10/26/07

Photo 51

I don’t want to lose this anger. I don’t want to not feel anymore and shake my head dejectedly and cave in to being acquiescent of the status quo. I don’t want any of it.

What triggered this fury, this swooping white heat at the pit of my stomach?

When I came across this on PBS. And more importantly, this appalling interview, given by James Watson.

Basically it comes down to this. (And caveat lector. This post might get theoretical with a healthy dosage of scientific joo-joo. You stand warned)

Remember the Watson - Crick Model? If you are a Biology major or if you have taken courses in genetics, molecular biology, or at least dabbled in high school biology, this model would be mighty familiar to you. For the uninitiated, let me break it down for you, to the best of my ability at least.

In marginally simple terms, their model proposed that the structure of the DNA was a cross linked double helix with alternating links of deoxyribose and phosphate. The two strands of the double helix are cross linked by purine and pyrimidine bases which basically project inwards from the deoxyribose sugars. More importantly, the bases were held together by hydrogen bonds where a pyrimidine base on one strand always paired with a purine base on the other. And this was further demonstrated chemically, by exemplifying the fact that Adenine always paired with Thymine, and Cytosine with Guanine.

Now nobody wakes up and finds a profound and brilliant biological discovery knocking at their door. I am in no way undermining the indescribable amount of work put in by both Crick and Watson in their groundbreaking discovery. But as I said, nobody wakes up and fumblingly trips into a breakthrough of such magnitude. Obviously I do not know James Watson and Francis Crick personally, but I would surmise that there was a long and a painstakingly methodical process involved, where they used work previously done in their field of research to understand and expound on their theories or models before they came upon their breakthrough discovery.

Indeed, Watson and Crick used the work of Erwin Chargaff (Chargaff’s Rules, to be more specific), Linus Pauling (suggested that deoxyribonucleic acid may have a helical structure) and last but arguably the most important, one Rosalind Franklin; to expound on their ideas and extrapolate on their own theories about the structure of the DNA.

Who is this rank nobody, and a woman at that, while of course, everyone knows that there are no women in the upper echelons of science? * She was a British scientist (physical chemistry) and a highly gifted crystallographer who was given the task of researching and working on the X-ray diffraction of DNA and nucleic acids at King’s college, London. She was supposedly assigned to work with Maurice Wilkins, who was also the deputy director of the lab, but she, not being aware of this piece of information (as Wilkins was away on vacation when she arrived, and the information in her hiring letter was markedly ambiguous) and the DNA work being on hold in the biophysics lab in the recent past, almost all the work was assigned to Rosalind Franklin. When Wilkins arrived, given the not-so-subtle sexism at the time, he immediately assumed that Franklin was one of the technical assistants, a glorified lackey of sorts. And this set the stage for their strained relationship, from then on.

Now things got fairly drawn-out and convoluted when Watson attended a lecture in 1951 given by Franklin on her work on the DNA, thus far. She had taken excellent, hitherto unseen pictures using her expertise in X-ray diffraction techniques, and had come to the conclusion that DNA could exist in two forms, a ‘wet’ form and a ‘dry’ form, depending upon the relative humidity in the air. This led her to correctly deduce that the phosphates were on the outside, thus situating them in the backbone of the helix. Watson did not take any notes and equipped only with nebulous recollections, explained what he has seen and heard at her lecture to Crick. They then built an unsuccessful DNA model with a triple helix and invited Wilkins and Franklin to comment on it, whereupon Franklin straightforwardly pointed out the fallacies in their model. The head of their department immediately ordered them to stop their research, but as we all know, that really did not stop them.

To cut a long story short, Franklin started working on her X-ray diffractions alone, keeping her findings to herself and an assistant. Through her work, she came to realize that in the ‘wet’ form of the DNA, the water would be attracted to the phosphates in the backbone, leading her to of course, comprehend that the bases were inside. In 1952, she arguably took the best picture of the ‘wet’ form of the DNA through her X-ray diffractions (in other words the B form), which clearly illustrated all the marks of a double helix, and she suspected it as so, but she refused to release her work until she had further proof of her findings. She turned to the ‘dry’ form instead, which she knew, with persnickety and convoluted calculations and measurements, might lead her to work out the structure of the DNA. This sidetracked her completely, and this most likely turned out to be her downfall, in plain terms.

Meanwhile Watson and Crick, specifically Crick with his understanding of Chargaff’s Rules and Pauling’s ideas that proteins may have a helical structure, came to similar conclusions as Franklin, but he did not possess the type of data that Franklin had so painstakingly collected, to back his theory up.

All that changed, when in 1953, Raymond Gosling, a graduate student who had assisted Franklin in producing the then extraordinary photographs of the ‘wet’ form or the ‘B’ form of DNA in 1952, handed her results to Wilkins, without her consent. Through a curious turn of events and a set of uncanny circumstances, Wilkins handed over her groundbreaking work to Watson, again, without her knowledge or her consent. Watson and Crick also received a Medical Research Council report authored by Franklin in 1952 which contained almost all of her work on the DNA thus far. It was also meant to be strictly private. This particular report illustrated the Watson and Crick’s model’s basic mistake, where they had repeatedly put the bases on the outside. Through her work which was detailed in the MRC report, she had not only mentioned that the phosphates were on the outside but she had also mentioned the interphosphate distances. Watson and Crick immediately knew that they had all the information they needed to make a double helix model; indeed, Crick comprehended that her data pointed towards an antiparallel double helix DNA structure.

And the rest is history.

Rosalind finally came to realize that she might be left behind in the DNA race and produced a draft paper, where she had expounded on her anti- parallel double helix structure for the ‘A’ form on March 17th 1953. She did not pay attention to the fact that Crick and Watson were racing to publish their findings. For all she knew, their department head had forbade them from conducting any research on DNA, and she just did not bother to probe beyond that. Watson and Crick published their findings in Nature, in 1953 on March 18th, where they suggest a structure for deoxyribose nucleic acid, providing minimal experimental proof. In 1962, Watson, Crick and Wilkins (yes, Wilkins) accepted the Nobel Prize for Physiology/Medicine. Franklin had passed on by then. She succumbed to cancer in 1958. She was 38 years old.

Why am I doing this? Why am I indignant? Because Watson, in his portentous interview, states that,

He smiles.”Rosalind is my cross," he says slowly. "I'll bear it. I think she was partially autistic." He pauses for a while, before repeating the suggestion, as if to make it clear that this is no off-the-cuff insult, but a considered diagnosis. "I'd never really thought of scientists as autistic until this whole business of high-intelligence autism came up. There is probably no other explanation for Rosalind's behaviour.


Yes, because undermining a woman whose data you took and used without her knowledge or consent, by calling her autistic, is absolutely kind and gracious. ‘Considered diagnosis’, I’m sure. Now I do know that the term ‘autistic’ is not and should not be used disparagingly. But by Watson’s statement, it is clear that he was obviously trying to besmirch her and insult her memory by his usage of that term. And let’s not forget that Watson is also a racist bigot to boot.

And then there is this gem,

He adds: "Francis didn't think Rosalind was a great scientist. That was Francis at his most honest. The truth was she couldn't think in three dimensions very well."


Ah, but of course. Being a brilliant crystallographer, she must have been woefully incapable of thinking three-dimensionally. With her bumbling ignorance and her utter ineptitude to process anything with an extra plane, she perfected the art of X-ray diffraction and took the most extraordinary picture of the ‘B’ form of DNA (photo 51), for her time. Oh yes, it makes perfect sense.

Is there anything else left in Watson’s kitty of fantastical and desperate lies about Rosalind Franklin? I am astounded at his determination to frenetically try and insult and undermine her, even after all these years. She has passed on, hasn’t she? In Watson’s own words, he says,

No one thought about Rosalind [Franklin], because she was dead.


So why can’t he leave her alone? Is it because of the fact that none of the three: Watson, Crick or Wilkins, bothered to cite Rosalind Franklin at all in any of their Nobel lectures, while they managed to cite 98 other references? Is it a gnawing sense of guilt because of that? Or it is resentment at the scores of scientists (including Watson, who begrudgingly admitted that she deserved to win) who believe that Rosalind, had she been alive at the time, deserved the prize too?

What do you think? If she had been alive, do you think that Rosalind Franklin would have gotten the Nobel Prize for her work along with Watson and Crick in 1962, instead of Wilkins?

* For those of you who think that sexism has all but disappeared in the upper echelons of science today, I'm sorry, but you must be having a different grasp on reality than the rest of us. It has reduced, from Rosalind's time, but it has not disappeared. Oh no, it hasn't.

10/24/07

A ridiculous emergency

And we're back. Phew.

Now scroll down for normal programming.

10/18/07

Let chivalry die, please.

Definition (s) of chivalry shamelessly filched from dictionary.com:

1. the sum of the ideal qualifications of a knight, including courtesy, generosity, valor, and dexterity in arms.

2. the rules and customs of medieval knighthood.

3. the medieval system or institution of knighthood.

4. a group of knights.

5. gallant warriors or gentlemen: fair ladies and noble chivalry.

6. Archaic. a chivalrous act; gallant deed.

The above definitions bring about some bizarre grandiloquent imagery where a Galahad type character comes thundering about on his snow white steed and swoops down and rescues the fragile-as-glass damsel in distress from a fire breathing dragon or something equally hackneyed. In all seriousness though, chivalry (as the classifications above clearly illustrate) basically stands to represent the ‘ideal’ qualities that a knight should have like courtesy, generosity, bravery, honor and all that claptrap. But, that applied to the knights. During, let’s see, around the 13th century. When feudalism had it’s stranglehold upon the masses and the status of women was appalling, at best. Also, knights don’t exist anymore (please don’t use ‘Sir Paul McCartney is a knight’ as a dazzling example of a counter argument. You’ll only end up doing Sir Paul McCartney disservice).

So I would think that I am right in wanting chivalry to die a painful death as it doesn’t really apply to the 21st century and it’s basically a lite version of chauvinism. But I do realize that my stance on chivalry is a tad unpopular. It also earns me the magnificent ‘cantankerous’ feminist tag, for which I am eternally grateful.

Every time I start a conversation on chivalry, I get the ‘chivalry is dead’ moaning, and then the discussion veers off into how the world would be a better place if only men followed a chivalrous gentlemanly code and learnt how to behave in front of a lady (eyeroll). And god forbid if I try to get a word in and say that chivalry really isn’t dead, a bastardized version still exists today, and that’s not a good thing. I get piled on for not supporting good manners and I also have to put up with feminism and feminists like me being blamed for our self-centeredness and promoting ‘meanness’.

As I have stated before, this blog helps me resolve my anger management issues. Instead of blowing up at chivalry-apologist’s (CA) face, I will painstakingly expound on my reasons to kill chivalry once and for all (using CA’s accusations) over here, and send the said chivalry-apologist the link to this post. See? I’m nice like that. And in all fairness, CA is a nice person too. I’m pretty sure CA will see the sagacity (ahem) in my decision to post this on my blog instead of having a shouting match over good coffee.

First accusation: You are against good manners.

This is utterly specious. I personally think that there is some sort of disconnect happening here, where a person confuses or equates chivalry with good manners. Nobody’s saying that being respectful of other people, or opening doors for them or pulling a chair for another person or putting your hand out and protecting someone from passing cars or whatever on the sidewalk is bad or unnecessary. I am all for good manners and courtesy. But helping people and being respectful of others should be universal and practiced by everyone for everyone irrespective of gender and gender expression, age and/or other differences. Chivalry is not just about common courtesies, it is common courtesies with a set of gendered built in stipulations like a) as a man, I’ll open doors for you and be generally courteous because you are a woman and I’m supposed to be nice to women, and b) I will follow this code which tells me what to do because I’ve been taught that women need to be treated a certain way.

See the difference? While I have nothing against politeness and everyone practicing common courtesy and being nice and respectful all around; I do have a problem with a heavily gendered set of rules which makes me out to be some sort of delicate creature, and which singles me out for ‘special treatment’ because of belonging to my gender.

Second accusation: Chivalry is romantic. What is wrong with sitting back and being pampered by your partner? Don’t you like to be pampered?

As I clearly illustrated above, I have nothing against being nice, respectful and courteous. But being nice, respectful, and courteous should be practiced universally, by, and for everyone. If my partner opens doors for me or rushes to pull out chairs or walks on the outer side of the sidewalk, I should be able to do the same things for him without question.

But if your idea of romance is to be treated like a fragile, diaphanous blossom, and you don’t consider it insulting to be treated as such without question, then well, you’re on your own.

Third accusation: It’s about being helpful. Don’t you think you are being a tad inconsiderate?

I may be overstating, but I see a deliberate omission here. If it’s not deliberate, if it’s just an innocuous brain fart, then well I’m willing to accept that as well. But that doesn’t take away the fact that there happens to be a pretty glaring faux pas in this accusation. If chivalry is just about being ‘helpful’ then why does it involve ‘helping’ only one particular gender? Will the ‘chivalrous’ guy who pounces to the door to open it for you and insist on you going through the door first, do the same for another man? When his ‘chivalry’ dictates to him to pull a chair for you, does it tell him to do so for other men as well? Not bloody likely, especially with the chair pulling or insisting on walking on the outer edge of the sidewalk to ‘protect’ you from passing ‘dangers’. I’d like to see a guy try that with another guy and not be derided or scorned for it.

Last evening, I tried to hold the door open for a guy entering my apartment building. He refused to walk through. I insisted on holding it open, and he insisted on letting me go through first. After a few moments of this wearisome charade, I finally gave in and went through the door (I would have been late for work, otherwise).

And it is not the first time that this has happened to me. A fair share of men I know, who are ‘chivalrous’ simply refuse to accept my help when I try to reciprocate and it’s irksome, to say the least.

So why have I earned the ‘inconsiderate’ tag, when I get offended with ‘chivalry’? Why am I called ‘unreasonable’? Why are women like me, and not these men who refuse female help, asked to suck it up and just be appreciative of fine manners?

The way I see it, chivalry as it is practiced today still reinforces the archaic but pervasive and insidious gender roles which holds women to be virtuous, fragile and naïve, in need of ‘special treatment’, whether the women at the receiving end of the treatment really want it or not. It puts us on a pedestal and we all know what I think of pedestals. Pedestals are woefully crippling and restrictive. Being pushed on a pedestal somehow renders us incapable of taking care of ourselves, in need of protection from the ‘big bad world’ out there, oh noes! And cue the ‘chivalrous’ guy swooping in to save the day with his masculine sensibilities.

Clichéd imagery to illustrate larger point aside, I will still maintain that I am all for,

a) Being respectful.

b) Being helpful.

c) Being all around courteous and polite.

d) Being a decent human being.

This though, should be practiced by and for everyone, irrespective of what gender you or they, belong to. Supporting a ridiculous, antiquated system which tells you to be courteous to a person based on their gender or needing a system rooted in chauvinism (why yes, that’s exactly what I said) to remind you to be nice to women, is where I put my foot down.

Firmly.

10/3/07

Why are you always so angry?

I am told that I possess a temperament which would put a corpse to shame. I am told that my ability to take shit transcends all human capabilities and I am also questioned about whether I truly do belong to the human species from time to time. Unfortunately yes, I was not beamed into the earth’s atmosphere from the distant reaches of ESO 325-G004 and I am quite certain that I am made of organic matter just like any other human on this planet.

So now that we have established that I do indeed belong to the sub tribe hominina, I cannot help but possess some characteristics befitting my species, like say feelings for instance. That I will get bitter or angry or upset or just plain irritated in accordance to my mood and also to the situation I am presented with.

Which brings me to the two subspecies (only for classificatory purposes, before you burst a vein) of folks who visit this blog, the openly hostile troll/ psychoanalyst/ culture and heteronormativity warrior and the slightly sneakier faux concern critters. While the formers' agenda can be easily deduced by their rationally challenged comments, the latter is quite proficient in their knavery at least for a little while, until their well-known underskirt starts to show when they lose control and expose their bigotry to all and sundry.

Now I usually don’t get bogged down by either of the above mentioned subspecies’s tomfoolery, but as I have previously tried to establish, I am human. I haven’t holometabolized into a higher species, yet. And that involves getting upset or angry or incensed and amused, especially when someone comes along and points out the obvious as a stunning example of a counter argument, like say “oh wow you must be really angry” or “you are so bitter, how can you live with yourself” and so on. While I do agree that I may very well be bitter or upset when it comes to certain issues; that does not mean that the critters’ (the word critter will be used to refer to the folks populating the troll/ psychoanalyst/ culture and heteronormativity warrior and faux concern type subspecies from now on) angry/bitter woman charge is particularly ingenious or even necessary. It is not an utterly new discovery that a feminist (like me) is wow, bitter or unhappy with certain situations or issues. That someone like me identifies as a feminist because I’m not happy with the status-quo. That for anybody to identify as a feminist, it is probably not a stretch to surmise that they are dissatisfied with the existing state of affairs.

What really gets my proverbial goat however, are some of the reasons thrown around by the said critters as to the cause of my distress or acrimony which led me to become a feminist. And so, this brings me to,

[All exhibits are provided with examples. All the examples I have used are real comments I have gotten and published on this blog. These are actually the milder ones of the lot. And you haven’t even seen the unpublished ones, yet.]

Exhibit number one: The lesbian charge.

“R u a lesb or divorcee ? i dont mean to hurt u, but seriously asking.”

So there are feminists who are lesbians. Does that automatically mean that all feminists are lesbians? Not likely. This point however, is quite interesting as it gives us a valuable insight into how the critter’s mind really works. It shows us the gaping insecurities and the fears that the said critter may have when he (yeah, I said he) realizes that he is in fact, not god’s greatest gift to women, and that women can find love and sexual fulfillment with each other. It shows us how terrified and how irate the critter really is when he tries to wrap his mind around the radical notion that women don’t exist for the sole purpose of turning him on. So critters, as an embittered feminist, just because I don’t agree with you or refuse to indulge in your patriarchal wet dreams, that doesn’t mean I’m averse to men. That means I am averse to assholes.

Exhibit number two: The shrill/ hysterical/ whiny/ manic-depressive feminazi charge.

“now you can get shrill and scream at me or send your fans on me…”

“your blog is painful to read....depressing why cant you write about something positive..”

First of all, a note on the erroneous and cringe worthy feminazi branding. It is a spectacular straw-feminist created and promulgated by sexist, homophobic and all around sanity-phobic critters to besmirch and scare away people from learning what feminism really is about.

As for the hysterical/ shrill/ whiny/ manic-depressive charge, the average critters usually have themselves thoroughly convinced of the fact that women are not supposed to have any emotion unless it has been passed through the patriarchal test of approval. This is to say, women are not considered capable of or allowed to show any kind of strong emotion unless a) They’re mothers ferociously protecting their kids or b) They’re self-righteously reacting and fielding off insults meant for their ‘man’. If, as a woman, you don’t meet either of these wholly impracticable standards for proper displays of emotion, then any other emotional expression will automatically be branded as a hysterical/ shrill/ whiny/ depressing ‘outburst’, or ‘flare-up’.

Exhibit number three: The temptress/ whore/ slut charge.

“punkster... bura math manna.. u need some discipline in your life. Maybe someone who can discipline you. Therey garwale blog nahi padthe kya ? besharam ho thum. you are too provocative. Thank god you just write and not post pics.”

“And you need a man to impregnate you. Othewise your womanhood is incomplete.”

“.so slut is just a female version of a stud..u shud wear that on ur collar instead of complaining!!”

“Jus becos ur parents r liberal that does not mean that u go and remove clothes and smoke on 100 cigs.”

This happens to be, to no ones surprise, my favorite accusation of all. This attitude is exquisitely representative of the critter’s inner demons wherein he dreads the fantastical notion that women can actually be in complete control of their sexuality and they don’t need or want a dudely male of the species to subjugate them or to show them who happens to be the ‘cock of the walk’/ studmuffin/ insert suitable phallic phraseology here. What gets these critters’ chaddis in a twist however, is the fact that feminists throw out the notion that sexual autonomy should only be exercised by the heterosexual male of the species. That women don’t really prefer sub-letting their sexuality only for the purposes of baby making or pandering to the male needs within the extremely dismal heteronormativity construct. Yeah, we’re whores like that.

Exhibit number four: The frigid/ spinster/ sex hater charge.

“Neway its quiet apparent that you havent seen the heights of sexual ecstasy as all your living waking moments ahve been spent on analysing issues on a feminist standpoint. All hope however is not lost. The next time someone fucks you try talking politics, that might get you to cum.”

“Lets know your sex mantra ? If you have none, just cock up and stop criticising others who have.”

“Honestly, you should consider roleplaying a slave, nurse, or an officer beaten to submission by a dungeon lord. You got to get your sloppy tushy whooped back to shape.”

Now this type of bunkum logic takes a special sort of non-aptitude. It is wondrous, but not entirely implausible to see that the average critter accuses feminists of being whores, harlots or floozies one minute, and then turns right around and calls us frigid or cold or man-hating asexual bitches, the next. How can a feminist be frigid and a slut at the same time? The answer lies in this altogether brilliant patriarchal construct called the Madonna/ whore dichotomy (yes yes I’m flogging the undead horse, again) which beautifully categorizes women as either strumpets or virtuous baby machines, thereby eliminating the vast middle ground between these polarized classifications, entirely. According to these critters, a woman should either be an orifice for them to stick their phalluses into i.e. exist solely for male sexual gratification or, she should be an acquiescent, heir producing machine. In plain terms, if a woman openly rejects this insidious dichotomy altogether and takes her sexuality into her own hands, these critters are utterly incapable of processing such an occurrence. If you’re lucky you’ll witness a full blown implosion and that’s when these nut jobs combine the two extremes of the dichotomy and start calling you an ‘asexual whore’ or a ‘frigid cunt’ or a ‘passive prostitute’. Its entirely magnificent in all its oxymoronic glory, I kid you not.

It is problematic for critters like the ones displayed above, that feminists continue to be angry or bitter and openly state their displeasure with the status-quo.

And I understand why.

With brains like theirs and a singularly nonsensical logic to boot, why wouldn’t they actively try to shut outspoken women up, who go against the compulsorily heterosexual patriarchal ideal of what a woman should be, irrespective of whether she identifies as a feminist or not?

Post script:

1. This post was inspired in part, by Broom’s and Rohini’s posts.

2. I don’t want anybody coming along and chastising me for being too sensitive or for giving the trolls ‘what they want’ or any variation of ‘why can’t you ignore them, don’t waste your time’ claptrap. I understand where you’re coming from and forgive me for not being particularly appreciative. I am human, as I have painstakingly tried to prove at the beginning of this post and when you get rape threats on an almost daily basis, at some point the straw will break the camel’s back, so to speak. And no, I refuse to publish those threats. However, you are welcome to browse through my 2006 archives to see live examples of what I’m talking about, in the comments.

3. Finally, a big thank you to Nits and Rohini for prodding me out of my blogging inertia. I really needed it.