Abelard and Héloise

A medieval ‘love’ saga and modern-day sexual harassment

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The tomb of Abelard and Héloise. Alexandre Lenoir, via Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA

by Lisa Bitel

Suddenly, popular media is saturated with stories of powerful men outed by women for behavior in the workplace. These alleged harassers seem to assume that power in the workplace grants them sexual access to anyone.

In medieval Europe, most people assumed the same thing, although they didn’t call it “harassment.”

As a historian of gender in the European Middle Ages, I am all too familiar with well-documented cases of sexual harassment, abuse and rape. Such behavior was not considered unlawful or wrong in the medieval period unless one powerful man harassed a woman who belonged to another powerful man.

One famous 12th-century saga involved a young philosopher, Abelard, and his teenage student Héloise. The story has many similarities with news of modern-day aggressors, with one major exception: None of today’s harassers has suffered medieval punishment.

The case of Abelard and Héloise

Abelard and his pupil Héloise. Edmund Leighton, via Wikimedia Commons

In 1115, Abelard was the star of the budding university scene in medieval Paris. Famous for his quick mind and infallible memory, Abelard supposedly never lost an argument. One day he encountered Héloise, who also studied classics and philosophy (rare for a medieval girl). Abelard later wrote of that first glance, “In looks she did not rank lowest while in the extent of her learning she stood supreme.”

Knowing himself to be handsome and brilliant, Abelard stalked the girl and persuaded her uncle, Fulbert, a church official and Héloise’s guardian, to hire him as her personal tutor. Fulbert was delighted to employ the famous Abelard. Fulbert gave Abelard room and board, so that he might tutor Héloise day and night.

Abelard taught Héloise more than philosophy. “My hands strayed oftener to her bosom than to the pages,” he admitted. “To avert suspicion I sometimes struck her.” Eventually, as he wrote, their “desires left no stage of lovemaking untried, and if love devised something new, we welcomed it.”

The affair became the subject of student ballads sung in the streets of Paris.

The wages of sin

Abelard was alarmed at the gossip and sent Héloise off to her old convent school outside of town. Their affair remained torrid, though, and he visited when he could. They once had sex in a corner of the refectory where nuns took their meals.

Their troubles became worse when Héloise became pregnant. Abelard sent her away—this time to his sister in Brittany—where Héloise gave birth to their son Astrolabe, whom she left behind when returning to Paris.

‘Les Amours d’Héloïse et d’Abeilard’ (1819), by Jean Vignaud via Wikimedia Commons.

When Uncle Fulbert learned of Astrolabe’s birth he “went almost out of his mind,” as Abelard put it, even though Abelard reminded him that “since the beginning of the human race women had brought the noblest men to ruin.” Eventually, to appease Fulbert, Abelard agreed to marry Héloise, but only if Fulbert would keep it secret. Héloise objected but submitted.

As things were, the stalking and beating of Héloise posed no danger to Abelard’s reputation nor did fathering an illegitimate son. News of a marriage, though, would ruin him – for only celibate churchmen could find permanent employment as teachers.

Fulbert, however, spread word of the marriage. Héloise and her uncle argued fiercely until Abelard once more hid Héloise in a convent. Against her wishes, he made her wear nun’s clothing.

Uncle Fulbert believed that Abelard had abandoned Héloise. One terrible night, Abelard awoke to find himself under attack by a gang of ruffians who took shocking vengeance for Fulbert. As Abelard put it starkly, “They cut off the parts of my body whereby I had committed the wrong of which they complained.”

A eunuch, like a married man, was barred from high church offices and teaching positions. Abélard became a monk and Héloise an unwilling nun.

Whose calamity?

We know this sad story from Abelard’s “History of My Troubles” (“Historia Calamitatum”) written about 15 years after his marriage to Héloise. By then, she had become an abbess in charge of a small community of nuns at The Paraclete – a monastery founded by Abelard and named after one of his famous philosophical arguments. The two began to exchange letters in the 1130s. Héloise had never been happy in the convent. She wrote to her husband:

“The pleasures of lovers which we have shared have been too sweet … wherever I turn they are always there before my eyes, bringing with them awakened longings and fantasies which will not even let me sleep.”

Abelard suggested that she give all her love to Christ instead. He sent her handy tips for running a monastery. He refused to visit, though.

“My agony is less for the mutilation of my body than for the damage to my reputation.”

His career was paramount; her grief, less so. “His” reputation, “his” calamity. What about “hers”?

Bad love

Something about the history of Abelard and Héloise endured the centuries until 18th- and 19th-century intellectuals embraced the tale of these star-crossed lovers. Several poets and artists depicted Héloise unhappily entering the convent or dreaming of lost love. Parisians erected an ornate monument to the couple in the cemetery of Père-Lachaise, where today’s lovers still leave fresh roses.

Angelica Kauffman, via Wikimedia Commons

However, despite the discovery of more letters exchanged between Abelard and Héloise, today’s medievalist scholars tend to accept Abelard’s version of the relationship – that Héloise was complicit.

Abelard said Héloise loved him. But did the teenage girl actually consent to sex with the teacher who beat her? Did she agree to have the child? Did she prefer “love to wedlock and freedom to chains,” as Abelard claimed?

We know from her letters to him that she resisted the convent.

“Of all the wretched women, I am the most wretched,” Héloise complained, long after the affair.

Romancing harassment

No one has labeled Abelard a rapist, the seducer of a minor or a sexual harasser. His philosophical works remain crucial to the history of Christian theology and philosophy. Héloise is celebrated mostly for being a female intellectual in a period when there were few.

Such historical “romances” still play out in gender relations today, particularly in the university. A recent survey of graduate students and professors, for example, revealed the extent to which male professors prey on young minds and bodies under their guidance.

And, like Héloise, many such victims still find it hard to voice resistance, although they no longer cower in the cloister. Instead of writing letters to their harassers or singing ballads in the streets, they reveal their secrets in digital media – too often anonymously.

The Conversation“Plus ça change,” or “the more it changes, the more it’s the same thing,” as Abelard might say. One thing we have learned since the Middle Ages is that sexual harassment is a destructive crime, no matter how romantic the backstory. §

Lisa Bitel is professor of History & Religion at the University of Southern California – Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences. This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Food safety and security

The not-so-super Cayucos Supermarket

SLO County Environmental Health Services shuttered the Cayucos Supermarket late December because of significant code violations, including a rodent infestation.

by Stacey Warde

A county health inspector shuttered the Cayucos Supermarket in late December because of a number of “significant code violations,” including an infestation of mice and rats.

An official from SLO county’s environmental health services, according to the Tribune, investigated a complaint from a customer and found signs of “bite marks,” “droppings,” and “contaminated surfaces” throughout the store. The inspector gave the owner a few days to clean up the mess.

When the official returned, however, he found nothing had been done to fix the problem and new evidence of rodent activity in the store. So he ordered the place closed, leaving Cayucos without a local grocery. For how long, we don’t know.

Days before the closure, we visited the store and detected a strong and repugnant odor of urine. It’s not the first time we’ve noticed foul odors in the market. At times, the place has smelled of rotting carcass. Not the best environment in which to make food purchases.

Once, as noted in “Obsolesence and doing business,” we observed the owner spraying the fresh produce section with a can of RAID. We since limited our purchases to packaged items like beer, thinking we’d be safe. It goes without saying, wipe off your cans and bottles before drinking.

We’re not the only patrons who have noticed the decrepit conditions of the Cayucos Supermarket, which has been in operation since 1960 and doesn’t appear to have had any upgrades since. The cold storage units are run down, inefficient and often leak water onto the floors. The odors, we’ve been told, are caused by clogged drainage traps.

As the community adjusts to the closure, other long-term issues and complaints about the market have surfaced.

Corrie S. from Fresno, for example, had this to say in her one-star Yelp review: “So smelly. I couldn’t even stay long enough to buy food. Needs a total overhaul. The produce had flies around it. The shelves were dusty. I would rather travel to the next town to buy food.”

Overall, reviews of the market seem positive but it’s worth noting that they speak more of the warm staff and the sandwiches sold in the back deli than about the quality of the food or the appearance and cleanliness of the place.

We know also that locals love the market for its convenience, selection, reasonable prices and helpful and familiar staff. They love the deli, a separate business located in the back of the store, which offers unique home-style sausages in addition to delicious sandwiches.

Yet, in light of all the good that can be said about the market, we’d like to suggest that the shutdown demonstrates a failure of responsibility to provide food that is safe and secure to our visitors and local community.

Food safety and security are fundamental—as a basic human right—and paramount to the health of any community, large or small. We have a right, as enumerated by the World Health Organization, the United Nations, as well as by San Luis Obispo County’s Environmental Health Services, to food that is free from disease, contamination and sabotage.

Additionally, the closure runs the risk of creating a food desert for a community that already struggles to make sure all of its citizens are adequately and safely fed. The Cayucos Community Church serves weekly many familiar friends and faces with donated food.

The senior center also provides food items for those who are unable to afford groceries.

The closure is one more block in the stream of healthy food options to consumers who receive assistance or who are unable to drive to neighboring communities to shop for groceries.

As a purveyor of “healthy food,” however, our market failed to deliver. It did not meet the basic requirement of providing safe, wholesome, fresh fruits and vegetables, grains and other food items to visiting and local buyers.

The closure also affects employees who now find themselves without a job. We lament their loss and hope they will not be long without work.

We have no idea if or when the store will reopen. The owner must sanitize the entire market and seal all the openings through which rodents might find their way. That seems like a vast undertaking, given the condition of the building and the store’s outdated storage. We wish them luck, and hope that, if they do reopen, they will be more mindful of the safety and security of the food they sell.

Meanwhile, BizBuySell.com has the place listed for sale at $3 million. Perhaps we can lure a buyer who values providing a safe, clean and healthy food environment to the local community and the many travelers who pass through here. §

Stacey Warde is publisher of The Rogue Voice. Daniella Magnano contributed to this article. She runs Spumoni Egg Farm where she keeps chickens and delivers fresh, healthy eggs to friends and people in need in the community.

Teen mental health deteriorates

Studies link demise to increased cellphone use

by Jean Twenge, San Diego State University

Around 2012, something started going wrong in the lives of teens.

In just the five years between 2010 and 2015, the number of U.S. teens who felt useless and joyless—classic symptoms of depression—surged 33 percent in large national surveys. Teen suicide attempts increased 23 percent. Even more troubling, the number of 13- to 18-year-olds who committed suicide jumped 31 percent.

In a new paper published in Clinical Psychological Science, my colleagues and I found that the increases in depression, suicide attempts and suicide appeared among teens from every background—more privileged and less privileged, across all races and ethnicities and in every region of the country. All told, our analysis found that the generation of teens I call “iGen”—those born after 1995—is much more likely to experience mental health issues than their millennial predecessors.

What happened that so many more teens, in such a short period of time, would feel depressed, attempt suicide and commit suicide? After scouring several large surveys of teens for clues, I found that all of the possibilities traced back to a major change in teens’ lives: the sudden ascendance of the smartphone.

All signs point to the screen

Because the years between 2010 to 2015 were a period of steady economic growth and falling unemployment, it’s unlikely that economic malaise was a factor. Income inequality was (and still is) an issue, but it didn’t suddenly appear in the early 2010s: This gap between the rich and poor had been widening for decades. We found that the time teens spent on homework barely budged between 2010 and 2015, effectively ruling out academic pressure as a cause.

However, according to the Pew Research Center, smartphone ownership crossed the 50 percent threshold in late 2012 – right when teen depression and suicide began to increase. By 2015, 73 percent of teens had access to a smartphone.

Not only did smartphone use and depression increase in tandem, but time spent online was linked to mental health issues across two different data sets. We found that teens who spent five or more hours a day online were 71 percent more likely than those who spent only one hour a day to have at least one suicide risk factor (depression, thinking about suicide, making a suicide plan or attempting suicide). Overall, suicide risk factors rose significantly after two or more hours a day of time online.

Of course, it’s possible that instead of time online causing depression, depression causes more time online. But three other studies show that is unlikely (at least, when viewed through social media use).

Two followed people over time, with both studies finding that spending more time on social media led to unhappiness, while unhappiness did not lead to more social media use. A third study randomly assigned participants to give up Facebook for a week versus continuing their usual use. Those who avoided Facebook reported feeling less depressed at the end of the week.

The argument that depression might cause people to spend more time online doesn’t also explain why depression increased so suddenly after 2012. Under that scenario, more teens became depressed for an unknown reason and then started buying smartphones, which doesn’t seem too logical.

What’s lost when we’re plugged in

Even if online time doesn’t directly harm mental health, it could still adversely affect it in indirect ways, especially if time online crowds out time for other activities.

For example, while conducting research for my book on iGen, I found that teens now spend much less time interacting with their friends in person. Interacting with people face to face is one of the deepest wellsprings of human happiness; without it, our moods start to suffer and depression often follows. Feeling socially isolated is also one of the major risk factors for suicide. We found that teens who spent more time than average online and less time than average with friends in person were the most likely to be depressed. Since 2012, that’s what has occurred en masse: Teens have spent less time on activities known to benefit mental health (in-person social interaction) and more time on activities that may harm it (time online).

Teens are also sleeping less, and teens who spend more time on their phones are more likely to not be getting enough sleep. Not sleeping enough is a major risk factor for depression, so if smartphones are causing less sleep, that alone could explain why depression and suicide increased so suddenly.

Depression and suicide have many causes: Genetic predisposition, family environments, bullying and trauma can all play a role. Some teens would experience mental health problems no matter what era they lived in.

But some vulnerable teens who would otherwise not have had mental health issues may have slipped into depression due to too much screen time, not enough face-to-face social interaction, inadequate sleep or a combination of all three.

It might be argued that it’s too soon to recommend less screen time, given that the research isn’t completely definitive. However, the downside to limiting screen time – say, to two hours a day or less – is minimal. In contrast, the downside to doing nothing – given the possible consequences of depression and suicide – seems, to me, quite high.

The ConversationIt’s not too early to think about limiting screen time; let’s hope it’s not too late. §

Jean Twenge is professor of psychology at San Diego State University. This article was originally published on The Conversation,and is published with permission. 

Drain the swamp?

In February, Trump ordered major federal agencies to set up deregulation teams, to fulfill a campaign promise to cut red tape for businesses, including major players in the production of pesticides.

Pesticide lobbyists find welcome mat at USDA under Trump

by Robert Faturechi, ProPublica, and Danielle Ivory, The New York Times

At a private meeting in September, congressional aides asked Rebeckah Adcock, a top official at the Department of Agriculture, to reveal the identities of the people serving on the deregulation team she leads at the agency.

Teams like Adcock’s, created under an executive order by President Trump, had been taking heat from Democratic lawmakers over their secrecy. What little was publicly known suggested that some of the groups’ members had deep ties to the industries being regulated.

Adcock, a former pesticide industry executive, brushed off the request, according to House aides familiar with the exchange, who asked for anonymity because they were not authorized to comment publicly. Making the names public, they recalled her saying, would trigger a deluge of lobbyists.

In fact, interviews and visitor logs at the Agriculture Department showed that Adcock had already been meeting with lobbyists, including those from her former employer, the pesticide industry’s main trade group, CropLife America, and its members. CropLife pushes the agenda of pesticide makers in Washington, including easing rules related to safety standards and clean water.

Adcock, who left the trade group in April, maintained contact with her former industry allies despite a signed ethics agreement promising to avoid for one year issues involving CropLife as well as matters that she had lobbied about in the two years before joining the government.

In one meeting, Adcock discussed issues banned by the ethics agreement with an executive who had been her lobbying partner weeks earlier at CropLife, according to the accounts of participants and the visitor logs, obtained through a public records request by The New York Times and ProPublica.

Tim Murtaugh, a spokesman for the USDA who also spoke on behalf of Adcock, said she had not violated her ethics agreement by meeting with her former industry allies. He also denied that Adcock had discussed issues related to her previous lobbying at the meeting, or that she had suggested that her deregulation team would be swamped by lobbyists if names of its members were released.

“The career ethics officers at USDA agree that this is not a violation of the ethics agreement that Rebeckah Adcock signed,” said Murtaugh, citing a 2009 memo by the Office of Government Ethics.

Others dispute that interpretation of the memo; the ethics office declined to say whether the memo applied to the meeting, citing its policy not to discuss individual cases.

Adcock was scheduled to appear Tuesday before subcommittees of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, which is tracking Trump’s deregulation effort. In announcing the hearing, the committee, led by Republicans, applauded the deregulation teams for making an “unprecedented reduction in the federal regulatory footprint.”

Republican members of the committee declined to comment about Adcock’s activities. Representative Elijah E. Cummings, the top Democrat on the committee, said that if Adcock had violated her ethics agreement, it contributed “to a troubling pattern of President Trump’s failure to ‘drain the swamp.”

In February, Trump ordered major federal agencies to set up the deregulation teams, to fulfill a campaign promise to cut red tape for businesses. Corporations and industry groups quickly hired lawyers, lobbyists and economists to help them influence the process with billions of dollars at stake. The regulations under review cover a range of subjects, including the cleanliness of drinking water and the safety of highways.

The Trump administration has declined to make public the names of many members of the teams. It has also generally not provided records related to the teams’ calendars and correspondence.

A joint investigation published in July by The Times and ProPublica found that the teams included former employees of industry-financed organizations that oppose environmental regulations; lawyers who have represented companies in cases against federal regulators; and staff members of so-called political dark-money groups. Some are reviewing rules that their previous employers sought to weaken or kill, and at least two may be positioned to profit personally if certain regulations are undone. In all, the two news organizations have identified 112 current and former team members, including 41 with potential conflicts.

At the meeting on Capitol Hill in September, Adcock lamented the scrutiny that her team was under, a House aide familiar with the exchange said. Adcock cited, in particular, public records requests for calendars and emails.

The Times and ProPublica asked for those records this year and have received only a few. Most other federal agencies have been similarly unresponsive. The visitor logs that have been obtained are often handwritten sign-in sheets. They appear to show only a fraction of meetings, and many are illegible. It is not known from the logs, for example, if Adcock or her team had met with environmental or science groups in addition to the industry representatives.

In response to questions from reporters about possible conflicts of interest, agency officials across the government have said the deregulation teams are abiding by strict ethical standards, including rules that bar them from working on issues directly affecting recent employers.

Records received through a Freedom of Information Act request show that Adcock entered such an agreement on April 26, pledging that she would “not participate personally and substantially in any particular matter involving specific parties in which I know CropLife America is a party or represents a party” for a year.

But in May, Kellie Bray, a lobbyist for CropLife, arrived for a meeting with Adcock, according to the visitor logs.

The two knew each other well. From 2010 to early this year, Adcock and Bray lobbied together for CropLife, which represents Syngenta and Monsanto, among other pesticide makers.

Disclosure records show that during those years the two advocated for the industry’s agenda at agencies, including the USDA and the Environmental Protection Agency, and in Congress. They pushed CropLife’s interests on bills and regulations relating to the impact of pesticides on water and human health.

Adcock’s departure from CropLife left the trade association short a seasoned lobbyist, but gave it a valuable contact in the top ranks of the USDA.

Bray said in an interview that in May, Adcock had met with her and the Southern Crop Production Association, a CropLife affiliate. Bray said she had sat in on the meeting but hadn’t talked.

“I facilitated the introduction,” she said. “That is all.”

After the meeting, the Southern Crop Production Association, which represents pesticide manufacturers, formulators and distributors across the South, said on its website that “Rebeckah has an exceptional understanding regarding the many issues facing agriculture due, in large part, to her previous position with CLA,” using the acronym for CropLife America.

Among the topics discussed, according to the trade group’s website, were the tests that pesticides must undergo to prove they are safe and rules governing their use near water sources. The trade group did not respond to requests for comment. Bray confirmed that the group had discussed regulations about the use of pesticides near water.

Discussing policy related to the impact of pesticides on water is deemed off limits under Adcock’s ethics agreement. Murtaugh, the USDA spokesman, said Adcock disputed that she had discussed any off-limits subject.

“If any participant declared concern regarding any issue precluded by Adcock’s agreement, she politely and firmly instructed them it was not a matter she could discuss or assist with,” he said.

He also said Adcock had instructed Bray not to participate in the meeting and did not recall her being in the room.

Murtaugh said a provision in the memorandum from the Office of Government Ethics allowed an appointee like Adcock to attend meetings with a former employer or client so long as five or more other stakeholders participated. In the May meeting, he said, four of the Southern Crop Production Association representatives were affiliated with individual companies: Syngenta, Albaugh, Triangle Chemical and Crop Production Services.

However, three of those companies are also members of the CropLife trade group, Adcock’s former employer. And they were attending in their capacity as the executive committee of the Southern Crop Production Association, according to the association’s website, not as individual company executives.

Walter M. Shaub Jr., who headed the Office of Government Ethics under President Barack Obama and during the early months of the Trump administration, said the provision cited by the USDA did not apply to the ethics regulation in Adcock’s agreement. Even if it did apply, he said, the meeting lacked a necessary diversity because the participants were all affiliated with one trade group. He also said it was irrelevant that Bray hadn’t spoken.

“If she brought them there, signed into the sign-in log, attended the meeting that she may or may not have set up, it definitely counts as a meeting with her,” said Shaub, who has been critical of the Trump administration.

Before Adcock worked at CropLife, she served as a lobbyist for the farming industry at the American Farm Bureau Federation. Among its donors is Farm Credit, a lending institution. In July, Adcock met with a delegation from Farm Credit, according to a participant.

One of the executives who attended — Jeremy Brown, president of Broadview Agriculture, a Texas cotton producer — said in an interview that he knew Adcock from the Farm Bureau. For those who did not know her, Adcock explained her past lobbying on behalf of the farming industry, and she asked for recommendations on regulatory changes, he said.

“Any time you have people already familiar with the industry, it helps,” Brown said. “They can hopefully get their feet on the ground and get the work in.”

He said he had pushed Adcock to get cottonseed reclassified as an oil seed crop so cotton producers could be eligible again for certain government subsidies if revenue dropped. He also discussed what he termed overreach on clean-water rules.

“She was taking notes, being really receptive,” Brown said.

Another highlight, he said, was the access the group enjoyed. Never before had he attended a meeting in the private gathering room just outside the office of the secretary of agriculture.

“I’ve been to the USDA a couple other times,” Brown said, “and this was the first time I’ve been able to go to what they call the Cage.” §

Robert Faturechi is a reporter at ProPublica covering money in politics. Danielle Ivory is a New York Times reporter covering the intersection of business and government, including contracts and regulation.

ProPublica is a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative newsroom. Sign up for its newsletter. This story was co-published with The New York Times, and is published here with permission.

Stop the malignant use of US military

U.S. Army Rangers, assigned to 2nd Battalion 75th Ranger Regiment, prepare for extraction during Task Force Training on Fort Hunter Liggett, Calif. Rangers constantly train to maintain their tactical proficiency. (U.S. Army photo by Spc. Steven Hitchcock/Not Reviewed)

Last month, Secretary of Defense James Mattis warned that if Congress doesn’t “remove the defense caps,” he said, “then we’re questioning whether or not America has the ability to survive.” This claim that insufficient increases in Pentagon spending threatens American security is flatly wrong. The real and present danger to our national security is the unecessary use of U.S. military power abroad.

Secretary of Defense James Mattis

There are two key ways the faulty use of combat power abroad continues to deteriorate our security. The first is the purpose for which the military is used. The preamble to the Constitution explains that the military is intended to “provide for the common defence, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity.” Further, it decrees that Congress alone has the power to declare war. Today, Congress has fully ceded its responsibilities; the Executive branch has assumed virtually sole discretion for the deployment of the military.

The second and more troubling misuse of the military are the missions they are given to execute. For decades, the armed forces have been routinely employed, not for the “common defense,” but for the benefit of other nations or for purposes with no apparent connection to the security of our country.

The armed forces should only be used to defend American vital national interests—our territorial integrity and prosperity—and only committed when genuine diplomatic efforts have been fully exhausted.

Congress and the American people should debate and decide whether there is a legitimate threat to our vital interests, if the crisis is solvable by military means with clear and attainable objectives, if the resources to succeed are affordable, and if we have a sound strategy to achieve the desired political end state to safely extricate ourselves within a reasonable period of time.

With Congress on the sidelines, the Trump Administration and its two predecessors have egregiously failed on all three points. There is little wonder, then, that the use of the military has not enhanced American security or prosperity.

Presently, the Trump Administration publicly employs the military on active combat missions of one type or another in Niger, Somalia, Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen, Pakistan, Libya, Djibouti, and Nigeria (there are also scores of classified combat missions for Special Operations Forces about which the public knows nothing). Most of these missions have no relation to U.S. national security whatsoever; others have thread-bare associations at best.

These operations consume tens of billions of dollars each year, cost the lives of U.S. service personnel, and divert resources and manpower away from preparation to defend against potential threats which could pose a legitimate threat to U.S. security.

Moreover, even in operations that were tactically successful, we sometimes have perversely inflicted strategic defeats on U.S. interests. For example, the famed Iraqi surge of 2007 did result in a dramatic decrease in U.S. casualties, but enabled then-Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to systematically purge his army of rival Sunni officers. That led in 2014 to his army disintegrating in the face of ISIS attacks.

In restoring Iraqi sovereignty over ISIS, Baghdad enlisted the use of U.S. air power, ground controllers, and Iranian-backed militias––including the actual use of Iranian troops in Iraq. Iranian military advisors and troops also helped Baghdad crush recent Kurdish attempts at independence ––after the U.S. military helped the Kurds defeat ISIS in Mosul. Iranian influence over Iraq is today pervasive. None of that would have been possible without U.S. military operations since 2003.

The time has come for a major overhaul of American foreign and defense policies. We must abandon nation-building and meddling in the internal affairs of other countries. Our national security objectives in the Middle East can be more effectively accomplished via active and robust intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance efforts.

American affairs abroad should be redirected away from an obsessive attempt to solve problems using lethal combat power and instead focus on expanding U.S. economic opportunity and beneficial trade policies. Core functions of the U.S. government are to defend our population and facilitate a healthy economy. Misusing the military is counter to both objectives. §

Daniel Davis, a former Army lieutenant colonel with four combat deployments, is a defense expert at Defense Priorities, the Washington think tank. Follow him @DanielLDavis1. This article is published with permission from Breaking Defense.

It’s not just O’Reilly and Weinstein

Sexual violence is a ‘global pandemic’

by  and 

The recent exposure of widespread sexual predation in the American media industry, from Harvey Weinstein to Bill O’Reilly, has elicited shock and sparked debate on violence against women in the United States.

Sexual harassment isn’t the exclusive domain of show biz big shots. It remains alarmingly prevalent nationwide, even as other crimes are generally decreasing nationwide.

In the U.S., a 2006 study found that 27 percent of college women reported some form of forced sexual contact – ranging from kissing to anal intercourse – after enrolling in school. This sexual violence is heavily underreported, with just 20 percent of female student victims reporting the crime to law enforcement.

Nor is sexual harassment limited to the United States. The U.N. has called gender-based violence a “global pandemic.” As experts in emergency medicine and legal research at the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative, we believe it’s important to acknowledge that this issue transcends national borders and class boundaries to touch the lives of roughly 33 percent of all women worldwide.

A world of trouble

According to World Health Organization estimates, one in three women worldwide will experience either physical or sexual violence in her lifetime, many of them before the age of 15.

In fact, for many rural women, their first sexual encounter will be a forced one. Some 17 percent of women in rural Tanzania, 21 percent in Ghana, 24 percent in Peru, 30 percent in Bangladesh and 40 percent in South Africa report that their first sexual experience was nonconsensual.

Intimate partner violence is also pervasive globally. In one World Health Organization study, 22 to 25 percent of women surveyed in cities in England, Mexico, Nicaragua, Peru and Zimbabwe reported that a boyfriend or husband had committed some form of sexual violence against them. Globally, up to 55 percent of women murdered are killed by their partners.

Violence against women takes many forms, ranging from psychological abuse to the kind of sexual predation, sexual assault and rape allegedly committed by Harvey Weinstein. Honor killings, physical attacks, female infanticide, genital cutting, trafficking, forced marriages and sexual harassment at work and school are also considered gender-based violence.

Rates range from country to country – from 15 percent in Japan to 71 percent in Ethiopia – but violence is, in effect, a ubiquitous female experience.

Sexual violence is committed at particularly high rates in crisis settingslike war zones, refugee camps and disaster zones.

In these places, even humanitarian workers are not immune. Dyan Mazurana and her colleagues at Tufts University found that many female development-aid staffers in places such as South Sudan, Afghanistan and Haiti had experienced disturbing rates of sexual assault, often perpetrated by their own colleagues.

Explaining sexual violence

So what’s driving this pervasive phenomenon? Research reveals that there are multiple causes of sexual violence, among them gender inequality and power differentials between men and women.

For example, sexual violence occurs more frequently in cultures where violence is widely accepted and where beliefs about family honor, sexual purity and male sexual entitlement are strongly held.

Even in many countries that rank well on gender equality, including in the United States, weak legal sanctions against perpetrators of sexual violence can encourage and effectively condone such behavior.

So can cultural acceptance. Weinstein’s sexual predatory behavior was longstanding and well-known within the film industry, yet he was allowed to continue his abuse with impunity – until women began speaking up.

Likewise, Fox News renewed Bill O’Reilly’s contract even after he and the company had made at least six multi-million-dollar settlements with women who filed sexual harassment claims against him. Awareness of a problem is one thing; taking action is quite another.

Men with lower educational levels, or who have been exposed to maltreatment or family violence as children, are more likely to commit sexual violence themselves.

That’s because violence begets violence, a relationship that’s abundantly clear in the kinds of conflict zones where we work. Mass rape has long been used as a weapon of war, and has been well-documented during conflicts in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Colombia and South Sudan.

Among the most salient cases are the Rwandan and Bosnian genocides. According to the U.N.‘s High Commissioner for Refugees, up to 500,000 Rwandan women were systematically raped in 1994 as part of an ethnic cleansing strategy, while tens of thousands of Bosnian women and girls were systematically raped between 1992 and 1995.


Psychological trauma

Wherever and however it happens, violence against women and girls poses a major public health problem for women and their communities.

Some 42 percent of women who experience intimate partner violence reported an injury – including bruises, abrasions, cuts, punctures, broken bones and injuries to the ears and eyes – as a consequence of that abuse. Women who suffer violence are also 1.5 times more likely to have sexually transmitted diseases like HIV, syphilis, chlamydia and gonorrhea, twice as likely to experience depression and drinking problems and twice as likely to have an abortion.

Violence against women is also closely associated with suicide and self-harm.

If there’s any silver lining to the Weinstein and O’Reilly scandals, it’s that in coming out against these high-profile men, dozens of women have helped to highlight not just the prevalence of sexual violence in the United States but also the societal norms that silence women and allow abusers to go unchecked.

Humanitarian organizations from the World Health Organization to the U.N. to the U.S. Agency for International Development have recognized that gender-based violence is not just a women’s issue. Addressing it requires working with men and boys, too, to counter the cultures of toxic masculinity that encourage or tolerate sexual violence.

After all, women’s rights are human rights, so sexual violence is everyone’s problem to solve.

The fact is, societies with high rates of sexual violence are also more likely to be violent and unstable. Research shows that the best predictor of a state’s peacefulness is how well its women are treated. §

, emergency physician at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, director of external programs STRATUS Center for Medical Simulation, core faculty Harvard Humanitarian Initiative, Harvard University.

, Researcher in international law and humanitarian response, Harvard Humanitarian Initiative (HHI), Harvard University.

This article originally appeared in and is published here with permission from The Conversation.

An anarchist takes on Big Pharma

Teaching patients how to make their own meds

Dr. Michael Laufer of Four Thieves Vinegar demonstrates the “Epi-Pencil” in his office in Brawner Hall at Menlo College.

Credit: Biz Herman for STAT News.

by CHARLES PILLER @cpiller

MENLO PARK, Calif. — The anarchist grew animated as he explained his plan to subvert a pillar of global capitalism by teaching the poor to make their own medicines — pharmaceutical industry patents be damned.

Then he took another sip from a flute of Taittinger Champagne.

Swaggering, charismatic, and complex, Michael Laufer has become a fixture in the growing biohacker movement ever since he published plans last year for a do-it-yourself EpiPencil — a $35 alternative to the pricey EpiPen.

It’s not clear whether anyone has actually ever used a homemade EpiPencil to prevent anaphylactic shock. But that seems almost an afterthought to Laufer’s bigger goal — trying to build a DIY movement to attack high pharma pricing and empower patients.

“To deny someone access to a lifesaving medication is murder. And an act of theft to prevent an act of murder is morally acceptable.” —Michael Laufer

The de facto leader behind the leaderless collective Four Thieves Vinegar, Laufer is now on to his next project: He’s developing a desktop lab and a recipe book meant to equip patients to cook up a range of medicines, including a homemade version of the expensive hepatitis C drug Sovaldi, on their kitchen counters.

Health professionals have strenuously warned against DIY pharmaceuticals, but Laufer sees his work as a moral crusade against the patent laws and market forces that let drug companies price vital remedies out of reach for many patients.

“To deny someone access to a lifesaving medication is murder,” he said. And “an act of theft [of intellectual property] to prevent an act of murder is morally acceptable.”