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Links: July 2018

Hello, dear reader!

July is gone, but its links remain.

Apart from brief musings on films I saw recently, my lone post in July was a recap of my vacation in Brighton, from which I was reluctant to return. The ensuing extended brain vacation kept me from doing as much internetting as usual, so the collection of links is a bit thinner this month, but hopefully you can find something below worth scraping across your brain. You might also want to check out the new one-page site I launched for my alter ego Windhammer. I heard a rumor that he’s returning to the US Air Guitar stage tomorrow in honor of his 10th anniversary, so if the skies should part and rain doom upon the earth, fear not. Windhammer is just saying hello.

As usual, if you want to follow these links in real time, follow me on Twitter.

Weaponizing the First Amendment: How Free Speech Became a Conservative Cudgel

But a transformative ruling by the Supreme Court five years later began to change that thinking. The case, a challenge to a state law that banned advertising the prices of prescription drugs, was filed by Public Citizen, a consumer rights group founded by Ralph Nader. The group argued that the law hurt consumers, and helped persuade the court, in Virginia State Board of Pharmacy v. Virginia Citizens Consumer Council, to protect advertising and other commercial speech.

The only dissent in the decision came from Justice William H. Rehnquist, the court’s most conservative member.

Kathleen M. Sullivan, a former dean of Stanford Law School, wrote that it did not take long for corporations to see the opportunities presented by the decision.

“While the case was litigated by consumer protection advocates,” she wrote in the Harvard Law Review, “corporate speakers soon became the principal beneficiaries of subsequent rulings that, for example, struck down restrictions on including alcohol content on beer can labels, limitations on outdoor tobacco advertising near schools and rules governing how compounded drugs may be advertised.”

That trend has continued, with businesses mounting First Amendment challenges to gun control laws, securities regulations, country-of-origin labels, graphic cigarette warnings and limits on off-label drug marketing.

“I was a bit queasy about it because I had the sense that we were unleashing something, but nowhere near what happened,” Mr. Nader said. “It was one of the biggest boomerangs in judicial cases ever.”

“With the receding of Warren court liberalism, free-speech law took a sharp right turn,” Professor Seidman wrote in a new article to be published in the Columbia Law Review. “Instead of providing a shield for the powerless, the First Amendment became a sword used by people at the apex of the American hierarchy of power. Among its victims: proponents of campaign finance reform, opponents of cigarette addiction, the L.B.G.T.Q. community, labor unions, animal rights advocates, environmentalists, targets of hate speech and abortion providers.”

There’s No Scientific Basis for Race—It’s a Made-Up Label

DNA is often compared to a text, with the letters standing for chemical bases—A for adenine, C for cytosine, G for guanine, and T for thymine. The human genome consists of three billion base pairs—page after page of A’s, C’s, G’s, and T’s—divided into roughly 20,000 genes. The tweak that gives East Asians thicker hair is a single base change in a single gene, from a T to a C.

Similarly, the mutation that’s most responsible for giving Europeans lighter skin is a single tweak in a gene known as SLC24A5, which consists of roughly 20,000 base pairs. In one position, where most sub-Saharan Africans have a G, Europeans have an A.

When people speak about race, usually they seem to be referring to skin color and, at the same time, to something more than skin color. This is the legacy of people such as Morton, who developed the “science” of race to suit his own prejudices and got the actual science totally wrong. Science today tells us that the visible differences between peoples are accidents of history. They reflect how our ancestors dealt with sun exposure, and not much else.

To the victims of racism, it’s small consolation to say that the category has no scientific basis.

“That race is a human construction doesn’t mean that we don’t fall into different groups or there’s no variation,” Foeman says. “But if we made racial categories up, maybe we can make new categories that function better.”

Does the West actually face a migration crisis?

Nevertheless, opinion polling in numerous Western societies consistently finds that significant numbers of people overinflate the size of the migrant population in their midst and the scale of their demographic impact. “The overestimates are largest among particular groups: the least educated, workers in low-skill occupations with lots of immigrants, and those on the political right,” noted the New York Times, citing a recent survey of public opinion in the United States and other European countries. “They overstate the share of immigrants who are Muslim and understate the share of Christians. They underestimate immigrants’ education and overestimate both their poverty rate and their dependence on welfare. Almost a quarter of French respondents, as well as nearly one in five Swedes and about one in seven Americans, think the average immigrant gets twice as much government aid as native residents do. In no country is this true.”

The Death of a Once Great City

I don’t share this guy’s hatred of modern architecture, but New York as described in this piece seems to me to be a microcosm of the broader issue of the U.S.’s intensifying wealth gap and displacement of civic institutions by commercial ones.

Over the past few decades, what used to be regarded as inviolable public space has been systematically rolled up and surrendered to unelected private authorities. Starting with Central Park in 1980, much of New York’s park system has been handed over to privately funded “conservancies,” supposedly subordinate to the city government but in truth all-powerful, and quite determined to put everything on a paying basis.

RCI survived being looted and vandalized during the blackout rioting in the summer of 1977, but it couldn’t withstand today’s Manhattan rents. The little shop lost its lease in 2014, the business chased off after eighty years in the neighborhood. Today, more than three years later, its storefront remains empty. Like so many other abandoned spaces along Broadway, its doorway has become a refuge for the homeless and the mentally ill, supposedly purged from our city streets.

And so we have come full circle, from a city that tried to help along its poor and embattled strivers to one that would rather keep the land barren until only the very richest are available.

The New Yorker noted in 2016 that there is now a huge swath of Midtown Manhattan, from Fifth Avenue to Park Avenue, from 49th Street to 70th Street, where almost one apartment in three sits empty for at least ten months a year. New York today is not at home. Instead, it has joined London and Hong Kong as one of the most desirable cities in the world for “land banking,” where wealthy individuals from all over the planet scoop up prime real estate to hold as an investment, a pied-à-terre, a bolt-hole, a strongbox.

When the journalist Warren St. John protested against these towers that block the sun and literally leave children shivering in the park, he pointed out that the highest supertall apartments—when they are occupied at all—house maybe a few hundred people, as opposed to the 40 million individuals who use Central Park every year. But this seems to be the calculation on which New York now operates.

Perhaps because they have done so much to annihilate the New York around them, every luxury of the new buildings is designed to pull its residents inward, away from the rest of us—the very antithesis of urban life.

The 421-a tax break is an anachronistic tool left over from the Seventies, when both landlords and the middle class were abandoning the city in droves. Nothing could be further from the case today, and the recent evidence is abundant that continuing to use it is a counterproductive strategy, one that is subsidizing the wealthy while diminishing the amount of affordable housing available.

We are becoming a city of transients. Already, there are at least two apartments in my building operating as Airbnbs, an increasingly popular practice in many New York buildings; the only question is whether they are being run by the tenants or by the landlord. The potential safety or comfort of the rest of us, now living with night-to-night tenants who could be anybody, is not their concern.

The trouble lies not in the inexorable fact that cities change but in our failure to deal with that. Since the Seventies, all that our urban leaders, in New York and elsewhere, Democratic as well as Republican, have been able to come up with is one scheme after another to invite the rich in.

While the 3-D printing revolution has yet to be all that revolutionary, its implications suggest that reversing America’s gun fetishism is more about changing hearts and minds than changing legislation.

Mr. Wilson’s organization, Defense Distributed, will repost its online guides on Aug. 1, when “the age of the downloadable gun formally begins,” according to its website. The files will include plans to make a variety of firearms using 3-D printers, including for AR-15-style rifles, which have been used in several mass shootings.

Japan’s Rent-a-Family Industry

I struggle to understand Japan, and this Elif Batuman piece helps, but still, 😐.

Weddings are the bread and butter of the rental-relative business, perhaps because traditions that dictate the number of guests haven’t changed to reflect increasing urbanization and migration, shrinking families, and decreased job security. Laid-off grooms rent replacements for co-workers and supervisors. People who changed schools a lot rent childhood friends. The newly affianced, reluctant to trouble one another with family problems, may rent substitutes for parents who are divorced, incarcerated, or mentally ill. One Hagemashi-tai client simply didn’t want to tell his fiancée that his parents were dead, so he rented replacements.

One woman had been impersonating a man’s wife for seven years: the real wife had put on weight, so the husband hired the stand-in to go out with him and his friends. The same actress had also replaced overweight mothers at school events; the children of overweight parents may be subject to bullying. Ichinokawa and Ishii told me many more stories. A hostess in a cabaret club hired a client to request her. A blind woman rented a seeing friend to identify the good-looking men at a singles dance.

Ishii says that, two or three times a year, he stages entire fake weddings. The cost is around five million yen (around forty-seven thousand dollars). In some cases, the bride invites real co-workers, friends, and family members. In others, everyone is an actor except the bride and her parents. The rental best man gives a speech, often bringing the rental guests to tears.

“According to Foucault, everything is constructed, not essentially determined,” Tatsumi said. “What matters is the function.” I remembered a quote from Satsuki Ōiwa that I had read in a newspaper article about her. “What we provide is not familial affection,” she said, “but human affection expressed through the form of the family.”

Pranks and Masculinity on “Who Is America?” and “Nathan for You”

It’s not odd that these shows were hosted by white guys: most TV comedy was, until recently. But it is worth noting that two recent series about a black or female comedian meeting strangers—W. Kamau Bell’s “United Shades of America” and Sarah Silverman’s “I Love You, America”—were paeans to empathy. The opposite is risky: try to imagine an undercover Latino comic pulling a prank on an ICE agent. Or an all-female #MeToo show, exposing misogynists. I’m imagining it right now! So far, outsider comics aren’t out punking the N.R.A., unless you count Maria Butina.

The Big Business of Being Gwyneth Paltrow

Gunter cited many of Goop’s greatest hits: “Tampons are not vaginal death sticks, vegetables with lectins are not killing us, vaginas don’t need steaming, Epstein Barr virus (E.B.V.) does not cause every thyroid disease and for [expletive] sake no one needs to know their latex farmer; what they need to know is that the only thing between them and H.I.V. or gonorrhea is a few millimeters of latex, so glove that [expletive] up.”

But something strange happened. Each of these pronouncements set off a series of blog posts and articles and tweets that linked directly to the site, driving up traffic. At Harvard, G.P. called these moments “cultural firestorms.” “I can monetize those eyeballs,” she told the students.

I know women who’ve been dismissed by their doctors for being lazy and careless and depressed and downright crazy. Was it any wonder that they would start to seek help from sources that assumed that their symptoms weren’t all in their head?

8 pixels is all you need

This fun TYPO talk by Toshi Omagari examines many of the 8×8 pixel fonts developed for old arcade games.

Last Week Tonight: Workplace Sexual Harassment

This whole segment is good, but don’t miss the interview with Anita Hill at 17:30.