Salem, in Kenya.

One of the early black marks of colonists in the US are the Salem with trials.  A few adolescent girls accused powerful and upstanding members of the community of witchcraft.  Instead of reacting with sense, the community reacted with fear and envy, basically tearing the tightly-woven community apart.  Why did it happen?  Why, in some cases, can small communities deal with petty rivalries and power in the hands of a few, but in others demand retribution for every imagined crime?  Why do some situations allow for this dysfunction, and others root it out, tree and branch?  If such a small community can tear itself apart, what hope is there for any nation attempting to function as a united whole?

When people live together in close proximity, those people need certain outlets for the accumulated stress of living.  The criminal justice system, the civil courts, the right to assemble and speak and protest, unions, campaigns, boycotts, and lobbying are all modern outlets that we use to vent our grievances against our fellow man and living with him in a society.  Other societies have other means, including ritual, religion, tradition, exorcism, shamanic practices, and even witchcraft.  These different means are not necessarily better or worse than our own.  Sometimes, they fail – murderers we cannot catch, the criminally insane, an angry mob that kills suspected witches because of envy, greed, and malice rather than evidence.  But I do not think such failures render the system invalid.

For the most part, it seems that members of the community in Western Kenya recognize a crime has been committed.  They recognize that these accused and killed ‘witches’ were most likely nothing of the sort.  They realize that there are vendettas being carried out in the name of witch hunts.  But they are not willing to give up on the system as faulty quite yet.  One of the families of a victim continues to play by the rules in abandoning the home of the accused witch though they know she had done nothing wrong.  It remains a bad luck sort of place, and they are willing to let that go to maintain order in the community.  A nearby shaman also has encouraged others to speak to him of suspected witches, so that they can be dealt with appropriately.  Hopefully there will be a societal push to deal with some of the underlying vendetta, striking to the core of struggles over increasing poverty, a lack of land, and the general struggle to survive.  If not, this community may tear itself apart as well.

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It’ll only cost you a limb.

I’m not all that familiar with discrimination laws in India.  However, the recent cases against Air India have made me wonder.  Is it legal to ground a flight attendant without pay for not meeting a weight standard?  Should it be?  Are the reasons such standards are in place (reaction times in dangerous situations and the physical fitness required for the job) accurately reflected in the standards themselves?  Does a weight to height ratio truly sum up a person’s physical fitness or abilities?  Considering that muscle weighs more than fat, I would say no.  Not that I’m for muscle-bound air hostesses, but I do question the airline’s motives.  At the same time, if these are the rules of the job known when starting employment, is it fair to complain about them only now?

Most of the women are planning on dieting while in court, hoping to return to work eventually regardless of the ruling.  However dieting could still cause problems for them in the future.  It will be a constant strain to keep off the weight.  Added to that is the emotional pressure of being judged for your weight on a regular basis in order to keep your job, and you have significant mental stress.  At that point, it would almost be easier to cut off an arm or a leg to permanently take off the extra poundage.  If the airline comes after you for not being able to maintain your duties after that, it’s definite disability discrimination.  Does it say anywhere in the job requirements that you need two legs to perform the job?

Perhaps an even better way to address the physical fitness issue of flight attendants should be some sort of obstacle regularly taken to measure ability and performance.  It would be like a military one, but slightly easier and more appropriate.  It would involve things like climbing a cargo net, sprinting the length of a 747, lifting a 50-lb suitcase over your head, balance beam while carrying a drink tray, pushing a food cart at speed around a length of cones, and ending with opening up an emergency exit on a  plane and sliding down that inflatable slide thing, all in proper uniformed attire.  How fun would that be?  I’d want to take the test myself, just to measure my skills against stewardesses everywhere!  And it would add an aspect of fun to the kind of skills some airlines feel they need to measure.  You could probably even sell tickets, allowing airlines to recoup money on falling ticket sales.