Photo of the day

As I’ve mentioned, not much of a baseball fan anymore, but this photo is awesome.  From a Post gallery of the week’s best:

Fans interfere with Boston Red Sox right fielder Mookie Betts as he tries to catch a ball hit by the Astros’ Jose Altuve during the first inning of Game 4 in the American League Championship Series. Altuve was called out after a replay review. Frank Franklin II/AP

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Science, gender, Trump, and cruelty

When it comes to the latest Trump administration announcement on defining gender, I think Jamelle Bouie (borrowing from Adam Serwer) is exactly right, “the cruelty is the point.”

That said, James Hamblin with a really, really good piece on the complexities of biological sex that the Trump administration can only pretend to take into account.  And you gotta love the headline, “Against a Federal Registry of Genitals: A report that the Trump administration plans to define gender based on the appearance of infants runs counter to developmental biology and individual privacy.”

Life might be more orderly and easy to understand if biology worked just like this:

People come in one of two sexes, male or female. This is determined by chromosomes, and XX means female, and XY means male. Males have penises and testicles—which are all similar in appearance and curvature and size—that secrete testosterone in similar proportions. This testosterone is metabolized and functions similarly in all men and causes them to have similar amounts of musculature and deep voices and certain amounts of facial and back hair, and to act in particular ways due to this hormone. It causes their brains to develop and make them behave in ways that are “manly.”

These men are attracted to women, specifically women who look normal, which is a result of the fact that they definitionally have exactly and only two XX chromosomes that cause them to develop clitori and uteri and breasts and ovaries that produce estrogen and other hormones that cause cycles of growth and shedding of the uterine lining, and who predictably bear children when sperm meets egg. All of these features develop and function the same way in all women who are normal—whose amounts of hormones make their bodies look and feel more or less the same, and whose brains develop and function in a way that is female, and which consigns them to certain roles in social hierarchies.

This is the middle-school health class version. Like any simplistic model, this one is presented as an introduction. Most 11-year-olds do not yet know about enzymes and cell biology, and have barely begun to consider the complex differences between humans, and aren’t ready to grapple with the social implications of the simplistic dichotomy. Plus it would be impossible to go into greater depth without the class snickering every time the teacher said “ambiguous genitalia” or “micropenis.”

The paradigm is somewhat similar to saying that automobiles come in two forms: cars and trucks. This is a worldview that is easily challenged by the existence of SUVs and station wagons—neither of which would suddenly disappear, even if government officials tried to make up a definition that excluded them.

Yet this is the paradigm that the Department of Health and Human Services is preparing to use to define gender, ]emphases mine] according to a memo reported in The New York Timestoday: “The agency’s proposed definition would define sex as either male or female, unchangeable, and determined by the genitals that a person is born with … Any dispute about one’s sex would have to be clarified using genetic testing.”…

The agency proposes to define gender “on a biological basis that is clear, grounded in science, objective and administrable.” Which would indeed be ideal at a bureaucratic level. Even looking no further than the maternity ward or doula’s chambers, though, human biology does not abide by the rules laid out for us in sixth grade.

Though they have long been anathema to talk about, there are many thousands of variables that affect gestation and fetal development—some influenced by epigenetic factors generations before conception—that lead to a spectrum of outcomes for any given infant. This can include sex-chromosomal anomalies (XXY or XYY, for example), as well as irregular functioning of enzymes that activate or metabolize hormones, or the blocking of binding sites where hormones typically act, which effectively could lead an XY person to develop female genitalia (known as Swyer syndrome), or an XX person to develop male genitalia, and for thousands of infants each year who are born with “ambiguous genitalia” that can look something like a penis and a clitoris (which are fundamentally structurally analogous, spongy tissue consisting of a crus and glans that become engorged and hyper-sensitive during sex).

There are two statistical peaks in the distribution of infant outcomes that roughly accord with the states described in middle school, but there is also everything in between and on other sides. Entire textbooks are written on the wide variety of ways sex hormones can manifest during fetal development and throughout life. The exact number of infants born in the domain known as “intersex”—who, for any number of reasons, do not clearly fit into one of the two sexes based on genitalia or chromosomes or both—is difficult to know because for many years, such people were “normalized” at birth by default.

The obvious questions, of course, is, what’s the point?!  The cruelty.  And pandering the the cruel.

War on drugs = war on poor and minorities (and the Constitution)

Of course, most readers of this blog likely well know the essential truth of the title of this post.  That said, sometimes it is still shocking just how breathtakingly wrong our war on drugs as gone and how brazenly stupid and discriminatory it can be.  Terrific reported piece from Radley Balko on the absolutely out-of-control Little Rock, Arkansas police department that is literally blowing doors off hinges of residents based in the flimsiest of pretexts.  It’s rotten through-and-through as the police repeatedly rely on transparently unreliable informants to conduct transparently unconstitutional raids that are almost always approved by seemingly unaccountable judges.  Ugh!  I’d like to think that LRPD is one of the worst cases, but you know it’s not the only one.  There’s no really great quotes to sum it up, but some great narrative:

“You don’t know what fear is until you wake up and your own front door is flying at you,” says Roderick Talley.

It was early on a hot morning last summer, and he was dozing on his couch in front of a flickering television. A little before 6:30 a.m., a deafening boom woke Talley and sent his front door flying off its hinges. The door traveled about six feet through the air before landing on top of him and the couch where he had been sleeping. Quickly, 11 heavily armed men filed in, bellowing out a wall of unintelligible commands that Talley was too shaken to process. It took him several seconds to realize they were police.

“Once I figured that out, I just did what I do when I’ve been pulled over,” he says. “I threw my hands up as far up over my head as I could. I didn’t want them to say I was reaching for something and shoot me. I didn’t want them to shoot my dog. I just wanted to survive.”

Talley, 31, is a barber. At the time he was living in Little Rock. Since moving there from Mississippi in 2010, his apartment has been burgled three times, and someone has stolen packages from his doorstep. The complex where he currently resided had recently put out a notice to residents to be on the alert for break-ins. So Talley bought a security system to monitor both the inside and outside of his apartment. About a week before the raid, the outdoor camera picked up some strange activity outside Talley’s apartment. As he sat handcuffed while police officers rifled through his belongings, he began to make the connection.

The outside camera had recorded two odd incidents. First, a man whom Talley didn’t know approached the apartment while Talley wasn’t home. Looking anxious, the man knocked, waited a few moments and then left. A few days later, the camera picked up a police officer outside the door. The officer looked around, snapped a photo of Talley’s door with his cellphone, and left.

Talley at one point told his father about the two visits, who in turn relayed the story to a police officer friend. “When he heard about both men, he told my dad, ‘It sounds like they’re about to kick down your son’s door,’ ” Talley says.

Of course, Trump and Sessions surely think we need more of this.

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