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Showing posts from December, 2014

Planning the words you call forth: Why you should make a plan before writing an essay

Writers should plan something about their essays before sitting down to write.  You might plan the writing process (the “how”) or the marketing (the “why”), if not the content of the essay itself (the “what”).  It isn’t always essential that you know exactly what you’re going to write ahead of time — in fact, a research-based essay may require you to keep an open mind about the conclusions you will draw.  But even if you do not yet have a conclusion, you must have a reason for wanting to write your essay, and if you know what your motivation is, you should be able to articulate a plan. It may help to envision a different kind of art.  When a sculptor works with marble, there is a finite amount of material that can only be subtracted from.  The sculptor must be careful not to remove parts of the stone unintentionally, as the carving cannot be undone.  By contrast, when she works with clay, she can either add or subtract material to the sculpture. This is an imperfect analogy for wri

Mistaking consumerism for happiness

If asked directly, none of us would say that we expect consumer goods to meet all our wants and needs. Yet it's hard to avoid absorbing the insidious ideology of "feel-goodism" (a term used by Steven Hayes ), the idea that we can and should feel good all the time. Hayes described feel-goodism's implications in this way: "If you consume the right products, eat the right pill, drink the right beer, drive the right car, you believe that you're not going to feel anything you don't like." He adds, "that is not the definition of a meaningful life, and...people know it." We know it, yes, but many of us are still lured into consumerism. Yet in other ways, consumerism does tap into better definitions of a meaningful life. "That consumption has something sacred about it is obvious from the central position it now occupies," wrote Thomas Berry. Using nearly theological language, Vincent Vinikas wrote: "Advertising is process. It

Jack Sullivan in 'Jackfoolery' by Mark Johnson (with spoilers)

In Mark Johnson's short novel Jackfoolery, eccentric 52-year-old billionaire Jack Sullivan launches his politically independent presidential campaign in the American West during the Clinton years. He has a Purple Heart from the Vietnam War from which he returned as a young man of about 20 without his penis and scrotum, having been hit by a projectile. Jack thinks about “the track so chaotic that no god can decipher or compel a reason for it, like the mystery of a particle’s position, the unknown ‘why,’ the profound ‘why’ – the ‘why’ which first occurred to him the day the doctor had told him his balls were blown off.” He thinks about how, if he’d just been standing in a slightly different place, the outcome might have been different. He ruminates “until his thinking became a scar slashed across his psyche, a cascading chorus of watch outs that would often raise its spectral head in the years to come and send him sliding down a path of paralysis, fearing the moment and its cons

Protests by U.S. states succeed in stalling ‘Real ID’

The Real ID Act was a post-9/11 attempt to mandate technological and data-sharing enhancements to government-issued identity cards. It was tacked on to the end of an $82 billion military spending bill that passed the U.S. Senate unanimously in May 2005 without any debate on the Real ID portion of the bill. While the federal government argued it was necessary to prevent people who arrive in the country illegally from obtaining false identity cards, many individuals, institutions and local governments perceived it as a privacy intrusion. It was originally supposed to be implemented in May 2008. Ideological and practical objections to implementing Real ID resulted in formal extensions for implementation, first to December 2009, then to May 2011, then to January 2013. As of September 2013, however, only 20 states were judged compliant by the Department of Homeland Security. How would Real ID change identity cards? When the Real ID Act was first introduced, most driver's licen

In 2014, Uganda decrees life imprisonment for gay people

Same-sex relations have been illegal in Uganda for years, but in 2014, President Museveni signed stiffer penalties into law. Some activists say they are the worst in the world. Much of the world was shocked to learn of the draconian law against same-sex relations that was recently passed in Uganda. People in Uganda can be sentenced to life in prison for even attempting to have sex with a person of the same sex. Recent history of the climate for gay Ugandans Homosexuality, considered to be an act "against the order of nature," was already illegal in Uganda (as it is in 38 of 54 African countries, according to Amnesty International) and carried a jail term of up to 14 years. Gay people were already routinely subject to harassment. Considering that many countries are improving their treatment of gay people and allowing more sexual freedom, one might have hoped that Uganda would head in that direction, too, but it has not. In one high-profile case, gay rights activist David

The controversy over releasing the identity of a man who helped kill Osama bin Laden

A memoir of the killing of Osama bin Laden was published by Penguin on Sept. 11, 2012, the eleventh anniversary of the terrorist attacks on U.S. soil perpetrated under bin Laden's direction. The publisher describes the book as a "blow-by-blow narrative" that "is an essential piece of modern history." ( Read a review posted to Goodreads on Sept. 19, 2012.) No Easy Day: The Firsthand Account of the Mission that Killed Osama Bin Laden was written by a U.S. Navy SEAL using the pseudonym Mark Owen. Owen was one of 24 men who participated in the raid. Navy SEALs meet strict requirements for physical fitness, mental aptitude, and psychological resilience before entering rigorous training. Even before his book hit the shelves of bookstores, "Owen" was expected to face legal charges for publishing it. His contract with the Pentagon forbid him to reveal information about the raid. When, on Nov. 5, 2014, the author sued his attorney for $8 million for in

A eunuch serial killer: A review of 'Murder 2'

Murder 2 is a Bollywood film released in 2011 about a serial killer of call girls. The Murder 2 storyline is heavily based upon the South Korean movie The Chaser (Chugyeogja, 2008), but in Murder 2, as the Times of India put it, "the antagonist is kind of Indianized by giving him a eunuch identity." The killer's inconsistent gender identity, based on a distorted image of femininity, also bears similarities to the villain in Hollywood's "The Silence of the Lambs," a story which in turn was imitated by Bollywood in Sangharsh (1999). The killer in Murder 2 has the same last name as the killer in Sangharsh. Additionally, the place where the bodies are dumped evokes the burial place in The Ring, originally a Japanese film. Murder 2 is suspenseful, revealing part of the complex inner life of the hero, Arjun (Emraan Hashmi), who fell from grace at his former police job but nevertheless retains a strong impulse to defend the poor and powerless from crimina

The false eunuch's end of innocence in 'The Northumberland Shepherd'

The Eunuch: Or, the Northumberland Shepherd is a short story published in London in 1752 by an anonymous author. The preface suggests it is a fictionalization of a true story; the author's intent was to expose a moral issue without exposing the actual people involved. The prose is a little rough around the edges but serves the purpose of the "false eunuch" farce well enough. The fictional narrator, Harry Collison, grew up sleeping outdoors in a bucolic environment in Northumberland in England. He was the oldest of five children raised on a diet of bread and water. When some visitors from the nearby castle overheard the fourteen-year-old boy making music, they bought him from his parents for one crown and brought him into their wealthy household. He was primarily entrusted to a thirty-something woman as his music teacher, her husband being frequently absent; they had a daughter about his age and a couple of female servants. At seventeen, Harry was "thin, a

An omniscient narrator’s insight into Vicente Herrasti’s fictional eunuch

The eunuch character Akorna is vital to Vicente Herrasti's Spanish-language novel "The Death of the Philosopher." Vicente Herrasti's novel "The Death of the Philosopher (Acarnia in the Distance)" - "La muerte del filosofo (Acarnia en lontananza)" - imagines events following the death of the fifth-century B.C.E. Greek philosopher Gorgias. Published in 2004, the Mexican author's book does not seem to have been translated from Spanish into English yet, except for the first chapter which was translated by Sylvia Sasson Shorris and can be read free online. The main character is Akorna, a faithful servant of the aged philosopher during the last years of his life. When Gorgias finally dies, the soft, unsuspecting slave is cast to the whims of much harder men who are interested in the philosopher because they suspect he has died with a hidden fortune.  The omniscient narrator knows - or at least claims to know - the thoughts of Gorgias, Akorna a

David O. Cauldwell’s work about the effects of forcible 'sex transmutation'

Effects of Castration on Men and Women is a lesser-known work of the early twentieth-century sexologist David O. Cauldwell, M.D., published by Haldeman-Julius in 1947. The 32-page book is written in clipped, direct sentences that rely on fairly simple vocabulary and a very basic medical understanding of glands and hormones, making it accessible to a wide audience. Cauldwell defined castration as the removal of the testicles or – as became possible as a deliberate act much later in human history – the ovaries. The discussion of the castration of women is restricted to the third and fourth of ten chapters. He pointed out that abdominal surgery is dangerous, and he complained that some "eugenically minded" surgeons of the time preferred to thus sterilize a woman than to offer other forms of birth control. Although he lamented that some women are unnecessarily operated upon, his opinion was that, while a man prefers losing "a leg or an eye" to castration, a w

'The Keeper of the Bed': Unpacking the complex history of eunuchs

Charles Humana's book The Keeper of the Bed: The Story of the Eunuch (1973) is a curiosity that is worth a look by anyone who is interested in how eunuchs were depicted throughout history. Born in Nottingham, England in 1921, Humana – born Joseph Jacobs – was a human rights advocate who authored several books and died in London in 1992. "Keeper of the Bed" strikes a confident tone, but it will leave the careful reader with many questions. Humana quips that the eunuch is often thought of as "a human pterodactyl or dodo," that is, as "one of the extinct creatures of the earth". He emphatically rejects the common assertion that they were a "third sex," although he does not fully explain what he means by that. His only elaboration is that it is more correct to perceive them as "deprived men" rather than as transformed beings. The text demonstrates that Humana is well-read in his subject matter. He drops many key references and prov

‘Glory in the task of it’: The life of a fictional eunuch in Iran

Like many other books that feature eunuch characters, "Equal of the Sun" opens with a description of the main character’s castration. The eunuch narrator in this instance recounts his story for a princess, upon her request. Yet this story differs significantly from other books that employ the same gambit. Equal of the Sun, set in mid-sixteenth-century Iran by novelist Anita Amirrezvani and published in 2012, is one of the deepest and most complex treatments of a eunuch character in modern literature. The story is narrated by a young man of noble birth. Distraught that his father has been fingered as a traitor and summarily executed, he promises himself that he will ferret out his father’s persecutor, but to do that, he needs access to the palace. So, at seventeen years of age, he voluntarily submits to castration and applies to the palace as a eunuch servant. He is accepted as the personal servant of the quick-witted Princess Pari, daughter of the Shah, who privately

Rambling history and exotic fancy: ‘The Eunuch and the Virgin’

"The Eunuch and the Virgin" engulfs the reader in a cloud of heron and emu feathers and provides distraction from everyday life with tales of adulterers hanging from their guilty parts, jerid polo games, sacrificial victims allowed to bleed out into the sown fields, ambergris sherbet, ominous holes cut in sheets and scrotal relics like dried figs. A few sentences of Tompkins's purple prose frosted in French as the cord pulls round your neck and the knife gleams — and you are under his spell. Peter Tompkins (1919-2007) worked as an undercover agent for the Allies in World War II and, in 1962, he published this uniquely fascinating volume about the lives of castrated men. The most bewildering thing about this book is that it initially seems to have no animating argument. Tompkins culled an astonishing number of anecdotes from history and literature and plumped them with exotic detail. The result is something like a creme-filled pastry that has little nutritive value.