Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Women and Power: Advice from the Ape-World.

I think the way political power is handed out these days almost guarantees that you’ll get the wrong sort of person for the job. Guiding a society is an onerous responsibility, it has nothing to do with personal ‘achievement’, you need to be old enough to have got that out of your system. The person or people offered the job need to be chosen by a broad church of people who know the candidates well, and who themselves know what it takes to govern a country. It is a specialist job like any other; you wouldn’t appoint a brain surgeon through a popular vote. What we have is practically the worst system imaginable, where leaders are chosen from an undignified scramble of candidates who desperately want the job, and who are chosen largely by people (you and I) who know very little of what it takes to govern a country, and with very little knowledge of the candidates. This is what we call Democracy, on which the west prides itself so much, and which much of the rest of the world scorns – in many ways, rightly.

But if you do want to take part in this undignified scramble, and you are female, here is some advice by Frans de Waal in New Scientist magazine, entitled ‘Midnight Tips for the Clinton Camp’. The author has spent many years observing chimpanzees, and after telling us about their hierarchies, she continues:

'Here are three lessons for alpha females in human politics. First, age helps a female more than a male. Since physical strength and stamina are largely irrelevant in the female, becoming older, experienced and better connected offers an advantage. I have never seen a middle-aged female at the top of a hierarchy if older females were present. In human politics, too, a typical alpha female is post-reproductive, such as Indira Gandhi, Margaret Thatcher and Angela Merkel.

‘Second, since males respect power more than age or personality, the alpha female must head a large coalition to handle them effectively. Tight control of her political party might provide this in human politics, but it is unlikely any female could have a stable top role without support from her sex. This can only be secured by being sexually non-threatening and championing female causes.

And third, an alpha female needs to rise above the parties. Older female primates often head large families, and have a natural tendency to be loyal and committed to their kin. The effective alpha female needs to be able to reach beyond her inner circle, build bridges, groom rivals, all of which comes harder to females than males, because males lead more opportunistic political lives and therefore have shorter memories for perceived slights. So impartiality may be the greatest challenge for any female politician.

That the rules of the game are different for both sexes seems ‘unfair’, but is simply how evolution works. Male reproductive success depends on access to females, and one way to achieve this is to hold power over other males. A connection between sex and power is well-known in human politics. For females, things don’t work the same for the simple reason that increased access to mates doesn’t help them reproduce one bit. Instead of serving reproduction via sex, female power serves reproduction via access to resources.

This is important, too, which is why an interest in power is not limited to male primates. Yet the reasons are not the same, and the interplay with sex is so different that advising Clinton to act more ‘feminine’ is misguided. When Clinton shed one tear during an interview, everyone was moved and the media said that finally we saw the real person behind the candidate. But when she went on to shed more tears during a second interview, the headline read: “Again?”, while her opponents countered that Barack Obama “doesn’t go on television and have crying fits.”

Another miscalculation, this time in her favour, came when sexist hecklers in New Hampshire shouted at Clinton: “Iron my shirt! Iron my shirt!” which galvanised the female vote in her favour. Of the three lessons, then, my money says any alpha female’s ticket to success is solidarity with her own gender.

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Saturday, March 08, 2008

The Large Binocular Telescope

From BBC News:

'The world's most powerful optical telescope has opened both of its eyes. Astronomers at the Large Binocular Telescope (LBT) in Arizona have released the first images taken using its two giant 8m diameter mirrors.

The detailed pictures show a spiral galaxy located 102 million light-years away from the Milky Way. The $120m (£60m) telescope uses two mirrors in tandem to maximise the amount of light it gathers, which allows astronomers to look deep into the Universe.

The resolution is 10 times greater than the space-based Hubble telescope. "The images that this telescope will produce will be like none seen before," said Professor Peter Strittmatter of the University of Arizona.'

The telescope has been 20 years in the planning. It has a lot of Pluto momentum behind it: actual construction began in 1997, 2 years after Pluto entered the very appropriate sign of Sagittarius, and it has begun functioning just as Pluto is leaving the sign.

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Friday, March 07, 2008

Crimes of Passion

From BBC News:

'Italy's highest appeal court has ruled that married Italian women who commit adultery are entitled to lie about it to protect their honour. The court gave its landmark ruling after hearing the case of a 48-year-old woman, convicted of giving false testimony to police by denying she had lent her mobile phone to her lover.

The appeal court did not agree that she had broken the law. It said bending the truth was justified to conceal extra-marital relationships. In a predominantly Catholic country you might expect the courts to take a dim view of lying and adultery. But not in this case. It said bending the truth was justified to conceal extra-marital relationships.

The woman, Carla, who brought the appeal had lent her telephone to her secret lover, Giovanni, who then used it to call her estranged husband, Vincenzo, and insult him. Giovanni, the lover, was convicted of abusive behaviour in a local court, and Carla convicted as an accessory.

But the Court found that having a lover was a circumstance that damaged the honour of the person among family and friends. Lying about it, therefore, was permitted, even in a judicial investigation.'

What is it about these Catholic countries, who are technically the most repressive about sex - you can't even use condoms - yet in practice go to the other extreme in making allowances for it? Look at the way France has recently been celebrating their leader's affair with a supermodel, Carla Bruni.

And what is it about these Protestant countries where the US President gets impeached for covering up the fact that he had a blow-job off his secretary? And where, in the UK, you lose your job as a government minister if you get caught having an affair?

We have a new Puritanism. 49 years ago Nixon and Kennedy were visiting the same whorehouse while they campaigned to be President, and the press kept quiet. Roosevelt had a mistress. (These events preceded the so-called 'sexual revolution' of the 60s.) I'm not saying I'm at entirely at ease with this, but also things have changed, probably since Pluto passed through Scorpio from the mid 80s to mid 90s.

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Descartes and Zen

By Zen Buddhist Katagiri Roshi:

I have been reading your Descartes.
Very interesting. 'I think, therefore I am.'
He forgot to mention the other part.
I'm sure he knew, he just forgot:
I think, therefore I'm not.

I am sure that, with natal Sun trine to Neptune, it was indeed an oversight.

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From BBC News:

‘It's 30 years since Douglas Adams' The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy made its debut on BBC radio, but its most famous mystery is still waiting to be resolved. Possibly the most famous line in the whole book is the "answer to life, the universe, and everything" given by the supercomputer, Deep Thought.

For seven and a half million years, this stupendously powerful, office-block of a machine had whirred. When it came to announcing what it had discovered, crowds had quite understandably gathered. "You aren't going to like it," Deep Thought warned. "Forty-two," it said, with infinite majesty and calm.

Ever since, speculation has been rife as to what Adams meant. Tragically, Douglas Adams died in 2001. So what does Stephen Fry, a close friend, voice of the audiobook, and possibly one of the most intelligent admirers of The Hitchhiker's Guide think?

"Of course, it would be unfair for me to comment," he confides. "Douglas told me in the strictest confidence exactly why 42. The answer is fascinating, extraordinary and, when you think hard about it, completely obvious. Nonetheless amazing for that. Remarkable really. But sadly I cannot share it with anyone and the secret must go with me to the grave. Pity, because it explains so much beyond the books. It really does explain the secret of life, the universe, and everything."

Stephen Fry’s reticence is, I am sure, nothing that a bit of water-boarding wouldn’t sort. But then again, Mr Bush would need an interest in the question, and he already has his own answers.

As astrologers, we are aware that Uranus takes 84 years to go round the Sun: 42 is therefore the average age of the Uranus opposition, the astrological mid-life crisis, a time of sudden insights when you start to recognise your youthful follies. So perhaps some of us know the answer as well.

The first episode of the Hitchhikers Guide was broadcast at 10.30pm in London on 8 March 1978. There was a New Moon at 16-18 Pisces (the Mind of God) closely trine to Uranus (not what you thought it was).

Adams (born 11 March 1952) was a Pisces, but also, as you might expect, he had Mercury square to Uranus and Venus-Node in Aquarius.
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