June 9, 2020

Posted by orrinj at 6:29 PM


The gene delusion: The genetic data around human difference is inconclusive - but that does not stop right-wing thinkers using it to excuse profound social inequalities (PHILIP BALL, 6/10/20, New Statesman)

Eugenics is the spectre haunting this debate. It arose from the application of Darwinian ideas to human society in times when the science was too immature for the flawed reasoning to be apparent. Darwin discovered that biological traits - including human behaviours and abilities - were subject to the influence of invisible factors (genes) that we inherit. This led some - notably, Darwin's cousin Francis Galton - to conclude that people could in principle be bred for intelligence or good looks just as racehorses were bred for speed or cows for milk-producing capacity. (The idea remains in vogue among the aristocracy today - recently a clip surfaced of Dominic Cummings' baronet father-in-law Humphrey Wakefield asserting that genetic greatness runs in elite families, if they keep the bloodline "pure" - an idea straight out of Galton's 1869 work Hereditary Genius.)

But in modern societies where traits such as athleticism and intelligence were not subject to natural selection - where "poor genetic stock" could flourish and breed - scientists such as the eminent biologist Julian Huxley (grandson of Darwin's advocate Thomas Huxley), as well as the likes of HG Wells, Marie Stopes and George Bernard Shaw, believed that social and legal controls and incentives were needed to prevent bad genes from overwhelming the "good".

The horrific direction eugenics took under the Nazis has made it almost synonymous with inhuman social engineering and prejudice today. Yet there is still a great deal of confusion about it. Richard Dawkins took to Twitter in the wake of the Sabisky affair to say: "It's one thing to deplore eugenics on ideological, political, moral grounds. It's quite another to conclude that it wouldn't work in practice [for humans]. Of course it would." That prompted a dispute among experts about whether he was correct in the light of what we now know of human genetics. One key fact that confounds Dawkins' argument is that the genetic element of "desirable" but complex traits such as intelligence tends to be spread so widely and thinly across the genome, and so entwined with other attributes, that it would be all but impossible to select for them.

Remarkably, eugenics is not mentioned once in Murray's book. For someone setting himself up as a brave soul prepared to say the unsayable, this seems deplorably craven. Murray might argue that the book is not taking any position on eugenics, indeed not addressing the topic at all. But he knows perfectly well that any discussion of, say, the volatile intersection of genes, IQ and class must inevitably happen within the legacy of 20th-century debates on this issue. The word is ubiquitous in the far-right and supremacist channels to which Murray knows he will be speaking. It has been raised both by Sabisky (who has past links to alt-right forums) and Toby Young, who in 2017 attended a secret conference series on intelligence hosted - without the university's knowledge - at University College London, and which attracted white supremacists and eugenics advocates.

Those who believe in innate differences in ability and behaviour between "human populations" (for which, read "races") style themselves today as "race realists", much as climate-change deniers call themselves climate realists. It's a rhetorical stratagem implying that they are on the side of science, evidence and reason rather than ideology. In that narrative, academia is now in thrall to a woke liberal orthodoxy that censors and punishes any suggestion that gender and race are biological. Race realists and eugenicists defend their right to spread their views under a banner of free speech.

Take Young's new Free Speech Union, which seems primarily a vehicle for opposing "self-righteous social media bullies" like the "offence archaeologists" who in 2018 scuppered his own government appointment by unearthing his sexist tweets from a few years back; it has already proved to be a magnet for the hard right. Or take the case of Nathan Cofnas, a philosophy doctoral student at Oxford who published a sober-sounding article condemning the suppression of free enquiry into topics such as "group differences in intelligence", yet turns out to be a race realist and enemy of "political correctness", with links to the alt-right. And so they go on, these white men to whom freedom of speech apparently means the freedom to go on asking the same question - might the privileges that they happen to enjoy themselves be a part of the natural order? - and never to take no for an answer.

Murray, too, wears this mantle of victimhood and oppression. Yet somehow - his funding by the right-wing think tank the American Enterprise Institute has something to do with it - he is able to defy stifling orthodoxy by producing hefty books hyped by mainstream publishers (this one, like The Bell Curve, was not released to reviewers before publication and so was presented as an "event") and writing editorials in the Wall Street Journal.

The obvious implications of fealty to the theory are why Stephen Jay Gould abandoned Darwinism.

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Posted by orrinj at 4:00 AM


Trump mulls replacing Jared Kushner (IGOR DERYSH, JUNE 9, 2020, Salon)

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


J K Rowling is not transphobic: people who menstruate are women (Ella Whelan, 6/09/20, The Critic)

According to the latest Twitter meltdown, using the shorthand of 'women' when referring to 'people who menstruate' is not just pedantic, it's transphobic - it doesn't include the gender non-binary individuals who have periods. An article arguing for greater investment in menstrual health and hygiene in developing countries post Covid-19 used the term 'people who menstruate' instead of women. And, as it was rather obvious that the article was talking about women (even using a picture of a woman leading a workshop on menstruation in Kenya) British author JK Rowling pointed this out, tweeting: 'I'm sure there used to be a word for those people. Someone help me out. Wumben? Wimpund? Woomud?'

Twitter wars are rarely important - but this one is interesting. Rowling's tweet prompted enormous outcry, even Daniel Radcliffe has put out a statement denouncing her comments: 'Transgender women are women. Any statement to the contrary erases the identity and dignity of transgender people'. There is often a generational divide in the debate - Jonathan Ross, who initially tweeted in support of Rowling, got told off by his daughters for saying that she 'clearly' wasn't transphobic. He later U-turned, tweeting, 'I've come to accept that I'm not in a position to decide what is or isn't considered transphobic'.

Is it transphobic to say women get periods? Don't be daft - even the Devex article cites a Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation-funded report which it says reveals that '500 million women' - not people - 'worldwide do not have what they need to manage their menstruation'. Rowling is known for taking what's deridingly called the 'TERF' side in the debate over gender - arguing that while gender might be a construct, the biological or sex difference between man and woman is not.

The obvious compromise is that we get to call women "women" and they get to call us "transphobic".

Inquiry needed into link between Asperger's and gender dysphoria: Australian expert (Michael Cook, Jun 9, 2020, MercatorNet)

Increasingly, anecdotal reports and research are linking gender dysphoria with Asperger's syndrome. The Australian recently featured a leading expert who wants an inquiry into the disproportionate number of teenagers with autism in gender clinics.

Professor Tony Attwood, a psychologist and author of a number of books on autism, is not opposed to gender change as such. But he feels that people could slump back into depression if trans status was embraced with impulsive and unrealistic hopes of a fix for autism.

"Once they've changed gender, they still have autism and when (gender) transition doesn't solve their problems they think, Oh no, that was the only option I had, what's the point of life?," he told The Australian.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Democrats Are Gaining Ground Again by Doing NothingThe art of letting a movement create momentum. (BEN MATHIS-LILLEY, JUNE 08, 2020, Slate)

Doing nothing keeps working for the Democratic Party. It worked in early 2017, when women's marches led by activists and local grassroots groups rather than elected officials prefigured a 2018 wave election highlighted by first-time female candidates. It worked for Joe Biden during the most intense weeks of the coronavirus crisis, when he made limited, online-only public appearances but gained in polls against Donald Trump anyway as the president demonstrated daily that he couldn't understand or manage the threat of COVID-19 and speculated about the merits of injecting oneself with disinfectant. Now it is working again during the mass protests that have flowered from the pavement where police killed George Floyd in Minneapolis.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Willie Jones Blends Country-Trap With Classic Banjo-Picking on "Trainwreck" (JONATHAN FRAHM, 04 Jun 2020, Pop Matters)

Country artist Willie Jones' "Trainwreck" is an accessible summertime breakup tune that coolly meshes elements of the genre's past, present, and future.
Willie Jones stands at the crossroads between country music's past, present, and future. The perennial genre has enjoyed further pop and R&B crossovers leaning in from the last decade onward, but it arguably wasn't until Lil Nas X renovated its soundscape with "Old Town Road" that a full-on subcategory of country music was born. Informed by the country-trap of today alongside the wily fraying of classic Appalachian banjo, Jones' "Trainwreck" contributes towards driving the direction of mainstream country forward by such novel means. Inundated by a whopping synthetic bass beat, playful electric guitar riffs, and the aforementioned banjo-picking alike, the slinky breakup tune sounds something like a summertime hit.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Trump Wants to 'Dominate' but Can't Take the Backlash (Sasha Abramsky, Jun. 9th, 2020, The Nation)

Wherever Trump turns at the moment, he hits a brick wall of opposition and contempt. It turns out that it's hard to stomp on a vast protest movement when your jackboots fit as poorly as Trump's. In calling for troops to be used against US civilians, Trump has managed to turn a spasm of fury against ongoing police racism and police killings into a far more general pro-democracy movement--perhaps one with the revolutionary potential to turn Trump's corrupt and crude status quo on its head.

What's happening on the streets of America's cities is starting to look rather similar to the outpouring of fury against Erich Honecker's East German leadership in the autumn of 1989, after he called for security forces to put down pro-democracy protesters and was met with a rebuff. Mikhail Gorbachev reportedly told Honecker to go down the route of reform instead, saying, "He who is late is punished."

The reality-TV president would do well to heed Gorbachev's words. It's a fair bet that he will face regular, if not daily, protests for the remainder of his time in office--and not just outside the White House but wherever he alights.

This is a man who, on Friday, refused to wear a mask while touring a factory in Maine that makes swabs for coronavirus tests. Because of that refusal, the factory had to throw away everything that was made during his visit. Trump's presence really is toxic.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Tesla's battery supplier says it's made a battery that can last 16 years and 1 million miles (Isobel Asher Hamilton, 6/09/20, BI)

Tesla's battery supplier says it's made a huge breakthrough in battery technology that could power electric vehicle sales for years to come. 

Contemporary Amperex Technology Co. Ltd (CATL), the Chinese car battery giant which supplies Tesla and Volkswagen, claims it is ready to start producing a battery that will last 16 years and 2 million kilometers, or 1.24 million miles, the company's chairman Zeng Yuqun told Bloomberg.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


The Jewish left is recognizing that apartheid is hereThe moment Israel is deemed an apartheid regime, there is no moral option but to struggle against it. It looks as though the Israeli left is now ready to fight. (Meron Rapoport, June 9, 2020, 972+)

But there was another aspect to the protest that should worry the right far more than any Palestinian flag: the ease with which the Jewish left is abandoning the term "occupation" and adopting the term "apartheid" to describe the reality on the ground in Israel-Palestine.

Until not very long ago, one would typically encounter one of two responses from the Jewish left to the attempt to use the term. The first was to deny the comparison by claiming that there is no equivalency between South Africa's former regime and Israel's regime in the occupied territories. The second response was to turn apartheid into some kind of future threat. That is, to say that currently there is no apartheid, but we are on our way there should Israel not change course.

Saturday night's speakers, including Meretz MKs Nitzan Horowitz and Tamar Zandberg, used the word. It seemed that only Labor MK Merav Michaeli refrained from uttering it.

This change is significant for two central reasons. The first is moral and legal: an occupation can be temporary and even recognized by international law. It is not an optimal situation, certainly if that situation has been exploited for 53 years, but it is neither morally nor legally unacceptable.

Apartheid, on the other hand, is a clear moral injustice, including under international law, which views it as a crime against humanity. The moment Israel is deemed an apartheid regime, there is no moral option but to fight it. This definition sounds the death knell for the illusion that it is possible to create a Jewish-Zionist consensus in Israel.

The second and no less important reason is that the occupation can be ended through Israeli withdrawal from the occupied territories. This has been the Zionist left's position for over 40 years. It is one that assumes that the moment the occupation ends, the State of Israel will regain its legitimacy. But apartheid can only be ended by bringing about equality -- through the termination of the supremacy of one group over others. In Israel's case, that would mean an end to Jewish supremacy.

In other words, the moment the Israeli regime is defined as one of apartheid, ending that regime demands a fundamental change in its very structure.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


The U.S. can get to 90% clean electricity in just 15 years (ADELE PETERS, 6/08/20, Fast Company)

Until recently, climate experts projected that it wouldn't be possible to decarbonize the electric grid until 2050--and that moving to fully renewable energy could raise the price of electricity for consumers. But the cost of wind, solar, and battery storage has fallen so quickly that in just 15 years, the U.S. could feasibly run on 90% clean electricity, with no increase in electric bills. And adding new renewable infrastructure could create more than half a million new jobs each year. By 2045, the entire electric grid could run on renewables.

"We wanted to look at how quickly could we replace the existing polluting generation with zero-carbon generation without raising electricity bills at all for customers," says Sonia Aggarwal, vice president at the nonprofit Energy Innovation, who served on the technical review committee for the new report from the University of California, Berkeley. "I didn't expect that we were going to get 90% by 2035. It's really exciting that this is the moment that we've reached in this country, where the costs have just changed so much that this is now within our reach, in a way that it wasn't even five years ago."

Since 2010, the cost of utility-scale solar power has dropped 82%, according to a recent report from the International Renewable Energy Agency. Onshore wind power has fallen in cost by 39%. While outside observers might have expected the cost of renewables to eventually level off, "it really is similar to the computer chip industry with Moore's law," she says. "We've just seen continual cost reductions."

As is always the case, by the time we pass the Green New Deal the need for it will have passed.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Trump's campaign spent $400,000 on cable news ads in D.C., reportedly to assuage Trump's re-election angst (The Week, 6/08/20)

With Trump "growing increasingly agitated with the state of his re-election campaign," his campaign came up with a plan, Lachlan Markay and Asawin Suebsaeng report at The Daily Beast: "Run a series of hard-hitting ads and place them on networks that they knew the president and congressional Republicans would watch. And so, over the past month, the Trump campaign has spent slightly more than $400,000 on cable news ads in the Washington, D.C., area, buying time largely on Fox News but with some smaller buys on CNN and MSNBC as well, according to filings with the Federal Communications Commission."

...than trying to get over 3% with black voters.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


ACT electricity prices to drop after reaching 100% renewable target (Michael Mazengarb9 June 2020, Renew Economy)

ACT households are set to enjoy an average 2.56 per cent drop in electricity prices from 1 July, after the national capital succeeded in reaching its 100 per cent renewable electricity target.

The new electricity price determination from the Independent Competition and Regulatory Commission (ICRC) for 2020-21 said that falling wholesale electricity costs driven by increased uptake of renewables, combined with the falling cost of the renewable energy certificates, contributed to the fall in electricity prices.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Trump vs US military -- German pullout proves incomprehension (PAUL WALLIS, 6/09/20, Digital Journal)

The US military is quite rightly seething over Trump's decision to withdraw nearly a third of its forces out of Germany. So are America's allies. Trump's earlier denigration of NATO shows total lack of understanding.
The withdrawal decision has drawn universal condemnation for a lot of good reasons. The sheer vagueness of Trump's NATO policy can be defined by a few negative remarks and some rather bitchy Tweets. This all-too-obvious blurring of US military policy is at best cosmetic, at worst, idiotic.

Anyone even mildly competent would handle it better, but Donald is right that we should defund the military, especially bases abroad as we always have at the end of major wars.  

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Assad's 20-year rule, from Damascus Spring to pariah (TONY GAMAL-GABRIEL AND HASHEM OSSEIRAN, 6/09/20, AFP)

The brutal repression of anti-government protests in 2011, and the war that has since killed more than 380,000 people and displaced millions, have undermined his international legitimacy.

A spate of sanctions imposed by the European Union and United States, the latest of which are due to go into force this month, have compounded a crippling economic crisis.

Most of the population is living in poverty and the Syrian pound has hit an all-time low against the dollar, triggering a fresh wave of dissent in government-held areas while violence continues to stalk regions that evade Assad's control.

Syria has also lost its status as a regional heavyweight under Assad's watch and is now widely seen as heavily dependant on Russia, Iran and an assortment of Tehran-backed militias, including the Lebanese Hezbollah movement.

"Hafez had always kept Syria independent from foreign interference. Bashar has become beholden to external influence to keep his regime intact," said Neep.

"What we're seeing now is a strange, sub-contracted form of political authority that has no precedent in modern Syrian politics."

For Itani, Bashar's reign is a far cry from the days when Syria was a major independent strategic player in the region that held political and military dominance over Lebanon and controlled the tempo of operations against Israel.

"Bashar al-Assad's Syria is a strategic and economic failure," he said.

In Assad's third decade in power, the country "will be an impoverished rump of its past self", Itani predicted.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Barr contradicts Trump: 'The Secret Service recommended that the President go down to the bunker' for safety (Maegan Vazquez, June 8, 2020, CNN)

Attorney General William Barr said Monday that the US Secret Service recommended moving President Donald Trump to the underground White House bunker during late May protests, contradicting the President's earlier assertion that his visit to the bunker was for "inspection."

...by turning on Dugout Donald.