Archive for: July, 2015

The assholes don't get it: Sexualized Images of Women Edition

Jul 21 2015 Published by under Uncategorized

I had to do diversity training. I need to be writing another grant.

The training was mostly innocuous. Nobody got really uncomfortable. Nobody was told that their views were not acceptable. In white-bread, rural almost-MRU-land this was par for the course. The presenter was  competent. Until.

Of course until. We came to a slide on "cultural competency". It contained a line something like: cultural competency is knowing when to salsa and when to twerk. The image on the screen was a hyper-sexualized salsa dancer, white(ish), very thin, and wearing what could not be remotely construed as appropriate clothing for a medical school. More flesh showing than flash, but what was there was flash.

There were 200+ people in the room, and given that I am never scared of anything but blended scotch, I decided I had to say something. I raised my hand and said "I find that image inappropriate". Note: "I find" - discussing my thoughts. The (female) facilitator replied "in 1000's of presentations no one has ever objected to this image before". I thought: Duh - maybe that says something about the comfort level or  ability or security of women in the room to express themselves. But I didn't say that. I said something about it promulgating societal images of women as sexual objects, except, of course, it did not come out quite so glibly at the time.

Then, a bunch of (younger) women stood up and basically said:  you are way too sensitive. Its just a picture. It doesn't mean anything. A picture of a young, pretty, thin, sexualized woman doesn't mean that we or you can't do our jobs well.

The facilitator interjected at this point "well, its clear that Potnia has had a very visceral reaction to this image". No, you jackass. It was not visceral. I am not an emotional woman, reacting hysterically. I "find" not I "feel".

But the worst was when one of the men, one of the goddamn leaders of diversity at this small-potatoes place stood up, and said the following: I am Cuban and I am Hispanic and this is part of my culture. When my wife and I go out, we dance like this, and she wears clothes like this. Salsa means "sauce" and it means "hot sauce" and it is sexual and that is my culture. And by implication: your uncomfortableness with sexual images was in conflict with my culture. I was the one being intolerant.

I flashed back 30 years to being the only woman and having a smile pasted on my face while men told boob jokes at lunch. Can't you just take a joke. The women's movement has no sense of humor.

Fuck that. Replace the body in that picture with a woman who is 200 lbs. Or 65 years old. Its not sexy anymore, it is funny. The idea of fat women, or old women, being sexy is funny, is humerous, because the important thing here is that sexy is thin and young. If changing the body image in the picture changes the meaning, there is something wrong with the image.

I didn't say more, because I had had my turn, and this was a session about everyone having their turn, But what needed to be said to Mr. Vice-president of Diversity and Inclusiveness was 1) what he and his wife do, what is in their culture, is fine, in the appropriate time and place. But I don't want to know about  your, or anyone else's at work, love or sex life. Really. 2) This is a medical school, and sexual images, of men, women, children no matter what culture are not appropriate.  The inclusion, in any culture, of images of women as sexual entities is a different, societal discussion than the discussion of what should and should not be shown at a diversity/inclusiveness workplace program.

The facilitator was an air-bag. I got a non-apology when I told her that I thought "visceral" was playing into female stereotypes about gender images. "I'm sorry you feel that way". She said over and over to the group "I'm still learning" but it felt false, as if she had learned to say this. Her criteria for success seemed to be "is everyone talking? yes? good".

What broke my heart, yes, emotion, heart, etc, was afterwards, two young women I mentor came to me and said "well that was a waste, I learned nothing but that this place has a bunch of hypocrites who want to check boxes and don't give a damn about diversity in any real form".

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One may argue that fruitflies like a banana but...

Jul 20 2015 Published by under Uncategorized

the arrow like nature of time is, right now, to the best of our knowledge, there.

Another of my mentors has died. Someone with whom I had, at best, a prickly relationship. Someone from whom I learned a lot. I did say thank you, a couple of years ago, in an article that I sent him about the field he helped define.

There is very little in my life I regret. Lots of stuff I did wrong, lots of stuff done wrong to me. But little to regret. Say thank you to those that matter. One less thing to worry about when they die. As they will.

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First Day in Prague

Jul 17 2015 Published by under eastern europe, Uncategorized

From my journal.

Today was the first day in prague. We did the toursit thing in the morning  - the churches and palaces, all started building in the 13th century and continually improved thereafter. One point of note is that Mucha (he of JOB cigarette and Sarah Bernhardt posters) did one of the cathedral stained glass  (but painted in this case) windows that was quite lovely, and not out of place.

In the afternoon, I went to three places: The Museum of Communism, the Mucha Museum and the Jerusalem synagogue. All have me thinking.

The museum of communism was the antithesis of the one in Budapest. The latter was a bombastic shout at the world, but with modern aesthetic values, designed to emotionally convey an important message. It was modern and clean and well lit with effective technology and music and intelligible signage written by someone who could write. You may not agree with the emotions of the survivors, but you do acknowledge them.

The one in Prague was a shabby afterthought that could have come from the communist era. It was slightly faded posters in many languages. There was no tech, but artifacts grouped in to simple stories for school children. I felt little emotion, in myself or from the ones telling the story. The bathrooms were old and grungy, and even the fat old ladies collecting tickets could have been left over from some regime.

Time for dinner... more later....

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Jews in Prague

Jul 17 2015 Published by under eastern europe, Uncategorized

More from journal

The Czech Republic had the best organized Jewish Tourist Thing going. There is a jewish quarter, filled with synagogues. Although, the guide did say that they were mostly empty, as there are now at most 2-3000 jews living here (half in Prague, the rest elsewhere). I saw more Hassidim here than anywhere else, including Poland.

The experience in the one we saw yesterday, Weds was, at best, unpleasant. It was filled with people, noisy people, clapping people, pushing people, taking photographs people. It was part of the tour of the Jewish quarter that I did not enjoy. I found the tour of that area to be the least affecting, the least moving, to me. Perhaps because it was hot, the crowds were large and very pushy. There were two large and beautiful Moorish-style, but not Sephardic, synagogues, complete with gorgeous deep colors and gold leaf and vaulted cathedralesque ceilings. One was built late 1800s the other early 1900s. That they survived the Nazis is either a miracle, if one believes in such, or quirks of history.

There were two things that did move me. One was on the tour. And it was crowded, noisy and filled with disrespectful people. But what it was transcended that. I dislike the word transcend, but there is nothing else that describes what I felt. This synagogues-museums was nearly empty and the walls painted white. The rooms were small, and covered in script. Black names, with two dates, birth and deportation. No one is quite sure of date of death for these people, but the Nazis with the help of the locals, of course, were meticulous in the deportation records. Yellow place names. Red family names. I saw the name of my sister's husband's family and broke down. Here were walls covered with script. The names of the 100,000 Czech Jews who are no more. And yet in the middle of this list were <slightly odd name>. Olga <slightly odd name. Leo <slightly odd name>.  I could not stop crying and went outside.

While I was here, the World Jewish  Something Or Other announced that the worldwide population of Jews has finally reached the level it was pre-holocaust. I hope that whoever carries the genes of Leo and Olga know this.

The other place was the 2nd Moorish Temple, the Jerusalem Temple. I saw it on Tuesday, by chance, walking around after other things. It was, as many other places, nearly empty. The synagogue was beautiful, inside and out. It was hushed and keeping its secrets to itself. Upstairs there was a exhibit. Two actually, but I had only time to see one. It was the history of Jews post-1945. The communists were not good to the Jews. That  the Jews at the time were surprised by this is amazing.  More subtle and insidious than the Nazis, there are undoubtably more than the  current 2-3000 Jewish Czechs who moved, assimilated and were lost. But to see a newsreel made in the late 40s about the old age homes and orphanages for concentration camp survivors, and than  to read how the Communists shut these down for "imperialist" and "capitalist" tendencies shows that nothing changes.


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banality of evil, exhaustion of tourista

Jul 16 2015 Published by under eastern europe, Uncategorized

A friend, to whom I sent parts of my journal, wrote back to me and said: What do you mean when you say "overwhelmed by the banality of what happened"?  I do not understand what you are trying to say.
Let me try and explain.
It was a reference to Hannah Arendt's comments at Adolf Eichmann's trial about the banality of evil. It is hard to judge how engaged anyone here is in history. I am perceiving people and places and the history presented by various entities through both their lens and my own position and prejudices.
Or, as we would say, if we were in physics, everything is in a moving and non-fixed frame of reference.
On one hand, the collective pain and scars of WWII and subsequent Soviet domination of the area are very real. The Museum of Terror, in just its name, let alone its contents, is a good example. The museum did not shy away from the fact that they were collaborators with the Nazis. On the other, somehow, such people were not "real Hungarians".
What happened to the Jews in Poland and in Hungary was banal, in the sense that, step  by step, every day it  became normal, acceptable, and just the way things were. To kill people, to take their homes, to send them off to live in ghettos and then camps, and finally to not live at all, was woven into the fabric of every day life. There is memory of it now, and, everyone's ancestors were heros and members of the resistance. Except the ones who weren't, and they weren't part of us.

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Apologies to G.L.

Jul 15 2015 Published by under Uncategorized


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Thoughts about mountains and roads while driving through europe

Jul 15 2015 Published by under eastern europe, Uncategorized

Miscellaneous thoughts from my journal.

The mountains: some people say that people either love mountains or oceans. I love both, because what I love, what speaks to me in a way I cannot describe is the water with both. Mountain streams, rivers, waterfalls  are as beautiful and compelling to me as the ocean, if not more so. So far these mountains are at a distance. We are getting there. The drive is much stop and go. This is, after all, MittleEuropa, and has been settled for centuries, if not millenia (plural). The roads are narrow, and congested. Single lane highways as the major thoroughfares between northern and southern Poland. One of Eisenhower's geniuses was the Interstate Highway system. In my experience my European friends and colleagues fail to appreciate what they mean. Yes, they are hideously ugly to travel on. Yes, speed come at a cost. For all that they are a scar, they are hairline scars, finely etched over a much larger body.  What they have done is given a unity within America, that the EU is still struggling with. Yes, Europe has a magnificent train system, but we are in a bus, not on trains as we go across five, six countries of Europe. Here is a question: absent highways and the car, would America have split into multiple countries? Or is the post-civil war Federal inertia enough to hang it together. Do the people of America perceive something that they can see and visit and therefore feel differently? It is impossible to know except by going and asking.

We are now more into countryside, but still long chains of trucks and cars and busses on the narrow highway. Small farms, villages line the sides of the road. Some are what would be called picturesque, but I mostly find them an ugly conglomeration of bright primary colored signs, and ersatz something or other. It would be good to drive through the forest.

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One of the last thoughts on leaving Hungary

Jul 15 2015 Published by under eastern europe, Uncategorized

More from journal

One of the last site-seeing things I did late yesterday afternoon was visit The Shoes.

On the bank of the Danube, greenish-grey as are most urban rivers, there is one last Holocaust memorial. A number of Jews, prior to concentration camps, had been lined up on the banks, shot, and pushed in.

The memorial are shoes, cast in bronze, on the edge of the stone embankments. They are a 100 meters from the beautiful parliament building.  They are sad and alone and filled with visitor's stones.

When we took a boat ride down the Danube, the shoes were not mentioned.

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Heartfelt Plea for Orphan Diseases and the Reality of NIH funding

Jul 14 2015 Published by under Uncategorized

I read this, a plea to Francis Collins about an orphan disease, titled " Dear Dr. Collins: I’m Disabled. Can the N.I.H. Spare a Few Dimes?" and my heart went out to the author, a science writer.

But then it was deja vu all over again. No, I do not want Mr Vastag, or anyone to suffer. Yes, I want All The Dizezes to be cured. But... a few dimes for this one, comes from, where? What other disease should be we take those dimes from? The politicians all have views on what we should and should not fund. Obese lesbians, or Moms with Munchausen's? Diseases of aging Silent Generation Oldies who are going to die anyway? Children of the poor who ought to have picked their parents more carefully?

Right now, its a zero sum game. Mr Vastag is targeting the wrong person. Sure, if his plea is poignant enough, maybe Collins will redirect some money, or instruct an institute, or do whatever grey-area things NIH does. It's why children's hospitals are so good at raising money. what needs to be done to truly solve the mouths-at-the-trough problem is increase funding to NIH. And in a country where the majority of people think "National Security" is vastly more important than even health, this is not going to happen without a lot of work.


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quote for the day

Jul 13 2015 Published by under Uncategorized

“The ultimate test of man's conscience may be his willingness to sacrifice something today for future generations whose words of thanks will not be heard.” 

Gaylord Nelson

Modern Corollary: "do it to Julia"

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