1 Shot, 2 Kills

Snipers from the Israeli Defense Force like to print up their own T-shirts to commemorate the end of training or of field duty, according to this article from the Israeli newspaper Haaretz. And the shirts feature images like this:


image courtesy of Haaretz

In case that’s not clear: the belly of a pregnant woman is in the crosshairs of a target. She’s armed, but I’m not so sure that makes a difference when it comes to the many IDF T-shirts that celebrate killing Palestinian women and children.

According to the article:

Dead babies, mothers weeping on their children’s graves, a gun aimed at a child and bombed-out mosques – these are a few examples of the images Israel Defense Forces soldiers design these days to print on shirts they order to mark the end of training, or of field duty.

The slogans accompanying the drawings are not exactly anemic either: A T-shirt for infantry snipers bears the inscription “Better use Durex,” next to a picture of a dead Palestinian baby, with his weeping mother and a teddy bear beside him. A sharpshooter’s T-shirt from the Givati Brigade’s Shaked battalion shows a pregnant Palestinian woman with a bull’s-eye superimposed on her belly, with the slogan, in English, “1 shot, 2 kills.” A “graduation” shirt for those who have completed another snipers course depicts a Palestinian baby, who grows into a combative boy and then an armed adult, with the inscription, “No matter how it begins, we’ll put an end to it.”

There are also plenty of shirts with blatant sexual messages. For example, the Lavi battalion produced a shirt featuring a drawing of a soldier next to a young woman with bruises, and the slogan, “Bet you got raped!”

Other examples, as recalled by a former soldier who once drew such designs:

‘There’s all sorts of black humor stuff, mainly from snipers, such as, “Don’t bother running because you’ll die tired” – with a drawing of a Palestinian boy, not a terrorist. There’s a Golani or Givati shirt of a soldier raping a girl, and underneath it says, “No virgins, no terror attacks.”

Ha ha, isn’t that just so clever? Those harmless cads, they don’t mean anything by it: “Psychologically speaking, this is one of the ways in which soldiers project their anger, frustration and violence,” says a sociologist. And don’t you go overanalyzing it, either: “I don’t see what you’re getting at,” one sharpshooter tells the Haaretz reporter. “I don’t like the way you’re going with this. Don’t take this somewhere you’re not supposed to, as though we hate Arabs.”

What is perhaps even more disturbing about this targeting (whether psychological or actual) of women—especially pregnant women—and children is that it has a deep, rich history across the world, in pretty much every culture, for millennia, and continues to this day. That is, it’s nothing new.

These snipers—who, it must be said, are a small fraction of the IDF—may be twisted, potentially psychotic assholes, but they aren’t creative. To use just two relatively recent examples: in World War II, the bellies of pregnant women in Nanking, China, were bayoneted by Japanese soldiers. Today in the ironically named Democratic Republic of Congo, women and girls—even babies as young as 10 months old—are gang-raped by soldiers from various factions. If they survive, often to live with severe physical problems, they are frequently ostracized by their communities for it.

But this type of violence isn’t exclusively a wartime phenomenon. Right here in the U.S., according to at least three studies, the most recent published in JAMA in 2001, murder was the leading cause of death for pregnant women in the U.S. in the 1980s and 1990s. That same year, a study by the CDC put homicide in second place, behind car accidents.

Wow, progress!

So before you think this behavior is something specific to Israeli forces or the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, think again. It’s just good old brutal humanity, doing what it does best: murdering itself.

Even the Macaques Say, "Shut That Kid Up Already!"

With a shudder, Dr. Awesome recently told me a story about going grocery shopping with his father and two older sisters when he was kid. He couldn’t have been any older than three or four, which would make his sisters under 10 at the time. The girls wanted something Jimbo, as Bartoo the elder is known, was unwilling to buy. A joint temper tantrum ensued. Dr. Awesome recalls with no small amount of awe the fearful sight of their freakout, fists pounding the floor of the supermarket aisle, voices close to shattering the store windows. Jimbo was having none of it. He said something along the lines of, “When you’re done, I’ll be in the dairy aisle,” and rolled the shopping cart off with little Dr. Awesome sitting inside, mouth agape, looking back over his shoulder, unsettled by the whole thing.

He’s still unsettled by it decades later. That’s how much a kid throwing a fit can freak out everyone around it.

And apparently the situation is no different for rhesus macaques. A recent study conducted by a joint U.K.-Puerto Rico team on Cayo Santiago, an island off the coast of P.R., revealed that macaque mothers are far more likely to give in to a tantruming macaque baby if there are other macaques around—particularly aggressive males and dominant females—who might decide they’ve had enough of the noise and are going to take matters into their own hands.

The BBC has a brief article about the research here. To quote heavily from it:

As many human mums will attest – if the infant is ignored, a tantrum can result that can sometimes grate on bystanders….

Stuart Semple, a primatologist from Roehampton University in London who carried out the research, said: “The baby monkeys’ cries are high-pitched, grating and nasty to listen to—not just to their mother but to animals nearby.

“And we found that the way mothers respond to their crying infants is affected by who is around them at the time.”

Further study of the population revealed that although attacks were rare, mothers and infants were more than 30 times more likely to face aggressive behaviour from angry onlookers when a baby was crying than if the baby was content.

Dr Semple explained: “The mothers seem quite reluctant to give in to their infants, but when there are big dominant animals around that pose a threat to either them or their infants, their hand is then forced—they have to give in to their infants’ cries.”

The researchers added that while there had been no directly comparable studies carried out on humans, some anecdotal reports suggested that human mothers were more likely to acquiesce to a screaming child if faced with irritated onlookers.

Jimbo didn’t. And the protoparent in me says this is the right tactic—not to give in, because that’s pretty good reinforcement for the behavior to happen again. But the fellow supermarket shopper in me can imagine the annoyance and dismay I might feel watching him walk away from that screaming snarl of tantruming girls, as if he had spilled corn oil all over the floor but was going to let someone else clean it up. That’s your mess, man. I mean, how many times have you been near a child having a tantrum and felt three seconds away from snarling, “Shut that kid up already!”?

Oy. I simply can’t wait to be on the Decider side of this interaction: yield or resist? I swear my womb reflexively contracts every time I pass a monster-like child who has clearly—and hopefully temporarily—crossed over to the Dark Side. What was I thinking, wanting to do this parenting thing?

Looks like neither we nor the macaques seem to have a sure-fire method for handling a screaming child.

Moderation, Metaphysical Hangovers and the Modern Mom

This entry is less about pregnancy than about bitching—and not, actually, bitching about pregnancy. I’m really tired of that freaking word.


The latest installment of the NYT’s Proof, a blog ostensibly about drinking (more on why I qualify it later), is called Moderation and the Modern Mom.  Anna Fricke writes about how after years of downing shots with 23-year-olds and being escorted out of the side doors of establishments by her husband, she completely gave up the sauce when they began to try to conceive. Even before he was pregnant, she entirely stopped drinking (and eating sushi—evil, evil sushi! Oh, I had some the other night, by the way).

In response, she says,

I felt maternal, wise and frankly relieved. I had worried for years that the alcoholism that ran in my New England stock had snuck into my veins and it was good to know that I could painlessly, easily, give up alcohol when necessary. And so, for 13 months, I didn’t touch a drop. And then I had a baby.

While I’m not abstaining entirely, I do understand why she felt relieved; alcoholism runs through my family’s veins too, and it has worried me that this tendency might, like a tumor, metastasize one day, and that would be the end of me as a sober, functioning member of society. It’s unlikely, though. I have always been the type of drinker who has fun and fun and fun until it gets late and I get tired and I suddenly realize that I am ruining my entire life. The next day, I don’t just wake up with a hangover. I arise to greet an existential crisis.

Writer and committed boozehound Kingsley Amis called it the “metaphysical hangover”:

When that ineffable compound of depression, sadness (these two are not the same), anxiety, self-hatred, sense of failure and fear for the future begins to steal over you, start telling yourself that what you have is a hangover … you are not all that bad at your job, your family and friends are not leagued in a conspiracy of barely maintained silence about what a shit you are, you have not come at last to see life as it really is.

Yep. It’s pretty much exactly like that. I don’t even need to drink much to feel this way; from what Fricke relates, I couldn’t have kept up with her. Still, this metaphysical hangover has served as a painful but effective check on excess.

So I understand where she’s coming from and where she goes with it. Once she felt like she had her mothering skills down and the baby was a bit older, she says:

I started to revel in taking a little of myself back. At night, after she was soundly asleep, I would cook my husband and myself dinner and pour a luxurious glass of wine. I sautéed, I sipped. It was just like the good old days. Except that it wasn’t. Because in the good old days, I would have had at least half a bottle by myself and would have started slurring non-sequiturs to my husband in the middle of “Damages.” And as much as I wanted to celebrate my newfound nighttime independence by getting pleasingly sloshed, I discovered that this was an impossibility.

I too have had a similar realization: that my drinking life has been irrevocably altered. I will not tie one on for a long, long while. I feel some relief about this, too. Because like Amis, I hate dwelling the next day on the conspiracy of silence you all keep about what a shit I am.

But! The point of this posting is: That’s just me. (Well, and Fricke.)  What I want to bitch about is this column, Proof, which every week features yet another entry about the woes and vagaries suffered by yet another ex-boozehound and how complex but ultimately satisfying it is to live the sober life.

I am so calling bullshit.

One of the things pregnancy has taught me so far is that sobriety can be seriously tedious. Unless you’re a master of the universe deciding the fate of nations or a bone fide Zen master, endless sobriety is, well, fucking endless. How I would love, just for a few hours, for reality to have the softened edges it has after you’ve had a couple glasses of wine or finished the last sip of an icy, tawny, sweetly biting Manhattan. How I would love for conversation to have that lubricated effortlessness, for the social bond to put on its fabricated but nonetheless pretty mask.

But if you read Proof every week, you’d think that our alcohol use—which archaeologists have physical evidence for going back at least 8,000 years—never offered these sweet reprieves. You’d think only misery, dysfunction and trauma were responsible for our tippling. It’s absurd, irritating and moralizing.

Why for the NYT is it the people who are unskilled at drinking, who suck at it, who fucked up its venerable traditions so royally that they had to give it up entirely, get to define it for the rest of us?

Bullshit, I say.

Sure, I’m grateful pregnancy has forced me to avoid the metaphysical hangover for the past nearly six months. But that doesn’t mean I don’t envy you your postwork drink. One of my cousins had a baby several months ago and many of her Facebook status updates mention her early evening wine. Ohhh, I can’t wait. I suppose I should be grateful for this as well—that after The Kid is born, maybe I’ll get to have my cake and eat it too: a couple of drinks but no next-day trauma.

But the rest of you: you should drink the hell on. Par-tee.

So One Ancient Fish Says to Another, "You Wanna Put What Where?"

In the U.S., how do we teach kids about sex? The birds and the bees, of course. But we should teach them about the fishies too, according to new research on 380-million-year-old pregnant fish that pushes back the date for the earliest example of internal fertilization by about 30 million years.

As was recently published in the journal Nature, two specimens of Incisoscutum ritchiei, a fish that swam in the waters that once covered what is now Australia, died with smaller fish in their bellies.

Fossil (NHM)

One fossil comes from the Gogo formation of western Australia—
image shamelessly boosted from the BBC article linked below

One of the fossilized remains was first discovered in the 1980s, and assumption had long been that the smaller fish was the larger’s last meal. But then researchers looked at a male Incisoscutum ritchiei and realized it had a pelvic fin on its stomach similar to ones modern sharks have.

Called a clasper, it would have been used by the male to grip the female during mating. It is “an intermittent erectile organ that is inserted inside the female to transfer sperm,” co-author Dr John Long, a palaeontologist at Museum Victoria in Australia, told the BBC. (Intermittent erectile organs are now treatable with medicine. But anyway.)

Internal fertilization is one of the processes that distinguishes some fish and virtually all mammals from reptiles and amphibians.

I doubt this was tender love. It was probably more gladiatorial, considering that placoderms, the class of fish this one belonged to, were covered in a formidable fish armor that in at least one other species extended over a hooked clasper. (Ow!) In contrast, Incisoscutum ritchiei’s clasper was formed of soft cartilage. For her, a tender mercy at least.

The development of internal fertilization went on long before our own class, mammalia, arose on the scene; the earliest mammals didn’t appear until about 100 million years after Incisoscutum ritchiei. We are only most distantly related to this potential pioneer of nookie.

And yet internal fertilization is so key to all human cultures. What aspects of our traditions, laws and arts aren’t in some way related to when, where and how who gets internal with whom?

Bill Proposes Mandatory Drug and Alcohol Testing of Suspicious Pregnant Women in Tennessee

A bill was just introduced to the Tennessee state legislature that would mandate drug and alcohol testing for certain pregnant women. And not only that—any such woman who then failed to show up to two subsequent prenatal exams would be reported to the department of children’s services. You can find the full text of the bill at the link above, or find it pasted here, on the informative website Women’s Health News.

According to the proposed bill, which behaviors signal that you are a pregnant woman of interest who can be forced to have drug or alcohol testing? The following:

(1) No prenatal care;
(2) Late prenatal care after twenty-four (24) weeks gestation;
(3) Incomplete prenatal care;
(4) Abruptio placentae;
(5) Intrauterine fetal death;
(6) Preterm labor of no obvious cause;
(7) Intrauterine growth retardation of no obvious cause;
(8) Previously known alcohol or drug abuse; or
(9) Unexplained congenital anomalies.

Where this list is vaguest is also where it’s most alarming. What exactly is “incomplete prenatal care”? Who defines it? And who, after all, goes without prenatal care? Often, it’s poor women, marginalized women (perhaps immigrant, illegal, or lacking English skills) and uninsured women.

I suppose it’s no surprise that merely being poor means you are, by default, of dubious character in our by-the-bootstraps culture, which often promotes the idea that if you’re poor, you must deserve to be. All women should have prenatal care. But is assuming that women who don’t get prenatal care are substance abusers the way to do it?

To continue with the troubling vagueness: There isn’t always an explanation for preterm labor, nor for every congenital anomaly. According to the National Institutes of Health, intrauterine growth retardation is associated with heart disesase, high altitudes, carrying multiples and having preeclampsia, poor nutrition, infections such as rubella and toxoplasmosis—and substance abuse. Abruptio placentae, which means the premature separation of the placenta from the uterus, has been tied to the use of cigarettes and crack—but also to such risk factors as high blood pressure or diabetes, suffering trauma (say, from being in a car accident), being over 35 or carrying a male fetus.

I’m 36 and carrying a boy. If I were in Tennessee and were unlucky enough to suffer abruptio placentae—and survive it, since it can kill both mother and child—I could then be subjected to a mandatory drug test. Because how can a doctor know for sure that my age is the cause without eliminating the possibility of substance abuse? It just doesn’t add up. And the bill doesn’t require doctors to test for all of these other causes before asking a woman to pee in a cup.

So say a woman tests positive for alcohol or drugs. What happens next, according to this proposal?

Every physician, surgeon or other person permitted by law to attend a pregnant woman during gestation shall report each woman who refuses to seek treatment for an alcohol-related or drug-related problem or who misses two (2) or more appointments to the department of children’s services.

What happens after that is left unexplained. Are they brought up on criminal charges? Do they lose their children upon giving birth to them?

This law would seem to open up the possibility of sweeping up a whole bunch of people who aren’t substance abusers. It’s ironic that the only way some of these Tennessee women are going to get prenatal care is by being considered a potential threat to their own unborn children.

We can all agree that substance abusers are endangering their unborn children. But a violation of many women’s civil rights doesn’t seem to me the way to intervene.