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Conferences can be a bit like summer camp: people come together for a few intense days once a year, then return to their regular lives. Last week, in Tallinn, Estonia, I attended the Lennart Meri Conference on foreign policy and security. (I go most years.) I was on a panel with Leonid Volkov, a close associate of the Russian anti-corruption activist Alexey Navalny; Volkov also leads a resistance effort against the Russian government’s recent attempts to regulate and restrict the Internet.

The topic of the panel was Russia: civil society, the diaspora, and the possibility of change. For the purposes of the talk, I represented the diaspora and Volkov civil society. I was not optimistic; he was full of hope. He said that it was a tremendously exciting moment to be living in Russia. In one of the country’s largest cities, Yekaterinburg, where Volkov grew up, hundreds of people had been demonstrating for several days against the planned construction of a church in a public park. Several people had been arrested and many had been injured in confrontations with police, but Volkov thought that the protesters might succeed.

Our panel was on Saturday; the conference ended Sunday. I flew home to New York and Volkov flew to Moscow. Early on Tuesday morning, he tweeted that the taxi he was in was followed and then stopped by the police. A minute later he tweeted, “I am being detained, no reason given.” He was taken to a police station and held overnight. On Wednesday morning, he faced a judge, who sentenced him to twenty days behind bars, in connection with a protest that took place last September.

According to OVDInfo, an independent Russian publication that tracks political prosecutions, Volkov was found guilty of violating a law that bans organizing a public event that results in harm to health or property. On Twitter, Volkov recounted the court’s allegation: that, by organizing a live Webcast of a protest on September 9, 2018, against the federal government’s plan to raise the retirement age, he had incited someone to scratch a car. “What do you know, I incited mass disorder by virtue of the spoken word and thought,” Volkov tweeted. “And managed to scratch someone’s Toyota Camry in Moscow while being in Vilnius myself.” In court, he said that he was in Lithuania during the protest. But police testified that Volkov had organized the protest and was therefore responsible for the car-scratching, and also for two people who hit police officers that day.

Volkov, who is thirty-eight, is a software engineer who, in 2013, ran Navalny’s campaign for mayor of Moscow. That summer, in the lead-up to the election, Navalny was sentenced to five years in prison on trumped-up embezzlement charges. Thousands of people risked arrest by protesting in central Moscow that day, and the state backtracked, releasing Navalny the following morning. Alexey Navalny’s brother Oleg, however, was sent to a prison colony: he was a hostage. Following the mayoral election, in which the incumbent mayor triumphed, Volkov left the country to take a job as a tech executive in Luxembourg. After a year and a half, though, he returned to Russia—he wanted to get back to organizing. The state immediately found a crime to charge him with: he was accused of wrestling a microphone away from a television reporter, during a protest in Novosibirsk, and breaking it. I thought that, like Alexey Navalny’s brother, Volkov would become a hostage behind bars. But Volkov was convinced that the authorities were just trying to get him to leave the country. In August, 2016, a court sentenced Volkov to a fine.

The tactic that the state has finally adopted against Navalny is to arrest him for a few weeks at a time, which doesn’t bring out protesters but still makes Navalny’s life very difficult. Now, it seems, the same tactic is being used against Volkov, perhaps in the hopes that he will leave the country and stay out. Volkov did spend most of this past academic year abroad, as a World Fellow at Yale University. According to Navalny’s Twitter account, when the police detained Volkov, they said, “We’ve been waiting for you.”

Like Navalny, Volkov seems to have accepted frequent arrests as part of his regular life. I flew home to New York and took the subway home; he flew home to Moscow and got locked up for twenty days. But he was right about Yekaterinburg: for now, at least, the protesters have succeeded in stopping the construction of the church.

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“There is a natural aristocracy among men,” Thomas Jefferson wrote to John Adams from Monticello, in 1813, in one of the best-known passages from their vast post-Presidential correspondence. “There is also an artificial aristocracy founded on wealth and birth, without either virtues or talents; for with these it would belong to the first class. The natural aristocracy I consider as the most precious gift of nature for the instruction, the trusts, and the government of society.” Jefferson went on to grouse about his failure, decades earlier, to persuade Virginia’s state legislature to create a public-education system. Had he succeeded, he wrote, “Worth and genius would thus have been sought out from every condition of life, and completely prepared by education for defeating the competition of wealth and birth for public trusts.”

Jefferson was hardly the first person to dream of bettering the world by creating a public-spirited and deserving élite, selected and trained through the education system; that idea goes back at least to Plato’s Republic, and has reappeared again and again, everywhere from political manifestos to science fiction. In the United States, in the early twentieth century, the advent of I.Q. tests made the dream seem newly attainable to its enthusiasts. The SAT, that ubiquitous and obsessed-over standard college-admissions test, was introduced in the nineteen-twenties as an adaptation of the Army Alpha, the first mass-administered I.Q. test, which was given to recruits in the First World War as a way of assigning them to tasks and as a general demonstration of the wonders of intelligence testing. In the thirties, James Bryant Conant, the newly installed president of Harvard, began promoting the use of the SAT as a way to create, finally, Jefferson’s idea of a natural aristocracy. (He regularly quoted from Jefferson’s famous letter to Adams.) By 1950, Conant had succeeded in establishing the test as the standard connecting device between high school and college for millions of young Americans.

Much less well known than Jefferson’s letter is Adams’s reply. He was having none of Jefferson’s distinction between natural and artificial aristocracy, because, he argued, the former always degrades over time into the latter. “Both artificial Aristocracy, and Monarchy, and civil, military, political and hierarchical Despotism, have all grown out of the natural Aristocracy of ‘Virtues and Talents,’ ” he wrote. “Your distinction between the aristoi and pseudo aristoi, will not help the matter. I would trust one as Soon as the other with unlimited Power.” Adams looks awfully prophetic today. So does Michael Young, the mid-twentieth-century British sociologist who introduced the term “meritocracy” into the language—meaning it to be understood as a misguided idea, because it would supercede more traditional social-justice causes, such as labor organizing. In his strange, irresistible dystopian fantasy, “The Rise of the Meritocracy,” from 1958, Young’s clueless narrator goes on for chapter after chapter about the wonders of the new I.Q.-based élite, and then a footnote informs us that he has been killed by a populist mob.

In retrospect, there were always two big problems with the idea of an American natural aristocracy. First, educational achievement is highly associated with family background—so if you’re aiming to negate the effects of family background, making big, life-determining decisions about teen-agers who are still living at home with their parents is not a good way to do it. Second, at least in this country, the natural aristocracy has not been as selfless as its many promoters over the years believed it would be. Admission to the most élite colleges is widely perceived as a ticket to success, not to membership in an ascetic cadre of Platonic public servants. That’s why fortunate parents, whose children are already advantaged in the system, so often enact Adams’s prediction and energetically try to turn the natural aristocracy, such as it is, into an artificial one founded on wealth and birth, by doing as much as they possibly can to insure that they pass their own status on to their children.

The College Board and the Educational Testing Service, the purveyor of the SAT, has announced that it will begin using an “Environmental Context Dashboard,” which will give colleges a second score to use alongside the SAT: an “adversity score” that aims to quantify a student’s level of socioeconomic disadvantage by considering a number of neighborhood and high-school factors. In the past, the College Board has resisted at least two attempts to correct for the SAT’s class-replicating aspect. One was called the Measure of Academic Achievement and the other the Strivers Index. It’s a sign of progress that the College Board is willing to acknowledge officially what everybody has known for years. But the new score won’t affect a student’s actual SAT score, and it won’t explicitly take race and ethnicity into account.

Most discussions of admissions to élite colleges are built around the never-quite-directly-expressed idea that, somewhere around the next bend and soon to make itself apparent, is the right way to do it—one that can be straightforwardly applied and that will be universally recognized as fair. Dream on! It’s relatively easy to say (but hard for private universities to put into effect, because they are so dependent on gifts) that athletes and children of donors and alumni shouldn’t get a preference. But what about race? People definitely don’t agree about whether that should factor into admissions. And what about economic disadvantage—should it be only somewhat important, or important enough reliably to trump pure academic measures? What if affluent parents, and their well-paid enablers, find ways to game the Environmental Context Dashboard, as they did long ago with the SAT itself? (Imagine small, island-like affluent schools and neighborhoods that can hide inside larger and less fortunate places that generate high adversity scores.) Élite admissions is a zero-sum game. Many more people aspire to places in a small handful of colleges than can go to them. Every time a new kind of applicant wins, another kind of applicant loses. It’s impossible to achieve a clean, widely agreed-upon separation between teen-aged natural and artificial aristocrats.

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Another idea lurking beneath the surface of the admissions debate is that, if only we can get élite admissions right, that will mean we’ve got America right—that the ideal cohort of élite college students will go on to build the ideal society. That was, in effect, Jefferson’s expectation, and also Conant’s. Again, dream on! John Adams had it right: not only is the perfect selection system a chimera; even if it were not, the perfect empowered élite would be a chimera, too. Just as a long series of fixes can never truly sever the SAT’s link to privilege, engineering a natural aristocracy isn’t all that alluring an idea to begin with. A country where power, money, and prestige are more evenly and less systematically distributed—where, in particular, it matters far more whether you went to college than where you went to college—would be a much fairer place. It would be a shame if the quixotic quest for the perfect adjustment to the SATs and élite admissions draws our attention away from what ought to be our real preoccupation if we want to build a better society.

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In May, President Donald Trump instructed Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross to impose a ban on foreign-made equipment, much of it from China, that might pose a security threat to the U.S. Huawei, the Chinese telecom giant, characterizes the new U.S. policy as “bullying” and called it a threat to “liberal, laws-based order.” Evan Osnos joins Dorothy Wickenden to discuss Chinese hacking of the 2012 American election and decades of intellectual theft, and China’s response to the Trump Administration’s “nuclear option” in the trade war.

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There’s a theoretical aspect to Joanna Hogg’s urgent and ambitious autobiographical drama, “The Souvenir,” along with its dramatic one; but, far from reinforcing each other, these two aspects are in conflict—neither wins, but both are weakened. It’s set mainly in London, in the early nineteen-eighties, when Julie (Honor Swinton Byrne), a young filmmaker and film student in her early twenties, encounters a man named Anthony (Tom Burke), who’s about ten years older and much worldlier than she is. It’s a movie about love and art in which Hogg’s strong identification with the protagonist takes the place of psychology and self-examination, and a movie about memory in which little in the action suggests any effort to recover the past. The effect is a peculiar one—a vast framework of ideas and experience gives rise to an anecdotal movie, one that’s much less audacious than the inspiration that gave rise to them.

Anthony works—or claims to work—for the Foreign Office, and claims to be working on dossiers of critical political moment. He’s a former art student ablaze with artistic talent and passion, a dandy with a fine wardrobe, an intellectual with a flamboyantly aphoristic manner, and—at first unbeknownst to Julie—a heroin addict. Julie maintains a close relationship with her parents, especially her mother (Tilda Swinton, who is Swinton Byrne’s real-life mother), and attempts to make progress in her art, conceiving a project and enrolling in film school. Anthony’s critical sensibility, despite its harshness, helps her along, even as the stresses of their relationship distract her from school and fray her nerves.

Hogg’s most notable accomplishment is in her calibration of the lead performances, which are quasi-theatrical yet distinctively cinematic. Swinton Byrne, who has never had a major movie role before, endows Julie with a quietly tremulous sense of self-doubt and inquisitive yearning—as well as a deer-in-the-headlights gaze at Anthony’s distantly lurid brilliance and aggressive emotional provocations. In Burke’s performance, Hogg brings out Anthony’s ravaged superciliousness, a noble and ornate façade of exquisite refinement that’s on the verge of shattering under the pressure of his addiction and the deceptions and ignominies that it entails.

What’s more, Hogg catches crucial differences between Julie (along with the rest of her film-school entourage) and Anthony, by way of both wardrobe and gesture. Anthony’s exquisite clothing and manners—including the muted monochrome of his voice—stand out from the unpondered spontaneity of the scruffier students. But most important, Anthony embodies an entire collective history in the tense control of his behavior; he’s completely still, unless and except when he wants to move, whereas Julie and her other friends are fidgety, loosely strung, and uncontrolled. Hogg’s sense of casting proves decisive; Swinton Byrne’s on-camera inexperience and lack of theatrical training lends her a searching uncertainty that’s a crucial emotional element of the drama.

That drama, however, proves far less substantial and less considered than the casting and direction of actors. Knowing that I’d soon be seeing “The Souvenir,” I deliberately avoided reading my colleague Rebecca Mead’s recent profile of Hogg, in order to avoid comparing the specifics of Hogg’s life story while contemplating the version of it that she places onscreen. I didn’t have more than a general notion of the movie’s connection to Hogg’s personal life, but, as I watched the movie, I nonetheless sensed that it was a very slight and narrow representation of the protagonist’s experience—that it reflected much less than Hogg knew or could have imagined about Julie. The film is conspicuously inscribed in the concept of memory and the transformation of personal experience into art. Yet Hogg never dramatizes her access to the elements of her inner life or any struggle for engagement with it. The film offers no sense of searching for memories or grasping at its details or its import. Hogg’s proximity to her earlier self seems complete and total; there’s no cinematic device to suggest a present-tense filmmaker reaching back to an earlier stage of her own life and art.

Hogg’s identification with Julie seems just about total—Julie is in just about every scene in the film, she’s often the only person in a given scene, and she’s the only character with any subjective sequences at all. But there are very few point-of-view shots showing what Julie sees, very little attention paid to her inner experience. (For instance, when she first talks with Anthony, there’s no frontal view of his face; when Julie is on the phone, what she’s hearing from the person on the other end of the line is never heard; what she’s reading when she opens her mail isn’t disclosed, and neither is what she’s seeing while taking photographs with her 35-mm. S.L.R. or shooting film with her handheld 16-mm. movie camera.) Hogg depicts Julie from the outside, mainly detaching herself from Julie’s point of view but never standing far enough outside to reveal any curiosity about Julie’s thoughts or state of mind. And it isn’t only psychology that’s missing from “The Souvenir”; the film also lacks a basic interest in how Julie responds to situations—what she does in crucial moments of her life—or how she responds to her relationship with Anthony.

Many tense and conflict-riddled scenes between Julie and Anthony are cut dismayingly short just as they’re getting going, inviting dramatizations that Hogg never provides. For instance, Anthony speaks abusively to Julie, calling her “a freak” because of her “fragility,” adding, “You’re lost and you’ll always be lost.” What is Julie’s response? It isn’t shown. Likewise, Hogg cuts away after Anthony criticizes Julie’s film-school application. On a luxurious Venice jaunt with Anthony, Julie sits in a posh hotel and weeps, for good reason. But when Anthony demands that she cheer up because he finds her sadness “punishing,” Hogg cuts away again to a later event, as they head to the opera. After Julie—finding Anthony’s drug paraphernalia and seeing his many needle marks—orders him out of the apartment, Hogg cuts away again, rather than film his response and their confrontation.

The real-life Hogg comes off, in Mead’s piece, as a voluble storyteller, describing her copious cache of notebooks, letters, and diaries dating from the time of her life that the movie covers, and also recordings of therapy sessions in which she discusses that time. She also tells some noteworthy stories that provide the context and the background for the film—but they’re exactly the kind of moments that Hogg elides. Julie’s apartment, in the film, is what Mead calls “an inch-by-inch reconstruction of Hogg’s elegant student digs,” complete with furnishings that belonged to the filmmaker at the time, such as a grand, ornate bed that turns up in Julie’s apartment midway through the movie. Hogg explains that she had such a bed and that she and the real-life version of Anthony had bought it at auction; yet the movie offers no such rationale, no such grace note of the characters’ relationship. As a result, the film offers the viewer not a few excerpts from a full range of a life but merely the absence of what made it full. The very story of Hogg’s replication of her flat in a studio—for that matter, imagining her work with the production designer and set decorators to realize it—offers a more powerful evocation of the pull of memory than anything in the film.

The movie’s idiosyncratic composition, comprising many static takes that deliver the action with a plain reserve, doesn’t so much fragment the action enigmatically as reduce it to anecdotes and information. The bold and admirable act of will that it took to make the film is distinct from the aesthetic willfulness with which it was made. A far more conventional director might have been inclined to ask more questions of the script, to show more of the action, to reveal more about the characters, and, as a result, to make a more engaging and insightful movie. In that sense, “The Souvenir” reveals the pitfalls of classic auteur cinema, the concept of the screenwriter-director who relates her own experience by way of dramatic fiction. Hogg knows the story as no one else does; her authority is, in the literal sense, unimpeachable. It may be her very intimacy with the subject of the film that leaves her incurious about it—she offers a daring and heartfelt view of her own life but, in delivering it, leaves it unexplored. In the end, “The Souvenir” is a movie about experience that doesn’t itself offer much of an experience.

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I’ve never had an abortion. In this, I am like most American women. A frequently quoted statistic from a recent study by the Guttmacher Institute, which reports that one in four women will have an abortion before the age of forty-five, may strike you as high, but it means that a large majority of women never need to end a pregnancy. (Indeed, the abortion rate has been declining for decades, although it’s disputed how much of that decrease is due to better birth control, and wider use of it, and how much to restrictions that have made abortions much harder to get.) Now that the Supreme Court seems likely to overturn Roe v. Wade sometime in the next few years—Alabama has passed a near-total ban on abortion, and Ohio, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, and Missouri have passed “heartbeat” bills that, in effect, ban abortion later than six weeks of pregnancy, and any of these laws, or similar ones, could prove the catalyst—I wonder if women who have never needed to undergo the procedure, and perhaps believe that they never will, realize the many ways that the legal right to abortion has undergirded their lives.

Legal abortion means that the law recognizes a woman as a person. It says that she belongs to herself. Most obviously, it means that a woman has a safe recourse if she becomes pregnant as a result of being raped. (Believe it or not, in some states, the law allows a rapist to sue for custody or visitation rights.) It means that doctors no longer need to deny treatment to pregnant women with certain serious conditions—cancer, heart disease, kidney disease—until after they’ve given birth, by which time their health may have deteriorated irretrievably. And it means that non-Catholic hospitals can treat a woman promptly if she is having a miscarriage. (If she goes to a Catholic hospital, she may have to wait until the embryo or fetus dies. In one hospital, in Ireland, such a delay led to the death of a woman named Savita Halappanavar, who contracted septicemia. Her case spurred a movement to repeal that country’s constitutional amendment banning abortion.)

The legalization of abortion, though, has had broader and more subtle effects than limiting damage in these grave but relatively uncommon scenarios. The revolutionary advances made in the social status of American women during the nineteen-seventies are generally attributed to the availability of oral contraception, which came on the market in 1960. But, according to a 2017 study by the economist Caitlin Knowles Myers, “The Power of Abortion Policy: Re-Examining the Effects of Young Women’s Access to Reproductive Control,” published in the Journal of Political Economy, the effects of the Pill were offset by the fact that more teens and women were having sex, and so birth-control failure affected more people. Complicating the conventional wisdom that oral contraception made sex risk-free for all, the Pill was also not easy for many women to get. Restrictive laws in some states barred it for unmarried women and for women under the age of twenty-one. The Roe decision, in 1973, afforded thousands upon thousands of teen-agers a chance to avoid early marriage and motherhood. Myers writes, “Policies governing access to the pill had little if any effect on the average probabilities of marrying and giving birth at a young age. In contrast, policy environments in which abortion was legal and readily accessible by young women are estimated to have caused a 34 percent reduction in first births, a 19 percent reduction in first marriages, and a 63 percent reduction in ‘shotgun marriages’ prior to age 19.”

Access to legal abortion, whether as a backup to birth control or not, meant that women, like men, could have a sexual life without risking their future. A woman could plan her life without having to consider that it could be derailed by a single sperm. She could dream bigger dreams. Under the old rules, inculcated from girlhood, if a woman got pregnant at a young age, she married her boyfriend; and, expecting early marriage and kids, she wouldn’t have invested too heavily in her education in any case, and she would have chosen work that she could drop in and out of as family demands required.

In 1970, the average age of first-time American mothers was younger than twenty-two. Today, more women postpone marriage until they are ready for it. (Early marriages are notoriously unstable, so, if you’re glad that the divorce rate is down, you can, in part, thank Roe.) Women can also postpone childbearing until they are prepared for it, which takes some serious doing in a country that lacks paid parental leave and affordable childcare, and where discrimination against pregnant women and mothers is still widespread. For all the hand-wringing about lower birth rates, most women—eighty-six per cent of them—still become mothers. They just do it later, and have fewer children.

Most women don’t enter fields that require years of graduate-school education, but all women have benefitted from having larger numbers of women in those fields. It was female lawyers, for example, who brought cases that opened up good blue-collar jobs to women. Without more women obtaining law degrees, would men still be shaping all our legislation? Without the large numbers of women who have entered the medical professions, would psychiatrists still be telling women that they suffered from penis envy and were masochistic by nature? Would women still routinely undergo unnecessary hysterectomies? Without increased numbers of women in academia, and without the new field of women’s studies, would children still be taught, as I was, that, a hundred years ago this month, Woodrow Wilson “gave” women the vote? There has been a revolution in every field, and the women in those fields have led it.

It is frequently pointed out that the states passing abortion restrictions and bans are states where women’s status remains particularly low. Take Alabama. According to one study, by almost every index—pay, workforce participation, percentage of single mothers living in poverty, mortality due to conditions such as heart disease and stroke—the state scores among the worst for women. Children don’t fare much better: according to U.S. News rankings, Alabama is the worst state for education. It also has one of the nation’s highest rates of infant mortality (only half the counties have even one ob-gyn), and it has refused to expand Medicaid, either through the Affordable Care Act or on its own. Only four women sit in Alabama’s thirty-five-member State Senate, and none of them voted for the ban. Maybe that’s why an amendment to the bill proposed by State Senator Linda Coleman-Madison was voted down. It would have provided prenatal care and medical care for a woman and child in cases where the new law prevents the woman from obtaining an abortion. Interestingly, the law allows in-vitro fertilization, a procedure that often results in the discarding of fertilized eggs. As Clyde Chambliss, the bill’s chief sponsor in the state senate, put it, “The egg in the lab doesn’t apply. It’s not in a woman. She’s not pregnant.” In other words, life only begins at conception if there’s a woman’s body to control.

Indifference to women and children isn’t an oversight. This is why calls for better sex education and wider access to birth control are non-starters, even though they have helped lower the rate of unwanted pregnancies, which is the cause of abortion. The point isn’t to prevent unwanted pregnancy. (States with strong anti-abortion laws have some of the highest rates of teen pregnancy in the country; Alabama is among them.) The point is to roll back modernity for women.

So, if women who have never had an abortion, and don’t expect to, think that the new restrictions and bans won’t affect them, they are wrong. The new laws will fall most heavily on poor women, disproportionately on women of color, who have the highest abortion rates and will be hard-pressed to travel to distant clinics.

But without legal, accessible abortion, the assumptions that have shaped all women’s lives in the past few decades—including that they, not a torn condom or a missed pill or a rapist, will decide what happens to their bodies and their futures—will change. Women and their daughters will have a harder time, and there will be plenty of people who will say that they were foolish to think that it could be otherwise.

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