A new technology and random thoughts (and open thread)

Truly random thoughts about computer dictation, poverty, race relations, and women hurting women for cultural reasons, and an open thread.

Dictation to a computer dictating randomI’m trying something new today. After years of avoiding the technology, a series of conference calls in which I need to participate precipitated my buying a headset with a microphone. Then, just today, Windows 10 automatically updated itself and one of the tips it gave me was to tell me that I could use my microphone to dictate in any program. This sounded good to me because I have been a bit dilatory about typing of late. Part of this is because I’m struggling with ideas, and part of it has been that I am having some (temporary) pain in my hand which makes typing difficult. Articulating the ideas without going through the labor of typing seemed very tempting.

This, therefore, is my first fully dictated post. I’m wondering if it has a different “voice” then all of my previous posts, which are typed. I’d love to hear from you about this question. I also wanted to throw out some random thoughts that have been running around in my head lately.

The first random thing I want to talk about is the Tenement Museum in New York, a place I have talked about before. I first (and last) visited it around a decade ago, maybe more, and was absolutely blown away by it. I’m thinking about it now because I’ll be visiting again next month.

In my travels over the years, I have seen so many amazing homes throughout America, Europe And Southeast Asia. Except for the pretty farm houses relocated to various open air museums, these homes are almost invariably where the rich lived. Indeed, the only “ordinary” person’s home I can remember seeing is Mozart’s apartment in Vienna.

The Tenement Museum, however, is something completely different: it is where the poorest of the poor lived. It gives you a visceral sense of the abysmal poverty that immigrants to America faced at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th centuries. Even though the tenement is clean, deodorized, and empty, and sits on a clean, modern, relatively empty street, it punches you in the gut. The hallways are dark, the stairs are steep, the apartments are microscopically small and held both huge families and functioning sweatshops, and the running water and plumbing are not only primitive, but only existed during the second half of the tenement building’s useful life.

In terms of creature comforts, there were none. Contrast this with poverty in America today. I am not trying to say that there’s anything pretty or comfortable about poverty, whether today or yesterday. But the fact remains that today’s poor people have plumbing (often dirty and poorly functioning, but it’s still there), electricity, smart phones, clothes, and an adequate, if not healthy, food supply. The abysmal situations in which they live are less from material poverty — although they are definitely materially poor compared to other Americans — but from spiritual poverty.

America’s poor live in worlds compounded of failure, fear, substance abuse, welfare dependency, crime, economic despair, and mental illness that leaves no room for optimism or social mobility. What I wonder is whether it’s harder to fight spiritual poverty than it is to fight economic/material poverty.

While I am on a dictating roll, here is another thought I’ve been playing around with. I’ve actually said this before, but it works well with my comments about poverty: There is no denying that Western culture, including America, committed horrible crimes against people of African origin. It’s worth noting, though, that these same Western cultures were also the only cultures to do away with the sins against Africans. It was in Western cultures that people first put an end to slavery and the slave trade, and it was America that paid for that change with 300,000 or so Yankee lives.

Moreover, Western ideas about equality, although slowly and poorly implemented over centuries and decades, were the first to give equal standing to people of African origin out of Africa. (I think one can credibly argue that many African nations still do not extend equal rights to African people.) Certainly, no matter what the race hustlers say, there is currently no systemic racism in America. That is, our laws are colorblind.

Additionally, while there are racist people who do awful things, on the whole Americans are not awful. They may be stupid or insensitive, but they are not the 21st century fusion of the KKK and the Nazis that the race hustlers like to claim.

What is interesting about well-intentioned Americans who are not racist is that, even when they are trying to be good, they cause damage to African Americans. For example, data shows very convincingly that blacks were rising socially and economically across America after WWII, even in the Jim Crow South. This trajectory got slapped down by the welfare state. Once the federal government implemented modern welfare, well-meaning social workers encouraged blacks to rely on welfare, as a form of reparations, rather than on an intact family with a working father.

Knowing what we do now about the economic force of a nuclear family and about the important role fathers play in their children’s subsequent social and economic success, we could not have done anything worse to American blacks then to make their men superfluous and their family structures irrelevant. Considering the damage we did to blacks over the centuries, both intentionally and inadvertently, why in the world would blacks look to us to make their lives better?

The fact that it’s sometimes those to whom we look for protection and government who hurt us most folds into another thought I have been toying with, which is the way in which it is usually women who enforce the worst norms against their fellow women. Incidentally, I know I am not alone in this thought. Just the other day I saw a link to an article in which a young woman made the same point. I’d love to link to her article, but for the life of me I can’t remember where I saw it. [UPDATE: Jon Camp found the article for me.]

It is women who carry out female genital mutilation against their daughters and granddaughters. It was women in old China who mutilated little girls feet to satisfy class and cultural demands. And through it the West, it was women who made tight lacing the only socially acceptable way to appear in society, etc.

There are a few reasons for women culturally hurting other women. Some may think “I suffered, so now it’s your turn to suffer.” In modern India, mothers-in-law often lead the way when it comes to burning unsatisfactory daughters-in-law alive, especially when the young woman’s family stops paying on a dowry. There are less selfish reasons, though, behind this behavior. In less modern (and pre-modern) cultures in which biological reality utterly controls, meaning women get pregnant and need men to protect them, mothers and grandmothers making certain that their daughters and granddaughters are marriageable. If that marriage requires torture and mutilation, so be it. All of the practices I listed, and many more I haven’t, are manifestly intended to make girls either attractive to men or to assure men that their women will be faithful. In that mindset, the worst thing you can do to a girl is leave her in a state of nature that makes it impossible to get her married.

Incidentally, apropos female genital mutilation, Wolf Howling reminded me of a 1997 episode of Law & Order that was still willing to tackle female genital mutilation (although today’s IMDB goes out of its way to avoid referring in any way to “female genital mutilation,” not just in the plot summary, but in the keywords as well:

Detectives Briscoe and Curtis investigate the murder of Joseph Moussad who is found bludgeoned to death on the top tier of a parking garage. In his pocket he had a flight number and initials of Dr. Ismail Nasser, arriving from Cairo. They trace Nasser’s movements and take him into custody. He claims he was here to give Moussad a check up. Moussad’s girlfriend Farrah Patel thinks his niece and her husband, Nari and Eric Martin, likely killed him as they were after his money. Their daughter Alison tells Lt. Van Buren that her parents and Joseph had had an argument and her mother subsequently left their apartment. It turns out Emily was lying and it was her father who left after the argument. Eric Martin was angry at her husband’s uncle because he had brought Dr, Nasser to the US to perform a female circumcision on Alison. Jack McCoy is not unsympathetic but isn’t prepared to let him walk away from the killing. While Jack pursues the prosecution, Jamie Ross goes to family court to have …

One user review valiantly tries to remove Islam from the equation, but does acknowledge that the plot is about female genital mutilation, including the fact that women support it:

It is really hard not to sympathize with the defendant in this case on Law And Order. Jerry Orbach and Benjamin Bratt catch a homicide involving a rich Egyptian/American importer. The guilty party is Cotter Smith, husband of Ava Haddad is the deceased’s niece.

What the deceased man wanted to do is give their eleven year old child the gift of an operation that will remove her clitoris. It’s an ancient custom in their part of the world, even before Islam became the religion of Egypt to remove the clitoris to prevent women from enjoying sex. The better to keep them faithful and certainly assert male dominance like nothing else would. This was done to Haddad and it was done to Maryann Urbano who is her mother and the deceased’s niece. She’s for upholding tradition.

Sam Waterston is trying to cut the defendant as much slack as possible and in the meantime Carey Lowell takes on a custody battle pro bono for the paternal grandparents. Steve Landesberg lends his laconic presence to the role of Smith’s defense attorney.

Steven Hill called what was happening a 3000 year old abomination. It’s one incredible argument for the fact Smith was defending his child against an assault.

A really interesting episode about a twisted practice.

While it’s absolutely true that Islam is not the only culture that practices FGM, it’s certainly the single largest culture that does so around the world. Do away with Islam’s commitment to FGM, and you will have done away with most FGM around the world. (Incidentally, one of the two doctors arrested in Michigan for FGM was a winsome looking female.)

I have absolutely no larger point to make with this post and the above ruminations. I just wanted to spit them out.

As I have been random, so should you feel free to be random — consider this an open thread if you have anything you’d like to offer.