There is no escape

Posted by Sappho on July 20th, 2014 filed in Daily Life


I was hiking up a trail today, following Joel, when a couple of mountain bikes came down the trail toward me. I stepped aside, waited for them to pass, and resumed my hike. As I turned the corner, I heard the ring of a cell phone, and the shout of one mountain biker to another: “I need to answer my phone.”

“Why?” replied the other.

The question went unheeded. The phone was answered.

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“They’re trying to drag Russia into world war three. Fuck them.”

Posted by Sappho on July 20th, 2014 filed in News and Commentary


Missed getting this one into yesterday’s round up on MH17, the Malaysian plan shot down over Ukraine: MH17 and its aftermath: ‘ordinary Russians are horrified and frightened’ Natalia Antonova, a Ukrainian-American journalist married to a Russian and living in Moscow, describes the reactions of ordinary Russians as a mix of fear, confusion, disdain for the rebels, wild conspiracy theories, and some support for Putin.

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Ukraine and Gaza: a round up of coverage

Posted by Sappho on July 19th, 2014 filed in News and Commentary


I’ve been stuck inside most of today, due to a combination of needing to take it easy after giving plasma and the fact that we’ve been trying to avoid coming and going while they paint our condo. So I took the opportunity to check papers from different countries on the events of this week.

Who’s leading with the latest on Malaysian Airlines flight MH17, shot down over the Ukraine earlier this week: Nearly everyone.

Australian papers have been reporting profiles of the dead as names were released: the two retired teachers, the nun, the grandfather taking his three grandchildren on the trip of a lifetime. Now the New York Times has a full list of the dead, along with profiles of some of the victims.

Earlier reports said that as many as 108 AIDS researchers and activists headed for a conference in Australia had been among the 298 on the flight, but that particular part of the death toll may be lower, as the latest statement posted on AIDS 2014 reports six delegates confirmed among the dead. These include Joep Lange, former president of the International AIDS Society, AIDS researcher for decades, and early outspoken proponent of triple antiretroviral therapy.

Der Spiegel reports on the Moscow connections of the Russian separatists who shot down MH17. The Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung reports that the separatists have returned dozens of corpses from the crash.

The Greek paper Eleftherotypia reports on Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s statement that Putin has a last chance to show that he’s willing to help, by exerting his influence on the rebels to get them to allow full access to the crash site. Ezra Klein’s Vox reports reasons for Rutte’s frustration, as “the untrained rebels are carting away evidence and refusing entry to actual investigators.”

The Pakistani paper Dawn sees the two disasters this year to Malaysian Airlines flight as harming Malaysia’s national pride. Meanwhile, India Times tracks the impact of the crash on flyers and aviation, as flight times increase to avoid Ukrainian airspace, air insurance rates go up, and airlines reevaluate safety margins in air space near other conflict zones.

Global Voices has several posts of coverage of the MH17 disaster, from the renewed grief of Chinese families still waiting for answers on MH370 to Russian state TV attempts to edit Wikipedia coverage of the event.

Mark Galeotti, at Foreign Policy, sees the downing of MH17 as the beginning of the end for the rebels.

But Shaun Walker, at the Guardian, thinks that Putin is not yet ready to abandon the rebels.

… Much will depend on what exactly can be ascertained by any investigation. At the moment, plenty of circumstantial evidence points to MH17 being downed by the rebels, possibly using a weapon provided by Russia. But if a “smoking gun” is not found – and with every hour that the crash site is contaminated and not handed over to proper investigators, the chances of a thorough investigation seem to diminish – the Russians may be able to mount a plausible deniability defence.

This, after all, has been a conflict where plausible deniability has been stretched beyond belief….

Cheryl at Nuclear Diner has a good round up of links of analysis by people with background on Ukraine, Russia, airline flights, etc.

Who’s leading with the latest on Israel’s troops in Gaza: Israeli and Turkish papers. Also Le Monde, which leads with a report that a big demonstration in Paris protesting Israel’s actions in Gaza went ahead despite an effort to ban it as posing a risk of public unrest.

The Jerusalem Post live blogs Israel’s Operation Protective Edge: thirteen tunnels discovered by Israeli troops, air raid sirens in the Ashkelon and Beersheba areas, Gaza-based militants have used up about half their rockets, two IDF soldiers dead.

So does Haaretz: 22 tunnels unearthed, dueling attempts by Israeli and Palestinian UN envoys, diplomatic maneuvering around an Egyptian ceasefire proposal, and a travel warning for Israelis to avoid travel to Turkey.

You may remember that Israeli-Turkish relations, once friendly, soured four years ago in the wake of the Gaza flotilla raid. As recently as two months ago, there was speculation that Israel and Turkey might mend relations as they found a common enemy in the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.

It doesn’t look, now, as if that mending of fences is happening any time soon.

The Daily Sabah, a Turkish paper friendly to Turkey’s ruling AKP party, reports that Turkish government officials are united in their condemnation of Israeli aggression, and that Erdogan condemns Egypt’s ceasefire proposal as overly friendly to Israel.

The Hurriyet Daily News, a Turkish paper that leans more toward Turkey’s secular opposition party CHP, reports that all three Turkish presidential candidates have come out against Israel’s actions.

The Ottomans and Zionists blog judges Israeli-Turkish rapprochement dead, and reports on why a Gaza ceasefire is so difficult: no good brokers for a truce, fractured Hamas leadership, pressure on Bibi from his right flank, and

the balancing act that Israel is trying to play with the eventual outcome regarding Hamas itself. Israel’s goals are delicately balanced between weakening Hamas and taking out its capabilities to launch long-range missiles at Israeli cities while still keeping Hamas alive and viable to the point of it maintaining its rule over Gaza.

Daniel Levy at Al Jazeera sees Israel’s goals as

another round of what is known in the Israeli security establishment as “mowing of the lawn” — a periodic degrading of Hamas’ military capacity. Netanyahu’s other strategic goal is to disrupt the fledgling effort at Palestinian reconciliation between the key rival national organizations, Fatah and Hamas.

An article in the Economist reports that Hamas wants two concessions that it probably won’t get.

Among its key demands were a lifting of the siege of Gaza and the release of prisoners. Gaza’s seaport and airport would be reopened and monitored by the UN.

Juan Cole suggests that

The Israeli security establishment was almost certainly encouraged to launch its military assault on little Gaza by the current divisions over political Islam in the Middle East.

… The overthrow of the Muslim Brotherhood government in Egypt last summer has positioned the Egyptian government as almost as big an enemy of Hamas as Israel itself….

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Revolution in France

Posted by Sappho on July 19th, 2014 filed in Music


It being the week of Bastille Day, I’ve been listening a lot to Revolution in France, a video on the historyteachers Youtube channel, set to Lady Gaga’s “Bad Romance.” It makes a nice companion to another history song set to “Bad Romance,” “Women’s Suffrage.”

Now, I know the history in the “Revolution in France” song, and so, probably, do you, but somehow, hearing it all in a song and seeing the video brings home to me why Burke might sympathize with the American rebels (if not entirely to the point of supporting our revolution), and be appalled by the French Revolution. Because, though the two revolutions shared some of the same 18th century Age of Reason ideas, and both broke ties with monarchy, in other ways, the French Revolution makes ours look downright conservative by comparison.

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Books and movies: On 19th century anti-semitism, redshirts, the success of Cro Magnon, death, memory, and horny teenage girls

Posted by Sappho on July 15th, 2014 filed in Books, Movies


I mentioned that my trip home from Maine was a bit hairy due to storms, and involved one flight being cancelled and replaced with one two days later, and a case of being rerouted after I missed my connecting flight. So it was a good thing that I brought not one, but three airplane reading books, on my Kindle. Here are my summaries of those books, and the last couple of movies Joel and I watched on Netflix.

Daniel Deronda: “Is it tragic?” Mom asked me; she’s under the impression (perhaps inspired by The Mill on the Floss) that George Eliot novels can be expected to be terribly tragic. But Eliot has at least one other mode besides tragic: putting a character through hell as the plot works its way toward teaching that character a moral lesson. In this case, the character who needs reform, and gets to go through hell, is young, spoiled, heedless, self-centered Gwendolyn, who, under the pressure of financial disaster, marries for money, breaking a promise to the baby mama of her new husband, not to supplant her claims. She gets, for her carelessness, a boatload of guilt, and a husband far less biddable than she thought, but since the great disaster of the novel is the accidental death of this particularly unpleasant husband, leaving a will that salves Gwendolyn’s conscience by handing most of the estate to the baby mama’s son, I can’t call the conclusion tragic. Meanwhile, Daniel Deronda, the title character and other protagonist, meets the entirely untragic fate of learning that he was born Jewish.
Read the rest of this entry »

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Paranoia Sweepstakes

Posted by WiredSisters on July 14th, 2014 filed in Dreams, Fiction, Guest Blogger, News and Commentary, Whimsies


A couple of weeks ago, I issued a challenge here for the best conspiracy theory, offering a gift card to a local spy store as a prize. A dear friend of mine who likes to nail things down asked for the Official Rules of this contest, so here they are:

Official Rules:

1. Entries can be transmitted as comments/replies here (http://notfrisco2.com/leones/).
2. Nobody is barred from participating. In fact, we’d love to have entries from people employed by the NSA, CIA, Public Radio, or Blackwater. Please feel free to pass this on to anybody you know who seems really good at conspiracy theories.
3. We’re okay with pseudonyms, but we will need your real name if you win, so we can send you your prize.
4. Neatness doesn’t count, but legibility does, and originality counts big time.
5. Maximum length: three paragraphs or thereabouts.
6. To be a proper conspiracy theory, one end of it must be an observed or documented phenomenon, which must either be caused by or result in some outrageous imagined conspiracy. Give examples of the observed phenomenon. Examples I have used on this site: [Observed means to imagined end--"what could this be used for?"] observed phenomenon=putting computer identification chips in domesticated animals. Conspiracy theory=this is a means to spy on the pet’s person.  The conspiracy can also be an imagined means to an observed end ["how did we get here?"], for example:  hiring out-of-work actors to hang around looking desperate, poor, and homeless to scare working people out of quitting their lousy jobs–observed phenomenon–panhandlers on the street.
7. Enter as often as you like.
8. Deadline is Labor Day, which is shortly before I leave on a long train trip, so I figure I can read and judge the entries then.

Have a good summer.

Red Emma

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What I did on my summer vacation

Posted by Sappho on July 9th, 2014 filed in Daily Life


You may have noticed that I’ve left the posting to Wired Sisters for a bit (and left one comment dangling in moderation for two days, sorry about that). Part of that is that I got busy with other things for a few days even after I got back from my trip. But part of it is that I went on a trip.

This year, Mom turned 80. Actually, she turned 80 a few months ago, but we scheduled her birthday for when everyone could make it. Because one of my brothers is in the Foreign Service in Senegal, this meant scheduling it for the end of June. We rented a lodge and a cabin at Moosehead Lake, where all seven of Mom’s children, Mom, some but not all spouses of Mom’s children, and eleven of Mom’s fourteen grandchildren all assembled.

The lodge: Moosehead Lake’s one flaw is that it’s isolated and it takes a long drive to get there (after, for some of us, a long flight to be in Maine in the first place. But that one flaw also allows its big advantages. For rates better than what my sister who planned the event could find anywhere else, we got a lodge with nice bedrooms, a large living room and kitchen where we could cook, in a beautiful setting. We also got to rent a couple of kayaks and a canoe for a day. The lodge had some books, which we didn’t make too much use of because everyone had brought either Kindles or hard copy books, some games, and some jigsaw puzzles. And we spent a lot of time outside.

There we had my mother’s birthday party, where one sister baked a cake, and made a dessert with chocolate wafers and whipped cream, and one sister-in-law supplied a beautiful Senegalese tablecloth. I went out in the kayak. Deer and geese wandered near our lodge. TV could not be avoided, because it was, after all, the World Cup, but stayed confined to one room so that people could sort themselves easily into soccer fans and not.

After the couple of days at the lodge, some people returned home, while others proceeded to my mother’s house, which is in a small town on the coast not far from Bar Harbor. I was, at this point, supposed to leave the next day, as was my older brother. So he drove me to the airport in the morning (his flight being early and mine in the evening). I waited all day in the airport, with not much to eat because a flight of troops came through and cleaned out all the cheap lunch offerings on sale, and then, in the evening, discovered that my flight was cancelled due to a storm in Chicago. So one sister picked me up and brought me back to the house, till my new flight could leave two days later. This disappointed my husband and was inconvenient for my boss, but thrilled one niece, who ran to hug me saying, “You came back!” I had further adventures on the next flight out, involving a late flight missing a connection in Chicago, but did make it home that time. And at least I had brought plenty of Kindle reading material, three books in all (about which books I’ll blog later).

In the couple of days that we were at the lodge and the further days at my mother’s house, I got to talk with all the siblings that I hadn’t seen in various long intervals (because, when you have that many brothers and sisters and everyone has scattered to the winds, it’s hard to see everyone). We finished one jigsaw puzzle and made progress on another at the lodge. I kayaked at the lodge and rowed off my mother’s beach.

I also got to see nephews and nieces I normally only learn about (some directly and some indirectly) on Facebook. I got to see the video of one nephews back flip and see his front flip in person, play the game of Monopoly with an ever changing set of players as nieces and nephews entered and exited the game and played with wildly differing strategies (one nephew wanted to own Boardwalk and Park Place and build houses and hotels, while another wanted to own every $1 bill in the game), watch nieces perform surgery on a dead worm with an elaborate accompanying story about the worm being pregnant and arriving in the hospital, participate in a discussion about whether to take in or return to its place a baby bird that had been found in the road, go out in a rowboat with one nephew inside and another swimming while hanging on the rear, admire photos of another nephew’s girl friend, learn about a niece’s Instagram account, and demonstrate for a niece how I can write my name with my feet (she rose to the challenge and proved able to do the same, as my mother cannot).

Now I’m back home, and will have blog posts about books and things sometime within the next few days. To Wired Sisters, I may not have commented on your posts while I was gone, but I did read and appreciate them, from my tablet.

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The Euphemism Crisis

Posted by WiredSisters on July 1st, 2014 filed in College Life, Economics, Health and Medicine, Law, Moral Philosophy, Race, Torture, Uncategorized


On my way from court to my office this morning, I walked past the Metropolitan Correctional Center. It’s a federal jail. Oddly, I can’t recall having any clients incarcerated there, but I did have a couple of clients who worked there. Very interesting ladies, both. Regrettably, they and I never got around to talking about the name of their workplace. “Correctional Center.” I was being really precise when I called it a jail, rather than a prison. Jails are mostly for holding people who are awaiting trial and whom the government does not consider bailable. Federal jails, these days, also hold people awaiting immigration proceedings of various sorts, and a few people serving short sentences for federal misdemeanors. The official name of this particular jail bothers me because none of the above-listed people have been officially determined to be in need of “correction. “ Mostly, they just need to be kept on ice until the government decides what to do with them long-term.

Cook County, Illinois, has its own “Department of Corrections,” which is also a jail, primarily for the purpose of pretrial detention and incarceration of people convicted of misdemeanors and given short (less than a year) sentences. What’s to correct for them?

Then there’s the joint popularly known as St Charles. Officially, it’s a juvenile detention facility. “Detention” is an interesting word, too. To detain someone is to temporarily limit his or her mobility. The animal rights activist who wants to talk to me about adopting a shelter pet may detain me for a few minutes. A bad traffic jam may detain me for a couple of hours. We “detain” undocumented immigrants and criminous juveniles for months or even years. They probably don’t see it in the same light as a talkative cat-lover or a traffic jam.

Before St. Charles was a juvenile detention facility, it was a “reformatory.” Before that, it may have been a “reform school” (haven’t done the research on that yet.) And perhaps, in the beginning, its founders and administrators may actually have hoped to do some reforming. Maybe some of them still do. But the kids “detained” there almost certainly don’t see it that way.

Before there were reformatories and detention centers and correctional institutions, there were penitentiaries. They were (sorry, Lynn) a Quaker invention. The original version (the “Auburn system”) was based on really good religious intentions and utter psychological ignorance. If voluntarily-experienced silence and isolation can cleanse the soul and strengthen the morality of a Quaker, they reasoned, why can’t an involuntary version do the same for criminals? They didn’t know then, and in fact, we are only recently finding out, the pernicious effects of involuntary long-term isolation on mental health. What they were trying to do was bring the inmate to a repentant state of mind. What they got, in all too many cases, was insanity.

The Auburn system was discontinued in the late 18th century, partly because of the mental health problems it created. Solitary confinement for extended periods has more recently reappeared, especially in federal prisons, usually as a punishment for infractions of prison rules (often really trivial ones, such as possession of “contraband”—which can be as inconsequential as a extra pair of socks.) Which has in turn generated a more careful psychological study of its results. The “insanity” that often resulted in the Auburn system has now been more carefully analyzed. See, for instance http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2014/06/how-solitary-confinement-hurts-the-teenage-brain/373002/

It has become clear that “detention facilities” do a lot more than detain, while reformatories do not reform, correctional centers do not correct, and penitentiaries rarely create repentance. On top of that, as we are becoming increasingly aware, the overuse of incarceration and the racial and economic imbalance of the prison population are leading to economic and social problems for the society outside prisons (see, for instance, Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow)

Lots of smart well-intentioned people are working on solutions. Logically, the minimum requirement of any institution expected to reform, correct, or induce repentance ought to be that people come out no worse than they went in. The current system fails this test dismally. Many of the suggested alternatives merely set up different ways to sentence criminals, something other than locking them up. But, as a homeless man once remarked to my husband, everybody’s got to be somewhere. These alternatives come in two varieties: the ones that put people back in the communities where they got into trouble in the first place, thereby imposing a serious burden on those communities, given our current patterns of residential segregation. A few communities are likely to produce far more than their fair share of antisocial lawbreakers, and should not be burdened with the responsibility for all of them. Or, alternatively, as the reformers of the early 20th century often proposed, lawbreakers should be moved far away from those communities, perhaps to less densely populated areas where clean air, lush vegetation, gentle wild creatures and god’s open space can heal their troubled souls (Cue the Bambi soundtrack okay, I’m getting carried away here, sorry. That really was what a lot of reformers back then thought. Now we know that the main difference between poor rural areas and poor urban areas is the difference between meth and heroin. And of course, land in any non-poor area is too expensive for the taxpayer to be willing to pay for. Also, sending lawbreakers to places far from their original homes means their families can’t visit them very often, which is hard on both the prisoners and their families. The families, after all, have committed no crime, but if they can’t see their fathers, mothers, sisters, and brothers more than once or twice a year, they’re being punished too.)

So here’s an immodest proposal, which we are almost technologically able to implement and which we maybe should be working on: the deep freeze. Cryogenics. Not (as is more often discussed) for rich people with terminal and currently incurable diseases, to be thawed out when we find cures, but for lawbreakers. Most of whom do their major criminal activities between the ages of 16 and 35 or thereabouts. More recent research into the adolescent and just-post-adolescent brain tells us that this is related to the slower development of the parts of the brain governing “executive functions,” impulse control, and anticipation of consequences. It has been a commonplace among criminologists for decades that many criminals “age out” of the criminal life. This brain research probably explains a lot of this phenomenon.

Locking up large numbers of adolescents and just-post-adolescents in one place, even without the selection mechanisms of the criminal law system, is a recipe for rowdiness at best and violence at worst (Animal House, anyone? Rape culture on college campuses? You get the idea.) Dunno about you, gentle reader, but I avoided trouble in college mostly by sheer good luck, some of which consisted of being on an Ivy League campus. The only way to keep troublesome youth off the streets without encouraging them to assault each other is the deep freeze. Assuming (the research hasn’t really looked into this, but it seems reasonable) that normal aging and brain development will continue to occur even at very low temperatures, criminal youth put into cold storage may actually thaw out with fewer violent and criminal tendencies than they went in with, having “aged out” where they couldn’t hurt anybody. Or, at the very least, they will come out no worse than they went in, which is a lot better than the current system can claim.

I am suggesting this, not altogether facetiously, partly because we are running out of money and space to incarcerate people under the current system. Most of the expense and overcrowding is caused by the “frequent flyers.” If one trip through the system would do the job, the system could be reduced by at least 70 or 80%. We are becoming aware that we just can’t keep going at the present rate. But the one thing we are running out of that we haven’t started worrying about yet is

Euphemisms.

What are we going to call the next generation of lockups? If we can’t call them something like Cryogenic Correctional Centers, there really isn’t much more vocabulary left. We could, I suppose, just name the next generation of joints after some person or place prominently connected with incarceration, as the Brits did with Borstal. How about Gitmo?

Red Emma

 

 

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The Right Side of History

Posted by WiredSisters on June 30th, 2014 filed in Dreams, Feminism, History, Moral Philosophy, Race


In the admittedly rarefied realms where I read political opinion, a lot of people seem to worry about “being on the wrong side of history.” We need to rethink this meme ASAP. Except for orthodox Marxists, I suppose. Orthodox Marxists believe history is on their side, and therefore cannot be blamed for wanting to be on its side. The rest of us, not so much.

Whose side, after all, is history on, and when can you tell? There was certainly a time, in the 1930s and early 1940s, when history seemed unquestionably on the side of fascism. (I’ve been watching the History Channel’s biography of Mussolini, which gives a really clear view of that era.) For that matter, history has at various times appeared to be on the side of the Roman Empire, the Byzantine Empire, the Ottoman Empire, the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and the “Evil Empire”, none of which are around today. I am not literate enough to know which side history was on in Asia during the same eras, but I do know that there were empires in the Western Hemisphere on whose side history appeared to be for a while. Not to mention the umpteen dynasties in ancient Egypt. You get the idea.

Today’s thinkers who talk about the “wrong side of history” are mostly talking about racism, sexism, and homophobia. It is getting easier to believe that those pernicious ideologies are on the “wrong side” of history, if by the “wrong” side, we mean the losing side. It helps if we don’t actually know much about history. The liberation of African-American slaves from both slavery and discrimination appeared to be the winning side during Reconstruction, remember? Now Reconstruction is a mere footnote. Various people within the last thirty or forty years have, for instance, been elected “the first African-American senator/ congressional representative/ governor from ________ since Reconstruction…” If Reconstruction had in fact been the tide of 19th-century history, such appellations would today be nonsense rather than footnotes.

Feminism appeared to be the right side of history in the 1920s and 1930s. That was partly, of course, because we were looking at “history” only in the Western industrialized world. But mostly it was because it took us a while to discover that the right to vote was not the ultimate goal of feminism. And, for that matter, I can remember a time when passage of the Equal Rights Amendment looked like a slam dunk. Forty years later, it is still a mirage.

In Middle Europe in the first quarter of the twentieth century, Jewish culture and community looked like the tide of history, the born leaders of the intellectual and financial world. Yeah, right.

As a religious Jew, I am required to believe that history, in the perhaps very long run, is on the side of the Holy Blessed One. But, as Keynes pointed out long ago, in the long run we are all dead. In the shorter run in which we live our brief narrow lives, history is morally neutral at best. At worst, it is the enemy. It has certainly been the enemy of most ethnic minorities—or have you lunched with a Lydian, or supped with a Scythian, lately? The Kurds may actually pull off a state of their own. But betting on them hardly constitutes being on the right side of history.

If we oppose racism, sexism and homophobia only because they are going to win, what does that make us other than opportunists with a long view? Getting back to Judaism, while we believe in the coming of the Messiah, we also believe he “may tarry.” Quite a while, perhaps. In the meantime, we are not supposed to worry that much about being on the right side of history—we just want to be on the right side. Period.

CynThesis

 

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…And You Are There…

Posted by WiredSisters on June 25th, 2014 filed in Daily Life, History, Iraq War, Law, Marriage, Moral Philosophy, Peace Testimony, Sexuality


“One of those days that alter and illuminate our times…” or does anybody remember that really neat radio (and then tv) show called “You Are There”? Well, today a couple of mildly memorable things happened. One of them involved Vladimir Putin, everybody’s favorite thug, who asked Russia’s upper house of legislators to revoke the right it had granted him to order military intervention in Ukraine to defend Russian-speakers there. Let’s unravel that. Imagine that President Bush were still in the White House, and then imagine that he had asked Congress to revoke the authority it gave him under the War Powers Act to intervene in Iraq to defend whatever he thought he was defending in 2003, because whatever he wanting to accomplish had in fact been accomplished. He didn’t, of course, because he wasn’t president any more. But, we are told, elections have consequences. President Obama was in fact elected, at least in part, because of his opposition to the Iraq War. But he never got around to asking Congress to revoke the authority it gave his predecessor to send soldiers to Iraq.

The War Powers Act was passed in 1973 over President Nixon’s veto, and various presidents have reported to Congress under that act, including requests for authorization, 130 times between then and 2011, which is the most recent date from which I could find information. So far as I can tell, no president has ever asked Congress to revoke any authorizations issued under the Act, although several such authorizations have been allowed to expire under their own terms. President Obama has made no request for authorization of his most recent assignment of 300 troops to safeguard the US Embassy in Baghdad in response to the current unpleasantness there. And, so far as I can tell, even though he withdrew all US troops from Iraq in December, 2011, in compliance with a Congressional resolution, neither he nor Congress invoked the War Powers Act or revoked any authorization issued under that Act. In short, Putin, whom we are all accustomed to considering a lawless thug, has actually shown more respect for law than any American president in the last 45 years.

So is anybody at all concerned about this? Well, no. What conduct of the president does concern the guardians of our freedom, the media? Most notably, at least in Topeka KS, comment arose because (though I have been unable to find out whether the presidential conduct in question actually happened there, or merely took place somewhere else but aroused public notice in Kansas) the President of the United States grabbed his wife’s posterior as she preceded him up a staircase someplace. (See Topekanews.com for more details.) Got that? In the first place, when somebody is preceding you ascending a staircase, at least somebody with whom you are on close terms, you may want to assist her by putting a hand on her waist, and may perhaps miscalculate and put that supporting hand a little lower. And in the second place, if the worst thing anybody can think of to say about somebody’s public conduct is that he touched (or grabbed, or whatever) his own wife’s backside, either the reporter or the president needs to get a life.

Enough for today, I guess.

Red Emma

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The Enemy of My Enemy is My Friend

Posted by Sappho on June 24th, 2014 filed in News and Commentary


You may have noticed, if you’ve been following events in the Middle East, that in late May Turkey offered a lifeline to Iraq’s Kurdish region by allowing them to export oil through Turkey. Turkey, in the past, has been wary of the independence aspirations of the Kurdish region in Iraq, given Turkey’s own troubled history with Kurdish insurgents. But now, with tensions between Turkey and ISIS on the rise, rapprochement with Iraq’s Kurds begins to look appealing. Here’s a round up of discussion of this new development.

In the New York Times, Mustafa Akyol applauds the move, in “Turkey’s Best Ally: The Kurds.” He also discusses the strengths and weaknesses of the Erdogan-Davutoglu foreign policy.

Michael Koplow, bloggings at Ottomans and Zionists, thinks it’s Time For Turkey To Support An Independent Iraqi Kurdistan.

Sabah reports on Turkey’s new revenue from the Kurdish Regional Government’s oil. (Meanwhile, another recent article reports on protesting mothers getting the PKK to release a child recruit, so rapprochement with Iraqi Kurds doesn’t mean Turkey’s internal PKK problem is resolved.)

Back in January, Keith Johnson in Foreign Policy reported on the Iraqi Oil Minister’s threats should Turkey help Iraqi Kurdistan export oil. Iraq did follow through with those threats by taking legal action against Turkey in May, but has not managed to stop the pipeline.

Here’s Hurriyet Daily News on the first tranche of Iraqi Kurd oil revenue for Turkey, and here’s an earlier Hurriyet Daily News article on the 50 year energy accord that Turkey signed with the Kurdish Regional Government.

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You tell me that it’s evolution. Well, you know.

Posted by Sappho on June 18th, 2014 filed in Science


Women like pink things, possibly because of berries in a forest, says a square on a mocking evolutionary psychology bingo card that’s circulated on the Internet.

Endangered Bonobos Reveal Evolution of Human Kindness reads the title of another widely shared article.

Unlike other nonhuman primate—including our other closest living relatives, chimpanzees—peace-loving bonobos seem to tolerate strangers, share resources with random bonobos, and exhibit a form of empathy called contagious yawning.

These findings may help to solve the long-standing evolutionary puzzle of why humans show kind or helpful behavior to other humans beyond their immediate family or group: It could have a biological basis.

“Certainly culture and education play an important role in the development of human altruism, but the bonobo finding tells us that even the most extreme form of human tolerance and altruism is in part driven by our genes,” Tan said.

Evolutionary psychology, and related disciplines like evolutionary anthropology and evolutionary linguistics are hot now, with people on all parts of the political and cultural spectrum cherry picking their favorite primates and studies to prove that humans are a peaceful, aggressive, cooperative, hierarchical, polyamorous, pair bonding species, whose natural inclinations match extraordinarily well with whatever values the speaker most wants to promote. Evolutionary psychology is also a much mocked and derided discipline, sometimes spoken of as if it were, perhaps, a second cousin to astrology or phrenology.

So, in preparation for a return to blogging about Jonathan Haidt, who draws heavily from evolutionary psychology in constructing his theory about our righteous minds, I want to take a few minutes to stake out my own position on evolutionary psychology.

What do I think of evolutionary psychology? Well, that depends on what you mean by evolutionary psychology.

Are our minds evolved? Yes, of course they are. Brains are physical things, and shaped by genes and alleles just like the rest of our bodies, and that DNA, in turn, is shaped by evolution.

Do I see our minds as a “blank slate”? It should be clear from my earlier posts that my answer is, of course not. And I don’t think anyone really believe in a “blank slate.” But, to be fair, just as proponents of evolutionary psychology create straw men of their critics, so, too, do critics of evolutionary psychology create straw men of evolutionary psychology proponents. I think Rational Wiki gets it right here.

Proponents and critics alike are prone to making straw man arguments in both popular literature and sometimes scholarly literature. Firstly, critics of EP are prone to dismissing it as genetic determinism, although such claims are rarely, if ever, made by proponents.[7]

On the other side, self-righteous promoters of EP (and especially its pop incarnations) will straw man critics as denying biology, “social constructionists,” “politically correct,” or even “radical feminists.”[8] However, prominent EP critics such as David J. Buller do not repudiate that the human brain is the product of evolution; he divides EP into what he sees as upper-case “Evolutionary Psychology” (i.e., EP of the Flintstones variety) and lower-case “evolutionary psychology” based on better research and a broader view of evolutionary theory…

Does evolutionary psychology, in its current state, have a good handle on how our minds are evolved? I don’t know. Which evolutionary psychology are we talking about? Evolutionary psychology is a broad field. It includes lots of theories and researchers. There’s Dunbar’s number, a prediction about how many people (around 150) we can maintain connections of trust and responsibility with. There’s the “cheater circuit” of Tooby and Cosmides, who propose, based on results in experiments with a Wason card test, that our minds are evolved such that they can evaluate certain if/then propositions much more rapidly and accurately if they’re tied to the evolutionary context (detecting cheaters) in which we were evolved to use them. There’s Stephen Pinker’s theories about the evolution of language. There’s David Buss’s theory about sex differences in mate selection (men have evolved to be more inclined to spread their seed, while women have evolved to be choosier). There’s Sarah Hrdy’s theories about the evolutionary impact of motherhood, allomothering, and human evolution as cooperative breeders. There’s stuff like this Psychology Today blog post, by Nigel Barber, on the self-governing commons and the Internet. And there’s that silly, deservedly mocked report that some study proves that women prefer pink because of something about berries in a forest.

So, exactly what am I supposed to be affirming or rejecting, here? Evolutionary psychology is a new paradigm, and I’m not sure I have enough grasp of the field as a whole to say how good they’ve gotten at testing their theories, or how far I should trust their peer review process (fields vary, after all, in how good they’ve gotten at peer review). I see some serious effort to do science here, some interesting ideas, and some promise. I don’t see grounds to call everyone “creationist” who questions a particular individual study or theory, as if debate about exactly how far women are biologically choosier than men in mate selection were the same thing as denying that humans are part of evolution at all. Nor do I see grounds to dismiss a whole field because some of the things claimed for it in the popular press get rather silly.

It should be remembered here that there are different levels of peer review. Someone at a university may propose something, but, for all that he or she has a credential in the right field, the thing hasn’t been tested yet. Then it gets tested, and, perhaps, an experiment gets published. More studies follow, that may or may not confirm the initial finding. There may be review articles. And, sometimes, a group like the National Academy of Sciences may review the evidence. Most evolutionary psychology findings, as best I can tell, haven’t been all that thoroughly tested yet. I mean that as no strong criticism of the field; it’s a new field. But doubting a single study isn’t the same thing as doubting a widespread consensus that’s the result of repeatedly testing a theory in different ways.

How much credence should we give to popular evolutionary psychology? Be skeptical. (Yes, that includes my own popular evolutionary psychology.) We’re talking about human psychology, here, after all, and people are going to be very motivated to cherry pick the findings that promote the view of humans that makes sense to them.

That doesn’t mean I don’t read new reports with interest; it does mean that I don’t take each new report as Science with a capital S. Take, for instance, the view popularized by biologist Randy Thornhill and anthropologist Craig T. Palmer, that rape is a natural adaption. That one is, naturally, one of the things featured on that mocking feminist evolutionary psychology bingo card.

On the face of it, it seems unlikely. It’s not that there couldn’t, I suppose, be “rape alleles” in the sense that one might, on searching, find gene variants more common among rapists than among non-rapists. (I wouldn’t be surprised, for instance, if any allele that’s associated with more violent behavior in general turned out to be more common among rapists.) But rape as adaptive among humans? How would the math for that work? Didn’t we evolve in small bands of people who mostly knew each other? Don’t women generally avoid men that they’ve learned are rapists? And aren’t the exceptions to that rule mostly men who aren’t believed to be rapists because they’re so popular and glamorous, people like well known athletes who’d have no evolutionary need to resort to rape to spread their seed, since they have plenty of mating opportunities anyway? And what about the fathers and brothers of the rape victims? Just how low would your odds of mating have to be before it would pay to cast your chances on a violent roll of the reproductive dice? Given that such a violent act has its own costs in any environment where you’re likely to be caught?

In fact, it turns out that there has been an attempt to apply quantitative data to the rape-as-evolved-adaption theory.

A recent book by Thornill and Palmer proposes that rape might be the expression of a domain-specific adaption that evolved as a male reproductive strategy in the EEA (although leaving open the possibility that rape might simply be a byproduct of ‘simultaneous arousal and coercive inclinations’). The book has attracted considerable controversy and sensationalized press coverage but, in our view, its primary scientific weaknesses are the lack of explicit models or fitness measures, and the appeal to hypothetical domain-specific evolved psychological mechanisms.

We suggest that a more effective evaluation of the rape-as-evolved-reproductive-strategy hypothesis requires specification of an evolutionary model, and estimates of the fitness costs and benefits of rape. Ideally, these estimates should be based on quantitative data from several traditional societies (natural-fertility populations of hunter-gatherers or tribal people). As a preliminary exercise (Box 2), we use the most complete data available, from a single group of hunter-gatherers, in order to estimate the fitness costs and benefits of a single rape by a male aged 25 years (compared to an otherwise identical nonraping male). We assume that most rapes are reported or detected, and that rapists target only reproductive-aged women resident in their own community.

They conclude that, in small communities where everybody knows your name and where your rape is often reported or detected, rape is such a lousy reproductive strategy that “only men with an expected reproductive value of < = 1/10 that of an average 25-year-old can benefit from rape.”

Point being, yeah, you can doubt whatever may be the latest breathless report that such-and-such a behavior may be an evolutionary adaption without denying that humans are evolved at all. Sure, some of the traits we dislike in ourselves may turn out, like the ones we like in ourselves, to be evolutionary adaptions. But not every behavior is going to turn out ever to have been adaptive. Some traits and behaviors are only “adaptive” in the sense that they haven’t actually been bred out of us. And popular evolutionary psychology, like popularized anything, is prone to lose track of such nuances, and just decide, flat out, that something’s evolved, whether because it’s flattering or precisely because it isn’t (and it’s fun to see yourself as the hard-boiled truth teller who can believe it anyway).

Still, different species do have their own differently adapted minds. Dogs are better than chimps at understanding pointing (http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/02/120208180251.htm). Chimps are better than humans at certain applications of game theory (http://news.sciencemag.org/brain-behavior/2014/06/chimps-best-humans-game-theory). In time, and with proper testing of its various hypotheses and theories, evolutionary psychology may teach us useful things. Reasonable people may differ in their opinions as to how useful the discipline has been to date.

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Africa news round up: Chad and neighbors

Posted by Sappho on June 13th, 2014 filed in Africa news and blogwatch


Why pick Chad for the center of today’s Africa news round up? Because it’s the country my sister-in-law is from. Here are the top stories in Chad and its neighbors today.

I’ll start with South Sudan, though it doesn’t actually border on Chad, because it does border on Chad’s neighbor Sudan, and because there was big news from South Sudan yesterday:

South Sudan Peace Talks Reach Apparent Breakthrough: Warring Parties Set Timetable to Form Transitional Government and Cease Fighting.

South Sudanese President Salva Kiir and rebel leader Riek Machar agreed to form a transitional government in the next 60 days, a big step in efforts to resolve a devastating six-month conflict in the world’s youngest nation, mediators said on Wednesday.

Government and rebel negotiators are slated to start talks on the formation of a transitional government of national unity on Thursday in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, according to a communiqué issued by the heads of state from East Africa’s regional trade bloc, the Intergovernmental Agency for Development, or IGAD.

Next, Sudan: Thousands Flee Attacks in Korma, North Darfur.

On 4 and 5 June militia elements attacked a local market and a village in the area of Korma, El Fasher locality in North Darfur. Residents of villages in the area fled to what now is called Shooba camp, near the Unamid team site in Korma.

According to a local aid organisation, 9,200 villagers sought refuge at Shooba near the team site after the June attacks, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in Sudan reported in its latest weekly bulletin.

Chad: Chad President Defends Concerted Work to Resolve CAR’s Situation.

The President of Chad, Idriss Deby Into, highlighted on Friday in Luanda the importance of the African states to work concertedly for the resolution of situation in the Central African Republic (CAR).

Speaking at the opening act of the tripartite, amongst Angola, Republic of Congo and Chad, President Idriss Deby commended Angola on the initiative because it will permit to reach an understanding on the situation prevailing in CAR.

Central African Republic: ‘Your Message Has Not Been Sent’

Reporters Without Border condemns the announcement by the Central African Republic’s ministry of communications that SMS messages are banned “from 2 June until further notice.” This decision follows the reported use of SMS to relay a general strike call.

“At a time when Bangui is virtually cut off from the rest of the country, when voice calls are difficult and the Internet is almost non-existent, this ban constitutes a major violation of the free flow of news and information,” said Cléa Kahn-Sriber, the head of the Reporters Without Borders Africa desk.

Cameroon: The top story today is Cameroon’s World Cup game against Mexico.

Niger: Niger Youth Undergo Agro Training in Israel.

SOME 100 youth drawn from the nine states in the Niger Delta region will attend a month-long training programme in Israel following a sponsorship by the Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs.

Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Architect Darius Dickson Ishaku, said the scheme was a fulfillment of the administration’s mandate to enhance agriculture growth and empower youth.

He reminded the beneficiaries that each of them was expected to train at least 20 other youths in the various fields they studied in Israel.

Nigeria:

The top Nigeria story from Chad is Terrorism – Jonathan Lauds Chad, Others On Joint Task Force.

President Goodluck Jonathan has applauded the establishment of a multi-national joint task force by Nigeria, Chad, Benin Republic, Niger and Cameroon to enforce stricter border controls and prevent terrorists from having access to their territories.

Presidential spokesman, Reuben Abati, in a statement yesterday, said Jonathan welcomed the recent decision of the London ministerial meeting on security in Nigeria and West Africa to operationalise a Regional Intelligence Fusion Unit that would enhance the generation and sharing of information essential to curbing terrorist activities.

but I’ll also add 20 Kidnapped Women – Boko Haram Demands 800 Cows As Ransom.

The people of Chibok, including members of the Vigilante Youths denied the abduction of the Fulani women when news of the kidnap first filtered, saying that the only people missing in the area were the 230 female students of Government Girls Secondary School, Chibok.

The police authorities in Borno State also maintained that they were not aware of the alleged missing Fulani women.

However, the insurgents who picked up the women in Garkin Fulani, a nomadic settlement near Chibok town last Thursday were now reaching out to their husbands, demanding 20 cows each for their release.

and Gospel Singer Kefee Branama is Dead.

Kefee whose music career started at age eight in her church choir, was famous for her gospel songs ‘Branama’ and ‘Kokoroko’. She won several awards including the best collaboration Headies Award in 2010.

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My husband’s new hiking blog

Posted by Sappho on June 10th, 2014 filed in Blogwatch, Daily Life


My husband recently started a new blog, Chaparral Hiker, with accounts and photos of his hikes. Here’s a post about the trail we hiked on Sunday, and here’s a photo of Thickleaf Yerba Santa.

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The Decline of Bipartisan Small Talk and Other Developments

Posted by WiredSisters on June 8th, 2014 filed in Climate Change and Desertification, Guest Blogger, Race


This morning I woke up to public radio telling me that conservatives and liberals cannot agree on the issue of climate change even when presented with the same set of facts. The studies the announcer cited seem to indicate that it makes some difference whether we call it “global warming” or “climate change”–but not much. I sat bolt upright in bed laughing hysterically. One more conversational topic has been placed off limits in politically mixed groups—we can’t even talk about the weather!

OTOH, while the bigoted inclinations listed in “How Common is Racialism?” are all pretty creepy, and many of them involve conduct that is now illegal, I’m not sure that the others should be illegal. Recent cases involving bakers who decline to make wedding cakes for same-sex weddings, for instance. This is maybe different from photographers who won’t photograph such weddings. The worst that can happen to a photo is somebody sneaking up behind the new spouses and making horns or bunny ears behind their heads. But would you want to risk eating—or, worse still, serving to your friends and family–a cake baked by somebody who thought your wedding was an abomination? I sure wouldn’t.

More restaurants have closed down near my office lately. This is discouraging. I have moved to a new office, just around the corner from the old one. It’s also next door to the Symphony and across the street from the Art Institute. So I can pig out on culture, but will have to go back to bringing lunch from home.

Finally, a new contest for anyone who wants to play—a Paranoia Sweepstakes. The best conspiracy theory of the year gets a gift certificate from the local Spy Store, which I just discovered last week while looking for something else. My entry connects to the electronic “chips” many pet owners have imbedded in their dogs and cats. It is supposed to serve as a tracking and identification device for pets who stray from home. But the NSA would have had no trouble persuading the manufacturers to add listening and recording capability to pick up all conversations  in the vicinity of the pet. I look at my cat more suspiciously since coming to this realization. Can you top this, gentle readers? Submit all entries in longhand in invisible ink (scan to PDF) to the Wired Sisters at this blog.

Red Emma

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The Kindness of Strangers

Posted by Sappho on June 7th, 2014 filed in Books, Race


Let me suppose, because it’s probably true, that at least some of my ancestors lived for thousands of years in the land that is now Greece. Hop in a Tardis and visit one of them, thousands of years ago, and you may, perhaps, find him in the city-state of Athens. Move forward in time, and you may find his however many times grandson as part of a united Greece, marching off with the Corinthian League to conquer Persia. Move forward again, and his however many times granddaughter now lives in the Roman Empire. A little further forward in time, and now it’s the empire that we know as the Byzantine Empire (though the Byzantines considered themselves still a continuation of the Roman Empire). Further, and you’re in the Ottoman Empire, an empire that is still a going concern when my grandparents are born, within the boundaries of the Ottoman Empire (for only the southern part of Greece at that point has won independence). Then you get the Balkan Wars, and finally Greece has its current borders, and my father is born in the country that we know today. Through all of these centuries, Greece looks physically much the same, for climate usually changes slowly (even if we now, with our carbon emission driven climate change, are facing an exception to that rule), and the tectonic forces that move continents are slower still. You’d see the same mountains, the same islands, the same sea, the same olive trees, and people with much the same features and complexion, but the borders that surround those people, and the name they call their country, would change radically, and sometimes quickly.

I offer this story as an analogy for what I mean when I say that the boundaries of what we call race, not the fact that human populations show geographic variation, but the ways we divide, name, and interpret that variation, are socially constructed. It’s an imperfect analogy, and it may actually give a bit too much to the “race is biologically real” argument, since humans are a relatively homogeneous species, with geographic variation much smaller than the subspecies that some other species form. Most of our genetic variation (with a few dramatic exceptions like skin color and susceptibility to certain diseases) is more modest than the difference between the mountains of Greece and the plains of Poland, smaller than the difference between the heat of Uganda and the cold of Finland, for humans, the geeks of the animal kingdom, have found ways of adapting our homes and our tools to varied environments. But I raise the analogy to make a point about equivocation. Suppose that I were to say that, beneath the social construction that we call Greece stands a physical reality that’s not socially constructed. That would be true, right? But what’s that physical reality? Is it the fact that the land is rather more mountainous than Poland, and rather more seismically active than Germany? The fact that the people living in that land are darker than Swedes, and fairer than Kikuyu? The fact that Greeks are more prone both to malaria resistance and to a certain form of anemia than English? Or the fact that Greeks use plenty of olive oil and tend to be more extroverted than Finns?

I have, by now, browsed through Nicholas Wade’s A Troublesome Inheritance at the bookstore (having also browsed The Bell Curve at the library on another occasion). A quick browse is all I’m going to do with it, since I neither willing to spend the money to buy it nor the time to read it. But that browse at least gives me some sense of the feel of the book, and a few of its arguments. Along the way, and at the end, I’ll link the accounts of reviewers better equipped than me to discuss its claims. First, though, I’ll give my own impression.
Read the rest of this entry »

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“87% of women think size matters”

Posted by Sappho on June 7th, 2014 filed in Sexuality, Whimsies


So says the headline of the spam email that I deleted this morning. But it took me a minute to parse what that spam email was selling. Because, I have to admit, my first reading of “87% of women think size matters” is not the one the spammer probably intended, but rather, “87% of women think that they are too fat.”

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Danaus

Posted by Sappho on June 6th, 2014 filed in Race


“That hypothesis is the brainchild of Kevin MacDonald, an evolutionary psychologist and director of the racist American Freedom Party (formerly “American Third Position”), which he founded with lawyer William D. Johnson, who has proposed repealing the 14th and 15th Amendments, replacing them with a Constitutional amendment which reads:

No person shall be a citizen of the United States unless he is a non-Hispanic white of the European race, in whom there is no ascertainable trace of Negro blood, nor more than one-eighth Mongolian, Asian, Asia Minor, Middle Eastern, Semitic, Near Eastern, American Indian, Malay or other non-European or non-white blood, provided that Hispanic whites, defined as anyone with an Hispanic ancestor, may be citizens if, in addition to meeting the aforesaid ascertainable trace and percentage tests, they are in appearance indistinguishable from Americans whose ancestral home is in the British Isles or Northwestern Europe. Only citizens shall have the right and privilege to reside permanently in the United States.”

Jon Phillips at the Southern Poverty Law Center Hatewatch blog

“In 2002, NYC DJ Chuck Nice, who is African American, said: “Italians are niggaz with short memories” (Guglielmo & Salerno 1). The Italian American claim of “whiteness” has been a contentious issue in the United States, going far back before DJ Nice’s comment. It began back in Europe with sayings like, “Europe ends at Naples. Calabria, Sicily, and all the rest belong to Africa.””

La Christa Greco, in a blog post, Italian-Americans and Whiteness

Jon Phillips’ post, “Troublesome Sources: Nicholas Wade’s Embrace of Scientific Racism,” makes the argument that Nicholas Wade sees bias readily in critics of racialism, but is oblivious to bias in his own sources, that he sees Stephen Jay Gould, Richard Lewontin, and Franz Boas as all grinding a political axe, while paying no heed to the white supremacist activity of Richard Lynn and the strident anti-immigrant views of Henry Harpending. And I’ll get back to that point later, when I write about my own impressions on browsing Wade’s book. First, though, my attention is caught, not by the more mainstrean, crossover racialist, Nicholas Wade, but by the weirder, more fringe figure, William D. Johnson. I remember that I think I’ve seen this definition of whiteness before.

Clicking through to the SPLC’s profile of William Daniel Johnson, I confirm that I’m right. This is, in fact, the guy who, in June 2008, ran in a primary election for Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge.

Down ballot elections can be tricky. We all have long ballots to vote on. In California usually, though not this in this year’s primary, the election includes a long list of propositions, which need to be researched carefully, as sometimes one will be a Trojan horse designed to defeat another one by stealing the votes of the people who want such-and-such a change (and, if they vote for the Trojan horse, will get rather less of that change), and other times a proposition that sounds good in principle will simply be badly written. At any rate, a down ballot race is a place where a fanatic can try to fly under the radar. Lyndon LaRouche’s followers tried it, when I was young, running for Democratic Party positions in hopes of controlling the local party (because, even if practically no one agreed with them, who knew anything of people running for those seats, beyond their names and job titles on the ballot?). And William Daniel Johnson, who had trailed in earlier election runs in Arizona with, respectively, 1% of the vote and 2.9% of the vote, may have hoped to win this one. After all, he had an endorsement from Ron Paul (who, we may reasonably assume, doesn’t scrutinize judge candidates all that closely either, and who would have known Johnson more from the $2000 a plate fund raiser for Paul that he had hosted than from Johnson’s actual views). It’s a sign of how little attention people pay to judge elections that even after Johnson’s support for the above quoted Pace Amendment was revealed and publicized, and Ron Paul’s endorsement retracted, Johnson still managed, in defeat, to get 26% of the vote. That would be a ten times larger portion of the vote than he ever got in an election where he was advertising, and people were paying attention to, his racial views.

So, though I have no fear that I’ll ever be deported under this Pace Amendment, I’m glad that somebody is watching this weird fringe, ready to expose them if they try to sneak in.

My whiteness is, though, an oddly contentious issue, by the definition in the Pace Amendment.

My great-grandmother, Glykeria Kapitsoglou, was born and raised in Constantinople, capital city of the Roman, Byzantine, and Ottoman Empires, and now, as Istanbul, a part of Turkey. The city was founded as a Greek colony in the 7th century BC, and became the new capital of the Roman Empire when Constantine I transferred the capital from Rome in 330 AD. Its long history is deeply intertwined with European history in general (yes, including its history as capital of the Ottoman Empire, remember those old history lessons about the Ottoman Empire’s days as “the sick man of Europe”?). And it also sits right on the border between Europe and Asia Minor, and is part of a country that now occupies rather more of Asia Minor than of Europe. So, depending on what ruling the hypothetical enforcers of the Pace Amendment might make on exactly where Asia Minor starts, I could either be overwhelmingly European, or have one eighth Asia Minor ancestry right from the start, with not a single European ancestor to spare if I’m to be allowed to stay here.

The rest of my ancestry prove likewise a little contentious. Glykeria Kapistoglou married Constantinos Veniamin. The religion listed on the family’s documents, their Christian names, and the baptismal certificate of my grandmother’s younger brother (I’ve been unable to find my grandmother’s own baptismal certificate) place this family as an Eastern Orthodox family. But they’re a Christian family with the usually Jewish name of Benjamin, living in a city, Thessaloniki, that had, at the time, so large a Jewish population that it was known as the “Jerusalem of the Balkans.” Does our hypothetical Pace Amendment enforcer believe that the Veniamins have any Jewish ancestry? If so, and if he or she has assigned the Kapitsoglou family to Asia Minor, I’m out.

Besides, there’s the possibly legendary Mary “Little Dove” Hyanno, and the trace of Native American DNA, small enough possibly to be noise in admixture software, but consistent over multiple family members and, for me, over multiple admixture programs. If I start with an eighth of Asia Minor ancestry, and don’t have a European ancestor left to spare, Mary “Little Dove” Hyanno is enough to deport me (an odd result, since she was here way before Johnson’s ancestors).

Finally, there’s that “no ascertainable trace of Negro blood.” Does that include people who have less than 0.5% Sub-Saharan DNA in admixture software, a level small enough that it could be an artifact of the software, but still potentially an “ascertainable trace”? If so, it’s back to Africa for me, and, judging both from what I see in my DNA cousins and what Bryan Sykes reports finding, in his book DNA USA, also back to Africa for a huge portion of the Southern white population. The South could be largely depopulated if this amendment passed and were taken seriously.

In fact, I question whether there are enough people left in the US who are white by this definition that it could be applied and still keep whiteness a going concern. Perhaps you could bar Jews from whiteness and still have a white majority, since Jews are a small fraction of the population anyway, but if you’re barring Jews and many Greeks and many Southern whites, is there really a white majority left? Exactly who was supposed to raise money sufficient to buy out Steve Jobs and send him on his way?

Since I’m Greek-American, though, I’ll note particularly how this amendment would apply to Greeks. Greek presence in Asia Minor goes back to ancient times. Asia Minor was a vital part of the Byzantine Empire. And Greeks continued to be a large population in Asia Minor until the Catastrophe, a huge forced population exchange that uprooted Asia Minor Greeks and sent them to Greece, right after WWI. (Turks were also sent from Greece to Turkey at the same time.) About 40% of Greeks in Greece today have significant Asia Minor Greek ancestry, as do about 40% of diaspora Greeks.

That’s Asia Minor. I haven’t gotten to Egypt. Greece’s connection to Egypt is also ancient, as you can see in the founding legend of Argos, in which Danaus was said to be the twin brother of Aegyptus and son of Achiroe and Belus, a mythical king of Egypt. Alexandria, the second largest city in Egypt, was founded around 331 BC by Alexander the Great, and maintained a significant Greek population until the Egyptian Revolution of 1952, when most Greeks in Egypt left. Famous Greeks associated with Alexandria include Euclid, the father of geometry, and the modern Greek poet Constantine P. Cavafy.

Greeks can’t be, in William Daniel Johnson’s eyes, particularly solidly white.

Now, William Daniel Johnson’s eyes, in themselves, don’t matter all that much. After all, this guy has never been able to get as much as 3% of the vote in an election where his views were boldly on display. The reason I find him interesting is that it turns out that, though most in the HBDosphere will settle for keeping Mexicans out, and don’t aspire to deport any of the Greeks or Jews who are already here, Nordicism is surprisingly common among the racialist blogs devoted to what they call “human biodiversity” or HBD.

Last year, I wrote a series over at Alexandria, where I was then blogging, about race and IQ, in which I discussed Ron Unz’s argument about race and IQ. Ron Unz is author of a nifty rebuttal of Richard Lynn’s racial hierarchy of IQ, in which he shows that Lynn’s own data show so much shifting over time in the IQ of European groups that they hardly make a case for innate racial differences in IQ. He’s also the author of some much less well thought out arguments on race and crime, which I can ignore because they don’t relate to the topic of this post. Anyway, during the argument that erupted, two years ago when Unz wrote about IQ, between him and some in the HBDosphere, I got to see how Nordicist the HBDosphere could be. Richard Lynn himself spoke, and proved to be unconvinced that Italians could be all that smart. It turns out that Lynn, patron saint of the HBDosphere for his book that carries out in detail their favorite enterprise of ranking the IQ of every ethnic group you can think of, thinks Southern Italians are stupider than Northern Italians. So do others in the HBDosphere; for a while, after Unz’s posts, people were circulating, as a supposed check mate to Unz’s argument, some single study that, they said, proved, yes proved absolutely that Southern Italians were not only stupider than Northern Italians, but stupider because they just don’t have the genes it takes to be smart. Other arguments abound in the HBDosphere about who is innately better in what trait, and Northwestern Europe is routinely said to come out on top. The pseudonymous bloggers who post these arguments are, in some cases, not racist, not one bit, so they say, because they themselves are of some ethnicity other than Northwestern European (and in a couple of cases, they say, of some ethnicity other than purely white).

It’s an odd spectacle, because everywhere outside the HBDosphere, Nordicism, the belief in the natural superiority of Northern Europeans in particular, is spoken of only in the past tense. Look at Wikipedia, and you’ll find that Nordicism was popular in the late 19th and early 20th century. Do a little Googling of prejudice against Greeks and Italians, and you’ll find accounts of the prejudice we once faced in the early 20th century. These days, no one even polls any more for prejudice against Greeks and Italians; we figure only in polls of symbolic racism, as a question seeing whether racists agree that, hey, Italians and Jews pulled themselves up and overcame prejudice, so blacks should, too.

Not so in the HBDosphere, where Nordicism is common enough that there’s a whole blog devoted to defending Southern Italians and rebutting Nordicism and Afrocentrism.

It’s not that it’s particularly less rational to construct a racialism in which the master race excludes people like me than to construct one in which the master race excludes people like Andre Braugher. (In fact, if he’s to be excluded, maybe I’m better off in his company.) And it’s not that there’s any particular reason that I should be on one side, rather than the other, of the whiteness boundary. The boundaries between races are socially constructed, and vary from one time and place to another. It’s more that reading about the natural genetic superiority of Northwestern Europe makes me feel as if I’ve stepped into a time warp. When I suspect that the HBDosphere is a tiny fringe promoting ideas that no one much believes, their Nordicism is part of the reason why. If any substantial part of the population, even a significant minority, actually were still Nordicist, wouldn’t Greeks and Italians have a harder time in the job market than we do?

But, as Cosma Shalizi points out, “the people who are supposedly just too dumb for civilization are the ones on its periphery, even as that periphery keeps moving.” Check out this quote Shalizi unearthed from Ibn Khaldun, in 1377, explaining why the more civilized part of the world includes “the inhabitants of the Maghrib, of Syria, the two ‘Iraqs, Western India (as-Sind), and China, as well as of Spain; also the European Christians nearby, the Galicians, and all those who live together with these peoples or near them in the three temperate zones.”

So, anyone who wants to place Euclid, the father of geometry (yes, ancient Greeks looked much like modern ones, just look at ancient Greek art and coins) in the rolls of people who genetically just don’t have what it takes to be civilized is welcome to his or her opinion. I’ll just be amused.

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How common is racialism, really?

Posted by Sappho on June 5th, 2014 filed in Race


Search the Internet for long enough, and you’ll find networks of people convinced that they have been abducted by aliens. So the fact that you can find a network of mostly pseudonymous bloggers promoting racialism, the belief that different races have strong innate differences in intelligence or character, says little about how common that belief is in the general population. And I don’t know of any recent surveys that measure the belief directly. In fact, as people’s expression of direct racist beliefs has (fortunately) declined, surveys have tended to shift ground, first to what’s called symbolic racism (“Irish, Italian, Jewish and many other minorities overcame prejudice and worked their way up. Blacks should do the same.”), and then to measures of implicit racism (unconscious biases that are measured by tests like measuring differences in sorting positive and negative words to different faces).

On the one hand, it often seems as if racialism can’t be all that common any more at all. It’s not just the fact that I haven’t personally heard anyone express such beliefs to me, face to face, in decades (and the last people I heard say such things were very old at the time). It’s more the fact that you don’t hear such statements catered to by mainstream politicians of either party. This isn’t a small thing. Republicans often can be found saying things that Democrats consider racist (and sites like Talking Points Memo flag such stories all the time). If Republicans were trimming their sails according to the opinions of Democrats, here, birtherism would have gotten far more pushback.

And yet, every few years some not at all fringe person lets the thought slip (James Watson), belief that “race is real” in important biological ways doesn’t preclude success in academia (Steve Hsu), or as a columnist (Razib Khan), and every so often, a book will hit the bestseller list (The Bell Curve, A Troublesome Inheritance) that makes the case for innate psychological or behavioral differences between the races. And that book will get praise as well as criticism in mainstream venues. The author of the book may be tainted forever in some circles for this book, but won’t find that his reputation suffers all that much in others, even if people tend to praise him most for some other thing that he said. As David Weigel put it in speaking of conservative praise of Charles Murray,

The stain of The Bell Curve has stuck to Murray for all of the 20 years since he published it. As he’s said, like when he defended Barack Obama’s post-Jeremiah Wright “race speech,” this wrecked his reputation with some people, and it won’t get un-wrecked. But the conservatives of 2014 don’t cite Murray for his race work. They cite Losing Ground, which still guides how they think about welfare’s effects on social norms, or they cite more recent work on inequality that stayed away from the race issue.

So it didn’t surprise me when, on the publication of Nicholas Wade’s new book, A Troublesome Inheritance, the Wall Street Journal published a favorable review written by Charles Murray (who has never been particularly disgraced on the right, however much The Bell Curve has ruined his reputation on the left).

I don’t know, directly, how common racialist beliefs are. But some recent surveys of other racial attitudes offer a clue. Let’s start with a survey of attitudes toward religious objections by employers to the contraception mandate, and on what hypothetical religious objections to serving particular people the law should accomodate.

Roughly 6-in-10 Americans say that publicly-held corporations (61%) and privately-owned corporations (57%) should be required to provide their employees with health insurance that includes contraception at no cost.

A smaller majority (51%) of the public say privately-owned small businesses should be required to provide health care coverage that includes contraception, while 46% disagree….

Americans overwhelming reject the notion that small business owners should be allowed to refuse to provide services or goods to individuals because they are gay or lesbian, atheist, Jewish or black, even if doing so would violate the owners’ religious beliefs. Fewer than 1-in-5 Americans say that small business owners should be able to refuse services on religious grounds to individuals who happen to be gay or lesbian (16%), atheist (15%), Jewish (12%), or black (10%).

Note that you can get a not all that trivial minority to approve even of a fairly creepy accommodation of bigotry (small business owners getting a blank check not to serve black people if they say it’s against their religion), but 10% is still a small enough number that you don’t actually hear those voices in public discourse. And the public argument about allowing owners’ religious beliefs to govern what services they provide to gay and lesbian people gets narrowly focused on weddings, because, after all, only 16% find such an objection tolerable if you’re talking about a general refusal of service. (I’m guessing the percentage would be somewhat higher than 16% for a narrowly wedding focused question.) But you hear a lot from both sides on the contraceptive mandate, because, in fact, there are a lot of people on both sides.

Now, I’ll turn to a New York Times article from a little over a month ago on recent surveys of racial attitudes. The article is titled “Don’t be surprised that people still say racist things,” because, it turns out, rather a lot of people will explicitly admit to certain racist beliefs when surveyed. Here are the figures:

  • 28% say it’s OK to discriminate when selling a home.
  • 21% say they wouldn’t want to live in a place where half the neighbors are black.
  • 21% say they would oppose having a close relative marry a black person.
  • 40% say whites are more hardworking than blacks.
  • When asked why, on average, blacks have worse jobs, income, and housing than whites, 45% say most blacks don’t have the motivation or willpower to pull themselves out of poverty.
  • 34% say blacks shouldn’t push themselves where they’re not wanted.

The thing I notice, right away, about these figures, besides how high they are, is that, if I look back on the complaints I hear about “dog whistles” (some of them not all that “dog whistle” subtle) from one politician or another, that get reported on sites like Talking Points Memo, they tend to be all about the beliefs that, in this survey, show up as being held by at least 40% of the population: that whites are more hardworking than blacks, and that blacks don’t have the motivation or willpower to pull themselves out of poverty. It’s possible to find recent “dog whistles” that evoke less acknowledged fears (such as the “Call Me” ad about Harold Ford back in 2006), but they’re less common, and less explicit, than remarks that suggest that black people are lazier than white people. On the other hand, any view that’s held by at least 40% of the population, however disturbing to the majority that doesn’t hold the view, will regularly get some level of acknowledgement from politicians, campaign chairs, local party leaders, etc.

So my hunch is that probably at least 20% of the population believes in racialism to some significant degree (otherwise you wouldn’t get actual debate featured in the media whenever the hot, new, relatively mainstream racialist book comes out), but well under 40% (or the view would be far less marginalized than it is). And that, in turn, would be plenty enough racialists for a certain amount of private clustering, and grumbling conviction that way more people believe the thing than will openly say so.

But that’s just my guess. As far as I can tell, no one’s done a survey on this particular belief set that’s at all recent. I do think this has to be distinctly a minority view (Wade’s suggestion, in his Spectator article, that a loud minority is suppressing such ideas, doesn’t pass the smell test), but can’t be all that small a minority view (I don’t think we’re talking less than 10%, here).

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Giving platelets

Posted by Sappho on June 4th, 2014 filed in Daily Life


This past Sunday was National Cancer Survivors’ Day, my third National Cancer Survivors’ Day since my diagnosis (and the second one that I’ve been in remission). The American Cancer Society released a report saying that

… there are almost 14.5 million cancer survivors alive in the US today, and that number will grow to almost 19 million by 2024. This includes everyone who’s ever had cancer, from the time of diagnosis for the rest of their life. The report, “Cancer Treatment & Survivorship Facts & Figures,” and an accompanying journal article in CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians were released June 1, 2014.

The day before that, I passed another personal milestone: I got to give platelets for the first time since my diagnosis. I’d had to wait a year after my last chemotherapy, and then, when I went in to give platelets, I got deferred because I’d been in Mexico (a trip Joel and I took last April, to celebrate our 25th anniversary and the fact that I was in remission).

Between the period that I couldn’t donate because I had not yet diagnosed bleeding that turned out to be cancer, the period when I was in treatment, the year that I had to wait after treatment, and the additional deferral of months after that, it had been years since I donated. The procedure stays the same, but the questions change. When I last donated, as I recall, they had learned of complications that were more common when getting platelets from women, but not from men, and were barring any new platelet donors who were women (but I got to stay, because I had already donated, and had enough platelets that sometimes I could give a double dose – my normally high platelet count later meant that even chemotherapy couldn’t bring my platelet count below normal). Since then, they’ve learned more.

Recently, it has been discovered that women who have previously been pregnant are more likely to carry antibodies that are believed to sometimes cause post-transfusion complications for blood recipients. Until these complications are better understood, the Red Cross will ask new female platelet donors about their pregnancy history and test those that have been pregnant for these antibodies. A positive result has no impact on the health of the donor, however donors who are positive for antibodies may be advised that they are better suited to red cell donation.

So, women as well as men can now be new platelet donors, but tell the Red Cross about your pregnancy history. In my case, that history includes no pregnancies, not my own preference. So it’s reassuring to know that at least my childlessness better prepares me to give life in another way.

Donating platelets takes much longer than donating whole blood, so you get to select a movie. I was in a mood for music, so I picked a Judy Collins concert. Soon I was lying back and listening to Judy Collings sing “Someday Soon.”

It’s funny how a song can remind you of someone, even when none of the details match, and you never heard or sang the song together. To me, “Someday Soon” will always be the song that evokes my old college friend J’than. J’than and I were not lovers. I often wished it at the time, but can’t really, in hindsight, regret missing that chance, because I needed a platonic friend, back then, so much more than I needed a lover, that it would have been too much to risk losing the friendship. My parents had nothing against J’than (didn’t know him, living across the country, and wouldn’t have had anything against him if they did). It was my grandmother who couldn’t stand him, not because he rode the rodeo, which he never did, but because, not having met him, she’d still caught sight of him with his long hair, and heard from me that he had taken a break from school to do political activism. (Hey, Grandmother, you’re not alive to hear this from me, but just so you know, J’than is a doctor now.) And I might, in my imagination, have wanted to follow him right down the darkest road I know, but if it came to the pinch, I wouldn’t have followed when that road led away from Stanford and to anti-nuclear power activism in Colorado (see, Colorado, there’s the link with the song). I cared too much for that Stanford degree, and the scholarship that ensured we could afford it, to take any time off, and besides, even then my older brother had persuaded me that nuclear power was necessary so that we could get rid of coal as much as possible (a view that has only strengthened, in the decades since, as I’ve learned more about carbon emissions and climate change). Still, whenever I hear that song, about the man from Colorado that the singer’s parents can’t stand, but that the singer loves anyway, I think of J’than.

And so, with “Someday Soon,” and “Send in the Clowns,” and Judy Collins’ song for her father, the time giving platelets passed easily. I hope it will be a much shorter time before I give again, this time, than it was the last time.

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The Faces of the Enemy

Posted by Sappho on June 4th, 2014 filed in Peace Testimony, Quaker Practice


I arrived a little late, this Sunday, at the Religious Education session that precedes Meeting for Worship. As I entered, Julie Harlow was already speaking, about the history that led to the founding of Friends House Moscow. She was talking about the days of the Cold War. This is what I remember of her talk (I didn’t take notes).

All the peace activists, Julie said, were talking about the horrors of nuclear war. But that only increased fear. She was looking for something that would reduce fear. One day, she saw a display. “The Faces of the Enemy,” it said, and underneath, “They could be your friends.” And it hit her that she needed to find faces of ordinary Russian people. But she looked, and photos of faces of ordinary Russian people were in short supply. There were photos of Russian soldiers, and photos of desperate Russians at the end of World War II, but not photos of ordinary Russians living their lives.

Soon after that, she saw a small advertisement for a tour of Russia, teachers especially welcome (she was a teacher), a tour that, as she said, seemed to have her name right on it. So she went, and collected photos and souvenirs, and showed them to her class.

This began a journey of leadings that led to job sharing with another teacher, so that she could work half time to support herself and give the presentation in other schools the rest of the time, to chairing a sister city program, to organizing other Russia trips for the sister city program and then for Quakers (the Quaker tours as part of the East/West committee), to making contacts in Russia, not just with the official people that Russian tour guides introduced, but others, people covertly trying to create a civil society that wasn’t tied to Soviet rule.

And then came the tour where they learned, before departure, that Gorbachev had been kidnapped. She called all the people going on the trip and told them, the trip was going ahead, but she would completely understand if anyone backed out. They went ahead, and by the time they arrived, Gorbachev was free, but had been challenged by Yelstin.

They wound up witnessing the collapse of the Soviet Union. They went to sleep in Leningrad and woke up in St. Petersburg. They saw Latvia as a newly independent country, just days old, with their tour guide now referring to a statue of Russian-Latvian friendship with the words, “during the Soviet era.”

With the fall of the Soviet Union, their contacts said they no longer needed visits. Then, they said, visits helped us; they let the government know we had visibility, and made it less likely we’d disappear. Now we need something different. We need you to be here, to be a resource to help us build a civil society, that’s independent of the government, that you have and we don’t.

And that was the seed for founding Friends House Moscow, which continues till now.

Friends House Moscow funds projects for peace and civil society in the former Soviet Union. You can find them at http://friendshousemoscow.org/ or use http://groupspaces.com/fofhm/ for indepth updates.

I took some photos of the crafts that Julie brought to sell, to support Friends House Moscow.

Here’s the blog of Johan Maurer, a Friend who lives and works in Moscow. And here’s a post that he wrote a little over a month ago, From Moscow Friends to the worldwide Quaker family, about the Ukraine crisis.

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