Later On

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

Archive for August 28th, 2022

Maternal Instinct Is a Myth That Men Created

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Chelsea Conaboy, a journalist specializing in health and the author of the forthcoming book Mother Brain: How Neuroscience Is Rewriting the Story of Parenthood, from which an interesting essay (gift link, no paywall) has been adapted for the NY Times:

Around the time that Mimi Niles became a mother, an upstairs neighbor in her New York City apartment building had twins. When the two women ran into each other in the hallway or on the sidewalk, Ms. Niles would ask the neighbor how she was faring.

“Fabulous,” Ms. Niles remembered her saying. “I’m so happy.”

Ms. Niles was dumbfounded. She was not feeling fabulous in new motherhood. She was exhausted and anxious. She slept little and cried a lot. Even as she worked to bond with her daughter through co-sleeping and baby-wearing, she struggled to understand what the baby needed.

But Ms. Niles soon discovered that there was little room for that struggle within the prevailing narrative of motherhood, or even in her conversations with other parents.

All around her swirled near-rapturous descriptions of the joys of new motherhood. They all celebrated the same thing — the woman who is able to instantly intuit and satisfy her baby’s every need, and to do it all on her own.

Ms. Niles, who is now a midwife and researcher, wondered what was going on. Of course, she was aware of the “baby blues” and knew women who suffered from postpartum depression, but what she took issue with was something more fundamental, about how our culture approaches motherhood. Where did the idea that motherhood is hard-wired for women come from? Is there a man behind the curtain?

In a sense, there is a man behind the curtain. Many of them, actually.

The notion that the selflessness and tenderness babies require is uniquely ingrained in the biology of women, ready to go at the flip of a switch, is a relatively modern — and pernicious — one. It was constructed over decades by men selling an image of what a mother should be, diverting our attention from what she actually is and calling it science.

It keeps us from talking about what it really means to become a parent, and it has emboldened policymakers in the United States, generation after generation, to refuse new parents, and especially mothers, the support they need.

New research on the parental brain makes clear that the idea of maternal instinct as something innate, automatic and distinctly female is a myth, one that has stuck despite  . . .

Continue reading. (gift link, no paywall)

Written by Leisureguy

28 August 2022 at 1:57 pm

If you’re a fan of Sidney Lumet’s “Dog Day Afternoon,” here’s an account of the actual event

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Daniel Edward Rosen writes in City Journal:

The memory that sticks out to Jim Murphy from the screwiest bank robbery in New York City’s history is not the slow drive down a dark road at JFK Airport, with a shotgun leveled inches from his head, or the scrum of onlookers hooting and hollering every time hostage-taker John Wojtowicz stood toe-to-toe with negotiators. It’s not the salacious details of Wojtowicz’s backstory—man robs bank to pay for his “wife’s” sex-change operation in attempt to woo him/her back—or the pop of Murphy’s revolver as he shot Sal Naturale during a struggle for control of Naturale’s shotgun. It isn’t the kiss on the cheek from the hostage he had just saved, or the night, a few years later, that he saw Lance Henriksen play a grim-faced caricature of him in Dog Day Afternoon, the Sidney Lumet film based on the 1972 robbery, while seated in a theater packed with an audibly pro–Al Pacino (playing “Sonny Wortzik,” the fictionalized version of Wojtowicz) and anti-Henriksen audience.

What Murphy remembers most is the shot he didn’t take. It’s the feeling of the trigger as he aimed his gun at Wojtowicz, the mastermind of the robbery. At that moment, Murphy had just shot Naturale in his torso. Another FBI agent had just disarmed Wojtowicz of his rifle. But Wojtowicz also had a pistol in his waistband. His hands were slowly moving down toward his waist. Murphy knew that Wojtowicz had the pistol and commanded him to “freeze,” to get his hands back up in the air; his trigger finger maintained the tension between mercy and retribution.

Fifty years later, seated at a diner in Fresh Meadows, Queens, Murphy says that he can still feel that tension, the great control he had at that moment—and when Wojtowicz eventually complied with his orders, the sensation of the trigger’s release. Had Murphy not released it—had the incalculable hours of training he received at the Bureau not kicked in—he could have shot two men that early morning instead of one. Wojtowicz “wasn’t at his gun yet. He was going for it. I could have shot him, and people would have said it was a justifiable shooting. I don’t think that’s the best way to behave. The instinct isn’t to kill somebody. The instinct is to stop the action,” Murphy noted.

“You can’t leave these things in the bad guys’ hands. And I use ‘bad guys’ for lack of a better term. We’re talking about a moment. I don’t think Sal was a bad guy. I don’t think there’s anyone in the world who’s a bad guy, you know? But he put himself in a very bad situation where the opposition can’t make that distinction,” said Murphy.

Both the robbery and Dog Day Afternoon brought Murphy stature and admiration within the Bureau, as he regularly gave talks to starstruck FBI agents about the eternal conflict between the facts of a case and its Hollywood portrayal. Outside the Bureau, he remained relatively anonymous—few people knew of his involvement in the robbery, save for friends and family. In both the film and in published reports about the event, he was known simply as “Murphy.”

Today, Murphy runs his own private investigation firm, which he’s done since he resigned from the Bureau in 1984. He looks the same as he did back then, save for more gray in his close-cropped hair. He still loves the Bureau and everyone he worked with there. He still wears collared shirts, ironed to perfection, still wears an expression that’s congenial yet discerning, still speaks in a gentle Queens accent. He is a man at peace with his life and the good and bad it has brought with it.

Murphy could have stayed at the Bureau and risen in the ranks. His last role was as  . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

28 August 2022 at 1:44 pm

If you’re a fan of King Arthur, have I got an article for you

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The article, by Joshua Hammer and profusely illustrated with photographs by Jooney Woodward, appears in Smithsonian Magazine and begins:

A cold, wind-driven rain soaks through my parka as I walk across a narrow foot-bridge that links the Cornwall mainland in southwest England to a rocky promontory overlooking the Bristol Channel. Far below this cantilevered span, waves crash against the cliffs and swirl inside a grotto known as Merlin’s Cave. Win Scutt, a burly, amiable archaeologist from nearby Plymouth, opens a gate and leads me down a path to the ruins of a medieval castle. Its fragmentary walls mark the lair where Richard, the 13th-century Earl of Cornwall and the brother of King Henry III, is said to have gathered with his followers to feast on mutton and ale and pay homage to a monarch who may never have existed: King Arthur.

The figure of Arthur first appeared in Welsh poetry in the late sixth and early seventh centuries, a hero who was said to lead the Britons in battle against Saxon invaders. But it wasn’t until the 12th century that he was first tied to this dramatic headland, known as Tintagel. In the Welsh cleric Geoffrey of Monmouth’s History of the Kings of Britain, which was written in 1136 and purported to trace Britain’s history back to its supposed founding by Trojan exiles, an almost certainly fictitious sixth-century king named Uther Pendragon sleeps with the beguiling Ygerna, the wife of a local duke, at her castle in Tintagel, after the magician Merlin turns Pendragon into a likeness of her husband. “That night she conceived Arthur, the most famous of men, who subsequently won great renown by his outstanding bravery,” Geoffrey wrote.

Scholars have universally dismissed Geoffrey’s text as a pseudo-history, woven from ancient Welsh folk tales and his febrile imagination. Still, many people at the time believed the story, and Richard, Earl of Cornwall, was so convinced Arthur was real that, in May 1233, he traded three prime estates for this treeless headland, which is separated from the mainland by an isthmus, and built a castle on it. “It had no function,” Scutt says, as he leads me through the stone ruins of the castle’s great hall. “It’s in a remote part of Cornwall that had no use to him. But he wanted to anchor his position in legend and history. He was the Earl of Cornwall—but he was also the successor of Arthur.”

King Arthur has never relinquished his hold on the imagination. Writers in Geoffrey’s wake added their own flourishes—the magical sword Excalibur, the Knights of the Round Table, Arthur’s romantic triangle with Queen Guinevere and Sir Lancelot, and Arthur’s mortal wound at the Battle of Camlann. Arthurian tales of courtly love, magic and martial bravery have been told and retold in countless versions over the centuries, from the earliest eulogistic stanzas in Welsh poetry to T.H. White’s 1958 novel The Once and Future King, from Sir Thomas Malory’s 15th-century Le Morte d’Arthur to the 2021 film The Green Knight, starring Dev Patel as Sir Gawain, a knight at Camelot, the legendary castle where Arthur held court. “There is something in the Arthur legend for everyone,” says Leah Tether, a professor of medieval studies at Bristol University and former president of the British branch of the International Arthurian Society, which regularly brings together scholars and other enthusiasts interested in Arthurian literature. The story of King Arthur, she says, “has got flawed characters with whom we can empathize, quests to achieve impossible goals, and an adaptable story line that fits the sociopolitical landscape of the time.” Raluca Radulescu, a professor of medieval literature at Bangor University in Wales, suggests Arthur’s perennial appeal is also tied to “a standard of moral integrity” that readers find inspirational, one “they cannot find in the world around them, but will discover in the stories of King Arthur.” . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more (plus all the photos).

Written by Leisureguy

28 August 2022 at 1:31 pm

Posted in Books, Daily life, History

Russia is not doing well at all

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As the video points out, it would be foolish to trust Putin’s statements (and statements from the government he controls) regarding how well the Russian economy is doing under the sanctions. Interesting video, worth watching. The official picture is a Potemkin-village view of the Russian economy and GDP. 

Written by Leisureguy

28 August 2022 at 1:02 pm

The Origin of Student Debt: Reagan Adviser Warned Free College Would Create a Dangerous “Educated Proletariat”

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Remember: In many advanced nations, education is tuition-free. That is, education costs, like healthcare costs, are paid from general tax revenue because those countries consider that an educated and healthy citizenry is in the national interest by making the country strong and prosperous. Those countries seek to ensure their citizens’ success, since if citizens are successful, so is the country.

The US, of course, is the land of Rugged Individualism, raised on myths of the Lone Hero — cf. Westerns for the purest form — and the idea of a cooperative community is replaced by a competitive struggle with One Big Winner (and many, many who struggle). A Rugged Individual resists being helped by anyone (that’s the “rugged” part) and also resists helping anyone (since others also are — or should be — Rugged Individuals).

I’m not saying the US approach is wrong, and it certainly has proved to work well for Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk, Bill Gates, Jack Dorsey, and a few thousand more. 

Joe Schwarz reports in the Intercept:

WITH THE vociferous debate over President Joe Biden’s announcement that the federal government will cancel a portion of outstanding student debt, it’s important to understand how Americans came to owe the current cumulative total of more than $1.6 trillion for higher education.

In 1970, Ronald Reagan was running for reelection as governor of California. He had first won in 1966 with confrontational rhetoric toward the University of California public college system and executed confrontational policies when in office. In May 1970, Reagan had shut down all 28 UC and Cal State campuses in the midst of student protests against the Vietnam War and the U.S. bombing of Cambodia. On October 29, less than a week before the election, his education adviser Roger A. Freeman spoke at a press conference to defend him.

Freeman’s remarks were reported the next day in the San Francisco Chronicle under the headline “Professor Sees Peril in Education.” According to the Chronicle article, Freeman said, “We are in danger of producing an educated proletariat. … That’s dynamite! We have to be selective on who we allow [to go to college].”

“If not,” Freeman continued, “we will have a large number of highly trained and unemployed people.” Freeman also said — taking a highly idiosyncratic perspective on the cause of fascism —“that’s what happened in Germany. I saw it happen.”

Freeman was born in 1904 in Vienna, Austria, and emigrated to the United States after the rise of Hitler. An economist who became a longtime fixture in conservative politics, he served on the White House staff during both the Dwight Eisenhower and Richard Nixon administrations. In 1970 he was seconded from the Nixon administration to work on Reagan’s campaign. He was also a senior fellow at Stanford’s conservative Hoover Institution. In one of his books, he asked “can Western Civilization survive” what he believed to be excessive government spending on education, Social Security, etc.

A core theme of Reagan’s first gubernatorial campaign in 1966 was resentment toward California’s public colleges, in particular UC Berkeley, with Reagan repeatedly vowing “to clean up the mess” there. Berkeley, then nearly free to attend for California residents, had become a national center of organizing against the Vietnam War. Deep anxiety about this reached the highest levels of the U.S. government. John McCone, the head of the CIA, requested a meeting with J. Edgar Hoover, head of the FBI, to discuss “communist influence” at Berkeley, a situation that “definitely required some corrective action.”

During the 1966 campaign, Reagan regularly communicated with the FBI about its concerns about Clark Kerr, the president of the entire University of California system. Despite requests from Hoover, Kerr had not cracked down on Berkeley protesters. Within weeks of Reagan taking office, Kerr was fired. A subsequent FBI memo stated that Reagan was “dedicated to the destruction of disruptive elements on California campuses.”

Reagan pushed to cut state funding for California’s public colleges but did not reveal his ideological motivation. Rather, he said, the state simply needed to save money. To cover the funding shortfall, Reagan suggested that California public colleges could charge residents tuition for the first time. This, he complained, “resulted in the almost hysterical charge that this would deny educational opportunities to those of the most moderate means. This is obviously untrue. … We made it plain that tuition must be accompanied by adequate loans to be paid back after graduation.”

The success of Reagan’s attacks on California public colleges inspired conservative politicians across the U.S. Nixon decried “campus revolt.” Spiro Agnew, his vice president, proclaimed that thanks to open admissions policies, “unqualified students are being swept into college on the wave of the new socialism.”

Prominent conservative intellectuals also took up the charge. Privately one worried that free education “may be producing a positively dangerous class situation” by raising the expectations of working-class students. Another referred to college students as “a parasite feeding on the rest of society” who exhibited a “failure to understand and to appreciate the crucial role played [by] the reward-punishment structure of the market.” The answer was “to close off the parasitic option.”

In practice, this meant to the National Review, a “system of full tuition charges supplemented by loans which students must pay out of their future income.”

In retrospect, this period was the clear turning point in America’s policies toward higher education. For decades, there had been enthusiastic bipartisan agreement that states should fund high-quality public colleges so that their youth could receive higher education for free or nearly so. That has now vanished. In 1968, California residents paid a $300 yearly fee to attend Berkeley, the equivalent of about $2,000 now. Now tuition at Berkeley is $15,000, with total yearly student costs reaching almost $40,000.

Student debt, which had played a minor role in American life through the 1960s, increased during the Reagan administration and then shot up after the 2007-2009 Great Recession as states made huge cuts to funding for their college systems. 

That brings us to today. Biden’s actions, while positive, are merely a Band-Aid on a crisis 50 years in the making. In 1822, founding father James Madison wrote to a friend that “ . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

28 August 2022 at 12:34 pm

Reminding myself of the depths of my ignorance

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Just as adults generally tend to spend their time using skills they’ve already mastered (and thus gradually forgetting the awkwardness of learning a new skill and in time forgetting how to learn a new skill), adults also tend to focus on things they know and understand and avert their gaze from the vast jungles of ignorance all around them. This leads to the sublime confidence people often display when discussing things about which they know almost nothing (the Dunning-Kruger effect).

Venturing into some area of ignorance and spending a little time looking around helps one grasp how very much they do not know — and in considering that there are a great many such areas, each a familiar and well-known place for those with knowledge and experience in that area (though of course they, too, will have many, many areas in which they are the bumbling ignoramus instead of the practiced expert).

I enjoyed this brief video because it shows just how much some people know about something of which I am very ignorant. I suppose this falls under the category “Humility Lessons.”

Written by Leisureguy

28 August 2022 at 11:22 am

Bertrand Russell: How people are treated

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Bertrand Russell in “Has Religion Made Useful Contributions to Civilization?”(1930):

No man treats a motorcar as foolishly as he treats another human being. When the car will not go, he does not attribute its annoying behavior to sin; he does not say, ‘You are a wicked motorcar, and I shall not give you any more petrol until you go.’ He attempts to find out what is wrong and to set it right. An analogous way of treating human beings is, however, considered to be contrary to the truths of our holy religion.

For that matter, treating humans humanely also seems to be contrary to the religion of capitalism, which seeks to exploit and underpay those who actually produce the wealth the capitalist enjoys — for example, how UPS treats its drivers and how Amazon treats its warehouse workers.

Written by Leisureguy

28 August 2022 at 8:26 am

Taking a stand against anti-American authoritarianism

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Heather Cox Richardson has a good post that begins:

In a speech Thursday night, President Joe Biden called out today’s MAGA Republicans for threatening “our personal rights and economic security…. They’re a threat to our very democracy.” When he referred to them as “semi-fascists,” he drew headlines, some of them disapproving.

A spokesperson for the Republican National Committee called the comment “despicable,” although Republicans have called Democrats “socialists” now for so long it passes as normal discourse. Just this week, Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) called Democrats “radical left-wing lunatics, laptop liberals, and Marxist misfits.”

Biden’s calling out of today’s radical Republicans mirrors the moment on June 21, 1856, when Representative Anson Burlingame of Massachusetts, a member of the newly formed Republican Party, stood up in Congress to announce that northerners were willing to take to the battlefield to defend their way of life against the southerners who were trying to destroy it. Less than a month before, Burlingame’s Massachusetts colleague Senator Charles Sumner had been brutally beaten by a southern representative for disparaging slavery, and Burlingame was sick and tired of buying sectional peace by letting southerners abuse the North. Enough, he said, was enough. The North was superior to the South in its morality, loyalty to the government, fidelity to the Constitution, and economy, and northerners were willing to defend their system, if necessary, with guns.

Burlingame’s “Defense of Massachusetts” speech marked the first time a prominent northerner had offered to fight to defend the northern way of life. Previously, southerners had been the ones threatening war and demanding concessions from the North to preserve the peace. He was willing to accept a battle, Burlingame explained, because what was at stake was the future of the nation. His speech invited a challenge to a duel.

Southerners championed their region as the one that had correctly developed the society envisioned by the Founders. In the South, a few very wealthy men controlled government and society, enslaving their neighbors. This system, its apologists asserted, was the highest form of human civilization. They opposed any attempt to restrict its spread. The South was superior to the North, enslavers insisted; it alone was patriotic, honored the Constitution, and understood economic growth. In the interests of union, northerners repeatedly ceded ground to enslavers and left their claim to superiority unchallenged.

At long last, the attack on Sumner inspired Burlingame to speak up for the North. The southern system was not superior, he thundered; it had dragged the nation backward. Slavery kept workers ignorant and godless while the northern system of freedom lifted workers up with schools and churches. Slavery feared innovation; freedom encouraged workers to try new ideas. Slavery kept the South mired in the past; freedom welcomed the modern world and pushed Americans into a new, thriving economy. And finally, when Sumner had spoken up against the tyranny of slavery, a southerner had clubbed him almost to death on the floor of the Senate.

Was ignorance, economic stagnation, and violence the true American system?

For his part, Burlingame preferred to throw his lot with education, morality, economic growth, and respect for government.

Burlingame had deliberately provoked the lawmaker who had beaten Sumner, Preston Brooks of South Carolina, and unable to resist any provocation, Brooks had challenged Burlingame to a duel. Brooks assumed all Yankees were cowards and figured that Burlingame would decline in embarrassment. But instead, Burlingame accepted with enthusiasm, choosing rifles as the dueling weapons. Burlingame, it turned out, was an expert marksman.

Burlingame also chose to duel in Canada, giving Brooks the opportunity to

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

28 August 2022 at 3:41 am

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