Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Archive for October 23rd, 2018

On, I’m enjoying the Norwegian series “Varg Veum”

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Extremely watchable. IMO, he drives too fast for road conditions. See what you think—around 41 minutes in.

Interesting tone and take. I like it.

And, BTW, my MHzChoice subscription is worth it so far. I get it via Roku.

Written by Leisureguy

23 October 2018 at 8:08 pm

Posted in Movies & TV

Asylum caravan, canards vs. truth

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Written by Leisureguy

23 October 2018 at 6:22 pm

Sex Redefined: The Idea of 2 Sexes Is Overly Simplistic

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Claire Ainsworth writes in Scientific American:

As a clinical geneticist, Paul James is accustomed to discussing some of the most delicate issues with his patients. But in early 2010, he found himself having a particularly awkward conversation about sex.

A 46-year-old pregnant woman had visited his clinic at the Royal Melbourne Hospital in Australia to hear the results of an amniocentesis test to screen her baby’s chromosomes for abnormalities. The baby was fine—but follow-up tests had revealed something astonishing about the mother. Her body was built of cells from two individuals, probably from twin embryos that had merged in her own mother’s womb. And there was more. One set of cells carried two X chromosomes, the complement that typically makes a person female; the other had an X and a Y. Halfway through her fifth decade and pregnant with her third child, the woman learned for the first time that a large part of her body was chromosomally male. “That’s kind of science-fiction material for someone who just came in for an amniocentesis,” says James.

Sex can be much more complicated than it at first seems. According to the simple scenario, the presence or absence of a Y chromosome is what counts: with it, you are male, and without it, you are female. But doctors have long known that some people straddle the boundary—their sex chromosomes say one thing, but their gonads (ovaries or testes) or sexual anatomy say another. Parents of children with these kinds of conditions—known as intersex conditions, or differences or disorders of sex development (DSDs)—often face difficult decisions about whether to bring up their child as a boy or a girl. Some researchers now say that as many as 1 person in 100 has some form of DSD.

When genetics is taken into consideration, the boundary between the sexes becomes even blurrier. Scientists have identified many of the genes involved in the main forms of DSD, and have uncovered variations in these genes that have subtle effects on a person’s anatomical or physiological sex. What’s more, new technologies in DNA sequencing and cell biology are revealing that almost everyone is, to varying degrees, a patchwork of genetically distinct cells, some with a sex that might not match that of the rest of their body. Some studies even suggest that the sex of each cell drives its behaviour, through a complicated network of molecular interactions. “I think there’s much greater diversity within male or female, and there is certainly an area of overlap where some people can’t easily define themselves within the binary structure,” says John Achermann, who studies sex development and endocrinology at University College London’s Institute of Child Health.

These discoveries do not sit well in a world in which sex is still defined in binary terms. Few legal systems allow for any ambiguity in biological sex, and a person’s legal rights and social status can be heavily influenced by whether their birth certificate says male or female.

“The main problem with a strong dichotomy is that there are intermediate cases that push the limits and ask us to figure out exactly where the dividing line is between males and females,” says Arthur Arnold at the University of California, Los Angeles, who studies biological sex differences. “And that’s often a very difficult problem, because sex can be defined a number of ways.”


That the two sexes are physically different is obvious, but at the start of life, it is not. Five weeks into development, a human embryo has the potential to form both male and female anatomy. Next to the developing kidneys, two bulges known as the gonadal ridges emerge alongside two pairs of ducts, one of which can form the uterus and Fallopian tubes, and the other the male internal genital plumbing: the epididymes, vas deferentia and seminal vesicles. At six weeks, the gonad switches on the developmental pathway to become an ovary or a testis. If a testis develops, it secretes testosterone, which supports the development of the male ducts. It also makes other hormones that force the presumptive uterus and Fallopian tubes to shrink away. If the gonad becomes an ovary, it makes oestrogen, and the lack of testosterone causes the male plumbing to wither. The sex hormones also dictate the development of the external genitalia, and they come into play once more at puberty, triggering the development of secondary sexual characteristics such as breasts or facial hair.

Changes to any of these processes can have dramatic effects on an individual’s sex. Gene mutations affecting gonad development can result in a person with XY chromosomes developing typically female characteristics, whereas alterations in hormone signalling can cause XX individuals to develop along male lines.

For many years, scientists believed that female development was the default programme, and that male development was actively switched on by the presence of a particular gene on the Y chromosome. In 1990, researchers made headlines when they uncovered the identity of this gene, which they called SRY. Just by itself, this gene can switch the gonad from ovarian to testicular development. For example, XX individuals who carry a fragment of the Y chromosome that contains SRY develop as males.

By the turn of the millennium, however, the idea of femaleness being a passive default option had been toppled by the discovery of genes that actively promote ovarian development and suppress the testicular programme—such as one called WNT4. XY individuals with extra copies of this gene can develop atypical genitals and gonads, and a rudimentary uterus and Fallopian tubes. In 2011, researchers showed that if another key ovarian gene, RSPO1, is not working normally, it causes XX people to develop an ovotestis—a gonad with areas of both ovarian and testicular development.

These discoveries have pointed to a complex process of sex determination, in which the identity of the gonad emerges from a contest between two opposing networks of gene activity. Changes in the activity or amounts of molecules (such as WNT4) in the networks can tip the balance towards or away from the sex seemingly spelled out by the chromosomes. “It has been, in a sense, a philosophical change in our way of looking at sex; that it’s a balance,” says Eric Vilain, a clinician and the director of the Center for Gender-Based Biology at the University of California, Los Angeles. “It’s more of a systems-biology view of the world of sex.”


According to some scientists, that balance can shift long after development is over. Studies in mice suggest that the gonad teeters between being male and female throughout life, its identity requiring constant maintenance. In 2009, researchers reported deactivating an ovarian gene called Foxl2 in adult female mice; they found that the granulosa cells that support the development of eggs transformed into Sertoli cells, which support sperm development. Two years later, a separate team showed the opposite: that inactivating a gene called Dmrt1 could turn adult testicular cells into ovarian ones. “That was the big shock, the fact that it was going on post-natally,” says Vincent Harley, a geneticist who studies gonad development at the MIMR-PHI Institute for Medical Research in Melbourne.

The gonad is not the only source of diversity in sex. A number of DSDs are caused by changes in the machinery that responds to hormonal signals from the gonads and other glands. Complete androgen insensitivity syndrome, or CAIS, for example, arises when a person’s cells are deaf to male sex hormones, usually because the receptors that respond to the hormones are not working. People with CAIS have Y chromosomes and internal testes, but their external genitalia are female, and they develop as females at puberty.

Conditions such as these meet the medical definition of DSDs, in which an individual’s anatomical sex seems to be at odds with their chromosomal or gonadal sex. But they are rare—affecting about 1 in 4,500 people. Some researchers now say that the definition should be widened to include subtle variations of anatomy such as mild hypospadias, in which a man’s urethral opening is on the underside of his penis rather than at the tip. The most inclusive definitions point to the figure of 1 in 100 people having some form of DSD, says Vilain.

But beyond this, there could be even more variation. Since the 1990s, researchers have identified more than 25 genes involved in DSDs, and next-generation DNA sequencing in the past few years has uncovered a wide range of variations in these genes that have mild effects on individuals, rather than causing DSDs. “Biologically, it’s a spectrum,” says Vilain.

A DSD called congenital adrenal hyperplasia (CAH), for example, causes the body to produce excessive amounts of male sex hormones; XX individuals with this condition are born with ambiguous genitalia (an enlarged clitoris and fused labia that resemble a scrotum). It is usually caused by a severe deficiency in an enzyme called 21-hydroxylase. But women carrying mutations that result in a milder deficiency develop a ‘non-classical’ form of CAH, which affects about 1 in 1,000 individuals; they may have male-like facial and body hair, irregular periods or fertility problems—or they might have no obvious symptoms at all. Another gene, NR5A1, is currently fascinating researchers because variations in it cause a wide range of effects, from underdeveloped gonads to mild hypospadias in men, and premature menopause in women.

Many people never discover their condition unless they seek help for infertility, or discover it through some other brush with medicine. Last year, for example, surgeons reported that they had been operating on a hernia in a man, when they discovered that he had a womb. The man was 70, and had fathered four children.


Studies of DSDs have shown that sex is no simple dichotomy. But things become even more complex when scientists zoom in to look at individual cells. The common assumption that every cell contains the same set of genes is untrue. . .

Continue reading. There’s more.

The article concludes:

. . . Yet if biologists continue to show that sex is a spectrum, then society and state will have to grapple with the consequences, and work out where and how to draw the line. Many transgender and intersex activists dream of a world where a person’s sex or gender is irrelevant. Although some governments are moving in this direction, Greenberg is pessimistic about the prospects of realizing this dream—in the United States, at least. “I think to get rid of gender markers altogether or to allow a third, indeterminate marker, is going to be difficult.”

So if the law requires that a person is male or female, should that sex be assigned by anatomy, hormones, cells or chromosomes, and what should be done if they clash? “My feeling is that since there is not one biological parameter that takes over every other parameter, at the end of the day, gender identity seems to be the most reasonable parameter,” says Vilain. In other words, if you want to know whether someone is male or female, it may be best just to ask.

This is going to be a shock for President Trump.

Written by Leisureguy

23 October 2018 at 2:48 pm

Posted in Daily life, Science

Larry Krasner’s Campaign to End Mass Incarceration

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Here is a hopeful article. Jennifer Gonnerman writes in the New Yorker:

Until Larry Krasner entered the race for District Attorney of Philadelphia last year, he had never prosecuted a case. He began his career as a public defender, and spent three decades as a defense attorney. In the legal world, there is an image, however cartoonish, of prosecutors as conservative and unsparing, and of defense attorneys as righteous and perpetually outraged. Krasner, who had a long ponytail until he was forty, seemed to fit the mold. As he and his colleagues engaged in daily combat with the D.A.’s office, they routinely complained about prosecutors who, they believed, withheld evidence that they were legally required to give to the defense; about police who lied under oath on the witness stand; and about the D.A. Lynne Abraham, a Democrat whose successful prosecutions, over nearly twenty years, sent more people to death row than those of any other D.A. in modern Philadelphia history.

In 1993, Krasner opened his own law firm, and went on to file more than seventy-five lawsuits against the police, alleging brutality and misconduct. In 2013, he represented Askia Sabur, who had been charged with robbing and assaulting a police officer. A cell-phone video of the incident, which had gone viral, showed that it was the police who had beaten Sabur, on a West Philadelphia sidewalk. Daniel Denvir, a former criminal-justice reporter at the Philadelphia City Paper and a friend of Krasner’s, recalled that, at the trial, Krasner revealed the unreliability of the officers’ testimony, “methodically unspooling their lies in front of the jury.” In dealing with such cases, Denvir said, Krasner sought to illustrate “prosecutors’ and judges’ typical credulity with regard to anything that a police officer said, no matter how improbable.” (Krasner later filed a civil lawsuit on Sabur’s behalf, which was settled for eight hundred and fifty thousand dollars. The police officers were never charged with lying on the witness stand.)

In Krasner’s spare time, he worked pro bono, representing members of act up, Occupy Philadelphia, and Black Lives Matter. In 2001, his wife, Lisa Rau, decided to run for state-court judge. Krasner asked some of the activists he had represented, including Kate Sorensen, of act up, for help. “We were involved with a whole community of anarchist activists—folks who generally don’t vote,” Sorensen said, “but we got hundreds and hundreds of lawn signs up all over the city.” Rau won, and later earned a reputation for challenging questionable testimony from the police.

In early 2017, when Krasner told the six-person staff of his firm that he was running for D.A., they erupted in laughter. On February 8th, he announced his candidacy with a speech in which he attacked the culture of the D.A.’s office, accusing prosecutors of embracing “bigger, meaner mandatory sentencing.” He accused the office, too, of casting a “very wide net,” which had “brought black and brown people from less prosperous neighborhoods into the system when that was in fact unnecessary and destructive.”

The president of the police union pronounced Krasner’s candidacy “hilarious.” Krasner received no mainstream-newspaper endorsements and, at first, was supported by only a few Democratic elected officials. He seemed to please almost no one in power––certainly not those in the office he hoped to lead, which has had its troubles in recent years. In 2017, the D.A. at the time, Seth Williams, was accused of accepting gifts, including a trip to a resort in Punta Cana, and later pleaded guilty to bribery, and was sent to federal prison. But few people saw Krasner as the solution. Twelve former prosecutors, nearly all of whom had worked under Williams, wrote a letter that was published in the Philadelphia Citizen: “While it might be demoralizing to work for someone who is federally indicted, imagine working for someone who has openly demonized what you do every day,” it read. “Why work for someone that reviles a career you are passionate about?”

Krasner, who is fifty-seven, is a compact man with an intense, slightly mischievous demeanor. He likes to say that he wrote his campaign platform—eliminate cash bail, address police misconduct, end mass incarceration—on a napkin. “Some of us had been in court four and five days a week in Philadelphia County for thirty years,” he said. “We had watched this car crash happen in slow motion.” Krasner often talks about how, running as a defense attorney, his opponents, most of whom had worked as prosecutors in the D.A.’s office, frequently attacked him for having no experience. At one event, they were “beating the tar out of me because I have not been a prosecutor. ‘Oh, my God! He’s never been a prosecutor!’ ” But the line of attack worked to his advantage. “You could hear people saying, ‘that’s good!’ ” Brandon Evans, a thirty-five-year-old political organizer, said. “I remember people nodding profusely, rolling their eyes, and shrugging their shoulders.”

In 2015, Philadelphia had the highest incarceration rate of America’s ten largest cities. As its population grew more racially diverse and a new generation became politically active, its “tough on crime” policies fell further out of synch with its residents’ views. During Krasner’s campaign, hundreds of people—activists he had represented, supporters of Bernie Sanders, Black Lives Matter leaders, former prisoners—knocked on tens of thousands of doors on his behalf. Michael Coard, a left-wing critic of the city’s criminal-justice system, wrote in the Philadelphia Tribune that Krasner was the “blackest white guy I know.” The composer and musician John Legend, a University of Pennsylvania graduate, tweeted an endorsement. In the three weeks before the primary, a pac funded by the liberal billionaire George Soros spent $1.65 million on pro-Krasner mailers and television ads. Strangers started recognizing him on the street. He trounced his six opponents in the primary, and went on to win the general election, on November 7, 2017, with seventy-five per cent of the vote. He was sworn in on January 1, 2018, by his wife.

In the past ten years, violent crime across the country has fallen, but, according to polls, many people continue to believe that it has increased. President Trump’s campaign exploited the fear of “American carnage,” and the criminal-justice system of the United States, which has the highest incarceration rate in the world, seems built on this misinformation. And yet, at a local level, there are signs of change. Krasner is one of about two dozen “progressive prosecutors,” many of them backed by Soros, who have won recent district-attorney races. In 2016, Aramis Ayala got early support from Shaquille O’Neal and won a state’s attorney race in Florida, and Mark Gonzalez, a defense attorney with “not guilty” tattooed on his chest, became the D.A. in Corpus Christi, Texas. Last month, Rachael Rollins, a former federal prosecutor, became the first African-American woman to win in a Democratic primary for D.A. in Suffolk County, Massachusetts, having promised to stop prosecuting drug possession, shoplifting, and driving with a suspended license, among other crimes. Instead, she said, she would handle the cases she didn’t dismiss in other ways, by sending defendants to community-service or education programs, for example. On September 7th, President Barack Obama delivered a speech to students at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in which he referred to Krasner and Rollins: “If you are really concerned about how the criminal-justice system treats African-Americans, the best way to protest is to vote,” he said. “Do what they just did in Philadelphia and Boston and elect state attorneys and district attorneys who are looking at issues in a new light.”

Krasner now oversees five hundred and thirty-seven employees, including some three hundred prosecutors, and an annual budget of forty-two million dollars. With his tailored suits, well-trimmed silver hair, and square jaw, he could be mistaken for a Republican senator, but his speech is freewheeling and at times leaves his spokesperson, Ben Waxman, a thirty-three-year-old former journalist, looking anxious. At lunchtime each day, prosecutors returning from the courthouse stream through the doors of the D.A.’s office, pulling metal carts stacked with boxes of files, and ride an escalator to the mezzanine, then board an elevator to their offices.

When Krasner first arrived, he found, at the top of the escalator, a wall of portraits of his predecessors: Arlen Specter (1966-74), who was later elected to the U.S. Senate; Edward G. Rendell (1978-86), who went on to become the mayor of Philadelphia and the governor of Pennsylvania; Lynne Abraham (1991-2010), who ran, unsuccessfully, for mayor. It bothered Krasner that the wall did not feature portraits of the two former African-American D.A.s, Williams and the interim D.A., Kelley B. Hodge. But, Krasner admitted, “it’s a little hard to love putting up a picture of a D.A. who is currently doing five years in jail.” He took the portraits down.

Krasner often talks about his ambition to make Philadelphia the best progressive D.A.’s office in the country, but he knows that he faces an almost insurmountable challenge. Resistance comes not only from the lawyers he now supervises but also from some judges, many of whom are former prosecutors. “They are being forced to look back on their entire careers and say to themselves, Did I get it all wrong as a prosecutor? Have I gotten it all wrong as a judge? All these years coming down with twenty-five years when it should’ve been ten? And ten when it could’ve been two?” He went on,  . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more.

Written by Leisureguy

23 October 2018 at 11:24 am

Voter-Suppression Tactics in the Age of Trump

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Jelani Cobb writes in the New Yorker:

Decades ago, amid the most overt privations of Jim Crow, African-Americans used to tell a joke about a black Harvard professor who moves to the Deep South and tries to register to vote. A white clerk tells him that he will first have to read aloud a paragraph from the Constitution. When he easily does so, the clerk says that he will also have to read and translate a section written in Spanish. Again he complies. The clerk then demands that he read sections in French, German, and Russian, all of which he happens to speak fluently. Finally, the clerk shows him a passage in Arabic. The professor looks at it and says, “My Arabic is rusty, but I believe this translates to ‘Negroes cannot vote in this county.’ ”

Old jokes have lately been finding renewed salience. Literacy tests, poll taxes, and grandfather clauses, once the most common mechanisms for disadvantaging minority voters, have been consigned to the history books, but one need look no further than the governor’s race in Georgia to see their modern equivalents in action. The race between the Republican, Brian Kemp, Georgia’s secretary of state, and the Democrat, Stacey Abrams, the former minority leader of the state House of Representatives—who, if she wins, will be the first black female governor in the country—is a virtual tie. But Kemp has invoked the so-called exact-match law to suspend fifty-three thousand voter-registration applications, for infractions as minor as a hyphen missing from a surname. African-Americans make up thirty-two per cent of the state’s population, but they represent nearly seventy per cent of the suspended applications. Kemp’s move is particularly questionable given that Abrams’s electoral strategy hinges on mobilizing the six hundred thousand unregistered black voters who have long been seen as the holy grail of Democratic politics in the state.

Kemp’s acts are singled out for scrutiny in “One Person, No Vote,” a book about modern-day voter suppression, by the historian Carol Anderson. In 2012, after the Asian American Legal Advocacy Center, in Atlanta, discovered that many of its clients who were naturalized citizens were not on the voter rolls, despite having registered, the group raised the issue with Kemp’s office. “In a show of raw intimidation,” Anderson writes, “Kemp ordered an investigation questioning the methods that the organization had used to register new voters.” In 2014, Kemp investigated the New Georgia Project, a voter-registration initiative that Abrams had founded. In a similar vein, officials in Jefferson County last week ordered a group of African-American senior citizens off a bus taking them to an early-voting site, on the ground that the transportation, which had been organized by the nonpartisan group Black Voters Matter, was a “political activity.”

The events in Georgia are part of a broader political project. The xenophobia and the resentment that Donald Trump stirred up during the 2016 election are fundamentally concerns about the future of the American electorate. (His reported comment that too many people are immigrating from “shithole countries” in Africa and the Caribbean was paired with a lament that not enough are coming from Europe.) He has repeatedly stated that he lost the popular vote because non-citizens voted for Hillary Clinton. Last Thursday, at a rally in Montana, he suggested that Democrats were responsible for a caravan of migrants now heading north from Honduras, because they “figure everybody coming in is going to vote Democrat.” Kemp, likewise, claimed that Abrams wants to let undocumented people vote in Georgia. The suppression of minority votes is the homegrown corollary of this strategy—an attempt to place a white thumb on the demographic scale.

According to the Brennan Center for Justice, ninety-nine bills designed to diminish voter access were introduced last year in thirty-one state legislatures. Many of the recent Republican-led efforts stem from the Supreme Court’s 2013 decision in Shelby v. Holder. In an opinion that eviscerated the Voting Rights Act of 1965, Chief Justice John Roberts wrote that discrimination still exists, but not sufficiently to warrant the “extraordinary” remediation measures that the act imposed on the states of the former Confederacy. That argument is roughly equivalent to saying that a decline in the prevalence of an infectious disease means that we should stop vaccinating against it. Within hours of the decision, Texas announced a strict new voter-I.D. law. Mississippi and Alabama shortly afterward began enforcing similar laws that previously had been barred.

The decision added a layer of severity to a voter-access crisis precipitated by state laws that prohibit six million Americans with past convictions from voting. In three Southern states—Florida, Tennessee, and Kentucky—this means that at least twenty per cent of eligible-age African-Americans cannot vote. Meanwhile, North Carolina enacted restrictions on early voting, a policy that particularly affects African-Americans, who are likely to be hourly-wage workers and cannot always get to the polls on Election Day. Last year, the Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal to reinstate a voter-I.D. law in North Carolina that a federal court had found targeted black voters “with almost surgical precision.” In effect, the question posed by Roberts’s ruling is how much discrimination there has to be before you can justify protecting voters.

Ironically, though, a number of the recent laws validate Roberts’s argument about the undue burden that the Voting Rights Act put on the South; complaints have been lodged in several states that fought for the Union, such as Ohio, Wisconsin, Indiana, and Iowa, which have passed strict voter-I.D. or roll-purge laws. Earlier this year, in Kansas, a federal judge struck down a law that required voters to provide proof of citizenship to register, championed by Kris Kobach, the secretary of state, who served as a vice-chair of Donald Trump’s short-lived voter-fraud commission and is now running for governor. In North Dakota, which didn’t become a state until twenty-four years after the Civil War, Native Americans must now provide an I.D. that shows a street address—even though many have only a P.O. box.

The midterm elections are in two weeks.  . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

23 October 2018 at 11:21 am

Three Essential Features of Fascism: Invoking a Mythic Past, Sowing Division & Attacking Truth

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Josh Jones writes in Open Culture:

New books on fascism are popping up everywhere, from independent presses, former world leaders like Madeleine Albright, and academics like Jason Stanley, Jacob Urowsky Professor of Philosophy at Yale University. Stanley’s latest book, How Fascism Works: The Politics of Us and Them, has been described as a “vital read for a nation under Trump.” And yet, as The Guardian’s Tom McCarthy writes, one of the ironies Stanley points out is that—despite the widespread currency of the term these days—fascism succeeds by making “talk of fascism… seem outlandish.”

Is it?

The word has certainly been diluted by years of misuse. Umberto Eco wrote in his 1995 essay “Ur-Fascism” that “fascist” as an epithet was casually thrown around “by American radicals… to refer to a cop who did not approve of their smoking habits.” When every authority figure who seems to abuse power gets labeled a fascist, the word loses its explanatory power and its history disappears. But Eco, who grew up under Mussolini and understood fascist Europe, insisted that fascism has clearly recognizable, and portable, if not particularly coherent, features.

“The fascist game can be played in many forms,” Eco wrote, depending on the national mythologies and cultural history of the country in which it takes root. Rather than a single political philosophy, Eco argued, fascism is “a collage… a beehive of contradictions.” He enumerated fourteen featuresthat delineate it from other forms of politics. Like Eco, Stanley also identifies some core traits of fascism, such as “publicizing false charges of corruption,” as he writes in his book, “while engaging in corrupt practice.”

In the short New York Times opinion video above, Stanley summarizes his “formula for fascism”—a “surprisingly simple” pattern now repeating in Europe, South America, India, Myanmar, Turkey, the Philippines, and “right here in the United States.” No matter where they appear, “fascist politicians are cut from the same cloth,” he says. The elements of his formula are:

1. Conjuring a “mythic past” that has supposedly been destroyed (“by liberals, feminists, and immigrants”). Mussolini had Rome, Turkey’s Erdoğan has the Ottoman Empire, and Hungary’s Viktor Orban rewrote the country’s constitution with the aim of “making Hungary great again.” These myths rely on an “overwhelming sense of nostalgia for a past that is racially pure, traditional, and patriarchal.” Fascist leaders “position themselves as father figures and strongmen” who alone can restore lost greatness. And yes, the fascist leader is “always a ‘he.’”

2. Fascist leaders sow division; they succeed by “turning groups against each other,” inflaming historical antagonisms and ancient hatreds for their own advantage. Social divisions in themselves—between classes, religions, ethnic groups and so on—are what we might call pre-existing conditions. Fascists may not invent the hate, but they cynically instrumentalize it: demonizing outgroups, normalizing and naturalizing bigotry, stoking violence to justify repressive “law and order” policies, the curtailing of civil rights and due process, and the mass imprisonment and killing of manufactured enemies.

3. Fascists “attack the truth” with propaganda, in particular “a kind of anti-intellectualism” that “creates a petri dish for conspiracy theories.” (Stanley’s fourth book, published by Princeton University Press, is titled How Propaganda Works.) We would have to be extraordinarily naïve to think that only fascist politicians lie, but we should focus here on the question of degree. For fascists, truth doesn’t matter at all. (As Rudy Giuliani says, “truth isn’t truth.”) Hannah Arendt wrote that fascism relies on “a consistent and total substitution of lies for factual truth.” She described the phenomenon as destroying “the sense by which we take our bearings in the real world…. [T]he category of truth verses falsehood [being] among the mental means to this end.” In such an atmosphere, anything is possible, no matter how previously unthinkable.

Using this rubric, Stanley . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

23 October 2018 at 10:50 am

A Vintner’s Quest to Create a Truly American Wine

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Adam Gopnik’s fascinating article (at least fascinating to me, who lived in the area discussed) was published last May in the New Yorker:

Many students have been driven to drink by the effort of understanding Martin Heidegger’s “Being and Time.” Only one, perhaps, has been driven to wine, exclusively and for life, and that is the inimitable California vintner, punster, screw-top evangelist, and all-around Don Quixote of the vineyards, Randall Grahm. In the nineteen-seventies, when he was a philosophy major at the University of California at Santa Cruz, and struggling with a senior thesis on the concept of Dasein, the most obscure idea in Heidegger’s obscure classic, he happened to wander into a wine store in Beverly Hills called the Wine Merchant. It was a time when the great crus of France were relatively cheap, and the owner, Dennis Overstreet, soon to be his employer, was generous. “There was a kind of Bordeaux scandal at the time, and he had taken some really crappy stuff off the exporters’ hands in exchange for several cases of Musigny,” Grahm explains. As he and Overstreet shared a bottle of the 1971 Comte Georges de Vogüé Musigny, Vieilles Vignes, the mystery of Dasein was replaced by the mystery of Musigny: how, Grahm wondered, had something so haunting and complicated been produced by growing grapes, juicing them, and then letting them grow old in bottles?

Within a short time, Grahm had enrolled at the University of California at Davis, the M.I.T. of American fermentation, where winemaking had become an object of academic research. There, he began an obsession with creating an American wine that has some of the qualities of great red Burgundy—or even those of the great wines of France’s Rhône Valley. As he points out, several figures in the making of California wine culture were also renegade philosophy students, including Paul Draper, the recently retired head winemaker of Ridge Vineyards and one of the few whom Grahm unstintingly admires. He offers a simple reason for the connection between philosophers and wine: “Wine is a mystery that holds the promise of an explanation.”

His improbable quest has led him to become a pioneer of Rhône Valley varietals in Northern California; an apostle of the screw cap as the one right “closer” for good wine; and, for a while, a very successful beverage businessman (at one point, largely on the strength of his popular wine Big House, he was selling four hundred and fifty thousand cases a year). Next came a semi-orderly downsizing of his wine label, Bonny Doon, prompted by fears of its being corrupted by too much commercialism. Most recently, he has decided to take possession of four hundred acres of land near the little mission town of San Juan Bautista—it’s the place where Hitchcock’s “Vertigo” reaches its climax, though the tower from which Kim Novak falls was added to the mission by the film’s art-department team. Thirty or so miles from Santa Cruz, on a hillside where nothing but grass and weeds has ever grown, Grahm is going to try to make an American wine that is an entirely original expression of its terroir, of the land on which it’s raised and the place from which it came.

The effort at the new vineyard, called Popelouchum, involves a three-pronged assault. First, Grahm intends to plant and test a series of uncelebrated grapes that have languished in the shadows of European viticulture. Next, he will “auto-tune” some familiar European grapes by breeding them incestuously and then testing for slight improvements in each successive generation. Finally, he hopes to produce an entirely new American varietal by growing and crossing unlikely pairs of grapes from seed—which is a bit like an ambitious Yankees general manager trying to raise starting shortstops from embryos. “There may not be one great American grape,” Grahm says, philosophically. “It may be the intermingling of a thousand grapes that becomes the great grape.”

The Don Quixote comparison is self-imposed—Grahm once wrote a ten-thousand-word poem with himself in the role of a character called Don Quijones—and so, given the scale of this year’s windmills, any small sign of reassurance raises his spirits. “I had a geomancer out to Popelouchum,” he recalled not long ago, from the driver’s seat of his 1972 Citroën, “and he said that we must orient the entrance of the site in only one direction.” Geomancy is an ancient means of divination involving throwing soil and rocks and interpreting their omens; Grahm, in the Northern California way, is an agreeable mixture of tough-minded agricultural science and what he calls “Santa Cruz woo-woo.” He went on, “So, the geomancer goes like this, definitively: ‘Northwest! That’s the way in which prosperity lies!’ I’m sure that he had no idea that he was pointing directly at Cupertino!” Cupertino is the site of Apple’s headquarters, just around the bend.

“And then we had the Bourguignons out to the vineyard!” Claude and Lydia Bourguignon are a legendary and aptly named French surveying couple who evaluate sites for wine growing. “They identified five distinct terroirs within the property,” Grahm said. “And the really exciting thing is the extravagance of limestone—there’s limestone everywhere.” Limestone, he explained, is typical of the greatest vineyards, which tend to be stony rather than loamy, stress making finer grapes. “Rocks are always good, but I think it’s the porousness of limestone that explains its power,” he added. “It breathes. Of course, on the other side, there are so many forbidding negatives! There’s the fault line—we’re right on the San Andreas fault line. No one knows just how that will change things. And there’s the rats! We have these giant mutant vineyard rats that basically ate the entire first crop. We can’t poison them, of course.” The new vineyard is meant to be not only organic, without pesticides of any sort, but also “dry farmed,” without irrigation. “So I’m renting some Jack Russell terriers who are demonratters.”

Grahm was driving on the Pacific Coast Highway, with his fourteen-year-old daughter in the back seat. He has the long face, ponytail, and ironic, shrugging manner of a surviving comedian of the nineteen-seventies, a sort of George Carlin fed on red wine rather than on coke and whiskey. He has many manners of melancholy. He can look distressed even when he is drinking wine—especiallywhen he is drinking wine, including his own. There is an ever-hopeful first swirl and sniff, and a half glimpse of pleasure as he begins to drink; then he becomes pained, and eventually his expression conveys something close to the resigned despair of a Shakespeare hero in the fifth act of his tragedy. As he once explained to someone puzzled by his seeming distress at drinking a perfectly nice wine, “I don’t want another nice wine. I want a wine that’s like the old Saint-Émilion Cheval Blanc, a wine that when you drink it you just want to inject it directly into your veins!”

He is a passionate Francophile—his daughter is named Amelie—and the ’72 Citroën, perhaps the most curvaceously beautiful family car ever made, needed an undue amount of fidgeting and tending. “The car is part of my shtick,” Grahm said with a laugh. He is one of those people—more often found in the upper reaches of show business—who are sincerely shrewd, or, better, shrewdly sincere. His passion and erudition are real, but he is aware that being passionate and erudite is, in the wine world, a good look, a useful kind of product differentiation.

“I’m Santa Cruz crazy,” he explained. “The thing is, I’m normative here. It’s been a retreat for crazy winemakers as long as there’s been wine. It’s our tradition. It’s a less stressful place than most of the rest of the winemaking areas. It’s not Napa.” He began to enumerate Santa Cruz eccentrics: “There was Martin Ray, the first California winemaker to catch the Burgundian bug to the point of obsession. He made very expensive wines that alternated between profoundly great and undrinkable. He was sort of the Hunter S. Thompson of the Santa Cruz Mountains. And then Dan Wheeler. I got the idea from him to age wine en bonbonne”—in big glass flasks instead of oak barrels. “Angry, irascible individuals. Not company men.”

It is Randall Grahm’s view, and not his alone, that California winemaking has become altogether too corporate. “We’re sort of at the last-of-the-gunslingers stage,” he said, referring to the recent sale of Josh Jensen’s Calera Vineyard to a conglomerate. The revolution begun by the winemakers and the vineyard scientists of Davis back in the nineteen-sixties and seventies has in some ways paid off beyond anyone’s ambitions. More than a billion and a half dollars’ worth of American wine, almost all of it Californian, is now exported, most of it to the European Union, which had once seemed to have plenty of wine of its own. But the dream of making a great wine culture, as opposed to a thriving beverage industry, seems to recede more with each year. Most of the wine that’s sold is monotone, and the wine that claims not to be monotone is, Grahm believes, pretty monotone, too, made in the style of the one-dimensional “fruit bomb” wines that he associates with the reign of the wine critic Robert Parker.

Driving through the mountains, he occasionally jerked his head toward a vineyard, or referred to one elsewhere, and said, “They grow chocolate and vanilla there.” By “chocolate” he means Cabernet Sauvignon, and by “vanilla” he means Chardonnay. These are by far the most common varietals in California viticulture; the words suggest his opinion of the flavor of most of the wines.

According to the archeological evidence—flasks and stoppers and sealants—the earliest wine production occurred in what is now Armenia, with the first vintage sometime around 4000 B.C. One of the few things that can be said with any confidence about it is that some ancient Armenian pronounced, shortly after the second vintage was produced, that the previous vintage was better. Arguments about vintages and varietals are as old as wine.

“Wine has always been a ritual as much as a recreational object,” Paul Draper, the Nestor of California wine, said recently. . .

Continue reading. There’s much more.

Written by Leisureguy

23 October 2018 at 10:19 am

Does it make sense to “solve” systemic problems by demanding individual responsibility?

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When a systemic problem arises—e.g., the treatment of Jews in Spain in the late 15th century; the treatment of African-Americans in the US in the 20th century (and continuing into the 21st century); the threats to women in the workplace and in public we see today—then two approaches to solve the problem are seen. One approach is to rely on (and demand) individual initiative (“stand on your own two feet,” “take responsibility,” “pull yourself up by your bootstraps,” “lean in,” etc.), in which the individual is seen as responsible for solving the problem (call it the “go-it-alone” solution). The other approach is to address the problem not at the individual level, person by person, but rather by forming a movement whose goal is to change the system (the “social” solution).

Obviously, even the social solution requires individual initiative on the part of the members of the movement: to band together, to plan policies and actions and to execute the plans. But the social system tries to solve a systemic problem systemically and recognizes that, if the system is working against you, your success becomes unnecessarily difficult to achieve.

The go-it-alone solution can assume that the system plays no role in a person’s failure but the failure is solely because of the individual. This idea is especially favored by those whom (because of their race, sex, religion, and/or wealth) the system favors and thus are carried on the system’s shoulders to success. The people the system favors and supports really love the idea that their success is due solely to their own unassisted efforts. They often have no understanding of the challenges faced by those whose race, sex, religion, and/or poverty results in the system actively working to prevent their success.

In the early 20th century this idea—that your failure is your fault, not the fault of the system—was common until the Great Depression forcibly contradicted the idea. People saw the reality of millions of lives wrecked not because of the lack of individual initiative but because the system failed.

From a psychological health point of view, it’s always good to see the locus of control as residing in oneself, and when faced with a situation/system that challenges you, it is good to try as best you can to succeed. But it would be unrealistic to ignore that some people are struggling against the current and battling long odds—and, in general, systemic problems should be addressed with system solutions.

Moira Donegan has a really fascinating long read in the Guardian on the struggle between these two approaches within the feminist movement. She writes:

When the #MeToo moment began in earnest last October, many women felt optimistic, galvanised; others felt uncomfortable. As stories of abuse and harassment accumulated in the media, men began to experience consequences for their treatment of women. Some lost jobs, others were demoted, many faced public embarrassment. The careers of men such as Hollywood producer and alleged rapist Harvey Weinstein, masturbating comedian Louis CK, and predatory actor Kevin Spacey were declared dead. Others, like the groping chef Mario Batali, took a temporary “step back” from their public lives. A reckoning seemed to be underway, and many women felt that it was long overdue.

In the media and in private life, conversations about consent, hostile environments and power began, and there was a growing acknowledgment that a man’s unwanted sexual overtures were a symptom of broader social and political forces. Soon, these discussions were interrupted by hand-wringing and anger from male commentators – everyone from conservative columnist Andrew Sullivan to Donald Trump – who claimed the movement had gone too far before it really began. But unexpected divides emerged between feminists as well.

Some feminists urged caution; others wanted the reckoning to go further. But the most common complaint about #MeToo came from those who felt that the whole movement had very quickly become silly. Self-described feminists such as Daphne Merkin and Bari Weiss in the New York Times, Katie Roiphe in Harper’s, Germaine Greer in the Sydney Morning Herald and 100 French women in Le Monde complained that many of the incidents of harassment were too minor to warrant opprobrium. They argued that by grouping together such a wide spectrum of sexual misbehaviour, #MeToo had lost a sense of nuance. They called on women to toughen up. Whatever happened to no-nonsense rejections, they asked. Those who complained about harassment and assault, Merkin wrote, “perceive themselves to be as frail as Victorian housewives”. By this logic, women could solve the problem of sexual harassment and assault with good humour, patience and a high tolerance for pain.

This disagreement was quickly characterised in the media as generational. Older feminists, we were told – say, anyone over 40 – were sinisterly complicit, laughably outdated, or just too scared of overstepping. Younger women, depending on who you asked, were either righteously passionate, naively idealistic, or out for blood.

In part, this notion of a generational divide came from the feminist opponents and supporters of #MeToo themselves. In Harper’s, Roiphe derided the #MeToo movement as “Twitter feminism”, giving the impression that only narcissistic, social media-obsessed millennials want a reckoning over sexual assault. In her article criticising the direction #MeToo was taking, Bari Weiss emphasised the youth and naivety of an anonymous woman who made allegations against the comedian Aziz Ansari. Meanwhile, the feminist website Jezebel, whose readers and writers skew young, ran an article headlined “The Backlash to #MeToo is Second-Wave Feminism”, gesturing vaguely at a misguided crop of older feminist thinkers but not engaging much with those thinkers’ actual achievements and failures. Each side used age stereotypes, with varying degrees of cynicism – older women were crotchety or out of touch, younger women were egoists or spoiled children. None of this commentary seemed interested in the fact that the women coming forward with stories of sexual abuse were both young and old. #MeToo’s feminist detractors also come from different generations. At only 32, Weiss is young enough to be Merkin’s daughter, or Greer’s granddaughter.

The #MeToo moment and its backlash made it clear that there really was a divide among feminists, but analysis of that divide cast it as a mere catfight, or a screaming match between weary mothers and teenage daughters. The implication was that the feminist debate unfolding around #MeToo is a kind of routine domestic drama, something we’ve seen before.

This is a mistake. A closer look at the arguments being made by these two camps reveals a deeper, more serious intellectual rift. What’s really at play is that feminism has come to contain two distinct understandings of sexism, and two wildly different, often incompatible ideas of how that problem should be solved. One approach is individualist, hard-headed, grounded in ideals of pragmatism, realism and self-sufficiency. The other is expansive, communal, idealistic and premised on the ideals of mutual interest and solidarity. The clash between these two kinds of feminism has been starkly exposed by #MeToo, but the crisis is the result of shifts in feminist thought that have been decades in the making.

The central claim of the anti-#MeToo feminists is that the movement does not treat individual women as moral agents with the capacity to say no, to enjoy and pursue sex, and to do wrong. From this perspective, women who come forward about their experiences of harassment or assault should often be given more responsibility for those experiences than the rhetoric of #MeToo assigns them. This thinking partakes in a long moral tradition – one that’s highly compatible with capitalism – in which personal responsibility, independence, and willingness to withstand hardship are revered as particularly valuable virtues. It’s an ethos of pulling yourself up by your own bootstraps – from poverty into prosperity, or, in the anti-#MeToo feminists’ logic, from “feminine” victimhood into “masculine” strength. They believe that the pervasiveness of sexual harassment suggests that it is inevitable, and that the best response is not anger, but resolve. Theirs is a feminism that posits that individual women have the power to make choices to diminish the negative impact of sexism, and to endure any sexist unpleasantness that can’t be avoided – if only they have the grit to handle it.

On the other hand, there is the #MeToo movement. It might seem strange to assert that #MeToo can be spoken of as a single ideology at all – that this cultural moment, which has exposed such a broad array of bad behaviour across so many industries and disciplines, could ever be coherent enough to have an agenda. But #MeToo, as a social movement and as a personal gesture, makes certain assumptions that aren’t compatible with the intellectual habits of most mainstream feminisms that have preceded it. By saying “me too”, an individual woman makes herself a part of a broader group, and chooses to stand with others who have been harassed, assaulted or raped. This solidarity is powerful. It is still rare to see such a large group of women identifying their suffering as women’s suffering, claiming that they have all been harmed by the same forces of sexism, and together demanding that those forces be defeated.

In this light, the diversity and breadth of the #MeToo movement is not a weakness, but a strength. After all, if so many women, with so many different kinds of lives, have experienced the same sexist behaviour from men, then it becomes easier to believe that the problem goes beyond individuals and instead relates to wider cultural forces. The ubiquity of sexual harassment means that an individual can’t simply avoid it by making the right choices, or by steeling herself with forceful determination; the demand that she do so begins to look absurd.

Call it, then, a conflict between “individualist” and “social” feminisms. In part, the rift is between visions of how to undertake the feminist project, of which tactics are best: whether through individual empowerment, or through collective liberation. But there is a greater moral divide between these two strands of thought, because #MeToo and its critics also disagree over where to locate responsibility for sexual abuse: whether it is a woman’s responsibility to navigate, withstand and overcome the misogyny that she encounters, or whether it is the shared responsibility of all of us to eliminate sexism, so that she never encounters it in the first place.

This tension, between individualist and social feminisms, has dogged the women’s movement since its revival in the mid-20th century. According to the individualist model of feminism, personal responsibility, individual freedoms and psychological adjustments offer a woman meaningful routes out of the suffering imposed by patriarchy, and into equality with men. Many of the most famous western feminists have been working in this tradition. For instance, Betty Friedan, author of the hugely influential 1960s feminist text The Feminine Mystique, argued that sexist cultural codes prevent women from achieving personal happiness. Friedan, a psychologist by training, focused on the inner lives of white, American, middle-class women at midcentury. More recently, individualist feminism found a high-profile advocate when Sheryl Sandberg, the chief operating officer of Facebook, published her memoir-cum-manifesto Lean In in 2013. Sandberg laments the lack of women in leadership positions, and her book is a how-to manual for women with lofty corporate ambitions.

Social feminism has a similarly long, if less well-known, history. Soon after Friedan’s book became a bestseller, Italian feminists such as Leopoldina Fortunati and Silvia Federici began to formulate a different way of looking at the problems that women faced. As Marxists, they sought to analyse how men as a class related to women as a class. They were less interested in ideas of empowerment and self-actualisation than they were in divisions of labour, living conditions and cold, hard cash. They argued that so-called “women’s work” – everything from mopping floors to dressing wounds to breastfeeding, cooking, prostitution, laundry and tending to the elderly – should not only be seen as work, but as essential to the capitalist wage-labour system. If men did not have these functions performed for them at home, these women argued, they would not be able to return to work and produce effectively. Male work in the factory relied upon female work in the home.

When Federici’s Wages for Housework campaign launched in 1972, it attracted fierce public debate – first in Italy, and then in the US after Federici moved to New York and opened a Wages for Housework office in Brooklyn. The political mainstream found Federici’s idea ridiculous. Could she really mean that a woman should be paid for scrubbing the floors in her husband’s house? But the movement relied on the understanding that a wage was necessary for work to be seen as work, and for the people who did it to be seen as worthy of dignity and protection. More a rhetorical device than an immediate policy prescription, the demand “wages for housework” relied on a conception of women as a “class” in the same sense as a class of workers – a group of people with something in common who could organise on behalf of their shared interests.

The Wages for Housework movement fizzled out, but its influence has lived on in campaigns for racial justice, gay rights, housing rights and sex workers’ rights. Behind Wages for Housework lay the idea that women’s oppression was widespread, that it had common features even for women who lived very different lives, and that it was more than just a personal experience – it was a political phenomenon. But because sexism beats so many people down, that also meant that there was a community of women who could pull each other up. Those who experience gendered oppression can band together to end it.

Something similar is at stake in #MeToo’s assertions that sexual harassment and assault are systemic, and that women can unite to demand an end to them. While individualist feminists such as Friedan and Sandberg have examined the problem of sexism by zooming in, to consider women’s psyches and attitudes, Wages for Housework zoomed out, to examine how women were oppressed by the economic forces of capitalism. #MeToo has a less ideological, more ad hoc approach to its analysis of patriarchy. But its gesture proceeds from the assumption that misogyny is structural, and that women have a shared interest in fighting it.

This does not mean that #MeToo treats all women’s experiences as the same. . .

Continue reading.

It’s an intriguing issue: individual initiative is important, but systemic pressures are real and do have real effects. Do the best you can on your own but also work to make the system more just and fair.

Written by Leisureguy

23 October 2018 at 9:18 am

RazoRock shave: Keyhole brush, Zi’ Peppino, and Baby Smooth

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The Keyhole synthetic brush is a little gem: a 22mm Plissoft synthetic knot (I prefer brushes that are 20mm or 22mm—24mm starts to feel big, and 26mm is way too large for me) and a comfortable and distinctive handle—and just $10. The base is marked with the brand, the handle otherwise plain.

I got a velvety lather from Zi’ Peppino, whose fragrance I love. I got the water exactly right (two good shakes of the brush), so no adjustment needed. It’s easy to take my time lathering before the first pass (to allow the lather to do its job) when the lather is perfect and fragrant and the brush feels as good as this one.

Baby Smooth then removed every trace of stubble, living up to its name once again. A splash of Zi’ Peppino, and the day is launched.

Written by Leisureguy

23 October 2018 at 8:16 am

Posted in Shaving

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