Science saved my life: Saturday’s march for science is personal, too


(Credit: Erin Williams)

When proteins fold, they have protector proteins called “chaperonins,” which form a matryoshka around them, a little doll husk. Chaperonins guide proteins to fold the right way; a wrong turn here or there could mean mad cow disease, amyloidosis, cataracts, all afflictions of misfolding. Encapsulated in these guardian pods, they are safe to become themselves.

Science, the classification of knowledge into verifiable hypotheses, is not political. It’s not impiousness either or blasphemy. It doesn’t take the Lord’s name in vain or transmogrify into a demoralizing pink slip. Science is knowing how to investigate where that smell is coming from, how Leonard Cohen’s crumbly modulation could possibly sound so clear on a cassette tape, or what stars are.

Science is under attack, and with it our right to understand why the world is the way it is. Educational budget cuts, the gouging of scientific agencies that rely on government funding, the bowdlerization of researchers — this is what self-destruction looks like, $900 million from the Department of Energy’s Office of Science here, $6 billion from the National Institutes of Health there.

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The March for Science this Saturday is our rallying cry — our best, latest effort to protect ourselves, our planet and our kids from assured destruction. For me, it’s also personal.

Science saved my life. Biology, specifically, and a professor named Ms. McEntee who terrified the exhausted, pockmarked teenagers I sat through lectures with. I got to class early, made index cards and elaborate hand-drawn charts to study from: This is what the inside of a eukaryotic cell looks like! I was surprised to find myself so transfixed by the elaborate knots and gaffes of evolution.

I hadn’t taken a science class since high school, 12 years before. In the intervening years, I got my bachelor’s degree (barely) and settled into what one might generously call a career. Mostly, I drank. Now I was 30 years old, disintegrating, back in school as an attempt to salvage the wreckage of the past decade.

I grew up feeling so much smaller than my own skin, like I was coated in a dense bark of attitude and personhood and emotion that was too big for me. I was bullied, assaulted, minimized. All the little pinprick injustices of middle school felt like drippy, cavernous, world war wounds. “Sensitive” is one way to put it.

Booze was the salve. It taught me how to be a person, how to have guts. I drank at the movies, in the mornings. I stole tips off bars and used them to buy more drinks. I told my Mom I needed money for books, school, bills, and if she gave it to me, I drank it down.

It worked for a while. At the end, there was a hazy, unfathomable summer in Brooklyn. My grandmother died who I loved ferociously. A man pointed his gun at me and demanded everything I had of value. He made me turn around and walk away with his gun pointed at my back. From then on, even booze couldn’t camouflage my unmitigated vulnerability.

I stopped leaving the house. Leaving meant pain, violence. So did staying. I drank so I could feel less alive.

Something had to change, but I couldn’t abandon alcohol. Drinking was too deeply held — the creator and the destroyer, the only holy thing capable of numbing every nucleus. It was how I celebrated the good and survived the awful. It was the antidote to boredom, a comprehensive plan. The daily twist of a bottle’s cold cap, the glug of sour spirit into whatever glass was clean enough; this was the rhythm of my life. Empty can be beautiful, so long as it’s not a bottle.

This was all I could manage: I quit my job and went back to school to become a registered dietitian. Never mind my one-pack two-bottle a day habit, probably just a phase. Anyway, science agreed: The 3,5,4′-trihydroxy-trans-stilbene in red wine is almost as good as Lexapro.

I went into my first lecture with high hopes and a pounding hangover. McEntee was brutal. She’d beaten cancer and had no patience for bullshit. She squashed my expectations of cruising through Bio like an arthropod.

McEntee was a survivor, part archaea. She didn’t care about your story, your hangover; she just wanted you to stop wasting her time and learn the damn material. Her approach felt fresh to me, appealing. I was tired of feeling simultaneously empty and full of tenderness. Here was someone with a simple ask: Memorize these facts, and you’ll learn something about how the world works.

Biology was bewitching. A prokaryote could survive the harshest environments. Douse it liberally with antibiotics and it would learn to grow despite human industry. Each element of the architecture of a cell was the stunning consummation of millennia of data. Don’t even get me started on RNA.

One month in, I braved my first day without alcohol. On a morning like so many others (pounding headache, wide open front door, black haze where last night’s memories should have been), I woke up and knew I needed to stop. Life or not life. I went to those meetings people go to. Like the nano organisms that saturated my days, I would survive this extreme heat, the volcanic eruption of shame that filled me to the brim.

As I wrung myself out, poured whatever was left in the bottles down the generic, apartment-grade toilet, I filled back up with science. When you stop drinking the way I drank, you become acutely aware of the preposterous number of hours in a day. What did people do with all that time?

I studied. School was my lighthouse, the beam that guided me safely into my new life. I had to learn how to talk to people again, how to tell the difference between romance and exploit, what safety felt like. I also learned how DNA is cut and why Darwin changed the world.

It took a while. I ended with a 4.0 GPA and two years of sobriety. Instead of becoming a dietitian, I got a job in oncology research. I get to wake up every morning now with this distinct privilege: making something better for someone else. That’s grace. It’s not a liquid.

Science is not a dirty word, though it’s being scraped from government websites like a malignant lesion. It’s a practice of empowerment, a method for understanding why life is the way it is: tedious, bitter, brief, dazzling. People need to be taught that they are already smart enough to understand (though it tingles as the Novocain wears off).

These were the gifts I received: curiosity, wonder, passion, distraction, protection. Before science, I was tangled, misfolded, a mad cow. As I learned to become whole, no longer chemically dependent, biology showed me how to laugh at nature’s cruelty, revel in its beauty, bask in its complexity. That’s what you do with all those hours: You learn.

This administration is quickly slashing science from the national vocabulary. I cringe thinking of all those kids like me, with buckteeth and wonky eyes, too tall or short or strange. You can’t argue with genetics. But learning (anything) can teach you your own value. All this grace is still up for grabs. Don’t take it away.

Source: New feed

Kendrick Lamar has all the answers

2017 Coachella Valley Music And Arts Festival - Weekend 1 - Day 3

(Credit: Getty/Christopher Polk)

Kendrick Lamar doesn’t just make fans out of his listeners; he makes gospel-hungry believers. When he released his fourth studio album, “DAMN.,” on Good Friday, excited rumors permeated the internet that another album could be coming on Easter. The second album was a myth. But the rumors were indicative of two things: first, the very real way Lamar litters his music with Easter eggs (not literally in this case) and layers of meaning; second, that we are a culture of gluttons who can’t enjoy the feast before us without thinking about dessert.

Though Lamar is opposed to excess in verse (the first single from “DAMN.” was called “HUMBLE.”), his is a temple at which it is hard to pray modestly. Simply, it’s the best sermon in town. Allow me to shift the metaphor back to food: Lamar’s scraps are tastier than most artists’ entrées; “Untitled Unmastered,” a collection of unreleased “To Pimp a Butterfly” demos, was one of the best rap albums of 2016.

On Thursday, Lamar gave fans more substantive reason to assume that additional music is yet to come. “I got some more music,” he said in an Instagram video. He didn’t elaborate about whether he would release more music. But to tease more music and then not release it would be cruel. The following day (today), Lamar was set to appear on Zane Lowe’s Beats 1 radio show, a venue other artists have used to release new music into the world. So would he announce a new project?  

If you haven’t heard, the answer is no. The interview that aired took place last weekend, at Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival, and in it Lamar said the same thing (that he has more music, including six cuts of the song “XXX”), but did not elaborate on whether he would release another album of demos in the style of “Untitled Unmastered.”

What the interview did provide, though, was context for “DAMN.” and evidence of why so many people look to Lamar for answers. Lamar, who has a historically quick tongue on the mic, speaks slowly, in careful, assured sentences off of it; he often concludes a thought with the word “period,” an affect that might sound condescending coming from another mouth. Instead, he sounds monastic. He explained that the album took him a year to make, and that much of that time was spent thinking.

But where the events of the past year have led most minds to contemplate the world around them, Lamar looked within. “It’s an album about my own self-discipline,” he said. “That’s my favorite word this past year. Discipline and obedience. And how to control your own emotions.”

As for the difference between “TPAB” and “DAMN.,” he said: “’To Pimp a Butterfly’ would be the idea of the thought of changing the world, and how we work and how we approach things. ‘DAMN.’ would be the idea that I can’t change the world until I change myself.” He connected this focus on self-questioning and self-betterment to disadvantaged groups’ power. “Different nationalities and cultures are coming together, man, and actually standing up for themselves. And I think that’s a pure reflection of this record. Prior to its even happening, prior to it even coming out.”

It would appear that the humbleness and self-examination Lamar advocates for on the album would be in tension with the most classic pursuit in rap — being the best — but Lamar was even able to frame his own superiority in modest terms.  “I love [hip-hop] to a point where I can’t even describe it. And when I heard these artists coming up saying they’re the best, I said, ‘I’m not doing it to have a good song or one good rap or a good hook or a good bridge.’ I want to keep doing it every time. Period. And to do it every time you have to challenge yourself and you have to confirm to yourself, not to anybody else, confirm to yourself that you’re the best. Period.”

There are a lot of reasons why Kendrick Lamar is the best rapper alive, but this seamless duality is one of them. He’s able to represent the street and the church, be conscious without being didactic, ascetic without being puritanical, searching and knowing. Whether or not he gives fans more, he’ll have given them more. Period.   

Source: New feed

“When this concert happened where we had concrete threats, I faced the same dilemma as his musicians”: Till Schauder, director of “When God Sleeps,” talks about Iranian rapper Shahin Najafi


(Credit: Amin Khelghat)

Till Schauder’s absorbing documentary “When God Sleeps” profiles Shahin Najafi, an Iranian rap musician and singer who lives in exile in Germany. One of his songs, “Naghi,” upset the government so much, it issued a fatwa against him. If he returns to Iran, he would receive 100 lashes, a 1 million tomans fine and spend three years in prison.

Najafi’s music is provocative. His catchy song “Mammad Nobari” features plaster of Paris penises. Schauder’s film shows the performer does not back away from controversy. He does not let the security threats he faces get in the way of touring — even though his longtime bandmate, Majid Kazemi, decides the pressure may be too much.

“When God Sleeps” introduces viewers to Najafi, his music, his girlfriend Leili, as well as his band and manager, Shaharyar Ahadi. What comes across is the performer’s resilience and strength. His music, he explains, is a reaction to an aggressive military service, which caused him to lose his faith. Now he speaks out against repression and hopes to raise awareness of refugees.

Schauder artfully chronicles Najafi’s life and work. The filmmaker spoke via Skype with Salon on the eve of his film’s world premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival.

How did you come to learn about Shahin’s music?

I did a film called “The Iran Job” and that film had a lot of Iranian rap and hip-hop music and some was by Shahin. Other musicians said if you put his name on the credits, please don’t put my name. He was toxic. That struck me as odd and interesting. I didn’t know Shahin, we just licensed two of his songs.

We wanted to invite Shahin to the premiere of “The Iran Job,” but we couldn’t reach him. And finally Sara, my wife and the producer of both of these films, told me, “Dude, look at the news!” I looked online and saw he had just received this fatwa and consequentially [went into] hiding, so no one could reach him. That was an interesting story.

I heard from others he’s not easy to deal with, so I didn’t want to send him an email and say, “I wanted to make a film,” but I had a chance to meet him organically when “The Iran Job” was at the Berlinale, and he came to that screening and liked that film. We started a courtship that lasted about six months until he finally said, “Let’s do this!” He had requests from other filmmakers — including Iranian filmmakers — so it was important that he was in agreement.

What is it about his music that you responded to? How did you identify with it?

That was a totally instinctual thing. When I tried out music for “The Iran Job,” I didn’t understand any of the lyrics from Shahin’s songs or any of the other artists’ songs. I went with feeling: Does that song work with that scene? On Shahin’s tracks, the feeling was authentic and I responded to them without knowing what he was saying. My father-in-law, who is Iranian, asked how I picked the tracks without knowing the words.

When I worked on “When God Sleeps,” I realized he was not just a rap musician. The label is an easy way for people to sum him up but he’s so much more. He knows classical, traditional Iranian music, Koran reciting, folk songs and modern stuff. He’s an amazing artist and that was why this film was fun to do. There are only three rap songs in “When God Sleeps.” The rest is heartfelt music that hits you between the eyes.

What was it about seeing him perform that excited you and [made you] decide you needed to make a doc about him?

The energy. I talked to his fans and bandmates and asked how they decided to perform with him. They said his presence is just like you want your frontman to be. He can get a crowd going. He’s a professional. If he’s not soaking wet after a rock concert, he did something wrong. In a solo concert, he doesn’t get so worked up physically, but he’s all there. The bandmates and audience appreciated that. As a filmmaker, obviously, I responded to that.

It’s fun to see someone giving so much energy. I wasn’t aware of how much you have to constantly expose yourself as a singer, versus a musician. You are communicating with everything you’ve got. He can’t help but do that always — often to his own detriment.

How did you get him to trust you to tell his story?

“The Iran Job.” I felt right away that he enjoyed that film and came to me after and he gave compliments. I had a sense that was important to him. He told me he didn’t want to work with an Iranian director because he didn’t trust them no matter how reputable they were. My wife is Iranian so I wasn’t a complete novice.

There were times over the multiyear project, he thought, “What the hell are you doing here?” He wasn’t aware of how much time and how much persistence I had, so there were some interesting butting-head moments.

With Najafi in hiding, there must have been some challenges in making “When God Sleeps.” Can you talk about the difficulties of the project? Did you face any threats?

It was like with his bandmates. When this one concert happened where we had concrete online threats, I faced the same dilemma as his musicians. It wasn’t fun to go to the concert that day. I had crew members drop out so there was a parallel to his band members [who didn’t perform].

I think that day the filmmaker part of me got the better of me [and I put myself at risk] but I didn’t feel good about it because I have a family. I bet I could have gotten the footage a different way.

Sometimes I knew more than his bandmates, but it was always a judgment call. There were times when I didn’t take [threats] so seriously, but you never quite know.

I did have to hire security people after the targeted concert. It was strange but I’m kind of happy that it’s over.

The film is very evenhanded, presenting Najafi as he is. What can you say about your approach to telling his story?

The never-judging-him part is important. He is being judged constantly. He has a huge following online. If you talk to any Iranian who is following politics, they know him and have some sort of opinion about him. He divides people. I could have easily judged him. You are not the only one who has questions about him because of how he treats his friends. I understood how [his bandmate] Majid and [his manager] Shaharyar acted and how Shahin responded to it. It’s about loyalty.

I remember when they were dropping out before the [risky] concert; part of the reason I didn’t leave was because I can’t be with him for two years and then leave when the going gets tough. Part of that is a crazy filmmaker thing, but part of it is team spirit. I have full respect for Majid and Shaharyar, but I also understand Shahin. I wouldn’t have dealt with it the way Shahin did, but to his credit he does soften up.

He goes to the extremes. When he has to choose between best friends and the desire to perform, he goes all the way.

There is a nice mix of concert footage, interviews and observational moments. What can you say about how you assembled the film?

It took a long time. We had a lot of footage. We didn’t edit the concerts until late in the process. We were focused more on the story. We treated the concerts as the basketball games in “The Iran Job.” You start assembling scenes and you have to have it make sense. I didn’t want to make a classic music documentary where the music takes over as a cheap layer. I wanted the music to be a character. Where we placed the concerts and what kinds of concerts they were were important for establishing his character and the arc of the story.

Was there a “get,” an unexpected moment you were grateful to capture on film?

Of course. That scene where he breaks down at the window — I’ll never forget it. He has a really difficult moment, walks into the other room, and the lighting was different. Normally, I would have changed the f-stop on my camera, but something told me don’t change anything. Keep the camera still, and he had that moment.

That’s when I knew I had the film in the can. Everything else was just piecing it around that one moment, which says so much about him and his situation. We had concerns from people that he’s too rough around the edges, that he never exposes his true feelings, and here I was capturing a moment where he just crumbles.

What observations do you have about Leili and her relationship with Shahin?

She is the voice of reason and what humanizes him. She’s young, present and outspoken. She’s very interesting and that she’s with him is almost a political act in itself. People are fascinated by the fact that she’s with him. Certainly it’s not an easy relationship. She’s very brave. You see what she goes through, and you get a sense of things.

What do you think the film can do to help or hurt Shanin’s exposure to a larger audience? Can “When God Sleeps” change minds?

I have had reactions from Iranians who disliked him and saw the film and were pleasantly surprised that they can relate to him. I hope that becomes a trend.

In terms of his reach, I hope the film will get a bigger audience especially in the Western world. He’s exposed in the Iranian diaspora. He could fill 100,000 seats in Tehran. In terms of the film endangering his activism, I don’t think so. Because the people that want to harm him already know about him; he’s being spied on. I hope perhaps the film gives him a level of protection, but you never know how things go.

Source: New feed

Watching the planet breathe: Studying Earth’s carbon cycle from space

Trapping Carbon Dioxide

(Credit: AP Photo/Brennan Linsley, File)

Carbon is a building block of life on our planet. It is stored in reservoirs on Earth — in rocks, plants and soil — in the oceans, and in the atmosphere. And it cycles constantly between these reservoirs. The Conversation

Understanding the carbon cycle is crucially important for many reasons. It provides us with energy, stored as fossil fuel. Carbon gases in the atmosphere help regulate Earth’s temperature and are essential to the growth of plants. Carbon passing from the atmosphere to the ocean supports photosynthesis of marine phytoplankton and the development of reefs. These processes and myriad others are all interwoven with Earth’s climate, but the manner in which the processes respond to variability and change in climate is not well-quantified.

Our research group at the University of Oklahoma is leading NASA’s latest Earth Venture Mission, the Geostationary Carbon Observatory, or GeoCarb. This mission will place an advanced payload on a satellite to study the Earth from more than 22,000 miles above the Earth’s equator. Observing changes in concentrations of three key carbon gases – carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4) and carbon monoxide (CO) — from day to day and year to year will help us to make a major leap forward in understanding natural and human changes in the carbon cycle.

GeoCarb is also an innovative collaboration between NASA, a public university, a commercial technology development firm (Lockheed Martin Advanced Technology Center) and a commercial communications launch and hosting firm (SES). Our “hosted payload” approach will place a scientific observatory on a commercial communications satellite, paving the way for future low-cost, commercially enabled Earth observations.

Observing the carbon cycle

The famous “Keeling curve,” which tracks CO2 concentrations in Earth’s atmosphere, is based on daily measurements at Mauna Loa Observatory on Hawaii. It shows that global CO2 levels are rising over time, but also change seasonally due to biological processes. CO2 decreases during the Northern Hemisphere’s spring and summer months, as plants grow and take CO2 out of the air. It rises again in fall and winter when plants go relatively dormant and ecosystems “exhale” CO2.

A closer look shows that every year’s cycle is slightly different. In some years the biosphere takes more CO2 out of the atmosphere; in others it releases more to the atmosphere. We want to know more about what causes the year-to-year differences because that contains clues on how the carbon cycle works.

For example, during the El Niño of 1997-1998, a sharp rise in CO2 was largely driven by fires in Indonesia. The most recent El Niño in 2015-2016 also led to a rise in CO2, but the cause was probably a complex mixture of effects across the tropics — including reduced photosynthesis in Amazonia, temperature-driven soil release of CO2 in Africa and fires in tropical Asia.

These two examples of year-to-year variability in the carbon cycle, both globally and regionally, reflect what we now believe — namely, that variability is largely driven by terrestrial ecosystems. The ability to probe the climate-carbon interaction will require a much more quantitative understanding of the causes of this variability at the process level of various ecosystems.

Why study terrestrial emissions from space?

GeoCarb will be launched into geostationary orbit at roughly 85 degrees west longitude, where it will rotate in tandem with the Earth. From this vantage point, the major urban and industrial regions in the Americas from Saskatoon to Punta Arenas will be in view, as will the large agricultural areas and the expansive South American tropical forests and wetlands. Measurements of carbon dioxide, methane and carbon monoxide once or twice daily over much of the terrestrial Americas will help resolve flux variability for CO2 and CH4.

GeoCarb also will measure solar induced fluorescence (SIF) — plants emitting light that they cannot use back out into space. This “flashing” by the biosphere is strongly tied to the rate of photosynthesis, and so provides a measure of how much CO2 plants take in.

NASA pioneered the technology that GeoCarb will carry on an earlier mission, the Orbiting Carbon Observatory 2 (OCO-2). OCO-2 launched into a low Earth orbit in 2014 and has been measuring CO2 from space ever since, passing from pole to pole several times per day as the Earth turns beneath it.

Though the instruments are similar, the difference in orbit is crucial. OCO-2 samples a narrow 10-km track over much of the globe on a 16-day repeat cycle, while GeoCarb will look at the terrestrial Western Hemisphere continuously from a fixed position, scanning most of this land mass at least once per day.

Where OCO-2 may miss observing the Amazon for a season due to regular cloud cover, GeoCarb will target the cloud-free regions every day with flexible scanning patterns. Daily revisits will show the biosphere changing in near-real time alongside weather satellites such as GOES 16, which is located at 105 degrees west, helping to connect the dots between the components of Earth’s system.

Nuances of the carbon cycle

Many processes affect levels of CO2 in the atmosphere, including plant growth and decay, fossil fuel combustion and land use changes, such as clearing forests for farming or development. Attributing atmospheric CO2 changes to different processes is difficult using CO2 measurements alone, because the atmosphere mixes CO2 from all of the different sources together.

As mentioned earlier, in addition to CO2 and CH4, GeoCarb will measure CO. Burning fossil fuel releases both CO and CO2. This means that when we see high concentrations of both gases together, we have evidence that they are being released by human activities.

Making this distinction is key so we do not assume that human-induced CO2 emissions come from a decrease in plant activity or a natural release of CO2 from soil. If we can distinguish between man-made and natural emissions, we can draw more robust conclusions about the carbon cycle. Knowing what fraction of these changes is caused by human activities is important for understanding our impact on the planet, and observing and measuring it is essential to any conversation about strategies for reducing CO2 emissions.

GeoCarb’s measurement of methane will be a crucial element in understanding the global carbon-climate system. Methane is produced by natural systems, such as wetlands, and by human activities such as natural gas production. We do not understand the methane portion of the carbon cycle as well as CO2. But just as with CO2, methane observations tell us a lot about the functioning of natural systems. Marshes release methane as part of the natural decay in the system. The rate of release is tied to how wet/dry and warm/cool the system is.

It is uncertain how much natural gas production contributes to methane emissions. One reason to quantify these emissions more accurately is that they represent lost revenue for energy producers. The Environmental Protection Agency estimates a U.S. leakage rate of around 2 percent, which could add up to billions of dollars annually.

We expect based on simulations that GeoCarb will produce maps that highlight the largest leaks with only a few days of observations. Finding leaks will reduce costs for energy producers and reduce the carbon footprint of natural gas. Currently, energy companies find leaks by sending personnel with detection equipment to suspected leak sites. Newer airborne sensors could make the process cheaper, but they are still deployed on a limited basis and in an ad hoc manner. GeoCarb’s regular observations will provide leakage information to producers in a timely manner to help them limit their losses.

Watching the planet breathe

With daily scans of landmasses in the Western Hemisphere, GeoCarb will provide an unprecedented number of high-quality measurements of CO2, CH4 and CO in the atmosphere. These observations, along with direct measurements of photosynthetic activity from SIF observations, will raise our understanding of the carbon cycle to a new level.

For the first time we will be able to watch as the Western Hemisphere breathes in and out every day, and to see the seasons change through the eyes of the biosphere. Equipped with these observations, we will begin to disentangle natural and human contributions to the carbon balance. These insights will help scientists make robust predictions about Earth’s future.

Berrien Moore III is vice president for Weather & Climate Programs; dean of the College of Atmospheric & Geographic Sciences; director of the National Weather Center at University of OklahomaSean Crowell is a research scientist at University of Oklahoma.

Source: New feed

Defining moment: Will California end its money bail system?

Prison Inmate

(Credit: Reuters/Joshua Lott)

A nationwide movement that began 53 years ago to reform the pretrial incarceration and money bail process has finally reached the legislative committees and political bargaining tables in Washington and Sacramento. Reform advocates – including legislators, prosecutors, attorneys, judges and grassroots organizations – contend that the use of a money bail system for pretrial release is unfair to the poor and unsafe for the public.

In 1964, then-U.S. Attorney General Robert Kennedy told the Senate: “Every year in this country, thousands of persons are kept in jail for weeks and even months following arrest. They are not yet proven guilty. They may be no more likely to flee than you or I. But nonetheless, most of them must stay in jail because to be blunt, they cannot afford to pay for their freedom.”

Kennedy’s efforts helped pass the Criminal Justice Act of 1964 and the Bail Reform Act of 1966, which created a presumption of release before trial for most federal defendants, and mostly did away with the money bail system in federal proceedings. But not for local and state jurisdictions, which account for most of the country’s jail population and in which the money-bail system still controls the release of defendants, dangerous or not. Only two countries, the U.S. and the Philippines, currently use the money bail system, according to California legislators.

Four months ago California State Senator Bob Hertzberg (D-Van Nuys) and Assemblyman Rob Bonta (D-Oakland) introduced the California Money Bail Reform Act of 2017 — identical pieces of legislation (Senate Bill 10 and Assembly Bill 42) that would phase out excessive money bail systems statewide for most misdemeanors and some nonviolent felonies. And this past March, Los Angeles-area Congressman Ted Lieu introduced the No Money Bail Act of 2017 in Washington.

Median bail in California is $50,000. If an arrestee uses a bail bond agent, he or she has to pay the agent a nonrefundable 10 percent for release – in the case of the median bond, that’s $5,000. Even bail for many misdemeanors can run over $1,000 – still beyond the reach of many indigent defendants. This results in poor defendants spending weeks or months in jail awaiting trial, causing the loss of jobs, homes, cars and in many cases, the family’s primary breadwinner.

According to a report issued by the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC), more than 62 percent of county jail inmates are awaiting trials or sentencing, translating into about 46,000 Californians on a daily basis, say Hertzberg and Bonta. Most remain in jail because they can’t afford bail.

“The current cash bail system is the modern equivalent of a debtor’s prison — it criminalizes poverty, pure and simple,” Hertzberg told a December news conference when he and Bonta introduced their legislation.

“In many cases,” added Bonta, “if you have enough money to pay your bail, you can get out of jail regardless of whether you are a danger to the public or a flight risk. But if you’re poor and not a flight risk or a danger to the public, you are forced to stay in jail, even when the charge is a misdemeanor. That’s not justice.”

Ato Walker of San Jose shared his own story at that same press conference.

“I was falsely accused of something and went to jail for five days,” Walker told reporters.

“My bail was $165,000 initially and through the arraignment my bail got to be down to $85,000,” he said. “And that’s after I had hundreds of letters of support from people in my community saying I was a decent human being…but still inside the courtroom the district attorney said it seems like he’s a threat to society and the judge went with that.”

Walker was released, he said, when his mother, a retired U.S. Postal Service worker, came up with the 10 percent he needed to pay a bail agent.

A choked-up Walker, who was there with his young son, said he recognized he would have had to stay in jail. “If my mother had not stepped up and taken money out of her retirement account … [she did] that so I could be there to support my family.”

When Walker eventually went to his pretrial proceeding, he said, the charges against him were dropped. But his mother lost the money she had to give a bail agent to get him out of lockup.

Walker said he appreciated the support that he got from his family and the community, but that he knew that many poor detainees don’t have that support and he wanted to publicly thank the politicians who are trying to change the current bail system.

Bonta and Hertzberg are heading a coalition of support that includes Lt. Governor Gavin Newsom, the American Civil Liberties Union, Californians for Safety and Justice, the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, the Essie Justice Group, Western Center on Law and Poverty, Service Employees Union International, California, and others.

Instead of relying exclusively on a money bail system that forces people to pay nonrefundable deposits to private companies, Bonta and Hertzberg are seeking a system that follows the lead of the federal government, the District of Columbia’s local courts and a number of other states that have already reformed their systems.

Those systems rely mainly on pretrial services and assessment examinations to cut down on the pretrial jail population, thereby saving tax money, increasing rates of court appearances by detainees who have been bailed out and protecting the public by refusing bail to inmates deemed a danger to society or a flight risk, no matter how much money they have.

Assemblyman Richard Bloom (D-Santa Monica) a coauthor of AB 42, said at the December news conference that research has shown that “prisoners held two or three days are 22 percent more likely to fail to come to court.”

The proposed legislation, as currently written, will require counties to set up a “pretrial services agency that would be responsible for gathering information about newly arrested persons, conducting pretrial risk assessments, preparing individually tailored recommendations to the court and providing pretrial services and supervision to persons on pretrial release.” It also:

  • Provides for the use of “unsecured appearance bonds,” by which defendants agree to pay a specific amount if he or she fails to appear in court.
  • Gives reminders to defendants about upcoming court dates, and helps with transportation, if needed. Money bail options are included in these bills, provided the bail is the “least restrictive necessary to assure the appearance” in court, and the court must conduct an inquiry to determine the defendant’s ability to pay the bail.
  • Enables prosecutors to file a motion for pretrial detention and precludes people from being eligible for pretrial release if they are charged with a capital crime, a felony involving violence or sexual assault, or if the person’s release would likely result in harm to others, or if the person had threatened harm to others.

Hertzberg’s bill passed through the Senate Public Safety Committee by a 5 to 1 vote in early April and is headed to the Senate Appropriations Committee. Bonta’s version of the bill receives a hearing Tuesday in the State Assembly’s Committee on Public Safety.

The cost to house California inmates averages about $114 per day, according to the PPIC. In Los Angeles the average cost for Fiscal Year 2015-2016 was slightly more than $178 per day, according to the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, which reports that about $797 million – or 24 percent of the department’s total budget – goes to operate the county’s jail system.

There’s been no study done in L.A. County regarding how many inmates remain in its jail system because they are too poor to post a money bail, said sheriff’s spokeswoman Nicole Nishida.

Based on the experience of other locales, Bonta said, he’s learned that most nonviolent offenders will show up for their court appearances and not commit additional crimes after they’ve been released from jail without posting a money bond. “I also learned that over 50 percent of the jail cells were being taken up by people who couldn’t pay bail,” Bonta said, noting that the current money bail system is “clearly discriminatory against the poor and people of color.”

In addition to a mandatory pretrial risk assessment examination, Bonta told Capital & Main, he’s also open to using ankle monitoring systems and even small bail amounts — for example, $100 — as a very last resort.

Beth Chapman, the wife and business partner of the reality TV bounty hunter, Duane “Dog’ Chapman, has testified before a federal Court of Appeals panel that “People are not in jail because they’re poor. They are trying to paint a picture that all poor people are languishing in jail, and it just isn’t true.” She has also appeared in Breitbart News interviews on the subject of bail reform, which the right-wing site has connected to plots allegedly hatched by billionaire George Soros and others.

Capital & Main’s repeated phone calls for comment to the Professional Bail Agents of the United States, a trade group Beth Chapman heads, were not returned. The organization’s website, though, warns in red letters that “The bail industry is under attack!” Capital & Main’s calls to another bail-bonds trade organization, the California Bail Agents Association, were also not returned.

Jeff Clayton is the executive director of the Lakewood, Colorado-based American Bail Coalition, a 10-year-old trade association representing insurance underwriters of bail bonds across the country. In California, he said, all bail bonds must be underwritten by an insurance company.

Clayton told Capital & Main that nationwide, the bail bond industry is a multibillion dollar business and that lobbying efforts against the California and House versions of bail reform are in full swing. He insisted the vast majority of bonds issued help guarantee that defendants would show up for court.

Clayton acknowledged that there were problems related to the top 10 percent of bonds issued to defendants who could be dangerous or flight risks, and to the bottom 10 percent of indigent defendants.

He said that the industry would be open to working with legislatures to fix those problems, especially regarding misdemeanor defendants.

Clayton also said there were discussions underway with Hertzberg and Bonta’s offices on their proposed bills and that he felt confident that a “viable compromise,” which would maintain the money bail process in California, could be worked out.

Ted Lieu’s previous No Money Bail Act died in the House last year. His 2017 version is short and straightforward. It would prohibit the payment of money as a condition of pretrial release in any federal case. (Federal judges can still order property bonds as a condition of release.) It would also amend the Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act of 1968 to make any state that did not reform its bail system within three years of passage and signing of this law, ineligible for funding under the Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant (JAG) program.

In Fiscal Year 2016 California received more than $28.9 million in JAG awards, with more than $10.7 million going to counties and cities, and more than $18.2 million going to the California Board of State and Community Corrections, according to Lieu’s office.

“Some conservatives and libertarians have shown interest because reform will save tax money and the bill is flexible on how states can handle the reform process,” Lieu said. “Kentucky is a very red state and yet they have instituted reform measures in their bail system.”

The U.S. Justice Department, under former President Barack Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder, also weighed into the debate over bail reform, filing friend-of-the-court briefs in several cases in Georgia and Alabama in 2015 and 2016 — calling money bail systems that continue to jail defendants because they are poor unconstitutional. Civil rights division attorneys filed court papers stating categorically that “bail practices that incarcerate indigent individuals before trial solely because of their inability to pay for their release violate the Fourteenth Amendment.” Justice Department attorneys also stated, “Fixed bail schedules that allow for the pretrial release of only those who can pay, without accounting for the ability to pay unlawfully discriminate based on indigence.”

Washington, DC’s local courts have the most experience using a pretrial release system that is based on inmate assessments rather than money bail. Cliff Keenan is the director of DC’s Pretrial Services Agency, a federally funded, independent entity within the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency charged with formulating release recommendations and providing supervision and services to defendants awaiting trial. His office handles some 22,000 cases a year, including 4,000 felonies and 17,000 misdemeanors.

Keenan told Capital & Main that the District stopped using any money as a condition of pretrial release in 1992, when a new Bail Reform Act mandated that defendants would receive a hearing with 24 hours of their detention to determine their release status. The act’s reforms have also enabled judges to hold defendants without bail, Keenan said, “if they were determined to be a flight risk or a danger to the community or to witnesses in their case.”

While there have been failures, Keenan pointed to his office’s latest published figures showing that “91 percent of released defendants remained arrest-free while their cases were adjudicated; 98 percent of released defendants were not rearrested for a crime of violence while in the community pending trial; 90 percent of released defendants made all scheduled court appearances and 88 percent of released defendants remained on release at the conclusion of their pretrial status.”

New Jersey, the most recent state to reform its former money bail release system, began its new system in January. Elie Honig, New Jersey’s Director of the Division of Criminal Justice, told Capital & Main the bail reform process began in 2014 and first required a vote to change the state’s constitution so that dangerous criminals charged with non-capital crimes could be held without bail after their arrest.

“The reforms have focused more of our attention on dangerous cases – and in those cases prosecutors are fighting hard for detention without bail,” Honig said. The first report on the impact of the state’s reforms is due by the end of June.

New Jersey’s new system uses a computerized Public Safety Assessment (PSA), six-point tool to quickly issue a score for each defendant based on various risk factors, including the seriousness of the alleged crime, and the defendant’s criminal and court history. The PSA tool, Honig said, was not the endpoint but a starting line for determining whether a defendant could be safely released. The state’s pretrial services agency is then charged with providing a full assessment of a defendant’s risk for release before a judge determines the final outcome.

The new law also mandates a speedy trial system for defendants, Honig continued, requiring that a detained defendant must be arraigned within 90 days of his or her arrest and the case brought to trial within 180 days.

Neither L.A. County District Attorney Jackie Lacey nor the U.S. Attorney’s office in Los Angeles would comment on any of the pending bail reform legislation offered by Lieu, Hertzberg or Bonta. Los Angeles County Sheriff’s spokeswoman Nicole Nishida told Capital & Main it was “too early [for the sheriff] to comment on this [California legislation] since the language is still being finalized by Senator Hertzberg and Assemblyman Bonta.”

So far, law enforcement opposition includes the Association for Deputy District Attorneys, the Riverside Sheriffs’ Association several uniformed-officer unions.

“I don’t expect Lieu’s legislation to go anywhere,” said the American Bail Coalition’s Jeff Clayton. “States make more money off [taxing] the bail bond industry than they would lose in JAG grants, so I don’t think you can coerce them into making reforms.” Besides, he said, “Cash bonds are tools that judges can use to insure that justice is done. You want to give judges more tools, not take them away.”

Despite a Republican-controlled House and Senate, and the election of Donald Trump as president and a Justice Department now overseen by a hardline conservative, former Alabama U.S. Senator Jeff Sessions, Congressman Lieu remains optimistic about his bill’s prospects.

Echoing Bonta and Hertzberg’s assertions that a money bail system was patently discriminatory against the poor and people of color, Lieu noted that there are more than 450,000 people nationwide now sitting in jail — many if not most of whom are there just because they can’t afford to post bail. “America’s criminal justice system isn’t just broken,” Lieu said, “it violates our nation’s core values.”

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Andrew Sullivan has no prejudices, so believe everything he says about everybody else

Andrew Sullivan

(Credit: Salon/Benjamin Wheelock/Shutterstock)

I’ve done my best in this space to avoid writing about Hillary Clinton. But like my lesser counterpart Andrew Sullivan, now trapped at New York magazine like General Zod in the Forbidden Zone, I’ve been forced to pen a campaign postmortem at least 17 times. With great moral brio, I’ve detailed Clinton’s many personal flaws — her abominable fashion sense, her unhip dance moves, her ham-handed, wooden speaking style, her unquenchable elitism, her obvious girl crush on Lena Dunham — and just cannot stop talking about her political missteps. Who can forget the time that Robby Mook said, “No worries, we’ve got all 50 states in the bag; let’s go grab a bite at Nobu”?

Also, I think this is a good time to point out that Asian-Americans are excellent at school. This is because they come from tight-knit families that value education above all else. In many ways, Asians are model Americans because they are sexually repressed and also extremely loyal. Unlike whites who spend their time bowling alone and sowing fear and division, Asians politely keep to themselves and are extremely tribal. As a steadfast observer of their cuisine, I will say, You have really figured it all out.

Hillary Clinton’s insistence, meanwhile, on continuing to be a “leader” is keeping the Democratic Party from its core missions: maintaining public-sector pension funds in large cities, offering lip service to social-justice issues, and generally condescending to white working-class people. On her own, Clinton does all those things very well, but in addition she is turning her brand into a kind of political lady cult, the kind of thing that I, a sophisticated man of letters, simply cannot appreciate or stomach. Yet she has had more comebacks than Sinatra.

Which reminds me: It’s really too bad that black people don’t have the same brain capacities of other people. I wrote about this in my essay “Different Races Are Smarter Than One Another: An Unquenchable Scientific Fact,” which I published when I was executive editor of the New Republic back in 1996. People who were afraid of my ideas threw around accusations that I was being “racist” and that I was “fired,” but that was just because they didn’t understand the integrity of my scholarship.

But when it comes to Hillary Clinton, nothing apparently is more important to her than loyalty. Her inner circle is tighter than a Baptist teenager’s. No matter how many times I call as a reporter or offer my services at a substantial discount as a political adviser, I never hear back. Even now, when I try to contact Huma Abedin on the Humaphone, I’m shuttled to voicemail, condemned to an intellectual nether dungeon where dissenting voices do not carry.

That said, am I the only one here who doesn’t understand Mexicans? On the one hand, they seem like normal Americans, with families and cars and houses. On the other, they seem insistent on being paid for working, which, as everyone knows, is a distraction from the true linguistic responsibilities of citizenship. For decades, I was a Swiss national, and then for several decades more I was French, French-Canadian and Israeli. Finally I became a proud American, by taking a test. I memorized the Constitution — in English. You understand what I’m saying.  

Under these circumstances, Hillary Clinton’s insistence on mawkish self-promotion does a disservice to herself, her country and the ratings of whatever TV program on which she appears. For someone so unwilling to hire the best advisers, she certainly paints herself as competent. But in fact she is the soul of venality, an empty pantsuit, a half-eaten yogurt container, an unlistened-to B-side, a Leftover, a knickknack shelf and a long reliever for the Chicago White Sox.

The Jewish people, on the other hand, continue to amaze me. Generation after generation, their solid work ethic and intellectual acuity remained unmatched. In my life, I have been both Jewish and Catholic, as well as Buddhist, Lutheran and, for a brief and fertile period, Rastafarian. I can tell you beyond a doubt that Jewish women are the best lovers in the world, second only perhaps to Jewish men. I do not engage lightly in ethnic stereotypes or political generalities, so believe anything I say about anyone of any religion or ethnicity. For I am a columnist. And a columnist is always right about Hillary Clinton or anything else.

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“It’s not magic; it’s science!” How “Bill Nye Saves the World” makes a gentle stand against ignorance

Bill Nye

Bill Nye (Credit: Netflix/Eddy Chen)

Fact: We belong to a nation overrun by ignoramuses.

This is not an “alternative fact” or a rude opinion. It’s the truth. Our collective ignorance is frightening. Now, whether you find that declaration insulting depends upon which definition of “ignoramus” you’re most familiar with. As translated from Latin, the term simply means “we are ignorant of” or “we do not know.” Ergo, very smart people can be ignoramuses about an array of subjects, and even if they diligently work to become informed, they can still make unwise choices.

The pejorative meaning, however, is that I’ve called my fellow citizens idiots. This is true only if you’re a climate change denier.

Bill Nye does not think we are idiots. Misinformed, maybe. Lacking knowledge or comprehension of the thing specified, sure. That’s no crime. Indeed, Nye has faith that, with the right information and a renewed emphasis on critical thinking skills, humans are still capable of doing the extraordinary.

In his new Netflix series “Bill Nye Saves the World,” the avuncular Science Guy is as friendly as he ever was and extra careful in his approach to topics such as global warming and immunization and the dangers posed by “alternative” medicine.

Think of him as the science version of the Catheter Cowboy, the parody character introduced this season on “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver.” People who enjoy Oliver’s faux pitchman, a commercial-break regular for Fox News viewers in the D.C. area, know two things. One, he doesn’t like pain when he caths! And two, he can explain basic principles about the nuclear triad, sexual harassment or math as it applies to American Health Care Act to the ignoramus currently occupying the Oval Office.

Nye’s approach is several leagues friendlier than that of the ornery Catheter Cowboy, but no less effective in simplifying the reasons that our planet’s survival depends on adopting a communal approach to solving the world’s problems. But in totally nonthreatening way!

Early on in the series’ climate change episode, Nye explains that “Bill Nye Saves the World” is not really a kid’s show. In other words, it’s not a sequel to “Bill Nye the Science Guy,” the ’90s era PBS series that played a key role in the childhood of scores of millennials.

What he’s created instead is a children’s science show catering to the entire family — adults and children, and adults whose paradigm is informed by childish logic. In one bit involving a diorama used to explain evolution, he spies a familiar sea vessel filled with animals. “There’s no freaking Noah’s ark,” he blurts out, quickly hiding it as the audience erupts into giggles. “Did not happen.” This is a fine joke, and it also may be news to some people watching that episode.

When you pause to think about it, it’s utterly insane that there’s still a need for Nye to explain simple ideas about how vaccinations actually work to fully matured human beings, or why we should all be working to curb our contributions to the rise in global temperatures.

Then again, what do I know? As it turns out, far less about GMOs than I thought I did.

“Bill Nye Saves the World” is a convivial series that imports elements from Nye’s old series (mainly those amusing demos with bubbling colorful liquids, Bunsen burners and flasks) into a format that resembles “The Daily Show.” Filmed before a live studio audience, each episode includes lighthearted skits and filmed segments featuring actors such as Zach Braff and Rachel Bloom, George Wendt and mixed martial arts star Randy Couture (doing awards-worthy work in his portrayal of the toughest creature on the planet, the tardigrade.) Panels of experts and famous people who have interesting opinions, such as Wil Wheaton, weigh in on debates surrounding each episode’s focus.

Another “Daily Show” swipe is the incorporation of “Bill Nye Saves the World” correspondents; one is model and computer science nerd Karlie Kloss. Nye is no dummy; plainly he’s gambling on some people tuning in expressly to ogle a Victoria’s Secret Angel and hoping they’ll also take to heart even a smidgen of the science she’s dropping on them. Kloss, by the way, does a fine job taking viewers on a tour of Venice and showing us why this legendary city is seriously threatened by rising sea levels.

Basically, this is the modus operandi of “Bill Nye Saves the World”: reminding viewers not only of how central good science is to our lives, but also championing independent use of our brains.

“It’s not magic, people; it’s science!” he says more than once, doing so enthusiastically and devoid of condescension.

All 13 episodes of this series, directed at “grown-up kids, all over the world,” arrives on Friday. That’s one day prior to the March for Science. Another example of contemporary insanity is that in 2017, tens of thousands of people in cities across the nation and the globe must march to affirm the value of fact-based, nonpartisan research, medical and technological advancement of reason.

And yet, here we are.

Nye is one of the speakers participating in the Earth Day and Science March taking place this weekend in Washington. This will be a handy PR opportunity to promote his Netflix show, but people who choose to watch a few episodes will see he’s apoplectic with frustration at our collective lack of action on the issue. He’s so passionate, in fact, that he takes a moment to rail about it during the climate change episode.

“The one thing that the United States exports, for better or for worse, is its culture,” he says. “If we were exporting the culture of ‘Climate change, serious business, we’re going to get to work on this, we’re going to have renewable energy, we’re going to have clean water for everyone and access to electronic information for everyone in the world, then we’d be getting it done.’ Don’t tell me; don’t come running to me about how we can’t do it!”

Overall, however, “Bill Nye Saves the World” prefers to inspire awe in its viewers as opposed to lecturing them, and this approach works. Nye and his guests skim each topic, opting to lean toward the inclusivity of encouraging laughter and piquing interest as opposed to bombarding the viewer with stats. (That’s a job for many documentaries that most of us haven’t watched.) In addition to taking on climate change, vaccination, health quackery and GMOs, the six episodes made available to critics also tackle theories regarding the origins of life and the promise and threat posed by artificial intelligence.

To call Nye the Mister Rogers of Generation Y might be pushing it, but during his PBS series’ five-year run he cultivated enough pop culture cred to keep him in circulation with cameos on such series as CBS’ “The Big Bang Theory” and Comedy Central’s “Inside Amy Schumer.” When it comes to attracting viewers to this show, that level of fame will matter.

“We can do great things!” he encouragingly declares to his viewers. “We can work together to save the world!”

Whether Nye has enough pull to strike a bow again the rising tide of “alternate facts” and post-truths, though, is debatable. While many more people will be binge watching TV than protesting this week, one has to wonder how many will choose to absorb this show.

That gets to the heart of many of the world’s problems, doesn’t it? Unless something directly affects our lives or is of personal interest, most of us will let just about anything slide. Even when drought threatens the world’s food and water supplies, or brush fires race toward communities and threaten the lives and property of our neighbors, we are comfortable enough in our plush, personalized silos to turn away.

This is the arrogance of ignorance, and we all blissfully suffer from it.

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The birth control gap: Women still do most of the work in preventing pregnancy — does it have to be that way?


(Credit: Getty/Salon)

When it comes to gender inequality, the work vs. free time gap is one of the most alarming. According to the World Economic Forum, the amount of extra work women do — when you count paid and unpaid work like housework and child care — adds up to 39 days a year more than men.

Even when it comes to playtime, this inequality persists. Women, a new study published in the Journal of Sex Research has shown, are expected to do the majority (and often all) the work required so that heterosexual couples can have sex without making babies.

In a paper titled “More Than a Physical Burden: Women’s Mental and Emotional Work in Preventing Pregnancy,” sociologist Katrina Kimport — who works as an associate professor at the Bixby Center for Global Reproductive Health at the University of California, San Francisco — documented the way that women are tasked with the majority of physical work required to prevent pregnancy and also expected to do most of the emotional and mental labor as well.

“While the biotechnological landscape of available methods may explain the assignment of the physical burden for contraception to women,” Kimport wrote, “this does not mean the concomitant time, attention, and stress that preventing pregnancy requires must also be primarily assumed by women.”

But when it comes to the American health care system, Kimport found, there’s a widespread assumption that dealing with contraception is women’s work, and men are often shut out of the conversation. Kimport went to six family planning clinics in the San Francisco Bay Area and recorded conversations with 52 women, who all wanted to not have more children.

“What I found is both in the way that clinicians and patients talked about contraceptive responsibility, and just the way we structure the health care system, it’s women that are primarily interacting with the medical system around contraception,” Kimport explained in a phone conversation. 

This is no small thing, Kimport said, because as her research shows, there’s a hefty amount of mental and emotional work that goes into pregnancy prevention. Women have to stay on top of doctor visits and pharmacy visits and, in many cases, also have the daily task of remembering to take birth control pills.

“A lot of this labor is totally invisible,” Kimport argued. “All this time, attention and stress that women are spending is normalized. We think of it as a natural byproduct” of the fact that most forms of contraception are deployed inside women’s bodies.

Even when it comes to vasectomies, the notion that contraception is mainly women’s work held. In the visits Kimport recorded, the topic of vasectomy frequently arose, and clinicians spent a great deal of time discussing the option with their patients. But as Kimport said, laughing a bit, “The person who this is actually going to happen to isn’t even in the room.”

Instead, clinicians discussed the procedure at length with women and even helped them game out strategies to convince male partners to consider it. 

“The patients’ husbands were not in the room, and so the responsibility, time, stress, and attention required to convince them still lay with the patients,” the paper explained.

None of this, Kimport insisted in our phone conversation, should be construed to mean that men are irresponsible or lazy. Instead, she argued the problem is our social construction of contraception as women’s work. No one considers the possibility that men could or should do more, and so they don’t.

As the paper noted, prior research has shown that men do engage in discussions with their partner about contraception, and both sexes “collectively attend to a method’s impact on sexual pleasure” — something any woman who has had more than five minutes of experience with men and condoms could probably tell you.

Kimport saw reason to be optimistic about men regularly sharing their opinions on a contraception method’s impact on sexual pleasure.

“It’s an example of how men can be and are involved in conversations around contraception,” she said. 

Of course, as I pointed out to Kimport, that doesn’t do much to relieve women’s actual burden of work, since the female partner is the one who has to keep those preferences in mind when discussing options with a doctor.

Kimport argued, however, that this provides further evidence that fertility management systems are failing both men and women.

The current process “both makes it more difficult to take men’s needs into consideration in helping select the contraception method,” she said, and “also adds to women’s responsibilities and burden.”

So what can be done to stop shutting out men and help them take on more responsibility for contraception work?

Kimport said the first step was simply talking about this disparity and having conversations about how men can do more to make this work easier for women. She also suggested that efforts could be made to make contraception less of a hassle for women, such as making birth control pills available over the counter or in 12-month packs to reduce the number of needed pharmacy visits.

She also suggested that doctors could be more open to the possibility of sterilization, for both men and women, especially as vasectomy is a great way for men to share the contraception burden. “Clinicians express a lot of surprise and doubt when women say they don’t want any more children,” she explained, even if the women are older or have already had children.

Not having access to sterilization can create a lot of work for women because it means they have to continue using more time-intensive forms of contraception and may even need abortions. One 40-year-old woman in the study complained that she spent year without being able to convince a doctor to take her sterilization desires seriously. The result was that she ended up having three abortions — procedures that can be stressful and time-consuming under the best of circumstances.

Biology makes it unlikely that the burden of contraception will ever be equally shared between men and women. But it could be made far less of a hassle for women. We are talking about sex, after all, which should be more about fun than about work for people of any gender.


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Bottoms up: Jane Jacobs, Roberts Moses and “The Death and Life of Great American Cities”


(Credit: Library Of Congress)

From the very beginning of “Citizen Jane: Battle for the City,” a thought-provoking new documentary from director Matt Tyrnauer (“Valentino: The Last Emperor”), the city, in this case New York, is personal and metonymic. The debate over how to manage its density, poverty and infrastructure sets the stage for an epic struggle between journalist-activist Jane Jacobs and midcentury “power broker” and “master builder” Robert Moses.

The film captures a bygone New York with a certain hard-hitting, evocative nostalgia. While Moses was tearing down tenements and building projects, Jacobs organized grassroots efforts to protect the sanctity of neighborhoods and small businesses. Taken together, their diametrically opposed visions, one of buildings, highways and traffic patterns, the other of human beings and vibrant street life, form yet a third possible theory of how to maintain the spirit of New York and its diversity amid the onslaught of gentrification and all that it entails.

On one level, it’s easy to vilify Robert Moses as the the Goliath to Jacob’s David, and to categorize his life’s work the way one might a crazed Civil War surgeon, lacking subtlety and amputating limbs to stave off the onset of gangrene. In an effort to impose his myopic version of progress onto a city, he forgot to take into account the people who grew up, worked and died there. I’d add that, on some level, as a Jewish person, Moses wanted to create a promised land where he wasn’t the outsider but the accepted king. Also Tyrnauer makes the point that Moses began his professional life as a progressive who wanted to improve the conditions of extreme poverty and inequality that beset large swaths of the population who were living in substandard conditions.

Looking at the images of people in the tenements, it’s hard not to feel the need to do something. The question the film asks isn’t so much who’s the Mary and who’s the Rhoda in the Jacobs-Moses question, but what’s next. What do we do when both social experiments need a re-examination?

“I’m a modernism groupie,” Tyrnauer tells me. “I’m a fan of the theorists that Jane said were responsible for the ‘sacking of cities.’ It just didn’t work. The architects and city planners wanted to wipe the slate clean and rebuild. This idea was great for cities but not so great for the people who actually lived in them. Robert Moses and these guys thought they were doing right but they went astray.”

In the film, Jacobs, on the other hand, emerges an urbanist folk hero who understood on an innate level that the value of any city is its people, its public spaces and the street. A brilliant wordsmith in outstanding eyewear, she captures the essence of both neighborhoods and their inhabitants in her writing and wholeheartedly fights for their survival with everything she’s got, even when her detractors called her a “militant dame” and a “housewife.” Though all her ideas didn’t come to fruition, her spirit and her message are infectious: Give the people what they want — “people” being either a sort of Arthur Miller “View from the Bridge” utopian vision of working-class New York or a pack of West Village mothers who fought to keep Moses from turning Washington Square Park into a four-lane roadway that would connect Fifth Avenue with West Broadway. They won.

“In ‘The Death and Life of Great American Cities,’ Jacobs writes a compelling theory that turns out to be true which is that cities are organized from the bottom up rather than the top down,” Tyrnauer continues. “This was a radical idea in the ’50s and ’60s. Jacobs called these guys out. If it had all been done from a human perspective, a lot less damage would ultimately have been done.”

Tyrnauer is clear on the point that Jacobs, her book and even his film don’t offer a cookie-cutter solution for how to fix the problems still facing large cities, though all three clearly indicate the point where urban planning went horribly wrong. “Citizen Jane” highlights the fact that for guys like Moses, the concept of urban renewal became synonymous with removal of people of color who were put at the margins of the city and denied the vital aspects of life that people need to thrive and prosper.

“The so-called ghettos where minorities are forced to live is a huge black mark on American history and a huge part of this story,” Tyrnauer says when I mention the fact that Jacobs has been criticized for her omission of race from the narrative. “When Jacobs was writing ‘Death and Life,’ she was writing a book on cities, not writing a book on race. She was championing the city as a place for everyone.”

What’s remarkable here, of course, is that New York City was never a place for everyone, least of all the urban poor who, before Moses and his band of highway-happy “pseudoscientists” arrived on the scene, lived in disease-ridden conditions in tenements and then were relocated in favor of some failed, racist vision of urban renewal. Meanwhile, the concept of diversity in “The Death and Life of Great American Cities” is architectural and an art form; Jacobs espoused mixed-age buildings to allow for different uses and sidewalk traffic where people could all commingle and thus look out for one another and maintain the safety and liveliness of the neighborhood. In her mind, diversity was busy and busy was good, whereas Moses seemed to favor some sort of empty, modernist dreamscape for cars.

“She would have fought gentrification today,” Tyrnauer adds sadly. “She called it ‘over success.’ Interestingly, in an attempt to preserve the neighborhood, she fought to save SoHo from the Lower Manhattan Expressway, which she did because she wanted to save the neighborhood, even though later it became overly gentrified. I think if she saw all the condos being built she would have recommended that residents change the zoning laws to preserve the artistic character.”

Whether co-designed populism seems possible or one woman’s idealistic pipe dream, what remains essential to appreciating Jane Jacobs, aside from her lucid prose, is her understanding of the ordered disorder and controlled chaos of a successfully working city, especially New York. Where Moses saw a future that was uniform, she saw a world order that was complex and intricate and involved all its inhabitants like “an intricate ballet.” To quote Jacobs, “Cities have the capability of providing something for everybody, only because, and only when, they are created by everybody.”

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A “Game of Thrones” gift from the old gods and the new: Our first look at Season 7


(Credit: HBO/Helen Sloan)


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    The Season 6 season finale left us with a lot to digest about Jon Snow. It was a shocker (at least to me, a non-book reader) that Jon Snow is actually the son of Lyanna Stark and Rhaegar Targaryen, making him Dany’s cousin. I hope Season 7 cuts to the chase and makes this fact known so we can see the newly crowned King of the North team up with the Mother of Dragons.

    Bran had a huge comeback in Season 6 (well, that’s not too hard since he was completely absent in Season 5). I’m going to be honest, him being a “warg” and seeing through the eyes of his direwolf confuses me — and bores me — but without this, we’d never know about Jon Snow’s true lineage. The tragic death of Hodor left a hole in our hears that Meera can’t fill, but at least they have each other going forward in Season 7.

    Finally, a romance I can get behind. Brienne of Tarth looks striking — even from the back — while talking (more like sarcastically quipping) to Tormund Giantsbane in this promo pic. I can’t wait to see how the regal Brienne works — and flirts — with a Wilding.

    Despite The Hound having his peaceful life ripped from him by the Brotherhood Without Banners, by the end of Season 6 he has joined their plight to fight White Walkers in the North. Judging by this promo pic, he’s already reached beyond the Wall — little does he know the horrors that await.

    Oh beautiful, Missandei (not to be confused Melisandre, the lunatic Lord of Light worshipper). She looks beautiful as ever in a wardrobe à la the cold winds of Westeros. Question: how is it possible to spend weeks on a ship crossing the Narrow Sea and still have eyebrows that perfect?

    Season 6 transformed Arya from a blind-girl begging for food on the streets of Braavos to full-fledged assassin who avenges her mother Catelyn Stark by brutally murdering Walder Frey. She’s the character we’re all rooting for and hopefully this season she’ll team up with Sansa and Jon to finally have their revenge against the Lannisters.

    Oh boy, looks like we’re in for more Littlefinger and Sansa action in Season 7. I’ll be honest, despite Littlefinger giving me the creeps anytime he tells Sansa how much he loved her mother while simultaneous giving her sex-eyes, I can’t help but love their scenes together

    Ah, the Lannisters. Despite how malicious, how horrific, how almost pure-evil Cersi can be, her Walk of Atonement last season was sobering. The only person you love to hate more than the Lannisters is the High Sparrow, whose role in Westeros was too long and completely unnecessary. Now that wildlife wiped out all her immediate enemies (including the beautiful Margaery), we are left with an all powerful Cersi in Season 7. What could go wrong?

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“Game of Thrones” fans, rejoice! Despite the fact that Season 7 will premiere later than ever before (July 16th? Seriously?) and will be a brief 7 episodes, the Old Gods and the New have bestowed upon us teaser photos for the upcoming season. The winter winds have finally made their way to Westeros with our heroes duking it for the Iron Throne. Now is the time we speculate on upcoming plot twists, allegiances, romances, deaths and whether we’ll have to endure another gross Cersei/Jaime incest scene. Have a Tyrion-sized goblet of wine and let’s see what Season 7 has in store.

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