Penny Arcade! – I Hope You Like Text

Don’t say another goddamn word. Up until now, I’ve been polite. If you say anything else- word one– I will kill myself. And when my tainted spirit finds its destination, I will topple the master of that dark place. From my black throne, I will lash together a machine of bone and blood, and fuelled by my hatred for you this fear engine will bore a hole between this world and that one.

When it begins, you will hear the sound of children screaming- as though from a great distance. A smoking orb of nothing will grow above your bed, and from it will emerge a thousand starving crows. As I slip through the widening maw in my new form, you will catch only a glimpse of my radiance before you are incinerated. Then, as tears of bubbling pitch stream down my face, my dark work will begin.

I will open one of my six mouths, and I will sing the Song that ends the Earth.

For people who are as good with words as Gabe and Tycho, it’s amazing how far they have managed to dig themselves into a hole with this dickwolves thing. (A lot less amazing is how almost masturbatorily self-indulgent comments on Shakesville et al seem to be, but then I’ve rarely seen different from there.) It was a funny strip! It was a funny response strip, too, although I can see how that one comes off as insulting. Where they really screwed up, of course, is the t-shirt and the subsequent doubling down, where they unleashed (implicitly, I suppose, but until recently it sounded like they were encouraging it) all the worst that the internet has to offer against the shrill but perhaps less outrageous feminist blogosphere. At least they let off in the end- Tycho’s post certainly strikes an apologetic note.

PS: I find myself quite unable to talk about rape culture without talking about the rather troubling popularity of “rape” as a metaphor for “dominate” in “insti lingo” here in IIT Madras, and that’s going to be a rather long post, so I’ll just leave that for now, except to say that some responses some people here have to the actual occurence of rape serves as a disgusting testimony to the existence of such a thing as “rape culture”.

Bonus Quote of the Week: Nietzche on Objectification

Kinda. The man had lots of strange views, and my re-posting this doesn’t indicate approval, just that I find it interesting.

“The true man wants two things: danger and play. For that reason he wants a woman, as the most dangerous plaything.”

–Friedrich Nietzsche

UPDATE: Stupid keyboard which gets stuck on the stupid s key.

Sexism and Objectification

With reference to this post, and this one (for those who don’t feel like checking out the links, Luke at Common Sense Atheism put up a list with pics of “sexy scientists” and “sexy atheists”, and one of the women who recently started writing at scienceblogs/Discover took offence, although to a different instance, of being appreciated for her looks as opposed to her scientific accomplishments ).

I think one of the reasons I have for tending to side with Luke (although in this specific case I don’t think he’s doing a very good job of defending himself) is that I always interpret the condemnation of objectification as perhaps stronger than people intend it to be. I’m hearing “people who call attention to a woman’s attractiveness or “sexiness” are sexist” and I’m thinking, hey. That’s harsh. It doesn’t make any sense. It specifically rubs me the wrong way that this basically amounts to people telling me what I can and cannot post on my blog. On the other hand, I am coming around to thinking that what they are actually saying is that this sentiment is not a “good thing” to express on my blog, seeing as it doesn’t do any good to anyone and runs the risk of trivializing all the other achievements of the woman or women in question, because of the fact that attractiveness, especially in women, is one of the key things that people define other people by.

If one treats the “sexist” allegation as a grave personal insult, which I think is what Luke is doing,  then things are much more problematic. There is no way for him to frame his post as something positive. On the other hand, there’s harm, and then there’s harm, and this has to count as a fairly benign offence.So I am treating this issue as, essentially, “bad manners” on Luke’s part.

On the general issue of objectifying women-my views are well expressed by this post (to a first approximation- I might have phrased some things differently, but unless someone calls me out on some particular issue I’m not going to bother right now), which I found linked to somewhere in this discussion. I wonder why more people did not respond to it.

Curiously enough, the more I read feminist blogs, the less I am coming to think of “sexist” as a particularly strong insult… if only because there seems to be no way out of it, if one accepts their definition. You can of course disapprove of me or my actions because of perceived sexism, and if your approval is important to me I will take that into account, but I am becoming far less inclined to view this as a moral issue with the accompanying assumption of normativity. (I don’t think that’s a word. What’s the word I’m thinking of?)

Books I’ve Been Reading

Not including all the Harry Potter fanfiction. Quick reviews, because I have nothing particularly long and insightful to say about most of them. I’m just looking around my desk (and inside the Stanza iPhone app) and trying to remember what I’ve been doing for the past two weeks, because I sure haven’t been doing anything productive.

Are You Experienced (William Sutcliffe):

This book could be a fun read if you are a) not an Indian, b) okay with casual racism, and c) like reading gritty/funny travel stories. I picked it up because the back cover suggested c) , not realizing that a) and b) are at least as necessary. The basic plot is about a guy who hates travel but goes to India because he wants to sleep with his best friend’s girlfriend (someone whose characterization at least some feminist readers might get upset about, although I was content just to think she was a bitch), talks to oh-so-whacky people and gets oh-so-funny diarrhea and gets back to wonderful Britain, so unlike smelly, dirty, horrible India.

I made it through the book only out of sheer boredom. And because I was invested enough in the character to see if he finally got to screw someone (No… technically). It seems to have gotten some good reviews, surprisingly enough, but all by British newspapers, so maybe they just fulfil the three criteria mentioned above; it’s decently written, so if you pretend you’re white and English, I suppose it looks alright. Meanwhile, I’m happy I only spent 20 bucks on it.



Gods of War, by Ashok Banker

I promised a full review of this, and I will get around to it sometime, so leaving this blank for now. Or maybe I’ll just have part 2 of this and include that book I forgot the name of. As a very, very quick review: the opposite of everything I found wrong with the last book, in an almost as bad way. Ashok Banker tries to take on what he sees as the pervasive racism/anti-Hinduism/whatever of western SF and makes something so ridiculous that it would’ve been quite wonderfully funny if he had opted to write the same story in the style of the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy instead of an Author Tract. (Essentially, the evil Americans will kill us all!)

The Left Hand of Darkness  (Ursula Le Guin):

This book is one of the first major works of feminist SF, at least according to wiki, and I’d been planning to read it for a while. It was certainly interesting, well-written and it had quite a few new ideas, but… it just wasn’t that much fun. I mean, it wasn’t boring by any definition, but it doesn’t fixate you to the page or get your heart beating or make you so engrossed that you miss your meals, which is what I have come to expect from a really good book. I think the major problem was just that I started reading it with too many expectations; I’d certainly recommend it to anyone who is interested in SF in general, anyway.

There are two fundamental facts that shape the story. One is that the world of Gethen is far colder than our own, and the only inhabitable land is a (relatively speaking, of course) small bit between 2 huge ice sheets. The second and more important factor is that everyone on Gethen is a hermaphrodite, and essentially- but not quite- bisexual. For a few days every month, they go into the state of “kemmer” in which they can shift to either men or women, depending on a variety of factors. Anyone can bear children. This leads to what is a much more “equal” society, in a sense that one can’t ever replicate among “normal” humans. The book explores the implications of this in some detail.

The plot follows Genly Ai, Envoy to the planet Gethen (Winter) of the Ekumen, a collective of planets that guides development and facilitates trade, etc. His mission is to convince them to join the Ekumen, but many of the people he talks to don’t believe him, and the others are paranoid and afraid that if they join they will have to relinquish control over the planet to some galactic bureacracy, although he explains that it does not work that way. We go with him from Karhide, which is a monarchy with a slightly paranoid king, to Orgoreyn, which is basically an efficiently run communist government (complete with a powerful secret police that controls the Parliament and “Voluntary Farms” for political prisoners) and then back in a reckless voyage across the Ice (a stand-in for the uninhabitable wilderness that features in stories of this sort set in the real world). There are various obstacles along the way, and any number of diversions. The structure of the story has several tropes and narrative devices that a literature student can spend a good deal of time on, but I’ll skip over all that and just ask you to read the book. 

Equal Rites (Terry Pratchett):

This is the first of the Witches series in Discworld. I’d finished both the City Watch series (awesome, in almost every book) and the Death series ( pretty good; Susan Sto Helit is wonderful, and Hogfather is the sweetest fantasy I’ve read in a very long time), and I remembered reading somewhere that Granny Weatherwax was something of an analogue of Captain Vimes (still my favourite character in all the Disc), so this was the natural next choice.

Equal Rites, interestingly, is another “feminist” book. It’s about what happens when a wizard’s magic-“male” magic- happens to get passed down to a newborn girl by mistake. it doesn’t mix well with witch’s magic, which is “female magic”, and…well, several anecdotes and outbursts on sexual equality later, the girl manages to become a wizard. I don’t want to insult the book here- it’s quite a fun read- but I can’t honestly pretend that the overall plotline isn’t completely predictable. The basic premise is rather interesting, though, and as with so much of Pratchett’s works the really good parts are the little things, and this book has as many hilarious pieces of dialogue as most of his work.

See also this essay: Why Gandalf never Got Married.

Wyrd Sisters (Terry Pratchett):

This is the second of the Witches series (Book 6 of Discworld) but it clearly isn’t set up as a sequel to Equal Rites, which I was very disappointed by: I would very much have liked to see a little more about Esk, the first female wizard, who we parted with when she was a mere 9 years old. 

The book is… I can’t say a homage to Hamlet/Macbeth so much as something that just happens to borrow from them in fairly obvious ways (although, strangely enough, this is not mentioned on the wiki page). The titular “Wyrd sisters” are the 3 witches Nanny Ogg, Grandma Weatherwax and the young Magrat Garlick, all of whom are very different from each other and all of whose characters are built up quite wonderfully. The basic plot is this: the Duke murders the king in order to usurp the throne after being bullied by his more ambitious wife. The old king’s new born heir winds up with the witches, who give him to a family of traveling actors to raise. The new king turns out to be really bad news, and is slowly going crazy, and the kingdom itself “awakens” and…things happen. I don’t want to spoil it for anyone, although the real twist is only right at the end, and showcases Pratchett’s rather non-traditional (for a fantasy setting, that is) views on destiny and monarchy. The major theme of the book is “the power of words”, or propaganda, as well as the psychological tricks (“headology”) that the witches usually employ to make things happen.

Next up: the remaining Witches novels, as and when I finish them, Gods of War, and the other book I was reading last week which I seem to have forgotten the title of.

PS: Ok, apparently I had a lot more to say than I thought. Either these will really be mini-reviews the next time, or I’ll just do full posts for each book.

Ain’t so Easy to Write a Bad Romance

This is my contribution to my hostel’s entry for the inter hostel creative writing contest, uploaded mostly as a backup.   We were supposed to hand in one broadsheet with certain required elements. The basic idea for our entry is that it’s a scrapbook kept by a woman in New York whose fiance went off to London to be an editor at a newspaper at around 1911-1912, consisting mostly of letters that he sent her and lots of other little tidbits. There’s really not a whole lot else in the story that you need to know, I think. We took a bit of a gamble in having the real weight of the entire theme rest on the last sentence of the last letter, which I wrote and which is posted below. There were two other letters and a clipping from an editorial that the man wrote (it was one of the required elements). Warning: It’s quite a bit over the top with the lovin’, so if you’re in a particularly cynical mood you might want to give this post a miss 🙂 .

April 9th, 1912


My landlady does not believe in the luxury of a log fire come April, and so I write with shivering hands on this unnaturally cold night, longing for the warmth of you held close to me… ah, the memory is enough to lift the cold. Things are going quite well. I remember your apprehensions about my journey here, and how silly they do seem now-the people are ever so kind, and the opportunities ever so much more here than they could be for me back home.

Mr. Davis at the office has very kindly allowed me 2 whole months off, as there are no pressing matters at present. The suffragette movement is in full swing here, but it does not appear to have much popular support, as evidenced by the increasingly desperate acts of its supporters, and in any case my employers do not think anything will come of it. I am less skeptical; it seems rather outrageous to me that women have been denied the vote even this far into the Age of Reason, and sooner or later this must be rectified. Perhaps I speak from liberal naivete and my inexperience of city politics, though, and this is just another ill-fated movement that nobody will remember ten years hence.

Lord Sheperd, my father’s friend (you will recall my mentioning how helpful he has been, helping me navigate through the absurd theatre that is London society, as appreciative as it is of my humble talents) took me to see the house I hope we can call our own. Of course I cannot yet afford one in his neighbourhood, but it is a charming area nonetheless- indeed, it is quite ideal, a haven of quiet in this crowded, smog-filled city, with the only disadvantage being the rather bohemian neighbours, whom we should hardly mind. Indeed, they will be a welcome change in this stodgy city. It is small, but it should be sufficient for our needs. It has the most wonderful little yard; no sooner did I enter it than a vision appeared to me of a sweet young child, our own if God grants it, playing on a ramshackle swing, and I knew that this was the place we should call home. I have already made an offer, and I feel we should be quite happy there.

Tomorrow I will board for “back home”, as I still call it. Yet I hope that this soon may change, for home is where the heart is, and my heart is ever with you; and when I return you will at last be by my side, as my wife. Every hour, every minute, every beat of my heart I long for you, and the closer I come to meeting you the harder it gets. I try to work, but my mind will not stay- I care not for my thoughts, unless they are thoughts of you. Blake was right- there is an eternity in every hour that I am apart from you, and I have been condemned to this lonesome purgatory for all of them. I find your likeness in everything I see; your face lies hidden behind every cloud and you dance in every flame. Every note I hear sings out for you; every robin’s trill, every nightingale’s song. I keep telling myself that you cannot possibly be as fair as I think you to be, that my mind is simply toying with me, that no mortal woman could be to mortal man all that you are to me, and yet it will not be quelled.

You will wait for me on the pier, won’t you? I will wait as long as I must, but to wait an instant more is sheer folly. Your friends will call it eagerness, I suspect, but what if it is? There are worse sins. Tomorrow I shall board the Titanic, and in a week my torment shall be at an end.

Yours in every way,

Yes, I know: Lester. But whatever. Also, read that last line again.

There’s also a poem that I wrote for inclusion in another letter, because the guidelines required a poem.  I’m actually quite proud of this, considering I wrote the whole thing in little over half an hour.

Love catches up to me in the middle of the street
and strikes me down,
and carries me away across the water.
Love guards my back as I prepare for bed,
fighting off Time as it gnaws away at my memories.
Love knocks me off my feet as I rush to work,
and overwhelms me with your sweet scent
(lavender, and jasmine, and something I can never place)
Love sets me afire and takes no note of my objections;
it knows nothing of delayed gratification,
and it is never in mind to learn.
Love is in no mood to wait, yet wait it must,
and it is tearing me apart;
and I can do naught but watch.



I can’t believe that I live in a country where the Supreme Court, the highest judicial body in the land, says THIS.

How f**king primitive do you have to be to say that a woman cannot be a rape victim just because she is promiscuous?

The next box on the same page about women who are married in UP having to go through “virginity tests”. And the story on the facing page of the newspaper was about how the Christian front in Mizoram wants to question the HC order legalizing homosexuality. Really. It just proves that for all our technical expertise and thousand-years tradition of “synthesis” and “tolerance”, vast parts of the country still continue to be ignorant bigots.

On Abortion

As a libertarian, I should already know what my position on this issue should be, but at least in this case it doesn’t seem that easy. Where “this case” refers to the Niketa Mehta case. Mostly because I see no good reason why this to-be child should be aborted -and at over 20 weeks it is a “to-be child”, not just a simple mass of tissue-, since clearly the money can be provided by some external agency and there is at least a reasonable chance of a productive life for the child. I can only bring to mind Voltaire’s maxim, paraphrased: “I do not agree with what you have to do with your body, but I’ll defend to the death your right to do it.

And the “but it’s NOT her body!!!” argument is dealt with fascinatingly in the extract reproduced below, from Lekhni‘s(no, not someone I know:found after 2 blogroll hops.) equally fascinating blog.

Abortion and the Niketa Mehta case | The Imagined Universe

2. If the foetus is an independent entity and an individual, can this individual live outside the mother? No, of course not. Foetuses born prematurely, i.e. before 37 weeks, may suffer complications even if treated in pre-natal intensive care. Absent pre-natal care, they cannot survive as their organs aren’t developed yet.

If we continue to take the position that the foetus is an independent legal entity (even though it cannot survive independent of its mother), then extending that argument, by requiring a mother to complete her pregnancy for a foetus she doesn’t want, we are forcing her to provide prenatal care (using her own body) which is not of her own choice, and for which she is obviously not being compensated either. The question is, is that a fair and just law?

Think about it, the only other persons whom the State forces to work without compensation are prisoners.

3. The issue of individual rights versus common good:

The other issue here is that the State is also, in essence, controlling a part of the woman’s body itself. It is claiming that it has overarching authority to decide on a part of the woman’s body. This is the scariest part. Where do an individual’s rights begin and the State’s rights end?

If the woman delivers the baby and immediately gives it up to the State for adoption, what she has done, in a way, is to rent her womb to the State.

If the State can force a woman to use her uterus to carry a baby she does not want, where can this slippery slope lead to? Can we, then, see any of the following scenarios happen in the future?

1. Can prisoners (especially those imprisoned for life) be forced to donate blood or body organs (one kidney, portion of liver) to save the life of a patient in a government hospital?

2. Can women prisoners be forced to rent their wombs to act as surrogate mothers? Or can the State attempt to harvest eggs from prisoners?

These arguments may seem far-fetched right now. But I can see arguments beginning with “common good” being made for each of them. Argument #2, for instance, can be made in countries with low fertility rates and declining populations, while Argument #1 can be made anywhere.

My conclusion: Women are rational creatures. No woman wants to abandon a foetus unless there is some compelling reason for her to do so.

Runaway Feminists, Runaway World

I believe that the feminist movement was one of the best things to happen to the world. We’ve seen a lot of reform from a lot of corners of the globe happen due to the movement that have undoubtedly bettered the condition of thousands of young women, who would otherwise have been denied the positions that they deserved in their homes, in society and in their workplaces.

HOWEVER……I believe that todays politically correct culture allows for one prejudice and one prejudice only…misandry ; a word that comes from the root words mis and andro meaning hatred and men , something like misogyny applied to men. Ofcourse, I’m not talking about HATRED for men yet, atleast in most circles, but a sort of amused disrespect for men in general. I think that in the forms I’m referring to, misandry would probably not be an appropriate word.

Acts of misogyny are now morally and legally unallowable.However, “misandry” is allowable,excusable, and not seen as a problem, as at best a ridiculous concept that should not be taken seriously…why, even I felt compelled to put it in quotes!!My reason for writing this now is simple…ridiculous,some might say. Even in my little hometown of Kottayam, where I live and have lived all my life, the cultural influences of feminism have hardly been lost, which would certainly have been a good thing, except for the very slightly rising misandric tide that’s creeping through it. Don’t get the wrong idea…we dont have any “Kill ’em all!” agitators here. Today, one of the girls in my class- call her Ms. A, and call her astute, and call her someone who takes an interst in these issues- wore this T-shirt to class which said,” Do you want to talk to the Man in charge…or the Woman who knows what’s going on?” Ofcourse, everybody just laughed(or ignored it), and nobody minded, even me, though I’m making all this ruckus about “nothing” now.This is a blog for comments, and a comment is all this is. Not a call to arms. Just an expression of my thoughts on the issue.