… celebration, by Jacob Jordaens
This wonderful painting holds my New Year’s wish for 2021 – to rediscover the simple joy of being together with friends and family sharing laughter and music, good wine and plentiful food.
One of the few things that are currently giving people hope is the fact that within a year, we got a couple of working vaccines for Covid and the distribution is now rolling out. Being smart we also know that this a) is doing shit right now, b) will take time, c) is fraught with ethical dilemmas.
With only few doses available right now, societies struggle with the question of whom to vaccinate first, and it’s not an easy one. Because no matter how you decide, there will always be people in the group you vaccinate first who would have recovered with little problem, and there will always people in the group you vaccinate later who will die, and since we cannot reliable predict who is who on an individual level, we can only do so on group membership.
And yes, many of us will wish for a place further up in the queue. I was devastated when I heard that in Germany teachers were pushed back to the end of the line, while also being expected to continue full in person teaching (we’re currently back to homeschooling, let’s see for how long), usually with some bullshit arguments about children losing out. More on that later. As this discussion continues, the NYT Magazine published a debate on “Whom to Save First”. Absolute trigger warning for absolute ableism and casual racism for that article. And if you are on blood pressure medication, make sure you only read it after you’ve taken yours because it made me really angry and took me like three turns to read to the end.
The people in the discussion are:
Tell me if you spot the problem right away. Our line up includes 4 doctors and researchers, which is a good idea when talking about the data, the predictions about the effects, questions about logistics, etc. These are also the parts of the discussion that I found more interesting, and while they also raised good ethical points (like what about the prison population, who are basically sitting ducks for the virus), they also only represent one group involved in that discussion and affected by the decisions. As always, science and logic can give us data and predictions, it cannot tell us what is right and what is wrong.
That leaves us with exactly one ethicist, and I’m going to use that term lightly here, which is Peter Singer. In case you haven’t heard of him before, I’m sorry to have done that to you now, but here’s a good overview on why many people, especially in the disabled community absolutely abhor Singer. Questions around ableism and eugenics have been at the forefront of the discussions about Covid since the start, as it is a disease that kills predominantly elderly people or people with chronic conditions, with lots of people claiming that we shouldn’t all have to drastically change our lives just because of those people. So why, on a discussion on a subject that predominantly affects old and disabled people would you only invite an ethicist who doesn’t think they’re worth saving anyway and no disabled person to advocate for the rights and lives of disabled people? (Hint: it’s because of ableism).
So let’s get to the meat of the matter. About all countries seem to have decided on two groups to vaccinate first: The very old and infirm, especially in nursing homes and hospitals, and health care workers and all those involved in the care of the first group. Most people would agree with that order: protect those most likely to die and with a high risk of catching it, and protect those with a high risk of infection <i>and</i> a high risk of transmitting the disease to very vulnerable people*. Now, normally you’d have to search the Republican party or whatever is your local equivalent to find somebody who’d begrudge granny her vaccine, but if you are nominally a leftist and still hate old and disabled people, here’s Peter Singer for you:
The objective that we should aim for is to reduce years of life lost. I know a lot of people are talking just about saving lives. But I do think that it’s different whether somebody dies at 90 or 50 or a younger age still. So, in my view, that’s what we should be looking at.
Yes, you read that correctly: A human life is not a human life. A human life is valued according to the numbers of years that person still has to live happily (From Singer’s other writing you will know that he thinks he knows when a life is worth living, so the years to live of a disabled person count automatically less than the years to live of an able bodied person). So preventing death in one 50 yo should probably count as much (or even more, since many of those years will be “happy”) as preventing death in 7 octogenarians. You think I’m cynical and dishonest in making up calculations where human lives are reduced to mere numbers, strawmanning poor Singer? Look at what he says when another participant gently pushes back:
The basis for the British government’s plan is, of course, to treat those who are at the highest risk of dying and thus to minimize the number of deaths. But it is also important to consider what your life would be like if you don’t die.
It might still be that we should protect 90-year-olds first, based on data suggesting that 90-plus are at eight times the risk of dying from the virus as people around 70, whereas their life-expectancy difference is roughly something like four and a half years as against 15 years for 70-year-olds. If that’s correct, then the higher risk to the 90-year-olds outweighs the difference in life expectancy.
No, we shouldn’t vaccinate granny first because she’s at high risk of horribly suffocating while totally at the mercy of her caregivers, we should vaccinate her because there’s some bullshit calculation about life expectancy. Singer does not place any value on the individual life, their individual suffering, it’s just a question of “years saved”, though he also has quite some opinions on the worth of any year of life lived according to some “objective” white dude metrics:
But even there I would make some exceptions. I don’t know whether the public-health systems are going to be able to do this or whether the political leaders are able to accept it, but if we are talking about everybody in an elderly-care home getting vaccinated, I think we should ask questions about the quality of their lives.
Now, end of life discussions, questions about assisted suicide are difficult, fraught with emotions, and anybody who ever had a loved one slowly wither away and basically die over a prolonged period of time knows that those are not easy questions, that you will deal with complicated emotions and that yes, indeed, you may see death as a mercy in the end. What treatment to give to a person who cannot make the decision themself and which to withhold is difficult and heartbreaking, which is why everybody should discuss those matters beforehand and have them written down. But Singer doesn’t want to explore those moral questions, as they are questions that relate to bodily autonomy and individual freedom. He wants to seem all Vulcan and just place some objective value on people’s lives and then calculate their worth.
Ironically, he goes then on and argues that if we cannot ask people directly, it would be immoral to just vaccinate them because they cannot consent:
If a patient is not capable of expressing a view on whether or not to receive treatment — and that includes vaccination — families should be consulted, and they should make the call. We shouldn’t just go through nursing homes and automatically vaccinate those who are not capable of giving consent.
What is it now, Peter? Do we suddenly have to ask difficult questions about consent? And if so, why the hell do you assume that those people would consent to ending their lives in a most horrible manner? Because all I know so far about ICU Covid treatment is that once you’re at that point, everything is horrible and has been for a while. Suffocating is generally considered a very cruel death,a s your whole body is still fighting. I can imagine what Singer’s “solution” would be, and no, thank you, I think that one Hadamar is enough.
Now that Singer has established that we really shouldn’t vaccinate all those old and disabled people, the discussion moves to who we should vaccinate and why. Spoilers: It’s not because people who are getting sick from Covid are suffering and still possibly dying and having long term effects. No, for Singer it’s all about how you getting Covid is going to inconvenience others:
Setting priorities in this phase should depend on the impact on essential services. For services in which workers are mostly young, and even if they get the virus they’re not likely to have severe symptoms, and they will not be absent from work or will be absent only briefly, then maybe you don’t have to vaccinate them first. But if we have essential services that are really being set back by the fact that people are getting the virus — for example, if we’re at risk of not having enough truck drivers to deliver the vaccine — that would be a reason to give these workers high priority.
He completely dismisses the massive suffering caused by Covid, the long term risks, and of course the impact on families and communities. If they’re young, just let them get sick (for example retail workers), because they will only miss a few days of work. Because the most important thing in your life is going to work. Bazelon argues along the same line:
That makes me think of teachers. The service of in-person schools has been cut off in parts of the country for 10 months now. This has come at a huge cost to kids, in terms of learning loss and social and emotional development. Some vulnerable kids aren’t in school at all. Children generally have borne a greater share of the burden of the virus than we often talk about.
Teachers are not valued as people. Our health and wellbeing is completely unimportant. What matters is that we go to school and work, in a good attempt of appealing “won’t somebody think of the children???”. Yes, I do think of the children. That’s my fucking job. But children are also wonderful argument killers. Once you invoked children, your opponent can only lose, because we all know that children (at least the able bodied) are the ultimate cause worthy of protection (unless you should feed them). the same people who generally won’t give a fuck about public education, the state of schools and the welfare of vulnerable kids have suddenly discovered them as a group to advocate for, and whose needs magically align with their own ideas.
Kayyem agrees, saying the quiet part loud:
Education is critical infrastructure. We didn’t designate it as such, as we did with electricity and water or the food-supply chain. But it turns out that a society cannot move, literally cannot flow, if parents are at home because of kids. The economic impact has been huge. And on the other side of this pandemic, the long-term impact for kids who were already behind is disastrous.
Actually it’s about parents being able to go to work and make money for people who are already rich. Yes, throw in some lines about kids who were already behind. Unless you can show me your work on how you fought for disadvantaged kids before Covid, I’m going to call it crocodile tears. While I absolutely do think, for absolutely selfish reasons, that teachers should be right behind very vulnerable people when it comes to the vaccine, I’m not going to claim that this is to mostly benefit disadvantaged kids. the best you can do for disadvantaged kids is to massively invest in child welfare and social services. I think we should get the vaccine because we are in a high risk environment and I don’t want to fucking die.
Here’s how I know that they don’t actually care about kids. Bazelon picks up Singer’s line about “years of life saved” and goes on about the long-term effect on children:
In thinking in terms of years of life saved, research suggests that children who fall behind because of elementary-school closures are likely to have shorter life expectancies, on average.
You know what, lady? You could fix that. And 8 years old who misses out on primary school does have a lot of time to catch up. You could support those kids, their schools, their families. Shorter life expectancies are not a natural force. They are something society can absolutely do something about, but that would require more than giving their underpaid, overworked teachers in crumbling buildings a Covid jab.
There’s some interesting talk about logistics etc. in the middle (and suddenly there’s other people doing the talking…) until we get to another big issue: the world-wide distribution of the vaccine: The affluent north is buying up all the available vaccine, while also blocking the global south from just replicating the vaccines by Moderna etc. There’s some casual racism about how we cannot trust the Indian and Chinese vaccines, but hey, there’s testing, and then the ethicist Singer drops the following:
According to 1DaySooner, which advocates for volunteers, nearly 40,000 are willing to take part. If you can give people a vaccine and then deliberately expose them to the virus, you get results much faster. And you can study the antibody responses and the immune responses, because you can house volunteers in a residential quarantine facility where they’d be available for that kind of testing. I recognize that they don’t have the representative demographics that you would want, but these trials do offer the possibility of getting much speedier results.
Yes, Peter, experimenting on humans is completely cool. “But they are volunteers”, they say, ignoring the fact that people are desperate. Here we have a world renowned ethicist claiming that infecting people with a potentially deadly disease is ok. Somehow all the doctors in that discussion just gloss over it? Did they not get it, or did they do the thing where you will bush over such things because how can you even start such a discussion? Singer goes on to abuse people with little voice for themselves in his arguments, repeating the idea that people should be able buy access to the vaccine if in return others could get some benefits:
Singer: The economist Richard Thaler wrote in The Times recently about letting celebrities and wealthy people jump the vaccination queue by bidding for spots at an auction. That would show they wanted to get the vaccine, which would help encourage other people to get immunized. And Thaler thought the money could go to people who are suffering because, for example, the virus cost them their jobs. My idea is that instead of dollars, people should bid on sending units of vaccine to the Global South.
Mukherjee: Peter, what if you could jump the queue, and get 10 doses of vaccine for your friends and family, if you contribute 5,000 or 10,000 or 500,000 doses for the Global South. Would you be open to such an option?
Singer: Yes, I would be, I think. Clearly, for a utilitarian like me, the benefits greatly outweigh the costs.
Let’s look at what is proposed here: Singer isn’t asked to forego his vaccine. He isn’t ask to decide whether his child or grandchild should get the vaccine or a woman in a sweatshop. No, the terrible moral dilemma is to get the vaccine for those he loves AND sending vaccine doses to the Global South as a good White Saviour. The cost in this scenario is entirely paid by other people, presumably those in assisted living facilities. That’s the best version of the trolley problem ever, isn’t it?
While others in the discussion ask for solutions that lead to more vaccines being produced, i.e. ignoring patents etc, Singer never ever touches the idea that we could just not do this based on profit. His idea isn’t about producing more doses so the whole planet can be vaccinated, but about keeping the vaccine a rare and highly profitable good that is then distributed more equally, with rich people getting a chance to feel good about it. this shows that Singer doesn’t even take his own philosophy seriously. If it ever were about the greatest amount of happiness, then he’d have to address wealth distribution, both within industrialised nations as well as in the world. But he doesn’t. In his philosophy, which claims to look at humanity more as a whole, he is still displaying a Libertarian individualism, and for all his pseudo Vulcan objectivity, it turns out that somehow he always comes out on top…
Now having written this and therefore read that article a couple of times, I’m cranky: So please, won’t somebody think of my children who now have a cranky mum and please never ever suggest I should listen to Singer on any subject ever again?
*We still don’t know if the vaccine will also stop you from transmitting Covid, but hopes are high.
My tumbler works well for some blades and worse for others, and it works really well for removing scale from pieces with complicated gomtry. However, as I alluded to last time, I had several problems with the drum itself.
The first problem was the water tightness. Not only the lid was not properly watertight, but the sides were neither. I have used screws to secure three wooden planks inside to prevent the contents from simply sliding around the inside without tumbling. And the water was seeping around the screws too. I was able to make it watertight in the end, but it was still not ideal. Plus the inner wooden ribs got worn down a lot quicker than I thought they will, they impeded the contents probably a bit too much.
The second problem was the change of the tumbling medium. I found out that fine gravel with water works great for removing scale, fine sand with walnut shells for a nice satin finish, and walnut shells with ferrous oxide for an even nicer satin finish. However, getting all of the coarser medium out of the drum in order to be able to use a finer one has proven to be nigh impossible. I did not run into any quality problems due to this, given the limited amount of time I have used the tumbler so far, but it did worry me enough to actually postpone its use until I find a solution.
The main problem was finding some kind of receptacle with a screw-on lid of the right size. I was crawling the internet occasionally for months, I even recruited my mother to help me, but we found nothing. We found plenty of products of course, but there were not always measurements written near them and thus we could not order them. And when the measurements were written, they were always of the ronk size.
But the week before Christmas I got lucky and during shopping for groceries, I stumbled upon just the thing I needed. I bought six pieces without hesitation. And this week I took a break from making knives and I made six new tumbling drums. That way I can use six different tumbling mediums without having to worry about contamination.
I started by cutting a 38 cm piece of 100 mm plumbing pipe that remained surplus during house renovations. It is a bit discolored on the outside because it lay outdoors in the sun for a few years, but other than that it is completely fine.
Second, I have marked and cut in half the receptacles.
The receptacles were a teensy tiny bit too big and did not fit inside the pipe, but that was not a problem since they are made from PET which is thermoplastic. I have carefully heated the edges with my heat gun and they shrunk a little when cooling town. The edges are not very neat, but that is not a problem.
Copious amounts of adhesive putty helped to seal both the bottom and the top of the receptacle into the pipes. This was actually the hardest work of all, the putty is a bugger to squeeze out of the tube. theoretically it cannot glue PE, PP, and PTFE, but I did glue PVC to PP with it and it held watertight and strong enough so PET to PVC should not be a problem either. Maybe it won’t be the strongest possible bond, but it should be strong for this application. It is strong enough for me to be able to screw the lid on very tight.
To prevents the contents from sliding and force them to tumble I have decided to try a different approach, one that does not involve breaching the integrity of the pipe. I have cut three pieces of PVC vinyl flooring, also surplus from house renovations. On one side of those pieces, I have made four cuts and inserted the uncut end s into them as depicted.
Duct tape helped to hold the pieces in place while I rolled them together and inserted them inside the pipe.
And voilala (or somtin’)! The inside of the drum is not smooth and round anymore, so the contents should be forced to tumble.
There were some bugs to figure out and correct. The lids were not perfectly watertight, but I was able to cut circular gaskets from some softer leftover PVC vinyl flooring that has solved that problem. I also had to increase the span between the bearings on the axel on which the drum spins, because I am an idiot and I did not measure it correctly and I made the drum too big.
Currently, it is spinning with fine gravel and a few uncleaned broken blades to see how it works. After twelve hours there were no major problems and it did make reasonable progress on removing the scale.
One problem remains and I have yet to find a good solution to it. During tumbling, some bigger particles of the tumbling medium (a fine stone or a piece of walnut shell) do wander into the thread of the lid and make it difficult to open the drum afterward. I have tried a few things, but so far without success. But as long as the lids do not get stuck completely, it is a minor issue and I am sure I will find a solution eventually.
My older kid got a graphic design tablet for Christmas and has been trying it out ever since*. And of course she’s mightily drawn between being very proud and very embarrassed, but I got her permission to post some of her artwork under the name “Shivia”. So welcome to the Sinnoh region in Pokémon.
*Setting the thing up was not user friendly, but once I got it running I told her “look, there are some tutorials, maybe you should watch those”, and she replied “oh mum, I already know that stuff!”. I left her in the living room and went to the kitchen, but before I could sit down she called: “Muuuuuum, what am I supposed to do now???”. Digital natives my ass…
In the last post I covered some of the more obvious problems with the world building. This one will focus on some of the ethical problems. I will focus on issues with sex and gender, not only because that’s generally my beat, but also because Rowling is being hailed as some sort of feminist icon, when her works don’t even show what I would call “house and garden” feminism that you can see in many so called “gender critical feminists”. In fact, the politics of sex and gender in Harry Potter are deeply troubled.
Strong women: When Harry Potter was first published, it was lauded for its inclusion of so many “strong women”. “Strong women” are seen as the opposite of the “Damsel in distress” and sure, we got lots of capable women or girls showing agency: McGonagall, Hermione, Ginny, ehm, did I say “lots”? Yes, those women are shown as capable, more than equal to their male counterparts, yet they are also absolutely exceptional. We don’t get a female Ron, let alone a female Neville, a girl who is just average in about all aspects and who is still an important member of the group.
Women are either mothers, nuns, or evil: If we look at the women in the Harry Potter universe, there seem to be just two types. Mothers and evil women. Let’s start with Harry’s own mum. She is portrayed as the best person we could ever meet. She stood up to bullies at school, and she loved her son so much that she sacrificed herself for his sake, as a mother’s proper role demands. I could go on and on about dead mothers in fiction, but that’s probably for another day. Her role was not that of Harry’s dad, who valiantly defends himself and his family, but that of a sacrifice, who dies so her son could live. This is seen as an especially motherly deed. It is a mother’s love that protects Harry, not a parent’s love.
The next woman we get is Molly Weasley, who is the archetypical SAHM. She’s got seven kids and is the perfect homemaker, who keeps everything tidy for her husband and children and makes ends meet with very little money. She is being portrayed as a wholesome character whose only little flaws is that she’s a bit overbearing and overprotective. In other words, she’s an ideal mother. Yet, you got to wonder: what is that woman doing all day? When we first meet the Weasleys she’s got exactly one kid left at home, by book two that number comes down to zero. Most household chores can be done by waving a wand (and still she longs for an enslaved creature to do them for her) and in line with the upper class boarding school setting of the novels, large parts of raising the kids has been passed off onto other people. From the first book on we know that money is more than tight (5 underage kids do cost a lot of money), yet working outside of the home is apparently considered a no go. This is repeated in Ginny, who we learn has a great career as a Quidditch player until she ends her career to raise her family.
The only mother who is somewhere in between is Narcissa Malfoy, but even with her, her motherly instincts are her redeeming feature. Her childfree sisters gets no such chance. She is just pure evil, with a flavour of madness to it (well, she’s been tortured by the “good guys” for over a decade, so madness seems kind of understandable). Aunt Petunia would feature somewhere in between as well, but I’m limiting myself here to the wizarding world.
The nuns are, of course, the teachers. Because teachers (did I mention that the numbers don’t add up again? That’s not enough people to teach in a school the size of Hogwarts. Even with only two classes each year, no teacher can teach ALL classes in a certain subject) need to be pure beings without their own family or lives. While this holds true for all teachers in Hogwarts, there’s no denial of the gendered history of female teachers being expected to be chaste and celibate. Many countries had laws that banned married women from teaching, while married men were, of course, ok.
And then there’s the evil women. They are not necessarily evil as in working for Voldemort, but they are clearly portrayed as bad characters. The two most prominent ones are Rita Skeeter and Dolores Umbridge. There have been speculations about whether Rita Skeeter is supposed to be a trans woman, as she’s described as having “mannish hands”, but I’ll leave that in the realm of speculation. What is true is that Rita Skeeter is an ambitious woman who is also apparently single. The same holds true for Dolores Umbridge: the thing she wants most in life is power over others. There seems to be no other motivation to her actions. She sells her work to the highest bidder and enjoys abusing her power. It’s important to mention that this sadistic person was first allowed to mistreat kids under the “good guys”. There’s another thing both of them have in common: They are coded as extremely feminine. I don’t think any other character’s attire gets mentioned that often. Rita is portrayed as trying to be attractive, probably trying to finally get herself a man, while Umbridge is trying to look cute and sweet. She likes kittens and bows. Clearly that makes her evil. Let me say it clear and loud here: shaming women for being feminine isn’t feminism, but patriarchy in a feminist wrapper.
There’s one more important woman, Merope, but I’ll come to her in a separate point.
Women are prizes to be won. I must say, the struggles through adolescence were some of the more enjoyable parts of the books. Especially in book 4, where Harry is such a self-centred prick as only adolescents can be, and with adolescence comes the awakening of romantic and sexual interests and that’s completely ok. Only that of course it’s all damn heteronormative, with the girls being passive creatures that need to be pursued by the boys. In book 5 we get the feeling that Hermione fancies Ron, yet she is unable to ask him to the Yule Ball. Harry pursues Ginny, yet he makes the decision to drop her for her own good. But in the end, both boys get their girls for having bravely defeated Voldemort. They can now start the nice domestic life of a heterosexual couple where mum raises kids, because those women are what they deserve. Though the question of domestic bliss leads me to the next point:
Wizards marrying Muggles is miscegenation. While the “good guys” consider Muggle born wizards and witches to be ok, it is made pretty clear that a relationship between a wizard and a Muggle is bad. There are no working Muggle-wizard couples in the Harry Potter universe. We get Voldemort’s parents (more on this later), we got Snape’s parents. Snape’s family life is described as pretty bad. His mother married a Muggle and the relationship is described as unhealthy and bad. Basically Snape’s nastiness (and no, I don’t care about his redemptive arc, he’s a nasty bully and should never have been allowed to teach kids) is explained by his home story. He is an outsider wherever he goes. The other one is Dean Thomas, whose father was probably a wizard who abandoned him and his mother. Now, how nobody in a community so small ever guessed who his father was is another question, but again we get the idea: You must not fuck a Muggle. And that’s from a book that apparently teaches that “judging people by their bloodlines is bad”. Can you think of any happy Muggle-wizard couple?
Rape is ok (if done by women). This is probably the worst of all. Rape is treated as no big deal. It is stark to see how a world where using the unforgivable “Imperius” curse to make somebody eat a worm will earn you a life sentence in a torture institution, but drugging somebody and make them have sex with you is such a minor thing that underage kids can buy those drugs in a joke store. The treatment of this reveals why Rowling’s descend into Terfdom shouldn’t have come as a surprise. Like many “gender critical” people she apparently believes that all women (only cis women are women to her, of course) are delicate creatures who need to be protected and who cannot commit rape because they don’t have a penis. The first time we encounter a love potion is when Ron eats some chocolates that were meant for Harry and now is madly in love with some girl. This is funny, haha. We’re meant to laugh at Ron, who is obviously out of his senses (and also at the girl, because isn’t the thought that somebody could be in love with that girl funny, haha). We are not supposed to be abhorred at the fact that somebody just drugged him to the point that he would do things with that girl he’d never consent to if he were sober. There are no consequences for the girl who drugged him and it’s no problem that the Weasley brothers sell their potions to whoever can pay for them (except for Ginny, cause their own sister needs to be chaste). However, if you think this is horrible, look at the most important use of love potions in the books: Voldemort’s story of origin.
I’ve hinted at this several times already, but Merope and Tom Riddle Senior are about the most fucked up story line in the whole books. When we first meet the two, it’s pretty clear with whom our sympathies are supposed to lie. Tom Riddle Senior is an arrogant ass. Some rich bastard’s son who looks down on his poor neighbours, not knowing that they are actually wizards. Merope on the other hand is the poor abused girl who has to care for her violent father and brother (somehow the wizarding world is ok with that as well). When those two get thrown into prison, Merope uses her shot at freedom by drugging and raping Tom Riddle. Of course, it’s never described like that. The way we learn about it in the books is a very sanitised version.
(Dumbledore) “Can you not think of any measure Merope could have taken to make Tom Riddle … fall in love with her…?” “The Imperius Curse?”, Harry suggested. “Or a love potion?” “Very good. Personally I am inclined to think that she used a love potion. I am sure it would have seemed more romantic to her…”
Then we learn that Riddle returned to his parents with talks of having been “hoodwinked” by Merope. The tale in his village was that he had married because he thought she was pregnant.
“But she did have have his baby.” (Harry) “Yes, but not until a year after they were married. Tom Riddle left her while she was still pregnant.” “What went wrong?”, asked Harry. “Why did the love potion stop working?”
Dumbledore speculates that Merope, whom he describes as deeply in love with Riddle, stopped giving him the potion, hoping that he’d stay for her sake and the baby’s, but:
“He left her, never saw her again, and never troubled to discover what became of his son.”
This is perhaps one of the worst passages in the whole books. A man is drugged over months, repeatedly raped, and when he finally escapes he is the bad guy for leaving his pregnant “wife”. There is no sympathy here for Tom Riddle. There is no horror conveyed. The use of the love potion gets described as “romantic”. Harry thinks that Riddle no longer being drugged is a sign that something went wrong, and Dumbledore immediately offers an explanation that paints Merope in a good light.
The next time we hear about Merope is that she sold her family heirloom after Riddle left her, or as Dumbledore calls it “when her husband abandoned her”. Now we come to Merope’s one and only crime: dying. While Dumbledore still tries to be sympathetic, finding reasons and excuses while Merope gave up, Harry is indignant.
(Dumbledore) “Of course, it is also possible that her unrequited love and the attendant despair sapped her of her powers. Merope refused to raise her wand even to save her own life.” “She wouldn’t even stay alive for her son?” Dumbledore raised his eyebrows. “Could you possibly be feeling sorry for Lord Voldemort?” “No”, said Harry quickly, “but she had a choice, didn’t she…”
Now I’d like to raise the question why we shouldn’t feel sorry for baby Tom Riddle, conceived through rape, born to a rapist mother who did not want him if she couldn’t have his father, and who was absolutely abandoned by his own community, although they absolutely knew about him, since “his name has been down for our school (Hogwarts) since birth”. But again, we’re meant to sympathise with Merope. The wizarding community only gives a fuck about Tom Riddle once he’s old enough to attend Hogwarts. Dumbledore doesn’t give a fuck before that. And Riddle is described as a bad person even from the time he was a wee baby. Again, see the point about miscegenation. We are meant to believe that Tom Riddle was bad because of his blood (and not, maybe, because he was dumped in a non magical orphanage without any loving person around), yet somehow even this isn’t meant to raise some sympathy. It is hard not to see the gendered aspect here: Merope is always the victim, always somewhat less responsible for her own actions than others, while the man she raped and the boy she birthed are to be judged. We are meant to believe that an abandoned and mistreated 11 years old boy is just inherently bad, while a mistreated 18 years old woman is just “in love” or “heartbroken”.
There are many other ethical problems in Harry Potter’s world. You can find more examples in Charly’s comment on the last post, or Andreas’ post on interspecies relationships. I’ll leave it at this for now.
Let’s have some posts about things we can just lightheartedly hate on.
When Andreas talked about the problems of interspecies relations in Pokémon, he also touched on the Harry Potter universe. I have talked about the world building problems in Harry Potter before though mostly in comments, so this is a nice opportunity to put those thoughts into a stand alone piece.
I’ll start by saying that most fictional worlds, whether low fantasy settings (such as Harry Potter, which plays in our world where magical beings are hidden) or high fantasy settings (say Lord of the Rings or Discworld, where the world is definitely not Earth) have some major issues with their world building. This is kind of natural and stems from several problems:
Number one: people want to tell stories, not histories. Unless you’re a freak like Tolkien, who invented a language first and then built a world to serve that language, authors often don’t start out building a logical and consistent world. Instead they build a world around their stories. As the stories grow, the world grows, things are added to serve the story, earlier features are in conflict with later points. This is often closely linked to –
Number two: the longer a series, the more troublesome the worldbuilding gets. Especially when the author didn’t expect a series to run that long, and the series doesn’t have a fixed end point, but more of an episodic character. I think the Discworld novels are a really good example of that. When you read the first ones, there are many things that just disappear in the later ones. In Equal Rites a powerful female wizard is established, yet we never hear of her again.
Number three: authors make use of their bad knowledge of our own world. This is often the case in medievalist fantasy: People have some really shoddy ideas of the middle ages, they fill the gaps with “knowledge” from other fantasy or from our own world, thus creating impossible trade relationships, unsustainable farming, etc. I always cringe when the poor part of town is characterised by “food and old barrels rotting in the street”. No medieval person would have let a barrel gone to rot. There was iron in that thing. And they would have used all the food. If it was truly inedible they’d have fed it to some animal to eat the animal.
Number four: authors don’t know how to wrap up loose endings. Sure, life doesn’t work backwards, so when something happens, it doesn’t have a specific and in mind. Life also doesn’t have a last page by which all major stories should come to an end. Life just goes on. Books don’t. If a story had several story lines going on, and only one of them comes to a satisfying end, readers and viewers are disappointed. Sometimes when authors notice those loose ends, they just put something in the world that makes them end.
These issues are often less pronounced in works where the whole series has been thought out before the first book was published. Notable examples are N.K. Jeminsin’s Broken Earth trilogy, or Seanan Macguire’s October Daye series. They are very different series, with one being a trilogy that works from start to end on one story, and the other one being a many novel series where different stand alone stories are connected with a longer story.
So, how do these issues apply to Harry Potter? The problems in the Harry Potter universe are two-fold: One is a very shoddy world building from the pure standpoint of “does it work”? the other one is a moral issue: “Are the things depicted as moral and heroic actually moral?”. I’ll add that I come from a perspective of having loved Harry Potter, been immersed in the fandom, and then having first sobered and then soured on the novels, long before their author revealed herself as a racist Queen Terf.
Let’s start with the first part: Why the Harry Potter universe doesn’t work.
Harry Potter play in Britain, where a parallel magic world exists that is kept secret from the non-magical people, although it keeps interacting with it. The major issue here is size. Let’s start with the central location for the novels: Hogwarts. Hogwarts is the one and only boarding school in Britain and Ireland where almost all wizards and witches send their kids to, plus the kids from non-magical families who show magical abilities. This means we have all children of the magical population in one school. This should give us an idea about the size of the magical population. If you look at Harry Potter’s year, this comes down to around 40 kids, give or take a few. We know most of Harry’s housemates by name (Harry, Ron, Neville, Hermione, Dean, Seamus, Padme, Parvati, Lavender,…), and a few from the other houses. Always two houses a year share one class, which means that two houses have about 20 kids together, so it’s 40 in a year. If we suppose that each year is about 1% of the total population (wizards live in general longer, but some still die young, and it’s a ballpark figure anyway) that leaves you with a total wizarding population of about 4000 people.
That’s not much. That in and on itself isn’t the problem. the problem is the rest of the world, because it’s a world with really huge specialisation in work. The ministry alone has several highly specialised branches with their own training and prerequisites. How many Aurors are there? The Mystery department? Then there’s several competing companies that just specialise in brooms much like there are car brands. It’s made clear that they are luxury items that are often handed down within families. Unlike cars they aren’t even useful for your everyday life, since public transport works in less prominent ways, for example via the chimneys (another major part in the wizarding world we only learn about in book 4 or so, presumably because the author needed a plot device). Even if broommakers were just family businesses, there’s not enough demand to actually sustain them, especially with a new model being developed and going on the market every year or so. Not to mention that there are apparently several companies that produce sweets and clothing, let alone magical artifacts. Even if they source all their material from the muggle world, where does stuff come from?
And where do people come from? In a community of a few thousand people, everybody will be related to everybody else. Yet strangely, people don’t seem to have relatives. There’s Narcissa Malfoy and Bellatrix Lestrange and that’s about it. The Weasleys have a hell lot of kids, but no cousins? Come on, my town is much larger than all the wizarding world combined and even I went to school with my cousin. One explanation given is that wizards tend to marry Muggles, but that only gets you a whole other bunch of problems: Where do they meet? The wizards are so oblivious of non-wizarding world, they hardly manage to take public transport, but they manage to engage in meaningful relationships with Muggles*?
Another area where numbers don’t add up is Quidditch. Now, the game as such doesn’t make much sense apart from establishing Harry’s status as super hero, but even if we accept the ridiculous premise, who’s playing the game? We know that all kids are in Hogwarts. Hogwarts has 4 houses, 7 kids play in a house team. That makes 28 junior players at any given time, yet for some reason, outside of Hogwarts there’s a whole league outside of school. And the Captain of the school’s most successful team can only get a job as an extra once he leaves school?
Now, all of these things can be dismissed as “nitpicking”. They don’t distract from the magic world, you can simply ignore them, and indeed, it took me some time to spot them, and I am after all somebody who studied literature and is therefore trained to view such things with a critical eye. What I found far more annoying was the deus ex machina called the Deathly Hallows. Somehow, the Deathly Hallows are a fundamental part of wizarding folklore, yet they never appear within six books. The Horcruxes, they make sense. They felt natural within the world. Throughout the books it was hinted that Voldemort had done things that made him basically immortal, enchanted artifacts make sense within the world, and, well, that’s also knowledge you wouldn’t throw at preteens and young teens.
But the Deathly Hallows? How did they never come up, even as some figure of speech? Just think about how our fairly tales influence our world, how we will casually call somebody “Sleeping Beauty” or “Cinderella”. Hoe my husband will use Harry Potter’s own “Lumos” while turning on the lights, or how we have taken to call somebody naive “my sweet summer child” from GoT. Yet, nothing. Six books and not even Ron ever mentions how Harry’s invisibility cloak is damn special, just like the one in the fairy tale. Indeed, the cloak isn’t treated as extraordinary throughout those books. Ron, who is our wizarding encyclopedia, treats it as another luxury item his friend got, but not as beyond attainable. In the end, the Hallows feel like an easy way to finish up the story without giving it too much thought.
I could go on and on about the problems with the world, not just in HP, but the other works like Magical Beasts (please explain a Jewish wizarding girl in New York to me), but I’ll leave it at this. I’ll write about the ethical problems another day , since the post got long already.
*How those relationships are portrayed is a different matter for the “Ethics” post.
Well, let’s not do a usual “end of year” review, shall we? We all know what happened this year. Instead I want to focus on something that really helped me through the struggles of this year, and like many other people I turned to video games. Now, while I played too much Animal Crossing in spring, to the point that the kids were upset with me digging out all the fossils and catching all the rare fishes, Pokémon Go made me happy all year long.
For one thing, it regularly gets me out of the house. I don’t have a dog for good reasons, so there’s no wet nose that makes me get off my ass, and like for many people, “I should go on a walk because the movement in the fresh air will do me good” just isn’t enough for me. But “I should go outside to catch Pokémon” amazingly is. And since Mr plays as well, we go on walks together, spend time together on our hobby and get some mild exercise outdoors.
For another thing, it keeps me connected. The social aspects of the game are carefully crafted. There is competition, and trainer battles, but they tend to be anonymous over the internet. Real life encounters tend to focus on cooperation, as all players focus on battling the same boss together. Just last week we met a family on our walk who had mostly just started playing and the little kid of some 8 years or so was super happy to find some advanced players to play with and get the big bad monster. Those little things make me happy.
Of course it’s also something we do with our friends, as restrictions allow, so we plan whole weekends around Pokémon events, with food and drink and everything. Even when we cannot play together, we have something to talk about via video chats or messenger services, so we keep talking with each other, having some light hearted chats or rants about some thing or other that isn’t working (what, did you think the game didn’t have glitches?) without having to talk about serious matters.
And finally there’s the people we met via Pokémon Go who have become friends. Sometimes life puts somebody in your way and then you notice that it “clicks”. About a year ago we met a woman who was hoping for others to join her in a Raid, and we did, and we connected on social media, and we noticed that we actually like each other and now I’m looking forward to our Wednesday night raids and chatting for a while with her and her husband. So much for the people who say that video games make you lonely.
Oh, and as an addendum: It also provides and outlet for all the judgemental people who have nothing better to do than getting upset at other people playing some harmless game on their phones in public. I wouldn’t want to disappoint them, would I?
So, what is your favourite (video) game and why?
… Victorian Christmas Cards
Commercially produced greeting cards hit the market in 1840, and by the 1860s, they had become very popular. The Christmas cards sent during the Victorian years had a much different sensibility than those we send nowadays. Hyperallergic put together a good selection with many featuring animals doing some unusual things, and I’ve chosen a few of my favourites to share with you. There are more to see at the above link.
Let’s start with a few just plain cute cards.
And now, a few more unusual cards.
and finally, a few cards that I consider downright frightening.
My thanks to Hyperallergic for putting together this interesting assortment of antique Christmas cards. There are a few more to be seen if you click the link.
Merry whatever you celebrate. I personally would not mind a little war on Christmas, I hate the holiday and everything it officially stands for (hint- it does not stand for love and family, that is most people’s personal addition). But I love the winter solstice and the promise of longer days and shorter nights again. We had an extremely warm bud muddy and gloomy fall so far, but today, finally, winter has begun for real – we had our first real snowfall of this year. That has cheered me up ever so slightly.
I might have to dust off the snow of the bonsai trees, if it gets wet, it could break them.