Outlander’s Schedule Reminds Me of Bollywood

Outlander’s Claire (Caitriona Balfe) and Jamie (Sam Heughan)


If you’re a fan of Diana Gabaldon’s mega-hit novel Outlander, you’ve undoubtedly tuned in to watch the series on Starz, which gave the book a whopping 16 hour-long episodes in its first season. That’s six episodes more than HBO’s  initial “Game of Thrones” season.


The catch is that there are only eight “Outlander” episodes this fall. The next eight won’t screen until early April, even though Starz originally set them to begin for January. The episodes have already been shot and need only post-production work.


Breaking from their frustrated moans, viewers have brought up dire predictions: New fans won’t return in April. Old fans will turn aside, too. The earth will stop spinning.


Starz may have wanted to whet the appetite of viewers and then leave them high and dry (note: that is abusive and controlling behavior). Perhaps they examined football and hoops and holiday schedules, shuddered, and said no thanks.


To me, though, the bizarre scheduling smacks of traditional Bollywood.


Classic Bollywood films are three hours long with an intermission, and what happens in the first half is quite distinct from the events of the second. Same actors, same relationships, but while the first half tends to be lighter and more humorous, the second half turns darker. There’s more threat if not outright violence, and themes that might be termed “mature”, even wretched, are introduced.


The reason for this is that classic Hindi-language films (Bollywood is named after Bombay, now called Mumbai, on India’s west coast – Mumbai is India’s movie and financial center, like a combo New York City/Los Angeles plate) are based on ancient Sanskrit plays. Traveling troupes would roll in wagons from one rural village to the next and begin Act I just after dinner. The intermission was timed for when children were seen to bed. After younger viewers were out of the way, the production’s raw meat could begin.


When plays became films, producers adopted the same division. In part this was a bow to tradition. Partly, though, it acknowledged that traveling projectionists faced the same conditions: project the movie against a white barn wall, and you’ll still have small children sitting on parents’ laps for the show’s first half.


This first-half-light, second-half-fraught practice holds for in-India movies and until quite recently even for films designed for overseas audiences. Take Kaho Naa Pyaar Hai, for example (2000), the blockbuster film that launched the career of Hrithik Roshan, or 2001’s popular-outside-India Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham, with six major stars including the king of Bollywood, Shah Rukh Khan.


A shift away from this light-dark dichotomy has been very recent, as some India movies take on a mantle of Western film values. Luck By Chance (2009) and The Lunchbox (2013) come to mind.


The first half of “Outlander” (the first eight episodes) are not devoid of mature themes. There is pain and suffering, though we see much of it in flashback. Humor, though, and lightness, and the burgeoning of affection, we see those, too.


The second half, though, that’s where the real substance begins. Love and passion, betrayal and torture. The book readers know this, and producers and actors have hinted that the last half, especially the final two episodes, were very tough to film and will be hard to stomach.


People involved in “Outlander” may have never watched Bollywood films. Interesting, then, that they’ve unconsciously followed their pattern. Let’s hope that during this six-month-long intermission, they lose only younger viewers for whom second halves are too awful to bear.



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The Freudian Slip of “It”


The English language is a fascinating one. It changes, morphs, takes in words from everywhere on earth, adapts, discards, plows on. Its spelling is challenging, because words’ spellings reflect their origins and the journeys they’ve made to reach modern English. Sites like World Wide Words offer a plethora of information and odd facts (and free weekly e-newsletter).


What haven’t changed for many centuries, however, are the pronouns English speakers use to describe human beings in the singular: she and he. We don’t vary that. In Sweden, there’s a small movement to popularize a gender-neutral pronoun that still indicates humanity (“hen” in addition to hon which applies to females, and han for males), but in English-speaking countries, we’re a long way from that. She, he, that’s it.


Not it, that is. We don’t use “it” to refer to humans.


Which makes the use of “it” perplexing in pro-life, anti-choice writings. If you really believe that a fertilized egg is a human being from the moment of conception, then why are you using “it” to describe said zygote? She, or he, or s/he, or even he or she. If you really believe.


Anti-choice text writers struggle with this. They tend to repeat “fertilized egg” or “zygote” or “embryo” in order to avoid the use of “it”, but so far – I’ve searched online – they have yet to use the correct personal pronouns. Once the embryo reaches the fetal stage, then it’s “baby” and “he” or “she”, but rarely – never? – before then.


Look, I don’t believe that life begins at conception. Potential human life, yes, but only potential; especially since 15% of known human zygotes do not make it to birth. Many more zygotes fail to implant in the uterine wall before a woman even knows a fertilized egg exists, which raises the rate of miscarriage to at least 33% and perhaps much higher. (Medically speaking, miscarriage is called spontaneous abortion and is usually caused by a genetic flaw in the fertilized egg.)


So I have no trouble using “it” to describe a zygote, embryo or fetus.


But if you do believe that human life – not potential, but life – is created when the head of a sperm cell penetrates an egg cell, then you ought to align your language with your belief. Shake off the shackles of “it” and use the English pronouns she and he.


Unless, of course, your use of “it” is a Freudian slip.



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Cris Carter Rocks

NFL Hall of Famer Cris Carter


Of all the responses to the news that Minnesota Vikings Adrian Peterson (6-foot-1, 217 pounds) hit his little 4-year-old son with a wooden switch/branch, raising welts on his inner thighs, breaking the skin, and even hitting his genitals, the most powerful so far has been that of former Minnesota Vikings Cris Carter, football Hall of Famer, who is now an analyst on televised sports shows.


Here’s the video of what he said on ESPN’s “Sunday NFL Countdown”.


Here’s some paraphrased text of his passionate words:


“This goes across all racial lines, ethnicity… People believe in disciplining their children. People with any kind of Christian background, they really believe in disciplining their children. My mom did the best that she could do with seven kids … But there are thousands of things that I have learned since then that my mom was wrong. This is the 21st century; my mom was wrong… And I promise my kids I won’t teach that mess to them. You can’t beat a kid to make them do what you want them to do. The only thing I’m proud about, is the team that I played for, they did the right thing [in suspending Peterson].”


Unfortunately, after Carter’s statement, Adrian Peterson was reinstated by the Minnesota Vikings and would have played this coming weekend – except that today, the news is that citizen activists have taken their protests to the entities that apparently matter: the advertisers. As of today, Peterson has been advised not to even approach the Vikings playing field.


Money talks.


As to NBA player Charles Barkley’s allegation that “all” black parents inflict corporal punishment on their children – disproved, obviously, by Cris Carter’s emotion-filled video – Slate repeats what most of us are thinking: “everybody’s doing it” doesn’t make it right and healthy.


“Normal” just depends on what the group is doing. (In concentration camps, “normal” was seeing people go up in smoke.) That’s a terrible standard. What we seem to be turning to, where I hope we’re going, especially in the discussion of violence against children, is a higher standard:





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Conflict-Free Divorce Is Just As Damaging To Children As Conflictual Divorce? Really? And Is It More Damaging Than Living In A Home With Both Parents But Filled With Conflict, Rape, Abuse . . .?

A child’s brain


A recent article suggests that what used to be called “European divorces” – where the parents act civilized and put their children’s needs first and foremost – is just as damaging to kids as conflict-driven divorce.


Ha. Ha. Ha.


When my eldest daughter was a college first-year, early on in the fall semester she and her hallmates engaged in a meet-up moment in the dorm, trading histories in a circle with coffee. Many of them had divorced parents. Lots of those parents had handled the circumstances badly, despite their educations (high) and wealth (ditto). The girls spilled tales of nastiness, verbal abuse, can’t-be-in-the-same-auditorium-together and vengeful holidays.


When my daughter’s turn came, she hesitated, then told of her parents: how they not only attended her sports events but actually sat together; how holidays were conflict-free; how they worked hard to make sure the children whose lives they had disturbed experienced as little pain as possible.


Wow, said her listeners. We would give anything if our parents would act like that.


In my work as a mediator, I’ve seen too many divorcing parents who are at each other’s throats, with – as we examine the effect – surprise that their children are hurt by their immaturity. Sometimes one ends up murdering the other – and/or the children, too.


I’ve also seen collaborative parents whose older children actually tell them how pleased they are to be living with less furor than their peers.


Case closed.


Yet there’s another aspect of this: Even if conflict-free divorce were hard on children, would it be harder or more dangerous than life for children where both parents stay married to each other, but where the family home is rife with conflict, abuse, assault and rape?


That cannot be. Because living in those homes is terrible for kids. Sir Patrick Stewart, now age 74, still recoils from memories of his father’s physical rages against his mother, beatings that local police did nothing to help, for which local ambulance staff even blamed the victim.


Because Ray Rice is in the news, let’s think for a moment of his little daughter’s experience of life. So far, her parents have been in conflict. There’s been verbal abuse. There’s also been horrifying physical violence perpetrated by her father. Since it was clear from Rice’s behavior on that dreadful video that it was not the first time he had punched the mother of his child, chances are that their toddler, Rayven, has already witnessed violence.


Every act of violence, every word of conflict, acts on children’s minds just like a drug does. Agitation and fear wash through them, setting up a cascade of neurochemicals that have the power to change circuitry. It alters their brains.


If the abuse is directed at them – physical abuse like that suffered by Adrian Peterson’s little four-year-old son, whom the football player (6-foot-1 and 217 pounds) assaulted with a whip-like branch; rape and sexual assault; the daily slaps common in some cultures – children’s brains receive an even greater neurochemical flood. Now the brain itself is under attack. The changes in it may never recede. It may be primed to run, to attack, to freeze, rather than rationally approach life. It is no longer a healthy brain. It is the damaged brain of a survivor. Just as a scar tells of a wound to the skin, a child’s behavior can reveal what she endured at the hands of people bigger than she.


So, is conflict-free divorce worse than that?


I don’t think so.



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Bring Back The Fichu



In this season of hyper-bad news and ultra-serious posts, it’s time for a little levity. We need it, what with ISIS and Ray Rice and Rotherham and all.


For those “Game of Thrones” fans who are in hypoxia-mode because their favorite characters won’t return until OMG next spring, there’s a fix: turn to the Starz.


I mean “Outlander”, now in its fifth week on Starz.


Based on the series of books by Diana Gabaldon, translated into umpteen languages and beloved all over the world, this well-planned and cinematically gorgeous show displays all the suspense, romance, intrigue and 18th-century violence of its literary parent. Though I look forward to the boxed set – captions for the Scots Gaelic! – even the fact that the protagonist Claire Beauchamp Randall (played by Caitriona Balfe) only half-understands the people into whose midst she’s been flung by time travel works well. We don’t understand either, so her confusion mirrors ours as she navigates the 1740s Scottish Highlands with 1946 sensibility and knowledge.


Superlative casting also nets us handsome Sam Heughan as Jamie Fraser, the young Scotsman who marries Claire to save her from torture, as well as Graham McTavish (the tall dwarf  Dwalin of The Hobbit) who plays Jamie’s conniving uncle Dougal McKenzie.


Acting is great. Scenery gorgeous. Sets and locations fabulous.




We could do with fewer candles (candles were expensive, no one would light one in daylight – if they needed extra light then, they might fire up a small lamp with oil in it, or even a simple handmade lamp).


In addition, at a time when every woman and most girls would have worn a hat or lace or even a canvas hood, as a matter of keeping warm but also mindful of the Biblical injunction that a woman’s hair must be covered, Claire wears precisely nothing atop her shoulder-length brown locks — short by 1740s standards, but they might have been purposely cut because of a fever. Oy vey.


All right, I understand, the producers want us to be able to pick her out from the crowd.


However, two things are not only historically inaccurate, but would have seen Claire verbally chastened if not beaten at a time when men felt it was their business to criticize women’s choices in hairstyles and clothing. (Wait, they still do that.)


Number one, she occasionally wears her hair down.


No. Just no.


A grown woman (Claire is 27 and claims to be a widow, her husband having been left behind in post-war Britain), would never do that in 1743 except in severe Catholic penance, or, as in the legend of Lady Godiva, in order to achieve some nearly impossible goal. Let-down hair was for girls – that is, female people who had not yet married – as we see from young Laoghaire who has a crush on Jamie Fraser. Laoghaire’s blond tresses tumble down her back. However, grown women, especially widows, would have always pinned up their hair. They would no more let it brush their shoulders than they would wear skirts up to their knees.


Then there’s the matter of the fichu. Ah, the fichu. Or lack thereof.


A fichu was a piece of fabric like a kerchief or shawl (shown here), usually white and triangular, worn over the shoulders with its ends crossed over the breasts so that their upper part would not be exposed to view. (The lower part was covered by the bodice and underlying chemise.) In the photo above, Claire wears no fichu. The same goes for many other times. Within Castle Leoch, where she is first taken, on the road, wherever. The fichu is on-again, off-again, when by rights it should be definitively on, at least during daylight hours.


Again, it would be partly to keep her warm, and partly to cover her breasts. Even in the early 19th century, in Jane Austen’s time, women wore such covers. Only they tucked them into their low-cut bodices and called them, well, tuckers. Readers of Pride and Prejudice may remember that the elder Bennet sisters criticized young Lydia for purposely omitting her tucker during the daytime. (Lydia, only 15, was unconcerned.)


One might show a bit of breast after supper, but as long as the sun was shining – unh-unh.


Claire, doing the same thing (time after time), in real 1740s life, would have been roundly critiqued by the women around her and told to go dress herself by the men in power, like Dougal – and men who thought they held power, meaning every wearer of trousers or kilt.


I realize it’s too late – and it’s Starz, known for nudity – to set the loose hair and fichu-gone-AWOL in their proper places. It’s not too late for Season Two, however, already greenlit for next year.


Long live the fichu!



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Are Hormones Weapons? If Not, Let’s Use Them.


Drawing of a molecule of oxytocin.


Today, I’m writing about ISIS.


First, a small segue (hang on, there’s a tie): This article, and this, and this one, too – oh, and this, as well – all from the British press, reveal that in the manufacturing town of Rotherham in Yorkshire (the largest county in England, the county of James Herriott, the beautiful Lake District, The Dales) over 1400 people have been repeatedly terrorized, tortured, gang-raped and threatened with death. The police response: zero. The reports were dismissed, whistleblowers tossed out, details buried. Why? Because the victims were children. The attackers, Pakistani-origin Muslim men. Officialdom makes the excuse that it was reluctant to roil multicultural waters, though many people wonder if there was a money aspect, if they were being paid off to look the other way. We have to assume, as well, that the people responsible for not arresting the perps right away were several eggs short of a dozen and thus should never have had any sort of power at all. Also, that they were minus compassion. The biggest cop is refusing to resign his current post, despite repeated calls to do so, reported here. Finally, after weeks, the New York Times began to pay attention.


Now. ISIS. A larger group of Muslim men. Opportunists, again.


I hope someone from the US military or Big Pharma is reading this – feel free to send links, readers – because this is a eureka moment.


“Fight fire with fire” is an old saying. With wildfires, sometimes it works to dig trenches and then set light to the ground beyond, so it roars up to the larger fire which then runs out of fuel.


It’s the same way with firepower. The classic response to military assaults has been . . . more military assaults. From land, sea, air, space, as technology improved through millennia. More weapons, more pain. More death to innocents.


There’s another way we fight fire, though. We use water or chemicals. We spray them, dump them, stream them down. They put out the blaze even more effectively.


In response to the use by Germany of mustard gas during the First World War (1914-1918), the 1925 Geneva Protocol, which governs rules of warfare, bans the use of chemical and biological weapons. Substances that can harm human beings are prohibited from use (though oddly not from manufacture or stockpiling – consistency, please, people). Thus when Iraq used multiple chemical weapons against its Kurdish population in Halabja in 1988, that genocidal act was roundly condemned.


A chemical or biological weapon is a substance alien to the human body. What if the substance used, however, were produced within the body? A non-harmful compound. Pleasant, in fact.


I’m thinking of oxytocin. Oxytocin is on the World Health Organization’s (WHO) List of Essential Medicines. It’s a neurohypophysial hormone, produced only in mammals of both sexes. The hypothalamus makes it, the posterior pituitary gland stores it and releases it. It’s common in childbirth (its name means “fast birth” in Greek) and is associated with lactation. The pharmaceutical form given to people in “slow” labors (it can be injected or sprayed into the nose) speeds up uterine contractions. I can attest to this myself; they accelerate like a bottle rocket.


Oxytocin promotes maternal-infant bonding. It also influences social bonding between adults. It allays anxiety with a rush of wellbeing. People who are genetically bad at oxytocin reception and uptake tend to display aggressive behavior even when their bodies produce the hormone. (Maybe that’s all of ISIS, oxytocin-deprived because of their genetics?)


So here’s the suggestion: Stop thinking bombs and bullets. Start thinking very mild, aerosolized oxytocin.


Sprayed from above, it would help every member of ISIS feel better. Much better. Their weapons would be stripped from them by gas-masked opponents, and they would be taken prisoner without spilling a drop of blood.


Let them breathe oxytocin.


We achieve a bloodless victory, using a hormone found in our own bodies. It’s called working smart. And that’s a breath of fresh air.



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To Slice Or Not To Slice

Waiting to contract


If you are pregnant in the US, if you know someone who is, or who wants to be, read this. It will give you some idea how much Caesarean section – heavy-duty abdominal surgery designed to help a baby live when the mother cannot give birth vaginally – depends, not on medical emergency or advice, but on culture. Yes, within America.


In order to avoid “but the patient wanted it” whingeing, let’s first take a look at who has the power in childbirth and Caesarean sections.


One can give birth by oneself. Alone in the woods, within an earthquake-devastated building, in a cave while fleeing rapacious soldiers. All have been done. On the other hand, no one can perform a Caesarean section on herself. Not one person. With that kind of surgery, there must be a practitioner. That puts that second person in charge. No one is holding an IED to physicians’ heads to demand that they slice. Obstetricians (obstetrics is a surgical specialty; historically, few female medical students have been encouraged to specialize in surgery) have the power to just say “no” to a medically unnecessary request or demand for Caesarean section. They have every right to do so – pointing out that the patient shows no risk factors to indicate it – and they have the power. They alone.


That takes care of the whinge. Now:


Recently, much has been made of the fact that the American C-section rate is quite high. This nation is #15 from the top in global high section rates, and its rate of 30.3 is significantly higher than in other first-world nations.


It has been observed that of the top 10 countries worldwide, in terms of high C-section rates, eight have Roman Catholic majorities. (The remaining two high blade users are Iran and South Korea.) Eighty percent of the nations where a person is most likely to undergo C-section with its attendant risks – shock and sepsis; developmental harm to newborns; longer maternal recovery – and extra expense, have high or very high populations identified as Roman Catholic. Clearly, then, that religion and/or its physician adherents are somehow driving the C-section rate to much higher levels than the 15% recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO). In Brazil, which stands at #1 in the world, the rate is an alarming 45.9; nearly half of Brazilian births happen under the knife.


The C-section rate in the United States varies up to 15-fold. Some states have very low rates. Yet some – see this graph – have rates that rival the highest global rates (New Jersey’s extraordinary C-section rate is nearly equivalent to #2 Dominican Republic and #3 Iran, where over 41% of people in labor are cut). Those states pull the US average up.


From the graph, there are 19 states (plus the District of Columbia, making 20 data-specific areas in all; they are listed in order at the end of this article) whose rates exceed the American average. As noted above, that US average is already high compared to other first-world nations. I wondered what cultural effects could be driving these very high rates of abdominal surgery, so I examined graphs and maps.


What I found is this:


Of those 20 areas with high C-section rates, three states also hold high percentages of residents who are Roman Catholic (3 million people or more): California, New York, and, as mentioned above, New Jersey. Only three. How, then, do we account for the remaining areas? Is there some distinguishing cultural “mark” common to them?


There is indeed. If we examine the pre-Civil War slave status of these high C-section districts – where legal ownership of human beings was permitted – we find that 14 of them were slave-holding at the start of hostilities in 1861. From lower percentage of C-sections to highest, bearing in mind that all these states’ rates surpass the US average, they are: Tennessee, Georgia, District of Columbia, Virginia, Arkansas, Maryland, Alabama, South Carolina, Texas, Kentucky, West Virginia (which broke from Virginia during the Civil War, but prior to it had been the western portion of that “slave” state), Mississippi, Florida and Louisiana.


Note that Maryland and Kentucky were among four “slave states” that remained in the Union. Nonetheless, both permitted the ownership of human beings in 1861.


That is an extraordinary commonality.


There are, however, three states remaining of the 20 with higher-than-US-average rates of Caesarean sections, and these three – from lower to higher C-section rates they are Nevada, Oklahoma and Connecticut – seem to have nothing in common.


However, each of these three high C-section states borders at least one state noted above.


Nevada shares along border with California (with a high Roman Catholic population). Oklahoma borders both Arkansas and Texas (both former slave-holding states). Connecticut’s western border runs along New York State (with a high proportion of Roman Catholics).


It seems reasonable to conclude, therefore, that high C-section rates  in Nevada, Oklahoma and Connecticut are due in part to the cultural influence of their neighbors. It is worth noting that California has an outsize cultural influence on Nevada; New York impacts the most populous areas of Connecticut, in the southwestern section of that state, where many commuters live; and despite sports rivalries between Oklahoma and Texas, the latter sends thousands of its residents north to the former.


As others are doing, we can speculate what it is about Roman Catholicism that encourages, absent medical emergency, slicing into a laboring person rather than allowing her to labor and give birth vaginally. It could be institutional disrespect. Women are not yet allowed to be RC priests and are permitted only minor roles in the church. It could be a continuation of the cult of Eve-like and Marian suffering. A Caesarean section is so painful it requires anesthetic, and the recovery period is long and arduous – these new mothers must struggle to rebuild their abdominal muscles. It could be that Roman Catholicism encourages a mindset that rewards male intervention (nearly all obstetricians are male) and denies female bodily integrity and power.


What of the former slave states? There, too, we see a history of power inequities. Pre-Civil War, the dichotomy between the influential and those who had little say in their lives was much starker than in states where slavery had been abolished. It takes little effort to note the transition from imposing on vulnerable people who were black to imposing on vulnerable people – the hours of childbirth put one at risk – who are female. It puts the obstetrician in control of a process he normally would simply observe. He inserts himself into the labor and is thus in control of a person’s life and health, just as slave owners were in 1860.


To those who protest – “hey, what about all those obstetricians who aren’t Roman Catholic, who aren’t descended from families that owned other human beings?” – you’re right. However, when one enters into a culture, and wants to fit in, one adapts. One adopts the customs and traditions of the culture. Fail to do that, and you risk being considered a dangerous renegade. Of course there are physicians in all areas who are not Roman Catholic; likewise, some obstetricians in former slave-holding areas are descended from ancestors who never lived there.


To get along, go along. There is pressure on obstetricians. Patients apply some, but there is  more from the culture they work in. If fellow obstetricians are posting high C-section rates, and you’d rather not, how do you become what Australians call the tall poppy – reducing your section rate to the WHO-recommended 15%, or lower – without getting cut down and criticized?


Probably, you don’t. Most likely, you make excuses to yourself. You look for aspects of the labor, or the pregnant person, to blame. You form a foundation on sand before you slice.


That’s unethical and unnecessary. It harms both the patient and the new child.


As a society, we need to make Caesarean sections dependent not on culture but on true medical necessity. That means insisting on all levels – grassroots to hospital to national watchdogs – that obstetricians just say no to cultures that encourage appallingly high C-section rates.


Note: The 19 states (plus District of Columbia) whose C-section rates exceed the already high US average are (from lower to highest): California, Tennessee, Georgia, Nevada, District of Columbia, Virginia, Oklahoma, New York, Arkansas, Maryland, Alabama, South Carolina, Texas, Connecticut, Kentucky, West Virginia, Mississippi, Florida, Louisiana, New Jersey.


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