Saturday, April 23, 2005

A Bug's Life

Anyone who considers the British to be sense-of-humour-challenged is either, a) missing one themselves, b) has never viewed comedic landmark television series’ 'Monty Python', 'Blackadder' or 'The Young Ones', or c) isn’t aware of the latest move by scientists at London’s Natural History Museum to name a new species of Slime Mould Beetle after George Bush, Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld.
The pair of insect experts who proposed the names Agathidium bushi, A cheneyi and A rumsfeldi as the official identifiers of the newly discovered insects categorically deny their suggestion was meant to be controversial – in fact, they claim to be conservative admirers of the Bush administration.
There’s no word yet on how the individuals themselves feel about the honour (the humans I mean; the beetles are expected to remain forever mum) but a representative from the London-based International Commission on Zoological Nomenclature (and oh, what I wouldn’t give to have membership in that august group added to my calling cards) accuse the gentlemen of “dragging politics into entomology”.
No question - naming is tough. I wrote recently about the responsibilities parents have in naming their offspring; how much harder would it be to name a creature from another species (and by ‘another species’ I am of course once again referring to public figures) even by descriptive nickname?
Recent weeks have shown the unofficial, casual naming of otherwise familiar individuals (names!in!the!news!)to be a mixed bag in terms of accuracy: controversial UN Ambassador Nominee John Bolton – he of the goofy white cookie-duster moustache, slit eye and fixed scowl – has been called a “kiss up, kick ass” sort of guy, while the new Pope, Benedict the XVI, has been described as ‘warm, humble and gentle’.
If reports of his bullying, cruelty to underlings, and on at least one occasion of chasing a woman around a room, throwing objects at her in order to intimidate her into quitting are even vaguely faithful to the truth, than Bolton has been properly (if understatedly) identified.
Il Papa on the other hand, the former Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger known for his extreme and unyielding adherence to the most strict and exclusive vision of the Roman Catholic church, his contempt – sometimes benign, sometimes not so – of other (even older) faiths, and his utter disdain for women and homosexuals appears to have been mistaken for someone who actually gives a damn.
Potato/potatoh? At least these guys are being judged on their actions, their positions and their words; too many people are judged on their appearance. And usually, those people are women.
I know there will be those quick to complain – quick to point out my feminist leanings and distorted opinions on the social fate of men and women. But it wasn’t a chunky boy or man who was recently featured on the front page (and above the fold) of the Toronto Star, being chided for her plump appearance – it was Britney Spears… who also happened to be 4 months pregnant. (Heaven help any woman who doesn’t even have a bun in the oven to excuse a size 10 or 12 figure. Those women are generally dismissively categorized as having ‘let themselves go’.)
I myself have recently been identified as ‘too good-looking to be anything other than as dumb as a bag of hammers’. Once I came off the high of being considered so attractive as to be borderline retarded (the “insult as compliment” – at a certain age, we take them as we find them) I realized I too had been over/under-estimated: in all honesty, at my best (and in a good light) my looks probably only realistically extend to looking so good as to appear somewhat misinformed.
Another lady I know who has recently fallen afoul of a certain group has been characterized as looking as though she “needs a good ****”. Going simply on the fact that she is single and over 30, it’s this kind of insult that really gets up my nose.
And speaking of noses, who can forget the ultimate ‘looks as a defense’ judgment of alleged Presidential sex assault victim Paula Jones. Though Clinton never made the argument himself, it was all but spelled out (in words of one syllable for the blonde and the blind) that she was far to ugly to have attracted his advances, and therefore ipso facto, res ipsa loquitor, QED, the sexual assault must never have happened. (Which conclusion also gave rise to the Linda Tripp is scum “see how ugly she is” argument. Why women cannot be judged as venal, vicious and vituperative on their own merits remains a mystery to me.)
So who is the real victim of the entomologists imaginative naming exercise? Professional politicians Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld – who must have developed tough enough shells by now to let comparisons to insects roll off their backs like so many accusations of superpower-scale lying, denial and imaginative obfuscation of torture and murder of prisoners? Sensitive flowers they may be – but bugs?
Or is it the Slime Mould Beetles? Is it indeed fair to drag politics into entomology? Is it proper for a bunch of garbage-eating, disease-carrying, shiny-exoskeleton pests who can often be found rolling around in a heap of dung to be associated with politicians? Or is this the sort of controversy that should be squashed… then swept up, brushed under a nearby carpet and left to moulder in the dark?
It wouldn’t be the first time.


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