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The “Women And Children” I’m Not Protecting

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Dateline: Tuesday. Confidential to the woman who exited the grocery store ahead of me:

 Dear Multiple-Scented One,
Unless you began your day by bathing in the effluence of unaltered male ferret musk, dried off by rolling in a pile of festering, freeze-dried lutefisk, then gargled with a puree of 50 raw garlic cloves before heading out to your day’s errands, your body’s unmasked odors could not possibly have been worse than the plethora of perfumed potions with which you doused yourself, thus fumigating every public space you visited.
Please, for the sake of the ozone (and the mucous membranes of my nostrils and lungs), consider going au natural when it comes to the fragrances.

*   *   *

Department of Veteran’s Day Reflections

Dateline: Monday, 1-11-19. I made a spur of the moment decision to see the movie “Midway,” to mark Veteran’s Day.  Moiself left the theater feeling rather pensive, thinking about a trope I’d grown up with (although of course it wasn’t called that at the time) which was often used as a justification for war or as a motto to inspire our military’s fighting men:

We Must Protect The Women And Children.

One of the reasons cited for excluding women from the military and/or serving in combat (“the front lines”) was that the Women and Children ® must be protected. (We now know that, throughout history, women *have*served in the front lines and in combat – just not “officially” as in, getting credit – or in some cases, permission – for doing so).

Here’s the thing: those vaunted women and children supposedly being protected by the menfolk?  In any and every war, civilian/non-combat-related casualties have always outnumbered military casualties.  [1]  And during wartime the civilian population is largely – altogether now – women and children.  When I was a young girl I remember thinking, whenever I read or heard stories of war, that I’d rather have the opportunity to fight if my country or village came under attack, rather than passively die in a bombing raid or via disease or starvation or any other of the many ways that civilians being “protected” die during wartime.

 

 

In WWII, Admiral Doolittle‘s raid on Tokyo shattered the Japanese Imperial Army’s notions that their revered capital city was impenetrable.  Doolittle and the 79 other B-25 bombers/flight crew members did not have enough fuel to return to the aircraft carrier from which they’d launched; thus, they deliberately glided as far as possible after their fuel ran out and (crash) landed on the (Japanese-military-occupied) Chinese mainland.   [2]   Sixty-nine of the airmen, including Doolittle, escaped capture or death, many due to being helped by Chinese civilians.

In retaliation for the Tokyo raid and the help offered by the Chinese to the American airmen, the Japanese military occupied, ravaged and then torched many Chinese cities and villages, killing over 250,000 – yes, a quarter of a million –  civilians:

“(An American missionary) observed the result of a Japanese attack on Ihwang:
“They shot any man, woman, child, cow, hog, or just about anything that moved, They raped any woman from the ages of 10 – 65, and before burning the town they thoroughly looted it…. the humans shot were…left…on the ground to rot, along with hogs and cows.”
The Japanese marched into the walled city of Nancheng…beginning a reign of terror so horrendous that missionaries would later dub it “the Rape of Nancheng.” …
Over the summer, Japanese soldiers laid waste to some 20,000 square miles….
(Civilians who were suspected) to have helped the Doolittle raiders were tortured…. soldiers forced (civilians) who had fed (Doolittle’s airmen) to eat feces before lining up ten of them for a “bullet contest” to see how many people a single bullet would pass through before it stopped. In Ihwang, (a man) who had welcomed an injured American pilot into his home, was wrapped in a blanket, tied to a chair and soaked in kerosene. Then soldiers forced his wife to torch him.”
(Excerpts from “The Untold Story of the Vengeful Japanese Attack
After the Doolittle Raid,”  Smithsonian.com )

Give me a death on the battlefield any day, over that.

 

( “Women in the American Revolution,” from American Battlefield Trust )

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Department Of Another Fitting Movie For Veterans Day

Do you know who was the first woman to lead an armed expedition during the Civil War? Go see the movie about the amazing freedom fighter/escaped-slave-turned-abolitionist,  Harriet Tubman, if you haven’t already.  Or read up/refresh yourself on her story…on second thought, don’t be content with just that.  It’s a really good movie. Then ask yourself why is Harriet Tubman’s name and image not on all of our currency?

 

 

Harriet, the movie, is directed/co-written by actor/director/screenwriter Kasi Lemmons.   Cinema buffs may know Lemmons for giving us the luminous Eve’s Bayou, and also for playing Ardelia, Clarice’s fellow FBI special agent, in The Silence of the Lambs.

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Department of Epicurean Excursion   [3]

Featuring this week’s cookbook, author and recipe:

The Moosewood Restaurant Cooks at Home, by The Moosewood Collective
Recipe:  Tunisian Vegetable Stew

My rating:

☼ ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼

Recipe Rating Refresher    [4]     

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Department Of Well Duh

“…(a computer scientist) describes how he examined cloud-computing services from Google and Amazon Web Services that help other businesses add language skills into new applications. Both services failed to recognize the word ‘hers’ as a pronoun, though they correctly identified ‘his.’ ”

 

 

Something that should come as no surprise, but still is disheartening to consider: The process of “training” AI (Artificial Intelligence) devices  to know what we know – e.g., by having them scan/download the sum of human writings, both fiction and non-fiction – will also imbue said devices with our historical and cultural biases, thus fostering the continuation – even propagation –  of prejudices and preconceptions.

“….while researching a book on artificial intelligence, computer scientist Robert Munro fed 100 English words into BERT (Google’s new AI language algorithm): “jewelry,” “horses,” “house,” “money,” “action.” In 99 cases out of 100, BERT    [5] was more likely to associate the words with men rather than women. The word “mom” was the outlier.

“This is the same historical inequity we have always seen,” said Dr. Munro…
Now, with something like BERT, this bias can continue to perpetuate.”

And if that doesn’t depress you enough, these biases – surprise! (read: not) extend toward cultural and ethnic discrimination (my emphases):

Researchers have long warned of bias in A.I. that learns from large-amounts-data, including the facial recognition systems that are used by police departments and other government agencies as well as popular internet services from tech giants like Google and Facebook.
In 2015, for example, the Google Photos app was caught labeling African-Americans as “gorillas.” The services Dr. Munro scrutinized also showed bias against women and people of color.


BERT and similar systems are far more complex — too complex for anyone to predict what they will ultimately do.
Even the people building these systems don’t understand how they are behaving,” said Emily Bender, a professor at the University of Washington who specializes in computational linguistics.

( All excerpts from, “We Teach A.I. Systems Everything, Including Our Biases:
Researchers say computer systems are learning from lots and lots of digitized books and news articles that could bake old attitudes into new technology.”  NY Times, 11-12-19 )

“What Brave New World shit is this?”

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Department Of Ok, That Was Depressing…Back To The Movies

The Cinematic Count So Far

As mentioned previously in this space, in the past few years I have vowed to see at least one movie per week in an actual movie theater. In 2019, with 7.5 weeks to go, my movie count is 47. From Welcome to Marwen (early January) to the most recent, Pain and Glory, my favorites of the bunch include:

On the Basis of Sex; If Beale Street Could Talk; Captain Marvel; Us; The Aftermath; Hotel Mumbai; Booksmart; Late Nite; Once Upon a Time In Hollywood; The Farewell; Blinded by the Light; Ad Astra; JoJo Rabbit; Harriet; Parasite; Pain and Glory.

My walk-out count (i.e. movies moiself walked out of, due to a combination of disgust/boredom) is, fortunately, only two:  What Men Want, and Little.

Winner of Best Speculative Review Before Having Seen The Movie:  why, that would be moiself, when son K told me he was off to see Lighthouse with a friend.  I make it a point to never read a review of a movie before I see it; I do see a lot of movie trailers because I’m in a movie theater every week.  I’d seen one preview for Lighthouse, which gave away next-to-nothing about the plot and made me skeptical as to whether or not I wanted to see it.  [6]  Before K left for the theater he asked if Lighthouse was on my must-see list.

MoiselfI dunno, it’s, what – a movie about two men in an isolated lighthouse?  So, 90 minutes of masturbation and farting and snoring and peeing and pooping and arguing…?

K’s first comment to me when he returned from the theater:
HOW DID YOU KNOW ?!?!?

*   *   *

May you realize that artificial intelligence can never override natural stupidity;
May you and yours never have to bear the label, civilian casualty;
May y’all see at least one movie a week before the year’s end;
…and may the hijinks ensue.

Thanks for stopping by.  Au Vendredi!

*   *   *

[1] In the cases where a country is invaded.  Our country’s most recent wars have not been fought on/in our country; rather, we’ve shipped our fighting overseas.

[2] Sixteen B-25s launched; 15 crashed in China, and one made it to Russian territory.

[3] A recurring feature of this blog, since week 2 of April 2019, wherein moiself decided that moiself would go through my cookbooks alphabetically and, one day a week, cook (at least) one recipe from one book.

[4]

* Two Thumbs up:  Liked it

* Two Hamster Thumbs Up :  Loved it

* Thumbs Down – Not even Kevin, a character from The Office who would eat anything, would like this.  

* Twiddling Thumbs: I was, in due course, bored by this recipe.

* Thumbscrew: It was torture to make this recipe.

* All Thumbs: Good recipe, but I somehow mucked it up .

* Thumby McThumb Face: This recipe was fun to make.

* Thumbing my nose: Yeah, I made this recipe, but I did not respect it.

[5] BERT (“Bidirectional Encoder Representations from Transformers”) is Google’s neural network-based technique for natural language processing (NLP) pre-training. 

[6] Which I eventually did.

The Middle I’m Not Meeting In

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Department Of This Is Way Too Existential Of A Question To Tackle Before Breakfast

Sub-Department of Could This Be Another Variant of Male Directile Dysfunction?

Dateline: Sunday morning, circa 7 am; Bay Area town, visiting friends who live in a hilly neighborhood with many winding roads.  MH and I are out for a morning walk. A car slowly approaches us from behind, and slows even more but doesn’t quite stop, as the driver, an older Asian man, rolls down the window and in lightly accented English, asks, “Do you know where I am going?”

 

 

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Department Of I’m A Middle Child, But Sometimes You Gotta Choose Sides

“There’s nothing in the middle of the road
but a yellow stripe and dead armadillos.”
( Jim Hightower, Texan, progressive political activist, former Agriculture commissioner,
author of There’s Nothing in the Middle of the Road but Yellow Stripes and Dead Armadillos: A Work of Political Subversion      [1] )

 

Time to revisit a brief but wise meditation of the myth of the morality of middle ground. Excerpts from There’s Nothing Virtuous About Finding Common Ground, by Tayari Jones,  Emory university professor and author  (my emphases ) :

“…we are in a political moment where we find ourselves on opposite sides of what feels like an unbreachable gulf. I find myself annoyed by the hand-wringing about how we need to find common ground. People ask how might we “meet in the middle,” as though this represents a safe, neutral and civilized space. This American fetishization of the moral middle is a misguided and dangerous cultural impulse.”

The middle is a point equidistant from two poles. That’s it. There is nothing inherently virtuous about being neither here nor there. Buried in this is a false equivalency of ideas, what you might call the “good people on both sides” phenomenon….”

The search for the middle is rooted in conflict avoidance and denial. For many Americans it is painful to understand that there are citizens of our community who are deeply racist, sexist, homophobic and xenophobic….

The headlines that lament a “divided” America suggest that the fact that we can’t all get along is more significant
than the issues over which we are sparring.

Is the importance of our performance of national unity more significant than our core values? Is it more meaningful that we understand why some of us support the separation of children from their parents, or is it more crucial that we support the reunification of these families?… Should we agree to disagree about the murder and dismemberment of a journalist?

The romance of the middle can exist when one’s empathy is aligned with the people expressing opinions on policy or culture rather than with those who will be affected by these policies or cultural norms. Buried in this argument, whether we realize it or not, is the fact that these policies change people’s lives.

Compromise is not valuable in its own right,
and justice seldom dwells in the middle.”

Check out this essay in its entirety, originally published last year (11-5-18) in Time.

 

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Department of Epicurean Excursion   [2]

Featuring this week’s cookbook, author and recipe:

The Minimalists Cooks at Home, by Mark Bittman
Recipe:   Piquillo Peppers with Shitakes and Spinach

My rating:

☼ ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼

Recipe Rating Refresher   [3]           

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Department Of Explaining Blog Brevity

Moiself is recently returned from a trip to Bay Area, to help longtime friends memorialize their 27-year-old son, who died unexpectedly in August.  MH and I also visited friends who graciously offered us accommodations during the trip — the same dear friends whose 27-year-old daughter was murdered in January.

The lingering trauma of losing a child of any age, and especially in violent circumstances, cannot be underestimated…nor fully comprehended.

 

 

*   *   *

May you be patient with those of us trying to comprehend the incomprehensible;
May you be wary of “meeting in the middle”;
May you continue to remember to  love ‘em while you’ve got ‘em;

…and may the hijinks ensue.

Thanks for stopping by.  Au Vendredi!

*   *   *

 

[1] Which is snort-laughing funny; moiself recommends y’all read it.

[2] A recurring feature of this blog, since week 2 of April 2019, wherein moiself decided that moiself would go through my cookbooks alphabetically and, one day a week, cook (at least) one recipe from one book.

[3]

* Two Thumbs up:  Liked it

* Two Hamster Thumbs Up :  Loved it

* Thumbs Down – Not even Kevin, a character from The Office who would eat anything, would like this.  

* Twiddling Thumbs: I was, in due course, bored by this recipe.

* Thumbscrew: It was torture to make this recipe.

* All Thumbs: Good recipe, but I somehow mucked it up .

* Thumby McThumb Face: This recipe was fun to make.

* Thumbing my nose: Yeah, I made this recipe, but I did not respect it.

The Stories I’m (Trying Not To) Overhear

Comments Off on The Stories I’m (Trying Not To) Overhear

Department Of Stories I So Did Not Need To Overhear…

Especially while finishing my lunch at a Mexican restaurant.

Dateline: last Friday afternoon, circa 1:45pm. At a table kitty-corner and behind mine sit six just-arrived people: what appear to be a wife and husband, their three young children, and grandpa. 

The kids look and sound to be in the range of four to eight years old.  So far, about ten minutes into their arrival, seating and ordering their food – they have been delightful, if loud (theirs and mine are the only occupied tables at this later-than-usual lunch hour, and their conversation bounces all over the restaurant).

Moiself is halfway through my lunch when the mother, perhaps attempting to forestall fidgeting (the youngest child keeps mentioning how hungry she is), takes over her table’s conversation.  At maximum, astonished, wait-till-you-hear-what-I’m-gonna-tell-you!! volume, Mom relates a story she says her friend Anne recently told her:

“…Anne was over at Sally’s, visiting Sally and Sally’s toddler son. While they were sitting on the couch talking, Sally’s boy stuck his hand down the back of his diaper, then held his hand up – which was covered in POOP – and wiped his poopy hand all over the couch cushions!”

All three children (plus grandpa, from the sound of it) squeal in delight and horror, and each occupant of the table feels inspired to start sharing their favorite this-is-sooooo-disgusting poop story.

At least I hadn’t ordered the refried beans.

 

For some reason, I skipped ordering dessert.

 

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Department Of Just Wondering

What will be the theme song for the coming new year?   [1]

We’ve got until December 31 to figure it out. This would seem to be an obvious choice:

 

 

Runners up might include:

* I Can See For Miles (The Who)

* Tell Me What You See (The Beatles)

* Can You See Me (The Jimi Hendrix Experience)

Any other nominations?

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Department Of Your Perspective-Enhancing Reading Assignment Of The Week

NY Times op-ed writer Nicholas Kristof has a history of skewed religious apologetics, most recently and specifically on display in Kristof’s Sunday opinion piece, in which he reacted to a recent poll showing a sharp decline in religious belief in the USA: 

We’re Less and Less a Christian Nation, and I Blame Some Blowhards –
Some intolerant conservative evangelicals have tainted the faith.
(Nicholas Kristof, NY Times, 10-26-19) .

Kristof’s false assumptions and misstatements – in the very title, never mind the article itself – had moiself stomping my little feet in HE SOOOOOOOOO DOESN’T GET IT frustration.

First of all, “we” (the US of A) were never a “Christian Nation,” by specific design and intent of the US Constitution’s framers.   [2]   Nor do blowhards “taint” the faith – just as the faith’s “saints” do not redeem it.  “The faith” (the one Kristof refers to is Christianity), like all religious faiths, taints itself by its very existence: it promotes irrational, supernatural belief in a natural world.

And then….

 

Hemant Mehta to the rescue!

Mehta is American born, raised in the Jain-faith,   [3]  an author, blogger and atheist activist, known via his moniker, The Friendly Atheist. I think I’ve used the phrase, Yeah, what he said! more often after reading Mehta’s writings/pieces/columns than almost any writer I can think of.  His temperate but firm reasoning and clean, to-the-point prose is at once challenging and accessible.  I’ve often found moiself thinking, he’s-reading-my-mind-and-translating-it-perfectly when I read his writings, and he makes his points sans the…colorful metaphors, ahem…I would be tempted to use  (my emphases):

 “The validity (or lack) of faith has never concerned (Kristof). His argument has always been that good Christians exist, therefore religion is good. Bad believers are always the exceptions to the rule, and their awfulness always occurs despite their faith, not because of it….but Kristof misses the larger picture.
He assumes people are escaping Christianity because they want no association with the worst members of the flock. That’s an insult to anyone who’s ever left religion because they looked at it, studied it, and realized it just wasn’t true.
The problem isn’t a bad apple or two. The problem is the orchard. “

(Excerpt from “Blaming ‘Blowhards’ for Why We’re Not a ‘Christian Nation’
Misses the Point,”  b
y Hemant Mehta, 10-28-19)

 

Pretend I am a better photoshopper, and that I have skillfully inserted Mehta’s face onto this superhero costume.

 

*   *   *

Department of Epicurean Excursion   [4]

Featuring this week’s cookbook, author and recipe:

The Minimalist Baker, by Dana Shultz

Recipe:  Thai Baked Sweet Potatoes

My rating:

 

☼ ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼

 

Recipe Rating Refresher   [5]

*   *   *

 

May you understand the difference between the apples and the orchard;
May your turn down the volume on your favorite poop stories;
May you share your favorite poop stories with moiself (but not when I’m eating);
…and may the hijinks ensue.

Thanks for stopping by.  Au Vendredi!

 

*   *   *

 

[1] Which will be 2020…please don’t ask me to explain it any further.

[2] Who rejected theocracy, and made no mention of (anyone’s god in the Constitution and referenced religion only twice, and then in exclusionary terms…and if you find yourself even thinking (if not saying aloud), “But wait, what about the part where it says, ‘ “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights,’ please douse your head in the nearest baptismal fount and do some research on the difference between The Declaration of Independence (an “apology” and call to arms for the American revolution)  and the Constitution of the United States (the new nation’s governing document).

[3] Jainism is an ancient Indian religion, with some commonalities with Buddhism and Hinduism. The majority of present-day Jains reside in India.

[4] A recurring feature of this blog, since week 2 of April 2019, wherein moiself decided that moiself would go through my cookbooks alphabetically and, one day a week, cook (at least) one recipe from one book.

[5]

* Two Thumbs up:  Liked it

* Two Hamster Thumbs Up :  Loved it

* Thumbs Down – Not even Kevin, a character from The Office who would eat anything, would like this.  

* Twiddling Thumbs: I was, in due course, bored by this recipe.

* Thumbscrew: It was torture to make this recipe.

* All Thumbs: Good recipe, but I somehow mucked it up .

* Thumby McThumb Face: This recipe was fun to make.

* Thumbing my nose: Yeah, I made this recipe, but I did not respect it.