody who was anybody wanted to be in on the game. Everything was viewed as a mass of gas, its little molecules bumping around frictionlessly, and if you could just figure out the laws governing the motions, as Boyle had done for gases, you’d have the whole system figured out. People in a market were like atoms, buyers bumping into sellers, bouncing off, with the force of the interaction dependent on as simple a set of parameters as any volume of hot air. Most people, of course, don’t make very good gas molecules, which is something economists eventually figured out and which made their equations increasingly complex. However, to this day, many of their ideas smack of the old simplicity and clarity, as if they’re not only studying gas, but have forgotten they live on a planet and need to take gravity into account.

The human equivalent of gravity is power, whether it’s social, military, or financial. Without taking into account how power tilts and warps any given situation, there isn’t a hope of providing the level playing field that is supposed to be the home of the free market. It is a fact of human nature that people holding the levers of power will try to tilt the field. (Just as it’s a fact that people will only live by half of the communist ideal, facetiously summarized as, “What’s yours is mine, and what’s mine is yours.”) Everybody knows that unrestrained freedom is just a way to hand the game to the biggest bully on the block. That’s why stock exchanges are among the most tightly regulated activities in the world.

However, the focused and continuous balancing needed to keep free markets on the level is generally obscured by the free marketeers themselves. Regulation is anathema to them, and yet when they lose in the market, they demand special treatment. There are endless examples of this, but look at just one particularly ironic one. The North American Free Trade Agreement allowed subsidized US corn to undersell that produced in Mexico. Thousands of poor farmers went out of business and whole communities are collapsing. The people, however, aren’t sitting on their butts waiting for handouts. They go where the work is, and since their own provinces are broke, that means going north. In the US, these people “taking jobs away” are unwanted, so US regulations prevent a free market in labor, and seal the borders against the poverty they created.

Considering the spotty adherence to free market principles, that philosophy looks less like an ideal and more like a con man’s attempt to distract attention from what his fingers are doing to your wallet. The only thing to be said for it is that the system, as applied, does work for the con man. On the other hand, true believers in unfettered capitalism actually subscribe to the principles of anarchism, which holds that social systems self-regulate if there is no interference. Anarchism hasn’t worked for anybody.

Regulation of markets is a fragile thing: too much, and there’s no free market; too little, and the result is the same. So let’s begin at the beginning and think about what a market actually is. It’s a place where things are bought and sold. Logically, anything that can be bought and sold, such as oranges or copper, belongs there. Equally logically, anything that cannot be traded does not belong there. That includes practically everything that really matters, such as life, liberty, happiness, hope, love, and God. A market trades things. It doesn’t try to provide the greatest good of the greatest number, or moral behavior, or knowledge, or anything we care about except a living. Free markets are good, within their limits, at divvying up livings.

The concept that free markets have limits is the important one. They’re not bad in and of themselves. They’re good at what they do, but they do not do everything. That used to be taken for granted, but lately it’s become a radical position, so the limits need to be examined.

The most obvious one is that human life should not be for sale. Slavetrading is a crime against humanity. However, other stark ways of putting a price on life are not much better. Policies that cause people to starve, sicken, or die, all these are also crimes. I realize that this has implications for everything from pollution to structural poverty in the Third World. I realize that it means medicine should not rightly be profit-driven. I know it means that whole sectors of the market would have to stop making a killing, and go back to making a living. Putting a price on life is a crime, whether our economic system is built on allowing it or not. If we don’t want to be criminals, the economic system has to be changed.

It’s common practice to forget that free markets are based on a series of assumptions, and that when these assumptions don’t hold, there can be no free market. In very general terms, free markets presuppose equality. Buyers and sellers have equal levels of choice of trading partners, as well as equal access to information. The famous self-correcting and self-regulating abilities of markets depend on the participants having other choices, so that bad deals evaporate when all they do is drive everyone elsewhere. When participants have too little choice, it’s the freedom of the market that evaporates.

Monopolies reduce choice, which is why they’re not supposed to exist without heavy regulation, and yet they’re so lucrative that it’s a constant struggle to beat them back. The latest trick is to pretend tiny companies provide enough choice so that the giants don’t need to be regulated. (Yes, I’m thinking of Microsoft.)

There is, however, a more insidious form of monopoly which isn’t recognized because it is new. In a technological age, the mental cost associated with learning to use new things can create its own kind of barriers. Once you’ve learned how to use the “qwerty” keyboard, for instance, you won’t use another kind even if it’s demonstrably cheaper, faster, and better. The same is true of anything bought with a learning curve as well as money, and if we’re to get the benefits of free markets for complex things, it’s very important to adapt copyright and patent law to be fair to the buyer’s time as well as the seller’s intellectual property.

Another kind of unfree market that does not receive enough attention is the labor market. The difference in power between employer and employed is huge, but discussions about labor proceed as if workers can quit jobs as easily as they can get them. In reality both carry enormous costs, and pretending otherwise is simply a way of tilting the playing field into something more like a slide that ends right in the employer’s hands. Convenient for employers, certainly, but not in any sense free.

The abuses that can be expected when buyer and seller aren’t equal happen without fail. Sometimes it’s a matter of paying starvation wages to people in countries without labor laws and then quietly pocketing the profit when the t-shirts, or whatever, are sold in countries where labor laws have created a population rich enough to pay more. Sometimes it’s a matter of socializing the costs of underpaid labor, such as medical care, while privatizing the profit. All of this has tremendous social consequences in terms of stress, disease, and crime, and yet we seem unable to stop the true perps from laughing all the way to the bank.

In addition to free choice, efficient markets depend on equal access to good information, but preventing that access is the quietest and most effective way to tilt any playing field. Controlling the flow of information doesn’t have to be done with hamhanded secrecy. For instance, regulations require lots of information about companies to be published, but nobody without a degree in accounting can understand it. This is not because that is the only way to present those facts.

Markets are supposed to summarize all the information about a sale in its price. Products made more efficiently provide more value for less cost and are supposed to win the competition. That would be great if it worked, but cost information is rigged and the system is failing so badly we may lose the planet in the process. The game starts in the very definition of what is a cost, long before it enters the realm of economics. The seller obviously wants costs to be as low as possible, since everything above that is profit. The honest way to do this is to keep costs low. The less honest way to do this is pretend costs don’t exist, thereby sticking someone else with the bill. Costs are defined as whatever the seller says they are, and all the other costs–social, environmental, or medical–belong to someone else. This is, in effect, a blank check to rip off the world. At this rate, so-called free markets cost way more than the whole planet can afford. What capitalism needs, if it’s not to fail even more spectacularly than communism, is reality-based accounting.

Even a glance as rapid as the one I’ve tried to give here is enough to show how far away from free markets we actually are. Examples of the discrepancies could be multiplied easily, but the solutions are difficult because every problem is caused by excess pressure on the levers of power, and counteracting the powerful is the most difficult social problem of all. I hope I’ve made it clear that I’m not opposed to free markets. Far from it. In their proper place, and operating under the conditions they need, I think they’d do a much better job of rewarding merit and distributing wealth than our current system of insisting, “What’s yours is mine, and what’s mine is mine.”

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legal: Site covered by a creative commons license with the following limits: content may only be used  without modification, for non-commercial purposes, and with attribution to Mia Molvray and her home page as noted here.

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The difference between Us and Them

After terrorist bombings, it is required to stress how evil it is to target civilians, a barbarism without parallel in the modern world.

Yes, it is barbaric. But does it stand alone? Dropping atomic bombs on cities has, so far, thankfully, stood alone. Targeted destruction of ethnic groups by the millions has not happened too recently, although targeted destruction of hundreds of thousands is ongoing and causes mainly averted eyes (just like it did when it was millions). It seems like quite a stretch to insist that bombing tens, even thousands, of civilians is in a class by itself.

The main reason why there is no moral equivalence between terrorists and everyone else seems to be that Our mayhem is good, whereas Theirs is bad. Possibly, this is true. However, whether I was killed by a terrorist or a soldier in a clean uniform, I’d be just as dead. The only real difference, in practical rather than moral terms, is that right now my personal chance of being killed by a soldier is zero, but my chance of encountering terrorism is slightly greater than that. (I use the word “slightly” on purpose. The risk of dying in a terrorist attack, worldwide, is on the order of being struck by lighting: not zero, but also not much more. This is true post 9/11, post Madrid, post Beslan, and post London tube bombings.) I have a sneaking suspicion that it is the practical difference, not the moral one, that leads to much of the outrage about terrorism. The terrorists have succeeded in terrifying us, and we don’t like it.

The moral differences depend mainly on where one stands for their strength. The people standing under the bombs don’t like them, no matter who sent them. We target the enemy and define civilians as collateral damage. Terrorists, on the other hand, target the enemy and define civilians as the enemy. Civilians are not given the opportunity to reject either classification. Maybe that makes us better than them, but it is difficult to see by how much.

So what am I suggesting? That terrorism is okay? That it is just another tool in the eternal struggle to advance one rung up the ladder?

No.

Just in case someone didn’t hear that, let me say it again. No.

What I am suggesting is that targeting civilians is not okay, whether it is done on purpose or accidentally-on-purpose. What I’m suggesting is that we preface all mention of miltant actions with sorrow and outrage for the people who died in them. What I am suggesting is that we expand our outrage over violent deaths to the point where PEOPLE STOP BEING KILLED.

Update: August 5th.

I just read the BBC quotes from the men who dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima. The following is from Dr Harold Agnew, now 85, who was a scientific observer on a chase plane of the Enola Gay.

[On working in the Manhattan Project:]
I describe myself as a ‘grunt’ at that time, I did what I was told to do. But I was part of a great undertaking.

[On the bomb:]
[We] were about four or five miles off to one side of Hiroshima, dropping gauges with parachutes that would measure the yield of the bomb. …

I don’t think anyone realised exactly what would happen. It was the only uranium bomb to be dropped.

My honest feeling at the time was that they deserved it, and as far as I am concerned that is still how I feel today.

People never look back to what led up to it – Pearl Harbour, Nanking – and there are no innocent civilians in war, everyone is doing something, contributing to the war effort, building bombs.

What we did saved a lot of lives in the long run and I am proud to have been part of it.


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An eye-opening, funny, and informative blog

Via the BBC, I just heard about 360 Degrees of Sky – Life in Rural Zambia. It’s written by a woman who does publicity for a British NGO in Zambia. She can write. She can see, hear,smell, and touch. Go read.

Quotes:
360 Online Breaking News

…Roger the Dodger – local bicycle repair man – made an attempt to secure the mantle of Unabomber, when he threatened Chief with “blowing your brains out”. Witnesses were unanimous in their belief that he was unlikely to achieve this with an inner tube and an old candle.

Residents have been advised to stay indoors and watch out for anything suspicious. Unfortunately this advice has had to be ignored, on account of no lights for watching anything, and the danger of using a paraffin stove indoors with no ventilation. We await further updates.

Brandishing Pens

…people undoubtedly have tough lives, [but] they are not limpid beggars with their hands outstretched. They have pride, dignity, laughter. Their children go to school, even if it is under a tree. They work their farms, hard, every day. The women sit and twist each other’s hair into elaborate styles and gossip about their neighbours. The men sit and gossip about the women. The rhythm of life is the same here as it is the world over. And yet it is not the laughter or the gossip which sells, but the hardship and the illness.

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