Posts Tagged ‘science’

General Post Office, St Martin’s-Le-Grand, completed 5 years before Trollope started working there in 1834

Dear friends and readers,

Written on behalf of 34 years of Trollope’s life in public service on behalf of a corruption-free post office: This is prompted by a brief column in this week’s Progressive Populist where the writer opens by with the strawman question, Was it he who killed the post office?. As Leonard points out, this is another area where the Republicans have smelt they can take a public trust and turn it into a an engine for a coterie of rich and well-connected people to fleece large groups of people in need of a service which hitherto or in the last 100 years has been turned into a non-profit which works hard to serve people at little cost, paid for out of taxes structured progressively. Far more taken from the rich than the middle or poorer classes. The Republicans and their allies among corrupt democrats are working at destroying public schools in the US and the post-office by what’s called privatizing

A few data points:

• As a result of a law passed in 2006 that required the postal service to prepay — in just one decade — the next 75 years of future retiree health benefits, “of the $15.9 billion the postal service lost last year, 70% — $11.1 billion — was in future health-care payments.”

• The same 2006 law “prevents the postal service from raising prices for first-class or standard mail by more than the Consumer Price Index, regardless of fuel prices, regardless of what the mail actually costs to deliver.”

• “If you pulled out the pension prefunding payments and an accounting loss on worker’s compensation liability, the real operating loss, according to Lazard’s projections, was only $900 million a year. In a $60 billion company, that’s just 1.5%, and holding fairly steady in a flat economy.”

• The Postal Service’s two main competitors, FedEx and UPS, have spent over $100 million lobbying Congress over the last five years to restrict the postal service from being able to truly compete while at the same time ensuring that both companies can exploit postal service infrastructure.

It is true that in this case they feel they can get away with it as so many fewer people feel dependent on the post office, and indeed do use it less. There is also a strong racist element. The post office (like other federal gov’t places) has been a place that hires black and Asian and Latino people and is looked down upon by many in the white population of the US. Crassly put it, they are not related to the typical post office worker.

IN Trollope’s case precisely what Trollope worked for was to to have a place where no corruption could enter — in his Autobiography he describes scenes of himself in Ireland charging down on people in the country who had been taking money for delivering letters and demanding that others provide addresses of pillars and offices for people to use.

Trollope was a civil servant who thought of letters as objects entrusted to his care, each and every one of which should arrive unscathed and in a timely fashion to where or to whom it was directed. He wrote of his early years in Ireland:

it was the ambition of my life to cover the country with rural letter-carriers. I do not remember that in any case a rural post proposed by me was negatived by the authorities; but I fear that some of them broke down afterwards as being too poor, or, because in my anxiety to include this house and that, I had sent the men too far afield … I would ride up to farmhouses, or parsonages, or other lone residences, about the country, and ask the people how they got their letters … In all these visits I was, in truth, a beneficent angel to the public, bringing everywhere with me an earlier, cheaper, and much more regular delivery of letters.

Trollope is the only nineteenth-century English novelist to recognise a failure of imagination in the expectation that letters magically turn up on breakfast tables.

If he did not invent the pillar to put letters in, he was part of a team of people instrumental in the practical setting up of such stations.

When he visited the US, he found that the US post office was used as a trough for flunkies of politicians — every 4 years a lot of people were fired and the friends and clients of the winning party put in. He inveighs against this as bringing in ignorant people who had no idea and little interest in what the work was about.

If the PO privatizes, you’ll get another thing Trollope hated: favoritism. Trollope said jobs should be given security on the strict basis of seniority (how many years in), any thing else would lead to favoritism and discrimination on behalf of one’s coteries and associates.

He was passionate about his job and letters too (as an artist in his novels), and it may be said paradoxically quit when he was overlooked for promotion so hurt and grated upon was he. He also did think he could support himself by writing full-time and wanted to, but the politics of the office were partly responsible for his quitting before he would have been entitled to a pension. In later life his widow would need a special pension to carry her through in later life.

Saint Anthony, Joyce called him in Finnegan’s Wake.

Gari Melchers (b. 1860), Penelope (1910)

If the Republicans have their way, Penelope will pay a lot more for her letters, and get far worse service.

The larger picture, again with reference to Trollope: specifically, The Way We Live Now, where Trollope’s central character, Melmotte is a crook who uses the speculative money market already there in the later Victorian era: Melmotte is a money-dealing banker, lying continually about what moneys he has on hand, falsely presenting what is the value of the investments he offers. He used to be seen as an instance of Robert Maxwell (British crook calling himself financier and getting away with it), but now we have a host of CEOS in the US and UK we can see Melmotte an instance of.

Dominating symbolic prison of Dickens’s novel (opening of 2008 mini-series)

Dickens’s Mr Merdle of Little Dorrit comes in here. The Marshalsea was known as a debtors’ prison; Wm Dorrit is there for debt; the second half of the novel when for no work Mr or Wm Dorrit ever did he is suddenly fabulously rich is about the irrational working or functions of money when money is not a direct result of work or goods produced but the result of speculative markets. Mr Merdle’s suicide suggests a deep sickness of the soul; since we are not allowed any insight into his mind we are deliberately left to guess, but obviously oodles of money, the symbol of the best success in this society which all admire is shown wanting. We may infer guilt from losing money of all those people, deep shame at his loss of status (a reason for suicide found repeatedly in Trollope among male characters, and a reason Barbara Gates in her book on Victorian suicides instances as one understood as something men did in the era), perhaps (Davies in his film dramatizes his) disgust and some core of honesty appalled at what his wife thinks is good social life.

The difference is today or in real life few (or none) killed themselves in 2008; instead shamelessly they engineered deals with heads of gov’ts to supply the losses of themselves and their supposedly rich customers with the hard-earned dollars and tax money of the average person — which was to be paid for by cutting all social services further, destroying gov’t jobs, salaries, benefits.

And you can go to jail for debt today once again, indirectly. I’ve read about the mechanisms but haven’t it to hand this morning. Read John Lancaster in the London Review of Books on this.

Trollope had a highly unusual perceptive mind and his insight into The Way We Live Now (how people were learning to pull money to themselves without producing any goods or services or hard work) was unusual. Today in 2013 most of us still have trouble understanding derivatives –or what happened in 2008. If more understood, the use of the “deficit” to further cut services and people’s salaries & benefits and by so doing lower the standard of living of the average to make them supine would not happen as people would understand this is a false stalking horse


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Dear friends and readers,

We’ve gotten into a for once (well to me) enlightening thread on a Women’s
Studies list-serv (WMST-l)
. It began over in Wompo (women’s poets) and slid
across lists because Katha Pollitt is on both list-servs and got irritated
with a couple of contentious threads which had turned into quarrels (still
mild), at which one woman complained at the contention and said she would
get off or fall silent. Katha’s posting was (to me) a form of scolding: she
basically said men’s way of being in cyberspace is superior to women’s
because supposedly they don’t mind quarreling in public. She wrote in terms
that were insulting to women, but attention catching. By mistake she put this posting onto Women’s studies where the people are more reasonable — it’s a more academic style list with more women academics on it.

I’m very interested in the realities of women in cyberspace and how theirs differs from men’s behavior. Obviously, I spend enormous amounts of time on the Internet, and my experiences here have helped me to mature, become more socially active (go to conferences, meet with friends) I wrote a paper on this which the listowner of WMST-l put on line as part of a permanent set of papers. I’m so bad at nuts and bolts I can never reach my paper over there, so for those who want to see (or read it later) , here it is on my website: Women in Cyberspace.

I had the courage to counter Katha on Wompo and nothing reasoned in response to my posting was sent. Instead I got misspelled mild jeering (using CAPs). At the close of my last posting, I just said, “Come, go ahead, abuse me … ” And one woman did, but the thread died after that.

Katha had said to ignore the posting on WMST-l and two of her friends (women
with credentials like hers, Marge Piercy among them) backed her on this,
but what she wrote was significant. Here is the core:

Before the internet, I never believed the truism that women have trouble disagreeing openly because they place such a high value on harmony, fitting in, not standing out. Having been on numerous women’s lists I see how true this is. They ALL have the same dynamic: sugary mutual admiration, with occasional outbursts of snark that cause conniptions. Yerra makes a personal remark, Joyce slaps her down by appealing to ‘the spirit of the list,” Yerra takes her marbles and goes home. On a coed list, or a mostly male list, a slightly snarky remark would have just been one of those things that happen. A reprimand would be be read as impossibly stuffy, and a threat to leave would be a joke.

I’ve been on wom-po for ages, and let me tell you,with all the mutual flattery (complemented by back channeling of expostulations and eye rolls) and self congratulation for our female wonderfulness it’s pretty boring. I barely take part any more, This is a list so scared of open discussion that “political” posts have to be labelled so the frailer flowers can avert their petals and the illusion of harmonious sisterhood be preserved. Oh no, someone mentioned abortion rights! help!

Can we please put on our big girl panties and talk about things like grownups?


I want instead to cut to the quick, the sudden idea I saw. I often say that the content of a posting is only part of what’s happening the way the content of our words in physical space is only part of what’s happening. For the first time I was able to see how the posting itself functions differently (than say all the stuff that is added on in real space). It’s that we see the posting primarily as either by a man or either by a woman. That comes first. The way writing is primarily seen as either by a man or women (that’s why 90% of what is published in mainstream publications is by men).

Second, the reason men can quarrel openly and not get upset really is they
fundamentally respect one another as men. They can insult and jeer and yet
they are respected and respect one another. I put it that we women don’t
fundamentally respect one another as women. We are taught not to. We may
respect a credentialed woman but she is still a woman. A male homosexual is
respected as a man and identifies as a man first. Lesbians are at the
bottom of a heap of gender types because they are also women.

The books I cited in my first posting tell how much friendships mean to women growing up, how badly women feel betrayed when their friend goes off with boyfriends or drops the other woman for her new “family” or connections. How it hurts. The sense of betrayal.

So when women quarrel it’s not childish.

And the results of quarrels — as the results of rape or any complaint are differently for men than women. Women are punished when they complain and the results of quarrels they are taught will be bad. They will lose the respect of important connections. The punishment meted out will be denied; it will be presented as reasonable behavior. This is where masochism comes in. Women seem to be masochists and accept what happens because they find if they don’t things get worse for them.

My Women Writers Across the Ages, a Yahoo list-serv carries on discussing feminism calmly is we have so few men, the men here are a congenial bunch who agree with feminist values. And a woman list-owner. All of this is highly unusual.

Women quarreling in cyberspace are often quarreling because one or both feels her gender has been betrayed.


Conversation, Susan LaMonte

If anyone wants to read the more essay-like email versions:

1) I don’t think there’s anything wrong in the way women behave differently from men on lists — as I don’t think there is anything wrong with the women behave differently in life. To find the male model preferable is to prefer a whole host of values and norms that at least some of us have wanted to not to be the prevailing code. The classic and still important book on this is Carol Gilligan’s In a Different Voice; also about why women quarrel so bitterly, Lyn Mikel Brown, Meeting at the Crossroads: Women’s Psychology and Girls’ Development;and Girl Fighting: Betrayal and Rejection

Women complain how we never seem to make any progress. Well there are these three books which analyze the phenonomena that Katha has castigated/scorned without looking to see why women behave like this except to imply “coward” or silly emotional creature who bores me. Cyberspace experience is obviously only analogous to real physical life, physical encounters where names and all sort of information are there right away to make the others accountable. Not only empathy and understanding is required to understand why women need moderators on lists, thrive better in some lists than others — it might be recalled that men simply refuse to get onto lists run by women often and get off certain kinds of list-servs that attract women. Does that mean those women’s lists don’t count or are inferior? Men simply disdain what is not consonant with how they are encouraged to behave in our society.

My study of women in cyberspace which is written in a way that looks to find ways to enable women to cope with the experiences they find on lists which are often analogous to what puts them at a disadvantage in life. It should also be remembered women don’t forget what happens in real life — like rape (frequent). I’m upbeat, constructive as that’s what’s wanted in social and public life:

I seek to present material to help us think about what are the obstacles to women using cyberspace effectively, and what can be done to construct cyberspace experience so as to make it more appealing, hospitable and usable for women.

Here though I will break code again and say that indeed the public encounters in front of a whole group of people, most unknown, with no way to manipulate the encounter to your set of values or norms (feminocentric) is analogous to rape (virtual) because it’s public and people looking on are in the position of voyeurs (the term lurkers is a telling one here).

Another aspect I don’t bring up in the paper is that women value friends, they value contacts; they don’t want to lose them, and given their real knowledge of other women’s psychology and their own plus experience of men, they retreat into silence as the really wisest way to cope given the present misogynistic environment. When will we ever stop celebrating the war mentality (which aggression, competition and the rest of what has been put before us as better and more fun)?

WMST-l itself is a list run by women, with women moderators, it has the typical list of rules one finds in women’s lists (not men’s) which are resorted to and I like it because of this and much else.

How are individual women to be heard is the question.

On Wompo I miss Annie Finch’s explicit point of view in how she saw this list as a place for women where women’s values and norms and experiences and knowledge would prevail.

2) The second email adding to original points:

I want to speak again to this one. Much as people still try to deny this, what happens in cyberspace matters — people might acknowledge various govt’s reactions to whistle-blowers, bloggers, privately-sent emails (one-to-one) emails. It also is increasingly central to local affairs. I had thought not to since Gail Dines reiterated what I was going to repeat with more details. That saying women have just got to accept aggression won’t do since many forums in cyberspace replicate the realities of physical space. Men are in charge. I was forced off a listserv (Inimitable-Boz @ Yahoo) last week, and I’m no melting flower on list-servs (or blogs or other venues in cyberspace). It did become impossible to stay because what was implied and not spoken about what I had been writing and what was explicitly said simply ignored everything I had said and the explicit talk became rawly insulting (the attempt was made to shame me), not just snide or a matter of innuendo. The terms of the aggression were misogynistic but if I dared use that word or any like it, I’d be laughed at as a foolish feminist.

Where men are not in charge but constitute the working majority of those who post (and in cyberspace when men become numerous on lists they have been shown to become the active members with only a couple of women maintaining a presence), the same sort of thing occurs, perhaps more muted if at least one of the list-owners is herself a woman. The gender matters. The woman can be very different politically but I’ve observed and experienced nonetheless she will understand and give crucial support to the women poster (sometimes, not
always). It’s like Republican women are mostly pro-choice, and they vote
for shelters for women and children.

We don’t accept the terms in which rape is discussed which (as we saw a
couple of summers ago) allowed in at least three high profile cases, the
case to be dismissed (the Muslim housekeeper in NYC who was raped) or
humiliated and lose her case (the young executive who was intoxicated and
made the mistake I’d call it of phoning the police) and the supreme court
fining parents whose daughter accused frat young men of raping her. We
don’t say we’ve just got to accept this. We try to alter the basic understanding of what’s happening.

It is not a matter of putting “on our big girl pants and talking like grownups.” I talk like a grown-up all the time, even to my cats. The phrase was an irritant.

So I’ve come on this second time because I want also to counter it first
under the aegis of the idea that “older women” are to be assumed to behave
differently in this than younger ones necessarily which is dismissive or
that anyone was being childish. It assumes the problem is the deference of
older woman. I’m not deferent. Another aspect of this particular thread is
some of us come on with more credentials. Not quite the same thing as being
a man (nothing beats that — I’m sarcastic here) but part of power plays. I
speak to Katha the way I do to others — or Barbara Bergson or anyone with
more credentials. This fault-line of age versus youth divides and conquers
us again. In a way being older and who I am and am not frees me (like
Janice Joplin line, freedom’s just another word for nuthin’ left to lose”).
The paradigm of the second wave is implicitly brought in here, but it was
in the second wave people used the word “liberation” and talked about sex
openly. I got myself into trouble (get myself) because I’m not deferent to

And second, women do squabble a certain way but it’s not because they are
childish. The understanding of quarrels and their meaning is different from
men’s. The way women treat one another as girls, what their friendships
mean to one another and how they disrespect one another on lists is different from men’s. I suggest at some level men respect one another as men fundamentally. And women often do not respect one another fundamentally as women. All of us are taught not to – by the society. Look at ads for a start. And they feel betrayed, angered really.

Third, women’s experience of the results of quarrels very different. Third
and fourth wavers (if there is a fourth wave), post-feminists experience
punitive results which teach women silence is the wise policy because of
self-interest works the same. The punitive nature of the result is
frustratingly denied the way rape is called a false accusation (as in you
consented). That’s one of the sources of so-called masochism.
I’ll cut off here as I’ve gone on far too long but I feel these points are
important and need to be dealt with, even if solutions are not easy to see.



Of course most of the replies either ignored my points or saw what I wrote in quite different terms, but one I did think useful for what I was saying.

I think history has given us TWO inadequate models for dealing with conflict, each model loosely associated with a gender role, but available to anyone. In life, we probably all “mix and match” elements of these two inadequate models. On the one hand, there is the “feminine” style of handling conflict (conflict avoidance; conforming to the “feminine” gender role by avoiding direct expression of aggression while channeling aggression into “mean girl” behaviors such as gossip, isolation, manipulation of alliances and social status, etc.). On the other hand, there is the “masculine” style (handling conflict in ways that deny the value of interdependency and rely on inequality/hierarchy; fighting verbally or physically to avoid shame and loss of status by shaming the opposing point of view).

Both of these ways of handling conflict are inadequate. They temporarily stifle conflict rather than truly resolving it, so the conflict usually resurfaces and becomes part of a cycle. There are other, more constructive ways to handle conflict that can lead to better resolutions. Conflict should be seen as a positive and inevitable product of equality. Conflict is inevitable; the only question is how we handle it. If a group can resolve conflict only by silencing it or by creating inequality (“I’m right, you’re wrong, so shut up; your point of view has no place here”), the group has failed. We are products of our culture and our culture has tried to teach us that conflict is threatening to us personally and to our social order. And it has tried to train us to turn to authority figures (ultimately the police or the state) to resolve our conflicts rather than teaching us the skills to resolve them in ways that strengthen us individually while also enhancing our ability to function collectively.

There are occasionally conflicts where logic alone can reveal a “right” and a “wrong”; a “winner and a “loser.” But deeper, more intractable conflicts are not just rational disagreements. They reflect some damage done to the communal bonds holding people together, and mending that damage often requires attention to things such as the quality of communication, and the creation of a group dynamic trusted by all. When Audre Lorde says that our culture has “misnamed difference as a threat to unity” and when she envisions “the creative function of difference in our lives,” I think she is talking about what feminism could potentially contribute to our understanding of conflict and conflict resolution (micro- and macro-) if we look for alternatives to the two inadequate, gender-coded models of conflict “management”/irresolution.

Leah Ulansey


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Dear friends and readers,

You must allow me one more centrally political blog before I return to our “regularly scheduled programming:” cultural, literary, on art, opera (music), films. This year’s presidential election in the US has been important, and when I’ve come across some enlightening pictures and information I feel I ought to disseminate what I can.

Maps are a fundamental exercise in power as is the division of space. “All maps,” one aware geographer argues, “strive to frame their message in the context of an audience. All maps state an argument about the world, and thee propositional in nature. All maps employ the common devices of rhetoric such as invocations of authority … selection, omission, simplification, classification, the creation of hierarchies, and ‘symbolization.” It’s a small step – and one which those trained in the visual arts, literary and cultural studies, would easily anticipate, along with readers of Foucault-to move to a second level of analysis, which insists that maps don’t only embody in disguised form the power of nations, empires, a ruling class, but further at the act of mapping is in itself an exercise of power.

Foucault wrote of how a critical geography would need to be attuned to the role played by maps “in shaping mental structures, and in imparting a sense of the places of the world” that blocks the circulation of alternative visions and definitions.

Now look at the map above which reflects the voting patterns of a couple of days ago now: it’s set up by county, not state, and thus enables us to see the popular vote, where it comes from, and (as it keeps the state lines just enough) thus that Obama beat Romney by a large margin popularly (51 to 48% — I’m not making these numbers up — 332 to 206). Republicans on mainstream TV (Fox, CNN, even MSNBC) are saying Obama’s was a close win. Nonsense. He has a real progressive mandate. They get away with this because the way the map is drawn leaves huge red spaces where few live as big as small blue spaces where many do. Here’s a map that is drawn proportional to votes and people — by county. The great thing about this one is if you are in a “red” state, the parts of the state that went “blue” are shown, and vice versa.

I don’t know how one gets the mainstream stations to stop using maps which favor conservatives — because they do it knowingly. When the electoral college map was first introduced in the early televised elections, it was clear the map did not reflect the popular vote, but it was the map children learned in school. Since the 1990s and the real divergence of two points of view (one which Fox tells lies to support, and CNN supports, and the others more subtly), these maps become invidious. Maps of the earth re-adjust themselves to what is disseminated popularly every once in a while. Australia used to be wholly unreal but it’s been adjusted so it doesn’t look like a tiny island.

Even this less adjusted one while going state-by-state, reveals the real popular vote state of the case:

The corollary lie one is hearing is that Obama is a man of the left. Not a bit of it. He’s centrist as this is understood today. We need not return to a stalemate of reactionary pro-super-rich, pro-evangelical religion versus everyone else, something sustained in Obama’s administration last year because he bought into the Republican’s point of view. He’s a hawk on foreign policy; he did not save Detroit, nor its people; he saved General Motors. He has not set up Employment offices (with healthy jobs programs to do much needed social services across the country), but left to us the same tired useless (how not to do it) unemployment offices — which have no jobs. He does not re-expand the Federal Gov’t the way Roosevelt did; he appoints more centrist and progressive types on the supreme court, he does not work directly to stop mass incarceration and brutal treatment of people for protesting peacefully, of minority young men for being black. At best he’s a mild ameliorator. But let us hold him to that. NO cutting our social security, medicaid, present programs at all. What has to happen is if they can his constituency and local leaders must push him to do the right thing strongly.

Huge numbers of people defied the harassment, the long hours they had to wait to vote. It took courage. The Occupy Movement has not been forgotten. All of us need one another to improve their lives. Let us think up and implement new programs (to shape and control global warming); let us re-fund older ones which worked to bring people together as friends, not competitive rivals and enemies. Talkin’ about a revolution. Keep as a goal Martin Luther King’s dreams of equal opportunity, human rights for all, time for pleasure and self-fulfillment; enacting one’s heart’s desire and finding peace.

Think of the arrogance for Romney to have run for president, accuse 47% of the population of not paying taxes at all, when it was he who paid no taxes from 1996 to 2009. See Bloomberg News and the comments below. Bill O’Reilly the last two days said (disdainfully sneeringly) how the many in the US want “stuff,” “things.” Fine for bankers to collect billions of course, and how the election was very close. Not so, and for just reasons.


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Mr Holmes, they were the footprints of a gigantic hound!

When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth?

Uttered in the original story, in the 1988 version and now again in 2012

Holmes (Jeremy Brett) comforting the rescued Miss Stapleton (found on stairwell beneath great house, 1988 The Hound of Baskerville by Hawkesworth)

Holmes (Benedict Cumberbatch) questioning animal experimenter Dr Stapleton (top secret laboratory, military compound, 2012 Hounds of Baskerville by Gatiss)

Dear friends and readers,

How the new Sherlock is ensemble camp art. The 2012 Hounds of the Baskervilles is also different content: the rape gone; we are in a world of top secret military compounds, laboratory experiments (on animals) and ruined landscapes.

I must retract what I said in my previous blog on The Latest Sherlock: while it’s true that in A Study in Pink (the 1st episode of last season), Mark Gatiss and Stephen Moffat wrote a script which really did follow the plot-design of at least the opening and middle phases of Conan Doyle’s A Study in Scarlett, so that the two and Jeremy Brett’s films in general move along in tandem and may be paralleled, when we come to the new, this year’s Hounds of the Baskerville and compare it with Conan Doyle’s The Hound of the Baskervilles and Jeremy Brett’s 1988 The Hound of the Baskerville, the new Sherlock departs so radically from the central buried or back story that the whole whole plot-design is changed and we have new content.

The film is not even an analogous adaptation. It appropriates (to use the fashionable term) the iconic character of Sherlock and his partner Watson, our memory of the general terrifying encounter of a ferocious huge glowing (phosphorescent) dog with a nervous fleeing victim in a vast wooded landscape round an ancient rich house and makes a new story for our time, and a few of the most memorable phrases to new purpose. In the comments to The Latest Sherlock , someone linked in a blog where a writer was (justifiably enough) angry at the erasure of strong women in the new series, and went on to talk about the ambiguous or fluid sexuality of the characters in a number of new mystery series, including this one.

The story of the abuse of woman is replaced. Conan Doyle’s original Hound had at its core, the mysterious tale of a cruel ruthless abuse of a young woman imprisoned in a room to be raped, who then flees the aristocratic rakish males who would abuse her again, only to find herself torn to bits by a supernatural hound. This core is paralleled by the front present day story of the amoral Baskervilles, and in the 1988 Brett version by John Hawkesworth the deceptions practiced on a modern day Miss Stapleton (Fiona Gillies). I wouldn’t call the Brett version feminist, but rather sympathetic to both its female and male vulnerable servant characters.

Rather than this, at the center of the Cumerbatch Sherlock is a military compound inside which is a vast laboratory in which top secret experiments are going on. When Sherlock and Watson penetrate their way in, they discover a very different Dr Stapleton (Amelia Bullmore). She experiments on rabbits, and we see all around her other frail and helpless animals (mostly small monkeys) in barred cages, attached to wires. The substitute is as relevant to our time as rape (especially since if we are telling the truth, the rape is kept marginal in both previous versions I’ve mentioned here): I felt distressed to see these animals and remembered Frederick Wiseman’s Primates and all that he and Jane Goodall and Sy Montgomery have taught me about the frighteningly impersonal cold cruelties wrecked on helpless animals in labs today. What is a more important threat to all of us today? Henry Knight (Russell Toyvey), the young man who is the victim of the hound in the back or buried story in the past may be paralleled to these small creatures. In this version we eventually learn that there was no hound, it was a psychological projection, helped along by what seems to be a fog machine, foisted on everyone, including Holmes and Watson.

I won’t go into the twists and turns of any of the three stories, nor compare the 1988 Sherlock with this. Why not? well, the Jeremy Brett series as produced by June Wyndham-Davies is gothic realism, heavily dependent on virtuoso acting performances at length, especially Brett’s. This is not. It’s ensemble playing: it reminded me of the relationship of Rachel Weisz in Whistleblower to Helen Mirren’s Prime Suspect. Whistleblower is also ensemble art, Mirren’s detective shows focus on her, she carries them. In addition, in this new Sherlock what happens happens centrally to Sherlock and John. They are not watchers on the side, coming in; they see the hound, they suffer madness; the core or back story moves alongside them.

So to turn to this new concoction, suffice to say that we are taken through a rigmarole which in the new version tests the friendship of Sherlock (while Brett was called Holmes by Watson in this series Cumberbatch is addressed as Sherlock by John Watson) and John (not called Watson by Sherlock but address as John). Everyone on a first name basis just about immediately in 2012. At one point Sherlock fools John by luring him to go into the laboratory and watching John’s distress and confusion and misery as he stumbles about confusedly and in increasing fear.

John lost and wandering (still partly lame), POV Sherlock from another side of a glass

An interesting side effect of this is we are (I think) supposed to feel alienated from Sherlock; he is behaving like Dr Stapleton (who may well have petted her rabbit and like the people in Wiseman’s film actually talk soothingly to the animals they are torturing). They really do quarrel over this.

Sherlock: John I don’t have friends. I have one.
[This softens John who is at heart as needy.]

I’m not making up or inserting into the story this animal rights matter. Among the deceits at the cosy inn is an attempt to cover up the high amounts of animal meat by ostentatiously offering vegetarian dishes. The poor rabbit is given the name bluebell, and Henry Knight often looks like some frantic animal caught in the headlights of an on-coming car.

The blogger who complained angrily about a lack of strong women should really not have much of a quarrel here. To me the superficiality of these demands for strength, no matter how used, is exposed in this episode. We have a second woman, Dr Mortimer (Sasha Behar), Henry’s psychologist who John Watson flirts with to get information out of her:

A Study in Pink opened with a hard-nosed woman psychologist (black) who similarly was there to make the man in front of her fit in, cope without disturbing others, and would have been more than willing to manipulate him, withhold information.

In a sense this ought to be a disturbing story. That it’s not is the result of another quality to this new Sherlock I want to bring up this time: it’s camp in Susan Sontag’s formulation: there’s a constant parodic element, strong artifice and stylization which makes what we see a game. One might say this is part of its gay sensibility — for there is one. The film-makers allude to all sorts of Sherlock paraphernalia: Sherlock is asked where is his hat? he is not recognizable without it. (The deerstalker hat is not in Conan Doyle but was a feature in some of the early illustrations and of picked up for Basil Rathbone’s costume along with the Inverness cape.)

The fun is in the exaggeration: this Mrs Hudson has liaisons, but alas the men she goes with have other women; as Sherlock gets into a cab he tells John that Mrs Hudson has been unlucky with another male again. After the opening terror of the boy attacked by a terrifying dog, we move to the cosy flat in 221B Baker and find Sherlock half-hysterical because he wants his usual stimulus — the word opium is coyly avoided and instead cigarettes are instances, but we all know what “the seven per cent solution” he’s talking of is. John scolds Sherlock from his desk that Sherlock must control himself. The performance of Cumberbatch is high theatrical body gestures and facial expression, as he swirls in his chair. The film-makers imitate a modern trope of romance drama and gothic since the 1939 Wuthering Heights and become de rigeur in Pride and Prejudice: like Catherine and Heathcliff, like Elizabeth Bennett, Sherlock stands high on a neolithic looking rock mountain:

This camp element is toned down during the moments of cheer and camaraderie between John and Sherlock — as when John is drinking his coffee at the close of the story and Sherlock walks over to a nearby set of tourists in cars near the inn where they stayed. It may disappear when neurotic upset characters are on stage (Henry Knight) or Sherlock goes into one of his long rapid-paced monologues regaling us with the banal misery of the lives about them , as when he and John are in a restaurant and nearby sits an unemployed man and his over-dressed costumed, bejewelled mother. Here is a pair like us, the 99%. Martin Freeman is very good at conveying a comical surprise whenever he finds himself in luxurious rich places so typical of these costume dramas (in this series highly modern looking — lots of glass walls). Henry has to admit, yes, he’s rich and that’s why these rooms are so large and empty.

It’s provocative to camp the Sherlock matter up. When Sherlock and John question the lab people about possible near-by monsters, they are told the last ones they saw were Abbott and Costello out after some monster.

Is there some safety in nihilism? This is post-modern nostalgia and the reassurance such as it is — with a calm ending so we seem to come back to Square one where we began (221 B Baker, the cosy inn, the car park, the cup of coffee) — comes from the spectacle, the enactments we’ve seen before. It’s the joke of timeless survival and repetition. Also oddly this two hours had some beautiful visuals against the ruined landscape around the half-buried military looking temporary buildings.

It’s not the dog that is scary; it’s the people who create false visions with their scientific equipment. This is not the first time I’ve noticed modern movies to be anti-science, even ones which seem as pro-high tech use as this one.

Never without a gadget


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Dear friends and readers,

I have been given pause what we should call ourselves. Last night I watched the most horrifying film I’ve ever seen and I’ve seen some horror. It’s a 1974 Frederick Wiseman film called Primate where he filmed the people or scientists who “do” science at Yerkes Regional Primate Research Center in Atlanta. (I hate to call them that but that’s why they would call themselves and would probably be granted that definition because of their methods of documentation) The daily cruelty inflicted on a group of apes unluckily caught and enslaved in cages is terrifying as you watch them do the meanest, most absurd, brutal, exploitation, and useless experiments on these animals. Researching these animals’ sexuality under conditions of extreme imprisonment, drugging, imprisonment inside various kinds of harnesses, versions of chains, includes forcing a chimp to ejaculate while you feed him grape juice; you keep him in cage, starve him so he is hungry and will come to the front and you put your hand in and do this to him. This is minor. I saw one gibbon beheaded slowly. The people wear doctors’ outfits. They are doing science, continually writing down every thing these animals are coerced into doing in these cages

I then read an chapter printed in a 1989 book by Thomas Benson and Carolyn Anderson, Reality Fictions, where I learned as of that year the Yerkes institute was still performing these acts.

To my surprise I discovered it began with Anthony Trollope’s description of his realistic method IN CYFH? where he discussed self-reflexively how he put his “facts” on a page, what he meant to do in his novels: to make us see and face the real details of the world and see their relations and consequences quite apart from what the characters claim these are.

This is what Wiseman does. Benson and Anderson then quoted and discussed James Agee documentary book on sharecroppers in the depression where a similar point is made about political discourse and how to be effective.

Of course the Yerkes and its supporters have attacked Wiseman as unfair, gross, skewing the evidence. They say their talk was not included, their justifications. In fact they partly are. But these are irrelevant.

Look at what people do. I cannot better Benson and Anderson’s straight descriptions and evaluations:

Primate is 105 minutes long-feature length-and contains, according to an analysis by Liz Ellsworth, 569 shots.8 That works out to an average of eleven seconds per shot for Primate, approximately half of the average shot length of twenty-three seconds in Wiseman’s High School, and a third of the average shot length of thirty-two seconds in Titicut Follies. The unusually large number of shots in Primate is not simply a fact, but a clue, both to the rhythm of the film and to its method of building meanings.

The film opens with a long series of shots in which we may first notice the ambiguity of the film’s title, which applies equally well to men and apes. We see a large composite photograph, with portraits of eminent scientists, hanging, presumably, on a wall at the Yerkes Center. Wiseman cuts from the composite portrait to a series of eight individual portraits, in series, then to a sign identifying Yerkes Regional Primate Re­search Center, a bust of a man on a pedestal, an exterior shot of the center, and then a series of four shots of apes in their cages. The comparison is
obvious, though not particularly forceful, and it depends for its meaning both upon the structure Wiseman has chosen to use-at least he does not intercut the apes and the portraits-and upon our own predictable surprise at noticing how human the apes look.
Slightly later in the film, still very near the beginning, a pair of sequences occur that are crucial to how we will experience the rest of the film. Research­ers are watching and recording the birth of an orangutan. The descriptive language is objective, but not altogether free of anthropomorphism: for exam­ple, it is hard not to refer to the female giving birth as the “mother.”

Immediately following the birth sequence, we watch women in nursing gowns mothering infant apes: the apparatus of American babyhood is evi­dent-plastic toys, baby bottles, diapers, baby scales, and a rocking chair. To reinforce the comparison, we hear the women speaking to the infant apes. “Here. Here. Take it. Take it. Come on,” says the first woman, offering a toy to an infant ape. Then another woman enters the nursery, also dressed in gown and mask. “Good morning, darlings. Good morning. Mama’s babies? You gonna be good boys and girls for Mommy?” A moment later she contin­ues, “Mama take your temperature. Come on, we’ll take your temperature. It’s all right. It’s all right. It’s all right. It’s all right.” Then a man enters and hands cups to the infants. He says, “Come on. Come on. Here’s yours.”

The rhetorical effect of this scene is to reinforce our sentimental identifica­tion with the apes. And this scene, by comparison, makes even more frighten­ing a scene that follows close upon it, in which a small monkey is taken from its cage, screaming, as a man with protective gloves pins its arms behind its back and clamps his other hand around its neck.

After these scenes, every image in the film invites us to continue enacting comparisons, as part of the process by which we actively make meanings out of the images.

Wiseman establishes a dialectic between acts that we are likely to perceive as kindness to the apes and acts that we are likely to perceive as cruelty. Do the acts of kindness balance the acts of cruelty? Is there a journalistic attempt at fairness here? Not really. We understand that in this institution, the apes are subject to human domination, mutilation, and termination. In such a situation, the acts of kindness do not balance the acts of heartless research. Rather, kindness is reduced to hypocrisy, a lie told to ease the consciences of the scientists and to keep the apes under control. Far from balancing the harshness of the research scenes, the scenes of kindness turn the research into a cruelty and a betrayal.

Let us examine briefly another sequence in Primate. It is the climactic sequence of the film, a little over twenty minutes and over one hundred shots long. In it, researchers remove a gibbon from its cage, anesthetize it, drill a hole in its skull, insert a needle, then open its chest cavity, decapitate it, crack open its skull, and slice the brain for microscope slides. It is a harrowing sequence. From a structural standpoint, Wiseman uses the techniques we have noticed earlier. The images are often highly condensed, with close-ups of needles, drills, scalpels, the tiny beating heart, the gibbon’s terrified face, scissors, jars, vises, dials, and so on.

We are invited to engage in our continued work of making comparison and metaphors: the gibbon is easy to identify with, in its terror of these silent and terminal medical procedures. We are the gibbon, and we are the surgeons. At another level, we see the gibbons’ cages as a sort of death row and call upon our memories of prison movies when we see the helpless fellow gibbons crying out from their cages as the victim is placed back into its cage for a twenty-five-minute pause in the vivisection.

Wiseman has carefully controlled progression and continuity in this section of the film, first by placing the sequence near the end of the film, so that it becomes the climax of the preceding comedy, and then by controlling its internal structure for maximum effect. The sequence is governed by the rules of both fiction and documentary. We do not know until almost the very last second that the gibbon is certainly going to die. Earlier in the film we have seen monkeys with electrodes planted in their brains, so we are able to hope that the gibbon will survive. We keep hoping that it will live, but as the operation becomes more and more destructive of the animal, we must doubt our hopes. And then, with terrible suddenness, and with only a few seconds’ warning, the surgeon cuts off the gibbon’s head. We feel a terrible despair that it has come to this. But the sequence continues through the meticulous, mechanical process of preparing slides of the brain. Finally we see the researchers sitting at the microscope to examine the slides for which the gibbon’s life has been sacrificed. And for us, as viewers, the discovery ought to be important if it is to redeem this death. The two researchers talk:

FIRST SCIENTIST: Oh, here’s a whole cluster of them. Here, look at this. SECOND SCIENTIST: Yeah. My gosh, that is beautiful.
FIRST SCIENTIST: By golly, and see how localized. No fuzzing out. SECOND SCIENTIST: For sure it does not look like dirt, or-
FIRST SCIENTIST: No, no, it’s much too regular.
SECOND SCIENTIST: I think we are on our way.
FIRST SCIENTIST: Yeah. That’s sort of interesting.

The whole operation, which viewers are invited to experience as pitiable and frightening, seems to have been indulged in for the merest idle curiosity, and, if the scientists cannot distinguish brains from dirt, at the lowest possible level of competence. Our suspicions are confirmed a few minutes later when a group of researchers seated at a meeting reassure each other that pure research is always justified, even if it seems to be the pursuit of useless knowledge.

We have already mentioned the sound-image relationships in this se­quence in discussing the structural uses of comparison and continuity. But let us point to some special issues that relate to Wiseman’s use of sound. At many places in the film, people talk to apes, creating a dramatic fiction that the apes can understand and respond to human speech. But in the vivisection sequence, no word is spoken to the victim. This silence is almost as disturbing as the operation itself, because a bond of identification offered earlier is now denied.

The distortion of sexual behavior, in the name of understanding sexual behavior, sometimes reduces sexuality to mechanics, as in the many scenes where apes are stimulated to erection and ejaculation by means of electrodes implanted in their brains, or the scene in which a technician masturbates an ape with a plastic tube in one hand while distracting the ape with a bottle of grape juice in the other. At other times, the scientists seem gossipy, as they sit and whisper about sex outside a row of cages. The effect of the sex scenes is comic and undermines the dignity of the presumably scientific enterprise we are watching.

But along with the comedy, there is an undercurrent of horror, at times straightforward, at times almost surrealistic. Sometimes the horror occurs in small moments: a technician tries to remove a small monkey from its wire cage. He reaches inside the door of the cage and grasps the monkey, which tries to evade capture by clinging to the front of the cage next to the door, an angle that makes it difficult for the technician to maneuver it out of the door. The technician reaches up with his other hand and releases another catch, revealing that the whole front of the cage is hinged. The front of the cage swings open, and the technician grasps the clinging monkey from be­hind, as our momentary pleasure at the comedy of the impasse gives way to a small despair: there is no escape.

Benson and Anderson found the snipping of the gibbon’s head off the moment the film most made them shudder; for me the cruelty of these people was felt most when Wiseman photographed one of the apes operated on and we see him from the back with no clothes, no fur, just shuddering and not a thing is done to soothe, comfort, protect him. And again when the ape operated on so horrifyingly is brought back to his cell, and just dumped there, and the camera catches the creatures intensely distress confused eyes as he lays on the cement floor, and the keeper locks the door on him and walks away.

Oh the film is rightly called Primate. The creatures in charge in their white coats doing these deeds are primates just as surely as the creatures they torture.

This film more than any other shows the wisdom and decency of Sy Montgomery and the “Woman who walked with apes” (Goodall, Fossey, and Gildikas) whose methods are called “unscientific.” They watched the apes in their real habitat, did not attempt to control or change or manipulate them, took into account the apes’ subjective life and studied them from within as a culture. Theirs is the real way to discover truths about these animals.

Birute Gildikas and an orangutan she is genuinely getting to know and understand


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Dear friends and readers,

Another blog where I’m turning my lecture notes into a blog for my students and in the hope other readers involved in some aspect of medicine (and which of us is not?) will find them of interest.

I begin with Gawande’s Complications: A Surgeon’s Notes on an Imperfect Science, his introduction, a summary and exemplification of his book’s major arguments: Medicine is a strange and disturbing business: it is messy, uncertain and surprizing. Is that true of other sciences? Yes. Are there other applied uses of science where what happens is very often unpredictable? We have had one this term: the NASA shuttle. John Harrison’s invention of watch that could tell what longitude a shiop is at. We see him aboard ship showing how hard it is to cope with knowing this abstract placement.

Gawande opens with anecdote (pp. 3-5). The doctors were frightened, meant to help a young man shot through the buttocks, cut him open, what damage was done was done by them; they couldn’t explain how it happened. Then the case of boy in danger of death. He, Gawande, had to guess. They didn’t know how gravity would affect what they were doing (p. 6). Lee Tran. They guessed right.

Medicine is an imperfect science, diagnosis and offering medication are ways of investigating what’s wrong with someone (p. 7). The stories in a sense all exemplify this idea. Book’s sections organized thematically to highlight sub-points he wants to make: doctors are fallible: they have to learn and on patients and they “go bad.” Much mystery and many unknowns in medicine and struggles of what to do about these (back pain with no physical explanation that drives a person wild; nausea won’t go away and is literally killing her): we see that evolution has made a creature at odds with the demands of our modern lives and society. Then uncertainty itself driving the whole experience, shaping it.

The major flaw in book: “While people continue to bear the high cost of medical care, negligence and over-commercialization, Gawanade offers analysis of intangible though important dimensions dimensions through stories and leaves out of his discussion any ethical burden on the above issues affecting the nation and society: our attitudes towards one another because of race, sex, ethnicity, and the kind of illness we show up with.” “He prefers to throw dust away from medical profession by called medical science ‘imperfect’.” It could be called a distraction.

The candid stories conceal a biased and conciliatory analysis that favors a gainful status quo of practitioners; the way medicine is practiced today (in the US and elsewhere) where good health benefits are distributed like cookies to certain high incomes and luckily placed people and age groups.”

On the other hand they are candid and for many they open up cracks in our own attitudes towards medicine and doctors that are unreal and dangerous. He is smart, learned, and gives us a chance to think. What medicine is despite the plethora of programs remains mostly hidden and misunderstood.

Part 1: Fallibility

Atul Gawande

Essay 1: Education of the Knife (pp. 11-34): it’s people doctors must practice upon.

He is frank about how hard it is to learn. I’ve read this kind of thing where the doctor/nurse/medical technician shows him or herself trying to put in an IV. What makes this different is he shows himself trying to put in a scalpel, in the center of someone’s body. The reader pays attention.

What are the motives of someone who does this? Enjoyment of power. Darwin was originally going to be a doctor; his father sent him to one of the best medical schools on the earth at the time, at the University of Edinburgh (also good were Paris, some in Italy). He shuddered in horror: no anesthesia; he found it particularly hard to take how the poor were treated and also children, particularly the children of the poor. Gawande gaps in awe (p 15), exhilarating the power (p 16)

Real experience daily is of ordinary things all the time: someone gets a screw in her leg from a chair and can’t wrest herself free, (p 18)

He doesn’t tend to see hand-eye coordination genes per se as central. What you need is the ability to practice, practice, practice. The genius or talent is the one which leads you to practice (pp. 18-21)

It is hard to talk to patients about this (p 23) People won’t let you learn on their family or friends if they know about it (pp. 29-30). He didn’t let a resident learn on his child. Truth is the wealthy and well-connected wriggle out; he’s for setting up a system insofar as you can, where choices are offered or born equally (p. 33) How much should trainees be allowed to participate? (Is there anyone in the classroom who feels or knows that a physician-in-training did something and the result, while not fatal, is not so good?)

Introduces important theme or insight which carries throughout the book: the way to eliminate errors is not to demonize individuals; it’s to study a system, a practice, a habit, a group and see what patterns of errors happen and then see how to eliminate them. Everyone makes mistakes, everyone. No matter how hard you try not to. Gawande shows they tend to be of the same kind: like misreading the machine which puts someone under anesthesia because the companies put the controls on the front differently; like copying out prescriptions.

What to do? Get after the companies; make doctors use preset prescriptions in computers (that is shown to work better because then they are not misread, another systemic problem). We want to believe in some hero and then we sue him; he’s just another “flawed human” being in a team, in a subculture.

We see the team that learns quicker and does better, is one where people cooperate, are not competitive or domineering, and we see why: they are really a team (p 29): trust, getting people to do their best in security.

It is hard for someone to adjust to and face your own fallibility.

Essay 2: The Computer and the Hernia Factory (pp. 35-46): what makes for needed excellence

Gawande begins with examples of how approaching medicine from a systemic point of view, relying on machines can help eliminate certain kinds of errors. The problem: people are mistakenly discharged; one reason is misreading the computer printout. Machine is better at it (p. 37).

Well, there are hospitals where doctors do nothing but hernias. They get good at it. Repetition changes the way you think. Is that to be better? Depends, maybe in the case of this sort of operation. Doctors do rely on intuition too; a lot of doctoring is sizing you up. Do we eyeball our groceries to determine how much they should cost us?

The problem in the book of celebrating technical virtuosity. Is Gawande too much into this technical virtuosity? Our films (Wit, The Doctor) stress the need for humanity. Jason a technique freak; so too Kelekian; alas so too was Vivian Bearing when she taught poetry. All avoiding the human. The human is so painful and so uncertain. It’s hard to make friends. I’m one of those who goes to the library and finds books as friend.

Essay 3: When Doctors Make Mistakes (pp 47-74): again doctors must learn on people and how to bring down the number of mistakes

Gawande is concerned to show us that medical error is not fundamentally a problem of bad or crooked or inadequate or corrupt doctors. He tells the story of his bad judgement is one that has been excerpted again and again. It’s brave of him; it also probably precludes some other person getting very mad at him (he can’t make enemies telling of his own failure).

I talk a lot to my dentist. Dentists are doctors. For about 15 years, maybe a bit more I’ve had very bad troubles with my teeth. He’s a nice man, honest, a good dentist. When I told him about this book and quoted the line, “It was a clean kill” (p. 61), he said to me people he knows have said this to him. One surgeon says you are unlikely to carry on through a life doing surgery without killing someone. I said, “is that true, do you think?” Well, he said, he’s lost people’s teeth when they didn’t need to lose them. He feels bad when people lose their teeth unnecessarily.

Gawande’s pride was at stake. He wanted to do it himself

While I don’t think suit prevents errors, and agree that fear of suit can make errors, I disagree with the inference some may take away from this chapter that we ought not to have suit (pp. 55-58).

It’s the only place we as patients have to fight a lack of autonomy. It’s a crude highly fallible mechanism which is screwed up by the adversarial court system (and you get money for pain and injury, not from mistakes; juries award much bigger sums when outcome back regardless of whether there was a mistake or some egregious misconduct as in the stories Gawande tells in the essay called “When Good Doctors Go Bad.”

I lived in England for a time where you can’t sue; patients have less rights in custom; custom and norms are more significant in determining how people behave than law. Laws forbid things; they don’t tell us what to do, but what not to do. The language is sometimes phrased as the law allows you this or that, but it’s felt as what is not permitted. Scotland you have to prove a tort; here only pain and injury.

Would they discuss their errors if we didn’t have lawsuits? I don’t think so (p 58). Nonetheless, I agree demonizing errors is a bad idea. As doctors are not gods, so they are not demons.

M&M: Mortality and Morbidity: with all its evasions, it’s what they have and it needs to be protected. Let us remember lawyers make money from suits. He agrees it’s inadequate and shabby. The individuals don’t take responsibility; the doctor does not want to see himself as part of team or system. There’s the problem of collegiality and the problem that you fear someone will accuse you of bad or poor practice. But they do look into errors; the person is known to have made it, and his or her career is on the line.

Probably the most important part of this book is the argument that “people err frequently and in predictable patterned ways.” We know this but do not act upon it except when something seems singularly risky: like airplane flight. People don’t have wings. He tells the case of anesthesiology where error was brought down to a tiny percentage of what it had been when the systems and patterns of behaviors were studied (pp 64-67).

I notice that one cause of the young woman’s death can be said to be an unwillingness to spend money on new machines that make no money. It cost to replace the monitors with better ones (p 67). That takes money out of the budget which individuals can glom up. City of Alexandria is always very unwilling to replace a stop sign with a red/green light. They say people don’t like red/green lights, but they also often add the $90,000 bill or so these things cost. Only after a number of accidents at bad corners, do you see a red/green light go up.

Doctors should still work to utter capacity; bodily harm at stake. Effort makes; diligence, attention, care (p 73).

Gawande did err; he did not make the most of the hand of cards he’d been dealt with. Not always easy to see what is the best thing to do.

Essay 4: Nine Thousand Surgeons (pp. 75-86): people go to conferences to be with their tribe.

A considerably lighter essay. Time our for a little humor that teaches us something. What do professionals go to conferences for? A good question. Feynman distrusts conferences. He says they are mostly for display, political networking, personal aggrandizement. There are things sold which are worthless; little original research or ideas for real anywhere. Maybe so. Still people go and he went too. Anyone here ever gone to a convention or conference of people engaged in the same endeavor or having the same interests?

You go to be validated; to talk to people in your community like you. To share feelings and thoughts. The conversations on the bus. You are among your particular tribe. A tribe not linked by genes or biology. If nothing original, a lot of development. You are in for conning of course and have to figure out what’s valuable and what hype, what personal aggrandizement sheerly and what interesting.

You can experience the occasional illuminating or just so moment: the telling paper, film, procedure, encounter. For him it was the man with the real books of thought (pp. 81-82) in the midst of frivolous nonsensical gadgets and freebee give-aways.

Essay 5: When Good Doctors Go Bad (pp. 88-106): the problem of inadequate means to stop bad doctors from practicing; the lack of help for them.

Story of Hank Goodman is memorable: he began as intensely caring and ambitious and became “burned out.” Had had enough.Surprisingly common and no one with the power to do anything acted (p. 95). Gawande says there is an honorable reason: “they don’t have the heart.” Well what about the patients. He does not include how people fear for themselves. He says the intentions of everyone are good. Are they? (p. 95). Goodman was depressed. Most whitewashing moment in the book.

People just beneath this doctor in the best position to know (p. 96). Some brave enough to steer patient away.

But it’s brave and decent of Gawande to bring this up; to tell this story and how the man who started this effective clinic could not get monetary support. We should look to what someone does and not what they didn’t do altogether.

He names 4 types of abusive behavior, p 100: persistent poor anger control or abusive behavior; bizarre or erratic behavior (which people get away with when in high positions); transgression of proper professional boundaries (ditto — mostly having to do with sex); and the familiar marker or sign of a disproportionate number of lawsuits or complaints.

What we really are: 32 percent of general population has some serious mental disorder (1/3) be it depression, mania, panic, psychosis or addiction.

Gawande would like readers to stop being ready to view doctors as sociopaths; they are struggling human beings too. I wonder if we are able to look at ourselves.

Do you think people prefer a system of don’t ask, don’t tell? Well which people. Doctors may prefer it, but do patients? (P. 103) There are people who don’t want to know about their sickness, who don’t want to be asked to participate in the decision-making process for real. I don’t prefer don’t ask, don’t tell. But this is a character trait with me. I want to know. I feel stability and safety can only rely on truth. I may be wrong. In life I’ve seen where I have been.

Part 2: Mystery

Essay 6: Full Moon Friday the Thirteenth (pp. 109-114): our intuitive thinking wrong

People see patterns and meanings where there is none; do a study and discover that our intuition is wrong. There is no connection, but as we experience the misery or trauma, we persist in remembering the previous time we experienced it and its details and trying to find some pattern.

Essay 7: The Pain Perplex (pp. 115-129): suffering because and out of things outside our control.

Have you ever had a pain and everyone said “it’s in your head”? Gawande is here to agree it’s in your head but that does not make it any the less real. Have you ever had a pain and no one could find an explanation for it and dismissed your pain? Gawande writes of the common condition of ” a patient who has chronic pain without physical findings to account for it.”

It’s common for doctors to dismiss them as cranks, not real, needing psychiatric care (“whinging”). Such people go to acupuncturist and alternative medicine.

Gawande is here to believe you and say there are some other scientifically medical people who will try to help you. The story of Rowland Scott Quinlan (pp. 115-118). Story not atypical but common.

Theoretically the problem is the mechanistic theory we adhere to about medicine. We have to find a physical agent to push something
before we will believe it’s been pushed. Gawande leaves out psychology: people don’t want to allow this; it’s inconvenient; they only want to take seriously what is physically there.

Underlying this story is an argument that psyche is as real and significant as soma, e.g., panic disorder. It’s real. But it gets no respect. It’s hard to get an etiology. Gawande is for resorting to drugs if they work — and also operations. After all, he’s a surgeon. Health is a complicated state. People aren’t faking it if misery in the job or marriage or wherever is giving them acute pain (P. 128).

Gate-control theory of pain has been replaced by a new theory which seems to be accurate: the brain is not a bell you pull with a string, and the idea of to stop the bell from reacting to the pull (that is find distractions and other things to make you ignore pain, though it’s true that people in certain professions and situations will ignore pain longer: ballet dancers and men who escaped with their lives from battle even with terrible maiming injuries.

Pain comes from the brain, and it doesn’t need a physical stimulus necessarily. This makes pain political because it demonstrates the source is social arrangements. If we want to eliminate the pain, we need to change the social arrangements.

Essay 8: A Queasy Feeling (pp. 130-145): the uses of nausea.

A woman friend has told me that there are people who “don’t believe” in this condition of a woman during pregnancy; they deny that near fatal vomiting can occur in some pregnancies.

Parents have an adversarial as well as supportive relationship with children. There is a conflict between the interests of the mother and child when it comes to childbirth. Nature does not care for the individual but species. Until 20th century childbirth was often fatal; it’s still dangerous. Explanation comes from evolution: pelvus we walk on is not quite big enough to accommodate large brain which developed a little later. We are claptrap machine. Horses have trouble too.

So here is a place where natural selection has developed erratically: some foods safe for adults are unsafe for embryos; pregnancy sickness may be evolved to reduce an embryo’s exposure to natural toxins. Common morning sickness does usually end by the end of the first trimester. It’s said that women who are pregnant naturally prefer bland foods; I can say that when I was pregnant the second time I stopped drinking wine – and other liquors. I couldn’t. They just made me sick. This unhappy state ended upon giving birth.

I don’t know that motion sickness is relevant here; he does not want to go into the adversarial nature of the symbiosis.

Story of how woman endured this killing pregnancy: she did have someone to care for her; she had money and health care; many women would not and many would not endure this. They’d have an abortion. It was advised but she said she was Catholic. The doctors also attached her to a device that made her hear a heartbeat much louder than it really was. I wonder if the nurse did that voluntarily or was it imposed on this woman (p 139)

Gawande goes into the phenomena of nausea and tries to explain why people dislike it so. Our understanding of this is primitive. Pharmaceutical companies make millions of dollars selling drugs. Best way to cope is start treating the condition when it’s mild. So habit comes in here

Larger interesting issue about suffering Do we do enough about suffering? The problem is when we see someone suffering we look at it as something to test and then look to see if there is a practical thing we can do. Instead of trying to cope with the suffering. Nausea is one condition where we are forced to deal with the suffering itself because people really dislike nausea.

Essay 9: “Crimson Tide” (pp. 146-161): the blush

This one interesting because physiology is clearly intertwined with someone’s character. They are not separate facets of existence which people might tend to think. Blushing useful. You signal you are embarrassed, you self-deprecate; you are kowtowing to group, confessing anxiety.

Essay 10: The Man who Couldn’t Stop Eating (pp. 162-183): eating disorders.

I. The story of Vincent Caselli and his Roux-en-Y gastric-bypass operation. This one too has evolutionary implications. All of the essays in this section do: be it the one about blushing or how we impose patterns on things (which we are skipping) we have evolved in reaction. So our bodies work hard to keep our calories going safely in our bodies.

Story of Caselli includes much detail which tells you he is working class: the way it’s done makes me a wee bit uncomfortable: it’s stigmatizing. Both he and wife good at business: he construction, she assisted-living. He ate a lot, big portions and everything on his plate. We eat out of habit too: it’s time so we eat.

So history of weight-loss one of unremitting failure (pp. 169-70). We are built to survive starvation, not deal with abundance. If you diet, your metabolism goes slower to compensate. So it can be a terrible battle to lose weight.

People who have this operation seems mostly to chose not to overeat anymore, to eat less. Though not all. Alas Vincent is eating less because he is forced to, not because of operation. He is not a thoughtful fellow and it may be it’s hard to sink in that this operation has endangered him so that if he overeats he’s at risk. Gets rid of diabetes.

I’m glad to see this emphasis on weight problems through this operation: most of the time you get stories about anorexic women which show little sympathy and less understanding (p. 182): “how can you let yourself look like that?” (see “Girls Want out” by Hilary Mantel, at London Review of Books)

I’m glad to see that Gawande expresses concern at merely plump people opting for this serious operation.

Very recently a study was published which showed our awareness that we are overweight can be attributed to strong advertising on the part of the weight-losing industry. The claim is that some of this distaste for the least fat on women in commercials and films is a product of advertising. Some of the “worry” about obese children in particular may be a construct of advertising campaigns.

Part 3: Uncertainty

Essay 11: Final Cut (pp. 187-202): the need for autopsies to continue.

An intelligent argument on behalf of autopsy. He thinks its decline is due to doctor hubris — not money or distaste of families of dead patients who give in if pressured. He says that people have always protested autopsy so that it’s unlikely that a new religious motive is coming in here.

How do others feel about autopsy? Why is it in decline? You don’t have to be religious to be emotionally attached to the corpse of the person. Perhaps also a distrust and dislike of hospitals and doctors. Don’t want the body cut up. Final cut.

Gawande shows long history of medicine demonstrates the importance of autopsy in learning about the human body. A corpse can be treated more aggressively. He felt he didn’t need to do autopsies until he discovered a bad mistake.

A long history of misdiagnosis continues (pp. 197ff): 40% in 1998 and not getting better. Why? the nature of fallibility. The tests shows accurate results, but the physician doesn’t call for the right test. People are somewhere between being like hurricanes and ice cubes. Remarkable that he thinks he can come up with what’s wrong with Charlotte Duveen.

Essay 13: Whose Body Is It, Anyway (pp. 208-27) autonomy and having to choose

This essay revolves around the question of asking the patient for their input? Gawande seems to think our communities have begun asking too much of patients to hand them the responsibility?

This is a complete switch-around from earlier practice: much hidden and patient not consulted; treated like a child or someone of a lower class. Gawande says the current medical orthodoxy says let the patient decide.

Is that your experience? Mine is the mildly dominating doctor with a pretense of consulting me.

Case of man who chooses badly (Lazarus, symbolic name) because he can’t face that they don’t have life to offer him but continued near death and misery and yet more misery to sustain that (p 215)

Gawande makes a strong case that patients are themselves emotional, confused, don’t know enough, can’t hear: exhausted, irritable, shattered or despondent (p 222). Gawande preferred to have decision made for him; Dr K saved the life of the man who didn’t want “another machine.”

What is really needed is kindness. That’s the real task (p. 222). Autonomy is but one value among others, but it is an important one. He’s not saying don’t get a second opinion, don’t ask questions, but that ethicists have gone overboard. But Gawande too strong on the side of the doctor deciding. Just about all his stories have patients succumbing to doctors and ending up better off. As usual, he forgets corrupt, indifferent, and bad-choosing doctors.

To sum up: There’s a direct conflict of interest between the pregnant female and the fetus in the sense that childbirth endangers her life and her body; there is the problem that people cannot always hear the truth about anything and make bad decisions, a result of naivety, misinformation and inability to take in the hard reality.

I suggest the man who chose the horrific operation because he couldn’t accept there was nothing doctors could do for him and the woman who had naive ideas about childbirth (knew nothing of history) may be taken as conflicts of interest. We don’t treat suffering itself; we go after what we think we are supposed to care so much about yet do we care about it?

Essay 14: The Case of the Red Leg (pp. 228-52).

Gawande falls into sensational mode: here are these heroic doctors cutting cutting cutting to save. Here we see how Gawande falls into technical virtuosity. Is Gawande too much into this do you think?

Our films, Wit and The doctor stress the need for humanity. Jason a technique freak; so too Kelekian; alas so too was Vivian Bearing when she taught poetry. All avoiding the human. The human is so painful and so uncertain. Wit is about the human condition seen through the prism of illness: how hard to make contact with one another.

For Gawande’s later essays, see comments: Bell Curve; The Score; The Way We Age Now.

Atul Gawande recently withd Jack Cochran, a high official at Kaiser Permanente


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The family broken up in a slave auction

Dear friends and readers,

I continue my report of the fine conference (East Central Region meeting of ASECS at Penn State) centering on the concept of liberty in the long 18th century. Over the course of three days, there emerged a developing definition for different groups of people, much pursuit, much thwarting. Gambling emerged as a mode of liberty rather than enslavement; controlling your image in public (a form of self-restriction) so as not to tell of your real private life provides a modicum of liberty; I heard defended cases of people turning away from friends so as to protect themselves (a paradoxical use of liberty). We all at the business lunch heard of the courage of the scientist and radical thinker, Priestley.

As in my first, my summaries of the papers are just part of the gist of what I heard: what I was able to take notes about and interested me. I enjoyed all the papers I heard very much and (as at Bethlehem), you’d think someone had my interests in mind. Then it was Burney; this time (for me) women seeking liberty as professionals, especially actresses as presented in their memoirs.

See the first report and the third.

So, in the later afternoon on Friday, we had our first plenary lecture: Jennifer L. Morgan in “‘Their Children shall be bound:’ Freedom and Family Life in New World Slavery.” Prof Morgan began by quoting Toni Morrison’s Beloved that marriages in slavery occurred in the darkness: it could not exist during the day. The slave trade turns enslaved people into commodities and black women disappear from the record. Women were treated brutally over and above their sexualized labor (for sex and to produce babies), enmeshed in systems of violence. The rhetoric justifying slavery claimed that African women were different from European: they had no pain in childbirth, could put their distended breasts behind their backs to feed a child while they were laboring in the fields; the purpose of their existence was to work and work hard, and mercilessly whipped to force this. She quoted someone who had written a description of family forcibly parted; showed us an Abolitionist image of the hold of a slave ship in the middle passage where one can see a slave women in a tiny space giving birth while she is shackled. There was a tradition in Africa of women doing hard agricultural work. She told of why African people sold others as slaves (you make more than when you farm); of the diseases African were and were not subject to; the difference in a life of rice versus cotton or tobacco cultivation

Despite all this black people were able to experience aspects of family life however checkered and anguished. Much of the lecture was taken up with showing whatever remnants are left of whatever kind of family life: slave owners wrote that one way to stop a man from revolting is to provide him with a wife, and there is much evidence enslaved parents cared intensely about their enslaved children; there are records of terrible punishments for women (working harder in fields, given worse jobs) when they try to cling to their children longer than allowed. This was a grim sobering talk about how slavery shaped and deformed slave families. I thought of speaking in the discussion afterwards of how George Calvert freed his slave family at Riverdale house and tried to provide for them, but I know these ameliorating sort of anecdotes because whites wrote them down.

An hour after the lecture, we had our reception of drinking and snacks at the Nittany Inn and then a banquet to which many people came. Suffice to say I enjoyed the talk with friends and acquaintances very much, especially some more women friends, Erliss, Sylvia and mingling with all sorts of people and the talk with yet others over dinner.

And then it was back to our room, some Riesling wine, books and bed.


Hester Thrale Piozzi (1741-1821) by Charles Dance (1793)

The next morning (Saturday) I went to two more sessions on professional women: these went beyond actresses to include novelists and letter-writers. Marilyn Francis’s paper on Hester Thrale Piozzi began the sequence. She began with the real problem that the definition of professional is not fixed in this era. Professionalism in the 16th century was defined as someone with a vocation; it has a religious sense as of one professing a faith. By 1784 it means someone engaged in a profession, someone with training and a skill; and by the end of the 18th century professionals were to be distinguished from amateurs in something of the 20th century way, but either word can be found used derogatorily. What do you do with a scientist like Caroline Herschel? Her paper was about women achieving professional status or recognition and respect for their kind of work (from writing to saloniere) even if we cannot see an outward recognizable shape in the sense of consecutive steps (and salary). Thus Sarah Fielding is a professional woman of letters if you study her life and work.

Marilyn felt, however, that Hester Thrale Piozzi represented someone unusual because she really commanded respect the way men who set standards do: say, Johnson with his dictionary, Reynolds with his Discourses of Art, Burney’s history of music. This, even if what she wrote was not conventionally recognizable as say a biography (her writing about Johnson is titled Anecdotes). Reviewers were unable to discuss her work according to their preconceived categories about genre, style, purpose, yet her content is liked. She was consistently writing, consistently inventing new genres and new criteria for genres. She existed in a liminal space between amateur and professional which allowed her to “take liberties” which were creative.

Gambling scene from Stanley Kubrick’s 1975 Barry Lyndon

Loring Pfeiffer discussed gambling in women and men’s plays, with Susannah Centlivre’s Basset Table and Gamester, Mary Pix’s Beau Defeated, and Colley Cibber’s Lady’s Last Stake providing her example texts. Gambling was wildly popular in the 18th century, and when written about the concern was over “depravity,” loss of money; Collier said it leveled class distinctions. It displayed wealth and seemed immoral. Many characters in the era’s plays gamble, especially women, e.g., Lady Townley in Vanbrugh and Cibber’s Provoked Husband. Gambling compromised women’s chastity, shows that women are not easy to control. In Cibber’s Lady’s Last Stake, Lady Gentle is challenged when payment is sex; that frightens her into reform. In Centlivre’s Basset Table, Lady Reveler does not repent, marries and does not stop gambling, carries on with life of pleasure. Mrs Sago steals from her merchant husband to fund her habit of gambling and Mr Sago is blamed for not controlling his wife. Similarly in Mary Pix’s Beau Defeated, the middle class female character, Mrs Rich, learns to eschew gambling. Ms Pfeiffer felt that those heroines who at the end of their plays still have access to money parallel Centlivre’s own financial success and independence.

In her paper on Elizabeth Farren (1759-1829), Nora Nachumi asked what enabled Elizabeth Farren to escape the calumny and sexualizing of actresses in the period so that Farren’s presentation of herself as chaste and not having sex with Lord Derby was believed. On 14 March 1799 Derby’s first wife died; April 8 Farren played her last role on the stage (Lady Teazle); May 2nd she married Derby and was fully accepted by his people and all others too. Very little survives in her letters; her story was told by others, including Memoirs of the present Countess of Derby, told by Petronius Arbiter, by Scriptor Veritatis; the work is snobbish and presents Farren as lady-like, innocent, not ambitious, but had integrity, good breeding — though when she was dying she did not support her family. In her theatrical career, she was willing to take lessons; she followed Mrs Abington with her own Lady Teazle; she separated herself from a woman architect who wanted to be her lover, Anne Seymour Damer. Farren worked very hard on her roles, and managed her career so that her identity was thought to be glimpsed in well-bred and lady-like characters. Nora thought Farren created for herself an artificial identity; she is a strong contrast to what we know and surmise about Georgiana Spencer, Countess of Devonshire. Derby got her the respectable friendship with Emily Fitzgerald, duchess of Leinster. She became friends with respectable actresses like Sarah Siddons and Elizabeth Inchbald. The “amateur” theatricals she mounted also added to her respectability.

Anne Seymour Damer (1748-1828) by Giuseppe Ceracchi

In the discussion afterward, Jessican Rickman’s Romance of Gambling was recommended. I rose to say that the definition of women as professional women of letters by virtue of making money, or a visible promoted career, or high postion would exclude many women today. On my Wompo listserv women poets and others have agreed with me and Paula Backscheider in her book on women’s poetry in the 18th century that one has to define a woman poet by asking if this is truly her vocation, the way she spends her time, not if she makes money by it, how much publication she has or if she is on some ladder of promotion in an institution. The label “professional” is still a sore one since most women today are not able to encompass all of these categories. So-called poet models include Emily Dickinson, Christina Rossetti. Someone suggested maybe we had to look at women in different genres differently. Perhaps.

I only briefly suggested this to the larger group, but I was struck in the two sessions thus far on how hard most of the women’s lives were and how rarely a happy older life (when the woman aged). Those who escaped to marriage or got some permanent funding or land through a man or family were able to be stable and seemingly contented. Some exceptions among those mentioned at the sessions include Elizabeth Inchbald who supported her family — though she did destroy her memoirs and it seems was under the thumb of priests. I did notice too there seemed to be a pattern among the successful women of dropping beloved or close women friends or family members or just associates who seemed to give the writer, actress a real or meaningful relationship of her life. There was overt pressure from others to drop these women (like Derby pressured Farren to drop Damer). It puts me in mind of Charlotte Lucas who has to distance herself from Elizabeth quite tangibly to be safe.

On gambling, I thought of how Louise d’Epinay’s Montbrillant, Georgiana Spencer’s Sylph, and Edgeworth’s Leonora all contain stories of husbands bullying (menacing, threatening, physically forcing in the case of Montbrillant) their wives (the book’s heroine) to have sex with a man the husband owes money to. To be sure, Leonora (Austen’s Lady Susan was modelled on her perhaps or just such another type) doesn’t really mind. Also that George Sand’s Lelia is about a woman who recklessly and pleasurably engaged in gambling and sex. She was excoriated for it to the point that afterward she ceased writing openly heroine’s texts, and put males at the center of her stories. I told this to Loring Pfeiffer though she was not interested. perhaps because these are novels. What I liked about Sand’s was the heroine was having a deeply alive time.


The second session of papers on professional women began with Jan Stahl’s paper on Mary Davys’ The Reform’d Coquet. Jan said that Davys’ problem was she wanted to present and critique male violence, and yet not lose her own reputation for chastity and virtue because she wanted to continue to write for money and for the respect her friends showed her when she produced her books. Davys also produces a novel where the heroine learns lessons from her guardian and her reward is marriage to the hero; here, though the apparently major story is blended into one that seems to count more than the central one: the heroine’s friend is raped and nearly murdered, and the two women characters have a homoerotic relationship important to them. Davys allows them to engage in role-playing in ways unusual for women characters. It’s a novel which presents itself as about the education of the central characters, but this is a sort of outward disguise.

Mary Robinson (1757-1800) by George Romney

Lisa Wilson presented a long talk on Robinson from a book history perspective: the thrust was that the way Robinson’s books were packaged (paratexts, illustrations, what was said about her life) were all calculated to make Robinson into a respectable poet and woman of letters (they resemble aspects of Accademia della Crusca poetry books). Prof Wilson divided Robinson’s life into 3 careers: 1) amateur writing of poetry, stage acting; 2) mistress of George IV (a short career); and 3) a return to poetry, novels, memoirs. Wilson said she used the recognizable identity of the woman poet of genius; she claimed sensibility, artlessness. (It seemed Prof Wilson didn’t care Robinson’s poignant senusual poetry much; she never discussed any of Robinson’s poetry as poetry.) John Bell had a long career of publishing well-made books of find literature, and his accepting, recognizing and helping Robinson when others rejected her makes him an appealing figure.

Elizabeth Hamilton (1756-1816) by Henry Raeburn

The last of these papers on professional women that I heard was Temma Berg’s “Becoming a Professional Woman: the Career of Elizabeth Hamilton.” The session was running out of time and Temma had to cut short her paper unfortunately. Temma set two of her novels, The Letters of a Hindoo Rajah (1796, where she pretends she’s a translator), and Memoirs of Modern Philosophers (1800) in the context of Hamilton’s life, her brother’s early death and other literary texts where political stances were debated. Temma said that Hamilton wanted to present herself as on the side of reform in these books, but that the reform is not a radical one; women need and want to be lovers, mothers, wives, mistresses, a helpful aide. She partly wrote Hindoo Rajah to solace herself after her brother died. I liked the relativity of the novels’ structures, their tone, their kindness (at least as described by Temma). They do have strongly anti-Jacobin elements and one anti-feminist caricature: Bridgetina, through whom she makes fun of herself. Temma felt these books are post-modern, register an experience of post-modern self-reflexive learning, of alienation.

The discussion afterward had to be short, and most of the questions were addressed to Lisa Wilson about book sales in the era.


Two more events to record. During the business lunch, Lisa Rosner gave a splendid lecture on Joseph Priestley (1733-1804), radical thinker, scientist, land- and library owner. It was great fun to see her do some of these experiment sin front of us; she had an attractive power-point presentation of images of Priestley, his books, his home, his experiments. Lisa began with Priestley’s political and educational work and issues; later her discourse on his experiments (some shown to us), and, finally, briefly, her later sad years. After the lunch for Roy Wolpert, a small group went with Christine Clark-Evans, who teaches at this conference, and together with Linda Merians (the society’s central organizer), she made this conference happen and have all the lovely events we did. Well she took us to the Paterno Library where we saw spread out on tables, rare precious books from the 18th century. Christine performed the function of curator herself. I could see what a rich place Penn State is for a scholar, and enjoyed looking over the separate volumes on the tables, hearing their stories (as it were).

While we were there, the scandal over the exploitation and sexual abuse of boys by one of the lead coaches at Penn State was beginning to saturate the newspapers. Ironically, this is a story of thwarted and exploited liberty too: of how the trust others had in these men to give them free access to these boys (a kind of liberty) was abused. Other similarly trusted and powerful people allowed one man directly to hurt the boys seeking success and promotion (he raped them), of how other people, his colleagues and other boys allowed this to happen rather than risk their careers, the reputation of Penn State, and the income football generated, of how norms of masculinity and heterosexual sexuality twist, limit, and direct and enslave children and adults (see links in comment).

My last and third blog covers a session and lecture later in the afternoon (on Thomson’s The Seasons, and then on Joseph Boulogne, Le Chevalier de St George, known sometimes as “the black Mozart”), and two of Sunday’s presentations: Did Aphra Behn write the short fiction and Letters between a Noble-man and His sister? Edgeworth’s Leonora as an epistolary novel of Continental sensibilities?


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The excavation of Herculaneum, 18th century print

He no longer saw the face of his friend Siddhartha. Instead he saw other faces, many faces, a long series, a continuous stream of faces – hundreds, thousands, which all came and disappeared and yet all seemed to be there at the same time, which all continually changed and renewed themselves and which were yet all Siddhartha . . . He saw the face of a fish, of a carp, with tremendous painfully opened mouth, a dying fish with dimmed eyes. He saw the face of a newly born child, red and full of wrinkles, ready to cry . . .He saw all these forms and faces in a thousand relationships to each other, all helping each other, loving, hating and destroying each other and become newly born. Each one was mortal, a passionate, painful example of all that is transitory. Yet none of them died, they only changed, were always reborn, continually had a new face: only time stood between one face and another (quoted by Olson [p. 238], from Hesse’s Siddharta)

Dear friends and readers,

I’ve been meaning for several (!) years to make sense of my lecture notes on Steve Olson’s important Mapping Human History, old subtitle: Genes, Race, and Our Common Origins, new subtitle: Discovering the Past Through our Genes. Recipient of an award as “Best Science Book of the Year” (by Discover), it’s been reprinted at least twice, and is an important book because it is a popularization. Linda Vigilant reviewed it favorably, “Moving and Mixing,” Science, New Series, 297 (August 2002):775.


Mitrochondrial DNA

Steve Olson means to replace myth with scientifically found realities and documents to understand how we come to look the way we do, live the way we do, live where we do. His story is intertwined with cases based on the scientific method. His sources are centraally genetic studies of people today, archaeology, geology, linguistics; then fossils, digs, and written history. Animal studies too: Leakey, Goodall, Fosse, Gildikas (gorillas, orangutangs and chimpanzees). We are on a branch of a candelebra, a fourth primate (pp. 19-20).

Olson’s a brave book; he wants to get us talking about what people avoid talking about but what skews and poisons our world today. He will tell story of how a small group of anatomically modern humans (us) emerged in Northeast Africa, and how they moved into the Middle East, across to Australia; moved up into Europe; how they also made their way down the Americas (pp. 2-5)

We used to be dependent solely on archaeology and extrapolations out of Darwin’s theory of natural selection; now we have the DNA record to study, our genes. Problem is people can attribute to labels they get about their ethnic group an intense importance.

First of all is there a genetic base for race? This question is made difficult to answer because of all the baggage that surrounds it. People fear discussing it thinking it could lead to harmful discrimination. The truth is the discrimination is already there. It’s Olson’s argument that silence doesn’t help. Research shows that human groups are closely interrelated in all but superficial ways and our cultural differences do not come from biology but history (pp. 5-6).

It’s his strategy to demonstrate that there is no genetic base for race; that the salient features we pay attention to are tiny and not very important (texture of hair for example, color of eye). All the people on the earth have mitochondria which can be traced back to a single woman living about 150 to 200,000 years ago in Northeastern Africa.

Race not a useful category. A group of nucleotides on several chromosomes responsible for the physical features people make so much of (hair quality, skin color, noses); these form types called haplogroups; artificial and small, but systems of power, wealth, prestige built out of these today. Hierarchies have no basis.

All of us can trace back to one recent common ancestor. Important to remember that she was not the only woman alive; there were others. If we trace our mitochondria back she is our most recent common ancestor with respect to matrilineal descent in a central fueling of the way our cells work. People may look different, but the genetic basis of our functioning, everything central and basic about is is the same.

We look different because of sequences of nucleotides on some of our chromosomes; these sequences are called haplotypes and peoples who have them are in the same haplogroups or races (pp. 34-35).

Darwin in a nutshell (p 41), first full paragraph. By chance a gene mutates and produces a tiny change in genes or chromosome; most of the time it is meaningless; once in a while the mutation is lethal (miscarriage, which is common) but occasionally useful. That trait is carried on and after a while becomes one of the salient expected characteristics of a group. Better word for it is local adaptation. We as humans have been practicing artificial selection for thousands of years — to make specific breeds of horses, of flowers, of fruits, of dogs. Well natural forces do this too. Natural forces do not favor individuals; over course of time produce different species.

Three large categories in among native born US citizens: Asian-Americans, European-Americans, and African-Americans.

IBig story: lots of sex (p. 6). We have to be careful with this information as it can be used for cruelty and cause suffering.

One chapter of Olson’s book is on the development of languages. He discusses 19 Major Languages which correspond to areas and migrations of people across the earth; that’s what our hour long NOVA film will about. The theories behind what we study in language are speculative but they reinforce and substantiate what the archeological and historical records tell us.


Chapter One: End of Evolution — for now. The earth has remained more or less the same for a long time; it’s changes in our atmosphere that might force changes in us (p 11).

Opens up with going over the basics through telling the story of Bushmen of Africa. Bushman have endured much prejudice. Groups of people use many factors to justify their systems of privilege and power: one of these is visual; it is by no means the only one. Power comes from technology as well as cultural development of group and its aggression, individuals in given niches networking with others: so class which includes access to education and jobs ad today control of public media, and money are central too.

Studying genetics of today’s human beings in conjunction with archaeology, geology, astronomy, chemistry enables us to outline a general history of the human species before we began to write.

At one point Olsen uses a neat metaphor of human beings as a pack of cards as in Alice in Wonderland (p 38). Homo sapiens emerged once (like all species) again — where we turn up alas other species around us become extinct and we begin to take over. In Africa; the species of homo we represent was finally successful against the others (neandertals and homo erectus were around coterminously — without a margin of say 50,000 years we find fossils and DNA evidence) and spread. He tells you to imagine a pack of cards, and the 6s, 7, and 8s left across Asia; a little later another group of cards, maybe new variants after they left of 2s,, 3s and 4s traveled upward into the Mediterranean and further north. But they didn’t just fan out; they fanned back; they went all around, and they endlessly repeatedly mated. They did not set forth as in an expedition, but moved planlessly living by foraging and hunting.

Common pictures in textbooks misleading (p. 19. pp. 20-21) Imagine an upside down candelabra, chandelier. Really a continual branching off.

Neodarwinism: correction of Darwin: punctuated equilibrium (p. 21). Newer species come from rich center. Various mechanisms inhibit free procreation: geography the main one, p. 22. In more recent times social norms keep peoples apart but not that much

Theory first broached in 1930s by Louis Leakey and his associated; Richard Leakey, his son, in 1967, discovered oldest known fossil in Ethiopia, p. 23. 130,000 years ago. But not until geneticists got into the act was there more persuasive demonstrable scientific or concrete evidence for us being one family which came out of Africa (p 4). 7,500 generations (Put on board row of women’s name and stress how those who have children have their mitrochondria die out.

Mitochondrial Eve and Y chromosome Adam. If a man doesn’t have sons, his Y chromosomes die with him. My husband has no sons; his Y chromosomes will die with him. My father had no sons. You can do arithmetic to get number down to 86,000 individuals are source in a candelabra (p. 27). Do you want your Y chromosome to carry on or your specific chemistry in your mitochondrial DNA; put that way such impulses seem silly

This is a book which attempts in ordinary and common sense language to introduce the reader to the latest developments in an exciting area of science which impinges on our world and self-images today. Olsen is a commercially successful science writer.

Harder concepts in Chapter one: A. Mitochondrial DNA, fuel of cells which does not combine with others, inherited directly (p. 24-25). You trace this mitochondria. Men inherit a Y chromosome that women don’t; it does not combine so they trace that back in men (pp 26-27). Coalescence ia tracing back lines through previous ancestors.


A segregated bus-stop

Chapter Two begins as several of the chapters do with the story of someone or a place (Stonehenge) or a puzzle (a fossil found which doesn’t make sense because it’s not supposed to be there). Here we have someone whose life has been maimed and shaped by human attitudes towards phenotypes (p. 32).

Chapters begin with a story, a character, an incident, an evocation description, a puzzle. Three begins with description of diversity in Washington DC (p 54). Chapter Four begins archaeology proper with a dig at Skhul near where both neandertals and homo sapiens remains found were (p 73), Chapter 5 (p. 90) opens on Jericho. DC remarkably diverse.

From talking of diversity he moves to how genetic differences remain localized in groups (p 33): mating is not at random; not only geography and migrations, but idea that some physical features are preferable to others. Practices excluding people. Sometimes sexual salient characteristics can get out of hand: antlers on deers are dangerous; male peacocks would be better off without that fan

How mutation changes in nucleotide sequence appear and spread. Most of the time they go nowhere (p. 36) You can study these mutations for genetic and migration history.

Point of chapter is groupings are result of culture not biology. Write that on board. They are continually mixing nonetheless. We are connected tightly to the past (pp. 47ff), but people who trace genealogy to find kings and queens or other individuals in their genealogical past are absurd. Your great-great-great grandmother was someone else’s great-great-great cousin, once removed. Key is there were far fewer people at one time; sudden exponential growth of people (pp 44-46)

Second part of chapter on immediate history of African, diaspora there, and some cultural legacies; movements of 3 groups of peoples: Bushmen, the Forest Dwellers, Central Africans also called Bantu speakers.


Group of DC students photographed off campus

Chapter Three. African Diaspora and Genetic Unity: same idea now brought out in specifics studying mutations (p 54).

Opens on diversity in DC and says given continual movements of people, the strength of racial prejudice perplexing. People moved between continents a great deal once trade routes and slavery particularly developed.

They have no scientific basis. I see it as rationales for power and fear. Set up elaborate systems of control and privilege is the way Olson puts it at the close of the chapter (p 69).

History of slavery: back to beginnings of recorded history (so too pressing for armies, exploitation of women, demands for infanticide in subsidence tribes). Why did Africa became central place for taking people into slavery (p 57): people could make more money selling someone than farming. Diaspora of Africans comes from slavery routes.

Olson does use muffled language: “momentum difficult to reverse” (p 57). Medley of of peoples in middle east and “old world,” where slavery strong until mid 19th century social habits and customs insisted on separation (p 60).
Laws against intermarriage continued in the south until 1960s.

He takes up issue of IQ. Intelligence has many complicated sources: interaction of many genes and of environment. Not a straight inheritance like color of eyes. No single mechanism (p. 64). Goes back to environment and evidence shows this (p 62)

Genetic history of group the result of the dangers of the places they lived in: these insect and bacteria, viruses are deadly (pp. 65-69). Why sickle cell anemia spread, Tay Sachs disease. The mutation which protected you from malaria also comes with a deformed cell that left you susceptible to anemia.

Africans homeland of all people had greater variety. Searches back to origin of one mututation, BRCA1. Much of this comes from mathematical computers studies using information fed in from people living today.


Neandertal skull

Chapter Four. Encounters with Others and Agriculture, Civilization and Emergence of ethnicity (p 75). Very important changes happened when human being settled down to cultivate land.

Encounters with the Other a strong chapter: on neandertals and how they lived in the same spot as homo sapiens within 45000 year period (p 73). Find in skhul and examination suggests that neanderthals occupied a single site before and after homo sapiens (p 74)

Many questions: how are they related? what were their interactions? DNA mitochondrial study suggests no current human beings have any Neandertal ancestors. Genetically separate; no interbreeding which lead to reproduction. He says this a mystery (p. 83). Animals from different species can mate; in some cases the offspring not fertile.

A great book on the subject listed in bibliography: Trinkaus, Erik and Pat Shipman. The Neandertals: Changing the Image of Mankind. Olson trying to cover a lot tells what he can. Complaints of reviewers were he is superficial, but he is writing for common reader who he assumes knows little. He is a popularizer, a condenser. Important role for writer.

B. History of what we know about Neanderthals: 1856 quarry. Much found out as soon as we begin to have a theory to look for it. Before Darwin. Others working on the same area at the same time (p 76). Kring” super-delicate studies of DNA from, Neanderthal (p 80). DNA from ancient fossils of moderns similar to DNA of people today, much closer than to neanderthal presumed living in same era.

We are different species from them (p 83)

Why did we replace them? The usual hypothesis is we more more cunning. They had bigger brains than us; they buried their dead. No sense of different life style going on. Records left by homo sapiens show they used symbols: they drew; when they travel they leave tools behind; we think they talked, developed language (pp. 68-88).

Slow development of language is what he suggests with other social networks. Language then creates consciousness and then you can remember more easily, and teach something you know; people inherit culture. He doesn’t emphasize this enough: people inherit culture. You and I don’t know how to build buildings, but we grow up in an environment where over thousands of years others have learned and they pass this knowledge on. Birds can’t do that. Dogs can’t.



Chapter Five. Agriculture, Civilization, Emergence of Ethnic groups (p 90). In this chapter he begins with a place: modern day Jericho. Under a pile of rubble is the evidence of an ancient city; there was a siege (typical kind of warfare until the mid-19th century) which was recorded in mythic stories in the Bible (p. 91)

Since then there have been shown to be gaps in the record which suggest the history of the Jews in Jerusalem in the Bible may be fundamentally untrue — if so, let us hope it does not get abroad. It hasn’t much. Digging the Dirt by Jennifer Wallace.

He uses this as an opportunity to discuss the development of agricultural ways of life, and this leads to an explanation of tribal relationships, loyalties and cohorts. Hunter gatherers organize themselves into bands (a few closely related families, 10 to 50 people); bands organize themselves into larger units particularly when they stay still: called tribes. Several hundred members. People married within their tribe. It was at this time the physical differences between haplogroups arose (p. 95).

B. Kathleen Kenyon’s work (p 96).

Around 12,000 people began to farm (P. 96): stay still you acquire more stuff (p 96). It’s a harder way of life. Requires discipline, planning, daily work, but it can support more people in expected comfort. Why did this happen? Arose independently in each region. Can be seen in different plant life (artificial selection), different crops.

Lots of reasons obvious to us (I hope) but population growth was a factor, the end of the Ice Age coincides; greater social complexity emerges. Occurred independently in different places — it seems to me places conducive to agriculture like the Mediterranean basin. Also arose in more difficult to farm areas, but not the really hard ones — down in the arctic, in the desert (Australia and Africa are places with huge major deserts).

More DNA created; society becomes diverse groups doing different tasks. More cooperation, and more wars. Also more diseases (pp. 100-5).

We see cities and begin to recognize worlds not that different from our own: lacking our strong technological base.

At end of chapter he demonstrates that ethnic groups are larger than tribes once were, but analogous. Writing emerges; population grows. Ties to larger institutions, create allegiance by metaphor: king is father of group. Ethnic groups are not biological; they are cultural.

Greater social complexity and diverse narrow roles is what makes for what we call sophisticated civilization (p 104). Meanwhile people maintain ties with family group and small bands and tribes within bigger group.


Chapter Seven. The Great Migration (by water) To Asia and Beyond (p 123). Asia and Australia: Middle East and Europeans Begins with a little anecdote. Bones in Tarim Basin, China. People with European features in long-established communities. Causes great controversy (p 124-2)5

In this chapter we find is great mixture of Asian and European genetic heritage in this part of China. A Mixing of haplotypes. Story of Li Jin (p. 126). Nationalists enlisting pseudo-science to justify their aims (p. 130).

If there are people with European features, that means ultimately an African heritage. Asian population does not want to believe this. Much preferable to think they came from Peking man, a homo erectus fossil found in Beijing. Erect a myth around it. People who publicly present different information at risk of losing job; even in some countries, going to prison.

Many scientists stick to older myths because it’s more convenient (furthers their careers) (p 130). Some northern Chinese people don’t want to hear they are descended from some group of people they consider inferior to themselves.

Evidence suggests that from coast of Yemen humankind spread out (p 127). Water-born migration. Expansion over many generations (p 128). From Australia spread again, p 129. Water was central way of travel in early Modern Europe (many records at that time); leaves no evidence.

About 65,000 years ago a number of huge Australian animals became extinct: sure evidence of our presence. Are aborigines or other Australians different: no. Same DNA as is found in other peoples in Asia (p 130) What about bones in and across Asia: again the same DNA (p. 131).

Why did people slowly move: weather, technological change, internal pressures. Local struggles for pre-eminence within a group. Hunting and gatherine (mostly gathering) keeps people on the move for food.

He provides maps (p 135). Genetic heritage of groups of people from Yemen to New Guinea shows African heritage.


Stonehenge; early 19th century sketch by John Constable

Chapter Nine: Who are the Europeans (p 157). egins with Stonehenge. Very ancient and built before Druids at the time the trauma of switching from hunting and gathering to farming. Neolithic monument.

Modern humans living in Europe for almost 35,000 years. Neandertal had been there before. New comers had much better tools and art (p. 160). Why did they develop technology that was elaborate? One of Europe’s advantages is mild climate and good soil. Forests, plains, animals, good for agriculture. Terrain divides people so nations develop (p 161)

Digression. Where does term Caucasian come from? Why are people of European genetic heritage called Caucasian in the older racial categories. Why name this large haplogroup (to use the modern term) after a small mountain range
straddling Europe and Georgia? From Stephen Jay Gould, “The Geometer of Race,” published in Discover (November 1994), 65-69, explains why.

The label was invented by Johann Friedrich Blumenbach, a German enlightenment professor (referred to later in the book) A section of his doctoral dissertation to the medical faculty of Gottingen in 1775. Blumenbach’s way of dividing humanity followed Linnaeus’s categories, but in a way that ranked the groups of humanity. Linnaeus had divided human beings into four categories based on geography so there was Europeus, Asiaticus, Americanus, and Afer. He did not rank one physical type of person and their culture above another — though the way he described the different peoples did implicitly value the Europeus above the others.

The term “Caucasian” came from his idea that all humanity first emerged from this part of central Europe and as people spread out through climate, geography, and change of culture they evolved into different looks. Ancient bones were found there at the time (as they have been found since recorded time). He lived near that area.

Gould stresses that although Blumenbach’s taxonomy has been used for racist purposes, Blumenbach was himself someone who worked for the abolition of slavery and, unlike other scientists of this and later periods, did not think that the different race of mankind were fundamentally different or created at different times. Blumenbach was one of those scientists who argued for the fundamental unity of mankind. He wrote that he regarded the aesthetics he turned to as superficial; but he did use such categories and he also characterized the cultures of the different peoples with terms that (like Linnaeus) valued one over the other, and what he wrote was taken over and used invidiously.

Blumenbach’s nomenclature was very influential as his book was among the first in a period when not much published and intellectual world small: from his treatise we also get the terms Mongolian (for Asian people), Ethiopian (for African), Malaysian (for South Pacific).

The crisis of the ice age 29,000 years ago; people retreated to warmer areas, (p 162). Crowded. They returned and could not survive on hunting and gathering so turned to farming gradually.

Olson comes to Luca Cavalli Sforza: central figure in this story. A professor of genetics at Stanford University. He originally studied medicine (so did Darwin). Began again with bacterial genetics. He studied genetic drift in small population using parish records in Ital (p 165). He studied blood groups and sequences of nucleotides in this small area.

Blood type is a significant marker. I have A positive blood, very common for Slavish people; both of my daughters have the same (I know this from stays in hospital). So despite how I may look or my name I’m not western European (or Anglo) but Eastern European; I don’t know anything about my mitochondrial DNA but since it comes from my mother who is Jewish and I know a little of her family’s history (very late 19th century) I can say I also have recent Middle Eastern heritage.

My husband who you saw here has type 0 positive blood. Very common Western European; majority of people in British Isles have type 0 positive blood. Sailor background. Back to Celts. But will have come from Middle Eastern migration originally, just much longer ago.

One small group not enough. Cavalli-Sforza Widened out to Europe where protein data was more complete and he could get access (p 166). At first the reaction negative: no one likes new ideas much. What happened was later more sophisticated testing of mitochondrial DNA and further development of testing of archaeological and genetic evidence proved Cavalli-Sforza’s theory (more or less.

People also studying agricultural history, patterns of transmission. Agriculture the result of migrating peoples not migrating ideas. p. 169. Developed independently in different areas. Vast stone edifices came from complex social organizations which formed during farming. Farming triggered an immense social transformation (p. 171). People now changing their environment seriously. Nowadays we have vast cities.

While Cavalli Sforza doing his studies in Italy, in California, the mitochondrial and Y chromosome studies developed. Stanley Cohen and Herman Boyer. Every European can trace his or her mitochondrial DNA or Y chromosome to a pre-agricultural hunter-gatherer in middle east. Mixing is rule not exception. They look at tiny locations on Y chromosome — which also does not combine


Clovis points

Chapter Eleven: The settlement of The Americas. A controversial topic. Written records start somewhat later than those for Easten hemisphere. Less to go on. It also involves telling truths about groups of people who were mostly exterminated or badly abused and exploited (native people, mistakenly called Indians by Columbus).

B. He begins with Kennewick Man’s great antiquity. European features. Not only do people not want to know. They don’t want to know for reasons that go beyond pride and “false consciousness:” medical records, can and will be used against them. This information will not be used for their benefit.

Back to ideas of ownership. Then again who owns a particular corpse? What is this idea that a particular group of people alive today own some ancient keleton? If this particular group of people have the same DNA as that skelton, it seems that it’s an organization with its
particular members who are acting on “their” behalf. But are they?

Consider how the laws of burying people give funeral parlors great power over nuclear families. In this case the laws have been made by people protecting the funeral industry and various church hierarchies.

Theories. Three large families of languages encourage notion of three waves of migration. In this case study of language intersects with study of archealogy and DNA and genetic evidence. Basically we have successive waves of Asian immigrants; the question is when. Recent evidence suggests that people were in the Western Hemisphere well before the appearance of Clovis points (leaf-shaped arrowhead with concave base) (p. 199).

Notion of crossing Siberia very old: goes back to 1589 (p 195). Problem is there is little evidence besides these Clovis points to trace (p 197).

So again we turn to DNA, mitochondrial DNA and look at language groups (p 197) and map (p. 145). A three wave model emerges (also from studying teeth) but there are problems. Earlier studies in 1930s: by Douglas Wallace who was, as many do, studying for pragmatic reasons: looking for cures for diseases (pp. 200-201). He did find distinct patterns in people’s mutations, p 201 Mitochondrial Haplogroup X seems to descend from a much older group of Europeans, p. 203, not modern one (myths about Lief Erickson when I was young) but ancient, thousands of years ago.

Bizarre hypotheses: people from another plant, p 204.

Perhaps there was a much earlier pathway, one which lasted some 5,000 years (p 205). Note you need a long time because we are talking about aimless wandering here. It seems to me there were a number of migrations from different areas of Asia.

When we study scientific evidence, it doesn’t help social problems very much, (p 207, Feynman says the same). Important point: our genetic connectedness, the terrible history of group oppressions and exploitations still going on today cannot be addressed honesty without beginning with the realities insofar as we can find them out.

Root cause is money and class: but money and class are erected and justified on ethnicities, race, and gender.

DNA molecule

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