November 25, 2015

Spike Lee predicts a sex strike.

"I'd like to say this: What's happening on college campuses today, you know, with what happened at the University of Missouri where the football players got together and said unless the president resigns, they weren't going to play... I think a sex strike could really work on college campuses where there’s an abundance of sexual harassment and date rapes. Second semester it’s going to happen. Once people come back from Christmas, there are going to be sex strikes at universities and colleges across this country, I believe it."

He's promoting his movie "CHI-RAQ" about a sex strike in Chicago. 

It would merge the campus anti-rape movement with the race-related protests that seem to have overshadowed it.

"Here I can really be free. I can practise my religion. I couldn’t do that in Vienna."

"I like to eat. The food here is very similar to Austria even if it’s mainly halal food. You can get ketchup here, Nutella and cornflakes."

From "Teen Islamic State pin-up girl changes her mind, is 'beaten to death.'"

When is it appropriate to appropriate?

"It's time for cultural appropriators to proudly reclaim 'culturally appropriative' as a positive, empowering term. When asked 'Isn't that cultural appropriation?' you should enthusiastically answer: 'Yes! I freely adopt any cultures I choose, and I wouldn't have it any other way!'"

Writes John, bouncing off this WaPo piece by Cathy Young piece, "To the new culture cops, everything is appropriation/Their protests ignore history, chill artistic expression and hurt diversity." Excerpt from Young:
Most critics of appropriation... say they don’t oppose engagement with other cultures if it’s done in a “culturally affirming” way. A Daily Dot article admonishes that “an authentic cultural exchange should feel free and affirming, rather than plagiarizing or thieving.” A recent post on the Tumblr “This Is Not China” declares that “cultural appropriation is not merely the act of wearing or partaking in cultural symbols & practices that do not belong to you, it’s a system of exploitation & capitalisation on cultural symbols & practices that do not a) originate from b) benefit c) circle back to the culture in question.”

It makes sense to permit behaviors that encourage empathy and genuine interest while discouraging those that caricature or mock a sampled-from culture. But such litmus tests leave ample room for hair-splitting and arbitrary judgments. One blogger’s partial defense of “Kimono Wednesdays” suggests that while it was fine to let visitors [at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston] try on the kimonos, allowing them to be photographed while wearing them was a step too far. This fine parsing of what crosses the line from appreciation into appropriation suggests a religion with elaborate purity tests.
I actually think it's fine and good to contemplate these fine distinctions, especially as you develop your own ethics and taste. I'd say that criticizing others for drawing the fine lines in different places is also a matter of ethics and taste. Young asks:
What will be declared “problematic” next? Picasso’s and Matisse’s works inspired by African art? Puccini’s “Orientalist” operas, “Madama Butterfly” and “Turandot”? Should we rid our homes of Japanese prints? Should I take offense at other people’s Russian nesting dolls?
But I think all these things deserve attention, and I think they've all been subject to critique for a long, long time. It's hardly a "what's next?" matter to bring up Picasso's use of African art. The subject of cultural appropriation is not to be brushed aside. It deserves study, reflection, analysis, and interesting, wide-ranging debate and discussion. It's one of the great topics of conversation! Don't, in the interest of freedom, censor it. Some people take it too far and become offensive in their taking of offense, but most good subjects for study and conversation touch off some intemperate speakers who love to attack others. Like, I bet what I just said — which is setting up a good topic — has touched off some of my readers to go after me in an intemperate manner.

ADDED: For reference, here's how The New York Times talked about "those ubiquitous gold-dust twins of high-priced modern art, Picasso and Matisse" and their use of African art back in 1927. Click images to enlarge:

"What would it take to break this cheap little spell and make us wake up and inquire what on earth we are doing when we make the Clinton family drama — yet again—a central part of our own politics?"

Wrote the late Christopher Hitchens in January 2008, quoted in this morning's NYT in a review of a new collection of some of his essays. (The book is "And Yet...") From the review:
It’s a shame Mr. Hitchens isn’t here to comment on Donald Trump’s political moment. He saw in the ideas behind Ross Perot’s candidacy some of what he might have distrusted in Mr. Trump’s, that is the idea that “government should give way to management.”...
Yes, "management" — I was just saying that's Trump's "stock one-word answer to queries about how he'll do something he says he will do." So I dug up the old Hitchens essay. Here. It's in The Wilson Quarterly. The Wilson Quarterly? Egad. Woodrow Wilson. That name is mud this week. And the Hitchens essay is "Bring on the Mud/Mud-slinging in politics is a time-honored American tradition. But is there anything so bad about throwing a few political barbs?" It's not mostly about government as management, and the whole thing is on such a high level that I want to weep for our loss:
When asked, millions of people will say that the two parties are (a) so much alike as to be virtually indistinguishable, and (b) too much occupied in partisan warfare. The two “perceptions” are not necessarily opposed: Party conflict could easily be more and more disagreement about less and less—what Sigmund Freud characterized in another context as “the narcissism of the small difference.” For a while, about a decade ago, the combination of those two large, vague impressions gave rise to the existence of a quasi-plausible third party, led by Ross Perot, which argued, in effect, that politics should be above politics, and that government should give way to management. That illusion, like the touching belief that one party is always better than the other, is compounded of near-equal parts naiveté and cynicism.
By the way, the phrase "his name is mud" goes back to 1823:
1823   ‘J. Bee’ Slang 122   Mud, a stupid twaddling fellow. ‘And his name is mud!’ ejaculated upon the conclusion of a silly oration, or of a leader in the Courier.
But some people like to tie the phrase to Samuel Mudd, the doctor who treated the leg John Wilkes Booth broke. Whether Booth broke the leg when he jumped onto the stage in Ford's Theatre is a separate question and one question too many for this post of many questions.

Did Donald Trump — from his midtown penthouse — watch people jump from the World Trade Center on 9/11?

He says he did:
"Many people jumped and I witnessed it, I watched that. I have a view -- a view in my apartment that was specifically aimed at the World Trade Center," Trump said Monday during a rally in Columbus, Ohio.

"And I watched those people jump and I watched the second plane hit ... I saw the second plane hit the building and I said, 'Wow that's unbelievable,'" Trump continued.
CNN seems dubious:
The Republican presidential contender lives in Trump Tower in midtown Manhattan, more than four miles away from where the World Trade Center towers once stood. Trump has lived in the 5th Avenue tower since before the attacks, according to media reports pre-dating 9/11.

The Trump campaign did not immediately respond to a request for comment asking how Trump witnessed people jumping out of the Twin Towers from more than four miles away.
Dubious... or they just don't want to refer to the possibility I brought up the other day in this post about Trump's statement that he watched people celebrating on rooftops in Jersey City: he has telescopes. If Trump has a beautiful view "specifically aimed" at downtown Manhattan, doesn't he have telescopes (and high-power binoculars) to take in all the many sights you can get from that angle? What percentage of residents of Manhattan high-raise buildings have devices to assist their vision? They may brag about their view from high-floor windows, but it's less likely they'd flaunt the technology for enhancing that view. But I think it's pretty standard.

Here's a NYT article from 1990: "Telescopes for (Sneaky) City Views":
"It all boils down to the voyeurism thing," said Mark Abrams, the manager of Clairmont-Nichols, a Manhattan optical store that has a dozen telescopes on tripods with a straight-shot view across the street. "Sales are pretty good; there's interest out there."...

"It gives you a special kind of vision that you ordinarily wouldn't see," said Michael de Santis, an interior decorator. "It brings the Statue of Liberty in closer, the World Trade Center, the bridges. When you see it that close, it's so much better."
The World Trade Center.
Better yet are camera attachments and specially coated low-light lenses that make the dimmest apartments seem as bright as high noon, but not to the people who live there.... It took Mr. Abrams a few days to figure out why so many residents of one high-rise apartment building on East 58th Street were buying binoculars. It turned out that the tenants in a building nearby were sunbathing on the roof in the nude. "We're not selling morality here," Mr. Abrams said. "We're selling binoculars and telescopes."...

Bob Evans, a salesman at Clairmont-Nichols, said his fourth-floor apartment had an unobstructed view of a woman's apartment on the third floor across the street. "I got one of those SS-80's over there, 66 power," he said, referring to a $697 telescope. "I could read the numbers right off the remote control on her TV. Phenomenal."...
ADDED: Consider the possibility that Donald Trump has his own video, shot with his own equipment on 9/11, and he will eventually reveal it, after his antagonists have committed themselves to accusations of lying and delusion.

November 24, 2015

"How Adele makes middle-aged music cool for young people."

 A Slate article. I haven't read it yet but I think the answer is that "middle-aged music" is just something a lot of people want to be freed to like.

The author, Carl Wilson (not the dead Beach Boy, I presume)  is "concerned the younger generation may be suffering alarmingly low levels of acerbity."
Even teenagers and college students are capable of looking back gauzily on what they’ve recently grown out of or projecting themselves into the future and retroactively romanticizing where they are right now. The young are often the greatest sentimentalists, particularly in times of instability. (Do economic inequality, climate change, and maybe Snapchat help explain their eagerness for Adele, like YA novelist John Green, to make them weep over old, eternal clichés?)
 Enough of that. Here's the late Beach Boy Carl Wilson:

Best song ever. Does age mean anything at all?

"Carl XVI Gustaf, the reigning king of Sweden, said... 'All bathtubs should be banned... Just imagine it!'"

"Sweden’s 'green king' said he had been forced just that morning to take a bath in his showerless hotel room..."
“It took a lot of fresh water and energy,” he said. “It struck me so clearly: It’s not wise that I have to do this. I really felt ashamed then, I really did.”

"Hillary Clinton has agreed to stop using the term 'illegal immigrants.'"

"Yes, I will... That was a poor choice of words... They have names, and hopes and dreams that deserve to be respected," said Hillary Clinton, in an assurance that I'm dumbfounded seeing she had to be pushed to give.

I find it impossible to believe she was ignorant of the objections to the term "illegal immigrants." She had to have been choosing to say it. But why? I assume she wanted to signal some toughness.

"A Portage company will stop providing portable toilets used by the homeless at the [Madison] City-County Building... due to health hazards, behavior problems, and fears for employee safety."

"The Country Plumber notified the city it will stop providing and servicing the toilets when a contract expires on Dec. 31 due to finding massive quantities of hypodermic needles, and users missing the toilet, smearing feces, and leaving condoms and other sex leftovers, a memo from the Parks Division to Mayor Paul Soglin says."

And other sex leftovers...

UPDATE: seems to have flushed the story. The link doesn't work and I can't find the story searching the site. I assure you that I got the quoted material at the link that doesn't work anymore.

"Man kicked out of Camp Randall pranks UW police with 240 coconut doughnuts."

"This was meant as a harmless way to both show general gratitude for the job you do (which is awesome) but slight disdain for my treatment Saturday (which was not so awesome)," said the anonymous man. "Donuts are awesome, but coconut donuts are not so awesome."

"I believe this is a moment that can build bridges of understanding rather than become a barrier of misunderstanding."

Said Rahm Emanuel.

It's "fine to be passionate, but it is essential that it remain peaceful."

"Could dark matter make Earth 'hairy'?"

"Dark matter could form 'hairs' around planets, like Earth, according to NASA. The invisible, mysterious matter – which is thought to make up about 85 percent of all the matter in the universe – forms long “fine-grained streams” of particles.... These hairy filaments could help scientists unlock more insights into the mystery of dark matter. 'If we could pinpoint the location of the root of these hairs, we could potentially send a probe there and get a bonanza of data about dark matter'...."

"An anonymous person or group has started a 'Union of White NYU Students' Facebook page..."

"... these kinds of pages have cropped up at a number of universities that have sought to have a real dialogue about race and inclusion. There is no such organization as this at NYU. We call on all parties to contribute thoughtfully and respectfully to the discourse on race and to reject efforts to derail or distort the conversation."

"A message to the NYU community" at NYU's Facebook page. I just happened to randomly click on the NYU page. Wasn't looking for this.

Here's the "Union of White NYU Students" page. Here's a Gawker article about it: "Who’s Behind the Fake 'Union of White NYU Students'?"  Gawker contacted the anonymous administrator of the page, asking for proof that he was really an NYU student. The administrator responded but didn't break his anonymity, citing death threats and accusations. ("When I chose to do this, I knew that it would not be long before the accusations of KKK, Nazi etc came out. But I hope to use these to make my point. White identity cannot be discussed constructively because of this sort of slander.")

The Daily Beast take is "Racist Trolls Are Behind NYU’s ‘White Student Union’ Hoax."

I liiiiike Laura on "Jeopardy."

I had to go searching for that after reading "The Unfan Club Of #LauraOnJeopardy/Uptalking lawyer Laura Ashby tests the patience of Jeopardy fans with her vocal fry."

She's doing something beyond vocal fry. Or up-talk. She's got her own way of talking. I find it quite wonderful. I bet the haters don't have charming voices or anything interesting to say. And, quite frankly, I think people who get too riled by women's voices should do some soul searching.

"It used to be routine, too, Chief Justice Roberts said, for presidents to appoint prominent public figures to the court."

"In 1941, the year Hughes left the court, Chief Justice Roberts said, 'you had two senators on the court, a representative, three former attorneys general.' The court that decided Brown v. Board of Education, the 1954 decision banning segregation in public schools, included Chief Justice Earl Warren, a former governor of California; Hugo L. Black, a former United States senator; William O. Douglas, who had been chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission; and Robert H. Jackson, who had been the attorney general. By contrast, Chief Justice Roberts said, until Justice Elena Kagan arrived in 2010, “every single member of the court had been a court of appeals judge.' He did not comment Friday on the significance of the narrowing of the career paths, but in 2009 he said the development was a positive one, resulting in decisions with 'a more legal perspective and less of a policy perspective.'"

From respectful coverage, by the NYT's Adam Liptak, of a talk by Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. at NYU School of Law. Roberts's subject was Charles Evans Hughes, who before becoming Chief Justice "had been governor of New York, an associate justice of the court, the Republican nominee for president (losing narrowly to Woodrow Wilson), secretary of state and a Wall Street lawyer who argued more than 50 cases in the court."

Interesting to see the somewhat random appearance of the name Woodrow Wilson. The old president has become a big issue of late. In this very edition of the NYT, Woodrow Wilson comes up in 2 headlines:

Politico: "TV networks hold conference call to discuss Trump treatment."

I thought the networks were colluding on how they were going to treat Trump, but it turns out they've got a problem with how he's treating them:
"The effort in the Trump campaign is to limit any kind of interaction between our reporters and the people attending the Trump events. So we'd like to have some access to folks," [one unnamed] executive said.... In one instance, a CNN reporter was told to return to the media "pen" or have his credentials revoked when he tried to film protesters in the crowd at a Trump event last week. A reporter from NBC News was told to return to the media area on Friday as she tried to interview attendees at a Trump rally before the event began. Campaigns often keep reporters in designated media areas during campaign events. The areas often include risers for cameras and sometimes include desks and reserved chairs for reporters.... But Trump's overall approach to the media — including direct attacks on reporters and specific outlets — has been particularly harsh. His campaign has also denied credentials to outlets such as Univision, Fusion, BuzzFeed and the Des Moines Register, often in retaliation for another piece the outlet (or its editorial board) wrote or broadcast about Trump.
Trump seems to talk a lot about whether he's being treated "fairly." "Campaigns often keep reporters in designated media areas... But Trump's overall approach to the media — including direct attacks on reporters and specific outlets... has been particularly harsh." Well, the media's approach to Trump has been particularly harsh, or so I'm sure it seems to Trump. Another big Trump theme is "management." (It's his stock one-word answer to queries about how he'll do something he says he will do.) Trump is managing the press. Is his approach "particularly harsh" or is this that management we're hearing so much about?

And isn't there an element of truth to my misreading? The network folk are trying to figure out how to treat Trump — how to manage him. It will be hard, because whatever moves they make he will use against them, and attacking the press is one of his prime strategies. He's got things going so that he doesn't need them or they need him more than he needs them. They really did think, early on, that they could bring him down, and they tried again and again. Their game didn't work, and he has some never-before-seen game and they're very confused about how to play it. He, on the other hand, is having great fun. Another big Trump theme is "energy." And this game with the press cranks up the energy for him.

"I have had an intercourse with the world, the special intercourse of writers and readers."

"Above all, I have been a sentient being, a thinking animal, on this beautiful planet, and that in itself has been an enormous privilege and an adventure."

From "4 Oliver Sacks Quotes on Gratitude," which extracts quotes from a new Oliver Sacks book — just right for Thanksgiving — titled "Gratitude."

It contains the quotes of others, such as Samuel Beckett saying "I wouldn’t go as far as that" when somebody said "Doesn’t a day like this make you glad to be alive?"

"There’s been a lot of poorly thought-out stuff written about the differences between men’s and women’s brains and minds."

"In the worst instances, sexist commentators use spurious neuroscience claims to provide 'evidence' for gender stereotypes — take John Gray of Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus fame, who says men can’t multitask because they use one brain hemisphere at a time while women use two (not true), or Louann Brizendine, author of The Female Brain, who says women are more emotional and empathetic than men because they have more mirror neurons (ditto). But if you can get past all of this pseudoscience, there’s some legitimately illuminating, serious medical research on sex-based brain differences — some of which has important health implications.... For example, while both sexes showed reduced total brain volume and thalamus volume with age, only the men showed age-related reductions in caudate nucleus and putamen volume (the putamen is another subcortical area involved in movement control). Furthermore, overall gray matter (including in subcortical areas) in the men’s brains was found to reduce at a faster rate than in women’s brains — which could be taken as a mark of faster brain aging in men."

Isn't it amazing that the evidence or "evidence" — from bad or good science — always ends up showing that when there's a difference between men and women, it's what's true about the woman that is good?

The quote is from "Men’s and Women’s Brains Appear to Age Differently" in New York Magazine.

"US scientists say they have bred a genetically modified (GM) mosquito that can resist malaria infection."

"If the lab technique works in the field, it could offer a new way of stopping the biting insects from spreading malaria to humans, they say. The scientists put a new 'resistance' gene into the mosquito's own DNA, using a gene editing method called Crispr."

BBC reports. And here's a long, interesting New Yorker story with a lot about Crisper:
“I had never heard that word,” Zhang told me recently as we sat in his office, which looks out across the Charles River and Beacon Hill. Zhang has a perfectly round face, its shape accentuated by rectangular wire-rimmed glasses and a bowl cut. 
The New Yorker always tells you — in a few words — what a person looks like, even when it doesn't matter in the slightest.  Zhang is Feng Zhang, "the youngest member of the core faculty at the Broad Institute of Harvard and M.I.T."
“So I went to Google just to see what was there,” he said. Zhang read every paper he could; five years later, he still seemed surprised by what he found. CRISPR, he learned, was a strange cluster of DNA sequences that could recognize invading viruses, deploy a special enzyme to chop them into pieces, and use the viral shards that remained to form a rudimentary immune system. The sequences, identical strings of nucleotides that could be read the same way backward and forward, looked like Morse code, a series of dashes punctuated by an occasional dot. The system had an awkward name—clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats—but a memorable acronym.

CRISPR has two components. The first is essentially a cellular scalpel that cuts DNA. The other consists of RNA, the molecule most often used to transmit biological information throughout the genome. It serves as a guide, leading the scalpel on a search past thousands of genes until it finds and fixes itself to the precise string of nucleotides it needs to cut. It has been clear at least since Louis Pasteur did some of his earliest experiments into the germ theory of disease, in the nineteenth century, that the immune systems of humans and other vertebrates are capable of adapting to new threats. But few scientists had considered the possibility that single bacterial cells could defend themselves in the same way. The day after Zhang heard about CRISPR, he flew to Florida for a genetics conference. Rather than attend the meetings, however, he stayed in his hotel room and kept Googling. “I just sat there reading every paper on CRISPR I could find,” he said. “The more I read, the harder it was to contain my excitement.”

"The Turkish military has reportedly shot down a Russian military aircraft on the border with Syria."

"This is exactly the kind of incident that many have feared since Russia launched its air operations in Syria. The dangers of operating near to the Turkish border have been all too apparent. Turkish planes have already shot down at least one Syrian air force jet and possibly a helicopter as well."