Fists and Jeroboam
March 18 through April 21, 2016
By Paul Krugman
NY Times Published: MARCH 14, 2016
Establishment Republicans who are horrified by the rise of Donald Trump might want to take a minute to remember the glitch heard round the world — the talking point Marco Rubio couldn’t stop repeating in a crucial debate, exposing him to devastating ridicule and sending his campaign into a death spiral.
It went like this: “Let’s dispel with this fiction that Barack Obama doesn’t know what he’s doing. He knows exactly what he’s doing.” The clear, if ungrammatical, implication was that all the bad things Republicans claim have happened under President Obama — in particular, America’s allegedly reduced stature in the world — are the result of a deliberate effort to weaken the nation.
In other words, the establishment favorite for the G.O.P. nomination, the man Time magazine once put on its cover with the headline “The Republican Savior,” was deliberately channeling the paranoid style in American politics. He was suggesting, albeit coyly, that a sitting president is a traitor.
And now the establishment is shocked to see a candidate who basically plays the same game, but without the coyness, the overwhelming front-runner for the Republican presidential nomination. Why?
The truth is that the road to Trumpism began long ago, when movement conservatives — ideological warriors of the right — took over the G.O.P. And it really was a complete takeover. Nobody seeking a career within the party dares to question any aspect of the dominating ideology, for fear of facing not just primary challenges but excommunication.
You can see the continuing power of the orthodoxy in the way all of the surviving contenders for the Republican nomination, Mr. Trump included, have dutifully proposed huge tax cuts for the wealthy, even though a large majority of voters, including many Republicans, want to see taxes on the rich increased instead.
But how does a party in thrall to a basically unpopular ideology — or at any rate an ideology voters would dislike if they knew more about it — win elections? Obfuscation helps. But demagogy and appeals to tribalism help more. Racial dog whistles and suggestions that Democrats are un-American if not active traitors aren’t things that happen now and then, they’re an integral part of Republican political strategy.
During the Obama years Republican leaders cranked the volume on that strategy up to 11 (although it was pretty bad during the Clinton years too.) Establishment Republicans generally avoided saying in so many words that the president was a Kenyan Islamic atheist socialist friend of terrorists — although as the quote from Mr. Rubio shows, they came pretty close — but they tacitly encouraged those who did, and accepted their endorsements. And now they’re paying the price.
For the underlying assumption behind the establishment strategy was that voters could be fooled again and again: persuaded to vote Republican out of rage against Those People, then ignored after the election while the party pursued its true, plutocrat-friendly priorities. Now comes Mr. Trump, turning the dog whistles into fully audible shouting, and telling the base that it can have the bait without the switch. And the establishment is being destroyed by the monster it created.
I still sometimes see people suggesting an equivalence between Mr. Trump and Bernie Sanders. But while both men are challenging a party establishment, those establishments aren’t the same. The Democratic Party is, as some political scientists put it, a “coalition of social groups,” ranging from Planned Parenthood to teachers’ unions, rather than an ideological monolith; there’s nothing comparable to the array of institutions that enforces purity on the other side.
Indeed, what the Sanders movement, with its demands for purity and contempt for compromise and half-measures, most nearly resembles is not the Trump insurgency but the ideologues who took over the G.O.P., becoming the establishment Mr. Trump is challenging. And yes, we’re starting to see hints from that movement of the ugliness that has long been standard operating procedure on the right: bitter personal attacks on anyone who questions the campaign’s premises, an increasing amount of demagogy from the campaign itself. Compare the Sanders and Clinton Twitter feeds to see what I mean.
But back to the Republicans: Let’s dispel with this fiction that the Trump phenomenon represents some kind of unpredictable intrusion into the normal course of Republican politics. On the contrary, the G.O.P. has spent decades encouraging and exploiting the very rage that is now carrying Mr. Trump to the nomination. That rage was bound to spin out of the establishment’s control sooner or later.
Donald Trump is not an accident. His party had it coming.March 15th, 2016
BY CARMAN TSE
LAIST Published: MAR 11, 2016
A native son of Los Angeles, Jonathan Gold’s writing on food has been held in high regard as a definitive voice that captures the city’s enormous sprawl and bustling life—a Joan Didion for the taco truck set. In 2007, Gold became the first restaurant critic to win a Pulitzer Prize for criticism.
“His writing is not just restaurant reviews—he’s writing about culture, communities, people, and the experience of living in Los Angeles and appreciating what the city has to offer,” director Laura Gabbert told LAist. Her new documentary City Of Gold, about Jonathan Gold and the city he calls home, is out today.
In one of his most celebrated pieces, Gold describes his year-long quest to eat at every restaurant on Pico Boulevard, which offered him a cross-section appreciation of the city’s cultures and neighborhoods, from downtown to the beach. “The Year I Ate Pico Boulevard” has inspired fellow writers, photographers, and even Thomas Pynchon, who gives a subtle nod to Gold in Inherent Vice. “I was so stoked at that! I was like, ‘Thomas Pynchon knows who I am!'” he says. “Can you imagine? Dude!”
Fresh out of UCLA, Gold got his start as a proofreader at LA Weekly in 1982 and bounced back-and-forth between the alt-weekly and the L.A. Times (with stints at California, Gourmet and Los Angeles Magazines along the way). Aside from covering food, he was also a music writer for both the Weekly and Times, being one of the first writers to cover West Coast gangsta rap in-depth. Through his “Counter Intelligence” column, he established himself as one of the most premier gourmands in the country—though he continuously shied away from becoming a larger public figure, even in the emerging age of Food Network and the celebrity chef.
As one would expect, finally convincing him to be the subject of City Of Gold took a lot of prodding. “Jonathan said ‘no’ to me many times when I approached him about making the documentary,” says Gabbert. “One of the ways I convinced him was by [telling him] it’d be a film about Los Angeles through his eyes, from his point of view.”
City Of Gold is a thoroughly enjoyable trip around the metropolis and its restaurants (familiar Gold-approved eateries like Jitlada, Guelaguetza, Chengdu Taste and Mariscos Jaliscos, to name a few), and Gold makes for terrific company with his ebullient chatter. Some eyebrows might be raised, though, at what some might consider the film’s cheery approach toward Los Angeles’ fragmentation. City Of Gold “essentially romanticizes the city’s racial and class segregation,” writes Inkoo Kang in a dissent for TheWrap.
Jonathan Gold recently sat down with LAist to talk about City Of Gold, his bad habit of procrastinating, Yelp, food listicles, and L.A.’s food culture (which still gets no respect). As we started, he was eating a plate of food from one of his mainstays. “I will not say no to Jitlada’s turmeric fried rice. Ever.”
Last year you wrote that piece in the L.A. Times about coming out as the previously-anonymous food critic. What came first: was it agreeing to do the movie or this decision to break out from your supposed anonymity?
The movie had started shooting well before I got to the Times [in 2012]. We’d been shooting since 2010, I think.
I mentioned the possibility of that when Davan Maharaj, the editor of the Times, was talking about [me] coming there. And I actually said to him, “They’ve shot this movie and there’s a possibility it’ll come out and I don’t think it will.” But apparently Laura had not given up. [chuckles]
It sounds like you’re saying that the film was the tipping point into pushing you to come out. Or were the wheels already in motion for a while?
It was acknowledging not being anonymous rather than it was actually not being anonymous.
People are obsessed with that, I guess. Part of it is the whole mythos of the ninja coming from out of the sky and proclaiming his opinion on your sommelier. You know, it’s not Ratatouille. Though it must be said: most restaurant critics in the country do at least attempt to be anonymous. And I still make my reservations under different names, use different phones with different numbers, and I show up late.
They can’t really change the food that much when you’re in the restaurant, though, and there’s not a chef alive who would admit it. But it’s true!
Did you have any creative input for the film?
Nah. I didn’t pick what restaurants were in it. There were some things in there that I wish had been in there. I certainly was not expecting a significant subplot to be my struggle with deadlines!
I loved that!
Jesus Christ! Can you imagine? When we started doing it, I was telling Laura that filming a writer’s life is boring! Because we write! I sit down on my table and I stare into space, I fuck around on the internet, I find books and… there’s no drama in that! I wasn’t going to give them personal drama, and I didn’t want it to be about the death of journalism or the death of newspapers—which is a direction she could have taken it. I wouldn’t have been happy with that.
Was it a choice of yours to eventually just stick with the food writing? Why food as opposed to music—which you’ve also extensively written about—or anything else?
Well, I’ve always done both. I can get killed for this, but I think in a way pop critics have an expiration date. The whole point of rock ‘n roll—and hip hop—is to stick a shiv into the side of the culture of your elders. And then there’s a point where you’re trying to identify with it a little too much and you just don’t get it. Obviously [music critic Robert] Christgau’s has been able to do it for a million years. And I think that Ann Powers has this ninja knowledge or feel for pop culture that just keeps going, keeps being relevant. But, for the most part there are a lot of people who start out with rock and then shift to other things. As much as I respect [former L.A. Times music editor] Bob Hilburn, I don’t want to end up as this 60-year-old going to Metallica shows.
As somebody who grew up in the Bay Area, I’ve come to love L.A. I’ve been here for almost a decade. I was really excited to get away from home. When I came here for college I was just so excited about the prospect of moving to a new city. Why have you decided to stick around in L.A.?
I don’t know? At points of my life I’ve yearned to move to other places. I spent a few months in the Bay Area—basically so I could see every single Flipper show. [laughs] We’ve all gotta have goals in life. I flirted with moving to the East Village at one point. I did actually move to New York for a few years when I was at Gourmet. But, I don’t know, there’s something about L.A. that always keeps me here. When I was living in New York and I’d go to Asia to report on something, and there’d be a stopover in L.A. [and] I’d have two hours to spend in LAX, I’d almost go towards the Theme Building and wrap my arms around a palm tree and say, “Please don’t make me leave!”
The film, or maybe yourself, show this romantic view of L.A. as being this melting pot of cultures—
I say it’s a mosaic. The anti-melting pot.
Do you feel like that’s something to be celebrated about it? There’s also this dark truth about segregation and discrimination that also exists in that reality—
Oh yeah, it totally does, and I totally acknowledge that. And it tends to be just the first generation, right?
L.A. allows that kind of fragmentation because in a way there isn’t that thing in common that brings people together—as people in one space—the way that the subways will in New York. It’s petty and probably bad for society, but it’s really good for food!
And the fact is, I think the most interesting cooking being done in L.A. right now is by the second generation guys who may have grown up in traditional Chinese, Mexican or Vietnamese families. And then they’re making their big break—they’re going away, going to cooking school, working at three-star restaurants in France or in New York, and they come back and they look at the possibility of working in a hotel restaurant or opening yet another fancy restaurant for some rich guy. Then they decide that, “Nah I think I’d rather cook my food.”
But they do it with all this knowledge, technique and awareness of ingredients and some of the food is just freaking brilliant. Something like Taco María in Costa Mesa you almost can scarcely believe exists. Or even Guerrilla Tacos to some extent. Where Wes Avila’s using the same ingredients, sourcing from the same farms and fishmongers as the people who own the super high-end places. But he’s putting it on a tortilla and charging $6 for it. And there’s something kind of beautiful about that. I’m sure there’s some point where he’s gonna think that it’s less-than-romantic to be selling stuff out of a truck outside Blacktop Coffee—as happy as we all are having it there.
But Los Angeles is such a beautiful place for entry-level capitalism. I don’t know how much went into Baroo, but it’s in a really crappy mini-mall in a really marginal part of town and nobody on earth would think of doing fine dining there. But [chef Kwang Uh]’s able to open it, do his experiments and get enough people through the door to continue doing what he loves to do, which is cooking that kind of food. And there’s something about L.A. that really encourages that kind of creativity. I know the comparison is always with Brooklyn, but I think it’s even more than that.
One thing the film touched on was the Yelp culture—everybody’s a food critic now. What are your general thoughts on Yelp culture and everybody being able to put their opinions about food out there?
Well I think it’s great everybody has their opinion out there on food!
Everybody learns how to play the viola in middle school. They don’t stay a viola player, but maybe having played in their junior high school or high school orchestra then they go to hear the philharmonic and they understand what’s involved in it. And there may be that thing in criticism. Anybody can write four or five food reviews but doing it consistently is work.
To me Yelp is valuable as a set of data points. If there’s a place that opens serving food from Sinaloa in Huntington Park and you look at the review and it says, “I grew up in Los Mochis and this is as close to my grandmother’s food as I’ve ever had…” It doesn’t matter if it’s good necessarily, but the idea that somebody from Sinaloa is writing about Sinaloan food and how it reflects her own experience… it’s not irrelevant.
Have you noticed that there’s been a shift in just how the people or the culture in general has appreciated food since, say, Yelp just started taking off?
I’m not sure it has anything to do with Yelp… I think [now] there’s a knowledge that there is food beyond your own neighborhood. When I first started doing this, everybody halfway-knew that Monterey Park existed. But not that many people had gone. If they did go, they’d go for dim sum, which is delicious but sort of the easiest meal for a non-Cantonese person to do because you don’t have to speak or articulate your needs. They’re wheeled by you in a cart, or you checkmark the menu.
And now, I think, people do know about it.
You find that a lot of people will [now] make the long drive to go to Chengdu Taste or Din Tai Fung. They are aware that what they are eating is not the best form of what they could be eating. That cultural awareness of people who are other than you I think is interesting. It’s not just white folks [at Chengdu Taste]. Koreans and Thais are going there, along with people from parts of China that aren’t Sichuan. That’s as culturally interesting as any of the rest of it—it’s not just introducing white folks to something.
What started your headfirst dive into the world of food and cuisine?
I’m not sure I had it. There was one point I was basically making my living as a proofreader at the Weekly, writing the classical music coverage such as it existed. At an editorial meeting the guy who owned the paper asked if anybody wanted to edit the restaurant issue, and I raised my hand because a) why not? and b) I thought I’d probably be able to take my friends out to eat. I did that and I turned out to be OK at it and I started a column—”Counter Intelligence.” Basically within a month of starting that I got calls from California Magazine, where they wanted to try me out to be their critic. And from Ruth Reichl who was the critic at the L.A. Times, then. She was wondering if I wanted to try being the Valley critic for the Times. So I was the San Fernando Valley critic for a while.
Was the food scene up there bustling back then?
Kind of like it is now. They get the same trends as everybody else, but two years later.
A lot of people have commended your writing for being for the everyman as opposed to the snobs who only eat French food and write about Michelin-starred restaurants. Was that intentional? Did you see yourself in opposition to that?
It’s strange because I’ve always written about super high-end food. When I was at Gourmet Magazine I was writing about the most expensive restaurants in the freakin’ country. I’ve always made my pilgrimages to Noma, Alinea in Chicago or elBulli, but people like the other kind of writing better.
And the one thing that I never do is pretend expertise that I don’t have. At this point I’ve probably eaten 1,500 to 2,000 Vietnamese meals in my life but I didn’t grow up with it. Somebody who grew up in a Vietnamese family is going to have these primordial memories of their mom’s brisket—that doesn’t mean that he or she knows more about the brisket, but there’s just something about it that speaks to them in a way that it doesn’t speak to me. There’s always that remove. So I’m not one of those guys who ever talks about something in relation to its authentic form—which I don’t think exists anyway but that’s another discussion we can have another day.
The journey towards understanding, or at least the illusion of understanding, I think is my theme. When you’re talking about that, then anybody can go on the journey. As opposed to somebody describing dishes in such a way that may be completely accurate, but leaves them fixed and without context like butterflies pinned to a corkboard. You can have fourteen butterflies pinned to a corkboard and you can describe them in exquisite detail, but they’re missing something.
I think about myself as the fucking Johnny Appleseed of food lists. I started the “40 Great Dishes” for the L.A. Times. Ruth Reichl wrote it but it was my idea. I started the “10 Best New Dishes” for Los Angeles Magazine when I was the critic there. The “50 Best Restaurants in America” thing was mine when I was at Gourmet. I obviously started the “99 Essentials” [for L.A. Weekly]. Now everybody’s doing “essentials,” it drives me nuts.
No one can steal “JGold 101” though, that one is yours.
No, they can’t.
Brilliant move on your part.
Actually that was the paper’s. I’m vaguely embarrassed to have my name attached to it. I thought it would be better to have “the L.A. Times’,” but I was adamant that nobody else write them but me. So many listicles!
What was your reaction when you won the Pulitzer?
Well, utter shock! A) I was working at an alt-weekly at the time and people from alt-weeklies don’t win them b) I was writing about food, and people writing about food don’t win them and c) it’s the kind of food that I wrote about. The Pulitzer entry has a review of Cut, whatever Laurent Quenioux restaurant was at the time [Bistro K]… But the one that everybody talks about is a review of El Atacor #11, where I spent most of the review talking about something called the “porno burrito.” Do “porno burritos” win Pulitzers? I guess in this case they did.
I was happy. It’s easy to say that sometimes prizes are superficial and they don’t mean much but it’s better to win them than not to win them.
Do you feel like that was also a big moment in how people appreciated food and food criticism?
It’s not for me to say, but yeah, a lot of people in the food world actually think of that as sort of a major moment—as a validation of the food movement.
Do you think L.A. gets the respect it deserves as a food capital? Or it still doesn’t?
It hasn’t. There was a point in the early 80’s when L.A. was maybe the “world” food capital. It seems weird now in retrospect, but so many of the food movements that would take over came from here. The first “fusion” restaurant, as much as I hate that word, was Chinois. Spago was the first place that was a fine dining restaurant that didn’t have the accouterments of fine dining. Comfort food started at a place called 72 Market Street [Oyster Bar and Grill], which was the first place to have $26 meatloaf. The idea of sushi as being more than sushi started at Matsuhisa. So many of the trends that are still the big things in the country and even the world.
And then of the chefs moved away, and a lot of the emphasis on restaurants went towards New York. L.A. has been severely underestimated as a food city for a long time. Lately, I think it’s the city that everybody thinks has “excitement.” People want to come here. The restaurants here just thrill people who are tired of the innervated four-stage mannerism that’s happening in a lot of New York restaurants now. Again, we’re the center of a giant and wonderful agricultural region—there’s that sort of kinship between chefs and farmers that you don’t find in a lot of cities. There’s the vast array of communities that exist here cooking traditional foods that… you can get the ingredients, but a chef can go to San Gabriel or Garden Grove and have her mind just absolutely blown by what’s available—which isn’t so in easy other places.
It’s the ease of doing things—the fact that you can open up a restaurant in a mini mall for a certain amount of money, or the fact that you can get a lease on a food truck and spend a few thousand dollars to have one of those vinyl things slapped onto it. Some of the best, most interesting places have started out as pop-ups or food trucks. You don’t have to go through the strict kitchen hierarchy that obviously works in France and spills over to New York. The downside of that is sometimes I yearn for one of those super big regimented professional kitchens because some of what they do is absolutely magical—but the freedom from that is like an elixir to chefs sometimes.March 12th, 2016
Mountain lion P-22 roams the grounds of the L.A. Zoo.
By Hailey Branson-Potts , Joseph Serna and Corina Knoll
LA Times Published March 11, 2016
Her body had been mutilated and most of her face was missing. Blood soaked what remained of her gray fur.
The killing, which was announced Thursday, beneath the foothills of the city was fitting of noir murder mystery, except for the setting and the victim: the Los Angeles Zoo — and a koala.
Small and elderly at 14 years old, Killarney the koala was discovered far from her dirt-paved pen. The prime suspect is a bit of a celebrity. He has graced the pages of National Geographic with the Hollywood sign as his backdrop. He’s a cougar dubbed P-22 who once caused a media frenzy when he came out of the mountains and took refuge in the crawl space of a Los Feliz home.
In legal terms, the case against the so-called mascot of Griffith Park is strongly circumstantial. Black-and-white photos and video taken by Los Angeles Zoo surveillance cameras place him near the scene the night before Killarney was discovered missing.
“He was seen in a couple of locations, and certainly would be capable of doing it,” said John Lewis, director of the Los Angeles Zoo.
As for the big cat’s alleged victim, Lewis said: “She had a tendency at night to come down out of the trees and walk around on the ground, so that certainly would have made her vulnerable to an attack. The other koalas that were in the habitat were untouched, so that may have helped lead to her demise.”
P-22 is believed to be the most urban mountain lion in Southern California. Experts say genetic testing shows that he was probably born in the Santa Monica Mountains and then crossed the 405 and 101 freeways to make Griffith Park his home in 2012.
About a month ago, cameras caught P-22 on zoo grounds. It’s unclear how the puma managed to hurdle an eight-foot fence topped with barbed wire.
He’s made several appearances since then, but has not bothered any of the animals. He is thought to have previously left behind the remnants of a wild raccoon, a staple of his usual fare, which includes mule deer and coyotes.
But a growing number of incidents in which mountain lions have attacked pets have wildlife authorities and park biologists concerned that pumas’ diets have expanded.
Still, there is no forensic evidence proving that P-22 killed the koala, even if he has no alibi.
“When you lose an animal that suddenly, it’s tough,” said Beth Schaefer, the zoo’s general curator. “But we love P-22 too. So, you’re torn. This is his home, too. This is his park. It’s just like, why did you have to come in here, P-22?”
Although near the end of the usual life span for koalas, she liked to amble about on the ground at night while her companions stuck to the safety of the trees. A predator attempting to escape with her would have had to jump into a sunken enclosure and then climb at least nine feet back out of it.
“It’s a pretty good feat in itself,” Lewis said.
There was no sign of a struggle. No blood. No hint of an attack.
About 40 yards away, a tuft of fur was found on the ground.
An hour later, a zoo curator discovered Killarney’s remains on a hillside, 400 yards from the koala exhibit.
The killing has sent a chill throughout the zoo. The smaller animals and those with hooves are now locked up at night.
The koalas have been taken off public display and moved to enclosed areas. As survivors who might have seen a violent attack, their behavior is being monitored. So far, they appear to be faring well, said one official.
There have been discussions about whether to put up a taller perimeter fence around the zoo, although the rough terrain would pose a problem.
“A lot of the animals, if possible, we leave them out at night so they can be in the environment, in the air, but we may have to change that,” Lewis said.
City leaders have called for the protection of all the zoo’s creatures.
“We are investigating the circumstances of the koala’s [death], but in the meantime, we are taking action to ensure that all of our animals are safe,” Barbara Romero, deputy mayor for City Services, said in a prepared statement.
L.A. City Councilman Mitch O’Farrell suggested it was time for P-22 to find a new home.
“Regardless of what predator killed the koala, this tragedy just emphasizes the need to contemplate relocating P-22 to a safer, more remote wild area where he has adequate space to roam without the possibility of human interaction,” O’Farrell said.
“P-22 is maturing, will continue to wander and runs the risk of a fatal freeway crossing as he searches for a mate,” he said. “As much as we love P-22 at Griffith Park, we know the park is not ultimately suitable for him. We should consider resettling him in the environment he needs.”
That may be a tough move, considering that affection for the mountain lion runs deep. When he contracted mange, biologists caught and treated him with topical medications and vitamin K injections. His supporters were heartened to learn he had gained back some weight and recovered from his skin lesions and scabs. He was also the poster puma for the “Save L.A. Cougars” campaign, which proposed a wildlife crossing at the 101 Freeway in Agoura Hills.
Schaefer, the zoo’s general curator, said P-22 is an urban cat. “He’s used to solving urban problems in his head.”
The California director of the National Wildlife Federatio called a mountain lion living in Los Angeles “something to celebrate.”
“Mountain lions are called ghost cats for a reason,” Beth Pratt-Bergstrom said. “They are solitary animals that want to be left alone. P-22 lives in an urban park visited by millions of people and is rarely seen, demonstrating what we already know — it is possible to peacefully coexist and the risk of danger is very low.”
Word of Killarney’s demise surprised visitors at the zoo Thursday.
Two mothers with young sons in tow decided to head toward the koala’s old home.
“We’re going to go pay our respects,” said one.March 11th, 2016
March 8th, 2016
Untitled #1, 2003
stoneware and glaze
25 1/2 X 8 inches
Opening Reception: Sunday, March 6. 3-4:30 PM
March 6 through April 13, 2016
South Willard Shop ExhibitMarch 5th, 2016
Mosquito pupae under a microscope in an Oxitec laboratory. Photograph by Andrew Testa
By ANDREW POLLACK
NY Times Published: MARCH 5, 2016
WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — In the expanding realm ruled by Randal J. Kirk, sliced apples don’t brown. Salmon grow twice as fast without swimming upriver to spawn. Beloved cats are reborn.
And male mosquitoes are unleashed with the sole mission to mate, pass on a gene that kills their offspring, and die.
A few decades ago, the foods and creatures nurtured by Mr. Kirk would have been found only in dystopian fantasies like those written by Margaret Atwood. But Mr. Kirk’s company, Intrexon, is fast becoming one of the world’s most diverse biotechnology companies, with ventures ranging from unloved genetically engineered creatures to potential cancer cures and gene therapies, gasoline substitutes, cloned kittens and even glow-in-the-dark Dino Pet toys made from microbes.
Until recently, Mr. Kirk, 62, was a relatively unknown, self-made billionaire, buying up or investing in companies in the biotech world. So when Intrexon acquired the British company Oxitec last summer, it attracted little attention as he extended his reach into genetically modified insects.
But that move has thrust Mr. Kirk into the forefront of a scramble to control the Zika virus, suspected of causing babies to be born with tiny heads and damaged brains. It is rampant in Latin America and threatening the United States.
While Zika was not on his radar when the deal was announced, Mr. Kirk now appears to be the prescient owner of a potential bioweapon — Oxitec’s genetically engineered mosquitoes, which he says could save millions of people from Zika by causing the population of wild disease-transmitting mosquitoes to self-destruct.
“I think that we have the only safe, effective, field-proven and ready-to-deploy solution,” Mr. Kirk, who is usually called R.J., said in an interview in his office here overlooking the Intracoastal Waterway. In Piracicaba, Brazil, the population of wild mosquitoes has fallen 82 percent in the neighborhood where the mosquitoes are being tested, he said.
If his plans to sell the engineered mosquitoes succeed, Mr. Kirk will fortify his near cultlike status among some investors and colleagues who marvel at his shrewd (and somewhat lucky) investments.
Perhaps more important, a victory against the rapidly spreading epidemic could weaken opposition to genetically engineered organisms of all sorts, propelling many others out of the lab, onto the dinner table or into the environment.
Now Mr. Kirk must persuade federal agencies, foreign governments and nonprofit health organizations to place orders. He must counter caution from the World Health Organization and federal officials, who question whether the technique will be effective on a large scale. And he must overcome qualms about genetic engineering that have prompted opposition to the mosquitoes in the Florida Keys and elsewhere.
“We don’t have experience about living transgenic mosquitoes in the air,” said Dr. Artur Timerman, an infectious disease specialist in Brazil. “What will be the midterm or long-term consequences of this?”
Mr. Kirk is assembling a powerful lobbying effort, employing the law firm Sidley Austin in Washington as well as relying on one of Intrexon’s board members, Cesar Alvarez, the senior chairman of the prominent law firm Greenberg Traurig, and Intrexon’s head of corporate communications, Jack Bobo, who once directed biotechnology trade policy at the State Department.
Dr. Luciana Borio, acting chief scientist at the Food and Drug Administration, told a House subcommittee on Wednesday that the agency was “greatly expediting” Oxitec’s application to test the mosquitoes in the Florida Keys and would issue a draft environmental assessment very soon.
But when asked by Representative Morgan Griffith, a Republican who represents the Virginia district in which Mr. Kirk has a farm, Dr. Borio said the F.D.A. would not eliminate the opportunity for the public to then comment on the draft.
Selling his mosquitoes to combat an international epidemic could help relieve the pressure Mr. Kirk is under to prove that Intrexon is more than just a collection of odd science projects, and that it can actually make money and fulfill his vision for a new golden age of biotechnology.
He considers this time to be a seminal moment in history, one in which the rapidly improving ability to read and write — and rewrite — the DNA code of life will make it possible to engineer all manner of organisms to perform specific tasks.
“I think this is the most significant industrial vector to occur in history,” he said, comparing it to semiconductor technology that gave rise to smartphones and the web.
And the same DNA tools can be applied to numerous areas. Intrexon’s scientists, he says, “don’t care if they are working on a primary human T cell or an avocado.” Reflecting that vision, Intrexon uses the web domain name dna.com.
The engineering of life is often called synthetic biology, a vaguely defined term meant to convey more systematic genetic manipulation than the cutting and pasting of a single gene that gave rise to early biotechnology companies like Amgen and Genentech. At its most distant point, synthetic biologists would sit at a computer designing life forms from scratch, then hit “print” and have the necessary DNA made to order to be inserted into a cell.
Numerous companies are moving into the field, but Intrexon is “literally the elephant in the room of the synthetic biology industry,” said John Cumbers, chief executive of SynBioBeta, a fledgling trade group.
His supporters say that if anyone can pull off such an enterprise it is R. J. Kirk, whom they call an uncommon visionary and quick study, though he lacks formal training in science. When Mr. Kirk tells people, as he often does, that he is just a country lawyer, they know they’re about to get a schooling in biology or business, interlaced with references to history, philosophy and opera.
“He has an astonishing grasp of science,” said Dr. Samuel Broder, a former director of the National Cancer Institute who now runs Intrexon’s health division. Dr. Broder recalled one instance in which it took him a day to understand the intricacies of a genetic disease. Mr. Kirk, after hearing Dr. Broder’s explanation, got it in five minutes.
Even the hedge fund manager Thomas U. Barton, who made his mark as a skeptical short-seller, gushes. “He understands all businesses,” he said.
Still, there are skeptics. It is hard to judge the strength of Intrexon’s core technology, known as UltraVector, which is a computerized system for putting together modular DNA pieces to make complex genetic circuits. The company, saying it wants to protect its trade secrets, has not published articles about it in scientific literature. Some start-up companies, not Intrexon, have taken the lead in the hot new genome editing technique called Crispr.
The biggest criticism is that Intrexon keeps announcing new acquisitions and new collaborations, dozens of them in all. Yet no product made with the company’s technology has reached the market, and it is not clear when any will.
“There’s a mixture here of spectacle and speculation,” said Jim Thomas of the nonprofit ETC Group, which says that synthetic biology needs to be more rigorously regulated. “What’s curious about this is the way in which they are putting together all these controversial and often failing one-trick companies and trying to wrap them up in a fancy synthetic biology front.”
Intrexon’s shares have fallen to about $37 from near $70 in July, though biotech stocks in general have also fallen. The company’s market value is $4.3 billion, making Mr. Kirk’s 53 percent worth over $2 billion.
One big commercial opportunity could be Intrexon’s pilot project to use genetically altered microbes to turn natural gas, which is cheap and abundant, into isobutanol, a liquid fuel that can be used in cars. Investors want to see if Intrexon’s partner, the energy giant Dominion, commits to building a commercial plant, which Mr. Kirk hopes could happen as early as this year.
And the Oxitec mosquitoes, while not something Intrexon developed itself, offer a bonus that Mr. Kirk could not have predicted. The mosquitoes were developed mainly to fight dengue fever, and that alone, Mr. Kirk said, made it worthwhile to pay about $160 million for Oxitec.
But because Zika is spread by the same type of mosquito, the Oxitec insects, which contain a lethality gene — can be used. When the male mosquitoes are released to mate with wild females, the offspring die before reaching adulthood.
A Mosquito Factory
Intrexon is now building a factory in Piracicaba to produce 60 million male mosquitoes a week, enough to protect at least 300,000 people, and Mr. Kirk believes production could be increased to cover entire cities or countries.
Costs may vary, depending on the concentration of mosquitoes, Mr. Kirk said. At $7.50 a person, which Technology Review magazine reported would be the price in Piracicaba, protecting a city of one million people would cost $7.5 million a year.
But some experts say it will take a lot of time and money to scale up, and that it is not clear if the technique reduces disease transmission.
And there are other new competing techniques for mosquito control that do not involve genetic engineering and therefore may have a quicker acceptance. One, pushed by the International Atomic Energy Agency, sterilizes lab mosquitoes with radiation so they can’t reproduce when they are released.
Mr. Kirk dismissed concerns about the Oxitec mosquitoes. They contain a few well-characterized genetic changes, he said, while radiation produces “millions of unknown mutations.” Regulators giving sterilized mosquitoes a lower hurdle is tantamount to “giving an award for ignorance,” he said.
In asserting that opposition to genetic engineering was “mostly born of fear based on lack of knowledge,” Mr. Kirk contended that synthetic biology was “not optional” if society wanted to maintain its living standards. If that sounds like something Monsanto, the leader in biotech crops might say, it could be because Mr. Kirk recruited Robert B. Shapiro, former chief executive of Monsanto, to be Intrexon’s lead outside director.
Among the better-known products Intrexon is preparing for market is the genetically engineered apple that resists browning when sliced, which Intrexon acquired when it bought Okanagan Specialty Fruits last year. The company plans to start sales next year.
Intrexon also owns a majority stake in AquaBounty Technologies, whose fast-growing salmon is the first genetically engineered animal to win federal approval for a spot on American dinner plates. Mr. Kirk “basically saved the company,” which was in danger of running out of money, Ronald L. Stotish, the chief executive of AquaBounty, said.
Mr. Kirk’s progression to biotech mogul was almost by chance. An Air Force brat who grew up in various states, He said he spent some of his teenage years playing guitar in clubs but grew disenchanted with the prospect of a musician’s life.
After studying business at Radford University, he embarked on his first venture, a television station in rural Virginia, while still in law school. He eventually gave up on that but not before moving to tiny Bland, Va., where he was the town’s only lawyer. The town’s only pharmacist, John Gregory, enlisted him in 1983 to start a drug distribution business, General Injectables and Vaccines. It was sold for $65 million in late 1998.
Mr. Kirk’s biggest score was New River Pharmaceuticals, which was developing a stimulant to treat attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder that was supposed to be less susceptible to abuse than existing products. While regulators ultimately deemed the drug no less prone to abuse than other products, Shire acquired New River for $2.6 billion in 2007 and made the product, Vyvanse, the successor to Adderall XR, which was losing patent protection. Mr. Kirk, who owned about half of New River, became a billionaire.
A similar pattern occurred with Clinical Data, which was trying to develop a genetic test to predict which patients would be most likely to benefit from the company’s experimental antidepressant. The genetic testing did not work but the antidepressant was approved anyway, and Clinical Data was acquired by Forest Laboratories for $1.2 billion.
“I would never bet against R. J. Kirk,” said Fred Koller, a former Intrexon executive. “It’s not necessarily the starting point that is successful, but he always gets there.”
Named for parts of genes called introns and exons, Intrexon was founded in 1998 by Thomas D. Reed and his wife, Jackie, to supply DNA constructs for research with genetically engineered mice. The company moved in 2004 to Blacksburg, Va., to take advantage of economic incentives and landed in the orbit of Mr. Kirk’s investment firm, Third Security. Mr. Kirk envisioned applications for the technology far beyond mice, investing $300 million and assuming control of the company. He took Intrexon public in 2013.
“My impression of R. J. has pretty much stayed one of perpetual awe,” said Dr. Reed, who is Intrexon’s chief science officer. “I joke that he is a mix of Leonard Cohen and Prince,” he said, combining a deep soulful understanding of the world with a risk-taking flamboyance.
Mr. Kirk, who once had a ponytail and still wears Birkenstocks and collarless shirts even to some formal business meetings, composes electronic music. Every year at Christmastime he sends his executives and hundreds of other people copies of a book he deems interesting. Last year’s was “The Railway Journey: The Industrialization of Time and Space in the 19th Century,” by the German cultural historian Wolfgang Schivelbusch.
Married and divorced three times, Mr. Kirk has four children ranging in age from 6 to the early 40s. The oldest, Julian, works for his father’s investment firm, Third Security.
While Oxitec is nominally headquartered in Germantown, Md., Mr. Kirk spends most of his time in West Palm Beach. His home, on a narrow stretch of land, has property extending from the Atlantic Ocean to the Intracoastal Waterway. He also keeps a residence in the Four Seasons Hotel in San Francisco and owns a 7,200-acre cattle farm near Radford, Va., where he used to raise falcons, hawks, owls and eagles, tramping through the woods to roust squirrels and rabbits that the birds would eat.
“You are mutual predators, you are partners in the hunt,” said Mr. Kirk. “The thrilling part, really, is the opportunity to enter into a relationship on the animal’s terms, on terms the bird understands.”
Now he’s too busy, he says, running Intrexon, which has grown to about 750 employees and has acquired a lot of basic technology beyond UltraVector.
The company lost $84.5 million on revenue of $173.6 million for last year. Half the revenues came from an established business that Intrexon acquired — Trans Ova Genetics, which sells embryos and other products for cattle breeding.
Much of the remaining revenue comes from its partnerships with companies who pay to use its technology. For instance, Fibrocell is developing a gene therapy for a rare genetic skin disease and OvaScience is researching a way for women to undergo in vitro fertilization without needing hormone shots.
Most of these ventures involve smaller companies in which Mr. Kirk or Intrexon now owns stakes.
Its most important collaboration is probably with Ziopharm Oncology, a cancer drug company.
One project involves gene therapy to treat cancer. It uses a “gene switch” from Intrexon that acts like a light dimmer, allowing production of an immune-boosting protein inside the body to be decreased if needed to avoid side effects.
An Intrexon competitor with similar broad scope is Synthetic Genomics, which is also controlled by a wealthy, visionary entrepreneur, the genome scientist J. Craig Venter.
Perhaps tougher competition will come from more focused companies.
For example, Intrexon and Ziopharm are behind more specialized companies in engineering cancer patients’ immune system cells so they can better attack tumors. One of those specialized companies, Juno Therapeutics, has a market value almost as high as Intrexon’s.
“We have multiple projects right now, any of which should be worth more than our total market cap,” said Mr. Kirk, somewhat in frustration.
If anything in Intrexon’s pipeline works, say perhaps the mosquitoes, the company’s value could climb sharply. Mr. Kirk vowed to make that happen.
“This is my last company,” he said. “I can’t imagine anything else that I will ever see that will be as compelling as Intrexon.”March 5th, 2016
By Charles M. Blow
NY Times Published: MARCH 3, 2016
Sometimes you have to simply step back from the hubbub and take stock, with cleareyed sobriety, at a moment in history to fully appreciate its epochal import. Now is such a time.
A nativist, sexist, arguably fascist and racist demagogue who twists the truth is the front-runner in the race to become the Republican Party’s presidential nominee, over the protestations of the party’s establishment, who rightly view his ascendance as an existential threat to an already tattered brand.
He is odd and entertaining, vacuous and vain, disarming and terrifyingly dangerous.
And, according to The New York Times, he “could lock up the nomination in May” if he “keeps winning by the same margins.” Furthermore, the Republican Party is seeing record turnout on its way to this end. There is a political revolution in this country but, so far at least, it appears to be one driven in large part by the Republicans.
Let this sink in, America.
Stop thinking that it’s all a joke, a hoax, a game. It’s not. Maybe he began this quest as a branding exercise, but it has morphed into something quite real: a challenge to the collective moral character of the republic. The success of his candidacy so far calls into question the very definition and direction of America.
Later we can condemn the media for its complicity in his rise, the way we and the candidate operated in a symbiotic relationship, exchanging cheap ratings for free publicity, but it can’t be undone now. The candidate has now risen.
This is a guy who began his presidential bid by branding Mexican immigrants as drug mules, criminals and rapists.
This is a guy at whose rallies minorities have been shouted down and even manhandled — like the University of Louisville student Shiya Nwanguma — with little or no condemnation from the candidate.
This is a man who refused to immediately and unequivocally denounce and disavow the former Ku Klux Klan grand wizard David Duke, who said on his radio program that voting against the turgid real estate developer was tantamount to “treason to your heritage.” I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that we can safely assume that Mr. Grand Wizard emeritus meant white heritage.
Again, America, let that sink in: America’s white heritage candidate, according to the illustrious David Duke, is the person so far winning a plurality of votes in the Republican contests and collecting a large share of that party’s delegates.
Indeed, his candidacy is providing a refuge for, and giving voice to, white fear and anger over the inevitable changing demography of the country, the erosion of the center and the rewarding of whiteness as a commodity.
Anger, not policy, is in fact the cornerstone of his candidacy. His policies are carpaccio-thin. He feeds his followers vague, morning-mirror affirmations like “make America great again” and endless “winning,” while largely avoiding particulars and parrying fact-checkers and his own history of inconsistencies.
And yet, the people who support him, angry at the establishment, their own party, America itself, don’t really care. He has touched their frustration and they feel reflected in his brutishness.
But even beyond the troubling racial realities of his candidacy is the misogyny of it.
This is a man who has called various women “disgusting,” “a slob,” “grotesque,” “a dog.” And he says that he cherishes women.
His candidacy also promotes what would surely be characterized as war crimes — interrogation tactics “a hell of a lot worse than waterboarding,” and killing the families of terrorism suspects.
Not only does he want to build a wall on the border, he wants to round up and deport those undocumented in this country, stop Muslims from entering and send back Syrian refugees.
One last time, America: Pause and let all that sink in.
I don’t want anyone to say, when we look back at this moment, that they didn’t see the signs. I don’t want anyone to feign surprise. I don’t want people to say that they didn’t take it all seriously because they had faith that their fellow citizens would somehow see the light and not allow this candidate to rise.
No. You don’t get that option. He has risen and continues to rise. Most smart money is on him becoming the Republican nominee, unless party leaders can devise some last-minute plan to blunt him.
And, it is not at all clear to me that, whoever the Democratic nominee is, she or he would have a cakewalk to an easy victory in the general election.
Say this out loud: The leading candidate for president on the Republican side is a demagogue. He is on track to be that party’s nominee. He is attracting record numbers of voters to the polls. If he wins the nomination, he could also win the presidency.
Scared yet? Good! Stop laughing this off. It’s not a joke. It’s quite real. And you need to remember the moment that you woke up and realized just how real it was.March 3rd, 2016
Nick Hummingbird and local nature lovers fight to keep Hahamongna Cooperative Nursery open
By André Coleman
Pasadena Weekly Published: 02/25/2016
A popular local nursery must enter into a new agreement to continue using the city-owned site it’s on in Hahamongna Watershed Park by March 23 or vacate the property.
The Hahamongna Cooperative Nursery started two years ago as part of the Arroyo Seco Canyon Project, a water conservation and habitat enhancement venture aimed at expanding local water supplies from the Arroyo Seco stream and local groundwater while at the same time improving environmental conditions for fish and the local habitat.
In January, the Arroyo Seco Foundation (ASF), which operates the nursery program as part of the canyon project, received an eviction notice from former City Manager Michael Beck, stating the nursery could operate until March 23, but would not receive any city funds despite plans outlined in the Hahamongna Master Plan, which calls for a nursery in the 300-acre waterpark.
“ASF shall be allowed to hold over and maintain the nursery on city property without additional property through March 23, provided that ASF continues to maintain the plants intended for use on the Arroyo Seco Canyon Project during this time,” Beck wrote. “All provisions of the contract shall remain in force until March 23 at which time it shall be terminated and ASF must vacate the property unless otherwise authorized and agreed to in writing by the city.”
Leaders with the ASF will hold an emergency meeting at 6 p.m. tonight, Feb. 25, in the Pasadena City Yards, 233 W. Mountain St. Pasadena, to discuss the future of the nursery.
“We don’t know why they are trying to remove us,” said Nursery Manager Nick Hummingbird. “We have been trying to have a dialogue with city officials. We have exhausted all efforts.”
“I am very surprised the question of closing the nursery is even being raised,” said ASF Executive Director Tim Brick. The foundation is a nonprofit organization that works to preserve and enhance the Arroyo Seco and its watershed through education, community involvement, improvement projects and advocacy. “It ought to be the role of the city to work with groups like us,” Brick said. “If the nursery closes, it would be a great shame and a very bad reflection on the environmental leadership in Pasadena.”
According to Hummingbird, the city amended its original contract with the ASF and signed onto an agreement allowing the nursery to operate until September.
“We have made it very clear we want to be there long term,” Hummingbird told the Pasadena Weekly. “It’s designated as a native plant nursery and that’s what it’s been. Several hundred volunteers come out weekly to work in the nursery and we offer free classes.”
Over the past two years, hundreds of people have been planting native plants in the area. More than 6,000 plants representing 80 species have been cultivated by volunteers.
The nursery came about after the ASF received a $3.3 million grant from the state’s Integrated Regional Water Management Program. The Pasadena Department of Water and Power added an additional $8 million to start the Arroyo Seco Canyon Project.
The project later came under fire after a local group filed a lawsuit, claiming it will not make the local water supply any safer or more drinkable. According to them, the site has been polluted by perchlorate coming out of the nearby Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL). No one disputes that perchlorate was dumped there, but advocates for the plan say there has been massive cleanup effort over the past several years and the water poses no threat to park goers or city water customers. That lawsuit is now holding up the project and threatening the nursery.
“Those plants grow back on their own,” said Leeona Klippstein, co-founder of the Spirit of the Sage Council, a coalition of environmental organizations dedicated to conserving wildlife and land which is suing the city over the project.
“No one needs to plant anything. The seeds are still there. They have been there for hundreds of years,” Klippstein said. “This is not a restoration plan. They want to build a new parking lot [at JPL] and a new dam. The bottom line is they want the state money and the nursery is just another way to get that money.”
Brick disagrees with those claims and says the nursery is a needed resource in the region.
“The nursery represents a tremendous asset to the city and the region,” said Brick. “We took an abandoned facility that was neglected for 20 years and turned it into a gem. With any era of drought or climate change we need to be looking at using native plants more to enhance the landscaping of Southern California. Local nurseries don’t really produce enough of that type of vegetation.”
Mayor Terry Tornek said the city is not trying to end the good work being done by the nursery.
“It’s a strange turn of events,” Tornek said. “The nursery was established to grow the material for the [Arroyo Seco Canyon] Project, but the project is held up because of the litigation. Michael Beck’s letter is not a, ‘we hate you get out’ letter. It’s just a notification.
“Nobody thinks the nursery is a bad idea. Nobody is attempting to give them the bum’s rush,” Tornek said. “The big question is who should maintain the use of the nursery? Should it be the Arroyo Seco Foundation? Should they be a permanent tenant at that location?”
The ASF operated a nursery out of the abandoned site twice before, including stints in cooperation with the US Forest Service in 1990 and 2009. The Hahamongna Annex Master Plan, which includes the city’s plans for an additional 30 acres purchased from the Metropolitan Water District in 2005, calls for a nursery that functions like the current ASF operation.
“The native plant nursery co-op will provide facilities for the propagation and growing of native plants species and promote horticultural education with a particular focus on the restoration of the natural plant communities of the Arroyo Seco,” the plan reads. “The nursery co-op will provide a plant lab, native plant germination green house facilities, growing beds and exterior space for nursery purposes.”
Hahamongna got its name from the Native American Tongva people who lived in the Arroyo Seco hundreds of years ago. According to Tongva myth, a coyote challenged the river to a race. After running as fast as he could, the coyote managed to beat the rushing water, then collapsed from fatigue. The river then roared by with laughter, taking the name “Hahamongna,” a word which in Tongva means flowing water, fruitful valley. Even now, at the falls above Devil’s Gate Dam, one can supposedly hear the river laughing.
The property was sold to the Metropolitan Water District in 1970 for $490,000 with a stipulation that its usage must support open space and recreation. Then, in 2005, MWD sold the land back to the city for $1.2 million after the agency admitted that it had no plans to use it.
Preservationists, including members of the Spirit of the Sage Council, have fought to keep the area in its natural state.
In 2003, the city adopted the Hahamongna Watershed Park Master Plan, which lays out the city’s vision for the open space that extends from Devil’s Gate Dam to the north into Arroyo Seco Canyon.
“It’s been in the master plan for 10 years to have a nursery there,” Brick said. “I am shocked they have not been more helpful to us. If there is a process, we need to work through it. If there is not, I wish they had told us two years ago.”March 2nd, 2016
By Charles M. Blow
NY Times Published: FEB. 29, 2016
Days before Hillary Clinton thundered to an overwhelming victory over rival Bernie Sanders in South Carolina — largely on the strength of black voters who supported her by an even higher percentage than they supported Barack Obama with in 2008 — a young, proudly queer, black activist, Ashley Williams, was in Charlotte, N.C., plotting an action that would make a statement of its own.
She was planning to attend a private Clinton fund-raiser in Charleston, S.C., and confront the candidate about her support of policies — specifically the 1994 crime bill — that contributed to the explosion of racially tilted mass incarceration in this country.
Williams and her friends decided to make a sign — but what to put on it? They toyed with phrases from a now infamous speech Clinton gave in 1996 — when the 23-year-old Williams was a toddler — in which Clinton said:
“We need to take these people on. They are often connected to big drug cartels. They are not just gangs of kids anymore. They are often the kinds of kids that are called super predators: no conscience, no empathy. We can talk about why they ended up that way, but first we have to bring them to heel.”
They settled on a phrase and over a couple of hours they blocked out the letters on a pillowcase. Williams practiced in a bathroom mirror folding the banner into her bra and whipping it out. (She figured that she’d have to hide it on her body so that it wouldn’t be confiscated before she revealed it at the fund-raiser.) But it was too thick. So she cut away the back half that had no writing. Perfect.
The night of the event, she nervously made her way through security with her secret banner hidden away, and took up position near where she assumed Clinton was to speak. As soon as Clinton descended the stairs of the mansion, took the microphone and began her remarks, Williams turned to the crowd and unfurled her banner. Then she turned to Clinton, who was confronted with her own worst words:
“We have to bring them to heel.”
On the video of the encounter, recorded by a friend of Williams who accompanied her to the event (After all, in this age, an action without a video is like a tree falling in the forest with nobody around to hear it), an exchange follows:
Williams: “We want you to apologize for mass incarceration.”
Clinton: “O.K., we’ll talk about…
Williams: “I’m not a super predator, Hillary Clinton.”
Clinton, obviously caught off guard, struggles to find an appropriate response as Williams continues to pressure her and the crowd begins to grumble, “That’s inappropriate,” and the Secret Service closes in on Williams.
Then Clinton says something about answering for her statement and mass incarceration in general that left me flabbergasted:
“You know what, nobody’s ever asked me before. You’re the first person to ask me, and I’m happy to address it, but you are the first person to ask me, dear.”
Could this be true? How was this possible? How is it that of all the black audiences she has been before in the interceding two decades, and all the black relationships she has cultivated, no one person ever asked her what this young graduate student was asking?
In that moment, I knew that the people of my generation had failed the people of Williams’s. Her whole life has borne the bruises of what was done, largely by Democrats, when I was the age she is now.
She said she has grown up knowing families and whole communities devastated by vanishing black people, swept away into a criminal justice system that pathologized their very personage. That night, Williams forced a reckoning.
For it, Williams has been viciously, and I believe, unfairly attacked as a political operative on a hit mission, all of which she denied to me in detail during our phone interview on Saturday. She also said that Sanders was wrong for actually voting for the bill.
Perhaps most stinging was Bill Maher, who used an expletive to call protesters like Williams “idiots,” and said: “People need to learn the difference between an imperfect friend and a deadly enemy. You want to tear Hillary Clinton down? Great. Then enjoy President Trump.”
But this is a false choice, one too often posed to young activists who insist on holding power accountable. It’s the same argument they hear from the police: Allow us to operate in your communities with impunity and abandon or the criminals will do so to even more devastating effect. Following this line of reasoning, silent absorption of pain and suffering is the only option. I wholly reject that.
After the encounter, Clinton said in a statement published by The Washington Post’s Jonathan Capehart: “Looking back, I shouldn’t have used those words, and I wouldn’t use them today.”
The statement isn’t really an apology for championing the bill itself, and as such, I find it wanting. But at least Williams’s action provoked a response that many of us who came before her failed to demand.
For that, Ashley Williams, and activists like her, should be celebrated for shaming silence.March 2nd, 2016
Listening Inside For The Call, 2016
Ceramic Stoneware and Glaze
23″ x 20″ x 5″
March 3-6 2016February 29th, 2016
Untitled (Baum 30), 2015
Oil on Dibond
118 1/8 × 78 3/4 inches
Through March 24, 2016February 21st, 2016
By CAROLINE PAUL
NY Times Published: FEB. 20, 2016
I WAS one of the first women in the San Francisco Fire Department. For more than a dozen years, I worked on a busy rig in a tough neighborhood where rundown houses caught fire easily and gangs fought with machetes and .22s. I’ve pulled a bloated body from the bay, performed CPR on a baby and crawled down countless smoky hallways.
I expected people to question whether I had the physical ability to do the job (even though I was a 5-foot-10, 150-pound ex-college athlete). What I didn’t expect was the question I heard more than any other: “Aren’t you scared?”
It was strange — and insulting — to have my courage doubted. I never heard my male colleagues asked this. Apparently, fear is expected of women.
This fear conditioning begins early. Many studies have shown that physical activity — sports, hiking, playing outdoors — is tied to girls’ self-esteem. And yet girls are often warned away from doing anything that involves a hint of risk.
One study focused on, coincidentally, a playground fire pole, is particularly revealing. It was published in The Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology and showed that parents cautioned their daughters about the dangers of the fire pole significantly more than they did their sons and were much more likely to assist them. But both moms and dads directed their sons to face their fears, with instruction on how to complete the task on their own.
I spoke recently to a friend who admitted that she cautioned her daughter much more than her son. “But she’s very klutzy,” the mom explained. I wondered, wasn’t there a way even a klutzy child could take risks? My friend agreed there might be, but only halfheartedly, and I could see on her face that maternal instinct was sparring with feminism, and feminism was losing.
I had been a klutzy child, too. I was also shy, and scared of many things: big kids, whatever might be under my bed at night, school. But I pored over National Geographic and “Harriet the Spy.” I knew all about Sir Lancelot and the Knights of the Round Table, who wandered the countryside swearing oaths of bravery and honor. None of these characters talked about fear. They talked about courage, exploration and exciting deeds.
So I biked down a steep country road (and hit a car). I sledded down an icy hill (and hit a tree). I don’t remember my parents freaking out; they seemed to understand that mishaps were part of childhood. I got a few stitches, and kept biking and sledding. Misadventures meant that I should try again. With each triumph over fear and physical adversity, I gained confidence.
I recently asked my mother why she never tried to stop me. She said that her own mother had been very fearful, gasping at anything remotely rough-and-tumble. “I had been so discouraged from having adventures, and I wanted you to have a more exciting childhood,” she told me.
My mom is an outlier. According to a study in The Journal of Pediatric Psychology last year, parents are “four times more likely to tell girls than boys to be more careful” after mishaps that are not life-threatening but do entail a trip to the emergency room. It seems like a reasonable warning. But there is a drawback, and the researchers remarked on it: “Girls may be less likely than boys to try challenging physical activities, which are important for developing new skills.” This study points to an uncomfortable truth: We think our daughters are more fragile, both physically and emotionally, than our sons.
Nobody is saying that injuries are good, or that girls should be reckless. But risk taking is important. Gever Tulley, the author of “50 Dangerous Things (You Should Let Your Children Do),” encourages girls and boys to own pocketknives, light fires and throw spears, arguing that dangerous activities under supervision can teach kids responsibility, problem-solving and confidence. It follows that by cautioning girls away from these experiences, we are not protecting them. We are failing to prepare them for life.
When a girl learns that the chance of skinning her knee is an acceptable reason not to attempt the fire pole, she learns to avoid activities outside her comfort zone. Soon many situations are considered too scary, when in fact they are simply exhilarating and unknown. Fear becomes a go-to feminine trait, something girls are expected to feel and express at will. By the time a girl reaches her tweens no one bats an eye when she screams at the sight of an insect.
When girls become women, this fear manifests as deference and timid decision making. We try to counter this conditioning by urging ourselves to “lean in.” Books on female empowerment proliferate on our shelves. I admire what these writers are trying to do — but they come far too late.
We must chuck the insidious language of fear (Be careful! That’s too scary!) and instead use the same terms we offer boys, of bravery and resilience. We need to embolden girls to master skills that at first appear difficult, even dangerous. And it’s not cute when a 10-year-old girl screeches, “I’m too scared.”
When I worked as a firefighter, I was often scared. Of course I was. So were the men. But fear wasn’t a reason to quit. I put my fear where it belonged, behind my feelings of focus, confidence and courage. Then I headed, with my crew, into the burning buildingFebruary 21st, 2016