Hitting the Links
Friday, 13 May 2016
Here's a new weekly set of interesting links around the Internet this week. I know I'm posting this a day late, but I couldn't keep my eyes open long enough after putting my son to bed to publish it yesterday.
Also, you'll note that most of the links are clustered around early in the weekly cycle when they might have been gathered. This is the result of dealing with pink-eye in the house this past week.
This week: The degradation of political discourse in (North) America, cool fossil finds (pun intended), boats, holidays, and sexist meddling by your relatives.
In last week's feature, I mentioned how Trump's rise in politics is bringing out the worst of Americans.
American blogger Libby Anne (who I've linked to as well last week) laments this state of affairs, concerned that Trumpism, which has given bigots the chance to "let their freak flag fly", has further degraded what was already a debased state of political discourse in the US. (A debased state, I might add, that was created by reactionary authoritarians - the Rush Limbaughs, Ann Coulters, Fox News pundits, and the like, of US media - that is, by the political Right and the Republican Party - insofar as these are not synonymous in the US.)
While the Earth sciences often show just how badly we're botching things with global warming, they're also uncovering amazing things about the Earth, past and present.
Case in point: even the inhospitable Antarctic is giving up some of its ancient secrets, with scientists finding a treasure trove of fossils from the late Cretaceous: dinosaurs, marine reptiles, and birds (insofar as we treat them as distinct from dinosaurs).
Culture and Society
It's official: the research ship that could have gone down as the RRS Boaty McBoatface - at least if its name was left to the Internet - has instead been named RRS Sir David Attenborough, named after one of the UK's iconic naturalists. In fairness, this is a far superior name. (It was also high on the list of popular name suggestions.)
However, fortunately for fans of Boaty McBoatface, all is not lost:
While the polar ship itself will not be named Boaty McBoatface, one of its remotely operated sub-sea vehicles will be named Boaty in recognition of the vote.
I didn't really see this stuff until this past week, even though the official day was last week, but Cinco de Mayo is not the holiday you might think it was.
It might come as no surprise that the widespread popularity of Cinco de Mayo is the result of marketing efforts on the part of beer companies. The actual holiday is not particularly Mexican. As explained by Times:
“The French army was about four days from Mexico City when they had to go through the town of Puebla, and as it happened, they didn’t make it,” Hayes-Bautista says. In a David-and-Goliath style triumph, the smaller and less-equipped Mexican army held off French troops in the Battle of Puebla, on the fifth of May of 1862. (The French army returned the following year and won, but it was the initial Mexican victory was still impressive.)
It wasn’t until May 27 that the news of the Battle of Puebla finally reached California-based Latinos, who had been feeling disheartened as Union forces were falling, quite disastrously so, to Robert E. Lee’s Confederate troops. The news from Mexico was doubly good for that population: not only was Mexico victorious, but California—as a free state—was also glad for the failure of the French plan to help the Confederacy. This was particularly true for residents of Hispanic origin, who had particular reason to oppose the South’s system of white supremacy.
In short, while the holiday is transforming into a not-quite-Mexican equivalent of St Patrick's Day (an Irish holiday which was captured by brewers decades ago), its roots lie in the struggle against the Confederacy. In short, Cinco de Mayo celebrates a blow struck against the Confederacy and the racist systems of oppression it represented - racist systems that the Confederates worked tirelessly to retain, even if in modified form, and later to export across the US. Perhaps progressives can take this oldear meaning and make it a more integral part of the holiday?
It's an unfortunate fact that women's sexuality and relationships are often heavily policed by their relatives. Honour killings, where women are killed for their romantic choices, are the most extreme form of this policing, but it comes in many forms, some subtle, most not so much ("dads against daughters dating" shirts, jokes about handling weapons while boyfriends are visiting, that sort of thing). While these other modes of policing may not stack up to murder, they help generate the toxic social environment in which women operate as sexual beings - worse yet, they all contribute to the idea that a woman's sexuality and body are not her own.
This attitude is played up for laughs in show business, and it's not really that much more pleasant when you stop to think about it, especially because in romantic comedies part of resolving the plot is usually that feuding parties accept at least some of the foibles and misbehaviours of each other, even when no adult woman ought to be obliged to put up with meddling in her relationships - unless they're genuinely toxic, the likes of which aren't liable to appear in your typical rom-com.