A Misogyny Double Standard?: Louis C.K. and the Correspondents’ Dinner

There are few people I disagree with more than Sarah Palin, but I'm surprised that the famed Correspondents' Dinner this year will feature the comedian Louis C.K., who’s said some extremely hateful things about Palin and her "retard" baby, as he called him.

I don’t want to repeat the descriptions here, even under cover of astericks, because I’d rather not be subjunctively related to them.

Among his milder comments he describes things he’d like to do to and on Palin’s “fat tits” and thought, in another context, that her having given birth to a baby and then campaigned was “disgusting.” He made much out of variations on how Palin was a c***.

These are real side-splitters, aren’t they? I had to pick myself up off the floor from the paroxysms of laughter that these Wildean witticisms on retards and lewd acts on Palin’s tits induced in me.

I don’t watch Louis C.K.’s act.  Some friends tell me that he’s often funny, and that they were pretty surprised to read his Twitter and other statements on Palin.

One friend finds him funny, but felt that he was a really poor choice for the Correspondents’ Dinner, which is the high-wattage DC event of the year, like politics’ version of the Oscars, because Louis C.K. routinely ridicules even his own children. It wouldn’t be the first time that an incendiary comic has ruffled feathers at the Dinner.

Whatever the case, I’ve observed anecdotally men who act as if their progressive street creds have earned them a free pass to talk like misogynists when the mood strikes them—as if a feminist sensibility of not trashing people on account of their sex wasn’t a core part of our values. There are self-policing exceptions. Ralph Nader has called out sexism among the liberal ranks, but much of the swagger goes uncriticized.

Others act as if they’ve got a license to be misogynists, when their misogyny is directed at a non-liberal.

I'm not understanding, or buying, the double standard, here. There are a hundred reasons to disagree with Palin. Her being a woman isn't one of them, so check the misogyny at the door. This isn't what we're about.

One problem with these statements about Palin, of course, is that they’re not funny. It’s not hard, actually, to tell the difference, in real life, between something that feels funny and something that feels hateful. Seems to me that people have a pretty good intuition for that. Comedians poke fun all the time, and their efforts make us laugh, they don’t make us wretch—even when we’re the ruthless objects of the joke.

Another problem is Twitter and the open mike of talk radio. They seem to induce these phantasmagoric, stream of consciousness worlds, where weird, ad hoc, and sometimes ugly material surfaces.

The Tweeter, sitting alone and perhaps drunk, or the host, sitting in a small empty room in front of a mike, just says whatever bubbles up from his mind at that moment, without the gatekeepers of an editor or an imagined audience. No, it’s just you and the mike, just you and your I-phone.

It’s deceptively cozy, anonymous, solitary and informal. But the problem is, it’s also indelible, permanent, and massively amplified and circulated within two seconds of your comment. We get the worst of both worlds: spontaneous, rashly-conceived comments that are indelibly permanent and ubiquitously “broadcast.” In this way, some hateful, impolite materials works its way back into mainstream discourses.

Another issue is the abuse of humor as a social and political genre, using it to reinforce a sincere, negative feeling while pretending it’s all just a joke.

When I was growing up one of the most common bleats about feminists was that they never found anything funny.

In a rebuttal to that statement, all the feminists I knew found extremely funny this joke: “Q: How many feminists does it take to screw in a lightbulb? A: That’s not funny.”

Occasionally, rather than provoke a new thought, or just a laugh at the social absurdity of it all, comedy is used as an alibi for the expression of contempt.

“It’s all a joke,” we get told when this happens, or “you just can’t take a joke.” The phrase can become one big Get Out of Jail Free card to declare not-funny, witless derogations with impunity. It really short shrifts humor, which is critically important to a healthy democracy, I think.

And I’ve seen how that worry about being judged Not Funny or a Bad Sport can silence young women, especially, who will tolerate jokes that aren’t all that joke-y for fear of being seen as militantly humorless.

After you hear that kind of criticism long enough, it wears you down. You just start “taking it,” as a young woman once described it to me—the comments from male “comrades,” even, that disrespect you, and your sex, because it’s too damn hard to risk the social ridicule of looking un-funny, as if you take your own dignity seriously, or something.

Now’s a good occasion to reinforce that there isn’t any double standard for misogyny, there’s only one standard—whether you’re targeting Hillary Clinton, Sarah Palin or one of Atilla the Hun’s wives.

And, you know what? All this stuff—it really and truly… isn’t funny.

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Personal Growth

In truth, so much of what happens to us in life is random – we are pawns at the mercy of Lady Luck. To take ownership of our experiences and exert a feeling of control over our future, we tell stories about ourselves that weave meaning and continuity into our personal identity.

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Yale scientists restore brain function to 32 clinically dead pigs

Researchers hope the technology will further our understanding of the brain, but lawmakers may not be ready for the ethical challenges.

Still from John Stephenson's 1999 rendition of Animal Farm.
Surprising Science
  • Researchers at the Yale School of Medicine successfully restored some functions to pig brains that had been dead for hours.
  • They hope the technology will advance our understanding of the brain, potentially developing new treatments for debilitating diseases and disorders.
  • The research raises many ethical questions and puts to the test our current understanding of death.

The image of an undead brain coming back to live again is the stuff of science fiction. Not just any science fiction, specifically B-grade sci fi. What instantly springs to mind is the black-and-white horrors of films like Fiend Without a Face. Bad acting. Plastic monstrosities. Visible strings. And a spinal cord that, for some reason, is also a tentacle?

But like any good science fiction, it's only a matter of time before some manner of it seeps into our reality. This week's Nature published the findings of researchers who managed to restore function to pigs' brains that were clinically dead. At least, what we once thought of as dead.

What's dead may never die, it seems

The researchers did not hail from House Greyjoy — "What is dead may never die" — but came largely from the Yale School of Medicine. They connected 32 pig brains to a system called BrainEx. BrainEx is an artificial perfusion system — that is, a system that takes over the functions normally regulated by the organ. The pigs had been killed four hours earlier at a U.S. Department of Agriculture slaughterhouse; their brains completely removed from the skulls.

BrainEx pumped an experiment solution into the brain that essentially mimic blood flow. It brought oxygen and nutrients to the tissues, giving brain cells the resources to begin many normal functions. The cells began consuming and metabolizing sugars. The brains' immune systems kicked in. Neuron samples could carry an electrical signal. Some brain cells even responded to drugs.

The researchers have managed to keep some brains alive for up to 36 hours, and currently do not know if BrainEx can have sustained the brains longer. "It is conceivable we are just preventing the inevitable, and the brain won't be able to recover," said Nenad Sestan, Yale neuroscientist and the lead researcher.

As a control, other brains received either a fake solution or no solution at all. None revived brain activity and deteriorated as normal.

The researchers hope the technology can enhance our ability to study the brain and its cellular functions. One of the main avenues of such studies would be brain disorders and diseases. This could point the way to developing new of treatments for the likes of brain injuries, Alzheimer's, Huntington's, and neurodegenerative conditions.

"This is an extraordinary and very promising breakthrough for neuroscience. It immediately offers a much better model for studying the human brain, which is extraordinarily important, given the vast amount of human suffering from diseases of the mind [and] brain," Nita Farahany, the bioethicists at the Duke University School of Law who wrote the study's commentary, told National Geographic.

An ethical gray matter

Before anyone gets an Island of Dr. Moreau vibe, it's worth noting that the brains did not approach neural activity anywhere near consciousness.

The BrainEx solution contained chemicals that prevented neurons from firing. To be extra cautious, the researchers also monitored the brains for any such activity and were prepared to administer an anesthetic should they have seen signs of consciousness.

Even so, the research signals a massive debate to come regarding medical ethics and our definition of death.

Most countries define death, clinically speaking, as the irreversible loss of brain or circulatory function. This definition was already at odds with some folk- and value-centric understandings, but where do we go if it becomes possible to reverse clinical death with artificial perfusion?

"This is wild," Jonathan Moreno, a bioethicist at the University of Pennsylvania, told the New York Times. "If ever there was an issue that merited big public deliberation on the ethics of science and medicine, this is one."

One possible consequence involves organ donations. Some European countries require emergency responders to use a process that preserves organs when they cannot resuscitate a person. They continue to pump blood throughout the body, but use a "thoracic aortic occlusion balloon" to prevent that blood from reaching the brain.

The system is already controversial because it raises concerns about what caused the patient's death. But what happens when brain death becomes readily reversible? Stuart Younger, a bioethicist at Case Western Reserve University, told Nature that if BrainEx were to become widely available, it could shrink the pool of eligible donors.

"There's a potential conflict here between the interests of potential donors — who might not even be donors — and people who are waiting for organs," he said.

It will be a while before such experiments go anywhere near human subjects. A more immediate ethical question relates to how such experiments harm animal subjects.

Ethical review boards evaluate research protocols and can reject any that causes undue pain, suffering, or distress. Since dead animals feel no pain, suffer no trauma, they are typically approved as subjects. But how do such boards make a judgement regarding the suffering of a "cellularly active" brain? The distress of a partially alive brain?

The dilemma is unprecedented.

Setting new boundaries

Another science fiction story that comes to mind when discussing this story is, of course, Frankenstein. As Farahany told National Geographic: "It is definitely has [sic] a good science-fiction element to it, and it is restoring cellular function where we previously thought impossible. But to have Frankenstein, you need some degree of consciousness, some 'there' there. [The researchers] did not recover any form of consciousness in this study, and it is still unclear if we ever could. But we are one step closer to that possibility."

She's right. The researchers undertook their research for the betterment of humanity, and we may one day reap some unimaginable medical benefits from it. The ethical questions, however, remain as unsettling as the stories they remind us of.

Ashes of cat named Pikachu to be launched into space

A space memorial company plans to launch the ashes of "Pikachu," a well-loved Tabby, into space.

GoFundMe/Steve Munt
Culture & Religion
  • Steve Munt, Pikachu's owner, created a GoFundMe page to raise money for the mission.
  • If all goes according to plan, Pikachu will be the second cat to enter space, the first being a French feline named Felicette.
  • It might seem frivolous, but the cat-lovers commenting on Munt's GoFundMe page would likely disagree.
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