Daily Archives: June 1, 2009

A rape in progress, Part II

Expanding on the discussion from here

In the paper Anthropology’s “Fierce” Yanomami: Narratives of Sexual Politics in the Amazon, Sharon Tiffany and Kathleen Adams provide the following opening passage:

Imagine a society in which one woman in every three is raped, usually by a man she knows, consider the consequences of living in a society where one third of all women are beaten during pregnancy and 35 percent of women using emergency medical facilities are battered . Since wee are anthropologists, readers may mistakenly think that these appalling data were collected in an exotic society, an distant world where it is presumed that unpredictable and threatening behavior is commonplaces. Indeed, our friends and colleagues inevitably ask if it is safe for us to travel alone to remote and problematic places which presumably do not enjoy the law and order of civilization.

ResearchBlogging.orgThe statistics above come, of course, from American medical data.

The reason I bring this up at all, and leave you somewhat hanging (you should read the entire article) is because I am concerned that the reaction to the present discussion on rape, which focuses on Africa at the moment, will be to sit from a position of cultural and economic privilege and fail to see that this is a human problem, not a third world “Bungabungaland” problem. My comments about Vietnam, which come from Brownmiller’s Against Our Will: Men, Women, and Rape raised hackles, and I even got a bit of hate mail. But it is simply true … men of all cultures and ethnicities, even the men you know well and like and are good buddies with, even your father, brothers, and sons, when in a state of war will do all sorts of things that one just does not do otherwise, including killing, including pillaging, including rape. The quirky thing is that we Westerners live in a culture in which we believe that this is not true. But it is true, despite our beliefs. It is true enough at home (judging by the above passage) that we cannot expect much different in the battlefields, the occupied villages, and the lonely wilderness of Hobbesian warre.

War is a different place, a different landscape in every sense of the word.

I quickly note that this need not be the case. One can kill and pillage and not rape, as has been documented for certain armies in the past. I would not assume that the pattern seen in the jungles of Vietnam, the trenches of France in WW I, at Anzio or in Iraq are at all the same, and there is probably as much variation among western armies and occupation forces as there is among African, Asian or any other region, and there is certainly a great deal of variation across historical time as well.

We could train our armies to rape less. Or, we could seek non military solutions to our problems and avoid the whole problem to begin with. But we (Westerners) can’t do that alone. We need to change the way most of the world words economically, socially, and politically.

So get working on that, won’t you?

Tiffany, Sharon W., & Adams, Kathleen J. (1994). Anthropology’s ‘Fierce’ Yanomami: Narratives of Sexual Politics in the Amazon NWSA Journal, 6 (2)

Classic Shell Scripting

A repost, continuing along the lines of bashing the shell.

Having examined Learning the bash Shell (In a Nutshell (O’Reilly)) (see here, here, and here), it is now time to turn to a more advanced reference to help you geek out on your Linux computer. If you want to have only one book on bash, get Classic Shell Scripting by Robbins and Beebe. This book has an excellent mixture of history, philosophy, rigorously described details and creative solutions.

For instance, after giving a brief history of Unix (required in all such books) the authors layout the basic principles of what is considered good Unix programming. It is so good I’d like to summarize parts of it for you.

Continue reading Classic Shell Scripting

A rape in progress

Please read the following vignette of an actual incident.

I am a scientist observing the culture of the Namoyoma people. I am sitting in a shady spot just outside the village, writing up some notes, and I observe a disturbing event. Four men are trying to drag a young woman from the road into the nearby forest, and from what I hear them saying, they intend to rape her. There are also four older women trying to drag the young woman back to the village, and they are yelling that she must go back to her father’s house where she will be protected. The battle over this young woman continues for quite some time, and the whole time I consider if I should be involved. I am here to study these people, not to interfere. Yet a rape is, at least according to my cultural norms, a bad thing. Do I get involved or not?

Eventually, the four younger men, stronger than the older women, succeed in dragging the young woman into the bush. I assume they raped her. I felt bad about not helping, but I really had little choice in the matter. I did not come here to change things, I came here to observe and to learn. Intervention could have unforeseen consequences. This culture of rape and male dominance is the way things are in this society. It would be foolish and unethical to try to change it no matter how much I disagree with it.

That is a real story, and I’ve changed the details enough so that it might be difficult for you to track down where it comes from. This is because I have no intention at this time of getting into a battle over this particular incident. Rather, I tell you this story to ask the question: Is it appropriate for you, as a private citizen living in some country like the US or Australia or wherever you are reading this from, to get involved in changing the way that people’s cultures operate in areas where you happen to think they are wrong? In a culture like the one described above, where rape of women by men is “normal” and “typical” and “happens all the time” one can certainly feel badly for the women, but can you, should you, actually intervene?

My own answer to the question is substantially different from that of the person who first told the story I relate above. The answer is: “You are asking a stupid question in a stupid way, and need to step back and think about what you are saying.”

Rape may well be a “normal” and “day to day” occurrence in this culture, simply by virtue of the fact (= tautology) that it happens all the time. But there are two reasons why one should not fail to intervene.

One of these two reasons (and I hesitate to prioritize them) is that while rape is “normal” and “frequent” resistance to rape is as well. In the story cited above, there are two opposing forces, but the researcher observing them seems to focus only on one of the two. What about the perspective of the older women pulling on the other arm of this young girl? Are they not part of this culture as well? And certainly the young girl herself is at least as much an example of resistance as she is an example of object. If you must be logical and reflective in the manner of the hapless observer cited above, rather than activist, please consider that not wanting to be raped is a cultural norm as well. Duh.

The other reason is that rape is wrong. Call me a cultural chauvinist if you like.

This post is part of an effort that I was made aware of in a letter from Sheril Kirshenbaum, but with which a lot of people are involved. It is called Silence Is the Enemy, and you can read about it at The Intersection Blog at Discovermagazine.com.

The above example is from Latin America. Recently, mass rape as a tool of warfare has become increasingly exposed (this is not a new phenomenon) in Europe and Africa as part of very recent conflicts. When generation-long warfare is combined with child-solder strategies, as has happened in Liberia, the Congo, and parts of Uganda in recent decades, young men grow up understanding that sex = violent rape, and a sort of post-Apocalypic rape culture often emerges. I’ve provided a handful of links below that you should follow to learn more about this phenomenon. I also recommend the classic but not out of date Against Our Will: Men, Women, and Rape by Susan Browmiller, and the more recently published examination of former Yugoslavia, Rape Warfare: The Hidden Genocide in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Croatia

Men, by and large, have a rape switch. All men are capable of rape. Most men are enculturated in a way that reduces rape, and in some societies it is probably true that most violent rape is carried out by individuals who are reasonably labeled as pathological. In other societies, this is not so true. In post war societies such as those described in some of these links, or any society in a state of war, rape becomes routine. The rape switch is flipped to the on position as a matter of course. Most men who were in combat in Viet Nam raped. Similar circumstances have been documented for other wars. I mention this not only to emphasize the depth and breadth of this problem, but to avoid what I fear will be an assumption as Silence Is the Enemy progresses that this is a problem exclusive to the dark skinned of the third world. This is a pan-human problem. None of us, none of our societies, are immune.

Follow the links on Sheril’s blog. Read about this global and serious problem. Donate money to the causes mentioned here and on other blogs. Many of us bloggers who gain income from our blogs are donating some portion of this month’s take to these causes. Take some of your cash and put it on the line as well, please.


The Intersection: Silence Is The Enemy, Sheril’s initial post.

The Intersection: Blogger Coalition, a link farm.

Quiche Moraine: Stephanie wrote this.

Information and commentary:

New York Times OpEd: After Wars, Mass Rapes Persist

CNN.com commentary: War on women in Congo

Do something:

If you are an American, you can write to Congress

Give something. Consider doctors without borders. Me? I’m got my own favorite, the Ituri Forest People’s Fund.

… Continues …


A passenger plane is missing over the Atlantic

.. this is being reported by the BBC. The plane has 226 people flying out of Rio de Janeiro to france. An automatic mesage was received from the plan regarding a “short circuit” following turbulence, suggesting that the aircraft was struck by lightning.

Since this is a disappearance of an aircraft over the ocean, it is reminiscent of the Comet maneno, which you may know about.

Regarding the analysis of a Comet air liner near Elba in the 1950s …

The Attorney General, Sir Lionel Heald QC, told the first day of the inquiry that initial suspicions of sabotage were unfounded.

He said the painstaking analysis of thousands of fragments of the Comet involved in the Elba crash had revealed that the damage was caused by a fault in the plane itself.

In what Sir Lionel called “one of the most remarkable pieces of scientific detective work ever done”, a team led by Sir Arnold Hall, director of the Royal Aircraft Establishment at Farnborough, subjected models, full-size aircraft and replicas to the most elaborate and searching tests ever carried out on an airliner.

One fragment collected from the scene of the crash showed that a crack had developed due to metal fatigue near the radio direction finding aerial window, situated in the front of the cabin roof.

The investigators found that a small weakness such as this would quickly deteriorate under pressure, and would rapidly lead to a sudden and general break-up of the fuselage.

In tests on another Comet aircraft, Sir Lionel added, the investigators had found that up to 70% of the aircraft’s ultimate stress under pressure was concentrated on the corners of the aircraft’s windows.

Sir Lionel said the findings of the investigation would lead to a general improvement in the safety of passenger air travel.


Erratum … on the whole death threat thing….

Erratum published in the Times Observer:

An errant classified “personal” ad which appeared in Thursday’s Times Observer has drawn the attention of law enforcement officials.

A person from Warren placed the ad, which apparently alludes to the wish that President Obama meet an untimely end by linking him with four assassinated presidents. The ad representative didn’t make the connection among the four other presidents mentioned and mistakenly allowed the ad to run.

Upon realizing the mistake early Thursday morning, the ad was immediately discontinued and the identity of the person who placed the ad was turned over to Warren City Police as per newspaper policy. The local police department forwarded the information to federal authorities, as per department policy.

The Times Observer apologizes for the oversight.