Beauty is in the eye of the beholder

Ugly is in the eye of the observer

Is It Time to Redefine a Women's Role - One More Time?

There is an incorrect view held by many that until the 1960s all women everywhere always stayed home and looked after their children. The historical fact of the matter is that needing a dual income to raise a family has been true for most of the history of civilisation. In agrarian societies it took both a husband and wife (and, lets face it, any child big enough to help) to be able to survive. And when they weren't out slopping the pigs, milking the cows, or harvesting the wheat, they were inside without all of our current labour-saving devices making food, cleaning clothes, and looking after the children - who were necessary for the whole operation to work.

When the bourgeousie or middle class began to emerge - the shop-keepers, peddlers, creditors and other "middle-men" - they brought these societal expectations along with them. Wives minded the store along with the children, mended while their husbands bartered, and continued to look after the day-to-day running of their homes.

The industrial revolution marked the first grand exodus of women to work outside their homes - the first time they were "seperated" from their household duties to do their work. Many would argue that this was a horribly degrading experience for all involved. Because of their poverty, women often worked alongside them, or stayed home to tend the younger children, whether in a factory or coal mine. The treatment they received was appalling.

Apart from the aristocracy, who were always pampered more than was likely good for them, women have, traditionally, therefore been involved in work outside the home. It wasn't until after World War II, with the large number of returning soldiers who were given free university tuition and low-cost housing, that the movement to mother's staying at home day in and day out without other work to keep them busy truly had the opportunity to rise - and even then it was still limited to the middle class. Not only were they at home, but as the labour-saving devices developed before and during the war became more readily available, women had an increasing amount of time on their hands. Time which was often used for volunteerism and other pursuits which had hitherto been only within the grasp of the aristocracy.

Second-wave feminism came as a reaction to feeling "fenced in", or relegated to a small and seemingly insignificant role in society. Women had brains in their heads and wanted to prove that by the same means that their husbands did every day - with a job that paid in terms of both financial and societal recognition. The dividends of sloppy-milk kisses seemed insignificant in comparison.

This is where I came in. When I first started school many of my friends in our small town had stay-at-home mothers. A few didn't. Three years later in the suburbs most of my friends' mothers worked - at least part time - once their children had entered school full time. Today I am the only stay-at-home mother in a complex of 105 townhouses who isn't a daycare provider or on maternity leave. And the strangest thing is the number of my friends who say they wish they could stay home like I do - but they couldn't possibly afford it - who have bigger houses, fancier cars, daycare fees for their children and take-out bills bigger than my mortgage!

So it would appear that something isn't working. Obviously women have always had to balance work and home (which is, after all, work of its own). As we saw, they've been doing it from the dawn of time. Women and men have different skills and abilities, and we need each other to effectively manage in our families, work environments and society as a whole. The difference, however, is that instead of house tasks having a place to fit into the whole picture of work, as was the case in agrarian or early bourgeousie times, children are now bustled off to daycare or Nana's, the housework is relegated to a housecleaner (or just doesn't happen) and the cooking is left to Joe's Pizza down the street. What we are left with is children who are raised by strangers, marital relationships which are taxed for lack of time and attention, and homes that - however large and inviting they are - stay empty ten hours a day. And I think its time that we as a society stopped to think about this carefully. Is the persuance of materialistic and personal achievement, at the sake of family time and attention, really worth the price?

There is a growing trend today that seems, on the surface, to solve this problem well. One parent - either parent - chooses to work from home around their children's naps, playdates and other activities so that they can maintain a degree of their materialistic freedom and personal career satisfaction without wondering who the two towering teenagers are in front of them and where the cute toddlers went to. Speaking from experience, if earning money is part of this goal, then this is likely to send many people into a panic attack. Its one thing to harvest wheat with Suzy beside you talking your ear off, and another to try to write an article, develop computer software, or liase with clients over the phone or in person!

What other choice do we have? I'm going to be really radical. We need to lower our expectations - for ourselves, for our families and for our society - from a materialistic standpoint. That means four things. First, take a really good look at what you spend money on and decide which things you need (basic groceries, a roof over your head, some form of transportation, the odd meal out and camping vacation) and which things are extra (take-out three nights a week, a 3,000 sq ft home, the Beamer or Freelander you've been aiming for, the yearly trips to Disneyworld). Write down a list.

Then we must set about ridding ourselves of the extras. While I'm on my radical bent sell the house and downgrade - sell a bunch of the expensive and hard-to-maintain furniture, too, as it won't fit in your new place! Settle for public transit, or an older, reliable, basic car. Look into free or inexpensive forms of jasminlive entertainment - use your community centre instead of the private gym, go hiking, enjoy community festivals, find a family camp, enjoy a local beach or campground.

Next, pare down on as much work as you possibly can, based on your new financial requirements. That means if two wage-earners are working 50 hours a week and can cut their hours in half maybe one person quits and finds some work-related persuit that will take up 10 hours a week. Or maybe you both scale down by 15 hours a week. Ensure that each of you achieves the mental workout you need somehow without working beyond that threshold unless it is still financially necessary.

Finally, don't fill up that newly acquired time with more gadgets, priorities, commitments or scheduled activities. Instead, invest it in your marriage. Invest it in your kids. Learn to see your "time" investment as you see your financial investments - a vital aspect of planning for unforeseen future events - like the day your daughter first gets asked out on a date, the day your wife is in a car accident, the day your husband finds out he has terminal cancer. This isn't about being morbid, its about making decisions now that will save you anger, resentment, worry, guilt and pain down the road.

Do I think this will solve all of society's ills? Not a chance. First of all, I don't have any assumptions that everyone will follow my suggestions. But I do think that the more each of us make a time investment in our families and our children the more we will see an improvement within that sphere. Feminism pushed for room for women to participate in the "men's world" (usually assumed to be white-collar work) without always adequately appreciating the importance of "women's work". Now the pendulum has swung too far. We're at the other end of the spectrum feeling once again as if we have no choice in what we as women do with our time once we have completed our maternity leave. We've exchanged one box for another. Its time to break out of the box.

Frankenfood: Burn the Monster?

I think the European position on Frankenfood can be summarized as: "Corporate interests driven only by greed are experimenting with the code of life with unknown consequences. The risks are huge, the benefits are dubious." The American position can be summarized as: "Huh?"

Recently, the US has gone so far as to try to force Europeans to eat Frankenfood.

American arrogance aside, what gives with European reluctance and terror at the concept of genetically modified crops? Or, if you would rather examine the inverse, why are Americans so blase about the issue and seemingly could care less?

On both sides of the aisle, atrocities are visible. Consider Zambia, where hundreds of thousands face starvation, and American SR Crops are rejected on the basis of fanciful European fears about foreign genes and proteins. Additionally, African farmers will not grow SR crops if they cannot be exported to European markets.

Dr Mwananyanda Lewanika is a biochemist at Zambia's National Institute for Science and Technology, holds two degrees from US universities and has specialised in biosafety for five years. He explains that his team rejected the maize largely because of health concerns raised in Europe. His first concern is gene transfer - the idea that the foreign genes could, while in the gut, transfer into the cells of the body or into bacteria in the gut. If the genes become coded for antibiotic resistance, as they sometimes do, bacteria that picked them up could then rampage through human populations.

According to the Zambia Daily Mail, a group called Farming and Livestock Concern UK said that the virus used to create most SR varieties "could form a retrovirus that could produce symptoms similar to HIV", a claim that will raise eyebrows among biologists. Another lobby group, Genetic Food Alert, raised the "unknown and unassessed implications of providing large quantities of food containing resistance genes to a large population in Zambia.

Meanwhile, American companies encode pesticide resistance into SR Crops. Why? So more pesticides can be sprayed without harming the crops! Hardly a likeable outcome, and clearly one cynically aimed at lining chemical company's coffers. It only takes a loose grasp on irony to perceive that the real promise of SR crops is to create disease resistance WITHOUT using pesticides.

Additionally, the propensity to try to claim intellectual property rights over genetic code that is only discovered in the wild, perhaps even garnished originally from cultural wisdom of poor rural third world peoples, raises serious eyebrows on many different levels. How can you copyright life? How can you claim corporate hegemony over traditional cultural knowledge? It's called biopiracy, and it's real. Is there prior art on turmeric, for example?

However, I have a serious beef with European concerns over Frankenfood, no pun intended in light of recent Mad Cow Disease concerns. Which is a very relevant example, actually, as Cloaked User points out, the psychology at work over Frankenfood is much the same as that which played out during the BSE scandal:

You mention the BSE crisis - well, I "lived through" it, and I remember the projected number of deaths. Predictions were up in the millions; you could be forgiven for being left with the distinct impression that the country would be more than decimated by it. So far, iirc, the actual number of deaths from nvCJD is around a hundred. I can't help feeling it was blown out of all proportion

People, generally speaking, tend to fear the unknown, and anything that they don't understand, especially when it's beyond their control, and people are telling them that they should fear it.

Driving cars is far more dangerous to life and limb than flying airplanes. But people are scared to death of flying, and feel quite comfortable driving. Why? Because in a car, you are in control behind the wheel. While in an airplane, you put your life in the hands of others. Simple human psychology at work. The sense of control greatly outweighs the statisics and truth of the matter of the real safety at work. You don't have control over the other drunks and idiots on the road, but the feel of the steering wheel in your hand has a potent psychological effect.

The psychology of the situation is remarkable. But the sensitivity to the soundness of one's food supply is commendable too. Obviously, it can go overboard.

I think much of Europe's concerns over Frankenfood have easy parallels to European peasant's reactions to the original Mary Shelley's Frankenstein: simple, unfounded fear of the unknown. Fanciful tales of retroviruses hijacking SR genes and spreading dangerous reactions in animal and human guts? Good lord. Can we say false alarmism please?

There is nothing wrong with opposing SR crops on scientific grounds. There is everything wrong with opposing SR crops on science fiction grounds.

Take as an example a crop like golden rice. It offers vitamin A in a plant where vitamin A is not traditionally genetically manufactured. And so golden rice makes a vital nutrient available in the staple diet of the rural poor, many in nations where blindness can result because some diets are low in vitamin A.

So what can possibly be the basis for opposing this crop? What is the downside? Governments and NGOs have already said they will provide the crop free of charge. What, will the gene for making vitamin A wreak havoc on the world because... well you've messed with mother nature, and vitamin A belongs in carrots only, so the great goddess of the Earth will enact her revenge on a human populace that doesn't respect her? Where's the science? Where's the possible threat?

There is nothing wrong with respecting limits. There is nothing wrong with mistrusting corporations tinkering with the code of life and letting the consequences play out in the real world with unknown consequences for us all.

But there is everything wrong with opposing great benefit for the poor of the world out of a simple lack of an education in basic genetics. Careful evaluation of the potential outcome before letting a SR crop into the fields? Certainly. But let the emphasis be on careful evaluation, and not uneducated hysteria.

There is benefit to the world from SR Crops. There really is. A lot of the nightmare scenarios opponents of SR Crops cook up are based on natural processes that go on every day around us anyways. These processes neither add to nor subtract from anything SR crops introduce into the environment. And just looking at something like SARS, it is easy to see that the natural biological threats from natural genetic processes are, were, and will always be the real concern.

Some scientists put jellyfish genes in monkeys a few years ago. Disturbing? Yes. Genetic modification can do more than make crops grow better. They can warp us, they can warp the genetic code of humans. That is frightening.

But some scientists put fish genes in strawberries. Why? So the antifreeze gene from the fish would make the strawberries more resistant to frost. Where is the harm in that? Seriously!

Can we keep our healthy fear in line with our sense of reason? What I am asking from those who are wary of genetic engineering in food is this: fear and fight the jellyfish genes in monkeys, but don't fight the fish genes in strawberries. One is a frightening step towards tinkering with our genes for dubious purposes. The other makes strawberry growing easier for Canadians. Big difference. Keep that perspective and don't let the fear overwhelm your reason.

Human beings have been messing with genetics for years. Look at the variety of dogs we have cooked up from a few wolves we befriended some thousands of years ago. Compare the gigantic corn cobs of today to the ancient pre-Mayan wimps, or ancient tiny Andean potatoes to the Idaho monsters today, or tomatoes, etc.

Of course messing directly with the genetic code carries increased risks and necessitates greater oversight. With great power comes great responsiblity. Can we screw it up? Yes. But the benefits are so huge to the world, SR can not be ignored. The genie can not be put back in the bottle. Such is human nature. We will not ignore SR and discard the technology, nor should we.

Think about the SR crops that can be coaxed to grow in desert environments. Or cold environments. Think about the boon all of this represents for the poor of the chaturbate world, for putting less strain on the natural environment. You say corporations have no interest in these goals? Fine. Then chastise the corporations, not the tech. And then tell me European concerns over SR foods don't reek of hysteria and a lack of real scientific knowledge.

Like opposing globalization, opposing genetically modified crops is like opposing the inevitable. But just as globalization is known as Americanization in some circles, the debate over Frankenfood gets coated with fear and politics, instead of reason, and we all lose for that.


Even if we accept the argument that genetically engineering could be used to mess around with the nutritional makeup of food rather than just to make more money, have you not noticed that dietary and nutritional advice changes month on month? This month, vitamin supplements (such as vitamin A mentioned in the article) are the source of nutritional concern:

The Guardian says "Long term use of six substances, vitamin B6, betacarotene, nicotinic acid (niacin), zinc, manganese and phosphorus, might also cause irreversible health damage ... Pregnant women are already advised to avoid vitamin A supplements and liver because of potential dangers to the foetus."

And we want to suddenly, invisibly change the nutritional composition of the diets of people in the Third World who will have little say in this (and little chance for informed consent)?

At least 37 people died and 1500 were permanently disabled in an epidemic of the disease EMS in 1989 in the US, linked to first food supplement to be produced by genetic engineering (L-Trytophan, made by Showa Denko, Google for it) This is not conclusive: "The specific contaminant has never been identified.".

But you don't need toxic contaminants to kill. Peanuts are safe to eat - for some people. Cornell: "A novel genetically engineered (GE) food may have the potential to cause new allergic reactions if it contains proteins that the conventional food doesn't have. ... Since 1992, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has recommended (but not required) the developers of genetically engineered foods to assess their potential allergenicity ... it is difficult, if not impossible, to predict the allergenicity of proteins in any new food (including new conventional foods) using current jasminelive technologies.".

Heard of horizontal gene transfer"? Growing SR crops is not a straightforward "individual choice" argument - even if I choose not to eat them (assuming I somehow have the resources needed to locate and identify certifiably non-SR food!), genetic material in one organism can spread others - so what choice do I have then?

Basically, it's all very well to say "we have to take risks to progress". But who takes the risks, and who gets the progress? For me the SR food case in the real world is pretty cut and dried. Large (REALLY large) companies get to progress their pursuit of profit and control of virtually the entire human food chain, and all of us get to take the risks, whether we want to or not. Those risks are absolutely not trivial - show me a good reason and then I'll consider taking them!

Or am I basing my decision on emotion, rather than science?

I highly recommend it

Have you read Good News for a Change by David Suzuki and Holly Dressel. It deals with a lot of these issues.

The author's opinion is that it's not specifically genetically engineered foods that are going to cause us problems but our farming practices in general. SR food is just our latest bad idea that will lead to worldwide food shortages. Of course that depends on how it is used. The following is a loosely based retelling of the green revolution:

All these regions that are starving and lack food are often caused by the native people being told there that the way they were growing food prior to the 20th century was all wrong. The new superstrains of rice, grain along with tonnes of fertilizer and pesticides is the best way to grow food.

So the locals were pressured into throwing out their old methods and seeds that had been developed over centuries for the latest idea that was baked up in a laboratory somewhere.

It worked... for the first couple years there was an increase in food production. Then invariably in these regions there would be a drought, flood, or other unforseen circumstance (at least in the lab) that would wipe out the supercrop. So on averare you end up with less production.

And here's the rub, all this food doesn't end up feeding the local population. They can't afford it due to the price of all the chemical inputs used to make it. The country is obliged to sell this food back on the global market so that it can become cattle feed for us wealthy americans, because that's where the money is.

In the end all these starving countries would have been better off if the green revolution never happened. SR food just promises to be more of the same tragic story. So I really object when Monsanto and other companies try to use the underfed populations argument as part of their marketing campaign. I'm also puzzled that people who have no affiliation with these companies repeat that argument.

In the end, for the prices that Monsanto will be charging for the use of their Intectual Property, that food will end being bought in America and Europe, no one else will be able to afford it. It's simple economics.

But the real lesson here concerning SR food is that nature was been developing and testing crops for millions of years in the most demanding environment possible: earth itself. These SR foods are often only tested for a couple of years in a controlled environment in one kind of climate. Who knows how they will react when put out in the real world which is always dreaming up new bugs and diseases, or already has quite a few stashed away that we don't know about. Exchanging our natural biodiversity which has already solved this problem for monocultures of SR crops is always going to be a bad idea.