On Monday, October 13th, you’ll be able to sit down in front of your TV and enjoy a John Carpenter cult classic, a remake of a John Carpenter cult classic, an urban anthology, a zombie comedy, an animated family movie, a staple of the slasher genre, a clash of the two giants of the slasher genre, an Oscar nominee for Best Picture from the 1970s, and a cheap descendant of that movie from the 2010s.
And they’ll all be the same kind of film: horror.
October is the most wonderful time of the year for horror fans. TV networks pack their schedules with scares, allowing viewers to create their own horror marathon out of hundreds of different combinations. Below, I’ve put together a calendar of all 300+ horror films set to air on cable for the month—and looking at the list, it’s clear how incredibly versatile the definition of “horror” can be.
Consider the very first entry, airing on AMC just as the calendar flips over to October: Jurassic Park III. Is it a horror movie? A lot of people would say no. It’s a monster movie with horror elements—enough to tip the balance over into straight-up horror?
Figuring out what ties together the disparate versions of horror can be tricky. “Scary” seems like an easy enough definition, but revisit the old Bela Lugosi Dracula movies and you probably won’t find much occasion to jump or scream. There’s a darkness to the subject matter, of course. A willingness to look the worst of existence. Be it murder or monsters, the cruel depths of human weakness or the pitilessness of the supernatural, in every case you’re staring into the abyss. That abyss can stare back in any of a dozen ways, from the violent to the suspenseful to the comedic.
Over the course of October, I’m going to look across the horror genre and examine its subcategories, writing posts that delve into the classics and the cults, the slashers and the shlock. As the calendar below shows, there’s a lot to talk about.
On the methodology of the calendar: All times are Eastern. Double-check your local listings. We (David Sims, Kevin O'Keeffe, Shirley Li, Arit John, and I) pulled from the October schedules for the most prominent cable channels running horror programming: AMC, TCM, Syfy, Chiller, Sundance, IFC, Showtime, and all HBO channels.
Wednesday, October 1
12:00 a.m. Jurassic Park III, AMC
1:50 a.m. Red Dragon, HBO Signature
2:35 a.m. Tales from the Crypt Presents: Demon Knight, HBO Comedy
3:00 a.m. In Their Skin, HBO2
2:00 p.m. Godzilla, AMC
2:00 p.m. The Dead, SYFY
3:00 p.m. Candyman III, Chiller
4:30 p.m. Dead Season, SYFY
5:00 p.m. Cravings, Chiller
5:25 p.m. The Last Exorcism Part II, Showtime
5:55 p.m. Constantine, HBO Zone
6:30 p.m. Halloween II (2009), SYFY
6:30 p.m. Death Proof, IFC
7:00 p.m. Absentia, Chiller
8:00 p.m. Planet Terror, IFC
9:00 p.m. Freddy vs. Jason, SYFY
9:00 p.m. Laid to Rest, Chiller
11:15 p.m. Death Proof, IFC
Thursday, October 2
1:25 a.m. Stoker, HBO Signature
2:00 a.m. The Faculty, HBO2
5:30 a.m. Poltergeist III, HBO Zone
10:45 a.m. Dance of the Dead, IFC
1:30 p.m. Night of the Demons, SYFY
1:50 p.m. Fallen, HBO Zone
2:10 p.m. The Witches, HBO Family
3:00 p.m. Chasing Sleep, Chiller
3:30 p.m. Halloween II (2009), SYFY
5:00 p.m. Waxwork II: Lost in Time, Chiller
5:20 p.m. Warm Bodies, HBO Comedy
6:00 p.m. Freddy vs. Jason, SYFY
7:00 p.m. Pumpkinhead 2, Chiller
9:00 p.m. Waxwork, Chiller
10:00 p.m. Aliens, Sundance
11:30 p.m. The Canterville Ghost, TCM
Friday, October 3
1:00 a.m. The Dead Zone, Sundance
1:30 a.m. A Place of One’s Own, TCM
2:00 a.m. The Purge, HBO
3:00 a.m. Red Dragon, HBO2
7:00 a.m. Tales from the Crypt Presents: Demon Knight, HBO Comedy
8:00 a.m. Ginger Snaps, Chiller
10:00 a.m. Aliens, Sundance
10:30 a.m. Cloned: The Recreator Chronicles, Chiller
11:55 a.m. The Conjuring, HBO Signature
12:00 p.m. The Bleeding, SYFY
12:30 p.m. The Visitors, Chiller
2:00 p.m. My Bloody Valentine, SYFY
3:00 p.m. The Last Exorcism, Chiller
3:45 p.m. 28 Weeks Later, IFC
4:00 p.m. Wrong Turn 5: Bloodlines, SYFY
4:10 p.m. Red Dragon, HBO Zone
5:00 p.m. Candyman III, Chiller
6:00 p.m. Resident Evil: Extinction, SYFY
6:15 p.m. Seven Faces of Dr. Lao, TCM
7:00 p.m. Paintball, Chiller
8:00 p.m. Van Helsing, AMC
9:00 p.m. Grave Encounters 2, Chiller
11:00 p.m. Warm Bodies, HBO2
Saturday, October 4
1:05 a.m. Wrong Turn 5: Bloodlines, SYFY
1:30 a.m. Van Helsing, AMC
1:45 a.m. Teeth, HBO Signature
3:13 a.m. The Hills Have Eyes (2006), HBO2
5:05 a.m. Cry Wolf, HBO Signature
7:00 a.m. Monster House, Chiller
9:00 a.m. Christine, Chiller
11:00 a.m. Day of the Dead 2: Contagium, Chiller
12:00 p.m. The Mummy (1959), TCM
12:00 p.m. The Last Exorcism Part II, Showtime
1:00 p.m. Dead Before Dawn, Chiller
3:00 p.m. Resurrection County, Chiller
3:00 p.m. Peeping Tom, TCM
4:10 p.m. Constantine, HBO Zone
5:00 p.m. Hidden, Chiller
5:00 p.m. Resident Evil: Extinction, SYFY
7:00 p.m. Soul Survivors, Chiller
7:00 p.m. The Reaping, SYFY
9:00 p.m. Urban Legend, Chiller
11:00 p.m. Heavy Metal, Chiller
Sunday, October 5
1:00 a.m. Heavy Metal 2000, Chiller
2:35 a.m. The Conjuring, HBO
9:00 a.m. The Cursed, SYFY
11:00 a.m. Stephen King’s Rose Red, SYFY
11:30 a.m. Warm Bodies, HBO2
2:00 p.m. Trollhunter, Chiller
2:25 p.m. Tales from the Crypt Presents: Demon Knight, HBO Comedy
4:30 p.m. Elsewhere, Chiller
5:00 p.m. The Reaping, SYFY
5:50 p.m. Red Dragon, HBO Zone
7:00 p.m. Terror Trap, Chiller
9:00 p.m. Shutter, SYFY
9:00 p.m. The Second Arrival, Chiller
Monday, October 6
9:00 a.m. Stephen King’s Rose Red, SYFY
10:45 a.m. The Children, IFC
12:30 p.m. The Eye, IFC
3:00 p.m. Psychosis, SYFY
3:00 p.m. The Thaw, Chiller
5:00 p.m. Death and Cremation, Chiller
5:25 p.m. The Witches, HBO Family
6:20 p.m. Warm Bodies, HBO Zone
7:00 p.m. Shutter, SYFY
7:00 p.m. Hush, Chiller
9:00 p.m. American Psycho, Chiller
11:00 p.m. My Soul to Take, SYFY
Tuesday, October 7
8:00 a.m. My Soul to Take, SYFY
2:30 a.m. Tales from the Crypt Presents: Demon Knight, HBO Zone
3:00 p.m. Razortooth, Chiller
5:00 p.m. Spiders 2: Breeding Ground, Chiller
7:00 p.m. The Arrival, Chiller
7:45 p.m. The Dead Zone, Sundance
9:00 p.m. Zombie Strippers, IFC
9:00 p.m. Black Cadillac, Chiller
Wednesday, October 8
12:20 a.m. The Hills Have Eyes (2006), HBO Zone
3:50 a.m. Poltergeist III, HBO Zone
7:25 a.m. Cry Wolf, HBO Signature
9:00 a.m. Hollow Man, AMC
11:30 a.m. Deep Blue Sea (1999), AMC
12:00 p.m. The Dead Zone, Sundance
2:00 p.m. Snakes on a Plane, AMC
3:00 p.m. Vile, Chiller
4:00 p.m. Van Helsing, AMC
5:00 p.m. Junkyard Dog, Chiller
7:00 p.m. The Monkey’s Paw, Chiller
8:00 p.m. Warm Bodies, HBO Comedy
9:00 p.m. Madison County, Chiller
Thursday, October 9
12:00 a.m. Hostel, Showtime
1:50 a.m. Tales from the Crypt Presents: Demon Knight, HBO Comedy
2:10 a.m. Deep Blue Sea (1999), AMC
9:00 a.m. Snakes on a Plane, AMC
9:55 a.m. Tales from the Crypt Presents: Demon Knight, HBO Zone
11:00 a.m. Van Helsing, AMC
3:00 p.m. Bram Stoker’s Dracula’s Guest, Chiller
3:00 p.m. The Conjuring, HBO Signature
5:00 p.m. Headspace, Chiller
6:00 p.m. The Uninvited, SYFY
7:00 p.m. Hideaway, Chiller
9:00 p.m. Flatliners, Chiller
10:30 p.m. The Conjuring, HBO Signature
Friday, October 10
12:15 a.m. Constantine, HBO 2
1:25 p.m. Tales from the Crypt Presents: Bordello of Blood, HBO Comedy
3:00 a.m. Manhunter, Showtime
7:00 a.m. The Monitor, Chiller
9:00 a.m. Paranormal Entity, Chiller
11:00 a.m. Descendants, Chiller
1:00 p.m. Devil’s Playground, Chiller
3:00 p.m. Ghostmaker, Chiller
4:00 p.m. The Uninvited, SYFY
5:00 p.m. Bad Kids Go to Hell, Chiller
5:55 p.m. Constantine, HBO Zone
6:00 p.m. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974), SYFY
6:30 p.m. The Last Exorcism Part II, Showtime
7:00 p.m. My Bloody Valentine, Chiller
7:15 p.m. Warm Bodies, HBO2
9:00 p.m. Animal, Chiller
9:30 p.m. Hostel, Showtime
Saturday, October 11
2:00 a.m. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974), SYFY
5:50 a.m. Poltergeist III, HBO Zone
6:00 a.m. ABCs of Death, Chiller
8:30 a.m. Gacy, Chiller
9:00 a.m. Aliens, Sundance
10:30 a.m. Vanishing on 7th Street, Chiller
12:00 p.m. The Curse of the Mummy’s Tomb, TCM
12:30 p.m. The City of Lost Children, Chiller
2:05 p.m. The Witches, HBO Family
2:30 p.m. Chernobyl Diaries, SYFY
3:00 p.m. Tormented, Chiller
3:30 p.m. Red Dragon, HBO Zone
4:40 p.m. Halloween II (2009), SYFY
5:00 p.m. Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark, Chiller
5:45 p.m. Fallen, HBO Zone
7:00 p.m. Freddy vs. Jason, SYFY
7:00 p.m. Open House, Chiller
9:00 p.m. Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2003), SYFY
9:00 p.m. Vacancy, Chiller
11:00 p.m. Hostel, Part II, SYFY
Sunday, October 12
1:00 a.m. Chernobyl Diaries, SYFY
2:15 a.m. Blacula, TCM
2:30 a.m. Aliens, Sundance
3:00 a.m. Teeth, HBO Signature
3:00 a.m. The Bleeding, SYFY
3:25 a.m. The Hills Have Eyes (2006), HBO Zone
4:00 a.m. Scream, Blacula Scream, TCM
4:35 a.m. Cry Wolf, HBO Signature
5:25 a.m. Tales from the Crypt Presents: Demon Knight, HBO Comedy
9:00 p.m. Stoker, HBO Signature
10:30 a.m. Night of the Demons, SYFY
12:30 p.m. Halloween II (2009), SYFY
2:00 p.m. The Lost, Chiller
3:00 p.m. Stir of Echoes, Sundance
3:00 p.m. Hostel Part II, SYFY
4:30 p.m. The Woman, Chiller
5:00 p.m. Freddy vs. Jason, SYFY
5:15 p.m. They Live, Sundance
7:00 p.m. Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2003), SYFY
7:00 p.m. Seventh Moon, Chiller
9:00 p.m. The Fog (2005) SYFY
9:00 p.m. 13 Eerie, Chiller
9:45 p.m. Warm Bodies, HBO Comedy
Monday, October 13
1:00 a.m. They Live, Sundance
1:00 a.m. The Haunting in Connecticut, SYFY
3:00 a.m. Dead Like Me, SYFY
4:25 a.m. Tales from the Hood, HBO Zone
11:00 a.m. Dracula 2000, SYFY
12:00 p.m. Warm Bodies, HBO2
3:00 p.m. Monster House, Chiller
5:00 p.m. The Haunting in Connecticut, SYFY
5:00 p.m. Blood and Donuts, Chiller
7:00 p.m. The Fog (2005), SYFY
7:00 p.m. A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984), IFC
7:00 p.m. Banshee!!!, Chiller
8:10 a.m. Cry Wolf, HBO Signature
9:00 p.m. The Conjuring, HBO Signature
9:00 p.m. The Wolfman (2010), SYFY
9:00 p.m. The Exorcist, IFC
9:00 p.m. Frankenstein (2004), Chiller
11:00 p.m. Freddy vs. Jason, SYFY
11:45 p.m. The Last Exorcism, IFC
Tuesday, October 14
1:00 a.m. The Wolfman (2010), SYFY
1:30 a.m. The Faculty, HBO2
3:25 a.m. Saw II, Showtime
5:15 a.m. Fallen, HBO Zone
10:00 a.m. Freddy vs. Jason, SYFY
3:00 p.m. Last Night, Chiller
5:00 p.m. House Hunting, Chiller
7:00 p.m. Watermen, Chiller
9:00 a.m. Gangsters, Guns, and Zombies, Chiller
Wednesday, October 15
2:00 a.m. The Hills Have Eyes (2006), HBO Zone
2:00 a.m. Hybrid, SYFY
5:25 a.m. Tales from the Crypt Presents: Demon Knight, HBO Zone
7:30 a.m. Warm Bodies, HBO Comedy
10:30 a.m. Cry Wolf, HBO
1:30 p.m. Manhunter, Showtime
3:00 p.m. Cravings, Chiller
5:00 p.m. Shattered Lives, Chiller
7:00 p.m. Vacancy 2: The First Cut, Chiller
9:00 p.m. Bloodwork, Chiller
11:45 p.m. Zombie Strippers, IFC
Thursday, October 16
3:10 a.m. Blade, HBO
7:05 p.m. Red Dragon, HBO Zone
3:00 p.m. A Little Bit Zombie, Chiller
3:40 p.m. Constantine, HBO Zone
5:00 p.m. Dead Before Dawn, Chiller
Friday, October 17
1:00 a.m. Needful Things, AMC
3:30 a.m. Graveyard Shift (1990), AMC
4:10 a.m. War Wolves, SYFY
8:00 a.m. Nine Miles Down, Chiller
9:00 a.m. Graveyard Shift (1990), AMC
9:30 a.m. Dracula 2000, SYFY
10:00 a.m. Wolf Town, Chiller
11:00 a.m. Silver Bullet, AMC
11:30 a.m. Wes Craven Presents: Dracula II Ascension, SYFY
12:00 a.m. Trollhunter, Chiller
1:00 p.m. Thinner, AMC
2:30 p.m. Dance of the Dead, IFC
2:30 p.m. Let the Right One In, Chiller
3:00 p.m. Cujo, AMC
5:00 p.m. Dreamcatcher, AMC
5:00 p.m. Truth or Die, Chiller
6:00 p.m. Drive Angry, SYFY
7:00 p.m. Nailbiter, Chiller
8:00 p.m. Firestarter, AMC
9:00 p.m. Lovely Molly, Chiller
10:30 p.m. Children of the Corn, AMC
Saturday, October 18
1:00 a.m. Stoker, HBO Signature
1:00 a.m. Dracula 2000, SYFY
2:30 a.m. Riding the Bullet, AMC
2:50 a.m. Warm Bodies, HBO Comedy
3:00 a.m. Wes Craven Presents: Dracula II Ascension, SYFY
6:00 a.m. Cujo, AMC
7:00 a.m. Chasing Sleep, Chiller
8:00 a.m. Children of the Corn, AMC
9:00 a.m. Stephen King’s Rose Red, SYFY
9:00 a.m. Lord of Darkness, Chiller
10:00 a.m. Tremors, AMC
11:00 a.m. Vile, Chiller
12:00 p.m. Tremors 2: Aftershocks, AMC
12:00 p.m. The Mummy’s Shroud, TCM
1:00 p.m. Pumpkinhead 2, Chiller
2:15 p.m. Tremors 3: Back to Perfection, AMC
3:00 p.m. The Reaping, SYFY
3:00 p.m. 388 Arletta Ave., Chiller
4:45 p.m. Tremors 4: The Legend Begins, AMC
5:00 p.m. The Fog (2005), SYFY
5:00 p.m. Black Water, Chiller
6:16 p.m. Warm Bodies, HBO2
7:00 p.m. The Thaw, Chiller
7:15 p.m. Tremors, AMC
9:00 p.m. The Messengers, Chiller
9:15 p.m. Tremors 2: Aftershocks, AMC
11:00 p.m. The Fog (2005), SYFY
11:30 p.m. Tremors 3: Back to Perfection, AMC
Sunday, October 19
12:45 a.m. Tales from the Crypt Presents: Bordello of Blood, HBO Comedy
2:00 a.m. Tremors 4: The Legend Begins, AMC
2:20 a.m. Constantine, HBO 2
3:25 a.m. Teeth, HBO Zone
5:00 a.m. Candyman: Farewell to the Flesh, AMC
8:00 a.m. The Howling, AMC
10:00 a.m. Pumpkinhead, AMC
10:15 a.m. The Conjuring, HBO Signature
10:30 a.m. The Uninvited, SYFY
12:00 p.m. Child’s Play 2, AMC
12:30 p.m. The Reaping, SYFY
2:00 p.m. Child’s Play 3, AMC
2:30 p.m. Let Me In, SYFY
3:00 p.m. Dead Genesis, Chiller
4:00 p.m. Bride of Chucky, AMC
5:00 p.m. Cirque du Freak: The Vampire’s Assistant, SYFY
5:00 p.m. Spores, Chiller
6:00 p.m. Seed of Chucky, AMC
7:00 p.m. Re-Animator, Chiller
8:00 p.m. Army of Darkness, IFC
9:00 p.m. Lost Souls, SYFY
9:00 p.m. Day of the Dead, Chiller
9:45 p.m. 28 Weeks Later, IFC
10:00 p.m. Aliens, Sundance
11:00 p.m. The Revenant, SYFY
11:35 p.m. The Conjuring, HBO Signature
Monday, October 20
1:00 a.m. Aliens, Sundance
1:30 a.m. Lost Souls, SYFY
2:00 a.m. The Hills Have Eyes (2006), HBO2
3:30 a.m. The Uninvited, SYFY
3:45 a.m. Idle Hands, HBO Comedy
3:50 a.m. Fallen, HBO 2
9:00 a.m. Friday the 13th (1980), AMC
10:45 a.m. Army of Darkness, IFC
11:00 a.m. Friday the 13th, Part 2, AMC
12:30 p.m. ATM, IFC
1:00 p.m. Friday the 13th - Part III, AMC
1:00 p.m. Manhunter, Showtime
2:10 p.m. Warm Bodies, HBO Comedy
2:30 p.m. The Revenant, SYFY
2:30 p.m. An American Haunting, IFC
3:00 p.m. Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter, AMC
3:00 p.m. Open House, Chiller
4:30 p.m. Stir of Echoes: The Homecoming, IFC
5:00 p.m. Friday the 13th, AMC
5:00 p.m. Hostel Part II, SYFY
5:00 p.m. Horsemen, Chiller
6:30 p.m. Halloween (2007), IFC
7:00 p.m. Friday the 13th, Part 2, AMC
7:00 p.m. Saw VII, SYFY
7:00 p.m. The Moth Diaries, Chiller
9:00 p.m. Friday the 13th - Part III, AMC
9:00 p.m. Starve, SYFY
9:00 p.m. Zombie Strippers, IFC
9:00 p.m. After Dusk They Come, Chiller
11:00 p.m. Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter, AMC
11:15 p.m. Halloween (2007), IFC
Tuesday, October 21
12:00 a.m. Hostel, Showtime
1:00 a.m. Friday the 13th — A New Beginning, AMC
2:25 a.m. Teeth, HBO Signature
3:00 a.m. Friday the 13th, Part VI: Jason Lives, AMC
5:00 a.m. War of the Colossal Beast, AMC
6:00 a.m. Cry Wolf, HBO
7:40 a.m. Fallen, HBO Zone
9:00 a.m. Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter, AMC
11:00 a.m. Friday the 13th — A New Beginning, AMC
11:00 a.m. The Witches, HBO Family
1:00 p.m. Friday the 13th, Part VI: Jason Lives, AMC
3:00 p.m. Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan, AMC
3:00 p.m. Resurrection County, Chiller
3:30 p.m. Warm Bodies, HBO2
5:00 p.m. Deadwood, Chiller
5:15 p.m. Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday, AMC
7:00 p.m. Days of Darkness, Chiller
7:00 p.m. The Witches, HBO Family
7:15 p.m. Jason X, AMC
9:00 p.m. Rise: Blood Hunter, Chiller
9:15 p.m. Friday the 13th (2009), AMC
10:00 p.m. Stir of Echoes, Sundance
11:15 p.m. Friday the 13th (1980), AMC
Wednesday, October 22
12:00 a.m. Constantine, HBO Zone
1:15 a.m. Friday the 13th, Part 2, AMC
1:25 a.m. Red Dragon, HBO 2
1:30 a.m. Tales from the Crypt Presents: Bordello of Blood, HBO Comedy
2:00 a.m. My Bloody Valentine, SYFY
3:15 a.m. Friday the 13th - Part III, AMC
4:00 a.m. The Transparent Man, TCM
5:15 a.m. Violent Midnight, AMC
5:30 a.m. Corridors of Blood, AMC
9:00 a.m. Slaughter of the Vampires, AMC
9:30 a.m. How to Make a Monster, AMC
9:45 a.m. The Funhouse, AMC
12:00 p.m. Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare, AMC
2:00 p.m. The Fog (1980), AMC
3:00 p.m. Soul Survivors, Chiller
4:00 p.m. Survival of the Dead, AMC
5:00 p.m. Nine Miles Down, Chiller
6:00 p.m. Land of the Dead, AMC
7:00 p.m. A House in the Hills, Chiller
8:00 p.m. Lake Placid, AMC
9:00 p.m. Beneath, Chiller
9:30 p.m. Stoker, HBO Signature
10:00 p.m. House on Haunted Hill (1999), AMC
Thursday, October 23
12:00 a.m. Return to House on Haunted Hill, AMC
1:00 a.m. Pulse, SYFY
1:45 a.m. An American Werewolf in Paris, AMC
2:15 a.m. The Fog, TCM
3:00 a.m. Psychosis, SYFY
4:00 a.m. Puppet Master, AMC
4:15 a.m. Sleepy Hollow, HBO
6:00 a.m. Night of the Lepus, TCM
8:00 a.m. Pulse, SYFY
9:00 a.m. Eight Legged Freaks, AMC
10:00 a.m. The Haunting in Connecticut, SYFY
11:30 a.m. Lake Placid, AMC
12:00 p.m. Stephen King’s Rose Red, SYFY
12:50 p.m. Warm Bodies, HBO Zone
1:30 p.m. Cujo, AMC
3:00 p.m. The New Kids, Chiller
3:30 p.m. I Know What You Did Last Summer, AMC
3:45 p.m. Tales from the Crypt Presents: Demon Knight, HBO Comedy
5:00 p.m. Christine, Chiller
6:00 p.m. Thirteen Ghosts, AMC
6:00 p.m. Lost Souls, SYFY
7:00 p.m. Children of the Living Dead, Chiller
8:00 p.m. A Nightmare on Elm Street (2010), AMC
8:00 p.m. The Innocents, TCM
8:15 p.m. Warm Bodies, HBO Zone
9:00 p.m. 976-Evil, Chiller
10:00 p.m. The Uninvited, TCM
10:00 p.m. Ghost Ship, AMC
Friday, October 24
12:00 a.m. Scream 3, AMC
12:10 a.m. Lost Souls, SYFY
2:00 a.m. Night of Dark Shadows, TCM
2:10 a.m. The Haunting in Connecticut, SYFY
2:30 a.m. Deep Blue Sea, AMC
4:00 a.m. The Others, TCM
4:10 a.m. Wrong Turn 5: Bloodlines, SYFY
7:00 a.m. Bled, Chiller
9:00 a.m. Scream 3, AMC
9:00 a.m. Paintball, Chiller
9:30 a.m. Wrong Turn 5: Bloodlines, SYFY
11:00 a.m. House Hunting, Chiller
11:30 a.m. The Dead, SYFY
11:30 a.m. Ghost Ship, AMC
1:00 p.m. Seventh Moon, Chiller
1:30 p.m. Firestarter, AMC
1:45 p.m. Constantine, HBO Zone
3:00 p.m. Headspace, Chiller
3:30 p.m. Cry Wolf, HBO
4:00 p.m. The Omen (1976), AMC
5:00 p.m. Take Shelter, Chiller
6:30 p.m. Damien: Omen II, AMC
7:00 p.m. Red Mist, Chiller
9:00 p.m. Omen III: The Final Conflict, AMC
9:00 p.m. Acolytes, Chiller
Saturday, October 25
1:00 a.m. Tales from the Crypt Presents Bordello of Blood, HBO2
1:30 a.m. Hide and Seek (2005), AMC
2:05 a.m. The Hills Have Eyes (2006), HBO Zone
3:00 a.m. Dead Season, SYFY
6:00 a.m. Graveyard Shift, AMC
7:00 a.m. Razortooth, Chiller
7:15 a.m. Tales from the Crypt Presents: Demon Knight, HBO Zone
8:00 a.m. Christine, AMC
9:00 a.m. Dead Season, SYFY
9:00 a.m. Priest, Chiller
10:00 a.m. Friday the 13th (2009), AMC
11:00 a.m. Cravings, Chiller
12:00 p.m. A Nightmare on Elm Street (2010), AMC
12:15 p.m. Blood from the Mummy’s Tomb, TCM
1:00 p.m. The Bunnyman Massacre, Chiller
1:30 p.m. Warm Bodies, HBO Comedy
2:00 p.m. Child’s Play 2, AMC
3:00 p.m. Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974), SYFY
3:00 p.m. The Crazies (1973), Chiller
4:00 p.m. Child’s Play 3, AMC
4:30 p.m. Mad Love, TCM
5:00 p.m. Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2003), SYFY
5:00 p.m. Ghostmaker, Chiller
5:45 p.m. The Birds, TCM
6:00 p.m. Bride of Chucky, AMC
7:00 p.m. The Conjuring, HBO Signature
7:00 p.m. Battle of the Damned, SYFY
7:00 p.m. Candyman III, Chiller
8:00 p.m. Seed of Chucky, AMC
8:00 p.m. The Haunting, TCM
9:00 p.m. They Live, Sundance
9:00 p.m. Resident Evil: Extinction, SYFY
9:00 p.m. Wicked Little Things, Chiller
10:00 p.m. Child’s Play 2, AMC
10:00 p.m. The Village of the Damned, TCM
11:00 p.m. Stoker, HBO Signature
11:00 p.m. The Dead Zone, Sundance
11:00 p.m. Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2003), SYFY
11:30 p.m. The Curse of Frankenstein, TCM
Sunday, October 26
12:00 a.m. Child’s Play 3, AMC
1:00 a.m. Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974), SYFY
1:15 a.m. They Live, Sundance
2:00 a.m. Bride of Chucky, AMC
2:10 p.m. The Witches, HBO Family
3:15 a.m. The Dead Zone, Sundance
4:00 a.m. Seed of Chucky, AMC
7:45 a.m. Tremors, AMC
9:45 a.m. Tremors 2: Aftershocks, AMC
10:30 a.m. 30 Days of Night, SYFY
12:00 p.m. Tremors 3: Back to Perfection, AMC
1:00 p.m. 30 Days of Night: Dark Days, SYFY
2:10 p.m. The Witches, HBO Family
2:30 p.m. Tremors 4: The Legend Begins, AMC
3:00 p.m. Battle of the Damned, SYFY
3:00 p.m. Dark Mirror, Chiller
5:00 p.m. Tremors, AMC
5:00 p.m. The Reaping, SYFY
5:00 p.m. Scary or Die, Chiller
6:20 p.m. Warm Bodies, HBO Zone
7:00 p.m. Resident Evil: Extinction, SYFY
7:00 p.m. Paranormal Entity, Chiller
8:00 p.m. Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, TCM
9:00 p.m. The Happening, SYFY
9:00 p.m. Let the Right One In, Chiller
11:00 p.m. The Fog, SYFY
Monday, October 27
12:45 a.m. The Monster, TCM
1:00 a.m. 30 Days of Night, SYFY
1:15 a.m. Constantine, HBO2
2:25 a.m. Fallen, HBO Zone
3:30 a.m. 30 Days of Night: Dark Days, SYFY
4:50 a.m. Tales from the Crypt Presents: Bordello of Blood, HBO Comedy
6:05 a.m. Constantine, HBO Zone
8:00 a.m. Fallen, HBO2
9:00 a.m. War of the Colossal Beast, AMC
10:00 a.m. Riding the Bullet, AMC
11:00 a.m. The Cursed, SYFY
12:00 p.m. Dreamcatcher, AMC
3:00 p.m. Ghost Ship, AMC
3:00 p.m. The Reaping, SYFY
3:00 p.m. Gacy, Chiller
5:00 p.m. House on Haunted Hill (1999), AMC
5:00 p.m. The Fog (2005), SYFY
5:00 p.m. Episode 50, Chiller
6:30 p.m. The Last Exorcism Part II, Showtime
7:00 p.m. Halloween (1978), AMC
7:00 p.m. The Happening, SYFY
7:00 p.m. Playback, Chiller
9:00 p.m. Halloween II (1981), AMC
9:00 p.m. The Crazies (2010), SYFY
9:00 p.m. Open House, Chiller
11:00 p.m. Halloween (1978), AMC
11:00 p.m. Lost Souls, SYFY
Tuesday, October 28
1:00 a.m. Thirteen Ghosts, AMC
1:00 a.m. The Cursed, SYFY
1:10 a.m. Poltergeist III, HBO Zone
3:00 a.m. Dreamcatcher, AMC
6:00 a.m. Nosferatu, TCM
7:45 a.m. The Vampire Bat, TCM
8:30 a.m. Tales from the Crypt Presents: Demon Knight, HBO Comedy
9:00 a.m. Thinner, AMC
9:00 a.m. Dead Men Walk, TCM
10:15 a.m. Isle of the Dead, TCM
11:00 a.m. Lake Placid, AMC
11:45 a.m. The Return of the Vampire, TCM
1:00 p.m. Friday the 13th (2009), AMC
1:00 p.m. House Of Dark Shadows, TCM
3:00 p.m. Tremors, AMC
3:00 p.m. Horror of Dracula, TCM
3:00 p.m. Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark, Chiller
3:15 p.m. Warm Bodies, HBO Comedy
4:30 p.m. Dracula, Prince of Darkness, TCM
5:00 p.m. Pumpkinhead, AMC
5:00 p.m. Wolf Moon, Chiller
6:15 p.m. Dracula Has Risen from the Grave, TCM
7:00 p.m. Halloween II (1981), AMC
7:00 p.m. Twisted Sisters, Chiller
8:00 p.m. Dead of Night, TCM
9:00 p.m. Halloween III: Season of the Witch, AMC
9:00 p.m. Left for Dead, Chiller
10:00 p.m. Twice-Told Tales, TCM
11:00 p.m. Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers, AMC
11:15 p.m. Red Dragon, HBO Zone
11:55 p.m. The Conjuring, HBO Signature
Wednesday, October 29
12:15 a.m. Kwaidan, TCM
1:00 a.m. Child’s Play 2, AMC
2:00 a.m. Wrong Turn 5: Bloodlines, SYFY
3:00 a.m. Child’s Play 3, AMC
3:00 a.m. The House That Dripped Blood, TCM
3:30 a.m. The Hills Have Eyes (2006), HBO Zone
4:50 a.m. Idle Hands, HBO Comedy
5:00 a.m. Torture Garden, TCM
9:00 a.m. Swamp Thing, AMC
11:00 a.m. A Nightmare on Elm Street (2010), AMC
1:00 p.m. Children of the Corn, AMC
3:00 p.m. Bride of Chucky, AMC
3:00 p.m. Vanishing on 7th Street, Chiller
4:00 p.m. Cry Wolf, HBO
5:00 p.m. Seed of Chucky, AMC
5:00 p.m. Cold Storage, Chiller
7:00 p.m. Aliens, Sundance
7:00 p.m. Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers, AMC
7:00 p.m. American Psycho 2, Chiller
8:00 p.m. Psycho, TCM
9:00 p.m. Day of the Dead 2: Contagium, Chiller
Thursday, October 30
9:00 a.m. Tales from the Crypt Presents: Demon Knight, HBO Zone
9:00 a.m. Halloween (1978), AMC
11:00 a.m. Halloween II (1981), AMC
1:00 p.m. Halloween: Season of the Witch, AMC
2:15 p.m. Warm Bodies, HBO2
3:00 p.m. Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers, AMC
3:00 p.m. Hidden, Chiller
4:00 p.m. Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974), SYFY
5:00 p.m. Halloween 5: The Revenge of Michael Myers, AMC
5:00 p.m. Mischief Night, Chiller
6:00 p.m. Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2003), SYFY
7:00 p.m. Halloween 6: The Curse of Michael Myers, AMC
7:00 p.m. Urban Legends: Bloody Mary, Chiller
8:00 p.m. House on Haunted Hill, TCM
9:00 a.m. Halloween (1978), AMC
9:00 p.m. Happy Birthday to Me, Chiller
9:30 p.m. The Legend of Hell House, TCM
11:00 p.m. Halloween II (1981), AMC
11:15 p.m. 13 Ghosts, TCM
Friday, October 31
12:10 a.m. Saw VII, SYFY
1:00 a.m. Halloween III: Season of the Witch, AMC
1:00 a.m. The Haunting, TCM
1:30 a.m. Hostel, Showtime
2:10 a.m. Hostel Part II, SYFY
3:00 a.m. Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers, AMC
3:00 a.m. Burnt Offerings, TCM
7:00 a.m. Mark of the Vampire, TCM
7:00 a.m. Troll 2, Chiller
8:15 a.m. The Devil-Doll, TCM
9:00 a.m. Christine, Chiller
9:00 a.m. Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers, AMC
9:45 a.m. I Walked With a Zombie, TCM
11:00 a.m. Halloween 5: The Revenge of Michael Myers, AMC
11:00 a.m. 30 Days of Night , SYFY
11:00 a.m. Vacancy, Chiller
11:00 a.m. The Witches, HBO Family
12:15 p.m. The Tingler, TCM
1:00 p.m. Halloween 6: The Curse of Michael Myers, AMC
1:00 p.m. Vacancy 2: The First Cut, Chiller
1:30 p.m. Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974), SYFY
3:00 p.m. Waxwork, Chiller
3:00 p.m. Halloween (1978), AMC
3:15 p.m. Dementia 13, TCM
3:30 p.m. Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2003), SYFY
4:45 p.m. Carnival of Souls, TCM
5:00 p.m. Flatliners, Chiller
5:00 p.m. Halloween II (1981), AMC
5:30 p.m. Halloween II (2009), SYFY
6:15 p.m. Repulsion, TCM
7:00 p.m. Halloween III: Season of the Witch, AMC
7:00 p.m. Urban Legend, Chiller
7:00 p.m. The Witches, HBO Family
8:00 p.m. Night of the Living Dead, TCM
8:30 p.m. Warm Bodies, HBO Comedy
9:00 p.m. Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers, AMC
9:00 p.m. The Conjuring, HBO
9:00 p.m. Urban Legends: Final Cut
10:00 p.m. Curse of the Living Demon, TCM
10:15 p.m. Tales from the Crypt Presents: Bordello of Blood, HBO Comedy
11:00 p.m. Vacancy, Chiller
11:00 p.m. The Hills Have Eyes (2006), HBO Zone
11:45 p.m. Idle Hands, HBO Comedy
11:45 p.m. House of Wax, TCM
Saturday, November 1
1:00 a.m. Halloween 5: The Revenge of Michael Myers, AMC
1:00 a.m. Halloween II (2009), SYFY
1:00 p.m. Christine, Chiller
1:30 a.m. Poltergeist, TCM
3:00 a.m. Waxwork, Chiller
3:00 p.m. Halloween 6: The Curse of Michael Myers, AMC
3:30 a.m. 30 Days of Night, SYFY
3:30 a.m. Strait-Jacket, TCM
5:15 a.m. Eyes Without a Face, TCM
6:45 a.m. Doctor X, TCM8:15 a.m. Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, TCM
This article was originally published at http://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2014/09/every-horror-movie-on-tv-this-october/380973/
One of the oldest metaphors for human interaction with technology is the relationship of master and slave. Aristotle imagined that technology could replace slavery if devices like the loom became automated. In the 19th century, Oscar Wilde foresaw a future when machines performed all dull and unpleasant labor, freeing humanity to amuse itself by “making beautiful things,” or simply “contemplating the world with admiration and delight.” Marx and Engels saw things differently. “Masses of laborers are daily and hourly enslaved by the machine,” they wrote in the Communist Manifesto. Machines had not saved us from slavery; they had become a means of enslavement.
Today, computers often play both roles. Nicholas Carr, the author of the 2008 Atlantic cover story “Is Google Making Us Stupid?”, confronts this paradox in his new book, The Glass Cage: Automation and Us, analyzing the many contemporary fields in which software assists human cognition, from medical diagnostic aids to architectural modeling programs. As its title suggests, the book also takes a stand on whether such technology imprisons or liberates its users. We are increasingly encaged, he argues, but the invisibility of our high-tech snares gives us the illusion of freedom. As evidence, he cites the case of Inuit hunters in northern Canada. Older generations could track caribou through the tundra with astonishing precision by noticing subtle changes in winds, snowdrift patterns, stars, and animal behavior. Once younger hunters began using snowmobiles and GPS units, their navigational prowess declined. They began trusting the GPS devices so completely that they ignored blatant dangers, speeding over cliffs or onto thin ice. And when a GPS unit broke or its batteries froze, young hunters who had not developed and practiced the wayfinding skills of their elders were uniquely vulnerable.
Carr includes other case studies: He describes doctors who become so reliant on decision-assistance software that they overlook subtle signals from patients or dismiss improbable but accurate diagnoses. He interviews architects whose drawing skills decay as they transition to digital platforms. And he recounts frightening instances when commercial airline pilots fail to perform simple corrections in emergencies because they are so used to trusting the autopilot system. Carr is quick to acknowledge that these technologies often do enhance and assist human skills. But he makes a compelling case that our relationship with them is not as positive as we might think.
All of this has unmistakable implications for the use of technology in classrooms: When do technologies free students to think about more interesting and complex questions, and when do they erode the very cognitive capacities they are meant to enhance? The effect of ubiquitous spell check and AutoCorrect software is a revealing example. Psychologists studying the formation of memories have found that the act of generating a word in your mind strengthens your capacity to remember it. When a computer automatically corrects a spelling mistake or offers a drop-down menu of options, we’re no longer forced to generate the correct spelling in our minds.
This might not seem very important. If writers don’t clutter their minds with often-bizarre English spelling conventions, this might give them more energy to consider interesting questions of style and structure. But the process of word generation is not just supplementing spelling skills; it’s also eroding them. When students find themselves without automated spelling assistance, they don’t face the prospect of freezing to death, as the Inuits did when their GPS malfunctioned, but they’re more likely to make errors.
The solution might seem to be improving battery life and making spelling assistance even more omnipresent, but this creates a vicious cycle: The more we use the technology, the more we need to use it in all circumstances. Suddenly, our position as masters of technology starts to seem more precarious.
Relying on calculators to perform arithmetic has had similar risks and benefits. Automating the time-consuming work of multiplying and dividing large numbers by hand can allow students to spend time and energy on more complex mathematical subjects. But depending on calculators in classrooms can also lead students to forget how to do the operations that the machines perform. Once again, something meant to expedite a task winds up being an indispensable technology.
The phenomenon is not specific to modern technologies; the same concern appears in Plato’s Phaedrus, where a character in the dialogue worries about the effects of the phonetic alphabet: “This discovery … will create forgetfulness in the learners' souls, because they will not use their memories; they will trust to the external written characters and not remember of themselves.” Automating almost any task can rob us of an ability.
The difference today is the sheer breadth of mental tasks that have been outsourced to machines. Carr describes a 2004 study in which two groups of subjects played a computer game based on the logic puzzle Missionaries and Cannibals. Solving the puzzle required figuring out how to transport five missionaries and five cannibals across a river in a boat that could hold only three passengers. The cannibals, for self-evident reasons, could not outnumber missionaries on either of the riverbanks or in the boat.
The first group of players used a sophisticated software program that offered prompts and guidance on permissible moves in given scenarios. The second group used a simple program that gave no assistance. Initially, those using the helpful software made rapid progress, but over time those using the more basic software made fewer wrong moves and solved the puzzle more efficiently. The psychologist running the study concluded that those who received less assistance were more likely to develop a better understanding of the game’s rules and strategize accordingly.
As all good teachers know, students need to experience confusion and struggle in order to internalize certain principles. That’s why teachers avoid rushing in to assist students at the first hint of incomprehension. It’s neither necessary nor possible to abolish calculators and spellcheck programs in classrooms, but periodically removing these tools can help ensure that students use technology in order to free their minds for more interesting tasks—not because they can’t spell or compute without assistance.
Carr notes that the word “robot” derives from robota, a Czech term for servitude. His book is a valuable reminder that if we don’t carefully examine the process that makes us dependent on technology, our position in the master-servant relationship can become the opposite of what we imagine.
This article was originally published at http://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2014/09/is-google-making-students-stupid/380944/
The real reason to be a reporter is the chance it offers to see, ask about, and prowl around the world. For more on the high concept of the reportorial satisfaction in seeing, you can check this post from the summer.
This has been a special satisfaction of our American Futures travels over the past year. The joy and the terror of the process is showing up in a place with a few questions in mind and a few contacts lined up, and then following leads, backing out of dead ends, and spending whole days in pursuits you hadn't foreseen. Inevitably you discover that the preparation was essential, but that inevitably the most intriguing questions are the ones you hadn't even thought to ask before you made the trip.
In practice, visiting a town is a combination of visits to factories, businesses, libraries, schools, and so on; interviews with people who have lived or worked in the vicinity, or played an important role for better and worse; and in between walking and driving around.
John Tierney and Deb Fallows, using the "Story Map" tool from our partners at the mapping company Esri, have put together a very nice little, light guide to what it is like to prowl around one of our recent stops, Allentown, Pennsylvania.
You can click here to see the full interactive map. It matches photos of local sites—the famous Iron Pigs stadium, the jail, the parts of the town that are being refurbished, the parts that aren't—with brief descriptions, and markers to those sites on the map. You can zoom, pan, click to see larger photos or read their captions, and do all the other things you'd expect from an interactive site. In this post I show a few sample screen shots. Again the link is here.
What you see at the top of this post is the Allentown Police Department's gun buy-back program which we visited in the morning. The picture a few lines up is of an abandoned brewery. Here's the scene about two blocks away from the heart of the brand-new downtown center:
... And here is a wonderful site I plan to write about in a separate post. It's an old furniture building that has been refurbished as the downtown headquarters of the Trifecta software company. The reason for the move, according to the company's founder, is that—just as in San Francisco or Seattle or Brooklyn or now D.C.— the young urban-minded engineers Trifecta had hired wanted a chance to live and work in a downtown setting, not in some suburban office sprawl.
There's a lot more at the story map itself. Thanks to John and Deb, to our friends at Esri, and to locals in the Lehigh Valley.
This article was originally published at http://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2014/09/a-day-on-the-road-a-story-map-view-of-allentown/380950/
There’s an episode in the first season of The Office in which Michael Scott, the tactless boss, is asking his female employees to serve as cheerleaders for an upcoming company basketball game. When the heavyset Phyllis says she’ll do it, Michael reflexively says, “Oh yuck, that’s worse than you playing.” He then tries to rescue the crack with, “because we need you as an alternate.”
According to a new study published in the journal Psychology and Aging, this type of humor is exactly the kind you should never deploy around the elderly.
Jennifer Stanley, a psychology professor at the University of Akron, had 30 young adults, 22 middle-aged people, and 29 senior citizens watch a variety of different sitcom clips, including the above segment from The Office. The subjects rated how socially appropriate and how funny they found each clip. Stanley also used facial electromyography to determine how much the clips caused their smile muscles to move.
And for the record, “to be coded as a smile, there had to be an upturn of the corners of the lips plus a wrinkling of the crow’s feet at the corners of the eyes, or a pushing up of the cheeks."
What the authors found was that older adults were much less likely to be fans of the aggressive style of humor—laughing at the expense of others—that’s so often used by Michael Scott. The 64-to-84-year-olds found The Office clip about 23 percent less funny than the middle-aged people did, and about 19 percent less funny than the 17-to-21-year-olds did.
Young adults were also more likely to smirk at the clips that showed self-deprecating humor, as exemplified in an episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm in which Larry pumps his waiter for information about how much his friend left as a tip.
The older participants, meanwhile, liked affiliative humor—the kind of jokes that bring people together through a funny or awkward situation. Stanley says a Golden Girls clip in which the women try to buy condoms and suffer an embarrassing price check is a good example.
Humor relies on the psychological idea of the benign violation: Situations that are mostly wrong but still a little bit right. If something is too banal, it won’t be funny. Go too far, though, and you’ve just offended the person. Michael Scott’s offensive quips can apparently be a little too much for older viewers.
So why doesn’t grandma find that aggressive style of humor funny, young man? One explanation might be that the jokes in sitcoms have changed over time, and today’s older people are just accustomed to a gentler kind of wit. People also might have a greater emotional connection to a show from their own generation—Golden Girls is a much earlier show than either The Office or Curb Your Enthusiasm.
It’s also possible that the study authors chose an unusual episode of The Office to represent aggressive humor. Connoisseurs of the show have suggested that in its first season, it didn’t yet have the time to explore the sadness of Michael’s character—how his petty tyranny was motivated by a deep desire to be liked. Though fat-shaming is always disturbing, the joke in that exchange wasn’t on Phyllis; it was on Michael.
In a review of that episode, The Awl, which has a youngish demographic, also said Michael’s reaction to Phyllis contains “a nastiness ... the source of which we just don’t understand yet.” An earlier study showed that older adults, when watching the British version of The Office, were worse at picking up on the times when the Scott-like character, David Brent, committed a social gaffe.
Stanley suspects a big reason for the generation gap in humor is that as we age, we experience a variety of physical and emotional setbacks—declining cognitive faculties, friends who pass away—and the affiliative style of humor helps us deal with these losses.
“Other work has shown that the importance of having people close by you when you experience the physical and emotional loss of aging,” she told me. “Maybe affiliative humor is more helpful for promoting that type of experience.”
It’s fall, which means the long march of the holiday season is nearly upon us. Stanley’s study is one worth keeping in mind as we weigh which comments to bury deep within our psyches at the Thanksgiving table. To keep peace with the elders, it suggests, act a little more like Blanche Devereaux and a little less like the boorish branch manager of Dunder Mifflin.
This article was originally published at http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2014/09/our-sense-of-humor-changes-as-we-age/380954/
It takes a brave, possibly deranged soul to set a comedy in Auschwitz. It takes fearlessness close to folly to write about Auschwitz at all, although the impulse to comprehend the greatest human atrocity in history—to ensure that it never happens again—has drawn countless writers to the subject, and plenty of warnings about the literary obstacles to tackling it.
Martin Amis isn’t daunted, having now done it twice. Or perhaps that gets it wrong; he is clearly haunted. The 65-year-old novelist, whose last literary effort was Lionel Asbo, a viciously cynical portrait of working-class Britain, returns to Auschwitz a second time in The Zone of Interest, his 14th novel. This book comes more than two decades after 1991’s Time’s Arrow, in which Amis ran history backwards: A mysterious doctor wakes from death, grows younger, and ends up in Auschwitz in a chapter titled, “Here there is no why,” after a line from Primo Levi’s description of his arrival at the camp.
In Amis’s earlier, upside-down Auschwitz, doctors heal the sick, guards give jewelry and other valuables to prisoners, and piles of corpses are dismantled (men on top, babies and children at the bottom) and transported into windowless rooms, where they’re revived by gas pellets. This topsy-turvy reenactment gave Amis the opportunity to reverse atrocities, but it offered no explicit answer to the “why.” So he’s back more than two decades later, inspired this time by the other pressing question: How?
The Zone of Interest is a strange book, indeed; a grim satire, part office comedy, part romance, part lyrical dissection of civilization gone very, very wrong (the sky over the camp one day, we are told, is "a vulgar dark pink, the color of café blancmange"); part visceral, oozing, pestilent horror. The comic interchanges are no less funny for being interspersed among the brutal renderings of depravity, but they do, conversely, make that horror even more jarring. They also remind us of our most basic and familiar impulse when faced with the bleak despair of existence. Amis isn’t making Auschwitz funny—he’s making it human.
The novel weaves between three different narrators. Angelus "Golo" Thomsen is a womanizing "desk murderer" with Aryan good looks who has a clerical position at the camp, but whose Uncle Martin (later revealed to be Martin Bormann, Hitler's powerful private secretary), grants him a degree of privilege beyond his rank. Paul Doll, colloquially known among officers as "the Old Boozer," is the ghastly, sociopathically pompous commander, styled after Rudolf Höss and very much in the model of the classic Amis grotesque (his "spongy red chest hair is dotted with beads of sweat"). The last voice belongs to Szmul, one of "the saddest men in the history of the world." As a Sonderkommando, one of the Jews charged with disposing of the remains of murdered prisoners, Szmul justifies his brazen ability to go on living by listing his three motivations: to bear witness, to seek revenge, and to save a life, "at the rate of one per transport."
Oddly, for such an audacious writer, Amis resists using the word “Auschwitz” in the novel, and never mentions Hitler by name, an affectation that feels almost superstitious. The camp is referred to as the Zone of Interest, or the Kat Zet—an abbreviation for Konzentrationlager. Amis introduces the reader to it in a way that’s gentle, almost pastoral. Thomsen describes how he was sitting amid a maple grove in midsummer when he first saw Paul Doll’s wife, Hannah: “Tall, broad, and full, yet light of foot, in a crenellated white ankle-length dress and a cream-colored straw hat … she moved in and out of pockets of fuzzy, leonine warmth.” He follows her and her two daughters at a distance, past “the ornamental windmill, the maypole, the three-wheeled gallows, the carthorse slackly tethered to the iron water pump.” Amid the Impressionistic painting of the scene, one of these things strikes a jaggedly discordant note.
Thomsen’s narration hints at his environment’s true nature. “Why would anyone bring his wife and children here? Here?,” he muses. His temporary lodgings are overrun with mice, an early symptom of the pestilence and decay that suffuse the novel. He pays a call to Hannah and she offers him an illicit cigarette in the garden, saying that she finds it helps a bit “with the smell.” Her thought is interrupted by the sound of something borne on the wind: “It was a helpless, quavering chord, a fugal harmony of human horror and dismay. We stood quite still with our eyes swelling in our heads.”
It isn’t until Doll takes over the narration that the Kat Zet is explicitly revealed, in a scene that incorporates both slapstick humor and utter depravity. Doll is greeting a group of camp inhabitants newly arrived from Paris, one of whom, “a little bent old lady,” loudly scolds him for the incoming train’s lack of a restaurant wagon. “All we had were the cold cuts we’d brought with us,” she tells him, indignantly. “And we almost ran out of mineral water!” She’s promptly taken out back and shot by Senior Supervisor Grese, but not before a truck drives past and an accidental gap in its tarpaulin gives the assembled group a glimpse of its load. Thomsen’s friend Boris recalls the scene later, the “starveling corpses. Covered in shit, and filth, and rags, and gore, and wounds, and boils. Smashed-up, forty-kilo corpses.” Doll panics at the prospect of a riot at such a sight, but then realizes that “our guests were utterly incapable of absorbing what they had seen.”
So, in a ghastly way, are the hosts. Amis comes back again and again to the disconnect between the reality of the camp and the blinkered doggedness with which its command conducts its daily business: How could so many people manage to carry on even while registering what was impossible to ignore? (The smell, we’re told repeatedly, is intolerable, even in towns several miles away.) Thomsen obsesses over his infatuation with Hannah, gets drunk with Boris, and goes about ordering “this much cement, this much timber, this much barbed wire,” but he finds himself staring out the window at “the figures in city business suits, designers, engineers, adminstrators from IG Farben plants in Frankfurt, Leverkusen, Ludwigshafen, with leather-bound notebooks and retractable yellow measuring tapes, daintily picking their way past the bodies of the wounded, the unconscious, and the dead.”
Doll, meanwhile, spends his days worrying about budgets, his constant failures to persuade his wife to have sex with him, the zombie-like state of his underling, Szmul, and the practicalities of disposing of the corpses of 102,000 people. It’s in his description of these inconvenient remains that Amis’ gifts as a virtuosically vivid writer are employed to full, rancid effect. “The pieces have started to ferment,” Doll acknowledges, describing rotting body parts discarded in a field known as the “spring meadow.” Later, he suffers “one of those cloacal dreams that all of us have from time to time—you know, where you seem to turn into a frothing geyser of hot filth.” Even further on, he describes the “pieces” as “spitefully massive, uncompromisingly ponderous and unwieldy, mephitic sacs or stinkbombs just raring to explode.”
It’s Szmul, of course, who has no recourse to euphemisms or distractions as he devotes his days to the endless disposing of corpses. His chapters are the briefest, and the most heartbreaking. Szmul’s first sentence invokes a fairy-tale magic mirror that shows those who look into it the essence of their soul—who they really are. No one can stand to look at it for more than 60 seconds without turning away. “I find that the KZ is that mirror,” he says. “The KZ is that mirror, but with one difference. You can’t turn away.” The thought is echoed by all three narrators: Blindness is a solace denied to each of them. “It’s true what they say here in the KL: No one knows themselves,” says Doll. “Who are you? You don’t know. Then you come to the Zone of Interest and it tells you who you are.”
The truth Szmul learns about himself and his fellow Sonderkommando is that “as well as being the saddest men who ever lived, we are also the most disgusting … we are infinitely disgusting and infinitely sad.” The men are offered more food than most, and alcohol, and a warm blanket; in return they lie to their fellow Jews to cajole them into the gas chambers, and then strip their corpses of gold fillings, hair, and valuables. Inevitably, they encounter people they know. Szmul, in one of the book’s most devastating scenes, recognizes his son’s disabled best friend, and escorts him outside to be shot quickly rather than having to suffer a slower death in the gas chamber. It takes him about 20 seconds to die. Being young, Szmul reasons, “there are fewer things to say goodbye to, there is less life, less love (perhaps), less memory needing to be scattered.”
Szmul’s chapters are indelible, made all the more scarring by the simpler language they utilize—a departure from Amis’s more familiarly dazzling cynicism. Elsewhere in the novel, when Amis is conveying the spiritual and moral rot that festers throughout the camp, his fetid descriptions soon become almost numbing: “the flies as fat as blackberries,” the snow that has turned brown, like “the shit of angels,” and underfoot, the “boundless latrine of purplish-brown slime.” Everything is noxious and infectious; every non-human animal in the camp gets sick and dies, from Doll’s daughters’ pony to Thomsen’s cat.
But as gifted an illustrator of the obscene as Amis is, he’s also wrestling with the larger (and uncharacteristically philosophical) question of whether anything good can come from, or even survive in, such a place. Hannah herself acknowledges that the thought of a relationship born there is “disgusting.” Is it also disgusting to write about a romance in Auschwitz, or to write mockingly comic passages about a mentally disabled girl who slips and falls in a field full of rotting body parts? Is it awful to laugh when Doll tells a girl he’s impregnated that she’s “subhuman. Technically, I mean,” and she replies, “Then how come you did me without [one] of them Parisians on?”
It may sound sentimental to suggest that Amis’s outrageously black humor offers a reminder of humanity in a place where it seems to have withered and died. At the same time, the surreally discordant particulars heighten the horror by conveying that characters like Doll and Thomsen are more than caricatures. In The Zone of Interest, there are no mere brainwashed ciphers or bureaucrats with maps and lists. Evil, in this novel, is physical and visceral and literal—and banal. In giving up on the question of why Auschwitz happened—in an afterword, Amis announces a “negative eureka (I have not found it, I do not understand it)”—he has plumbed the how to emerge with a truly appalling discovery: people committing acts of egregious inhumanity, aware that they have no remotely coherent answers or reasons either. And that doesn’t stop them.
This article was originally published at http://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2014/09/the-zone-of-interest-the-novel-by-martin-amis-reviewed/380945/
Earlier this month, Burger King made headlines after unveiling its black KURO Pearl and KURO Diamond burgers, which come complete with black buns, black cheese, and black sauce and are available in Japan through early November.
Americans have been both intrigued and repulsed by the images. "Finally #BurgerKing makes a burger the way your body sees it ... disgusting and cancer-causing," one Twitter user wrote. Another tweeted: "It's the black cheese that freaks me out the most. It looks like the kind of rubber they use to make gimp masks."
But the burger is enjoying a “favorable reception” in Japan, according to the Guardian—so why do Americans have such a negative response to it?
Researchers have known for some time how powerful color is in influencing our perceptions and desires for food. Studies have shown, for example, that when it comes to our experience of food, color is more important than product labeling and even taste. In a kind of gustatory Stroop Effect, people are unable to taste past color when asked to identify a flavor.
“If you give people flavored drinks that are the ‘wrong’ color, the taste does not overrule their prior expectation and they continue to identify the food with the flavor that would normally be associated with that color,” says Lawrence Garber Jr., an associate professor of marketing at Elon University. “Participants even develop a flavor profile associated with the color, rather than the taste.”
For example, Americans tend to rate drinks that are dyed red as more sweet in food perception studies (even when they taste identical to their clear or mismatched-colored counterparts), while green drinks are rated as more sour. There also seems to be evidence for an aversion to blue, a color often associated with spoiled food because of its resemblance to mold. A Korean study from last year found that participants preferred food with brighter, more saturated colors, in contrast to the color shifts that occur when food decomposes and becomes dull, and implied that this color preference might be the result of a “long evolutionary process.”
History has taught us that if you give people a product whose flavor doesn’t correspond with the right color, they enjoy it less. A successful change of Ivory liquid soap from milky white to clear in the early 1990s, for example, spurred beverage marketers to develop a range of clear products—Zima was born, Miller launched a clear beer, and Pepsi came out with Crystal Pepsi. All three of the products failed because their color didn’t match people’s expectations for how they were supposed to taste. “Even though Crystal Pepsi tasted the same as regular Pepsi, consumers perceived that it had a milder taste,” Garber says. “Moreover, neutral colors [in food products] confuse people, which typically makes people less likely to buy them.”
But the relationship between color and taste also has to be taken within a cultural context.
McDonald’s and other international chains have long adjusted their recipes and menus to cater to local tastes. Last year Thrillist dedicated a post to the best foreign McDonald’s products from around the world. (I’d personally love to try the deep-fried Camembert “cheese melt dippers” from branches in Ireland.)
With regards to the KURO burgers, Garber says, “Black in the U.S. simply doesn’t convey a favorable food meaning. It means charred or burnt or moldy or spoiled or inedible.” But in Japan, black is positively associated with food. Eva Hyatt, a professor of marketing at Appalachian State University, told New York Magazine that people in Japan are exposed to more black foods, including seaweed, bean paste-based foods, black walnut powder, squid ink, and other grey foods.”
In Japan, Hyatt said, local products tend to use subtle colors—like soft grays—in their packaging. On the other hand, bright colors are associated with foreign or Western food packaging, which might be considered too brash or loud. And while we associate death with the color black in the United States, the Japanese associate it with the color white.
Another study demonstrates that food attractiveness increases based on the perceived specialness of the ingredients. Researchers in Florence found that consumers were more willing to buy spelt, a species of wheat from Europe, when its label specified a smaller region of origin. So perhaps even if the color is initially off-putting, Western consumers might be less repulsed by the black burger once they know the ingredients that give it its gothic look. When I discovered that the buns and cheese get their color from bamboo charcoal and the sauce is made of squid ink and onions caramelized in soy sauce, I quickly changed my tune.
And there’s something to be said for the novelty factor as well. “A black burger in Japan is probably not going to make people react badly to regular Burger King burgers in the United States,” Garber says. “Everyone understands food is strongly culturally based.” Which is perhaps why we’re so fascinated by the black burger in the first place—it gives us a window into another culture, even if we ourselves won’t be trying them anytime soon.
This article was originally published at http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2014/09/food-color-trumps-flavor/380743/
Tear gas versus umbrellas—it’s a pretty unfair fight. But alas, the Hong Kong police’s crackdown on pro-democracy protesters over the past few days reflects a larger power imbalance between Hong Kong and its Communist Party overlords.
Hong Kong was once a crucial gateway for trade, investment, and capital-raising for its northern neighbor—a role that the 1997 handover of Hong Kong from British to Chinese sovereignty only intensified. At first, at least. But China’s economy is less dependent on Hong Kong now than ever before. Though Hong Kong's GDP isn’t counted as part of China’s overall GDP, here’s a sense of how the territory’s share would look if it were:
And as Hong Kong’s utility as a trade route into the mainland has dwindled, the territory has itself become more dependent on the mainland for its trade.
Meanwhile, as Capital Economics pointed out in a note Monday morning, a tenth of Hong Kong’s GDP comes from tourism and retail, which will likely suffer if protests drag on.
In other words, China’s leaders may think they have little to lose by cracking down even harder on protesters—and less to gain by reversing their ban on universal suffrage in 2017. (In August, the Chinese government said that candidates in Hong Kong's 2017 election must first be selected by a committee of pro-Beijing businessmen, in the decision that led to the current unrest.)
Any compromise on that point might stoke similar demands from the four other territories and countries that the People’s Republic claims: Macau, Tibet, Xinjiang, and Taiwan. (The first three are mainland territories; Taiwan operates entirely independently, despite the PRC nominally claiming it as its own territory.)
The fact that students in Taiwan are aligning with the Hong Kong demonstrators—and that Ma Ying-jeou, Taiwan’s generally pro-Beijing president, is supporting them—threatens the Communist Party’s policy of “reunification.” Meanwhile, an insurgency in Muslim-dominated Xinjiang is quickly gathering momentum.
Of course these are the reasons China’s leaders might think they should maintain a hard line. There are plenty of ways that violence in Hong Kong could hurt the mainland. As noted earlier, the territory is still a crucial inroad for foreign investment in China. Its capital markets provide vital foreign capital for Chinese companies.
Untold sums of personal, corporate, and government official wealth has gushed from the mainland into Hong Kong’s real estate market, causing home prices to more than double since 2009. A crackdown would almost certainly hurt Hong Kong’s property market, putting its banking sector at risk—and it would also likely drive up bad loans for the (much less well-capitalized) mainland too, if Hong Kong property is being used as collateral for loans (and hurt the net worth of government officials).
And since Hong Kong is the global center for yuan trading, it is also a portal through which huge sums of liquidity flow, through both real and fake trade financing. China’s leaders don’t seem to actually understand how dependent their country’s financial system is on these ever-rising tides of liquidity coming in via Hong Kong. And they may not realize how easily a liquidity crisis could occur if, God forbid, they do decide to call in the tanks.
This article was originally published at http://qz.com/272952/why-china-doesnt-feel-the-need-to-back-down-in-hong-kong/
In attempting to downplay the political damage from a slew of second-term controversies, President Obama has counted on the American people having a very short memory span and a healthy suspension of disbelief. The time-tested strategy for Obama: claim he's in the dark about his own administration's activities, blame the mess on subordinates, and hope that with the passage of time, all will be forgotten. Harry Truman, the president isn't. He's more likely to pass the buck.
His latest eyebrow-raiser came on 60 Minutes on Sunday, when the president blamed the failure to anticipate the rise of ISIS on his intelligence community for not informing him of the growing threat. "I think our head of the intelligence community, Jim Clapper, has acknowledged that I think they underestimated what had been taking place in Syria," Obama said. Most early news reports dutifully pinned the blame on the intelligence agencies, with the president escaping any further scrutiny.
But anyone following the news over the past year would have been better informed than the commander in chief. As NBC foreign-affairs correspondent Richard Engel said on MSNBC Monday: "It's surprising that the president said that U.S. intelligence missed this one, because it seems that U.S. intelligence was the only group that missed this one. Everyone knew that Islamic extremists were on the rise in Syria and in Iraq; it was well documented. The extremists were publicizing their activities online—they were bragging about it. Journalists, including us, were interviewing foreign fighters. This was no state secret."
Former Democratic Representative Joe Sestak of Pennsylvania, the highest-ranking former military officer ever elected to Congress, told me that the president was wrong to pass the buck. "As commander in chief, you're accountable. You're the one who is responsible whether the good ship of state is doing it right," said Sestak, pointing to congressional testimony from former Defense Intelligence Agency chief Michael Flynn in February 2014 regarding the growing threat posed by ISIS. "The administration failed, and the president is the captain of the ship and should assume accountability." Sestak is considering a Pennsylvania Senate bid in 2016, and he would be one of the Democrats' top recruits if he ran.
The president's defenders pointed to a recent David Ignatius interview with Clapper in The Washington Post, in which the intelligence chief indeed claimed he provided the White House with evidence of ISIS's "prowess and capability." At the same time, he also acknowledged downplaying the enemy's "will to fight" and overestimating the capabilities of the Iraqi forces. It was an odd admission, given the long-demonstrated ruthlessness of the extremists in Iraq and Syria, and the long-reported struggles of Iraq's military. And given the rosy projections of postwar Iraq during the Bush administration, it's unusual to hear intelligence agencies making the same mistake twice. Still, it's clear that Obama wasn't blindsided by the rising threat from Islamic extremists in the Middle East. Outgoing Attorney General Eric Holder even warned that the emerging threat was "more frightening than anything"—back in July.
The elements of the administration's blame, deny, and wait-it-out communications strategy has been front and center amid all the recent controversies. When the administration badly botched the launch of the health care exchange website, Obama said he was "not informed directly that the website would not be working the way it was supposed to." This, for his signature achievement in office. Blame was later pinned on Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, who left the administration in April.
When officials at the Internal Revenue Service improperly targeted conservative outside groups for scrutiny, Obama first feigned outrage, saying he had "no patience for" the misconduct. But months later, as the public's anger subsided, Obama said there "wasn't even a smidgen of corruption" at the agency, and the administration has done little to hold anyone accountable since.
After CNN reported that Veterans Affairs Department offices covered up long wait times at several of its facilities, former Obama press secretary Jay Carney said, "We learned about them through the [news] reports." Long wait times were hardly a secret, with Obama himself campaigning on VA reform as a candidate. To his credit, Obama signed legislation reforming the VA and replaced embattled Secretary Eric Shinseki. But the president himself escaped much of the blame, even though he was clearly familiar with the long-standing problems that the agency faced.
The administration's approach to controversies was best crystallized by former National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor, who deflected criticism about allegations that talking points on the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, were altered for political reasons. "Dude, this was two years ago," he told Bret Baier of Fox News. The remarks were perceived as flippant, but they underscored the success of the administration's public-relations strategy. Buy enough time, and inevitably problems tend to go away—especially in today's attention-deprived environment.
The difference between bureaucratic incompetence and not being fully truthful with the American public is a big one. In the aftermath of scandal, it's easy to understand why the administration, when choosing between portraying the president as disconnected or dissembling, has chosen the former. But throughout his presidency, Obama has acted far from detached. In his second term, he's relied increasingly on loyalists who are less likely to push back against the president's wishes. It's hard to square a president who reportedly is micromanaging airstrikes in Syria with a president who was unaware of the growing threat from Islamic extremists, which had been increasingly trumpeted on the network news.
"The biggest deficit [in politics now] isn't the debt. It's the trust deficit in our politics," said Sestak. "A year or two ago, when the administration signaled it wasn't going to use the [phrase] 'War on Terror,' that wasn't correct. When they walked away from that, they suggested to the public we've got this in the bag."
Indeed, at a time of American military conflict, truth in advertising is especially important. The president has avoided using the word "war" in describing the conflict with ISIS and new terrorist cells in Syria, but it's hard to view it any other way. Military advisers have said ground troops will be necessary to prevail, even as the president continually rules out that option (most likely because it's politically unpopular). Obama ridiculed the strength of the moderate Syrian militias just last month in an interview with The New York Times' Tom Friedman, but now he's praising their skill after his strategy abruptly changed.
It's understandable that the president was trying to avoid acknowledging that he personally downplayed the threat from ISIS; as a sound bite, it would've been politically damaging. But it is crucially important, going forward, that he's brutally honest with both himself and the American people about the mission. Using campaign-style techniques to deflect criticism from domestic controversies might be expected from any administration. But when national security is at stake, politics should stop at the White House's edge.
This article was originally published at http://www.nationaljournal.com/against-the-grain/obama-s-pass-the-buck-presidency-20140929
I am one of the 10 million people who acquired an iPhone 6 or iPhone 6 Plus ten days ago.
Coming from Planet Android, I wasn’t as put off by the larger dimensions as everyone else in the technosphere seemed to be. But I was, as usual, put off by one thing that both the Apple product and its archnemesis from Google shared: the unpocketability of the phone, particularly by females.
This isn’t a new problem for women. Our skinny jeans have pockets, but there is no way an object bigger than a standard issue ID card fits in the front, and everyone knows that slipping a phone in your back pocket is an invitation for a treacherous dive into a toilet, or a backflip resulting in heartbreaking shatters. Purses have enclosures that were once suitable for the flip phone generation but have since become too snug for newer models. Throwing it into the main compartment seems risky, at best.
But the biggest problem might be the lack of pockets in the first place: women's slacks, dresses, and blazers often have no pockets, or worse, “fake” pockets that serve no utilitarian purpose besides sartorially leading the wearer on to believe they have a handy wardrobe aide, until it’s too late.
So how can an industry that focuses on women—whether it be models or products created primarily for a female demographic—consistently dodge the very people it markets to? Camilla Olson, creative director of an eponymous high tech fashion firm, points to inherent sexism within the industry. Mid-range fashion is a male dominated business, driven not by form and function, but by design and how fabric best drapes the body.
“I honestly believe the fashion industry is not helping women advance,” Olson said. And the lack of functional designs for women is one example. "We [women] know clearly we need pockets to carry technology and I think it’s expected we are going to carry a purse. When we’re working we don’t carry purses around. A pocket is a reasonable thing.”
Sara Kozlowski, who works in professional development at the Council of Fashion Designers of America and is a visiting critic with Parsons The New School of Design, is more blunt. She squarely places the blame on fast fashion labels busily churning out copies of high-end designs that aren’t adapted to the lives of a normal person who isn’t strutting down a runway.
“I think when you’re going to the upper price points of designer clothes, people tend to be less conscious of trends and more into quality and longevity,” Kozlowski said. So for them, it makes sense not to design around the latest smartphone model. “But in mid-market, contemporary brands, trends are what drive the industry. In that regard, it’s an epic fail.”
Olson believes the industry is overly focused on the visual appeal of clothing rather than how it can help women—and men, for that matter—live simpler, easier lives. She thinks it’s this preoccupation that’s kept the fashion industry from becoming relevant in today’s technocentric society.
“I find it discouraging,” Olson said. “Fashion looks selectively at who they let in and keeps women at a certain place. It’s not helping women move forward in the workplace.” Olson says that some designers have deemed pockets “too ugly” for clothing, while others simply don't think women need them. And these decisions, she says, have created a chasm in women’s fashion, and hold women back.
A man can simply swipe up his keys and iPhone on the way to a rendezvous with co-workers and slip them into his pocket. A woman on the way to that same meeting has to either carry those items in her hand, or bring a whole purse with her—a definitive, silent sign that she is a woman.
Fashion fans know that it takes time for new designs to go from runway to the streets, and, in the case of adjusting pockets in fashion, forecasters are looking at Fall 2015 for the earliest adopters of iPhone 6 pocketability. The Spring 2015 lines we saw featured on the latest slew of Fashion Weeks were developed six months before the season, according to Olson, with designs sketched out about six months before that. Given that the release of iPhone renditions are often top secret affairs, the timetable isn’t looking too promising for pockets in the next year or so. But given that designers have had years of large smartphone designs from other companies beyond the ballyhooed iPhone, expectations for a pocket revolution aren’t too high.
Conditions are ripe for a revolution in pockets for women—but while we’re beginning to get places to put things, the revolution will not be swift.
“More women are expecting and demanding pockets,” Olson said of trends in the industry. “I was hearing more about pockets on the runway in recent shows. Pockets are becoming more interesting, but they aren’t the size to carry around an iPhone, much less an iPhone  Plus.”
However convenient pockets may be, they may not always be the ideal solution, Olson told me. Women’s pockets are often located near the hip area, where many women would prefer not to attract attention. For that problem, Olson thinks a holster-type of product would work best—a compromise between having a purse and placing an unsightly bulge around what is culturally perceived in the West as a “problem area.”
“It’s got to be an accessories solution,” she theorized. “Chanel just came out with a holster type of thing that is really, really pretty. Or a fanny pack that was stylish. Or a shape to wear about [the body]. But not belts. Something that’s comfortable, that’s important.”
Kozlowski thinks sporting goods for women have a head start on how to stylishly integrate pockets into female wardrobes.
“Active brands are relevant,” she said, referring to running designs that seamlessly maintain shape while holding technology. “Patagonia has high levels of functionality. It’s all about the architecture of the garments. You can’t be too gadgety—if form overtakes function, it won’t be elegant. You have to be elegant.”
It’s not as if this thought process is revolutionary with regards to moving the pocket to another location: There are shirts that cleverly disguise your phone, belts that double as hiding places for your beloved device, and even a bra that takes the term “bosom friend” to a whole new level. (Cargo pants, however, have been unanimously dissed by the fashion savvy as the solution of choice for the smartphone dilemma women face.)
That said, most designers don’t consider pockets as part of the functionality of women’s clothes just yet—they’re still looking at purses as the way for women to carry their smartphones and other technological devices. And surprisingly, some major brands haven’t come up with a clear plan about how to design for new technology. Tom Mora, head of women’s design at J. Crew, the preppy line that feeds into many a work wardrobe, acknowledged that technology such as tablets and smartphones are nearly impossible to live without. But as to what exactly J. Crew—or other brands—would do to fit these devices into clothing was vague; Mora simply wrote in an email that J. Crew “consider[s] every aspect of the way our customers live their lives … We think about these details, whether it’s introducing new tech accessories for the new iPhone 6, or special interior pockets to carry the various generations of iPads or tablets.” Mora admitted, however, that there’s nothing that fits that description available from J. Crew at the moment.
Kozlowski agrees with Olson that most companies are driven by how the product appears on a body, and have to be reminded that fashion serves a purpose beyond beauty.
“Things are just more aesthetically driven to silhouette and embellishment and approach to design in general,” she said. “I have to remind my students [if they’re designing a] $5000 coat that they might want a pocket.”
Still, it’s “curious” to Olson that it took six generations of the iPhone and multiple other smartphone iterations to incite debate about pockets.
This article was originally published at http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2014/09/the-gender-politics-of-pockets/380935/
About 10 years after he first started studying the causes of heart disease, Jerry Morris started to jog. “I was the first person to run on Hampstead Heath, in the 1960s," he'd later tell The Financial Times:
Every Sunday morning, if the weather was at all possible, I took off my coat, and my little boy carried my coat, I took off my jacket and my little girl carried my jacket, and I ran for 20 minutes. People thought I was bananas.”
Morris had discovered something, though, that those skeptics weren't yet aware of: People who exercised—routinely, vigorously—were less likely to have heart attacks than people who spent their days stationary.
From the beginning of his medical training, Morris had been interested in health inequities and their causes. In 1949, back in England after a stint in India as a lieutenant colonel, he turned his attention to coronary heart disease. The number of people whose hearts were giving out was rising like never before and no one knew why.
Morris had a hunch that it might have do to with the way people worked. Heart disease affected the middle-aged—more men than women—and statistics the government had collected hinted that occupation could play a role.
He started collecting data on 31,000 men, 35 to 64, who resembled each other in class and lifestyle, but differed in one key way: Though they all worked in the public transportation system, running buses, one group—the drivers—spent most of their days sitting. The other group—the conductors—spent their time trotting up and down stairs—500 to 750, every single day. (Morris' team had sat on the buses and counted.)
When he compared the two groups, the difference was striking. Conductors had fewer heart attacks, later on in their lives, and the attacks were less likely to be fatal. Morris would later look at the bus workers' waistbands—Transport for London provided the data from records of pants provided to its workers—and found that, even though drivers were plumper 'round the middle, that correlated less strongly with their heart health than how much they moved.
The same pattern showed up in a different group of workers, too: Sedentary government clerks were more likely to have heart attacks than mobile postal workers.
"Can the hearts of men be seen to vary with the kind of work they have done?" Morris wrote in 1958. The answer, he had found, was "Yes." It was one of the first times that any doctor had shown that physical activity might be connected with health.
He looked, too, at the movements that 18,000 men made outside the jobs that kept them sitting down. Here, too, there was a striking trend: Those who did some reasonably serious exercise—biking, swimming, playing soccer—ended up with healthier hearts than men who spent their time puttering about.
So, Morris started to jog, and to tell the rest of the increasingly desk-bound world to try it out. In the years before he died, just a few months shy of turning 100, he spent 30 minutes of almost every day swimming or jogging. By then, he had plenty of company.
This article was originally published at http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2014/09/the-man-who-made-us-jog/380847/
In Atlanta this week, opening arguments are underway in a racketeering trial where prosecutors will argue that public school educators engaged in a massive conspiracy to cheat on high-stakes tests.
From the Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s coverage of Monday’s opening arguments:
“This conspiracy was cleverly, cleverly disguised and the purpose of the conspiracy was this—to illegally inflate test scores and create a false, false impression of academic success for many students in the Atlanta Public School system,” said prosecutor Fani Willis. “It was done to those students’ detriment.”
The defense is expected to blame a corrosive environment where boosting test scores had become the sole priority, and that teachers and administrators were motivated by fear—rather than personal gain—when they changed students’ answer sheets on statewide exams.
Some of the most damning charges have been laid at the feet of 67-year-old Beverly Hall, a former national Superintendent of the Year who prosecutors say fostered a work environment where dishonesty was rewarded. The judge in the current case ruled over the summer that Hall, who has been diagnosed with advanced breast cancer, would not stand trial with the 12 other defendants. If her health improves she will be tried at a later date, according to the AJC.
A state investigation implicated more than 180 educators at 44 schools, according to media reports. Charges were originally brought against nearly three dozen Atlanta public school employees, many of whom took plea deals. The AJC’s investigation into testing anomalies in 2008 triggered the district attorney’s inquiry, which later led to the subsequent indictments. More recently the paper looked at problems nationally with how high-stakes tests are handled before and after the questions are put to the students. And Rachel Aviv’s profile for The New Yorker on one of the indicted teachers is a must-read.
Even as the Atlanta scandal is grabbing headlines, it’s important to remember that reports of cheating on standardized tests nationally represent just a tiny fraction of the total assessments administered each year in public schools. However, in a 2013 report, the Government Accounting Office reported 33 states had at least one incident of school officials cheating on tests in the prior two years. The feds clearly have a stake in the state-level accountability systems, having spent more than $2 billion to help develop school tests since 2002, according to the same report.
High-profile school cheating allegations with potential criminal consequences are also in the news in Philadelphia. And in Dallas, five teachers and an instructional coach resigned amid cheating allegations, and the district confirmed that separate investigations were underway at another three schools. The superintendent even took the extraordinary step of sending a letter to teachers reminding them “not to cheat,” according to the Dallas Morning News.
While the Atlanta investigation focused heavily on erasure analysis (tracking how often the wrong answers were erased and replaced with the correct ones) there are plenty of other ways districts can cheat, according to FairTest, a national advocacy group. Just one example: Schools might “skim” the student population by identifying kids who are likely to be weaker test takers, and then reporting them as absent so that their answer sheets don’t have to be turned in. (For more on the skimming angle, take a look at the Columbus Dispatch’s award-winning investigation from 2012.)
So why does this matter? When educators cheat, there’s more than just the lost of public trust in the school system. If an assessment is considered a valid measure of what a student has learned during the academic year, falsifying their answer sheets can hurt their long-term academic progress. In some cases kids may have missed out on qualifying for interventions and services that could have helped them make legitimate academic gains.
To be sure, frustration with high-stakes testing appears to be reaching a tipping point. On the most recent Gallup Poll, the percentage of parents who said they wanted teacher evaluations to be tied to student test scores dropped to 38 percent from 52 percent in 2012. Some states are scaling back not only the number of tests students take each year, but also the emphasis that’s being placed on the outcomes of those exams. In August, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan announced a two-year moratorium on requiring states to link student test scores to teacher evaluations as part of a previously approved federal waiver. That move was tied in part to many states transitioning to new assessments aligned to the Common Core grade-level standards.
In the meantime, the Atlanta trial is expected to fuel the national debate over high-stakes testing, and whether cheating is an inevitable result of the current school climate.
“This scandal is a cautionary tale,” Tim Callahan, a spokesman for the Professional Assn. of Georgia Educators, told the Los Angeles Times. “If we continue to overemphasize test scores, there will be more bad apples.”
This post appears courtesy of The Educated Reporter.
This article was originally published at http://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2014/09/in-atlanta-educators-stand-trial-for-cheating-on-high-stakes-tests/380928/
Religious freedom in the United States has ebbed and flowed between two competing concepts: the principled view that religion is a matter of individual conscience that cannot be invaded by the government, and the practical concern once expressed by Justice Antonin Scalia that accommodating all religious practices in our diverse society would be “courting anarchy.” In June, the Supreme Court ruled in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby that closely held corporations, whose owners objected to contraception on account of sincere Christian beliefs, could not be forced by the Affordable Care Act to include certain contraceptives in their employee insurance plans. In supporting the religious rights of business owners over a national health-care policy predicated on broad participation, the Roberts Court seemed to stake its place on the more protective end of the religious-freedom spectrum.
But the idea that Hobby Lobby creates robust protections will be credible only if the justices are willing to recognize the religious freedom of marginalized religious minorities—not just the Judeo-Christian tradition. The next religious-freedom case to come before the Court, Holt v. Hobbs, will test whether the Roberts Court’s stance on religious freedom includes a minority faith, Islam, practiced by a disfavored member of our society: a prisoner. At stake are both the state of religious freedom in the country and the Court’s reputation.
Holt involves Gregory Holt, an inmate in Arkansas also known as Abdul Maalik Muhammad. A dispute arose between Holt and the state’s Department of Correction when he sought to grow a one-half-inch beard in observance of his faith. According to the department’s grooming policies, inmates may only grow a “neatly trimmed mustache.” In 2011, Holt filed a lawsuit against the director of the department, Ray Hobbs, and other state employees, saying that the prison had violated his religious rights. After decisions by federal trial and appeals courts in favor of the department, Holt filed a hand-written petition to the Supreme Court, which agreed to review the case. The justices are scheduled to hear arguments in Holt on October 7.
If Hobby Lobby and federal law are faithfully applied, Holt should prevail. Prisoners surrender many of their rights at the prison gates. “Lawful incarceration brings about the necessary withdrawal or limitation of many privileges and rights,” the Supreme Court wrote in Price v. Johnston more than 60 years ago. In 2000, however, Congress enacted the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA) to help safeguard inmates’ religious freedom. The law states that the government may not place a substantial burden on a prisoner’s ability to practice his or her religion unless that burden is the “least-restrictive means” to achieve a “compelling” goal.
This standard may sound familiar—RLUIPA is the sister statute to the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, or RFRA, the federal law which was at issue in Hobby Lobby. These laws apply to different laws implicating religious freedom—RFRA only to federal laws and RLUIPA to the land use and prison contexts—but both ask whether a religious burden is the “least-restrictive means” of accomplishing the government’s “compelling” goals.
In this case, there is no dispute that the prison regulations substantially burden Holt’s religious freedom. His Hobson’s choice—either obey the prison grooming policies and violate his religious beliefs, or adhere to his conscience and face disciplinary measures—is a quintessential substantial burden.
But the prison authorities have a “compelling” reason to restrict Holt’s ability to practice his religion. In Hobby Lobby, the Supreme Court simply assumed the federal government had sufficient reasons for requiring contraceptive coverage. In Holt, it will likely agree with the department’s position that the “no-beard policy enhances prison safety and security by removing an important hiding place for contraband and by facilitating the identification of inmates who wish to engage in violence or escape.” On their own, however, these reasons don’t seem to be enough to satisfy RLUIPA. The regulations will also have to pass the statute’s “least restrictive means” test: The government must meet its goals in the way that best preserves religious liberty. This was also the sticking point in Hobby Lobby. In that case, the government had already made exemptions for religious nonprofit organizations, which undermined its argument that religious exemptions could not be made for certain for-profit corporations. Holt involves a similar situation: Arkansas’s prisons already offer medical exemptions to their grooming policies, which makes it difficult to argue that religious exemptions are not possible. As a federal appeals court wrote in Fraternal Order of Police v. City of Newark, which concerned Newark’s police-department grooming policies, “We are at a loss to understand why religious exemptions threaten important city interests but medical exemptions do not.” The decision was written by then-Judge Samuel Alito, author of the Hobby Lobby opinion.
Plus, the vast and growing majority of states—and the Federal Bureau of Prisons—allow inmates to grow beards, for reasons both religious and secular. Why are these jurisdictions able to fulfill their operational needs without limiting the religious rights of their inmates, while Arkansas can’t? This split among the states—with most adopting permissive grooming policies, and others on the more restrictive end—may help explain why the Supreme Court was interested in taking this case.
With respect to the policies of other jurisdictions, Arkansas responds that its prisons have special circumstances that require special policies. This reasoning is problematic. Theoretically, a prison could use a single inmate’s prior misconduct as an ongoing excuse to abridge the religious practices of all inmates. Indeed, Arkansas’s brief opens with a reference to an inmate, Latavious Johnson, who killed a correctional officer with a “shank.” But this incident says nothing about the relationship between the “shank” and beards, or between Johnson and Holt.
Similarly, Arkansas has told the Court that Holt has not been well-behaved during his time in prison. Holt, it says, has made violent threats and was “caught holding a knife against a fellow inmate’s throat following a religious dispute.” Arkansas's argument is intuitively appealing: Through his behavior, Holt himself has activated the very safety and security justifications for the restrictive grooming policies. But the cited incident does not appear to have anything to do with his facial hair; in practice, this seems like thin evidence.
Arkansas also may note that, historically, courts have acknowledged that prisons are best situated to assess what policies are necessary and therefore have deferred to prisons. In Fisher v. University of Texas, the Court recently faced a similar question and held that courts may defer to the government’s reasons for its policies (the ends), but that courts cannot defer to the specific ways in which the government has decided to address those reasons (the means). The Court should adopt a similar approach in Holt. Otherwise, a court that defers to prisons on both the ends and the means questions operates as a rubber stamp, forgoing its judicial responsibility to meaningfully verify that prisons do not unduly restrict religious freedom.
There is ample reason for the Court to protect Gregory Holt’s religious liberty, much as it did the religious beliefs of the business owners in Hobby Lobby. For the Court to set aside Holt’s claim would be to reinforce the perception that religious freedom is reserved for the powerful or majoritarian faiths, and leave this first-order right in an unacceptably precarious, ad hoc state.
This article was originally published at http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2014/09/how-serious-is-the-supreme-court-serious-about-religious-freedom/380617/
There's a reason why "boom times" and "baby boom" both contain an onomatopoeic signifier of the procreative act. In developed countries, fertility rates tend to go up and down with GDP.
What does that mean in real terms? A study published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences by Princeton researchers Janet Currie and Hannes Schwandt quantifies just how many fewer babies were born because of the Great Recession. Their answer: at least a half a million.
For the study, the authors analyzed approximately 140 million individual birth records for all births in the United States from 1975 and 2010. They found that, for a group of 1,000 women aged 20 to 24, each percentage-point increase in the national unemployment rate resulted in 14 fewer children conceived—total, for the 1,000 women—over the course of their lifetimes. In the scheme of things, this is a relatively small effect, accounting for just .7 percent of all of the women's pregnancies. But it's not nothing: The shift meant that about five additional women in that cohort remained childless forever.
That is to say, it's not that these women are simply having babies later. The recession seems to have dampened their baby-making prospects for their entire lives.
When multiplied across the entire population of 20-to-24-year-old women, this economic baby slump is fairly substantial. There are 9.2 million U.S.-born women in that age group, and the unemployment rate went up by 3.22 percent during the recession. The authors say this will result in "a long-term loss of 420,957 conceptions (and 426,850 live births) among affected cohorts, a 2.4 percent decrease in completed fertility. This long-term effect ... is driven largely by women who remain childless."
In other words, that's roughly half a million babies who were never born because of the recession—and that's just to moms who were 20 to 24. (The total figure is surely even higher.) By the time these women turn 40, the rate of childlessness among them will be about 9 percent higher than in past generations.
Why are we so much less likely to reproduce when jobs are scarce? Money, mostly. Derek Thompson has previously written how the recession was like a big pause button on the lives of Millennials. It costs a quarter of a million dollars to raise a child, so laid-off couples might have been extra-scrupulous with their birth control between 2008 and 2011.
Second, poor people are less likely to get married in general. The authors of the PNAS study also found that each one percentage point rise in the unemployment rate also increased the number of women who were unmarried by age 40 by about half a percentage point.
This article was originally published at http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2014/09/the-recessions-baby-bust/380909/
It is difficult to read any historical account of smallpox without encountering the word filth. In the 19th century, smallpox was widely considered a disease of filth, which meant that it was largely understood to be a disease of the poor. According to filth theory, any number of contagious diseases were caused by bad air that had been made foul by excrement or rot. The sanitary conditions of the urban poor threatened the middle class, who shuttered their windows against the air blowing off the slums. Filth, it was thought, was responsible not just for disease, but also for immorality. “Unclean! Unclean!” the heroine of Dracula laments when she discovers she has been bitten by the vampire, and her despair is for the fate of her soul as much as the fate of her body.
Filth theory was eventually replaced by germ theory, a superior understanding of the nature of contagion, but filth theory was not entirely wrong or useless. Raw sewage running in the streets can certainly spread diseases, although smallpox is not one of them, and the sanitation reforms inspired by filth theory dramatically reduced the incidence of cholera, typhus, and plague. Clean drinking water was among the most significant of those reforms. The reversal of the Chicago River, for instance, so that the sewage dumped in the river was not delivered directly to Lake Michigan, the city’s drinking-water supply, had some obvious benefits for the citizens of Chicago.
Long after the reversal of that river, the mothers I meet on the beaches of Lake Michigan do not worry much over filth. Most of us believe that dirt is good for our kids, but some of us are wary of the grass in the parks, which may or may not have been treated with toxic chemicals. The idea that “toxins,” rather than filth or germs, are the root cause of most maladies is a popular theory of disease among people like me. The toxins that concern us range from particle residue to high-fructose corn syrup, and particularly suspect substances include the bisphenol A lining our tin cans, the phthalates in our shampoos, and the chlorinated Tris in our couches and mattresses.
I already practiced some intuitive toxicology before my pregnancy, but I became thoroughly immersed in it after my son was born. As long as a child takes only breast milk, I discovered, one can enjoy the illusion of a closed system, a body that is not yet in dialogue with the impurities of farm and factory. Caught up in the romance of the untainted body, I remember feeling agony when my son drank water for the first time. “Unclean! Unclean!” my mind screamed.
“He was too pure,” a Baltimore mother said of her son, who developed leukemia as an infant. His mother blamed the pollutants in vaccines for his illness, and herself for allowing him to be vaccinated. Fears that formaldehyde from vaccines may cause cancer are similar to fears of mercury and aluminum, in that they coalesce around miniscule amounts of the substance in question, amounts considerably smaller than amounts from other common sources of exposure to the same substance. Formaldehyde is in automobile exhaust and cigarette smoke, as well as paper bags and paper towels, and it is released by gas stoves and open fireplaces. Many vaccines contain traces of the formaldehyde used to inactivate viruses, and this can be alarming to those of us who associate formaldehyde with dead frogs in glass jars. Large concentrations are indeed toxic, but formaldehyde is a product of our bodies, essential to our metabolism, and the amount of formaldehyde already circulating in our systems is considerably greater than the amount we receive through vaccination.
As for mercury, a child will almost certainly get more mercury exposure from her immediate environment than from vaccination. This is true, too, of the aluminum that is often used as an adjuvant in vaccines to intensify the immune response. Aluminum is in a lot of things, including fruits and cereals as well as, again, breast milk. Our breast milk, it turns out, is as polluted as our environment at large. Laboratory analysis of breast milk has detected paint thinners, dry-cleaning fluids, flame retardants, pesticides, and rocket fuel. “Most of these chemicals are found in microscopic amounts,” the journalist Florence Williams notes, “but if human milk were sold at the local Piggly Wiggly, some stock would exceed federal food-safety levels for DDT residues and PCBs.”
* * *
The definition of toxin can be somewhat surprising if you have grown accustomed to hearing the word in the context of flame retardants and parabens. Though toxin is now often used to refer to man-made chemicals, the most precise meaning of the term is still reserved for biologically produced poisons. The pertussis toxin, for example, is responsible for damage to the lungs that can cause whooping cough to linger for months after the bacteria that produce it have been killed by antibiotics. The diphtheria toxin is a poison potent enough to cause massive organ failure, and tetanus produces a deadly neurotoxin. Vaccination now protects us against all these toxins.
Toxoid is the term for a toxin that has been rendered no longer toxic, but the existence of a class of vaccines called toxoids probably does not help quell widespread concerns that vaccination is a source of toxicity. The consumer advocate Barbara Loe Fisher routinely supports these fears, referring to vaccines as “biologicals of unknown toxicity” and calling for nontoxic preservatives and more studies on the “toxicity of all other vaccine additives” and their potential “cumulative toxic effects.” The toxicity she speaks of is elusive, shirting from the biological components of the vaccines to their preservatives, then to an issue of accumulation that implicates not just vaccines, but also toxicity from the environment at large.
In this context, fear of toxicity strikes me as an old anxiety with a new name. Where the word filth once suggested, with its moralist air, the evils of the flesh, the word toxic now condemns the chemical evils of our industrial world. This is not to say that concerns over environmental pollution are not justified—like filth theory, toxicity theory is anchored in legitimate dangers—but that the way we think about toxicity bears some resemblance to the way we once thought about filth. Both theories allow their subscribers to maintain a sense of control over their own health by pursuing personal purity. For the filth theorist, this means a retreat into the home, where heavy curtains and shutters might seal out the smell of the poor and their problems. Our version of this shuttering is now achieved through the purchase of purified water, air purifiers, and food produced with the promise of purity.
Purity, especially bodily purity, is the seemingly innocent concept behind a number of the most sinister social actions of the past century. A passion for bodily purity drove the eugenics movement that led to the sterilization of women who were blind, black, or poor. Concerns for bodily purity were behind miscegenation laws that persisted for more than a century after the abolition of slavery, and behind sodomy laws that were only recently declared unconstitutional. Quite a bit of human solidarity has been sacrificed in pursuit of preserving some kind of imagined purity.
If we do not yet know exactly what the presence of a vast range of chemicals in umbilical cord blood and breast milk might mean for the future of our children’s health, we do at least know that we are no cleaner, even at birth, than our environment at large. We are all already polluted. We have more microorganisms in our guts than we have cells in our bodies—we are crawling with bacteria and we are full of chemicals. We are, in other words, continuous with everything here on Earth. Including, and especially, each other.
* * *
One of the appeals of alternative medicine is that it offers not just an alternative philosophy or an alternative treatment but also an alternative language. If we feel polluted, we are offered a “cleanse.” If we feel inadequate, lacking, we are offered a “supplement.” If we fear toxins, we are offered “detoxification.” If we fear that we are rusting with age, physically oxidizing, we are reassured with “antioxidants.” These are metaphors that address our base anxieties. And what the language of alternative medicine understands is that that when we feel bad we want something unambiguously good.
Most of the pharmaceuticals available to us are at least as bad as they are good. My father has a habit of saying, “There are very few perfect therapies in medicine.” True as it may be, the idea that our medicine is as flawed as we are is not comforting. And when comfort is what we want, one of the most powerful tonics alternative medicine offers is the word natural. This word implies a medicine untroubled by human limitations, contrived wholly by nature or God or perhaps intelligent design. What natural has come to mean to us in the context of medicine is pure and safe and benign. But the use of natural as a synonym for good is almost certainly a product of our profound alienation from the natural world.
“Obviously,” the naturalist Wendell Berry writes, “the more artificial a human environment becomes, the more the word ‘natural’ becomes a term of value.” If, he argues, “we see the human and the natural economies as necessarily opposite or opposed, we subscribe to the very opposition that threatens to destroy them both. The wild and the domestic now often seem isolated values, estranged from one another. And yet these are not exclusive polarities like good and evil. There can be continuity between them, and there must be.”
Allowing children to develop immunity to contagious diseases “naturally,” without vaccination, is appealing to some of us. Much of that appeal depends on the belief that vaccines are inherently unnatural. But vaccines are of that liminal place between humans and nature—a mowed field, Berry might suggest, edged by woods. Vaccination is a kind of domestication of a wild thing, in that it involves our ability to harness a virus and break it like a horse, but its action depends on the natural response of the body to the effects of that once-wild thing.
The antibodies that generate immunity following vaccination are manufactured in the human body, not in factories. “In the pharmaceutical world,” the writer Jane Smith observes, “the great division is between biologicals and chemicals—drugs that are made from living substances and drugs that are made from chemical compounds.” Using ingredients from organisms, once living or still alive, vaccines invite the immune system to produce its own protection. The live viruses in vaccines are weakened, sometimes by having been passed through the bodies of animals, so that they cannot infect a healthy person. The most unnatural part of vaccination is that it does not, when all goes well, introduce disease or produce illness.
Infectious disease is one of the primary mechanisms of natural immunity. Whether we are sick or healthy, disease is always passing through our bodies. “Probably we’re diseased all the time,” as one biologist puts it, “but we’re hardly ever ill.” It is only when disease manifests itself as illness that we see it as unnatural, in the “contrary to the ordinary course of nature” sense of the word. When a child’s fingers blacken on his hand from Hib disease, when tetanus locks a child’s jaw and stiffens her body, when a baby barks for breath from pertussis, when a child’s legs are twisted and shrunken with polio—then disease does not seem natural.
* * *
“I know you’re on my side,” an immunologist once remarked to me as we discussed the politics of vaccination. I did not agree with him, but only because I was uncomfortable with both sides, as I had seen them delineated. The debate over vaccination tends to be described with what the philosopher of science Donna Haraway would call “troubling dualisms.” These dualisms pit science against nature, public against private, truth against imagination, self against another, thought against emotion, and man against woman.
The metaphor of a “war” between mothers and doctors is sometimes used for conflicts over vaccination. Depending on who is employing the metaphor, the warring parties may be characterized as ignorant mothers and educated doctors, or intuitive mothers and intellectual doctors, or caring mothers and heartless doctors, or irrational mothers and rational doctors—sexist stereotypes abound.
Rather than imagine a war in which we are ultimately fighting against ourselves, perhaps we can accept a world in which we are all irrational rationalists. We are bound, in this world, to both nature and technology. We are all “cyborgs, hybrids, mosaics, chimeras,” as Haraway suggests in her feminist provocation A Cyborg Manifesto. She envisions a cyborg world “in which people are not afraid of their joint kinship with animals and machines, not afraid of permanently partial identities and contradictory standpoints.”
All of us who have been vaccinated are cyborgs, the cyborg scholar Chris Hables Gray suggests. Our bodies have been programmed to respond to disease, and modified by technologically altered viruses. As a cyborg and a nursing mother, I join my modified body to a breast pump, a modern mechanism to provide my child with the most primitive food. On my bicycle, I am part human and part machine, a collaboration that exposes me to injury. Our technology both extends and endangers us. Good or bad, it is part of us, and this is no more unnatural than it is natural.
When a friend asked, years ago, if my son’s birth was a “natural” birth, I was tempted to say that it was an animal birth. While his head was crowning, I was trying to use my own hands to pull apart my flesh and bring him out of my body. Or so I have been told, but I do not remember any intention to tear myself open—all I remember is the urgency of the moment. I was both human and animal then. Or I was neither, as I am now. “We have never been human,” Haraway suggests. And perhaps we have never been modern, either.
This article has been adapted from Eula Biss' On Immunity: An Inoculation.
This article was originally published at http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2014/09/the-illusion-of-natural/380836/
“He’d always been willing to confess his faults, for, by admitting them, it was as if he made them no longer exist.”
Truman Capote wrote that about Walter Rannell, the neurotic, callous, self-destructive lead of Shut A Final Door, published in The Atlantic in August 1947. The short story exhibits much of what would go on to make Capote, who would be 90 today, a literary star: the efficiency and flair; the ability to flit gracefully, like Holly Golightly between hapless suitors, between exposition and action ("He said you said they said round and round. Round and round, like the paddle-bladed ceiling-fan wheeling above..."); the willingness to explore his own emotional history.
Capote, though, wasn't always willing to confront his own faults. He gleefully exposed and horrified his high-society friends with the publication of their secrets as thinly veiled fiction in a chapter from his novel Answered Prayers. He, the man with "94 percent total recall," described his non-fiction novel In Cold Blood as "immaculately factual" despite numerous inaccuracies. His substance use and alcoholism affected his relationships, including that with his longtime partner Jack Dunphy.
That the character Walter Rannell comes from a difficult family background, drinks and gossips his way into trouble in New York, and then retreats to Capote's birthplace of New Orleans lends Shut A Final Door an air of autobiography, even foreshadowing. Capote's first published novel Other Voices, Other Rooms (1948), also draws heavily on the author's own life. Capote once said "very little" of his work was autobiographical, but it's difficult to read this story without thinking about the man who wrote it.
Still, it's silly to focus too much on the author's life. Great writers are remembered for their writing, and Capote will be remembered through works like Miriam and Breakfast at Tiffany's, fiction from the man who just happened to turn non-fiction on its head. Whether it's with the help of Robert Morse on the stage or Philip Seymour Hoffman on the screen, we would do well to forget as little as possible.
Read Shut a Final Door below.
This article was originally published at http://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2014/09/shut-a-final-door/380916/
A confidential internal report. Secret recordings. An award-winning journalist and the best radio show on the air. This weekend, Jake Bernstein of ProPublica and the team of This American Life presented a fantastic piece about how managers at the world’s most important financial regulator suppress dissent and ingratiate themselves to the big banks they are supposed to oversee.
For those who follow the doings of the New York Fed, none of this will come as a great surprise. But it does add remarkable color and detail, thanks largely to the tape recordings of former New York Fed employee Carmen Segarra, to what was already widely known within the industry.
The underlying point of the piece is that the very culture of the New York Fed ensures lax regulation—a scenario often called “regulatory capture,” defined by This American Life’s Ira Glass as “when a regulator gets too cozy with the company he’s supposed to be monitoring.” When senior New York Fed officials want their staff to go easy on Goldman Sachs they don’t even need to lift a finger. The institutional culture takes care of it for them.
All of this is to say that the New York Fed is effectively captured. It consistently takes the side of the major banks it regulates, whatever the motives happen to be. Many have observed this before. For some people, like Tim Geithner, that’s justified, because what’s good for Wall Street (whether it be non-regulation of derivatives, emergency bailouts, or minimal capital requirements) is good for America. For others, like my colleague Simon Johnson (who has written about this repeatedly) and me, that’s a problem, because megabanks that can blow up the global financial system need closer and tougher supervision.
Michael Silva was the head of the New York Fed’s supervisory team at Goldman Sachs; his team was located in Goldman’s offices, not at the Fed. According to the companion ProPublica report, Silva raised questions about a transaction that Goldman was doing to help disguise Banco Santander’s capital position, but was “reined in” by New York Fed general counsel Tom Baxter. Later, when Segarra, then a New York Fed examiner, wants to write in a report that Goldman does not have a conflict-of-interest policy that meets regulatory standards, Silva pushes her into dropping it. He eventually fires her.
What kind of institution is the Federal Reserve Bank of New York? It’s a bank with a monopoly that isn’t supposed to seek profits; a bond-trading desk that follow orders from the Open Market Committee; and a regulatory agency charged with overseeing bank holding companies, including the most complex financial institutions in the world.
There are two basic dynamics that inhibit the Bank in that third role. One is the revolving door: If you are a regulator at a Federal Reserve bank, your long-term wealth-maximizing strategy is to play nice with the banks you oversee and get a job with one of them later. Bernstein’s “quick internet search” found seven former Fed bank examiners who now work for Goldman alone.
But the ProPublica/This American Life piece is at its strongest when illuminating the second dynamic: groupthink. The New York Fed is a classic bureaucratic institution, where there is little upside to being bold (you can’t invent a new product or expand into a new market) and lots of downside to being seen as out of line. As David Beim, author of the confidential internal report, says to This American Life, the core problem at the Fed is “What the culture expected of people and what the culture induced people to do.” (I recently wrote a paper on this topic, called “Cultural Capture and the Financial Crisis,” but it is part of a book that is unfortunately no longer available for free on the Internet.)
This institutional suppression of dissent manifests itself in a variety of ways. One is the assimilation of bank examiners into banking culture. As Bernstein says on the radio show,
Examiners see bank employees every day at work. It’s just human nature to try to get along with them. And many examiners feel that the easiest way to get information is by cultivating a friendly relationship. . . . Beim says it’s tricky walking the line between being friendly and being captured.
The other cultural influence, however, is internal to the Fed itself. In Beim’s words,
It goes like this: “Don’t want to be too far outside from where management is thinking. The organization does not encourage thinking outside the box. After you get shot down a couple of times, you tend not to go there anymore. Until I know what my boss thinks, I don’t want to tell you.”
Working daily alongside Goldman bankers in a hierarchical organization that was headed for the past decade by one president whose signature policy assumed that the American economy depended on bailing out Wall Street banks and another who came from Goldman—what do we expect from the New York Fed’s regulators? Segarra, the would-be hero of the story, is ultimately unable to call Goldman out for its poor conflict-of-interest policy—and even if she had been able to write the report the way she wanted, she conceded that her superiors could change her conclusions if they wanted to.
New York Fed President William Dudley may not like the publicity. But this latest story just shows that, from his perspective, the system is working as planned. One job of the New York Fed, according to its defenders, is precisely to protect the largest banks—on which all of our fortunes depend, remember—from know-nothing populists like me. It’s good that the culture and the bureaucracy stifle dissent, because that means Dudley never has to write a memo specifically asking his staff to back off on Goldman. Even a set of secret recordings, though embarrassing, never reveal anyone doing anything fraudulent or criminal.
For the banks, of course, this is the most advanced and effective regulatory capture possible. No one has to be paid off, no one has to break the law, and no one asks too many questions.
This article was originally published at http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2014/09/how-not-to-regulate/380919/
In honor of the 30th anniversary of the Coen brothers' debut, Blood Simple, I re-watched all 16 of their feature films and jotted down observations on one per day, in order of their release. For a fuller explanation of the project, see my first entry, on Blood Simple. (Here, too, are my entries on Raising Arizona, Miller’s Crossing, Barton Fink, The Hudsucker Proxy, Fargo, The Big Lebowski, O Brother, Where Art Thou?, The Man Who Wasn’t There, Intolerable Cruelty, The Ladykillers, No Country For Old Men, Burn After Reading, A Serious Man, True Grit, and Inside Llewyn Davis. The landing page for the whole series is here.)
Some Closing Thoughts
So, to quote J. K. Simmons in his magisterially wicked coda to Burn After Reading, “What did we learn, Palmer?”
• Well, for my part, I learned a few things. Foremost, I learned that the Coens have made an awful lot of movies. I knew that before I started, of course. But 16 films in 16 days feels like a whole lot more on the way out than it did on the way in. It’s going to be a while before I can engage with any book, movie, or TV show without reflexively trying to place it within the Coens’ oeuvre. If I ever repeat this experiment, it will probably be with a less prolific artist. Terrence Malick, maybe?
• More significantly, I learned—or rather re-learned—that the Coens have made an awful lot of really good movies. Out of all 16 features, I enjoyed re-watching all but two: The Ladykillers, which I have always considered their worst effort by orders of magnitude; and, somewhat to my surprise, The Hudsucker Proxy, which I’d always placed in their bottom tier, but which I had looked forward to giving another try. Unlike their other interesting misfires—Intolerable Cruelty, The Man Who Wasn’t There, etc.—I wound up liking Hudsucker considerably less this time around than I had before. Maybe next time....
• With that, let me offer my final ranking of the Coens’ films to date. And by “final,” I mean final right now, at the moment I'm writing this: I reserve the right to revisit any one of them at any time—including as a consequence of the first crosswise comment I receive. I'd done my best to rate the movies as I went through them (though careful readers noticed I had to bump A Serious Man up a slot or two), but in doing so I realized that an awful lot of my rankings felt highly fungible. So rather than make a simple numerical list, I thought it would be more honest to rank them in tiers.
Numbers 1 to 3: Miller’s Crossing, Fargo, No Country for Old Men. With all due respect for the Coens’ comedies (and much respect is due), I find these three films in a category of their own, and I could rank them in pretty much any sequence depending on the criteria by which they were judged: Miller’s Crossing is—and I suspect will always be—my favorite; Fargo is their most delicately balanced; and No Country comes the closest to outright perfection in execution. I look forward to watching all three many more times in years to come.
Number 4: Raising Arizona. Rationally, I suspect that this movie belongs in the next tier down. But Raising Arizona was the go-to comedy of my college years and that gives it a sentimental boost the others can’t quite touch. Had any of them been released in 1987, they’d probably hold this spot instead.
Numbers 5 to 8: Blood Simple, The Big Lebowski, Burn After Reading, Inside Llewyn Davis. For most filmmakers, this would constitute a pretty terrific top four. In the case of the Coens, these are great movies that, for me, aren’t their greatest. I was torn over whether to put Llewyn Davis in this tier or the one below, but in the pleasant afterglow of this latest viewing I’m giving it the benefit of the doubt.
Numbers 9 through 14: Barton Fink, O Brother, Where Art Thou?, The Man Who Wasn’t There, Intolerable Cruelty, A Serious Man, True Grit. The good-but-not-quite-great category. Some of the movies here (e.g., Barton Fink) I find admirable but not particularly enjoyable; with others (e.g., Intolerable Cruelty), it’s the reverse. I had a good time re-watching all of these pictures, but I’m unlikely to revisit them again anytime soon.
Number 15: The Hudsucker Proxy. On a purely aesthetic level, this probably belongs in the tier above. But for whatever reason, I found the movie genuinely grating this time around. Consider it the anti-Raising Arizona of the list, docked points for my own idiosyncratic response.
Number 16: The Ladykillers. For me, the easiest rating by far. I would almost make the case that the overall drop from 1 to 15 is less steep than that from 15 to 16. Almost. This is the only Coens film that I will actively avoid watching again.
• For those keeping track of my ranking of Carter Burwell’s greatest scores for the Coens, the final tally is 1. Miller’s Crossing; 2. Fargo; 3. Raising Arizona; 4. True Grit; 5. Blood Simple; and 6. Burn After Reading. Regarding their soundtrack collaborations with T Bone Burnett, I’d bump Inside Llewyn Davis up one notch from where I’d placed it earlier, for a final tally of 1. O, Brother, Where Art Thou?; 2. Inside Llewyn Davis; 3. The Big Lebowski; and 4. The Ladykillers.
• One of the pleasures of watching all the Coens’ pictures straight through is that you get a keen sense of their many visual affectations and in-jokes as they come and go. For instance, their early films (Blood Simple through Barton Fink) made notable use of fans, ceiling and otherwise. This trope overlapped a bit with their interest in Things That Roll, which stretched from Miller’s Crossing through The Man Who Wasn’t There before petering out.
• The most consistent recurring motifs included dreams and dream sequences, which appear in more than half their movies. (Another dream sequence was written for Fargo but never shot.) And I counted 12 out of 16 of their movies that featured important scenes set in bathrooms. My favorite, unsurprisingly, is this one. (Sorry I couldn’t find a more complete clip.) Hair pomade only shows up in two movies—though three brands are cited—but George Clooney characters are never without some vanity-related tic (hair, teeth, exercise).
• But perhaps the most comically self-aware trope was that of characters vomiting: I counted seven instances in the Coens’ first five movies (i.e., through Hudsucker Proxy). In their next two films, Fargo and The Big Lebowski, they seemed to toy with expectations, implying that a character was about to throw up: Marge says “I’m gonna barf,” but doesn’t; the Dude gags and goes to the bathroom but he doesn’t seem to either. And then, they’re done. Unless I missed it, there’s only one other instance of vomiting (Llewelyn in No Country for Old Men) in the rest of their corpus.
• Which seems like as good a note as any on which to conclude. This has been a lot of fun, and I want to offer my genuine thanks to the many readers who’ve responded in comments or on Twitter. Your replies have been thoughtful, interesting, and, not least of all, civil—a high hurdle when topics as heartfelt as the relative merits of Coens’ films are concerned. I’ve learned a lot, and wish I had the time to pore back through and cite some of the excellent nuggets that have been mined. There is one, though—offered on Twitter by Gabe Witcher, whose band, The Punch Brothers, recorded some music for Inside Llewyn Davis—that’s great enough that I want to note it. In my entry on The Big Lebowski, I noted the eerie, eerie coincidence that the Dude writes a check for 69 cents that’s dated September 11, 1991—that is, exactly 10 years before 9/11— and then immediately looks up at a television screen on which George H. W. Bush is declaring that Saddam Hussein’s aggressions “will not stand.” Given that the movie was made in 1998, this was obviously an unintentional reference. But what I missed is that there is a cunning joke embedded in the date of that check. Later in the movie, when the Dude’s landlord, Marty, stops by, he reminds the Dude that “tomorrow’s already the 10th.” Yes, that 69-cent check to pay for half-and-half was postdated. It’s delightful little discoveries like this one that made the entire exercise such a distinct pleasure.
This article was originally published at http://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2014/09/30-years-of-coens-closing-thoughts-and-rankings/380926/
When I was thirteen, I had a falling-out with my best friend, after which she tortured me over the Internet for the next three years. We were so close that she knew the answer to my security question, so it didn't matter if I changed my password. Over the course of three years she would periodically go in and delete all of my emails, leaving only cruel notes for me, from my own account, as the sole messages in my inbox.
The worst part were the calendar reminders. Written in the first person, they notified me of my own plans to kill myself. I would be quietly browsing, then the reminder would pop up: "Throw myself off the ____ bridge." (There are a few rivers and creeks in my hometown, so she could be specific.) These reminders were always set for midnight, in the dead of winter. I was an imaginative child, so they would bring up the whole scene for me immediately: I would see my own hands on the bridge railing, the darkness of the water below.
I told few people about this and never any teachers or parents. One of the first times I talked about it to an adult, I was an adult too, almost 29 years old. I was cyberbullied in 1998. That's why it was over email and also why I didn't change my security question. Yahoo didn't even offer that option until I was in my late teens. At the time, I didn't want to get a new account and let my ex-bestie know she'd won.
More than ten years later, I got in touch with Amanda. (That’s not her real name. None of the names in this article are real. But it doesn’t really matter.) I didn’t want her to say sorry. It doesn't matter to me, either way. Instead, I thought about the strangeness of our young minds. How could I have suffered for three years instead of changing my account, or going for help? What kind of person sends suicide notes to another girl for three years straight? I saw on Facebook that Amanda had children now. Had she changed?
I remember my consternation when some of the first cyberbullying stories starting making the news in the late 2000s. I was in college. I kept reading about the parents and the bullies, but I wished I could hear from the girls who had been bullied. This was impossible, however. These girls had made the news because they had killed themselves. I thought about how good it would have felt if I had known, at 13, that I would survive, and that I wasn't alone.
* * *
Amanda is now a fat, happy mom in the suburbs and I'm still terrified of her. I know this because, for this story, I started contacting her on Facebook Messenger. I soon developed a Pavlovian response to the Facebook pop. It made my hands shake and my heart race. Sometimes I buried my face in my palms for two breaths before I checked the message.
Amanda and I are not Facebook friends (I know, shocking), but we have friends in common. Coaxing her to talk to me took weeks and not a few messages to our mutual friends. The whole time, my anxiety never lessened. I spent a lot of time hyperventilating on trains and on my couch at home.
At first, Amanda said she didn't remember anything. "We were friends, and then we went different directions socially. I don't remember many details, it was a long time ago," she wrote.
With prompting, she recalled signing into my email, "likely multiple times." As a kid, I had asked her face-to-face if the person disappearing my entire inbox was her. At the time, she had always denied it.
"Do you remember what it felt like to sign into the account? Was it fun or exciting?" I asked.
"I think I probably felt smart," she replied. I thought that was the most I would get out of her.
When I finally felt I'd buttered her up enough—and how painful it was to have to feign sweetness and sympathy with her!—I asked the Big Question. "Do you remember leaving calendar reminders for me to kill myself?"
"Omg no! That's horrible," she wrote. "I'm really sorry."
She has still never admitted to leaving the calendar reminders. Later, she said they "sound plausible"—plausible that she could have set them—but she also wondered if someone else might have been in on it, too, because she couldn't recall doing it. How would I know? "Did you share my information with anyone else?" I asked.
"I can see it as something I *may* have done, because, who knows what goes through a teenager's mind, but I really have no recollection," she said. "I can't remember if Diana was involved or not." Diana was a friend Amanda had had since elementary school. She, and two other girls, made up Amanda's core of closest friends at the time.
What I really wanted to know was what kind of person sends another girl prompts to kill herself. But it seemed like I would never find out. She didn't remember setting the calendar reminders, she kept saying. Either she was lying to me, or they mattered so little to her, she forgot.
* * *
Amanda chose to befriend me soon after we started at the same junior high. I'm not sure why. I was still kind of a kid who liked books and fantasy and playing pretend. Amanda came with a ready set of three other girl friends she had made in elementary school, who showed me how to play the things older girls played. Mall-loitering. Truth or dare. Spin the bottle. I was fascinated. After we friend-broke up, I used everything she taught me with my next girl friends, from how to do my nails, to how to talk on the phone for hours.
When Amanda decided to excise me from the group, two of her other friends called me to tell me they were thinking of dropping me because everyone else in the group was kind of cool—they gave examples of the other cool friends and activities they had/did—but I wasn't. Then they made my life at school as unpleasant as possible for a few weeks.
I have little memory of what happened with us away from the keyboard. Amanda recalled over Facebook that she and Diana would pretend to talk about me in the halls when I walked by, which I didn't remember. I do remember watching Amanda excise other girls while we were still friends. One effort involved Amanda saying loudly at lunchtime, ostensibly to those of us still in the group, "Don't you hate when people try to sit with you when you didn't give them permission and you don't even like them? You try to shake them off, but they keep following you, like a little dog. It's like they can't take a hint."
That other girl sat a foot away from us at the cafeteria table, weeping, while we avoided eye contact. I felt guilty, but also relieved that Amanda was willing to make sure that other girl never came back. She seemed sweet, but she was much less popular than us, and I didn't want other students to see I was friends with her.
I went to college out of state, so after we graduated, I never saw Amanda, or anyone I didn't want to—at least until Facebook came to my campus. Suddenly I was getting a friend request from the boyfriend I'd had when I was 14, which I declined. Eventually Amanda joined, which I could see through our mutual friends. I saw photos of her walking down the aisle as a bridesmaid at the wedding of one of her three, original, elementary-school friends. They were all there. I could have been one of those bridesmaids, I thought. Weird.
I mostly avoided Amanda's online presence because it made me queasy, but once in a while, I would check her public photos and information. I saw she gained a lot of weight, which I told myself shouldn't matter. It's misogynistic and plain bitchy to feel glad a woman you don't like has gained weight. I was glad, anyway, and then I felt gross about it. I also felt gross about checking on her in general, but about once a year, I'd give in to temptation. Perhaps it was an echo of what Amanda used to do to me. Those suicide reminders had been an annual thing, on New Year's Eve.
Eventually I learned that I could see all of Amanda's wedding pictures if I searched her and her husband's first names on her own photographer's website. I could find who Amanda's wedding photographer was, of course, by looking at the watermark on the white-veiled photo she used as her Facebook profile picture. I discovered not only her wedding and engagement photos, but also the professional shots she commissioned while she was pregnant, and later with her children in post-fetus form. Oh, Jesus Christ, this crazy woman has two children, I thought. Also, maybe I'm the crazy one for doing this.
"How do you think you would advise your kids if something like this happened to them when they were teens?" I asked Amanda over messenger.
"Change email accounts, go to the school," she said. "Did you go to your parents at the time? Did they help?"
One thing I think about now is how horrified I would be if this happened to my daughter and she didn't tell me. But at the time, I would have never dreamed of telling my parents. I thought I could handle it. I thought my parents would freak out and make things worse for me.
When I told Amanda that, she said, "I don't think I would've told my parents, either."
I remember wanting to die, when I was in junior high. I was just… in a lot of pain, and I didn't see an end to it. A few weeks, a few months, is a long time for a junior high girl. Three years is a long time for any kind of person.
Obviously, I didn't die, partly because killing myself was too scary and partly because I had a strong sense that the person in my email must not win. Then, as I got older, I found new friends. I began caring a lot about getting into college out of state. The desperation faded. The reminders stopped coming as often, too, although I once got the message: "Did you miss me?"
By the end, I thought I was holding down the fort well. I was smart and put together, I was going away to college, and meanwhile, I could ride this out longer than she. I don't know what I would have felt if my 16-year-old self had known that in ten years, I would be checking Amanda's wedding pictures on her photographer's website.
* * *
Did she ever do anything over the Internet to anyone else? I asked her. She didn't. Why not?
"Maybe it wasn't as easy?" she wrote.
After I told her I was writing this story, with or without her cooperation, we talked a lot more, but it was still hard to get a sense of how she was thinking. She said sorry, and she said she didn't remember. Her not remembering shut off a lot of the conversations we could have had next. What were you feeling. What were you hoping for. What would you have done if.
"What I'd want to know, is what you would have felt if I had killed myself. Did you think that far ahead?"
"I honestly don't know. I don't remember telling you to do that."
Near the end of our talks, Amanda said sorry more and more. "When you first contacted me, I felt it to be awkward and annoying. I didn't realize I had hurt you so deep. I forgot about the email, and I have no recollection of the calendar. For whatever it is worth, I'm sorry." I started to believe her.
I even started to believe it could have been someone else who picked up where Amanda left off, which was what Amanda said she thought. When we were 14, I stole my gentle neighbor Kari's boyfriend. Wouldn't that do it? Kari never confronted me about it. We just drifted away from one another. If it was her, I forgave her immediately.
In my heart, I've been fighting Amanda, or whoever was in my email, for about 15 years now. I'm really tired. I'm tired of being afraid. I built my life and I survived and I won and it is easier not to think about who really did it, and why.
"What do you think changed for you as you became an adult?" I asked Amanda. "Like what makes the 28-year-old you not the kind of person who would sign into someone else's email anymore?"
"I probably wouldn't take the time to get into petty disagreements that would warrant that? I try not to spend time with negative people...people that would compel me to do something like that. I'd rather write off the friendship/move-on instead of trying to annoy someone."
"What kind of things make someone a negative person, to you?”
"Someone who is disrespectful."
"Was I disrespectful to you when we were kids?""I don't think so. Whatever it was, was probably some petty argument."
This article was originally published at http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2014/09/confronting-my-cyberbully-thirteen-years-later/380888/
“You just can’t differentiate between a robot and the very best of humans,” argues Dr. Lanning, director of U.S. Robots lab in Isaac Asimov’s I, Robot.
The day my husband and I brought our robot home, we spent hours watching it. As the it whirled and chugged around our living room furniture, we were glued to our seats—staring at the little guy as he mopped his way up one side of the room and down the other. We even rearranged the furniture as a test, curious to see how the four pounds of algorithmic cleaning genius would navigate around a maze of kitchen chairs.
What we didn’t expect, however, was the depth to which we would try and make our new iRobot Braava human, or at least human-ish, by givilng it identifiable characteristics. It wasn’t so much that we had simply bought a piece of technology, it was like we had adopted a “something” and that that “something” had a relationship with us.
We christened him Isaac (yes, seriously), and his personality began to quickly take shape as we imbued his actions: Isaac was a chipper and earnest worker. We even talk about him like a living thing—a pet? a small child?—and create explanations to account for his behavior. (“He gets pissy trying to clean under the bookshelf.” “He has a hard time getting to the far side of the room when he starts over here.” “Wow, he really likes the wide, open areas.”)
We never anticipated how reciprocal our behavior would become either—how much we would shape each other. Isaac chirps when he’s finished a task and whines in frustration when he’s stuck. He plays a jaunty little tune when he’s finished mopping a room. We’re attuned to these sounds now, like we are to each others' voices.
Although the directions for the Braava recommend moving obvious obstacles out of the cleaning path, we go one step farther. Every time we have Isaac clean a room, we move the room’s furniture completely, shoving chairs and the sofa to one side and rolling up rugs, to give him long, easy passes through the room. We block any floor-level bookshelf opening where he might get pinned. This game of furniture tetris makes his cleaning job easier. And these actions are cyclic—the more we train him to clean the room efficiently, the more he trains us to the ways that let him do that most efficiently. This pattern of iterative behavior ends up translating into something much larger; it points to the underlying anthropic condition of human-robot interactions.
There are certain types of robots that we can and do anthropomorphize better than others; robots that don’t have outward behavior are much harder to personify than those who do. If it doesn’t “do” anything visible, it appears to not make choices. We can easily humanize something that we believe has agency, but technological objects that don’t exhibit outward signs of choice can’t occupy the same relationship niche with us as those that do.
About the same time we got Isaac, we also purchased a Nest and a Nest Protect. The Nest quietly and stoically takes data and optimizes a temperature range for our domicile; it sits on the wall, barnacle-like, and occasionally texts us about our energy use. (“This month, the average Nest Thermostat owner in your area earned 15 Leafs.”) The Nest Protect has been more than adept at alerting me to cooking mishaps. (“There is smoke in the hallway. There is smoke in the hallway.”) But once both were installed, we basically forgot about them. Neither of these devices have the behavioral cachet to be a “successfully” personification. Both are too passive to really ascribe human-like behavior. They simply don’t require the same attention as other, more mobile, types of robots like Isaac.
The most telling aspect of anthropomorphizing robots seems to come from their motion. A robot’s movement is an easy proxy for action, and action, in turn, is a great a proxy for agency. Although we push Isaac’s power button to start him up, we don’t drive him around like a remote-controlled car. He “chooses” where to go and then moves accordingly. Humans desperately want to assign agency to something that moves, seemingly free from our auspices; as such we shape our reactions for what Isaac “is” or what he “does” around our desire for these expectations of behavior. It’s almost as if we’re carving out a link and a space for Isaac in the Great Chain of Being.
On a fundamental, anthropological level, there has always been a deep-seated need to categorize and explain behavior. Even if we “know” that the behavior of something like Isaac is, well, robotic—based on a simple algorithm designed by the good folks at iRobot—we still assign human-like characteristics to his actions. Anthropomorphizing robot behavior provides a comfortable enough distance to make and re-make the robot as we best see fit. By making the robot more like us, we can interpret its behavior in a way that’s most convenient to our self-centric psyches. (Of course he likes to clean the floor! Of course he appreciates us making his job easier!)
What would Isaac think of this? How would he see these interactions? Where would he put himself in the Chain? Where we put him? Or would he whirr in agreement with the robot Cutie in I, Robot, who argued that robots have completely replaced humans in existential purpose? That people are antiquated life-forms without the reason and prowess of robots?
Like Cutie, our Braava is an object that makes us think about what makes humans human—is it shape? Personality? Life-history? The device becomes a mirror that we hold up to consider how we think about agency, object-ness, and conciseness. How we interact with Isaac tells us more about ourselves and our strange relationship technology than Isaac—who is, just to remind you, a motorized mop—tells us about technology itself.
When Isaac joined our family, we found that there was a deep, powerful underlying psychology behind human-robot interactions. It turns out, Asimov was right all along. You just can’t differentiate between a robot and the very best of humans. And Isaac makes us consider that every time he cleans.
This article was originally published at http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2014/09/the-day-we-brought-our-robot-home/380891/
This article was originally published at http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2014/08/the-art-of-war/373472/