Archive for April 2013
New Delhi, India (AP) – In the wake of several violent rapes over the last several months, the Indian government has announced a cap on horrifically brutal sexual assaults, limiting the number to 12 per year. The law will go into effect in January 2014.
The four-year-old victim of an April 17 rape in Madhya Pradesh died today, on the heels of a similarly brutal rape involving a five-year-old girl in New Delhi two weeks ago. Sexual assault of minors in India has become increasingly common in recent years, or at least have become increasingly reported. Two other cases of gang rapes made international headlines in December and January and sparked tumultuous protests across the country. Demonstrators accused the police and prosecutors of treating accused rapists leniently and turning a blind eye to the phenomenon.
The new legislation, formally ratified this morning, applies only to those “non-consensual sexual acts,” as the bill refers to them, that generate significant media coverage and spark public outcry. Theoretically, all twelve highly publicized annual beating-rapes or rapes of children could occur in the same month, as long as none occurred during the rest of that calendar year. And since the law only covers the assaults that make headlines, it will not affect the thousands of rapes that continue to occur.
“This is a call to rapists to be much more careful,” said Shewantsit Dontcarewatchusay, a Mumbai sociologist who has studied the issue extensively with the young offspring of his neighbors. “It would be too ambitious, I think, to call for a complete elimination of excessively violent rapes in so short a time, but anything to keep things quiet is a welcome step.”
Dontcarewatchusay expects further legislation in the same vein if the community of rapists and child molesters embraces the new law. The practice of highly publicized gang rape might fall out of disuse entirely if adherence to the new limits takes hold. “It’s in their interest to generate as little publicity as possible so they can continue their work,” he said of his fellow practitioners.
Some advocates have been agitating for more reform along different lines. Idowanna Takkabowdittagain, a lobbyist, represents a number of organizations that would prefer the simpler step of a ban on using social media to facilitate the unwanted publicity that has made these incidents so unpopular. The advantages of such a policy, she noted, have been demonstrated in locales such as North Korea, where not a single rape has been reported in international media in decades.
Others call for more sweeping measures. “If we outlaw women this problem would solve itself,” argues Missengh Deforestforthetrees, who leads a non-profit legal research foundation. He referred to similar initiatives in other countries, but concedes that India’s huge population might make implementation of the measure a formidable logistical challenge.
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Conservative commentators, even some typically loyal to the network, have lashed out at the news team for resorting to a complete picture instead of using half-truths in an effort to paint Democrats as immoral.
“Its a disgrace,” said Ann Coulter. “This is not what we’ve come to expect from FOX, and they’d better get their act together if they want to hold onto their conservative credentials.”
Glenn Beck, a former FOX host, concurred. “Facts are things you get from networks beneath contempt, such as CNN,” he said. “The cause of right-wing conservatism is badly served when the flagship network of the movement resorts to techniques and content unbecoming of its viewership and reputation.” He said the network could reestablish itself as independent of factual accuracy if it made a concerted effort, but only time would tell if it could sustain that effort.
In this case, a FOX reporter mentioned reputable medical statistics on gunshot injuries and deaths, statistics that unmistakably frame gun control as a public health issue worthy of consideration. After angry reactions from the National Rifle Association and from Merle and Lydia Guntherspoon of Texarkana, Arkansas, the network retracted the report.
Other news media organizations have also been accused of factual accuracy, and responded in various ways. Al Jazeera, for example, has found itself trying, often unsuccessfully, to negotiate the boundary between journalistic plausibility and anti-Israel bias.
Some outlets have developed strict policies to forestall such criticism. The British Broadcasting Corporation, though recently mired in an ethics scandal, has only rarely let facts get in the way of its reporting, most notably in the Middle East, thanks to a rigid policy of always portraying one side in a conflict as wrong, facts notwithstanding. It remains unclear whether FOX will tighten its guidelines – or at least the enforcement of existing ones, if any – or will simply let the incident slide and assume the prevailing corporate culture will prevent a recurrence.
“I can see them going either way, really,” said media analyst Leis Daly. “FOX wants to maintain its reputation, so they might work hard to keep the facts from intruding on their work. On the other hand, the demographic that gave rise to FOX’s success, and from which it draws its ethics, embodies a conservatism so powerful that actually doing anything to effect change runs counter to everything it holds dear.”
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Chicago, IL, April 24 (AP) – S, an infant born early last week, is already dreading the lifetime of hearing about the discomfort and trouble he caused his parents in the day leading up to his birth.
“I can’t wait for it to kick in,” remarked the nine-day-old, grimacing at the thought, or possibly at nothing. “You’d think world events, or actually amusing things, would make better fodder for conversation, but no, it’ll be decades before discussion of my mother’s experience with me peters out.”
His mother is expected to regale friends and acquaintances with the 34 hours of labor preceding S’s delivery by suction in the wee hours of last Sunday. After the postpartum period, when talk of the labor and delivery is typical of any birth aftermath, the mother’s relatively unusual travails will continue to be described when she wishes to contribute to a conversation about childbirth, or when she wishes to half-jokingly explain her child’s tendencies or behavior.
S’s fears are well founded, says Columbia University cultural anthropologist Beth Nossentrik. “The difficulty of a labor and delivery is a reliable predictor of the number of times the experience will be brought up in conversation,” she explained in a telephone interview. “For each additional hour of labor, a mother can be expected to tell her story an average of eleven times per year in the first four years, with the number gradually decreasing – unless she subsequently has more children, in which case the number actually increases by two until four years after the last child is born.”
According to Nossentrik, other factors can add to the number of times the narrative is rehashed. In this case, she says the fact the labor went on that long without a Cesarean Section being performed has the potential to add anywhere from six to eight occasions for relating the story over the next two years, and twice per year on average after that.
Chicago-area family therapist Hedda Schrinker concurs. “The statistics are pretty robust in that regard,” she said in an e-mail. “Mothers tend to want to share the unusual aspects of their childbirth experience. What I would also add is that the numbers tick up again slightly when she is about to become a grandmother, and do not really come down again,” unless she eventually suffers a stroke or other debilitating condition that removes her ability to communicate coherently.
S’s parents also feature the additional augmenting factor of friends in multiple far-flung places who will need the story repeated to them individually, as they will not be in position to hear it collectively. Shrinker has attempted to reassure S that his situation is not unique, and that many other perfectly dysfunctional parent-child relationships have weathered this sort of repeated rehashing.
“He kind of whined when I said that,” admitted Shrinker. “It reminds me of when I had my second daughter…” she began.
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New York, NY, April 19 (AP) – Responding to increasing pressure from parents, the Bloomberg administration announced this morning that it will begin penalizing people who offer advice to parents without being asked to do so. Additionally, people whose unsolicited remarks include implied or outright criticism will be subject to further fines.
At a press conference on the steps of City Hall, Mayor Bloomberg introduced the initiative, which he called Urban Parent-Youth Operation to Urge Restraint in Scolding (UPYOURS). UPYOURS, approval of which in the City Council is all but assured, will take effect in time for the more pleasant spring weather, when children and their parents return to playgrounds en masse, often attracting “helpful” comments from others.
“It’s high time we defend the good citizens of this city from the scourge of harassers,” said the mayor. He cited statistics compiled over the last decade which document a fourfold increase in the number of uninvited parenting critiques or remarks within the five boroughs. “As the most responsive administration this city has ever seen, our response is UPYOURS.”
Neighborhood parent associations had taken note of the increase and began petitioning the city to address the problem. “We parents have enough challenges living in this city,” said Getta Wayfromme, a Park Slope mother of two preschoolers. “Between the mommy-child yoga, the swimming lessons, the interrogation – I mean vetting – of possible caregivers and the shopping for stylish accessories, it’s tough enough as it is. We don’t need people implying that we’re not already giving our children the very best, let alone saying it outright.”
Not everyone is pleased with UPYOURS. Sharyn N. Karen, 54, of Williamsburg, says she has seen enough parents to know which ones are doing fine and which ones could use some helpful guidance. “People don’t like to admit it, but they need other people,” said the childless, single artist. “It’s just good that there are people such as I to helpfully correct the errors of others’ ways, such as when they fail to impart when to use the phrase, ‘such as I’ instead of ‘like me.'”
Other provisions of the city ordinance include: greater leniency for advice-givers who have children the same age as the parent receiving the comments, all the more so if the children have been playing together for more than thirty seconds; additional fines for belittling or dismissing the anxiety of a parent over his or her child’s possibly fatal food allergies; and mandatory jail sentences for lecturing on the benefits of cloth diapers or for treating breastfeeding in public as objectionable.
At the press conference, Bloomberg praised the parents who first proposed UPYOURS. “This city has always benefited from citizens who understand where public action is necessary and where things are best left in the realm of the individual. As this administration has made clear before, it is not the place of other individuals to tell people how to live their lives.”
“That’s the city’s job,” he said.
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Washington, DC (AP) – For the first time in two decades, the government has increased the minimum number of supermarket checkout lanes that must be closed at one time, raising it to 4 from 3. The law applies to supermarkets that have at least 6 checkout lanes.
The law, dubbed the American Supermarket Standard Hampering Of Line Expediency, aims to maintain a certain level of customer dissatisfaction. “If the American supermarket consumer experiences too much efficiency, we run the risk of greater spending, which in turn contributes to inflation,” explained the bill’s sponsor, Fred Upton (R-MI). “While we’re working so hard to rein in the deficit, it makes no sense for us to be encouraging freewheeling spending on the part of Mr. and Mrs. America, so this is a natural move.”
The bill passed by a large margin in both houses, owing to bipartisan disdain for people who actually have to visit supermarkets, the overwhelming majority of whom do not make political campaign contributions. Retail groups lobbied heavily in favor of the law, preferring to have the option of blaming restrictions imposed from the outside for unpleasant conditions in their stores.
A provision of the law also clarifies the procedures for “express” lanes. Under the previous law, passed in 1981, strict rules prevented supermarkets from calling anything greater than 15 items “express,” with exceptions for multiple units of the same item. Under the new law, an additional provision mandates at least two delays of at least three minutes each for each item fewer than the express ceiling.
For example, if the lane maximum is 10 items or fewer and a customer wished to purchase only seven items, the cashier will be required to find some problem that takes an extra nine minutes to resolve before he or she may complete the transaction and accept the next customer. The bill gives a list of such possible problems but allows for the supermarket management to add to the list at its discretion.
Included in the list are running out of receipt paper, deciding it is time to replenish one or more of the small change denominations, and difficulty with authorizing a particular purchase – or any other difficulty that would necessitate calling over an already-occupied management figure.
Macomb Waite-Moore, manager of a Safeway in Portland, Oregon, greeted the news of the law’s passage with circumspection. “Fact is, we’ve been doing this kind of thing for years in any case.”
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Cambridge, MA (AP) – Researchers at Harvard have found what they consider convincing proof that it is just fine for complete strangers to make unsolicited contact with the protruding midsection of a pregnant woman.
In a paper to be published next month in the New England Journal of Medicine, a team of physicians presents the evidence in favor of people you don’t know from Adam up and touching your pregnant belly. “It’s a life-affirming experience to encounter a mother-to-be, and the healthiest possible reaction is to invade the personal space of that mother,” said the lead researcher, Dr. Leonard Asperger. “Such women have already had several months to adapt to the notion that their bodies are not exclusively their own, and having complete strangers give them an appreciative pat or stroke is just the thing to bring everyone together in a warm moment.”
The study, which observed the social effects of 1,023 visibly pregnant women over the course of six years, cataloged over 4,000 individual incidences of stranger-belly contact. It found that invariably, the mood in the immediate vicinity of the contact improved, as indicated by the number of smiles and the increased heart rate of the pregnant woman. If the contact persisted more than a second or two, the cardiovascular benefits to the pregnant mother were even more in evidence, and if the mother’s romantic partner or sibling was present, those benefits extended even to them.
“The adrenalin increase associated with the touch of the stranger has myriad positive health benefits. The increased pulse can often help during gravidity, when many women experience drops in blood pressure,” the study says. “A consistent regimen of being in an environment where strangers feel welcome to touch the protruding abdomen can help in reducing the need for medication to combat the hypotension.”
According to the researchers, such locales include, but are not limited to, train stations, bus stops, waiting rooms, supermarket aisles and Park Slope, Brooklyn. They observed that the demographic most likely to touch a pregnant stranger’s belly was people over the age of 50. Approximately the same percentage of men and women could be counted on to engage in such impromptu contact.
Asperger intends to follow up the study with an investigation into the positive impact generated when strangers offer unsolicited criticism or advice regarding someone else’s parenting.
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Television City, CA (AP) – The Screenwriters Guild of America issued a statement today warning the public that the film industry is running out of hackneyed expressions to use as the titles for romantic comedies.
“The number of cliches at the disposal of our writers is rapidly shrinking, and in just a few years we may run out of such turns of phrase entirely,” read the statement. “We call upon the media and the public at large to increase the rate at which new cliches are created so that our members can continue to provide the world with the formulaic, mediocre pieces of cinematic turd it has come to expect.”
According to Sel U. Lloyd, an expert on screenplay titles, writers first began to notice the cliche shortage in the 1990’s, when Sleepless in Seattle and You’ve Got Mail drove home to the industry that they had begun to grasp at straws in order to avoid reusing an already-claimed cliche (it apparently did not bother the industry that the two films were cast using the same lead actor and actress, as had several others since Joe Versus the Volcano several years earlier).
However, said, Lloyd, despite repeated warnings within the industry, studios disregarded the dangers and continued to call for new romantic comedy screenplays without considering the effects that a lack of a pithy or cutesy cliche in the title would bring. He attributed this near-sightedness to the influence of the horror and porn film genres, in which using the same title as a previous work has little bearing on the film’s popularity or quality.
Linguist Noam Chomsky doubts that the public can meet the demand for new turns of phrase, despite the rate at which internet memes catch on and neologisms are spread through the public consciousness. “The unprecedented interconnectedness of world culture notwithstanding, new coinages are just as rare as ever,” he said. “Occasionally a politician or other public figure will utter a new phrase that gets a burst of attention, but more often than not, the phrase is useless in the romantic comedy title genre.”
“Take ‘Binders Full of Women,'” he said, referring to an unfortunate choice of words on the part of then-presidential candidate Mitt Romney in a debate with Barack Obama. “It’s a phrase with some staying power, but the film genre with which it is compatible would hardly be anyone’s idea of a romantic comedy.”
“Well, maybe the Marquis de Sade,” he added.
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