Friday, September 24, 2021

The answer to a labelling problem - more labelling!

So my twitter feed yesterday had some tweets about BiVisibilityDay, which I gather is something relatively new and a reaction to bisexual people getting annoyed at people saying "no, you're just gay (or straight) in denial.  You can't be trusted".

It feels like the intensity of interest in labelling of sexualities (and now, genders) is never going to level out.   I think the reason people can legitimately find it irritating is because it seems to be (for want of a better way of putting it) a passive aggressive way to be narcissistic.  "Call me by the gender I know I am";  "I'm pansexual, and that's subtly different from bisexual" etc.  And in all cases "this is really important to me.  This is who I am." 

So the problem I have with the bisexual pride lobby is that (it seems to me) the disrespect issues arise from an excessive social interest in labelling this one aspect of life, but they try to solve it by creating another type of label.   Why not, instead, attack the way people think about the importance of labelling desire?   

As I have written before, it seems (if you can trust some modern historians) that older societies had a more pragmatic, and less narcissistic, attitude:  one in which sex (and to a degree, relationships) was/were something people did, rather than being thought of as the key to who they are. 

Religion and coping

From The Economist:

RELIGION IS THE sigh of the oppressed creature…it is the opium of the people.” So wrote Karl Marx in 1844. The idea—not unique to Marx—was that by promising rewards in the next life, religion helps the poor bear their lot in this one.

A paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences by Jana Berkessel of the University of Mannheim, in Germany, and her colleagues takes a statistical look at the claim. Ms Berkessel's curiosity was piqued by a counter-intuitive finding in development economics. Researchers know that low socioeconomic status correlates with poor mental health. The assumption was once that, as places became richer, this effect would weaken. Being poor in a rich country was presumed better than being poor in a poor one.

But that has turned out not to be true. Abundant evidence suggests the relationship between status and mental health is stronger, not weaker, in rich countries than in poor ones. Ms Berkessel, who studies the psychological effects of religion, noticed that economic development is also inversely correlated with religiosity—the richer a country, the more godless it tends to be. Perhaps that was driving the change?

To check, she and her colleagues analysed three surveys covering 3.3m people in 156 countries. This set of data reproduced the finding that economic development amplifies the link between mental health and status. It also supported the idea that religiosity could attenuate that effect. Among rich countries, for instance, those with higher levels of self-reported religious belief had a weaker relationship between status and mental health.....

The upshot is that religion seems to protect people from at least some of the unpleasant effects of poverty. Exactly how is less clear. One hypothesis is that religious doctrine is directly protective. After all, many of the world’s biggest religions have a sceptical attitude to wealth. Alongside the well-known biblical verses about camels, needles and a rich person’s chance of entering the pearly gates, the researchers point out that the Bhagavad-Gita, a Hindu holy book, says “The demoniac person thinks: So much wealth do I have today, and I will gain more.” Similar sentiments can be found in the Koran and in some Buddhist texts. If God teaches that the wealthy are spiritually corrupt, or will get their comeuppance on Judgment Day, then poverty may seem less of a burden.

But there are other possibilities. Ms Berkessel points out that organised religion offers a social-support network which might help attenuate the effects of low status, whether or not its members really believe everything their holy texts say about wealth. Her next research project, she says, will look at exactly this point.

 

 

The main thing I know is that no one knows enough

Gee, I have been saying this ever since the COVID pandemic started:  the global patterns of COVID infection, illness, death and recovery (and the waves of these we have seen) always indicated that an enormous number of unknown or unclear factors must be going on.   Add to that the speed with which research has had to be done to develop and assess vaccines and treatments - it's been a real scientific and policy makers nightmare.

To bolster my assessment, German Lopez talks about the Florida surge, and how, in many respects, it was hard to understand:

... Florida’s example complicates any story of recent Covid-19 surges that focuses solely on reopenings and vaccinations. Something else seems to be going on, and experts aren’t totally sure what. “There are things that, to be honest, we don’t fully understand,” Ashish Jha, dean of the Brown University School of Public Health, told me.

We don’t know everything about why Covid-19 cases rise, and we don’t know everything about why they fall, either. David Leonhardt and Ashley Wu at the New York Times recently demonstrated that the coronavirus appears to follow two-month cycles in its rises and falls.

Yet, experts told them, it isn’t clear why. “We still are really in the cave ages in terms of understanding how viruses emerge, how they spread, how they start and stop, why they do what they do,” Michael Osterholm, an epidemiologist at the University of Minnesota, said.

Experts point to some possible factors that contribute to trends in Covid-19 — widely discussed ones like vaccination and precautions, but also less covered issues like the weather, geographic concentration, and luck. But they acknowledge that there could be something going on that we just don’t know of or understand yet.

Figuring out all of this is crucial: It could be the difference between enabling and preventing not just the continued spread of Covid-19 but perhaps the next pandemic, too.

What's a government meant to do with such uncertainties, which make it incredibly easy for any policy mix they come up to be attacked?   

I'm not saying that governments are above criticism for policies - and certainly Right wing governments who take nonsensical attitudes towards punishing people who want to self protect are being idiotic - but my attitude towards criticism of government policies that are too strict remains slanted towards being sympathetic for the terrible difficulty they have in trying to work out what is effective and appropriate.  


Racist Right watch

Tucker Carlson Blows Up Murdoch’s White Supremacy Denial on Air

Chait is correct.

Thursday, September 23, 2021

People are fickle

Sure, the manner of the Afghanistan withdrawal was not a great look.   But the vaccine mandate provisions still hold majority support, I think.

Yet Gallup shows up a big drop in the approval rating of Joe Biden to a Trumpian level of 43%.  Interestingly, the biggest drop amongst Independents - but then again, given the state of politics at the moment, no one really expects any movement at all from Republicans, do they?   And don't Republicans who like to pretend they are free thinkers register Independent - I think I remember Bill O'Reilly used to say he was one.

Anyway, even Presidents who are seen retrospectively as popular and successful can have periods of low approval.

As far as I am concerned, nothing Biden has done warrants this.  

Reactionary Right watch

Currency Lad, as clueless about the laws of armed conflict (and, I might add, morality) as ever:


 He and fellow conservative Catholic dover beach also think this:

 

Uhuh.   

And the race nationalism basis of the Right is on display at another new Catallaxy:

Can't we start negotiating with the USA for allowing an immigration swap of Redneck Australians for illegal Mexicans, or something?  I know which I would prefer to be around...

How the Polynesians spread

A new genetic study helps confirm the way the Polynesians spread through the Pacific:

The analysis suggests canoes set sail from the shores of Samoa—more than 2000 kilometers north of New Zealand—around 800 CE. The explorers arrived first on Rarotonga, the largest island in a chain now called the Cook Islands. Successive explorers moved in all directions, island hopping over the course of centuries and eventually reaching all the way to Rapa Nui, 6500 kilometers from Samoa and 3700 kilometers off the coast of Chile, by 1210 C.E.

The seems to have narrowed down the timeline considerably:

Archaeologists already had hints of how this great exploration took place. Studying the styles of stone tools and carvings, as well as languages, of the people on the various islands had suggested the original ancestors traced back to Samoa and that the expansion ended halfway across the ocean in Rapa Nui, or Easter Island. But they disagreed on whether it happened in a few centuries, beginning around 900 C.E., or started much earlier and lasted 1 millennium or more.
What's this about Native American ancestry?:

And because the genetic evidence allowed the researchers to reconstruct the order in which the islands were settled, they could spot connections between islands that might not seem intuitive based on the geography. For example, they argue that three island cultures known for carving massive stone statues—Rapa Nui, Raivavae, and the North and South Marquesas—shared a common founder population in the Tuamotu Islands, even though they are thousands of kilometers apart and geographically closer to other parts of the Pacific.

Those three islands also hold the earliest genetic traces of Native American ancestry among Polynesians. That suggests ancient Polynesians first contacted the Americas around 1100 C.E., when the seafarers were beginning their last, and longest, expeditions. “That’s something no one could have predicted through archaeology or oral history,” Moreno Estrada says.

Oh, here's another article explaining that part:

Researchers, published in Nature, sampled genes of modern peoples living across the Pacific and along the South American coast and the results suggest that voyages between eastern Polynesia and the Americas happened around the year 1200, resulting in a mixture of those populations in the remote South Marquesas archipelago. It remains a mystery whether Polynesians, Native Americans, or both peoples undertook the long journeys that would have led them together. The findings could mean that South Americans, hailing from what’s now coastal Ecuador or Columbia, ventured to East Polynesia. Alternatively, Polynesians could have arrived in the Marquesas alone having already mixed with those South American people—but only if they’d first sailed to the American continent to meet them.

Alexander Ioannidis, who studies genomics and population genetics at Stanford University, co-authored the new study in Nature. “The genes show that the Native Americans who contributed came from the coastal regions of Ecuador and Columbia,” he says. “What they can’t show, and we don’t know, is where exactly it first took place—on a Polynesian island or the coast of the Americas.”

 So, some Native Americans might have made it to, say, Rapa Nui, kon tiki style.  I thought that had been discredited - but it was more the idea that all of Polynesia came from the East, rather than the West.  

Some interesting reading

An Ezra Klein tweet led me to this review of a monograph about democracy.   Some extracts:

A central principle of the new Biden Administration is the idea that for democracy to survive our globe’s cascading crises and a shifting geopolitical landscape, marked by the rise of China, democracies need to do something quite fundamental: They must deliver for their citizens. Democracies can justify themselves if they can effectively master the multiplying calamities sweeping the globe such as climate change and the COVID epidemic.

In this new monograph, a follow up to his influential 2016 book What is Populism?, Princeton political theorist Jan-Werner Müller probes the potential of such justifications for democracy and finds them important but insufficient. The problem, Müller notes, is that, in democracies, economic growth rates will inevitably falter from time to time. Autocracies may sometimes prove superior at problem-solving, even if only in the short run, delivering peace, health, and stability to their citizens.

If this is so, can democracy still be justified beyond this purely instrumental rationale? Put differently: Why should we value democracy on its own terms?


This book represents an effort to answer these questions. Müller builds on a long line of theorizing on what are sometimes called the “intrinsic,” as opposed to the “instrumental,” qualities of liberal democracy vis-à-vis authoritarianism. Instrumental justifications for democracy emphasize its immediate policy and material benefits for society while intrinsic justifications highlight the values and principles that make it self-justifying. Müller focuses on the latter but does so with an important twist. His focus is post-Trumpian America, Jair Bolsonaro’s Brazil, Viktor Orbán’s Hungary, and Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Turkey. Rather than weighing the political virtues of the West against Chinese or Singaporean authoritarian models, Müller’s starting point instead is to distinguish what he calls “real democracy” from Trump, Orban & co.’s variants of “fake” democracy. We see here that Trump’s turns of phrase haunt even the most distinguished of political theorists.

Müller’s debate-shaping 2016 book told us what defines “fake democrats,” and this book’s first chapter elaborates this thesis. What ties together the cast of characters—Orbán, Bolsonaro, Erdogan, Trump, Narendra Modi, Jaroslaw Kaczynski, and Benjamin Netanyahu—is that they are all politicians who claim they, and only they, represent the “real people” or the “silent majority.” This basic claim to a “moral monopoly” of the people is pernicious for democracy, Müller powerfully reminds us, because the political opposition can be easily cast as illegitimate and its supporters, even more dangerously, as not part of the “real people.” 

Sounds all very astute.  But I guess I shouldn't cut and paste too much.  But here's another key paragraph: 

The common thread—what we might term the “Müller Insight”—that runs from What is Populism? through to this book is the notion that in a healthy democracy, no group or individual ought to claim to speak exclusively on behalf of “the people.” If politicians or parties do this before an election, they are, in Müller’s view, populists who threaten to poison a democracy. If they do this after an election (the focus of this book), the damage can be even more extensive: A populist who claims to be the only authentic representative of the people also inevitably believes he can lose only if a political system is “corrupt and rotten.” If a populist faces his own demise, he is tempted to demolish the entire system.
The review notes that Muller talks a lot about the key role the internet, and the ease with which it allows politicians (and wannabe demagogues) to communicate directly to their followers, spreading disinformation and partisan lies.   That this has played an incredibly important role in the parties of the Right is obvious.

There is more at the review worth reading.  All good stuff.


Wednesday, September 22, 2021

Macro woes

I liked Noah Smith's latest free substack piece on macroeconomic theory.   Not that I have any great understanding of economics, but I still get the feeling that we a living through a theoretical crisis within the field that is not widely recognised yet, probably because economists don't like to admit their academic endeavour is built on sand.   

That's my working hypothesis, anyway...

 

China woes

It seems that there is not too much concern that China's property market woes and the collapse of Evergrande can provoke an international financial crisis.  Hope they're right.  

Here's another article's summary:

Many are concerned that losses would force bondholders to sell other investments or shed riskier assets to raise cash, hurting markets that may seem unrelated. The catchphrase being thrown about is “contagion,” with many worried about tightly connected global markets.

Not all analysts agree. Analysts at Barclays called such speculation “far off base” while acknowledging the probable spillover effects with economic implications.

“But a true ‘Lehman moment’ is a crisis of a very different magnitude” and Chinese authorities would need to make a series of policy mistakes in response to the crisis for this to be of the Lehman level, they added.

SocGen economists said investors seem to be “differentiating between safe and risky borrowers,” which at the moment would limit the spillover to the wider financial market. On the whole, the sector’s investment-grade index also remained largely stable, they added.

They agreed largely that China’s situation is “very different” as the property sector’s links to the financial system are “not on the same scale” and noted that the capital markets are not the primary means of funding. The message is that as long as the regulators step in, the situation is manageable.

“The lesson from Lehman was that moral hazard needs to take a back seat to systemic risk,” Barclays analysts wrote.

Update:  a very unspecific explainer in Washington Post notes this:

Another concern is credit markets. Evergrande has done so much borrowing, and so many lenders are at risk of getting burned, would its potential default have a ripple effect for other borrowers? On both of these questions, experts say, it’s still too soon to tell.

But troubling signs already are emerging: Remember, hundreds of millions of Chinese homeowners who could see their property values drop, meaning there’s a good chance they’ll rein in spending. Global consumer markets — on everything from clothes to electronics to food — rely on the prolific buying power of the Chinese middle class. If China is poised to spend much less on consumer goods, there will be economic ramifications around the world.

That bit in italics:  is that right?   I didn't really realise it was so significant on a global scale, seeing I always think of China as more the country getting rich by making stuff the West wants (and therefore driven by our consumers' demands, not their's) 

Update 2:   I have been waiting for a while for a review article about the incredible and sudden degree of Chinese government intervention into industry and society, and how it very much feels a bit like a Cultural Revolution (Lite, perhaps.)

I think this is the article I was looking for, from a couple of weeks ago in the Washington Post:

Xi Jinping’s crackdown on everything is remaking Chinese society

It starts:

The orders have been sudden, dramatic and often baffling. Last week, “American Idol”-style competitions and shows featuring men deemed too effeminate were banned by Chinese authorities. Days earlier, one of China’s wealthiest actresses, Zhao Wei, had her movies, television series and news mentions scrubbed from the Internet as if she had never existed.

Over the summer, China’s multibillion-dollar private education industry was decimated overnight by a ban on for-profit tutoring, while new regulations wiped more than $1 trillion from Chinese tech stocks since a peak in February. As China’s tech moguls compete to donate more to President Xi Jinping’s campaign against inequality, “Xi Jinping Thought” is taught in elementary schools, and foreign games and apps like Animal Crossing and Duolingo have been pulled from stores.

A dizzying regulatory crackdown unleashed by China’s government has spared almost no sector over the past few months. This sprawling “rectification” campaign — with such disparate targets as ride-hailing services, insurance, education and even the amount of time children can spend playing video games — is redrawing the boundaries of business and society in China as Xi prepares to take on a controversial third term in 2022.

 And further down:

The scope and velocity of the society-wide rectification has some worried China may be at the beginning of the kind of cultural and ideological upheaval that has brought the country to a standstill before.

Last week, an essay by a retired newspaper editor and blogger described the changes as a response to threats from the United States. “What these events tell us is that a monumental change is taking place in China, and that the economic, financial, cultural, and political spheres are undergoing a profound transformation — or, one could say, a profound revolution,” wrote Li Guangman.

The essay, picked up by China’s state media outlets, prompted comparisons with a 1965 article that launched China’s chaotic decade-long Cultural Revolution, and left even some in the party establishment worried.

Hu Xijin, the outspoken editor of the state-run Global Times, criticized the article as misleading and an “extreme interpretation” of the recent rush of regulatory orders that could trigger “confusion and panic.”  

Differences over the article may be a sign of deeper dispute within the party, according to Yawei Liu, a senior adviser focusing on China at the Carter Center in Atlanta, who wrote that such disagreement indicates “raging debate inside the CCP on the merits of reform and opening up, on where China is today . . . and about what kind of nation China wants to become.”

Update 3:   oh, another good piece in the Washington Post has dropped:

Anyone who has visited China over the past several decades has heard anguished stories from Chinese friends about the results of Mao Zedong’s social engineering in the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution. China spent 40 years recovering from those disasters to become a great, modern nation.

So, I can almost hear the gasps inside China, from the generation that lived through the nightmare years, as President Xi Jinping has moved down a Maoist path this year toward tighter state control of the economy — including “self-criticism” sessions for Chinese business and political leaders whose crime, it seems, was being too successful.

Xi’s leftward turn represents a major change in the management of the Chinese economy, in the view of a half-dozen experts I’ve consulted over the past week. It has the idealistic goal of “common prosperity” and a fairer distribution of China’s new wealth. But Xi will drive these changes using the ruthless instrument of an authoritarian, one-party state — and you can already see the purges and figurative “dunce caps” for those he views as obstacles.

How much is driven by Xi's own inflated views of himself?  Maybe a lot?:

Xi is a cunning and ruthlessly successful politician; since taking power in 2013, he has purged a generation of leaders in the Communist Party, the military, and the intelligence and security services to gain absolute control. His hubris is that, like Mao, he now seeks to become a man-God, whose thoughts are holy writ.

Xi’s unabated hunger for power is evident in his drive for a third term as party leader. That would break the two-term rule that has prevailed in China’s modern history and provided the checks and balances of group leadership. “China had solved the major problem of a one-party state — succession. Now they are un-solving it,” argues a former top-level U.S. national security official.

 

 

 

Funny earthquake tweet

 Gawd, some people are quick witted with the witty tweets:


 Update:  this also made me laugh:




Better than certain countries talking rank hypocrisy about human rights, I guess?

In what might a sign of the Apocalypse:

K-pop stars BTS dip into global diplomacy at UN gathering

I looked at the first couple of minutes of their talk, and I gotta say, they certainly "de-androgenised" their appearance for this event:




That is all...

Tuesday, September 21, 2021

Whatever happened to water cannon?

I have been too busy today to see much on line about the Melbourne coalescence of (at least some) stupid union members with stupid anti vaccination thugs out for a street fight.   (I checked in and can report, though, that it's been like Viagra to the ageing wingnut cranks in the new, smaller Catallaxy blog offshoots.   Prime idiot Tailgunner - a drug taking tradie who disclosed at old Catallaxy that he blew around $40,000 on betting on a Trump re-election - has been commenting that he was in the fray and took some form of police projectile, apparently.  Oh diddums, is pretty much my reaction.)

Anyway, this sort of pointless, massively disrupting protest seems to me well suited to the old water cannon dispersal technique, but we don't seem to see them used much these days.   I wonder why.   

Gone to meet his Maker...or not

I see the super liberal Episcopal bishop John Spong has died.   

It would be very cool if some evidential message from him to his family would turn up via a medium in the next year or so - but mediumship seems to have fallen out of favour in the last few years, with high profile mediums like that John Edward fading into the background.   And besides, if Houdini didn't get a message to us from the other side, why should I expect a liberal bishop to do any better?   

I remain leery of the non-realist gospel (so to speak) as the way forward for the Christian churches:  I don't really see much reason to change what I wrote about this topic (Spong got a mention) in 2007, in my early blogging days.  

 

Monday, September 20, 2021

Once upon a time...there was a very bad movie made

I had never seen the 1980's gangster film Once Upon a Time in America before, although I had a vague feeling (confirmed by looking at Rottentomatoes) that it was reasonably well regarded at the time.   Directed by Sergio Leone, whose spaghetti Western oeuvre is definitely not my cup of tea, but it has De Niro and some other big names, most notably James Woods.  (More about him at the end.)

So, there was at least a chance I would like it, and it has turned up on Aussie Netflix.   At least, one version of it, as I haven't bothered looking into where (if anywhere) the even longer version of it was released. 

But:  the movie is shockingly bad, from every almost aspect, and I am completely puzzled as to how anyone, at the time of release or later, ever gave it credit as a good movie.   

There is exactly one thing that I thought it noteworthy for in a sort of positive way - it seemed that whoever was put in charge of set design and decoration (and putting extras in shots) was given half of the movie budget.  I mean, especially in the first hour or two, every single scene seems to be stuffed to the gills with - stuff.  And people.   In fact, restaurants, nightclubs, the opium den (yes, it features a New York Chinese opium den - something I was not aware of as being a thing back then) and streets are so massively cluttered and busy I started to feel it was over the top, but admittedly in an eye-catching, "jeez they spent a lot of money on the look of this film", way. 

But don't get me wrong - it's still a really bad movie, and let me count the ways:

1.    the overall story:    it's stupid and made no emotional sense to me at all.  And I mean, if you are finding it a bit odd before intermission, just wait 'til the second "half".  (Actually, it's only about a third to go after intermission.)  If this is meant to be some grand picture of corruption running through US 20th century history or something, it's a complete failure.

2.    the dialogue:   never sounded very natural.  It had 5 or 6 writers, which is usually a sign of trying to fix problems, isn't it?   They were never solved.  And by they way, did Sergio make every film with dubbed dialogue, even if the actor spoke in English, or is this just a fault with the print Netflix is showing?   The sound consistently did not quite match the mouth, although I guess I sort of got used to that, eventually.

3.    the acting:   some pretty hammy kid actors; some unconvincing adult acting too.  De Niro is ok-ish, I suppose, in a thankless role.  But really, I wasn't convinced by anyone else.

4.    the characters:   no one is really sympathetic, although you keep getting the feeling that we are meant to feel for De Niro's character.  But he's a murderer (for base motives, not just from a sense of self protection) and rapist - see next paragraph.    

5.    the sexual politics:   come on, I know the 1980's had some terribly sexist treatment of women in movies, but I find it hard to believe that the awful and ridiculous sexual politics of the film wasn't noticed even at that time.    As my son said (he gave up on it by intermission, which was a wise judgement in retrospect) - "this film is really rape-y".   There are two prominent rape scenes, one of which results later in the victim falling for her rapist (happens all the time!);   the other doesn't, but when she meets him again 30 years later, it doesn't get a mention.   And the De Niro rape scene is really protracted and unpleasant.   Yet within a minute of it, we get "Noodles" (the silly nickname the film gives the De Niro character) looking sad beside the beach while the music swells - see next paragraph.

6.    the score!   It's like a romantic score from the 1960's that ended up in the wrong movie.  (Well, at least when it isn't featuring pan flute, which seems, at best, incongruous.)   There's a constant swelling up of strings in places where it just doesn't seem warranted.   I mean, it seemed to signalling sympathy for De Niro after his big rape scene.  It's artistically weird:  the whole movie is!

There are so many things wrong with the movie I feel I have forgotten one of them.   

But I have just remembered one amusing thing about it - James Woods's character keeps getting upset when De Niro calls him "crazy".   Yet Woods did end up a real life pro-Trump wingnut.   De Niro must laugh at the irony of that.

Update:  I remembered one other, minor but noticeable, thing:  the fake blood used in some scenes, but not others, looked exceptionally fake.   This is a movie from 1984 - fake blood didn't have to look so bad by that time.  Did the set decorator blow the budget so badly that they had to go to the paint shop and ask for any left over tins of red for the blood?   

Update 2:   OK, I have read more about the film, including the [SPOILER ALERT] 

fairly well know theory that the ending means that about 1/3 of the film is an opium dream of the future where things are made (sort of) right.  This explains things like the wild improbability of the story, and his childhood sweetheart barely ageing. 

Clever, huh?  Well, no - it might be interesting if the confrontations in the future carried some emotional weight, as dreams can, but they don't.   It makes the movie more of a waste of time than ever, if you ask me.   And it's also a definite cheat, if that was the actual intention, to prominently use a song written in the 1960's on the soundtrack.  Opium doesn't make you dream future songs, does it?   But, the theory does make quite a bit of sense.  Just doesn't make it worthwhile.

 


Friday, September 17, 2021

Unusual local dealer

From Crux:

ROME – On Tuesday police in the Tuscan city of Prato announced that they had placed Italian Father Francesco Spagnesi under house arrest for the sale and import of drugs, including cocaine and GBL, a date rape drug.

Spagnesi, 40, until Sept. 1 was pastor of Annunciation parish in Prato. He was relieved of his duties as pastor and ordered to take a year sabbatical by his bishop, Giovanni Nerbini, who claims to have been partially aware of Spagnesi’s struggles but did not know the full extent of the situation. 

Investigations into him began in August after the arrest of another Prato citizen named Alessio Regina, who is also under house arrest and who was found to be in possession of GBL, also called “liquid esctacy”, which is often used consensually to enhance sexual performance, but which has also garnered a more nefarious reputation as a preferred drug in date rapes.

In the course of their investigation into Regina, Prato police discovered ties to Spagnesi, who was placed under house arrest Tuesday as a precautionary measure while officers continue their inquiry.

According to police investigations, the GBL was ordered online and imported from the Netherlands, and an undisclosed amount of cocaine was obtained through local suppliers. The drugs were then sold to guests invited to a specific house in Prato for parties involving sex and drugs.

"Partially aware"?   

Further to that tweet that lauched a million jokes


Update:

Night noises

I am reliably told, and have been told for some years, that I snore - a lot.   

Curious as to the extent to which I do, and how often it might involve sleep apnea style snoring, in which there are the long and unhealthy pauses in breathing, I decided to look up snore monitoring apps for my smart phone, and there are several to choose from.

But before I first used it, I was slightly worried about what would happen if I found out I mutter wildly inappropriate things in my sleep, or more worryingly, hear something completely spooky, like an unrecognised voice saying my name in the middle of the night?     Surely some writer has used a scenario like that in a scary story?  My daughter thought it very weird that I should even think of this, but I thought it would be something that would occur to most people with an imagination.   Who is right?

Anyway, I now know directly that, yes, I do snore, and almost continuously it seems.  Not always at a high volume, but absolutely silent sleep seems a pretty small proportion of my night.   I also know that I can cough in the middle of the night and not remember it the next day.  I have not yet heard any muttering, or disembodied voices, yet. 

Now, to investigate some snore reduction devices.  I don't think I have serious sleep apnea, but I would like to have clearer sounding night breathing...

Taking "never retire" to extremes

At NPR:

 




Thursday, September 16, 2021

Can't we just rent some nuclear submarines and return them when due for servicing?

I haven't had time to read much about what today's defence announcement really means, but I thought nuclear subs didn't need much re-fuelling, and boy, I was right:

The Navy hopes to have the first replacement for the Ohio-class ballistic missile submarine on duty by 2031. When that vessel is launched, the onboard nuclear power plant is expected to last its entire 40-year service life.

That is seven years longer than the current reactors aboard U.S. submarines.

“Our goal for the new submarines is to have a life-of-the-ship reactor,” said Frank G. Klotz, National Nuclear Security Administration administrator and the Department of Energy’s undersecretary of nuclear security. NNSA is responsible for developing government-owned nuclear power plants...

There are two primary reasons the NNSA is undertaking the new core design, he told reporters in November.

“It is extraordinarily important on cost because one of the largest elements of the total operational cost of a submarine over its life has been replacing the core when that has come due. It is very expensive,” he said.

“The other aspect is that when you go into the deep overhaul that is necessary to replace the core, you’re taking a submarine out of service for a long time. So if you have a life of the sub or a life of the ship core, then you avoid both cost, and you avoid both extensive downtime as you refuel the reactor,” Klotz said.

The savings could be substantial.

Olivia Volkoff, a spokeswoman for the program, said: “Eliminating the refueling through insertion of a life-of-the-ship core allows the Navy to meet the strategic deterrent mission with two fewer SSBNs and saves about $40 billion in ship acquisition and lifecycle costs over the life of the program.”

The Virginia-class attack submarines were the first to have a core reactor designed to last the life of the vessel, which for it, is about 33 years.

So, it's surely not an issue that we need to have a nuclear fuel processing facilities here.   Just pick up a second hand attack sub (or 10) from "Subs R Us" at San Diego, or wherever, tootle around the Pacific for 20 years, and return for every major service.   Routine minor services (the equivalent of a grease and oil change) could, I presume, be done here.

I am not entirely sure how we are meant to find enough people to crew these, though.  Don't we struggle crewing the 2 or 3 that are operational at any one time?

But then again - there's a hell of a lot of Filipino seamen (and ship's stewards) out of work at the moment, due to COVID devastating the cruise line industry.    Just contract them out for 5 years at a time, and problem solved.

Defence problems all solved...

What the General said to who, and when

Well, the General Milley calling up the Chinese and telling them his President was nuts and they shouldn't worry about being attacked by surprise is an entertaining story sending the wingnut Right nuts.

A big part of the problem of knowing what to make of it, though, is the question of whether the reporting of the details of the call is accurate.  In that regard, I thought this post by Allahpundit, considering the possible variations on a theme, covered it well.

One thing seems clear:   there were lots of people listening to the call, and therefore, if there was anything really damaging to the General's credibility, we will eventually know about it.   I strongly suspect that it will turn out that the Woodward account is eventually shown to be an exaggeration in some details. 

Nonetheless, it is a sign of the extraordinary times that such calls were being made.  

Update:  and, I should add, that the real concern should be that Trump was presenting as unstable enough to make another superpower suspect a surprise nuclear attack.   But no, Republicans have become so stupid and tribal as to excuse an unstable nutjob because he was their unstable nutjob. 

 

Suddenly, the vaccines flow...

This was a bit of a Queensland surprise yesterday:   from Saturday, over 60's can get Pfizer if they want.  My wife, who has been a longer hold out for Pfizer than me, is pleased.   She (aged 60) actually asked for it at a hub two weekends ago, and they said "no, we need a doctor's letter saying they recommend it for you, otherwise we'll get into trouble."   We were given the impression, though, that some GPs were happy to write a letter for anyone who was AZ hesitant, without even an appointment!  My wife had an appointment to see her GP this week anyway, but now she doesn't have to test her doctor's attitude towards the AZ resistant.  

My daughter has also been told that there are a lot of "walk in" openings at the South Brisbane vaccination hub in recent days.   She had made an appointment in a couple of weeks time, but now she is just going to try her luck at an earlier walk in.

All of this would indicate that Queensland has a sudden increase in our supply of Pfizer, and it hasn't been all pilfered by those southern cities which aren't as good at controlling outbreaks as dumb old Queenslanders.   I hope Morrison is not getting any credit for this, though.   He deserves none.

 

 

Historian stories

This is interesting, although it's a pity there isn't a detailed explanation of every item:

I asked historians what find made them go ‘wait, wut?’ Here’s a taste of the hundreds of replies

The first part of the "quirky" sounds interesting enough:

Many of those who responded told stories of bizarre (and sometimes amusing) finds in the archives. Some were actual objects, such as Robert Cribb finding “17 tubes of processed opium, ready for smoking, in the Dutch archives from 1946 Indonesia”, Daniel McKay coming across “negatives of an early Australian prime minister naked on holiday”, and “300 love letters from woman to woman around 1760, partly written in blood”, located by Susanne Wosnitzka
Come on, we need more details about the nude PM on holidays.  

Wednesday, September 15, 2021

The Catallaxy diaspora

The end of the Sinclair Davidson Catallaxy blog, and the break up of people who used to regularly comment or contribute there into 3 or 4 separate online spaces (depending on how and what you count) has had the salutary effect of really highlighting what a sad sack of culture war losers and conspiracists the blog had long become home to.

One new incarnation is run by a guy who has little time for moderation of comments, meaning it has been regularly overrun by Graeme Bird, with the usual consequences of it likely becoming of interest to the Human Rights Commission for his ratbag and obsessive brand of anti-Semitism.  No one wants him there, but the blog controller takes days (so it seems - I am not following it closely) to ban him and delete comments, making many (I think) inclined to abandon participation.

The other main competitor (as monty's alternative - the only one I have linked to in the blog roll - already seems to have given up any hope of becoming the heir apparent) is the one run by conservative Catholic dover beach, who I attacked strongly at monty's blog for being a terrible ambassador for the Church, and who promptly moderated me for insulting his depressive contributor Arky, while still letting regulars post comments about "faggots", as all good conservative Catholics are wont to do.  Anyway,  it has become a hive of anti COVID vax sentiment, and conspiracy mongering about e-vil government control of people, as well as general culture war complaint.  It also welcomes contribution by Trump cultist Steve Kates.   The number of people commenting regularly seems a pretty small pool, though.   And it's dull.

Currency Lad, meanwhile (you can link via monty's blog) has started blogging again.   His themes now seem so tired and repetitive, though; and again, resistance to taking COVID seriously is a common subject.  I have said elsewhere that his style of writing has deteriorated over the years;  it's now overworked to such an extent that I can't always see clearly the point trying to be made.  He's become too performative - like a slightly softer version in blog form of that incredibly annoying Paul Joseph Watson.  He needs new ideas and material. 

I said for years that the problem with old Catallaxy was that it gave the regulars a false sense of the extent of like minded support for their increasingly Right wing/wingnutty views - and Sinclair Davidson devoted just enough time in things like weeding out Bird strikes (and those who needed a break for their mental health) to stop it collapsing completely into madness.    It was still extremely disreputable, but having a known public figure performing some gatekeeping role still gave the participants some false sheen of credibility.  

But now, by being cast amongst these smaller enterprises, that has been dissolved, and they just look like somewhat sad but angry (always angry) conspiracy minded losers, complaining in their small groups about lack of influence.

This is a Very Good Thing.  

Monkey problem

In a short NPR article about a book about when animals cause trouble, this anecdote is noteworthy:

Macaques have been known to sneak into swimming pools, courts and even the halls of India's Parliament. One attorney told Roach about a macaque that infiltrated a medical institute and began pulling out patient IVs.

"If somebody was getting, you know, a glucose drip, [the monkey would] suck on the needle like it was a Popsicle," she says.

Eek.

Bernard goes off (and rightly so)

Writing in Crikey today, Bernard Keane goes off:

That Christian Porter thinks it’s appropriate to remain a cabinet minister in the absence of an independent inquiry into much-denied allegations of sexual assault is bad enough, but there can be no doubt he has now spat in the face of any Australian who thinks there should be basic level of transparency and integrity in government.

His declaration of being the beneficiary of an anonymous windfall for his legal costs in his withdrawn legal action against the ABC — where the story revealing allegations of rape by a cabinet minister remains up, intact — is an act of gross contempt for political integrity.

In a way, such arrogant behaviour by this privileged man-child has done us a favour in revealing just how piss weak federal standards of accountability are — standards fit for a tinpot dictatorship rather than a country that feels entitled to lecture others about democracy.

 Pretty much what Malcolm Turnbull said on Radio National, too.

I am curious as to what old Porter pal and (semi?) defender Peter van Onselen thinks about it.  Oh, his tweets are "protected".

The Nazi search for the lost Aryans

I'm pretty sure I have heard of this before, but here's a short account at the BBC about it:

In 1938, Heinrich Himmler, a leading member of Germany's Nazi party and a key architect of the Holocaust, sent a five-member team to Tibet to search for the origins of the supposed Aryan race. Author Vaibhav Purandare recounts the fascinating story of this expedition, which passed through India.

...

Adolf Hitler believed that "Aryan" Nordic people had entered India from the north some 1,500 years earlier, and that the Aryans had committed the "crime" of mixing with the local "un-Aryan" people, losing the attributes that had made them racially superior to all other people on earth.

Hitler regularly expressed deep antipathy for the Indian people and their struggle for freedom, articulating his sentiments in his speeches, writings and debates. 

Yet, according to Himmler, one of Hitler's top lieutenants and the head of the SS, the Indian subcontinent was still worth a close look.  

This is where Tibet came into the picture.

Those who swore by the idea of a white Nordic superior race were believers in the tale of the imagined lost city of Atlantis, where people of "the purest blood" had apparently once lived. Believed to have been situated somewhere between England and Portugal in the Atlantic Ocean, this mythical island allegedly sunk after being struck by a divine thunderbolt. 

All the Aryans who survived had supposedly moved on to more secure places. The Himalayan region was believed to be one such refuge, Tibet in particular because it was famous for being "the roof of the world".

In 1935, Himmler set up a unit within the SS called the Ahnenerbe - or Bureau of Ancestral Heritage - to find out where people from Atlantis had gone after the bolt from the blue and the deluge, and where traces of the great race still remained and could be discovered.

In 1938, he sent a team of five Germans to Tibet on this "search operation".

 You can read more at the link above.

Update:  I thought it worth showing the photo in the article of the 5 guys on the hunt for Aryan roots in Tibet (so to speak):


 The pants are a bit baggy, but still:  pretty snappy dressers for Nazi scientists.   (And you really do expect Indiana Jones to be lurking somewhere in the background.)

Big floods more often

Some German researchers conclude about climate change and floods:

New research by Brunner and her colleagues shows the occurrence and intensity of extreme flood events will increase, but smaller and more moderate floods will probably decline.

“There is extensive evidence that climate change is increasing the frequency and intensity of extreme precipitation events around the world, but much less evidence that flood events have increased over the same period,” wrote Daniel Swain, a climate scientist at University of California at Los Angeles and a co-author of the paper.

“This new research demonstrates how climate change could actually have divergent effects for very large but rare floods versus smaller but more common floods,” he said.

Swain said additional work would be needed to confirm that this flooding behavior applies more broadly around the world but suspects it probably does....

In line with previous research, the team found that precipitation will increase and intensify in a warming climate. The largest increases in precipitation occurred in the most extreme and rare events.

By the end of this century, the authors found, intense precipitation events that would typically occur two times per century would occur twice as often. Events that would occur once every 200 years would become four times as frequent.

Flooding trends were more nuanced.

In general, they found that moderate flooding events depended on land-surface processes, such as soil moisture or the amount of snow in the watershed.

For instance, if soil moisture was high, perhaps from previous recent rains, then even a small amount of additional precipitation could cause the area to flood. Brunner also said that water falling over impermeable surfaces, such as concrete sidewalks in cities, could cause flooding even from relatively small amounts of rain. Both of these were contributing factors to the disastrous flooding in New York in early September.

All sounds pretty plausible.  And as I keep saying - actually a very expensive and difficult thing to deal with in infrastructure terms - re-engineering storm water drainage for an entire city to expand its capacity by a substantial amount must be very pricey.

 

 

Tuesday, September 14, 2021

It's a cult

This is such strong evidence of Trumpism being a cult, I wondered if it might turn out to be faked.  Doesn't look it:


 

Monday, September 13, 2021

The end of the Ring

Well, time for my final "I don't really know what I am talking about" review of the Ring Cycle - because I managed to get through Acts 2 and 3 of Götterdämmerung (Twilight of the Gods, Wiki informs me) on the weekend.

Act 2:  the plot here is fairly confusing - although I think now that I read the explanation on Wiki, it was probably because I wasn't paying close enough attention at the end of Act 1.   So, going back there for a moment:  under the spell of a potion by bad guy Hagen, and the use of a magic helmet called the Tarnhelm, Siegfried took on the shape of Hagen's half brother Gunther and walked through the ring of fire to get to Brunnhilde, snatched the ring (yes, that ring) off her finger and putting it on his [that is, fake Gunther's] hand, making her his [fake Gunther's] instantly, apparently.

In Act 2, Siegfried teleports [uh, Tarnhelm - it's a bit like a Tardis that fits on the head, apparently] back to Hagen to claim the woman he wants - Gunther's sister Gutrune.   (See, he's forgotten all about how he had fallen for Brunnhilde.)  Real Gunther then arrives back with Brunnhilde in tow, with the plan to have a double wedding.   

Things then get all very high conflict, when Brunnhilde realises (by seeing the ring on Siegfried's finger - not Gunther's) that she's been conned, somehow, and as Siegfried still doesn't understand that he's been played by Hagen, he goes off to marry Gutrune anyway. 

[If there is one key feature of the Ring Cycle, it's that falling insanely in love and getting hitched takes place in phenomenally short timeframes!  Maybe all opera is like that - I really wouldn't know.]

While Siegfried and Gutrune are tying the knot off stage, Hagen, Gunther and Brunnhilde all decide that to restore everyone's honour, Siegfried needs to die.   Brunnhilde, obviously, is not a woman lightly crossed.

The best thing about Act 2: a chorus, hurrah - comprising the Gibichung army!   And it's used in (what seemed to me) an unusual way - it talks back and forth with Hagen.  Like: "hey, why did you summons us, Hagen?"  "To come to a wedding."   "Oh, cool.  Whose wedding?"  And so on.  That's not the way chorus's usually work in opera, is it?   I found it a bit amusing.   But I did like hearing a big chorus after after listening to mostly solo voices for the previous 14 hours.     

Anyway, onto the climax:   Act 3.  Spoilers ahead!

Well,  there's not much to tell, really:   Siegfried has gone out hunting and got separated from Hagen and Gunther, unaware they have plans for him.   The Rhinemaidens make a re-appearance, and warn Siegfried that the ring is cursed and if he'll end up dead that day unless he gives it back to the Rhine.   Dumb old (well, young, but usually played by old singers it seems) Siegfried scoffs, and is shortly thereafter shafted - literally - by Hagen.   

Hagen gets him carried home on his shield, to a fantastic bit of music, and lies to Gutrune that her husband of less than 24 hours has been killed by a wild boar.

The truth comes out soon enough, to everyone, including Brunnhilde.  She decides to re-join Siegfried by jumping into his funeral pyre, together with her horse,  and takes the opportunity to torch the Gods in Valhalla pretty much at the same time, in revenge for mucking her around.  (We had been told by someone - I forget who - that Wotan has been moping around in Valhalla, stacking it with a wood pile from the former World Tree, just waiting for someone to light a match, if I understood the implication correctly.)    

Somehow, the ring gets flung back into the Rhine, and Hagen tries to get it but is drowned by a couple of Rhinemaidens. ("Don't cross women" seems to be a major lesson of this opera.}

And, thus (don't ask me how, exactly) the world is redeemed.   I've actually got to go read how this is meant to work - I suppose it might have something to do with the Gods in this universe not being benevolent and wise and all powerful, but instead meddling nuisances who don't really know what they want.  Except a good house:  remember, waaaay back at the start, a lot of Wotan's troubles began as a tradesman dispute over how they were going to get paid for building Valhalla.   But then again, the Rhinemaidens, who seem to have escaped all this destruction, probably shouldn't have taunted ugly dwarf Alberich, causing him to turn all incel and steal the gold (and make the ring) in the first place.    I think there is a fair bit of blame to spread around, here...

So, did this climax live up to my expectations?   Pretty much - the end music is pretty overwhelming.  I don't know why, but my heart rate was up for a while after it finished, and I was just watching and listening on my phone.  (Imagine Wagner knowing this is how someone would be viewing his work a century and a half after he wrote it! He'd be mortified.)

I am satisfied that I will enjoy the live production, whenever it may get to be staged in Brisbane, and now that I know the story, I won't have to concentrate quite so much if my cheap seat doesn't have a good view.

I may have to write more about this, after I read more....


Sunday, September 12, 2021

Wingnuttery





Update:. More in this vein:



Saturday, September 11, 2021

Lunch

It was like a tasting paddle of food and wine.  I didn't take a photo of the dessert, but it was great.



Friday, September 10, 2021

The threats of the Right inadequately acknowledged

You know what sickens me - when you have Australian apologists for Trump pretending that his (often heavily armed) wingnut supporters are not into threats of violence.   It's all "we all know the true source of violence in America..it's the Left".  

They only get away with thinking this because, (apart from being brainwashed idiots), there is far too little reporting of the types of threats routinely made in America by Trump wingnuts.   Take this, for example - the appalling level of threat against another Republican for not swinging fully behind the "election was stolen":

Georgia Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan (R) felt queasy last December after dodging a reporter’s question about whether Joe Biden was president-elect. He said he’d seen no evidence of fraud but added that the process needed to fully play out. This was a standard GOP talking point, but Duncan understood how such vacillation gave oxygen to President Donald Trump’s efforts to steal the election.

The lieutenant governor decided he had a duty to acknowledge reality: The president he’d campaigned for had lost. Duncan knew this bit of truth-telling might cost him reelection. “My breathing suddenly became quick and shallow,” he recalls.

Just as Duncan feared, telling the truth about the "big lie" derailed a promising political career. He announced this spring he won’t seek a second term, averting probable defeat in a primary. That’s liberated the former professional baseball player to release a book this week, “GOP 2.0,” that recounts “the six nightmarish months” he spent in a “bizarre Twilight Zone” after the November election.

Trump called him “corrupt” — and threats poured in, via voicemail, email and social media. A website appeared with his face centered in crosshairs, alongside his address and a picture of his home. FBI agents told him Iran was behind that page, according to his book, as part of a broader effort to amplify election disinformation.

When his teenage son Bayler tweeted a family motto, “Doing the right thing will never be the wrong thing,” the lieutenant governor liked and retweeted the post. His wife, Brooke, was “furious” with him because she feared he had just exposed their son to attack, Duncan writes, “and she was right.” State troopers stood guard as he played catch with his three boys in their yard. “Imagine explaining that to your children,” he writes.

Legislators privately told him they admired his courage. Then they publicly attacked. “I found myself on an island — one that was getting pounded by bombs and artillery,” Duncan writes. “Lie by lie, the former president sapped the trustworthiness of every single Republican official.” 

 I would bet my last dollar that there were also many ordinary election workers (those who were seen on video and the subject of invented claims of fraudulent handling of votes) who received threats for months afterwards - but we hear nothing about that.

And hey - now that I Google the topic - yes: here is a special report that turned up on Reuters only yesterday detailing how :hundreds" of threats against election workers has only resulted in a handful of arrests.  Some of the reasons why are just astounding:

The death threats brought Staci McElyea to tears. The caller said that McElyea and other workers in the Nevada Secretary of State’s office were "going to f------ die.” She documented the threats and alerted police, who identified and interviewed the caller. But in the end, detectives said there was nothing they could do – that the man had committed no crime.

The first call came at 8:07 a.m. on Jan. 7, hours after Congress certified Donald Trump’s loss to Joe Biden in the November 2020 presidential vote. The caller accused McElyea of “stealing” the election, echoing Trump’s false claims of voter fraud. “I hope you all go to jail for treason. I hope your children get molested. You’re all going to f------ die,” he told her.

He called back three times over the next 15 minutes, each time telling her she was “going to die.”

McElyea, 53, a former U.S. Marine, called the Nevada Capitol Patrol and sent the state police agency a transcript of the calls, according to emails Reuters obtained through a public-records request. An officer contacted the man – who police would later identify as Gjurgi Juncaj of Las Vegas – and reported back to McElyea that their inquiry “might have pissed him off even further,” the emails showed.

A week later, state police concluded that Juncaj’s threats were not criminal, characterizing them as “protected” political speech, according to a summary of the case. Juncaj was never arrested or charged. Asked about the calls, Juncaj told Reuters he didn’t believe he had done anything wrong. “Like I explained to the police, I didn’t threaten anybody,” he said.

The case illustrates the glaring gaps in the protection that U.S. law enforcement provides the administrators of American democracy amid a sustained campaign of intimidation against election officials and staff. The unprecedented torrent of terroristic threats began in the weeks before the November election, as Trump was predicting widespread voter fraud, and continues today as the former president carries on with false claims that he was cheated out of victory.

What a country.


 

The dog that caught the car

I thought this Slate column on why the Republicans (and Australian Right wingnuts) have been fairly muted in their excitement over the Texas effective ban on abortion was pretty good.  Key parts:

Despite the Republican Party’s decades long crusade against Roe v. Wade, the vast majority of GOP politicians declined to celebrate, or even note, Roe’s functional demise. Why?

The most obvious answer is that Republicans are now the dog that caught the car, fearful of the political ramifications of their own victory. Indeed, it seems undeniable that Republicans did not anticipate this abrupt triumph over Roe, instead assuming that the Texas law would be blocked by the courts. After all, hundreds of similar laws were blocked by the courts for years. Their decision to downplay this victory should upend the conventional wisdom about Roe not just politically, but also from a constitutional perspective.

For years, conservative lawyers have argued that the Supreme Court should not uphold pro-choice precedent because it is unsettled, unstable, and unworkable. As evidence, they cite the fact that red states continue passing all manner of abortion restrictions to contest the legitimacy of Roe as settled precedent. But the GOP’s reaction to the Texas law suggests that this analysis has it backward. What if Republicans only continued to pass abortion restrictions because they knew the laws would get struck down? What if the passage of these laws proves that Roe is such a settled, stable, and workable precedent that legislators think they can pretend to defy it without worrying about the consequences?

The rest of it, talking about the history of Republican tactics, was interesting, too.

Thursday, September 09, 2021

Feminism and pornography

There's an interesting review in The Atlantic of three feminist themed books on the current (Western) attitudes to sex, and there are some interesting passages:

Porn consumption is now such a fixture of modern life—there is no chance the American government will take your smut away—that space has opened up to question its effects without being dismissed as a wannabe censor. Which isn’t to say that admitting to reservations about current sexual trends is easy. For Clark-Flory’s 30-something generation (which is also my generation), being Cool About Sex is a mark of our impeccable social liberalism. If two or more adults consent to it, whatever it is, no one else is entitled to an opinion.

Yet here is the conundrum facing feminist writers: Our enlightened values—less stigma regarding unwed mothers, the acceptance of homosexuality, greater economic freedom for women, the availability of contraception, and the embrace of consent culture—haven’t translated into anything like a paradise of guilt-free fun. The sexual double standard still exists, and girls who say no are still “frigid” while those who say yes are still “sluts.” Some men still act with entitlement, while others feel that, no matter what they do, they are inescapably positioned as the “bad guys” by the new sexual rules. Half a century after the sexual revolution and the start of second-wave feminism, why are the politics of sex still so messy, fraught, and contested?

More specifically on pornography:

In The Right to Sex: Feminism in the Twenty-First Century, Amia Srinivasan confesses her reluctance to cover second-wave criticisms of porn in the feminist-theory course she teaches at Oxford. She is Cool About Sex, after all, and assumed that her students would be bored by the question of whether porn oppresses women. She also assumed that the reputation of “anti-porn feminists,” such as Catharine A. MacKinnon and Andrea Dworkin, had been fatally damaged by their alliance with the religious right to pass laws restricting access to pornography. What self-respecting member of Generation Z would want to line up alongside Jerry Falwell Sr. and Phyllis Schlafly, particularly when the other side is selling a fantasy of libertine pleasure?

Yet her class was “riveted,” she observes in “Talking to My Students About Porn,” the longest essay in her collection. Their enthusiasm was so great that it made her reconsider her own diffidence. The exchange is worth quoting at length:

Could it be that pornography doesn’t merely depict the subordination of women, but actually makes it real, I asked? Yes, they said. Does porn silence women, making it harder for them to protest against unwanted sex, and harder for men to hear those protests? Yes, they said. Does porn bear responsibility for the objectification of women, for the marginalization of women, for sexual violence against women? Yes, they said, yes to all of it.

It wasn’t just the women students talking; the men were saying yes as well, in some cases even more emphatically … My male students complained about the routines they were expected to perform in sex; one of them asked whether it was too utopian to imagine sex was loving and mutual and not about domination and submission.

Well, it's good to see such things being admitted;  I guess it's also something of a sign of the scale of the sexual revolution that you can have a class of (presumably) young adults in Oxford so keen to share with their teacher their views of their own sexual experiences.   Not exactly a scene you'd expect in CS Lewis and Tolkien's day!

There is also this aspect of pornography, which I guess I hadn't thought much about before:

But how much do culture and politics shape those wants? Porn-aggregator sites, to take one example, use algorithms, just like the rest of the internet. Pornhub pushes featured videos and recommendations, optimized to build user loyalty and increase revenue, which carry the implicit message that this is what everyone else finds arousing—that this is the norm. Compare porn with polarized journalism, or even fast food: How can we untangle what people “really want” from what they are offered, over and over, and from what everyone else is being offered too? No one’s sexual desires exist in a vacuum, immune to outside pressures driven by capitalism. (Call it the invisible hand job of the market.)

Ha ha.

I think it's good to see serious, non religious, discussion of the downside of ubiquitous easy access to pornography;  but it is difficult how you can ever see a solution without in some way being censorious.  Let's not shy away from that, I say:   people should feel OK with saying "I really think pornography that depicts practice X, Y or Z really ought not be available."