Recent Reading: 1 May: Torture, Poverty, Fear, Obit, Beauty, Orgasm, Cocktail

>>We’re All Torturers Now. Dahlia Lithwick at Slate asks whether anything about the U.S. torture scandal will ever scandalize us again? She compares the U.S. public’s response to the Abu Ghraib abuse in 2004 to our response to news of current prisoner abuse by waterboarding, sleep deprivation, throwing prisoners into walls, locking them in small boxes with insects, etc. She concludes:

“We have become so casual about torture that we now openly debate its efficacy — something nobody would have dared do in the first days after Abu Ghraib. The fight playing out between the left and the right now isn’t ‘Did we water-board?’ We already knew we did. It is barely even ‘Was it legal?’ Virtually nobody seriously argues that it was. The fight we are having in America now is ‘Did it work?’ And if we manage to persuade ourselves that torture does work, whether it’s legal or even moral will no longer matter. And such tactics will never be able to horrify us again.”

Along with this, the results of a poll showing that church-going white Evangelicals are more likely than the rest of the American public to approve of torture. It doesn’t surprise me that Christians who believe in a satisfaction theory of atonement and a retributive apocalypse would support torture as valid. What seems like just as big news to me is that more than 70% of Americans generally believe that torture can be justified.

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>>Poverty persists, and so does wealth. Family-of-origin poverty is a better predictor of future financial status  than school success or college degree:

“Two thirds of the kids with average math scores and low-income parents wind up not going to college, while almost two-thirds of high-income kids with average math scores do go.”

and

“A child from a family in the top income quintile who does not get a college degree is more likely to wind up in the top income quintile himself than a child from a family in the bottom income quintile who does get a college degree.”

More at Conde Nast‘s Portfolio.com and at Matt Yglesias’s blog.

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>> Susan Boyle: Lots of analysis of her popularity. I like this one (two):

Explaining Susan Boyle, at Neuroworld, quoting from Mark Blankenship at the Huffington Post:

” … this clip enacts a story that we want to be true. No matter how much we mock those we consider beneath us, it’s much more satisfying to be reminded that everyone has dignity.

“That’s because when we laugh at someone for being a freak, we’re laughing out of fear. We’’e laughing because we want to prove that we are not like that loser over there. If we can shame the people who don’t belong, then we can prove that we do.

“When we embrace an outsider, though, we’re paving the way for our own acceptance in the future. Eventually, we’ll all feel like outcasts, and none of us wants to be laughed at. The Susan Boyle Story suggests we won’t be.”

That sounds plausible, but I also agree with Ryan’s comment:

“The phony sentimentality masks a basic truth of human nature:  No one cares if you can sing if you’re ugly. You can be a reality show freak for a few weeks, but people want their pop stars pretty.”

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>> Obituary writing, and a comparison of Herman Melville’s (1891) with that of Richard Topus (2009), a pigeon trainer in World War II.

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>>Female Orgasm as Screening. News you can use.

Among Japanese macaque monkeys, the highest frequency of female orgasms “took place when high-ranking males were copulating with low-ranking females, and the lowest between low-ranking males and high-ranking females.”  It’s theorised that this is because the high-ranking males take their time, not having to constantly scan for competitors like lower-ranking monkeys do, and there’s even less worry when they’re spreadin’ the luv with a (less widely desirable) low-ranking female. … “Maybe, [female orgasm] is designed to be more than a little hard to get, adaptive precisely because it can’t be too readily summoned, so that when it arrives, it means something.”

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>> A walk-in cocktail! And it’s a gin and tonic! “Forty minutes in here apparently equates to drinking one gin and tonic.” Unfortunately for me, it’s in the UK.

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