Friday, March 31, 2017

When Reading Are You Genre-Neutral?

The word genre is most commonly associated with literature—as in literary genre. Its root is, ultimately, the Latin genus. That word means (per Online Etymology Dictionary) “race, stock, family; kind, rank, order; species, sex.” So it is a kind of something. So far as novels are concerned, historical, romance, and detective are all different in kind. Genre-neutrality (not that I’ve ever seen that phrase used) thus means a total indifference to differences in literature. Poetry is equal to fiction.

But what about another word, gender? Well, it so happens that gender comes from Old French gendre, a variant of genre. It meant the same thing as genre and, pronounced, had the same sort of sound. That sound? Well, take the word jaundice. Forget about the dice part and pronounce the jaun; then add a fain r-sound. “Jaunre”. Both versions of genre have roughly the same sound; in gendre, the r is a little more audible. The meaning of the word in both cases is still the same, thus kind, category, type, or sex.

In English, with the tailing re changed to er—thus making the d clearly audible—the word has become almost exclusive a description of a person’s sex, not necessarily or exclusively in the physiological sense but also or predominantly in its sociological or cultural sense (gender roles, gender identity).

I’m not genre-neutral, to be sure. And as for gender-neutrality, I believe that the striving for total equality can go too far. The inspiration for this post was a note from my old friend Phil Cavanaugh which reminded me that, like him, I too have had a vague sense of unease when seeing that word—or not seeing it—on questionnaires when invited to indicate whether I am an M or an F.

A byproduct of the research I conducted to see what gender means was the discovery that in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and elsewhere the word hijra is in common use to mean a third sex—thus transgender persons who were born but do not feel male. The word—and it has endless variants—goes back to antiquity. It looks as if we here, in the West, are just starting to make peace with the recognition that ambiguity is part even of the sexual experience. The Wikipedia article on the hijra is here and well worth reading.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Health Care Summary

A rather thoughtful, complete, and sober assessment of the health care issue in the United States is presented on Patio Boat (link). If you would like to see this subject properly sorted, please follow the link. Here is a carrot in the form of that post’s initial sentence:
If you’re wondering who socialized medicine in the United States, it wasn’t Barack Obama. It was Ronald Reagan.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Know Thy "Self"

That word is in quotes above because that word is taking on new meanings we hadn’t guessed before. Thus, for instance, we now have self-driving cars. How should we understand the self-part of that automobile. Do cars have selves? Is “self” fundamentally that which makes the body a body? Or does the self arise spontaneously when the body (or car) is complex enough? Or is the car’s self there but then not really there? That is, after all, the meaning of an epi-phenomenon—which our souls are supposed to be. As this new “self” is going viral (to use a modern phrase), we can also anticipate other “self”-defining phenomena. Soon to appear at your front door is the self-wearing suit, the self-coiling dress, the self-walking shoe, and perhaps even the self-smoking cigarette?

The tobacco industry would like that last emergent wonder—if only it could also induce an actual self to fork over the high price for that cigarette first.

Above all, and finally, it is high time to know our “self”—or else that ancient phrase might undergo yet other transformations and become “self”-know thy self. And when that day comes, I for one, an absolute believer in Nicotine, will step in and stuff out that self-smoking cigar—so that I can relight it just to smoke it—all by myself.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Attention Deficit Denial (ADD II)

The New York Times ran a story this morning headlined (in the Times Digest) Secretary of State Leads from Shadows. The essence the article tells that Rex Tillerson has avoided media exposure since becoming Secretary of State. “In the light” means being on TV; “in the shadows” spells obscurity and hence, in the eyes of media, a lack of importance.

Years ago, already, it had occurred to me that celebrity is a curse—indeed a burden. And Tillerson, who will turn 65 on March 23, has spent his life in the shadows. He graduated from college in 1975. That same year he joined Exxon as an engineer, and stayed with that employer until his swearing in as Secretary of State in 2017. If experience forms our habits, it must be difficult to become a creature of the limelight overnight. So Tillerson must be comfortable in being invisible—whereas a political animal, like Donald Trump, must wake every morning wondering what he can do to be the center of the news today—rather than what he must do.

Attention is addictive. Once addicted to attention, it must be painful just to be oneself. No crowds of journalists, no flashing lights, no shouted questions. No cameras when one walks to one’s own plane. No need to point a finger at a person (invisible to the camera). What pain to be just human.

But Fame has its benefits. I remember once reading an historian who said that any person, no matter how obscure, observed in public to hold conversation with Louis XIV, was sure to become rich very soon. For me that told the whole story of celebrity. One can work out how that happens—how contact with power can render one powerful. The mystery (and emptiness) of such derived power also struck me at the time, and I made the resolve to avoid Louis XIV if he ever comes into my view. As for Tillerson, it will be interesting to see if he is still in the shadows when his time has come to fade away...

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Yellow Water

Donald Trump signed a Congressional resolution, passed February 2, a Thursday, on February 16, another Thursday. This resolution overturns a rule signed by President Obama on December  20, 2016, effective on January 19, 2017. It is known as the Stream Protection Rule†. What did that rule require? The rule required that so-called “excess spoil” (earth material) accumulated to make coal seams accessible, not be deposited near streams and bodies of water.

Mining waste goes by many names. Among these are tailings, (leftovers), spoil (earth materials that do not contain but traces of coal or ore), waste, debris, and residues. But the motivation behind Obama’s Stream Protection Rule was not so much dislike of piles of stuff; rather, it was what happens when such piles come into contact with water and are leached, the leachate then running into creeks and ponds. Since mining residues are often rich in sulfur, contact with water forms sulfuric acid; that acid (known as acid mine runoff) can pick up heavy metals that are injurious to living creatures, humans among them, that drink water polluted by mine drainage.

Initially that runoff, being rich in sulfur, forms yellow water. I show a picture of such a stream from an EPA website (link). Now the mere deposit, on the ground, of spoil, tailings, waste, debris, or residues does not directly cause pollution. But where the waste is placed can do so eventually—especially when placed where rain or snow-melt regularly flows. In those locations, the sulfur and heavy metals will be freed, and the water will eventually reach either streams or aquifers. That’s a rather informative photograph, on the right. At this stage few people will be tempted to drink it. But that stream enters a succession of other waters; the color will disappear; the heavy metals will be distributed all over the total water that flows. And such metals don’t have to be present in thick profusion to cause people to fall ill or eventually to die.

Yellow water today. Should I be writing about yellow hair next? The relationship between the two may not be difficult to document.

Acid rain, by the way, is formed from sulfur-containing coal. When it is burned, the off-gases, unless scrubbed clean, will contain the sulfur. The sulfur will combine with water in the atmosphere and, eventually, return to earth as acid rain.
†This is a rule published in the Federal Register, untitled, officially 81 FR 93066; you can examine its 380 pages by following this link. The title assigned to it was taken by journalists and others from the text of the first paragraph of the Executive Summary.