Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Weekend Edition

Friday, March 24th, 2023

Pathaan – an orgy of continuous violence

Friday, March 24th, 2023



SRK is half Pathan or Pashtun, one of the ethnic groups in S Asia

in the film Pathaan, Shah Rukh Khan plays a soldier named Pathaan

Pathan is an ethnic identity, doesn’t reveal a religion — Hindu or Muslim

SRK is Muslim and is intensely hated by PM Modi & his Hindutva brigade

so the writers have cleverly used the name Pathaan for hero and the film

after the release of the trailer, some Hindu leaders showed their nastiness

The Mahant of Ayodhya’s Hanuman Garhi Raju Das incited his people

“I appeal to people to set those theatres on fire where Pathaan will be screened.”

Madhya Pradesh Home Minister Narottam Mishra objected

“In the song ‘Besharam Rang’ which is made with contaminated mentality, the actor [Muslim SRK] and the actress [Hindu Deepika Padukone] are clad in green [symbolically important to Islam] and saffron [symbolically important to Hinduism] clothes in an objectionable manner.”

Mishra was pointing out SRK’s green shirt & Padukone’s saffron bikini

i.e., a Muslim man was befriending a Hindu woman – a very wrong thing

Hindutva goons have given a name to such relationship — “Love Jihad

i.e., Muslim males marrying Hindu females and converting them to Islam

Mumbai film industry or Bollywood has been under attack for some time

the boycott Pathaan trend was nipped in the bud by none other than Modi

Modi is a fascist, but a clever one — he knows when to stop hooliganism

it is fine to terrorize people but within a limit

one has to also preserve India’s image as a ” liberal democracy”

besides, Modi’s ultimate goal is to turn India into a Hindu Rashtra or Nation

Modi said, “some people give statements on some film”

he asked them to avoid making “unnecessary statements

Mishra knows too when to put brake on his incendiary tongue

“… (PM Modi’s) every word, sentence is important for us and that is why all the workers have drawn inspiration from there. Our conduct and behaviour are always filled with his guidance and energy and will continue to be in future.”

SRK’s film Pathaan has become the 2nd highest grossing Hindi film

Pathaan‘s great reception globally is a victory for secular-minded Indians

albeit a temporary one — the Hindutva forces are unstoppable

unless the opposition parties genuinely unite and decide to oust Modi

the film begins with India revoking Kashmir’s special status

a Pakistani general contacts an Indian soldier gone rogue to create mayhem

thus starts an orgy of continuous violence

don’t look for reality — suppress your reasoning power for 146 minutes

photography is excellent; locales are great; stunts are terrific

acting is stylish; dialogues are witty; patriotism is nauseating

female flesh is flaunted flagrantly in the two songs with dances

SRK, who’s fighting evil forces wanting to harm India, says:

“ek soldier ye nahiN sochtA desh ne uske liye kiA kiyA — poochhtA hai, woh desh ke liye kiA kar saktA hai”

“A soldier does not ask, what his country can do for him — he asks, what he can do for his country.”

blind patriotism is what the writer is propagating — which is totally wrong

a soldier should ask: is the war necessary, defensive, limited. etc.?

replace “soldier” with “fellow Americans” & Kennedy comes to mind

US President John F. Kennedy‘s Inaugural Address of January 20, 1961:

“And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you — ask what you can do for your country.”

rulers, mostly, want public to suffer/sacrifice without questioning

only then can they screw the public and the country

Pathaan ends with the patriot hero eliminating the traitor villain

Kashmir issue is not raised at all nor are the Indian Army’s atrocities

the only Muslim majority state in India, Kashmir had some autonomy

in August 2019, Prime Minister Narendra Modi revoked Article 370

the violence committed by Indian armed forces’ is rampant

I’ll leave the last word for Justice Markandey Katju:

“In poor, underdeveloped countries films made only for entertainment, and having no social relevance, are like opium or some other drug, which will take you into a world of make believe for a couple of hours, and are meant to divert people’s attention away from the real issues facing the nation, to non issues and trivialities.

“The Roman Emperors used to say ‘If you cannot give the people bread, give them circuses’.

“Today they would say, ‘If you cannot give the people bread, give them Pathan.'”

B. R. Gowani can be reached at

Gama Pehlwan was hero of Indian freedom struggle

Friday, March 24th, 2023


Gama Pehalwan (right) and Stanley Zbyszko in a bout in Patiala
Brothers Gama and Imam Baksh

“Thrice he (Zbyszko) got up and made a futile attack – when India’s vast superiority in the open display was at once apparent – and he was only too glad to resume his prone position.” This is how The Times (London) had described the match between Ghulam Mohammad Baksh Butt (popularly known by his Urdu initials as Gama Pehlwan) and Stanley Zbyszko, the reigning Wrestling World Champion, played in London on 10 September 1910.

While most of us have heard of Gama as one of the greatest wrestlers the world has ever seen, rarely do we appreciate his contribution to the freedom struggle. Born in 1880, in Amritsar, into a family of wrestlers he was winning titles from an early age. He defeated some of the finest Indian wrestlers at a competition organized by Raja of Jodhpur at the age of 10. In the early 1900s, he won wrestling competitions across India as a Court Wrestler of Datia State (now in Madhya Pradesh). He won at every tournament held at Gwalior, Indore, Bhopal, or any other princely state.

Gama was considered unbeatable by 1909. This was also the time when the revolutionary nationalist movement was picking up pace. Leaders like Maulana Azad, Savarkar, Lajpat Rai, Bipin Chandra, Tilak, Ubaidullah, etc were talking about challenging the myth of the superior physical strength of the Europeans. Indians desperately wanted to prove that they were not inferior. This much-needed oxygen for nationalism came from Gama.    Sarat Mitra, a rich nationalist Bengali businessman, took Gama, his brother Imam Baksh, Ahmed Baksh, and Gamu to London in April 1910. Mitra wanted to dismantle the belief that Europeans held superiority in physical strength over Indians. And, who could have been a better warrior than Gama to prove this? An open challenge was advertised in newspapers and magazines to fight with Gama.   

On 10 September 1910, Gama met Stanley Zbyszko, the reigning World Champion, in front of 12,000 people in London. Zbyszko went into a defensive position and sat on all fours so that it was difficult for Gama to move him. After two and a half hours, the match was called off due to fading light. The press criticised Zbyszko for being so defensive and a rematch was scheduled for next Saturday. On the next scheduled date, Gama kept on waiting as Zbyszko fled from London (he was a Polish) and Gama was declared a winner.

Awaz: The Voice for more

Our world in pictures: Week 49 of 2021

Friday, March 24th, 2023


The Cajamarquilla mummy is showcased at the National University Mayor de San Marcos (UNMSM) in Lima, Peru, 09 December 2021 (issued 10 December 2021). The mummy, discovered in November by archeologists in Cajamarquilla, outskirts of Lima, is believed to be between 800 and 1,200 years old and it has been showcased at the university museum since 07 December. IMAGE/EPA-EFE/Str GT/Daily Maverick
In this aerial view, Sophie Matterson and her five camels arrive to greet supporters on the beach at Byron Bay on December 10, 2021 in Byron Bay, Australia. 33-year-old /Sophie Matterson is completing her 5,000km journey – walking with five camels coast to coast from Australia’s western-most point in Shark Bay, Western Australia, to its eastern-most point in Byron Bay, New South Wales.  IMAGE/Brook Mitchell/Getty Images/Daily Maverick

Daily Maverick for more

Will humans become an extension of their machines? ChatGPT may have irrevocable consequences for learning and decision-making

Thursday, March 23rd, 2023


IMAGE/ © Getty Images / Just_Super

We already rely on digital crutches in numerous aspects of our lives – will we delegate even our essential faculties to AI?

Mankind’s modern trajectory has been defined by several inflection points. The invention of electricity, the light bulb, the telegraph system, the computer and the Internet, among others, have all signaled new irreversible milestones in our modus vivendi.

The recent introduction of ChatGPT may, however, prove to be more than an inflection point. It, and AI models like it, may be a permanent disruptor to our way of life; their bloopers and Wokist tantrums notwithstanding.  

Chat GPT is now the fastest-growing consumer app in history. Within two months of its launch in November 2022, ChatGPT managed to garner more than 100 million users. Its developer OpenAI, which began with 375 employees and thin revenue, is now valued at $30 billion and counting.

How does it work? ChatGPT aggregates data sourced from the internet (though it is not directly connected to the internet in real time) and synthesizes answers to a query within seconds. It is currently the most versatile and stable of the new AI-powered large language models. It can compose musical notes, write software code, solve mathematical equations, write novels, essays and dissertations, among a host of other tasks. It can be used by scientists to translate their original works – written in a native language – into English. As AI tools like ChatGPT evolve, they may supplant human activity across a wide, yet incalculable, spectrum. Hundreds of millions of jobs may be at stake.

Its most immediate impact however will be in the area of human learning and decision-making.

Human learning

Human learning is a lifelong process shaped by myriad factors. These include (but are not limited to) experience, instinct, interactions, mistakes (and corrections), introspection, personal angst, boldness, tutelage, textual data and individual psyche. Most of these prerequisites are alien to ChatGPT. The “no pain, no gain” axiom of human learning and development does not apply to it.

AI tools are also unaffected by human limitations such as time constraints, fatigue, “off days” and ailments. These limitations are what may eventually force humans to delegate their existential requirement to think and learn to machines. Inexorable digitization has already made us adept at knowing where or how to seek information instead of learning how to retain that same information. 

As a result, a digital crutch is now a must-have for navigating roads (e.g. Waze, Google Maps), cooking (culinary video channels), mending appliances (DIY channels) and a host of other mundane activities. Our daily tasks are rapidly becoming more mechanistic, crowding out our ability to create something new or game-changing. We are becoming extensions of our machines instead of vice versa. As a result, mankind is facing an era of collective stupor and conformity.

There is no better way to gauge how AI tools may affect our faculties of thinking and learning than by observing ChatGPT’s impact on the global education sector. Students and educators alike are now using ChatGPT as a supplement, a cheat tool, or as a digital crutch

A recent survey by the Walton Family Foundation and Impact Research found that most teachers (51%), and many students, are already using ChatGPT in schools. Another survey involving 1,000 US colleges found that 30% of students used ChatGPT for written assignments, with 60% of them using it on “more than half of their assignments.” ChatGPT has passed many high-level exams, including the Wharton MBA exam, US medical licensing exam, several law exams and a final at Stanford Medical School.

Paper mills may also use ChatGPT to fabricate scientific articles and reports. Researchers who use its data (remember that the AI “can occasionally produce incorrect answers”) , or who deliberately falsify the research process through generative AI, may end up promoting policies and products that are detrimental to society. The world cannot afford another coronapyschosis!

All in all, students and teachers alike are increasingly intimidated by the Almighty AI. AI raises the bar for students, professors and a variety of professionals. Sorting out genuine artefacts is also becoming increasingly difficult. As Christopher Kanan, Associate Professor of Computer Science at the University of Rochester noted recently: “It just becomes harder to sort out who knows what and who’s getting help from things like ChatGPT.” As a result, a few schools in New YorkHong Kong, Bangalore and elsewhere have banned students from using ChatGPT in their assignments due to concerns over plagiarism, cheating and misinformation.

While ChatGPT is a great tool to study complex concepts and strands of knowledge integration, in reality, it may reduce most users into docile consumers of AI-generated data. Prolonged digitally-mediated passivity atrophies the thinking faculty. 

Another downside to ChatGPT is its potential to widen the much-debated digital divide. Applications for jobs, promotions, scholarships etc. will overwhelmingly favour the digital “haves” over the digital “have-nots,” especially once subscription fees are required for access.

Educators at the moment are unable to define the ethical boundaries of ChatGPT and are currently adopting a wait-and-see attitude. The ethical framework itself may be written by, or with the help of, tools like ChatGPT itself. Aini Suzana Ariffin, an Associate Professor of Policy Studies at Universiti Teknologi Malaysia, is convinced that educators need not be alarmed. “An ethical framework for generative AI tools like ChatGPT will sort out what augments the learning process and what impedes it. This may take time and will involve much debate but we better start now.”

Human decision-making 

The Singapore government recently announced that its civil servants will begin using ChatGPT to lighten their workload. This makes sense as repetitive or mundane tasks can be expedited by AI tools. However, as generative AI tools become exponentially more intelligent and efficient, the governance complex may gradually be usurped by machines. This emerging form of social ordering is called “algocracy”; one where algorithms, especially AI and blockchain, is applied across the whole spectrum of government. Algocracy inevitably entails predictive governance. The Berlin police force has already incorporated an embryonic form of algocracy into its predictive policing system. Are we facing a Minority Reportsociety in the near future?

ChatGPT also accelerates the flow of information into the apex decision-making levels of a government or organisation – bypassing the traditional gatekeeper roles of bureaucracies at the intermediate levels. While this may be heralded as a welcome development against red tape, the lack of traditional checks and balances may lead to peremptory decisions with woeful socioeconomic implications. Imagine transplanting such an algocratic process into the nuclear weapons infrastructure of a military superpower.

ChatGPT also runs the risk of breaching privacy and leaking personal data in sectors such as banking and healthcare. The efficacy of generative AI tools is fueled by an ever-growing volume of data that are constantly looped back into their neural networks. This quest for accuracy, efficiency and speed may result in private data being compromised as part of the machine learning process.

In the area of healthcare, informed consent to AI-assisted healthcare may be whittled down as patients may either not understand what they are consenting to or they may overly trust an “intelligent and impartial” machine-based system. It gets more ominous when triage needs to be employed in critical situations. Traditionally, triage is determined by the integrity and skills of medical personnel present as well as the resources available in situ. An algorithm however may dispassionately arrange triage based on a patient’s “worth to society”; data-inferred life expectancy; and costs associated with saving the patient’s life.

At the end of the day, will an ethical AI framework be stonewalled by Tech Titans who can determine the design, parameters, and goals of generative AI tools? Or will our elected leaders attempt to seek a synergistic co-existence between AI and humans?


The exile of Oscar Wilde, Dublin’s charming ghost

Thursday, March 23rd, 2023


When still a boy, Forrest Reid saw Oscar Wilde in Belfast.

I beheld my ?rst celebrity. Not that I knew him to be celebrated, but I could see for myself his appearance was remarkable. I had been taught that it was rude to stare, but on this occasion, though I was with my mother, I could not help staring, and even feeling I was intended to do so. He was, my mother told me, a Mr. Oscar Wilde.

Reid presents his boyhood sighting of the famous writer as little more than a curious anecdote. He was 20 years old in 1895, the year of the Wilde Affair. In early April of that year, the newspapers were full of Wilde’s lawsuit against the Marquess of Queensberry. Just a few weeks later, the papers were full of Wilde’s fall from grace. He became a byword for infamy in England and Ireland. Worst of all, his very name became a slur.

Reid lived through it all. The man he had seen promenading through Belfast was now circling a prison yard. How did they make him feel, those broadsheets at the breakfast table? Perhaps they frightened him. An unwelcome premonition of his own future. Desire reduced to commerce, letters sent and regretted, a life spent waiting for the blackmailer’s note or the policeman’s knock. And yet even then Reid must have known that his life, queer fellow though he was, would not take that shape. Wilde’s passions were shallower than Reid’s, and much more dangerous.

The taint associated with Wilde’s name outlived him by decades. Seventeen years after Wilde’s death, C. S. Lewis told Arthur Greeves that he was happy to discuss male beauty, as long as they avoided “everything that tends to sordidness (and beastly police court sort of scandal out of grim real life, like the O. Wilde story).” It was Wilde’s tragedy that his care fully curated persona should come to be synonymous with “grim real life.” Even E. M. Forster kept him at arm’s length. In Maurice, the eponymous character confesses to his doctor that he is “an unspeakable of the Oscar Wilde sort.”

Fifty-four years after Wilde’s death, Brian O’Nolan, a Tyrone man fond of pseudonyms, who wrote novels as Flann O’Brien and a weekly column for the Irish Times as Myles na Gopaleen, railed against a proposed memorial in Dublin: “Oscar Wilde was not an Irishman, except by statistical accident of birthplace. He had become completely déraciné and living in England before he was 20. Not one shred of his literary work even suggests an Irish inflection.” Oscar’s shame could not be allowed to reflect on Ireland.

Wilde’s connection to the North of Ireland is little known. The fact that Wilde was Irish at all is news to some people. Born in Dublin in 1854, Wilde spent his earliest years at 21 Westland Row and 1 Merrion Square. After seven years of boarding school in County Fermanagh, he returned to Dublin for a degree at Trinity College. He did not leave for England until he was 20 years old—still young, but then he would be dead at the age of 46. Nearly half of his short life was lived in Ireland. And yet Oscar’s Irishness can still surprise. In 1998, Jerusha McCormack, then a lecturer at University College Dublin, noted her “frustration at having to explain to Irish students that Oscar Wilde was, yes, indeed, Irish.”

Literary Hub for more

Another predictable bank failure

Thursday, March 23rd, 2023


“A person from inside Silicon Valley Bank, middle rear, talks to people waiting outside an entrance to Silicon Valley Bank in Santa Clara, California, Friday, March 10, 2023. The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation seized the assets of the bank on Friday, marking the largest bank failure since Washington Mutual during the height of the 2008 financial crisis.” PHOTO/ © AP Photo/Jeff Chiu/Fox News

The collapse of Silicon Valley Bank is emblematic of deep failures in the conduct of both regulatory and monetary policy. Will those who helped create this mess play a constructive role in minimizing the damage, and will all of us – bankers, investors, policymakers, and the public – finally learn the right lessons?

The run on Silicon Valley Bank (SVB) – on which nearly half of all venture-backed tech start-ups in the United States depend – is in part a rerun of a familiar story, but it’s more than that. Once again, economic policy and financial regulation has proven inadequate.

The news about the second-biggest bank failure in US history came just days after Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell assured Congress that the financial condition of America’s banks was sound. But the timing should not be surprising. Given the large and rapid increases in interest rates Powell engineered – probably the most significant since former Fed Chair Paul Volcker’s interest-rate hikes of 40 years ago – it was predicted that dramatic movements in the prices of financial assets would cause trauma somewhere in the financial system.

But, again, Powell assured us not to worry – despite abundant historical experience indicating that we should be worried. Powell was part of former President Donald Trump’s regulatory team that worked to weaken the Dodd-Frank bank regulations enacted after the 2008 financial meltdown, in order to free “smaller” banks from the standards applied to the largest, systemically important, banks. By the standards of Citibank, SVB is small. But it’s not small in the lives of the millions who depend on it.

Powell said that there would be pain as the Fed relentlessly raised interest rates – not for him or many of his friends in private capital, who reportedly were planning to make a killing as they hoped to sweep in to buy uninsured deposits in SVB at 50-60 cents on the dollar, before the government made it clear that these depositors would be protected. The worst pain would be reserved for members of marginalized and vulnerable groups, like young nonwhite males. Their unemployment rate is typically four times the national average, so an increase from 3.6% to 5% translates into an increase from something like 15% to 20% for them. He blithely calls for such unemployment increases (falsely claiming that they are necessary to bring down the inflation rate) with nary an appeal for assistance, or even a mention of the long-term costs.

Now, as a result of Powell’s callous – and totally unnecessary – advocacy of pain, we have a new set of victims, and America’s most dynamic sector and region will be put on hold. Silicon Valley’s start-up entrepreneurs, often young, thought the government was doing its job, so they focused on innovation, not on checking their bank’s balance sheet daily – which in any case they couldn’t have done. (Full disclosure: my daughter, the CEO of an education startup, is one of those dynamic entrepreneurs.)

While new technologies haven’t changed the fundamentals of banking, they have increased the risk of bank runs. It is much easier to withdraw funds than it once was, and social media turbocharges rumors that may spur a wave of simultaneous withdrawals (though SVB reportedly simply didn’t respond to orders to transfer money out, creating what may be a legal nightmare). Reportedly, SVB’s downfall wasn’t due to the kind of bad lending practices that led to the 2008 crisis and that represent a fundamental failure in banks performing their central role in credit allocation. Rather, it was more prosaic: all banks engage in “maturity transformation,” making short-term deposits available for long-term investment. SVB had bought long-term bonds, exposing the institution to risks when yield curves changed dramatically.

Project Syndicate for more

Eden Knight: Trans woman’s death highlights ‘terrifying’ oppression facing LGBTQ+ Saudis

Wednesday, March 22nd, 2023


Eden Knight was a young trans woman who died by suicide after returning to Saudi Arabia from the US. IMAGE/Eden Knight/Getty
Wajeeh Gay Lion says he faces “two death sentences” on his head because he ‘left Islam’ and is the “first openly gay man from Saudi Arabia”. IMAGE/Wajeeh Gay Lion

The death of Eden Knight, a young Saudi trans woman who took her life after she was allegedly coerced into detransitioning, won’t be the last, warns a queer Saudi who fled to the US.

Eden Knight was found dead on 13 March, months after she returned to Saudi Arabia from the US.

In her final message, the 23-year-old trans woman alleged her family hired American “fixers” to reestablish contact with her last summer. 

In her account, she said third-party manipulation, isolation from her affirming chosen family and her uncertain immigration status in the US ultimately forced her to detransition and leave the US for Saudi Arabia – a country known for its violent hostility towards LGBTQ+ country. 

Her friends and the broader trans community are demanding justice for Eden. But activist Wajeeh Gay Lion tells PinkNews the “reality of the matter is she’s not the first and she won’t be the last” LGBTQ+ Saudi person to die in circumstances like these.

“If you’re a Saudi and you’re a member of the LGBT community, know and accept that your life is always in danger,” he says. 

“The day I accepted that I am queer, the day I accepted that I’m non-binary, the day I accepted that I’m gay, is the same day that I accepted that I could be killed at any minute – and anyone in Saudi Arabia from the LGBT community can tell you the same.”

Pink News for more

Milk, pity and power

Wednesday, March 22nd, 2023


Roman Charity PAINTING/Peter Paul Rubens (c. 1612)
Roman Charity – Cimon and Pero PAINTING/Peter Paul Rubens – (c.1625)

The young woman’s sumptuous crimson dress is unbuttoned. Her exposed breasts, painted in gleaming, creamy flesh tones, invite caress: they are the focal point of the painting, magnetising our gaze. Even if we manage to look away, how can we ever unsee the grey-bearded man, his mouth greedily attached to one breast, his eyes fixed on the rosy nipple of the other?

Roman Charity is an image of voluptuary horror. Twisting her face away from what is being done to her, the young woman gazes desperately beyond the frame, her body tensing. There is no bliss here, no reciprocity, no pleasure, no air. Is she signalling for help, or just desperate that nobody witness her entrapment? But there are witnesses of course. I am one, you are another. There have been innumerable others since 1625 when Peter Paul Rubens painted this scene with all the sinuous carnality for which he is renowned.

This suckling man, naked except for the black cloth draped across his groin, is marked as virile. There is an erect nipple on display on his bare chest. His sinewy arms are strong. He could still wield a sword, except that his hands, twisted behind him, are manacled, chained to the wall. It is only when one follows the gleaming links through the shadows that one sees the metal grille, behind which men leer at this abject spectacle. They are helmeted – soldiers or guards.

This is a public prison not a domestic one. And though the man is shackled, it is the woman, swathed in her ocean of red silk, who is unable to escape. Even as she averts her eyes from the sight of this awful, shameful, inescapable suckling, she rests one hand on the old man’s shoulder. Here tenderness, pity, perversity, fear and love compete. Hers are invisible bonds.

This scene of disorientating and regressive perversity, of a woman trapped – her body in service to nurture without limit – feels shockingly familiar. I feel it in the young woman’s body language, a silent scream of ‘Get me out of here!’ What would she say to me, I wonder, if she could use a language other than the language of the body and its fluids?

What women say and don’t say was in the forefront of my mind when I first saw this strange painting in 2016. At the time, I was drafting a manifesto for women writers for the free-speech organisation PEN International, so I had the following questions in mind: why is women’s creative legacy so easily lost to the canon? Why is the authority of women – our self-authorship – so difficult to establish, then pass on to our future daughters? Why do we hear silence when we know there are words? How are women disappeared? This disturbing painting embodied a psychic truth about the intimate politics of patriarchal relations between men and women that I needed to metabolise.

I could not see this sinuous Baroque painting as a classical allegory, the way a wealthy Florentine or Flemish bishop or merchant or nobleman would, the better to evade the censors. All I saw was a stricken young woman with an old man battened like a tick onto her body. I could not look at her without thinking of the countless women who have been feasted on and silenced by men, for whom women’s bodies feed and sustain their sense of power, authority and invincibility.

Aeon for more

US maternal mortality is more than 10 times higher than in Australia. Why?

Wednesday, March 22nd, 2023


‘2021 was the third consecutive year that the rate rose – and the trend is only going in one direction.’ PHOTO/Tina Fineberg/AP

What do we make of a nation that has made giving birth so dangerous – yet forces more and more women to do it?

America is in a maternal health crisis. According to new CDC data released this week, the rate of maternal mortality – defined as deaths during pregnancy or within 42 days of giving birth – rose by 40% in 2021. At a rate of 33 deaths for every 100,000 live births, 1,205 women died of maternal causes that year. That rate was more than twice as high for Black women, whose maternal mortality rate was 70 deaths for every 100,000 live births. The latest federal compilation of data from reviews of maternal deaths suggests that 84% were preventable.

Experts believe that 2021’s spike in maternal mortality can be attributed at least partly to the Covid-19 pandemic, though it’s not clear exactly how. Perhaps infection and exposure to the virus made pregnant women more vulnerable; perhaps the pandemic caused some women to delay or forgo prenatal care as hospitals strained to treat the surge of virus patients and shutdowns made all kinds of care harder and riskier to get.

But even before Covid-19, America has long been an outlier in maternal deaths, with dramatically higher rates of women dying in or as a result of childbirth than in peer nations. America has 10 or more times the rate of pregnancy-related death in Australia, Austria, Israel, Japan and Spain.

The women reflected in 2021’s data died from high blood pressure and from infections; they died from hemorrhage, and from blood clots, and from strokes. They died because doctors incorrectly administered epidurals, or botched C-section procedures, and they died because they weren’t given oxygen when they needed it.

More broadly, they died because pregnancy is a totalizing physical experience, one that challenges and changes the body in profound, irreversible ways that are kept from public discussion by ignorance and taboo, and they died because they lived in a country where medicine is rationed and unaffordable, where women’s healthcare has been starved of both talent and investment, and where disregard for both public health and for female pain has left vast swaths of pregnant people vulnerable in ways that reflect more on the values of their society than on the fragility of their bodies.

They also died, it should be said, from racist negligence. The racial disparities in the data are staggering: Black women are dramatically more likely to die in childbirth. Some of this can be attributed to the broad health disparities between Black Americans and other groups – the result of the strains of poverty, overwork, exposure to pollution, and vulnerability to violence that have long kept Black people in the US physically overtaxed and under-cared for.

The Guardian for more