Highlights

These are interesting excerpts I’ve clipped from articles online. If you want to see what’s in my queue to read next, I’ve got the articles I’ve saved to Pocket mirrored here. I also have the articles I’ve favourited in Feedbin and a directory of links (not necessarily articles) that are worth returning to.

Judith Butler on JK Rowling and the trans culture war

Q: In Gender Trouble you asked whether, by seeking to represent a particular idea of women, feminists participate in the same dynamics of oppression and heteronormativity that they are trying to shift. In the light of the bitter arguments playing out within feminism now, does the same still apply?

A: As I remember the argument in Gender Trouble (written more than 30 years ago), the point was rather different. First, one does not have to be a woman to be a feminist, and we should not confuse the categories. Men who are feminists, non-binary and trans people who are feminists, are part of the movement if they hold to the basic propositions of freedom and equality that are part of any feminist political struggle. When laws and social policies represent women, they make tacit decisions about who counts as a woman, and very often make presuppositions about what a woman is. We have seen this in the domain of reproductive rights. So the question I was asking then is: do we need to have a settled idea of women, or of any gender, in order to advance feminist goals?

I put the question that way… to remind us that feminists are committed to thinking about the diverse and historically shifting meanings of gender, and to the ideals of gender freedom. By gender freedom, I do not mean we all get to choose our gender. Rather, we get to make a political claim to live freely and without fear of discrimination and violence against the genders that we are. Many people who were assigned “female” at birth never felt at home with that assignment, and those people (including me) tell all of us something important about the constraints of traditional gender norms for many who fall outside its terms.

Feminists know that women with ambition are called “monstrous” or that women who are not heterosexual are pathologised. We fight those misrepresentations because they are false and because they reflect more about the misogyny of those who make demeaning caricatures than they do about the complex social diversity of women. Women should not engage in the forms of phobic caricature by which they have been traditionally demeaned. And by “women” I mean all those who identify in that way.

Judith Butler on the culture wars, JK Rowling and living in “anti-intellectual times”, Alona Ferber in The New Statesman

The data scientist who didn't have time to stop all the coups

Zhang discovered inauthentic activity — a Facebook term for engagement from bot accounts and coordinated manual accounts— in Bolivia and Ecuador but chose “not to prioritize it,” due to her workload. The amount of power she had as a mid-level employee to make decisions about a country’s political outcomes took a toll on her health.

“I Have Blood On My Hands”: A Whistleblower Says Facebook Ignored Global Political Manipulation, Craig Silverman, Ryan Mac, and Pranav Dixit in BuzzFeed News

Ann Syrdal, Who Helped Give Computers a Female Voice

A decade later, she was part of a team at another AT&T lab, in Florham Park, N.J., that developed a system called Natural Voices. It became a standard-bearer for speech synthesis, featuring what Dr. Syrdal and others called “the first truly high quality female synthetic voice.”

In 2008, she was named a fellow of the Acoustical Society of America in recognition of her contributions to the rise of female speech synthesis, which is now a part of everyday life, thanks to Siri and Alexa.

“She was driven — and I mean driven — to optimize the quality of female voices,” said Juergen Schroeter, who ran the Natural Voices project.

Ann Syrdal, Who Helped Give Computers a Female Voice, Dies at 74, Cade Metz in The New York Times

It's very hard to tear down a bridge

I remember his aide, Sid Shapiro, who I spent a lot of time getting to talk to me, he finally talked to me. And he had this quote that I’ve never forgotten. He said Moses didn’t want poor people, particularly poor people of color, to use Jones Beach, so they had legislation passed forbidding the use of buses on parkways.

Then he had this quote, and I can still hear him saying it to me. “Legislation can always be changed. It’s very hard to tear down a bridge once it’s up.” So he built 180 or 170 bridges too low for buses.

We used Jones Beach a lot, because I used to work the night shift for the first couple of years, so I’d sleep til 12 and then we’d go down and spend a lot of afternoons at the beach. It never occurred to me that there weren’t any black people at the beach.

So Ina and I went to the main parking lot, that huge 10,000-car lot. We stood there with steno pads, and we had three columns: Whites, Blacks, Others. And I still remember that first column — there were a few Others, and almost no Blacks. The Whites would go on to the next page. I said, God, this is what Robert Moses did. This is how you can shape a metropolis for generations.

Robert Caro Wonders What New York Is Going To Become , Christopher Robbins in Gothamist via Kottke

The Universe Has Made Almost All the Stars It Will Ever Make

Research over the past 30 or so years has revealed that the formation of stars across the universe reached an extended peak of activity roughly 10 to 11 billion years ago.2 Since that epoch, while new stars are certainly still being produced, the rate of production has lessened dramatically. So much so that it appears that the great majority of stars that the universe will ever make—perhaps 95 percent of them—have already been made.3 The future is one of ever-dwindling numbers of stellar newborns, punctuated by occasional flurries as galaxies merge or other triggering events occur.

The Universe Has Made Almost All the Stars It Will Ever Make, Caleb Schwarf in Nautilus

Historical Cookbook Database

A search for “cheesecake,” for example, will result in 189 references, including Robert Abbot’s 1790 recipe for almond cheesecake, Hannah Glasse’s 1805 recipe for lemon cheesecakes, and E. Smith’s 1742 recipe for potato or lemon cheesecake. If this research on the evolution of cheesecake makes you want to learn more about Robert Abbot himself, you’ll find that his 1790 Housekeeper’s Valuable Present or Lady’s Closet Companion also included instructions for how “to make very good wigs.” Another quick search will yield that in the late 1700s, “wigs” were a kind of bun or scone, rather than a style statement—but that, as in Hannah Glasse’s work, cookery books of the era often did contain recipes for both wigs (buns) and to “preserve hair and make it grow thick.”

A Database of 5,000 Historical Cookbooks Is Now Online, and You Can Help Improve It, Reina Gattuso in Atlas Obscura

How the Pandemic Revealed Britain’s National Illness

Britain, I was told, has found a way to be simultaneously overcentralized and weak at its center. The pandemic revealed the British state’s inability to manage the nation’s health: to create a funding model that does not solely promote efficiency, to rise above short-term problems and tackle the problem of old-age care, and to mend the broken system of accountability that runs through so much of British public life. Throughout the NHS’s existence, British governments, both Conservative and Labour, have found the political will to tinker with it, but rarely to tackle its long-term challenges, fearful of losing votes. The NHS did not fail, but the system overall did—and people died as a result.

How the Pandemic Revealed Britain’s National Illness, Tom McTague in The Atlantic

Rich writers showing themselves up about COVID-19

The journals fall into several categories. One is family and kids. In “Stuck at Home With My 20-Year-Old Daughter,” for instance, Todd Purdum described in The Atlantic the pandemic’s “achingly uncertain implications” for the future of his daughter Kate. A sophomore at Barnard College, she has led a charmed life. “Because of my career as a journalist and her mother’s as a former White House press secretary, political consultant, and Hollywood studio executive, we have the luxury of working from home, and the financial resources to help weather this storm.” That, however, does not mask “the reality that Kate’s world has shrunk to the size of her bedroom. In a flash, the daily life of the confident, privileged young woman who’d thrived at school, haunted Broadway stage doors, mastered the New York subway, and, yes, discreetly flashed a fake ID in the bars of Morningside Heights was upended indefinitely.”

The Afflictions of the Comfortable, Michael Massing in The American Prospect

How South Asian corner shop culture helped the UK survive Covid-19

Sultan, Priyesh and Asiyah have symbiotic relationships with their local communities, but their accounts of running a corner shop are still prefaced by the institutional racism that runs through Britain’s history. In the 1970s and 1980s, South Asian factory workers in the UK began to lose their jobs after the decline of traditional labour-intensive industries.

The simultaneous expansion of supermarket chains postwar meant that provincial grocery stores were likely to close, unless they were part of groups like Spar or Londis. Members from these conglomerates purchased smaller village stores from wholesalers. More often than not, your local corner shop will be headed by a Londis brand as opposed to being independently-owned.

How South Asian corner shop culture helped the UK survive Covid-19, Sana Noor Haq in Gal-Dem

The Pandemic's Biggest Mystery Is Our Own Immune System

Amid all the fighting in your airways, messenger cells grab small fragments of virus and carry these to the lymph nodes, where highly specialized white blood cellsT-cellsare waiting. The T-cells are selective and preprogrammed defenders. Each is built a little differently, and comes ready-made to attack just a few of the zillion pathogens that could possibly exist. For any new virus, you probably have a T-cell somewhere that could theoretically fight it. Your body just has to find and mobilize that cell. Picture the lymph nodes as bars full of grizzled T-cell mercenaries, each of which has just one type of target they’re prepared to fight. The messenger cell bursts in with a grainy photo, showing it to each mercenary in turn, asking: Is this your guy? When a match is found, the relevant merc arms up and clones itself into an entire battalion, which marches off to the airways.

The Pandemic’s Biggest Mystery Is Our Own Immune System, Ed Yong in The Atlantic