Itemoids

The Atlantic

A Debut Novel That’s Not to Be Missed

The Atlantic

https://www.theatlantic.com/newsletters/archive/2023/01/a-debut-novel-thats-not-to-be-missed/672887/?utm_source=feed

This story seems to be about:

This is an edition of The Atlantic Daily, a newsletter that guides you through the biggest stories of the day, helps you discover new ideas, and recommends the best in culture. Sign up for it here.

Good morning, and welcome back to The Daily’s Sunday culture edition, in which one Atlantic writer reveals what’s keeping them entertained.

But first, here are three Sunday reads from The Atlantic:

Scientists tried to break cuddling. Instead, they broke 30 years of research. The weight-loss-drug revolution is a miracle—and a menace. What to read when you’re expecting The Culture Survey: Clint Smith

The television show I’m most enjoying right now: I’m very late to it, but I’ve been really enjoying Ramy. It’s a thoughtful, funny, and oftentimes incredibly sincere exploration of what coming-of-age as a Muslim American Millennial looks like. [Related: Ramy isn’t a travel show, but it could be]

An actor I would watch in anything: Mahershala Ali. The man is a genius. [Related: Green Book: A flimsy tale elevated by two great performances]

Best novel I’ve recently read, and the best work of nonfiction: The best novel I’ve read recently is When We Were Sisters, by Fatimah Asghar. I’ve known Fatimah for years now. We came up together in the slam-poetry scene in our early 20s, but they have always been someone who worked across genres and disciplines. Their debut novel is a gorgeous, lyrical meditation on the relationship among three sisters who lose their parents and are forced to raise one another in a world rife with uncertainty. It’s a beautiful novel that you can read in just a few sittings. [Related: All the brown girls on TV]

The best book of nonfiction I’ve read recently is Life on Delay, by my colleague here at The Atlantic John Hendrickson. I can’t remember the last time I read a book so human. Life on Delay brims with empathy and honesty. It is a book about family, complicated relationships, and how we come to understand who we are in the world. It moved me in ways that I haven’t experienced before. It’s fantastic. [Related: Why I dread saying my own name]

An author I will read anything by: Living today, Jhumpa Lahiri. From the past, Frederick Douglass.

A song I’ll always dance to: “If It Isn’t Love,” by New Edition

My go-to karaoke song: “Candy Rain,” by Soul for Real

My favorite sad song: “Pass You By,” by Boyz II Men

"[My favorite sad song is] 'Pass You By,' by Boyz II Men," says Clint. Above: The group perform at the 62nd annual Grammy Awards on January 26, 2020 (Kevin Winter / Getty)

An album that means a lot to me: Lupe Fiasco’s 2007 album, The Cool, was so formative for me during my college years because it expanded my understanding of the relationship between music and literature. It is an incredible literary document.

A visual artist that I cherish: Growing up, we had prints of the painter Jacob Lawrence’s work on our walls. I’m filled with nostalgia anytime I see his work.

Something I treasured as a teenager: My VHS tape of every goal in the 2002 World Cup. I watched it every night.

Something I recently revisited: Not a reread or a rewatch but a re-eat. I was obsessed with Lunchables when I was a kid. I recently had one for the first time in a long time and, man … it did not taste the same at all. Not sure what was going on with my elementary-school taste buds. [Related: The 30-year reign of Lunchables]

A piece of journalism that recently changed my perspective on a topic: I don’t know that it changed my perspective so much as expanded it, but I recently read Nadja Drost’s 2021 Pulitzer Prize– and Michael Kelly Award–winning story “When Can We Really Rest?” about migrants from all over the world crossing the Colombia-Panama border to try and make it to the U.S. It blew me away.

A favorite story I’ve read in The Atlantic: Gotta be Ta-Nehisi’s “The Case for Reparations.”

Something delightful introduced to me by kids in my life: I have a 5-year-old and a 3-year-old, and one of our favorite things to do on weekends is watch nature documentaries when we wake up. Shout out to David Attenborough. [Related: Blue Planet II is the greatest nature series of all time]

Read past editions of the Culture Survey with John Hendrickson, Gal Beckerman, Kate Lindsay, Xochitl Gonzalez, Spencer Kornhaber, Jenisha Watts, David French, Shirley Li, David Sims, Lenika Cruz, Jordan Calhoun, Hannah Giorgis, and Sophie Gilbert.

The Week Ahead Cobalt Red: How the Blood of the Congo Powers Our Lives, a frank portrait of cobalt-mining abuses by the modern-slavery scholar Siddharth Kara (on shelves Tuesday)   Lowndes County and the Road to Black Power, a documentary inspired by the work of the Atlantic senior editor Vann R. Newkirk II (begins streaming on Peacock on Thursday) 80 for Brady, a comedy that joins the screen legends Jane Fonda, Lily Tomlin, Rita Moreno, and Sally Field with the NFL star Tom Brady (in theaters Friday) Essay (Derek White / Getty)

Sam Smith’s Radical Centrism

By Spencer Kornhaber

Sam Smith’s music defines the word inoffensive—so why does the singer inspire so many arguments? For more than a decade, Smith’s distinctive voice has soaked through the collective consciousness like the syrup in a rum cake. But that success has also triggered annoyance from across the cultural spectrum. As a nonbinary person, Smith has been treated as a punch line by right-wing media. Earlier in their career, they also ticked off the queer commentariat by misstating gay history and tsk-tsking about Grindr. All along, critics have made sport of Smith for formulaic songwriting, mannered vocals, and a tendency to hire church choirs as if they’re available on Taskrabbit to install soul on demand.

Read the full article.

More in Culture The Oscar nominations are in, and a few big trends are out. A courtroom drama with an indecipherable culprit Poker Face has a sting in its tail. The meme that defined a decade Catch Up on The Atlantic The cognitive dissonance of the Monterey Park shooting An Asian American grief The NHL is gutless. Photo Album (Yannick Gouguenheim / Ocean Art)

Dip into the majestic depths of selected snapshots from the 2022 Ocean Art Underwater Photo Contest, whose winners were announced earlier this month.

Kelli María Korducki contributed to this newsletter.

Did someone forward you this email? Sign up here.

Explore all of our newsletters.

Labs Are Scooping Up Animals Killed by Wind Turbines

The Atlantic

https://www.theatlantic.com/science/archive/2023/01/solar-farms-renewable-energy-killing-birds/672877/?utm_source=feed

This story seems to be about:

This article was originally published by Undark Magazine.

“This is one of the least smelly carcasses,” says Todd Katzner, peering over his lab manager’s shoulder as she slices a bit of flesh from a dead pigeon lying on a steel lab table. Many of the specimens that arrive at this facility in Boise, Idaho, are long dead, and the bodies smell, he says, like “nothing that you can easily describe, other than yuck.”

A wildlife biologist with the U.S. Geological Survey, a government agency dedicated to environmental science, Katzner watches as his lab manager roots around for the pigeon’s liver and then places a glossy maroon piece of it in a small plastic bag labeled with a biohazard symbol. The pigeon is a demonstration specimen, but samples, including flesh and liver, are ordinarily frozen, cataloged, and stored in freezers. The feathers get tucked in paper envelopes and organized in filing boxes; the rest of the carcass is discarded. When needed for research, the stored samples can be processed and sent to other labs that test for toxicants or conduct genetic analysis.

Most of the bird carcasses that arrive at the Boise lab have been shipped from renewable-energy facilities, where hundreds of thousands of winged creatures die each year in collisions with turbine blades and other equipment. Clean-energy projects are essential for confronting climate change, Mark Davis, a conservation biologist at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, says. But he also emphasizes the importance of mitigating their effects on wildlife. “I’m supportive of renewable-energy developments. I’m also supportive of doing our best to conserve biodiversity,” Davis says. “And I think the two things can very much coexist.”

To this end, Katzner, Davis, and other biologists are working with the renewable-energy industry to create a nationwide repository of dead birds and bats killed at wind and solar facilities. The bodies hold clues about how the animals lived and died, and could help scientists and project operators understand how to reduce the environmental impact of clean-energy installations, Davis says.

The repository needs sustained funding and support from industry partners to supply the specimens. But the collection’s wider potential is huge, Davis adds. He, Katzner, and the other biologists hope the carcasses will offer an array of wildlife researchers access to the animal samples they need for their work, and perhaps even provide insights into future scientific questions that researchers haven’t thought yet to ask.

In 1980, California laid the groundwork for one of the world’s first large-scale wind projects when it designated more than 30,000 acres east of San Francisco for wind development, on a stretch of land called the Altamont Pass. Within two decades, companies had installed thousands of wind turbines there. But there was a downside: Although the sea breeze made Altamont ideal for wind energy, the area was also used by nesting birds. Research suggested they were colliding with the turbines’ rotating blades, leading to hundreds of deaths among red-tailed hawks, kestrels, and golden eagles.

“It’s a great place for a wind farm, but it’s also a really bad place for a wind farm,” says Albert Lopez, the planning director for Alameda County, where many of the projects are located.

A 2004 report prepared for the state estimated the number of deaths and offered recommendations that the authors said could add up to mortality reductions of anywhere from 20 to 50 percent. The most effective solution, the authors argued, involved replacing Altamont’s many small turbines with fewer, larger turbines. But, the authors wrote, many measures to reduce deaths would be experimental, “due to the degree of uncertainty in their likely effectiveness.” More than a decade of research, tensions, and litigation followed, focused on how to reduce fatalities while still producing clean electricity to help California meet its more and more ambitious climate goals.

While all this was happening, Katzner was earning his Ph.D. by studying eagles and other birds—and beginning to amass a feather collection halfway around the world. In Kazakhstan, where he has returned nearly every summer since 1997 to conduct field research, Katzner noticed piles of feathers underneath the birds’ nests. Carrying information about a bird’s age, sex, diet, and more, they were too valuable a resource to just leave behind, he thought, so he collected them. It was the start of what he describes as a compulsion to store and archive potentially useful scientific material.

Katzner went on to co-publish a paper in 2007 in which the researchers conducted a genetic analysis of naturally shed feathers, a technique that could allow scientists to match feather samples with the correct bird species when visual identifications are difficult. He later towed deer carcasses across the East Coast to lure and trap golden eagles in order to track their migration patterns. Today, part of his research involves testing carcasses for lead and other chemicals to understand whether birds are coming in contact with toxicants.

For the past decade, Katzner has also researched how birds interact with energy installations such as wind and solar projects. During this time, studies have estimated that hundreds of thousands of birds die each year at such facilities in the United States. That’s still a small fraction of the millions of birds that at least one paper estimated are killed annually because of habitat destruction, downstream climate change, and other impacts of fossil-fuel and nuclear-power plants. But renewable energy is growing rapidly, and researchers are trying to determine how that continued growth might affect wildlife.

[Read: The quiet disappearance of birds in North America]

Bats seem attracted to wind turbines and are occasionally struck by the blades while attempting to roost in the towers. Birds sometimes swoop down and crash into photovoltaic solar panels—possibly thinking the glass is water that is safe for landing. A separate, less common solar technology that uses mirrors to concentrate the sun’s rays into heat energy is known to singe birds that fly too close—a factor that has drawn opposition to such facilities from bird activists. But scientists still don’t fully understand these many interactions or their impacts on bird and bat populations, which makes it harder to prevent them.

In 2015, by then on staff at the USGS, Katzner and a team of other scientists secured $1 million from the California Energy Commission to study the impacts of renewable energy on wildlife—using hundreds of carcasses from the Altamont Pass. NextEra Energy, one of the largest project owners there, chipped in a donation of approximately 1,200 carcasses collected from their facilities in Altamont.

The team analyzed 411 birds collected over a decade at Altamont and another 515 picked up during a four-year period at California solar projects. They found that many of the birds originated from across the U.S., suggesting that renewable facilities could affect faraway bird populations during their migrations. In early 2021, Katzner and a team of other scientists published a paper examining specimens collected at wind facilities in Southern California. Their results suggested that replacing old turbines with fewer, newer models did not necessarily reduce wildlife mortality. Where a project is sited and the amount of energy it produces are likely stronger determinants of fatality rates, the authors said.

In Altamont, scientists are still working to understand impacts for birds and bats, and a technical committee has been created to oversee the work. Ongoing efforts to replace old turbines with newer ones are meant to reduce the number of birds killed there, but whether it’s working remains an open question, Lopez says. The installation of fewer turbines that produce more energy per unit than earlier models was expected to provide fewer collision points for birds and more space for habitat. And when new turbines are put in, scientists can recommend spots within a project site where birds may be less likely to run into them. But other variables influence mortality aside from turbine size and spacing, according to the 2021 paper written by Katzner and other scientists, such as season, weather, and bird behavior in the area.

On a small road in Altamont, a white sign marks an entrance to NextEra’s Golden Hills wind project, where the company recently replaced decades-old turbines with new, larger models. Not far away, another wind-project sits dormant—a relic from another time. Its old turbines stand motionless, stocky, and gray next to their graceful, modern successors on the horizon. The hills are quiet except for the static buzz of power cables.

Some conservationists are still concerned about the area. In 2021, the National Audubon Society, which says it strongly supports renewable energy, sued over the approval of a new wind project in Altamont, asserting that the county didn’t do enough environmental review or mitigation for bird fatalities.

Katzner attributes his work in California with the beginnings of the repository, which he’s dubbed the Renewables-Wildlife Solutions Initiative. Amy Fesnock, a Bureau of Land Management wildlife biologist who collaborates with Katzner, simply calls it the “dead-body file.”

In Idaho, Katzner has already amassed more than 80,000 samples—many drawn from the feather collection he’s kept for decades, and thousands more recently shipped in by renewable-energy companies and their partners. Ultimately, Katzner would like to see a group of repository locations, all connected by a database. This would allow other scientists to access the bird and bat samples and use them in a variety of ways, extracting their DNA, for example, or running toxicology tests.

“Every time we get an animal carcass, it has value to research,” Katzner says. “If I think about it from a scientific perspective, if you leave that carcass out there in the field, you’re wasting data.”

Those data are important to people like Amanda Hale, a biologist who helped build the repository while at Texas Christian University. She is now a senior research biologist at Western EcoSystems Technology, a consulting company that, along with providing other services, surveys for dead wildlife at renewable-energy sites. Part of her new role involves liaising with clean-energy companies and the government agencies that regulate them, ensuring decision makers have the most current science to inform projects. Better data could assist clients in putting together more accurate conservation plans and help agencies know what to look for, she says, simplifying regulation.

“Once we can understand patterns of mortality, I think you can be better in designing and implementing mitigation strategies,” Hale says.

The initiative is not without its skeptics, though. John Anderson, the executive director of the Energy and Wildlife Action Coalition, a clean-energy membership group, sees merit in the effort but worries that the program could be “used to characterize renewable-energy impacts in a very unfavorable light” without recognizing its benefits. The wind industry has long been sensitive to suggestions that it’s killing birds.

Several renewable-energy companies that Undark contacted for this story did not respond to inquiries about wildlife monitoring at their sites or stopped responding to interview requests. Other industry groups, including the American Clean Power Association and the Renewable Energy Wildlife Institute, declined interview requests. But many companies appear to be participating—in Idaho, Katzner has received birds from 42 states.

William Voelker, a member of the Comanche Nation who has led a bird-and-feather repository called Sia for decades, says he’s frustrated at the lack of consideration for tribes from these types of U.S. government initiatives. Indigenous people, he says, have first right to “species of Indigenous concern.” His repository catalogs and sends bird carcasses and feathers to Indigenous people for ceremonial and religious purposes, and Voelker also cares for eagles.

“At this point we just don’t have any voice in the ring, and it’s unfortunate,” Voelker says.

Katzner, for his part, says he wants the project to be collaborative. The Renewables-Wildlife Solutions Initiative has sent some samples to a repository in Arizona that provides feathers for religious and ceremonial purposes, he says, and the RWSI archive could ship out other materials that it does not archive, but it has not yet contacted other locations to do so.

“It’s a shame if those parts of birds are not being used,” he says. “I’d like to see them get used for science or cultural purposes.”

Many U.S. wind farms already monitor and collect downed wildlife. At a California wind facility a little over an hour north of Altamont, the Sacramento Municipal Utility District tries to clear out its freezers at least once a year—before the bodies start to smell, Ammon Rice, a supervisor in the government-owned utility’s environmental-services department, says. Many of the specimens that companies accumulate are kept until they’re thrown out. Until recently, samples had been available to government and academic researchers on only a piecemeal basis.

There are many reasons why a clean-energy company might employ people to pick up dead animals at its facility: Some areas require companies to survey sites during certain stages of their development and keep track of how many birds and bats are found dead. Removing the carcasses can also deter scavengers, such as coyotes, foxes, and vultures. And the federal government has set voluntary conservation guidelines for wind projects; for some companies, complying with the recommendations is part of maintaining good political relationships.

Most of the time, human searchers canvas a project, walking transects under turbines or through solar fields. It’s “enormously labor-intensive,” says Trevor Peterson, a senior biologist at Stantec, one of the consulting firms often hired to conduct those surveys. On some sites, trained dogs sniff out the dead bodies.

[Read: Are wind turbines a danger to wildlife? Ask dogs.]

For years, conservation biologists have wanted to find a use for the creatures languishing in freezers at clean-energy sites around the country. To get a nationwide project off the ground, Katzner started working with two other researchers: Davis, the conservation biologist at University of Illinois, and Amanda Hale, then a biology professor at TCU. They were part of a small community of people “who pick up dead stuff,” Katzner says. The three started meeting, joined by scientists at the Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, who helped connect the initiative with additional industry partners willing to send carcasses.

Building on Katzner’s existing samples, the repository has grown from an idea to a small program. In the past two years, Katzner said in an email, it received about $650,000 from the Bureau of Land Management. It also earned a mention in the agency’s recent report to Congress about its progress toward renewable-energy growth.

Davis had already been accepting samples from wind facilities when he started working on the repository. Typically the bodies are mailed to his laboratory, but he prefers to organize hand-to-hand deliveries when possible, after one ill-fated incident in which a colleague received a shipped box of “bat soup.” To receive deliveries in person, Davis often winds up loitering in the university parking lot, waiting for the other party to arrive so they can offload the cargo.

“It sounds a lot like an illicit drug deal,” Davis says. “It looks a lot like an illicit drug deal—I assure you it is not.”

Recently, Ricky Gieser, a field technician who works with Davis, drove a few hours from Illinois to central Indiana to meet an Ohio wildlife official in the parking lot of a Cracker Barrel. Davis arranged for Undark to witness the exchange through Zoom. With latex-gloved hands, Gieser transferred bags of more than 300 frozen birds and bats—lifting them from state-owned coolers and then gingerly placing them into coolers owned by his university. The entire transaction was over in less than 15 minutes, but coordinating it took weeks.

Davis studies bats and other “organisms that people don’t like,” with a focus on genetics. He grew up in Iowa chasing spiders and snakes and now stores a jar of pickled rattlesnakes—a souvenir from his doctoral research—on a shelf behind his desk. Protecting these creatures, he says, is of extreme importance. Bats provide significant economic benefit, eating up bugs that harm crops. And their populations are declining at an alarming rate: A disease called “white-nose syndrome” has wiped out more than 90 percent of the population of three North American bat species in the last decade. In late November of 2022, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service listed Davis’s favorite species, the northern long-eared bat, as endangered.

For certain species, deaths at wind facilities are another stressor on populations. Scientists expect climate change to make the situation worse for bats and overall biodiversity. “Because of this confluence of factors, it’s just really tough for bats right now,” Davis says. “We need to work a lot harder than we are to make life better for them.”

Like other wildlife researchers, Davis has sometimes struggled to get his hands on the specimens he needs to track species and understand their behaviors. Many spend time in the field, but that’s costly. Depending on the target species, acquiring enough animals can take years, Davis says. He used museum collections for his doctoral dissertation, and still views them as an “untapped font of research potential.” But many museums focus on keeping samples intact for preservation and future research, so they may not work for every project.

That leaves salvage. Frozen bird and bat carcasses are “invaluable” to scientists, said Fesnock, the Bureau of Land Management wildlife biologist. So far, samples collected as part of the Renewables-Wildlife Solutions Initiative have led to about 10 scientific papers, according to Katzner. Davis says the collection could reduce research costs for some scientists by making a large number of samples available, particularly for species that are hard to collect. Catching migratory bats that fly high in the air with nets is difficult for scientists, which makes it challenging to estimate population levels. Bat biologists say there’s much we still don’t know about their behaviors, range, and number.

As scientists work to compile better data, a few companies are experimenting with mechanization as a possible way to reduce fatalities at their facilities. At a wind farm in Wyoming, the utility Duke Energy has installed a rotating camera that resembles R2-D2 on stilts. The technology, called IdentiFlight, is designed to use artificial intelligence to identify birds and shut turbines down in seconds to avoid collisions.

Prior to IdentiFlight, technicians used to set up lawn chairs amid the 17,000-acre site and look skyward, sometimes eight hours a day, to track eagles. It was an inefficient system prone to human error, says Tim Hayes, who recently retired as the utility’s environmental-development director. IdentiFlight has reduced eagle fatalities there by 80 percent, he adds. “It can see 360 degrees, where humans can’t, and it never gets tired, never blinks, and never has to go to the bathroom.”

Biologists say there are still unknowns around the efficacy of these types of technologies, in part because of incomplete data on the population size and spread of winged wildlife.

Katzner and his colleagues want the repository to help change this, but first they will need long-term funding to help recruit more partners and staff. Davis estimates he needs between $1 million and $2 million to build a sustainable repository at his university alone. Ideally, the USGS portion of the project in Boise would have its own building. For now, Katzner stores feathers in a space that doubles as a USGS conference room. Next door, in a room punctuated with a dull hum, the walls are lined with freezers. Some carry samples already cataloged. Others hold black trash bags filled with bird and bat bodies just waiting to be processed.

Poem Beginning With a Sentence From My Last Will & Testament

The Atlantic

https://www.theatlantic.com/books/archive/2023/01/donald-platt-poem-beginning-sentence-my-last-will-testament/672884/?utm_source=feed

                       
                       Lucy, when I die,
I want you to scatter one-third of my ashes among the sand dunes
                       of Virginia Beach.

Here I’ve come every summer for three and a half decades.
                       Here you and Eleanor
learned to swim in the ocean waves and bodysurf.

                       Here your mother
and I once walked hand in hand for miles and made love among
                       warm sand dunes

by starlight when we were young. We grew apart. Argued or kept silent.
                       Your grandmother and grandfather
died here. Until the end, they could hear the surf breathe and sigh

                       as wind does
through deciduous trees. Seagulls crying. I keep inhaling the healing
                       salt air

and tasting the salt of saltwater. After I leave this spindrift life,
                       the Atlantic Ocean
will continue. Children will keep chasing its waves

                       as the surf withdraws.
They will run from the waves as the surf comes thundering in. They play
                       tag with infinity.

Middle-aged couples will walk their black labs and golden retrievers on these
                       sands that the surf pounds
flat like a drunken fist pounding a smooth oak bar to underscore

                       some obscure
convoluted point that neither the fist nor the bartender
                       can truly grasp.

For the truth is far beyond our reach. The truth is that on the day I die
                       a man will be flying
a kite in the shape of a red Chinese dragon. It will fly so high

                       he can barely
see it. Baby spotted sharks with their leopard skin wash up
                       dead on the shore,

their gills clogged with sand after storms. Teenage boys
                       keep hurling
footballs back and forth as if their muscled bodies are metronomes

                       for the music
the ocean makes. Shy teenage girls will keep singing their pop songs,
                       so full of unfulfilled

desire, to the doo-wop, doo-wah of the surf. They will dye
                       their hair pink
or pale blue as cotton candy. All of it will continue as it always

                       does, almost
the same. When I die, families will still keep pitching their pastel-colored
                       awnings, shade tents,

and sun umbrellas like giant dahlias and make their nomad
                       encampments
on the sand. They will stay a week or two and then depart

                       for more permanent
shelters inland. Lucy, I like nothing better than walking with you
                       for hours on the beach.

First, north as far as Fort Story’s No Trespassing signs.
                       Then south
three miles from 81st Street toward the boardwalk and hotels.  

                       A boy holds
a girl, whose long legs wrap around him. He carries her into
                       the surf while she

screams ecstatically as the cold waves buffet them. He staggers
                       but does not fall.
You are recovering from twenty-eight-hour shifts during surgical rotation

                       at medical school. You tell me
that your sole patient yesterday had cancer. It has metastasized
                       to lungs, kidney,

spleen, spine, brain. “It is inoperable,” you say. “There’s nothing
                       I can do,
except make her comfortable.” You mean more oxycontin,

                       then morphine.
Yard-high letters in the sand spell STEPH HEARTS
                   DOLLY. All

our thousands of naked footprints crisscross the sand.
                       A sandcastle
stands with terraces, towers, winding staircases, a moat,

                       and the most
delicate of arches over the moat. Nothing is all the more beautiful
                       because it is

fragile. The tide is either coming in or going out.
                       I don’t know
which. With its bent, outstretched wings, a lone brown pelican

                       dive-bombs
the ocean, skims low, only a few inches above the waves,
                       looking for fish.

The Lost Boys

The Atlantic

https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2023/01/lost-boys-violent-narcissism-angry-young-men/672886/?utm_source=feed

Some years ago, I got a call from an analyst at the National Counterterrorism Center. After yet another gruesome mass shooting (this time, it was Dylann Roof’s attack on a Bible-study group at a Black church in Charleston, South Carolina, that killed nine and wounded one), I had written an article about the young men who perpetrate such crimes. I suggested that an overview of these killers showed them, in general, to be young losers who failed to mature, and whose lives revolved around various grievances, insecurities, and heroic fantasies. I called them “Lost Boys” as a nod to their arrested adolescence.

The NCTC called me because they had a working group on “countering violent extremism.” They had read my article and they, too, were interested in the problem of these otherwise-unremarkable boys and young men who, seemingly out of nowhere, lash out at society in various ways. We think you’re on to something, the analyst told me. He invited me to come down to Washington and discuss it with him and his colleagues.

The meeting was held in a classified environment so that the group’s members, representing multiple intelligence and law-enforcement agencies, could more easily share ideas and information. (I was a government employee at the time and held a clearance.) But we could have met in a busy restaurant for all it mattered—the commonalities among these young men, even across nations and cultures, are hardly a secret. They are man-boys who maintain a teenager’s sharp sense of self-absorbed grievance long after adolescence; they exhibit a combination of childish insecurity and lethally bold arrogance; they are sexually and socially insecure. Perhaps most dangerous, they go almost unnoticed until they explode. Some of them open fire on their schools or other institutions; others become Islamic radicals; yet others embrace right-wing-extremist conspiracies.

I emerged from the meeting with a lot of interesting puzzle pieces but no answers. Since then, there have been more such attacks, more bodies, more grief—but precious little progress on preventing such incidents. A few recent examples: In 2021, a 15-year-old boy murdered four of his fellow students in his Michigan high school. In 2022, an 18-year-old man carried out a massacre in a Texas school; another, the same age, committed a mass murder in a grocery store in upstate New York. A 21-year-old male attacked a Fourth of July parade in Illinois. A 22-year-old went on a rampage at an LBGTQ nightclub in Colorado.

These attacks are not merely “violence” in some general sense, nor are they similar to other gun crimes classified as “mass shootings” beyond the number of victims. Drug-war shoot-outs and gang vendettas are awful, but they are better-understood problems, in both their origins and possible remedies. The Lost Boys, however, are the perpetrators of out-of-the-blue massacres of innocents. Their actions are not driven by criminal gain, but instead are meant to shock us, to make us grieve, and finally, to force us to acknowledge the miserable existence of the young men behind the triggers.

After each Lost Boy killing, Americans are engulfed in grief and anger, but eventually, we are overtaken by a sense of helplessness. Sometimes, we respond by raging at one another; we fight about gun control or mental-health funding or the role of social media as we try to fix blame and reduce a seemingly inexplicable act to something discrete and solvable. But I wonder now, as I did back in 2015, if all of these debates are focusing on the wrong problems. Yes, the country is awash in guns; yes, depression seems to be on the rise in young people; yes, extremists are using social media to fuse together atomized losers into explosive compounds. But the raw material for all of the violence is mostly a stream of lost young men.

Why is this happening? What are we missing? Guns and anomie and extremism are only facets of the problem. The real malady afflicting these men, one about which I’ve written much in the intervening years since that original article, is the deluge of narcissism in the modern world, especially among failed-to-launch young men whose injured grandiosity leads them to blame others for their own shortcomings and insecurities—and to seek revenge.

The Lost Boys are mostly young and male, largely middle- or working-class. Frustrated by their own social awkwardness, they are so often described as “loners” that the trope has been around from as early as the 1980s. But these young males, no matter how “quiet,” are filled with an astonishing level of enraged resentment and entitlement about their roles as men, and they seek rationalizations for inflicting violence on a society they think has both ignored and injured them. They become what the German writer Hans Magnus Enzensberger called “radical losers,” unsuccessful men who feel that they have been denied their dominant role in society and who then channel their blunted male social impulses toward destruction.

And they are, above all, staggeringly narcissistic. Almost all of the recent mass killers, for example, thought they had a special mission in the world. We know this because they felt compelled to tell us so.  

Indeed, to search for the killer’s manifesto is now part of the ritual of investigating a massacre, a tradition we might trace back to the Unabomber, the ur-Lost Boy Ted Kaczynski, whose terror campaign included a demand that the press publish his 35,000-word treatise. (And yet, when he left society at 29, he wrote in his journal: “My motive for doing what I am going to do is simply personal revenge. I do not expect to accomplish anything by it.”) There are many other examples: the Los Angeles mass killer Christopher Dorner left behind an 11,000-word screed in 2013; Brenton Tarrant, who killed 51 people at two New Zealand mosques in 2019, posted a 74-page rant to the internet. (Patrick Crusius, who murdered 23 people in El Paso in 2019, claimed to be inspired by Tarrant but managed to upload only four pages to the infamous 8chan site.) At this point, so many such documents exist that there are scholarly research studies analyzing them.

[Juliette Kayyem: A ‘lone-wolf’ shooter has an online pack]

Many of the Lost Boys claim to represent various causes derived from a wide spectrum of sources—sexism, racism, religious bigotry, conspiracy kookery, and anti-government extremism among them. (Nor are all of these aimless young men killers: When I first examined this problem, I also identified a type of Lost Boy who convinces himself that he’s doing good, such as Bowe Bergdahl, who thought of himself as the fictional action hero Jason Bourne when he deserted his military unit in Afghanistan in 2009, and Edward Snowden, who is the embodiment of a particular kind of nonviolent but nonetheless highly destructive misfit.)

Narcissism is a common malady, but for the Lost Boys, it is the indispensable primer for a bomb whose core is an unstable mass of insecurities about masculine identity. This, of course, helps explain why such spectacular and ghastly acts are an almost entirely male phenomenon. Women, who are less prone to commit violence in general, are rarely the perpetrators of these kinds of senseless massacres. In general, they do not share the same juvenile fantasies of power and dominance that are common to adolescent boys. Nor do they tend to harbor the same resentments about sex and status that are common to all teenagers but that in the Lost Boys persist beyond adolescence and soon grow to volcanic levels.

For example, in 2014 Elliot Rodger became a kind of patron saint of “incels,” or involuntary celibates (men angry at women for not having sex with them), when he killed six people and plowed his car into several more in California before killing himself. Rodger explicitly said his attack was “retribution” against other men—and the women who sleep with them—for having sex while he remained a virgin. Four years later, a self-described incel who’d praised Rodger killed 10 people in Toronto.

Lives that seem to unwind over problems related to sex or sexual identity are a persistent theme. Micah Johnson, a Black military veteran, claimed that he was avenging the deaths of Black people at the hands of the police when he ambushed Dallas police officers in 2016, killing five and wounding nine others. Perhaps more pertinent, though, was that Johnson was a failure as a soldier and his life had gone into free fall after he was booted from the Army for stealing women’s underwear from a female comrade. That same year, Omar Mateen, who had expressed particular animus toward homosexuals, became a mass killer when he attacked a gay nightclub in Florida, as did the accused recent Colorado shooter Anderson Aldrich. Aldrich’s lawyers have said that the alleged killer is nonbinary, but some observers, including a former friend, suspect Aldrich is merely attempting to troll the LGBTQ community.

Another way these young men express their sexual insecurity is to seek heroic redemption by imagining themselves as the defenders of helpless women against sexual threats from other men. Roof, for his part, thought he was on a mission to stop Black men from raping white women, a common racist trope in America. One of the members of a group of young Muslim men in Canada who planned to storm the Parliament in Ottawa in 2006 reportedly had a similar motivation, believing that NATO soldiers were raping Afghan women.

This masculine insecurity is even more striking when we consider the number of such young men who chose what we might think of as “the military cure,” by joining the armed forces in an apparent attempt to forge a more manly identity. In a society where relatively few people serve in the military, the Lost Boys are heavily overrepresented among veterans or would-be soldiers. Timothy McVeigh, who went on to become the Oklahoma City bomber, left the Army after being rejected for Special Forces. Dorner was a naval reserve officer; Johnson and Bergdahl went to Afghanistan. (Before he enlisted, friends told The Washington Post, Bergdahl had “identified with Japanese samurai warriors and medieval knights.”) Devin Kelley, who opened fire on a Texas church, joined the Air Force. Snowden joined the Army and tried for a Green Beret, but washed out. The “American Taliban” traitor, John Walker Lindh, also went overseas—but for a different army.

Jihadists, especially those radicalized in the West, are also examples of this syndrome. They join organizations that promise to create a powerful male identity, and, in some cases, to reward them with women as sex slaves. For all their supposed distaste for Western immorality, many of the young males who gravitate toward jihadism are avid consumers of forbidden Western delights, such as music, alcohol, drugs, and pornography. (Even in middle age, Osama bin Laden had quite a porn collection.) For these men, terrorism may be, among other things, some sort of self-purification, a way to deny their illicit desires by destroying the places and people that supposedly coax them toward perdition. (In a striking parallel, the American Robert Aaron Long—who at 21 had already been treated for sex addiction—is accused of opening fire on a string of massage parlors around Atlanta, killing eight, in an attempt, as he told law enforcement officers later, to eliminate the source of his “temptation.”)

[From the June 1986 issue: Thinking about terrorism]

Fear of women and hatred of minorities, animosity toward authority, patterns of absent or dysfunctional fathers, histories of being bullied, romance with symbols of power, conflicts of identity and sexuality—we can catalog at length the similarities among these young misfits. They are, in the main, scared and narcissistic boys, and like many boys teetering on the cusp of manhood, they are tormented by paradoxes: insecure but drenched in self-regard, fearful yet brave, full of self-doubt yet fascinated by heroism. For most males, this is a transitory part of adolescence. For the Lost Boys, it is a permanent condition, a deadly combination of stubborn immaturity and towering narcissism.

Knowing about the common characteristics of these killers and terrorists does not shed much light on what to do to thwart them. Stricter gun laws, a good idea in general, will not stop the mass murderers already among us who live in a society saturated with easily obtained weapons. Law enforcement can infiltrate and destroy violent militias, terror cells, and other threats, but that will not prevent unstable young men from searching for causes to justify their massacres—if they even bother with such ideas.

Likewise, arguments about “toxic masculinity,” as tempting as they are in these cases, miss the mark. The problem of toxic masculinity is real, but the swaggering jerks and violent abusers who sometimes become a threat to their partners (and themselves) are distinct from the insecure man-boys who decide to prove their worth—or just to prove that they exist—by committing extraordinary acts of mass murder. And, in general, toxic men are easy to spot. The Lost Boys are, by their nature, usually invisible until they strike.

Performative mass killings and large-scale terrorism are mostly post-1970s phenomena, and we can likely trace at least some of the Lost Boy problem to the rapid emergence in the past 40 years or so of a hypersexualized and yet lonelier, more atomized society. Likewise, the social institutions that once shaped and restrained the worst impulses of young men—religion, the military, schools, and even marriage itself—have gone through drastic and irrevocable changes in the same period.

[Michael Carpenter: Russia is co-opting angry young men]

We can lament some of those changes—I certainly do, particularly the collapse of a kind of mature sense of stoicism and self-control among men. But we cannot reverse them, not least because that would, in effect, require turning back time and unraveling years of social progress. The advances of women’s rights are especially terrifying to a certain cohort of the Lost Boys, but such progress was necessary and irrevocable, and society cannot be held hostage to the insecurities of a small group of males in arrested adolescence, no matter how dangerous they may be.

Western societies have now produced multiple generations of these young men, so we cannot hope to solve the problem by just waiting out the generational demography. (There are exceptions in the form of “lost old men,” but the two recent cases of older mass shooters in California—as well as the 64-year-old Las Vegas killer in 2017—are extremely rare outliers.) Perhaps more alarming, at least some of these young males seem to be aging into dangerous, frustrated middle-aged men, the gun-toting cosplayers who now have the time and money to pursue their angry fantasies. (Think of this as the Lost Boys becoming Proud Boys.)  

What we can do, however, is start talking more about the specific problem of dangerous male immaturity without falling into endless loops about gun control, public health, or “toxic masculinity.” We can, in schools and colleges, pay closer attention to the boys and young men who seem to be sliding toward darkness, perhaps with more attempts to pull them toward a community or into mentorship with older men. At the least, we should be able to find a way to engage in gentle interventions early rather than face more drastic consequences later. As Enzensberger presciently warned nearly two decades ago: “It is difficult to talk about the loser, and it is stupid not to.”

The immensity of the challenge, as I learned at that meeting in Washington years ago, is overwhelming. But we can start by redefining the basic problem and recognizing Lost Boys as a distinct phenomenon. We are not likely to stop the next mass attacker, school shooter, or terrorist, whether tomorrow or next year. If we recognize, however, that our current arguments are dead ends, we can start anew, and become more creative about finding solutions before we produce yet another generation of silent time bombs.

The Rollout of the Memphis Police Videos Was Highly Choreographed

The Atlantic

https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2023/01/memphis-police-videos-tyre-nichols-protest/672885/?utm_source=feed

As multiple video recordings of the fatal police beating of Tyre Nichols in Memphis were released to the public on Friday night, the nation prepared for the reaction. Peaceful protests can easily turn into violent ones, especially in a country that is rightly outraged about the ongoing police brutality against Black men. It has become a familiar call and response: Police misconduct leads to more harm in or for the communities that were targeted by the misconduct in the first place.

But as Friday night unfolded, the protests remained peaceful; news reports showed Americans in various cities righteously and nonviolently demanding justice. We have witnessed many peaceful protests in response to police violence before, but there was one noticeable difference this time around: Rollout of the video footage seemed highly choreographed.

By the time protesters were chanting in the streets, the five officers who had beaten Nichols, a 29-year-old Black man, had already been charged with second-degree murder. By the time the video footage of the attack was released, the anger and dismay had already been predicted; law-enforcement and political leaders had issued statements preparing the public for some of the worst police violence this nation has seen. The Memphis police chief likened Nichols’s beating to that of Rodney King in 1991. These officials were right: The footage was brutal, at times unbearable, with Nichols appearing not to resist the officers as they repeatedly struck him. All of this reveals the sad fact that, because of the sheer number of times Americans have now confronted videos of police officers killing Black citizens, public officials have gotten better at managing the shock.

[David A. Graham: Inhumanity in Memphis]

This observation is not meant to minimize the police violence on display in the Memphis videos and so many before, but to acknowledge how important it is to mitigate the harm that such violence can cause even beyond the misconduct itself. As we have seen too many times, when videos reveal police violence or verdicts fail to bring officers to justice, the result is often more violence, including clashes between civilians and police. The Rodney King verdict in 1992, in which four Los Angeles police officers were acquitted for a beating that aired on television, led to the L.A. riots. During those days of unrest, 63 people died from violence related to what had started out as peaceful protests. The deaths of Michael Brown, George Floyd, and others also sparked violence in the streets—each side with its own narrative of who had initiated it—in addition to large, peaceful demonstrations. Our nation has been through this so many times before.

The release of the Nichols footage suggests that a combination of factors can help prevent police-civilian clashes, though it might be too soon to say. First, there was the quick firing of the five police officers involved, even before criminal charges were filed, and before the videos were made public. This rarely happens, but it is the correct response when the facts are impossible to defend. Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland also made a commitment to examine Memphis’s SCORPION squad, its supposedly elite street-crime unit to which the police officers involved in Nichols’s beating were assigned. On Friday, just before the release of the footage, Strickland went further and said the unit would be “inactive” for the foreseeable future.

Then there were the very direct and ominous warnings of what the public could expect to see in the videos, which were available in the first place only because of the increased use of body and street-pole cameras in response to previous incidents of police brutality. Memphis Police Chief Cerelyn Davis cautioned that the footage showed something “heinous” and “inhumane.” We were told to prepare for scenes at least as terrible as King’s beating. Americans have already been trained to expect horror in such videos, but officials made explicit that the footage would provoke outrage. Though the footage itself was still far worse than any description, people were braced for it.  

[David A. Graham: The murders in Memphis aren’t stopping]

As for the timing of the release—on a Friday night—it was, at first, surprising. Were officials hoping people wouldn’t be watching the news and would miss the footage, or was it a careless choice, given that a weekend night is a time when people are less likely to be distracted by the obligations of daily life, and is, therefore, riper for a strong backlash? It turned out that, because Memphis officials waited until Friday night, every police department in America had sufficient warning to prepare for protest; they were effectively put on notice to focus their tactics on de-escalation in anticipation of reaction to the video. By waiting a week between when the police officers were fired and when the footage was released, officials also created time for religious and other leaders to support and counsel their communities. So far, we have not seen a major show of force in U.S. cities, from either civilians or police.

Anticipating unrest after police misconduct, and trying to minimize its likelihood, is no solution for the misconduct itself. Nor should the lack of violence in the streets be conflated with a lack of urgency for reform. But we have seen, possibly, how public officials and community leaders can at least prepare for the righteous anger and frustration that is sure to follow, and then anticipate how to support communities as they express that reaction in nonviolent ways. Like mass shootings, police brutality is, tragically, common enough in the United States that we are getting better at addressing its consequences. The challenge is to not become numb to it.

Why Americans Love Coffee So Much

The Atlantic

https://www.theatlantic.com/newsletters/archive/2023/01/coffee-america-capitalism/672881/?utm_source=feed

This is an edition of The Wonder Reader, a newsletter in which our editors recommend a set of stories to spark your curiosity and fill you with delight. Sign up here to get it every Saturday morning.

Coffee is one of the great loves of my life, and I’m not alone. The majority of my fellow Americans love coffee too, so much so that they refuse most alternatives—including yerba mate, an energizing option that happens to be South America’s most consumed beverage. “True, yerba mate is bitter and tastes like freshly cut grass,” Lauren Silverman wrote this week. “But coffee tastes like burnt rubber the first time you try it, and Americans can’t get enough.”

Americans’ obsession with coffee is partly due to the way we live. As Silverman notes, sitting down for an hour or two and sharing a beverage—the traditional way to consume yerba mate—is not something Americans are used to.

Coffee, on the other hand, is the perfect drink for America’s on-the-go, work-obsessed culture. In 2020, Michael Pollan wrote that coffee “freed us from the circadian rhythms of our body, helping to stem the natural tides of exhaustion so that we might work longer and later hours. Coffee, he writes, “has helped create exactly the kind of world that coffee needs to thrive: a world driven by consumer capitalism, ringed by global trade, and dominated by a species that can now barely get out of bed without its help.”

It’s a bit disturbing to think of a beloved morning ritual this way. But, of course, we’ll keep on drinking it. Once you get used to that burnt-rubber taste (I prefer to call it “mud-like”), there’s no going back.

On Coffee

Getty; The Atlantic

The Coffee Alternative Americans Just Can’t Get Behind

By Lauren Silverman

The yerba mate in U.S. grocery stores is nothing like the real brew.

Richard Drury / Getty

The Rise of Coffee Shaming

By Amanda Mull

Personal-finance gurus really hate coffee.

Rodrigo Corral

Capitalism’s Favorite Drug

By Michael Pollan

The dark history of how coffee took over the world

Still Curious?

The quest to make the best worst cup of coffee: Can experimental roasters make an unloved bean into the “smoky scotch” of coffees? Coffee rust is going to ruin your morning: Coffee plants were supposed to be safe on this side of the Atlantic. But the fungus found them.

Other Diversions

Get used to expensive eggs. Scientists tried to break cuddling. Instead, they broke 30 years of research. A Biblical mystery at Oxford (From 2020)

P.S.

The relationship that coffee and capitalism have shared for centuries might be coming to an end, Pollan noted in his essay: “Coffea arabica is a picky plant, willing to grow only in the narrowest range of conditions,” and climate change will make those conditions much harder to come by.

— Isabel

The Revolution at Chateau Marmont

The Atlantic

https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2023/01/chateau-marmont-hotel-boycott-union/672879/?utm_source=feed

Behind vine-covered walls on a modest hill overlooking Sunset Boulevard sits the decidedly immodest Chateau Marmont. The hotel was inspired by a French Gothic castle and, at 93, it is easily the oldest thing in Los Angeles that’s still considered sexy.

As a born-and-raised New Yorker without a driver’s license, I found the hotel the perfect place to park myself for a day of meetings in the era before Ubers and WeWorks and Soho Houses. I used to go there in the 2000s, back when I was a wedding planner. It was like a celebrity safari; stars would walk by, within arm’s reach. You could “do Los Angeles” without ever needing to move. I never could have afforded a room there, but I knew by reputation that at night it offered entertainment of a different sort: luxury and licentiousness and debauchery, unbounded by any rules.

In more recent years, I’ve returned to Los Angeles in a different career—as a screenwriter traveling on someone else’s dime. Naturally, I didn’t want to just take meetings at the Chateau; I wanted to stay there, to be a fly on the wall where the wild things were. Only I couldn’t.

I was told, in early 2021, that the hotel was not taking any new bookings. During the pandemic, a dispute between the owner and the staff had exploded, spectacularly. The hotel was now operating with a skeleton crew; employees were on strike, trying to organize a union. Even some celebrities were boycotting it.  

The debauchery the Chateau was known for came at a cost. After a massive round of pandemic-related layoffs, employees started talking, publicly, about what they’d experienced on the job, and the stories were gross. Allegations included maids being forced to handle used drug syringes, staff members being cajoled by poolside guests to lotion them up, sexts and slurs and relentless sexual propositions from colleagues or guests. (A spokesperson for the company told me that “the Chateau vigorously objects” to these allegations.)

The Chateau Marmont opened in 1929 and from its earliest days was known as a discreet playground for the rich and famous. “If you must get into trouble, do so at the Marmont,” the studio mogul Harry Cohn is rumored to have told his biggest stars. Marilyn Monroe and Arthur Miller made love there; Lindsay Lohan lived there; John Belushi died there.

In 1990, André Balazs purchased the property and began restoring it with his ex-wife. The son of academic Hungarian immigrants, Balazs made his fortune in biotech before turning his attention to nightlife and hospitality and opening a series of hotels and private clubs. “All good hotels tend to lead people to do things they wouldn’t necessarily do at home” is one of his widely quoted bon mots. The Chateau is known for catering to regulars, many of whom arrive precisely to do the kind of partying they wouldn’t do at home.

In many ways, the hotel operated like a very-high-end mom-and-pop enterprise, long functioning without corporate vultures lurking for earnings reports, in-house legal teams wringing their hands over the risk of litigation, or a fully functional HR department. Its last full-time HR director left in 2017 and was never officially replaced.

For years, the workers’ grievances racked up. In a major exposé, The Hollywood Reporter described complaints from housekeeping of short staffing and sordid parties to clean up after. Front-of-house workers said they’d experienced unwanted sexual advances from guests and colleagues alike. Ethnic slurs were reportedly hurled with regularity at Latino kitchen staff by management. Black and Latino employees said they had been back-burnered for the best shifts and promotions—allegations corroborated by their white colleagues. (In a statement to me, the spokesperson rejected all of these allegations and called them “unsupported.”)

Then, in March 2020, at the dawn of the pandemic, Balazs laid off all but nine of the hotels’ 259 employees—without severance or decent health benefits. Many had been in his service for years. Though I didn’t get to speak with Balazs directly, in a statement he said he saw the decision to cut down to a “‘caretaker’ staff” as necessary “because of the world-wide Covid 19 situation and my perspective of its likely duration.” The laid-off workers saw it differently. The move amplified murmurs about unionization, murmurs that grew louder that summer after Balazs announced to The Wall Street Journal a plan to convert the hotel into a private club, one served by staff with a “different skill set” from the old hotel workers’. Business publications interpreted this as a COVID-related pivot, but employees—and many others—speculated that it was an attempt to undermine the union effort. (The spokesperson told me that the private club was never “more than a concept.”)

A movie and a TV show were being filmed at the Chateau: Being the Ricardos and The Offer. Under pressure from Unite Here 11, the 32,000-member hospitality workers’ union that was representing Chateau employees, both moved production elsewhere. The celebrities were divided (despite the fact that most of them—Hollywood being a union town—belong to unions). Some, such as Amanda Seyfried and Issa Rae, boycotted the hotel. Others seemed oblivious or chose not to care; Jay-Z threw an Oscars after-party there last year, which celebrity scabs including Questlove and Rosario Dawson crossed a picket line to attend. (“I didn’t cross a picket line,” Dawson, under fire, later tweeted—apparently wanting people to know that she’d arrived so late to the party that most of the protesters had gone home.)

Reading about the employees’ grievances, I felt outraged on their behalf. But I was skeptical that unionization could transform their workplace. The Chateau is not a Holiday Inn; it’s a luxury boutique hotel. The Chateau doesn’t just offer rooms for guests to sleep in; it offers, as Balazs has put it, “experiences”—experiences that might, I suspected, be fundamentally at odds with a better environment for workers. Guests have been drawn to the Chateau over the decades less by the thread count in the bedding and the expansive wine list than by the seductions of a place that turned a blind eye to social transgressions.

In that Hollywood Reporter exposé, one regular anonymously described the Chateau as “this weird beast that kind of slipped by and shouldn’t exist as it is, but it does. But if you were to say, ‘It needs better HR and proper compliances and codes and egalitarianism at the door,’ it loses its touch.” When briefed on the staff’s troubles, a business associate of the hotel told the paper, “I’m reconsidering the Chateau through a totally different lens now. All of the talk of it being a ‘playground,’ of it exalting ‘privacy.’ It really was just a system that protected white men in power.”

In that light, the question for me became: Can debauchery and decency co-exist? Can luxury accommodate fair labor practices and still feel luxurious?

From personal experience, I had my doubts.

Owning a luxury service business of any kind can be ethically and emotionally challenging. It strains what you believe is acceptable behavior to tolerate at work, and what needs to be tolerated in order to turn a profit. I’ll never forget the first time I questioned the direction that my professional life had taken. I was underneath a princess-waist Vera Wang gown, helping my client hoist up the skirt so that she could pee, when I found myself at eye level with the words Meet Mrs. Cohen, written in cursive blue-Swarovski crystal across her underpants. I swallowed the moment, knowing that this service was the “above and beyond” that my clientele expected.

I had a harder time justifying this kind of dirty work when I had to ask other people to do it. Over the years, our staff members were told to, among other things, smoke cigarettes and exhale into brides’ faces (so the brides would not have to smoke themselves and ruin their lipstick), walk dogs, hold babies, dance with fathers/brothers/groomsmen, take shots, cover up infidelities, cover up relapses, buy alcohol, buy drugs, set off fireworks, and put out literal fires. There was verbal abuse, unwanted sexual advances, and wild, drunken accusations. (There were also some very nice people; you cling to the memories of the very nice people.)

Depending on my own exhaustion level, I heard staff members’ complaints with either horror or indifference. This was, after all, part of the job of being in “luxury hospitality.” My partner and I tried, as best as possible, to insulate our employees by adding behavioral clauses to our contracts: Thou shalt not curse at staff; thou shall not grope staff; thou shalt not force staff to smoke on your behalf.

But mainly, we did what people used to do in the good old days: We threw money at the problem. We would attempt to, within the bounds of profitability, make it worth our staff’s while to tolerate the abuse they endured while we kept saying yes to our clients’ whims. Because that’s what the luxury service business is all about.

But over the years, the rich got richer, and their behavior seemed to get worse. I began to wonder if hearing yes was no longer enough. Was knowing that the people who served you had to say yes an essential part of the fun?

André Balazs is very particular about his glassware—in particular, about whether the shatterproof glasses used near his pool feel as luxurious as real glass. I know this not because I’ve ever met or even spoken to Balazs, but because I have planned several lavish weddings for select clients to whom he would rent his former private estate in upstate New York. Through many people—his house managers, his personal chef, corporate executives from André Balazs Properties—Balazs made his preferences, opinions, and, in fairness, concerns for our clients’ happiness and satisfaction known. No detail was too small.

So when I heard, in December, that the hotel had struck a deal with the union, I knew that Balazs must have micromanaged every detail. But I was surprised when I read that the resulting contract was fairer and more generous than anyone in the luxury-hotel business could have imagined.

Among the workers’ victories were a 25 percent wage increase for nontipped workers; a raise to $25 an hour for housekeeping within one year; health coverage for employees who work more than 60 hours a month; free legal services for employees with immigration, tenant, or consumer issues; and job-protection measures for immigrant employees with Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals or Temporary Protected Status. Union representatives called the package “unprecedented.” And the spokesperson told me that many of the laid-off workers have since returned to the hotel.

After years of acrimony, how had such a seemingly unbridgeable gap been closed?

Balazs has never had a choir boy’s reputation. The bachelor made headlines for years with his steady rotation of celebrity love interests. A 2020 Tatler article described his life as “deliciously naughty,” noting his dedication to delivering “excess” to his guests and his reputation for “outrageous flirting.” Perhaps too outrageous. The actor Amanda Anka accused him of groping her in 2014, after the opening of Horrible Bosses 2. After the incident, Anka’s husband, Jason Bateman, spat in Balazs’s face.

But Balazs was apparently shaken by his employees’ charges, especially of racial discrimination. He felt that they were fundamentally at odds with who he was.

“André’s lived a life committed to social justice from his college years and throughout his adult life,” Neil Getnick, a lawyer specializing in whistleblower representation and one of Balazs’s oldest friends, told me. Getnick serves as the business-integrity counsel for Balazs’s properties. He also represented Balazs at the bargaining table.

Getnick and Balazs met at Cornell in the late ’70s when Getnick, a law student, and Balazs, an undergraduate working at a student newspaper, together lobbied the university to divest from apartheid-era South Africa. The ’90s, Getnick told me, found him and Balazs collaborating again, this time with the Reverend Jesse Jackson to free the Kenyan political prisoner Koigi wa Wamwere—another Cornell classmate. Later, the two friends established a scholarship in Kenya with, Getnick said, the support of Congressman John Lewis. For a while Balazs was an investor in a New York nightclub called M.K.—“so called,” he said in an interview, “because we obtained the license on Martin Luther King Day.”

One day about a year ago, protesters outside the Chateau were joined by pastors and choir singers from nearby churches. Balazs, Getnick told me, found that “too much to bear,” and he went down to the picket line.

Pastor William D. Smart Jr., the president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference of Southern California, spotted Balazs, and approached him. He later told me about the conversation: “We said, ‘Everyone wants to talk to you and try to resolve these issues.’” Smart recalled Balazs responding, “Well, you don’t know me, but I’m not the guy that they’re painting me out to be.”

A meeting was arranged. Getnick, Balazs, and union representatives convened for the first time, with Pastor Smart serving as mediator. But negotiations stalled; there was no follow-up. Early on Pentecost Sunday, Smart sat down to write his sermon, and was moved to call Balazs.

He told me that he asked Balazs, “Where have you been? What’s going on? We started something; you’re not finishing it.” And Balazs replied, “Well, there’s no excuse,” and bingo: “He made the commitment on that Sunday call that he would meet; he would start the process.” Six months later, they had a deal.

This, Getnick said, “was not at all typical of how these negotiations would typically proceed.” Which, of course, is how you would expect something to go down at Chateau Marmont.

I would like to think that the agreement will serve as a model for other luxury businesses—and certainly the hotel industry is watching—but I’m skeptical. Yes, the dogged commitment of workers and organizers is what brought injustices at Chateau Marmont to light. But this happy ending ultimately depended on the whims of one very wealthy man. One who—luckily—happened to be a Boomer with a soft spot for clergymen, Martin Luther King Jr., and the Southern Christian Leadership Congress. Yesterday, Jeff Bezos wanted to be a media mogul; today, a sports impresario. This whole thing could have easily gone a different way.

I also couldn’t help wondering how much the contract will change workers’ experience on the job. They’re better-compensated; they have retirement benefits and other protections. But the agreement does little to shield them from entitled or inebriated guests. It did what I used to do: It threw money at the problem.

This morning at the Chateau there will still be vomit to clean up from last night’s rager. Tonight, or the next, there will still be ass grabs by Hollywood honchos. I’m not sure whether a great place for the wealthy can ever be a great place for those who serve them. In a business where the key word is yes, unions can police employers, but the whole point of a luxury experience is that no one polices the guests.

Technology Makes Us More Human

The Atlantic

https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2023/01/chatgpt-ai-technology-techo-humanism-reid-hoffman/672872/?utm_source=feed

ChatGPT, a new AI system that sounds so human in conversations that it could host its own podcast, is a test of temperament. Reading between its instantly generated, flawlessly grammatical lines, people see wildly different visions of the future.

For some, ChatGPT promises to revolutionize the way we search for information, draft articles, write software code, and create business plans. When they use ChatGPT, they see Star Trek: a future in which opportunities for personal fulfillment are as large as the universe itself.

Others see only massive job displacement and a profound loss of agency, as we hand off creative processes that were once the domain of humans to machines. When they use ChatGPT, they see Black Mirror: a future in which technological innovation primarily exists to annoy, humiliate, terrify, and, most of all, dehumanize humanity.

Annie Lowrey: How ChatGPT will destabilize white-collar work

I’m firmly in the Star Trek camp, because although I fully acknowledge that the tech industry is imperfect, and always in need of thoughtful, responsive leadership, I still believe that improvement through technology is how humanity most effectively makes progress.

That’s why I switched from a planned career in academia to one in Silicon Valley in the first place. In the early 1990s, I saw how software, globally distributed on the internet, was creating new opportunities to empower people at scale, and that’s ultimately what led me to co-found LinkedIn. I wanted to use technology to help individuals improve their economic opportunities over the course of their entire career, and thus have more chances to pursue meaning in their lives.

Techno-humanism is typically conflated with transhumanism, referring to the idea that we are on a path to incorporating so much technology into our lives that eventually we will evolve into an entirely new species of post-humans or superhumans.

I interpret techno-humanism in a slightly different way. What defines humanity is not just our unusual level of intelligence, but also how we capitalize on that intelligence by developing technologies that amplify and complement our mental, physical, and social capacities. If we merely lived up to our scientific classification—Homo sapiens—and just sat around thinking all day, we’d be much different creatures than we actually are. A more accurate name for us is Homo techne: humans as toolmakers and tool users. The story of humanity is the story of technology.

Technology is the thing that makes us us. Through the tools we create, we become neither less human nor superhuman, nor post-human. We become more human.

This doesn’t mean that all technological innovations automatically produce good outcomes—far from it. New technologies can create new problems or exacerbate old ones, such as when AI systems end up reproducing biases (against racial minorities, for instance) that exist in their training data. We in the tech industry should be vigilant in our efforts to mitigate and correct such problems.

Read: How the racism baked into technology hurts teens

Nor would I ever suggest that technologies are neutral, equally capable of being used for good or bad. The values, assumptions, and aspirations we build into the technologies we create shape how they can be used, and thus what kinds of outcomes they can produce. That’s why techno-humanism should strive for outcomes that broadly benefit humanity.

At the same time, a techno-humanist perspective also orients to the future, dynamism, and change. This means it inevitably clashes with desires for security, predictability, and the familiar. In moments of accelerating innovation—like the one we’re living through right now, as robotics, virtual reality, synthetic biology, and especially AI all evolve quickly—the urge to entrench the status quo against the uncertain terrain of new realities accelerates too.

Just so, New York City’s public-school system has already blocked students and teachers from accessing ChatGPT in its classrooms. Multiple online art communities have banned users from uploading images they created using AI image-generators such as DALL-E, Midjourney, and Stable Diffusion.

I get it. Learning to write an essay from scratch is a time-honored way to develop critical thinking, organizational skills, and a facility for personal expression. Creating vivid and beautiful imagery one painstaking brushstroke at a time is perhaps the epitome of human creativity.

But what if teachers used ChatGPT to instantly personalize lesson plans for each student in their class—wouldn’t that be humanizing in a way that the industrialized approaches of traditional classroom teaching are not? Aren’t tools that allow millions of people to visually express their ideas and communicate with one another in new ways a step forward for humanity?

If it’s detrimental to society to simply claim that “technology is neutral” and avoid any responsibility for negative outcomes—and I believe it is—so is rejecting a technology just because it has a capacity to produce negative outcomes along with positive ones.

Is there a future where the massive proliferation of robots ushers in a new era of human flourishing, not human marginalization? Where AI-driven research helps us safely harness the power of nuclear fusion in time to help avert the worst consequences of climate change? It’s only natural to peer into the dark unknown and ask what could possibly go wrong. It’s equally necessary—and more essentially human—to do so and envision what could possibly go right.

Inhumanity in Memphis

The Atlantic

https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2023/01/memphis-police-tyre-nichols-video/672883/?utm_source=feed

Even before the city of Memphis released video Friday evening of the fatal beating of Tyre Nichols, it seemed the footage would be horrifying. Defense attorneys compared it to the Rodney King beating in 1991, a comparison that now rings true, but the Memphis police chief and head of the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation similarly said they were appalled by what they saw. Cops often remind critics that their job necessarily entails violence, so when seasoned law-enforcement officers react this way, it’s telling.

They were right to be appalled. Though the public might have started to become accustomed to the stream of de facto snuff films of people dying at the hands of police, this video is shocking, showing officers wantonly beating a 29-year-old Black man. If they did not intend to kill him, they showed little hesitation in beating him near to death and little remorse after they’d finished. Five officers have been fired, and all five have been charged with second-degree murder. All of them were part of a vaunted hot-spot policing unit called SCORPION, only established in 2021.

One of the more remarkable things about the video is that it exists. Footage like this is both essential to bearing witness to the violence and practically unbearable to watch. Memphis released four clips, three of them from bodycams but the fourth from a permanently installed surveillance camera, apparently part of a citywide network called SkyCop. Though it hasn’t proven especially effective as a crime-fighting tactic, the system is ubiquitous, unmissable, and roughly as dystopian as it sounds: Nearly anywhere you go in Memphis, you can see the blue lights of the system twinkling above you. That means the officers who beat Nichols surely knew they were on camera.

[David A. Graham: Memphis’s policing strategy was bound to result in tragedy]

The most chilling thing about a video of the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis in 2020 was the nonchalance of Officer Derek Chauvin as he slowly suffocated Floyd with a knee on his neck. The Nichols footage is something else entirely: It shows officers eagerly and savagely beating a man who appears to be defenseless, inert, and as compliant as possible. They strike him with a baton and appear to kick him in the head when he’s down as he calls for his mother. It’s only when they finish that they show the kind of indifference Chauvin did, milling around, panting and wheezing from the exertion, and talking over what happened. Even after the fire department arrives, Nichols receives little medical attention. For long stretches, it’s as if a human being isn’t even there.

Speaking to the Daily Memphian today, Mayor Jim Strickland—a Democrat who has run as a tough-on-crime backer of police yet has seen crime rise on his watch—said an outside review was needed to determine whether the problem was a lack of training or something in the culture of the Memphis Police Department. If the fact that officers acted this way in plain view, apparently unworried about repercussions, doesn’t answer Strickland’s question, it’s hard to know what an outside view might do for him.

What the videos don’t do is explain how the encounter between Nichols and police began. MPD said in a January 8 statement that Nichols was stopped for reckless driving, but just as with the initial official statement about Floyd’s murder, the description of the incident bears little resemblance to the footage. Officers are heard alleging that Nichols was driving into oncoming traffic before they stopped him. None of that is in the footage released today.

[David A. Graham: The murders in Memphis aren’t stopping]

The first video only begins as an officer pulls up behind Nichols’s car, and he and other officers demand, with weapons drawn, that Nichols get out of car. “Damn, I didn’t do anything,” Nichols says, as they drag him from the car and pepper-spray him. But in the scrum, the officers also spray themselves, and Nichols somehow breaks free and runs away on foot. After giving chase, two officers mill around, pouring water in their eyes and catching their breath. The radio barks that an officer has found Nichols some distance away. “I hope they stomp his ass,” one cop says.

He got his wish. The next three videos, two from bodycam and one from SkyCop, don’t capture the moment when officers caught up with Nichols, but the surveillance camera shows several officers beating him on a suburban corner. He doesn’t appear to be resisting them, or even physically able to do so; he looks like a rag doll. They shout for him to do this and that, but Nichols, being yanked in every direction by officers, could hardly have complied if he wanted to. They stomp and kick him as he repeatedly calls for his mother.

[David A. Graham: Chauvin’s conviction is the exception that proves the rule]

“I’m gonna baton the fuck outta you,” one officer says. Another replies, “Hit him!” and they hold up Nichols to take the blow. They eventually stop, leaving him on the ground. His slurred moans are audible in one clip. The officers, meanwhile, sound almost exhilarated. They seem particularly furious that Nichols had (in their view) made them pepper-spray themselves, and they speculate that he is “high as a mother” or “high as a kite.” They also talk about how strong he must be. “I was hitting him with straight haymakers, dawg,” one officer says. He or another adds, “I was rocking him!”

After leaving Nichols on the ground for a bit, they drag him over to lean against a police car. Four excruciating minutes later, the fire department arrives to tend to Nichols, but it’s hard to see what, if anything, they do for him. (Two firefighters have been suspended for their actions that night.) The police officers mostly ignore him. If anyone is concerned for his well-being, the videos don’t capture it. Roughly 25 minutes pass between the beating and the arrival of an ambulance to take Nichols away. Three days later, he would die in a hospital. And a little more than two weeks later, the five officers would be charged with murder.

Yes, You Have to Be Smart to Play Jeopardy

The Atlantic

https://www.theatlantic.com/newsletters/archive/2023/01/yes-you-have-to-be-smart-to-play-jeopardy/672882/?utm_source=feed

This is an edition of The Atlantic Daily, a newsletter that guides you through the biggest stories of the day, helps you discover new ideas, and recommends the best in culture. Sign up for it here.

A recent Jeopardy contestant lit into the show, claiming that it isn’t really all that good a measure of a player’s intelligence. He’s got a point—but not the one he thinks he’s making.

But first, here are three new stories from The Atlantic.

Memphis’s policing strategy was bound to result in tragedy. “We used to be called moderate. We are not moderate.” Tanks for Ukraine have shifted the balance of power in Europe.

Passing the Test

A series of viral Facebook posts by a recent Jeopardy contestant named Yogesh Raut have caused something of a minor kerfuffle among watchers of the show. Raut, to put it mildly, is unimpressed by the intellectual level of America’s premier game show. He won three games, but after the episodes began to air, he went online to argue that the show’s status as “the Olympics of quizzing” is undeserved.

This all puts me in a bit of a pickle. I am a former Jeopardy champion (I made it to the 1994 Tournament of Champions and the 2005 Ultimate Tournament of Champions) who no longer likes the show very much. I wrote a year ago that Jeopardy has made some serious mistakes—chief among them ending the rule that winners step down after five victories—and should probably wrap up its legendary run. But Raut is wrong about what it takes to play Jeopardy.

So though I think the show should be retired, let me suggest to you three ways in which Jeopardy really is a test of your brainpower.

1. You need to be well-read, not well-educated.

The one place where I think I can agree with Raut and other critics of the game is that you do not need a lot of formal education or deep knowledge of any particular area to succeed at Jeopardy. After all, one of the greatest players of all time was a New York City cop. I have three graduate degrees, including a doctorate, and I got smoked by a librarian in my first tournament. (Some players theorize, in fact, that knowing too much about a subject can paralyze you; I have seen doctors and lawyers fumble questions in their area of expertise.)

You don’t need a Ph.D., but to do well at the game, you should be a voracious reader, which is how most people gain (and, more importantly, retain) facts and knowledge. My mom and I would watch the old daytime 1960s version on school snow days or when I was home sick, and she was a pretty sharp player—with a ninth-grade education. But my mom and dad were both readers; our house was full of books and magazines and newspapers.

Indeed, in my experience, people who approach Jeopardy as a test of formal smarts can really stink at playing the game. At my 1993 tryout in a big hotel in Burlington, Vermont, about 160 people walked in, as I recall, and about 15 of us walked out. The people who showed up with almanacs and atlases and fact books, the serious people whose eyes glared and nostrils flared at anyone who talked to them while they did some last-minute boning up … well, they all got turfed instantly. The rest of us had a grand old time, got our I passed the Jeopardy test! buttons, and went home to wait for a call from Los Angeles.

Now, I will grant you that getting things right does not mean you know a lot about the subject; it only means you successfully associated a clue with a fact. In one of my games, I was behind, and so I went for some high-money clues in “The Violin.” I was a young professor in security studies, so this did not seem like a natural choice. My then-wife was in the audience, and she turned to a friend in panic: “What’s he doing?! He doesn’t know anything about violins! Did he think it said Violence?”

And yet, I’d learned in my high-school stage band what pizzicato meant, a lucky break that helped me rack up some cash. That’s how you play the game.

2. You need to understand clues and riddles.

Jeopardy isn’t only about knowing stuff. You need to have a particular kind of intelligence to play the game, an agile mind that can not only recall factoids but also parse the game’s sneaky way of asking you for information.

One of Jeopardy’s favorite tricks is to firehose the player with a lot of extraneous and irrelevant detail while putting the answer right in front of you. I am making this up as an example, but a typical snare would be something like this: “A giant ruby was given to the Black Prince by Pedro the Cruel in 1367 and sits near a river of stinky and cold water known for its unusually shallow depth of 20 meters in this British capital.”

If you’re a nerd who overthinks everything and wants to show off your smarts, you’re standing there trying to unravel who the hell Pedro the Cruel was and which river is shallow and …

If you’re a Jeopardy player, your brain filtered out everything except “this British capital,” and you buzzed in and said “What is London?” while Brainiac over there was still trying to figure out who was in charge of what in the 14th century. You might not think that’s a form of intelligence, but when two other people are slamming away at their clickers and you’ve got a fraction of a second to recognize the real answer, your mental hard drive better be solid-state and super fast.

3. You need to combine intelligence with presence of mind—and never panic.

Raut is upset that the producers choose people who are telegenic. Having watched the show for many years, I think that’s nonsense; there are plenty of contestants who are not, shall we say, camera-friendly. What the producers do guard against, I learned, are people who freeze in front of a camera. (In Jeopardy lore, this is called “going Bambi,” like a deer caught in the headlights.)

Good Jeopardy players never let anything get inside their head, and the best of them pay almost no attention to the other players or even to the host: They read the question and decide whether to buzz in. I disliked super-champ James Holzhauer for many reasons, but his background as a Vegas odds guy meant he played the game with ice-cold ease, and that matters—a lot.

Full disclosure: My first Jeopardy run ended when I made all of these mistakes at once. At the end of the first game of the 1994 Tournament of Champions, the clue was “The last king of the Hellenes, he was the second to bear this name.”

Piece of cake. I’m part Greek, spent summers with my grandmother in Greece. Had a lot of drachmas in my pocket with the former king’s name on it: Constantine II.

And then panic and doubt crept in as the Final Jeopardy theme began its death-clock countdown. King of the Hellenes? Did they mean the ancient Greek empire? The Athenian alliance at Delos, the one defeated by … no, wait, I think that was a democracy, but … it’s Alexander, maybe? Were there two?

We all went for the Alexander bait, and we all lost. But my opponent made a smaller and smarter bet than I did, and that was that.

Look, I think Jeopardy has become too professionalized and too soulless. It’s lost the charm that made it an American institution, and frankly, I don’t much care for Ken Jennings or Mayim Bialik as hosts. (The show should have closed out its run when Alex Trebek died.) But make no mistake: People who win at Jeopardy are, in fact, as smart as they look.

Related:

It might be time to retire Jeopardy. Everyone loses on Jeopardy eventually.

Today’s News

Memphis officials released video footage showing the encounter with police that led to the death of Tyre Nichols, a 29-year-old Black man. After beating Tommy Paul in the Australian Open semifinals, the tennis player Novak Djokovic is on track to win a 22nd Grand Slam title, which would equal Rafael Nadal’s record. A judge released footage of the moment Paul Pelosi, the husband of Representative Nancy Pelosi, was attacked in his home.

Dispatches

Work in Progress: The weight-loss-drug revolution is a miracle—and a menace, Derek Thompson writes. The Books Briefing: Talking with children about painful topics can be complicated—but it can help shape their worldview for life, Bushra Seddique writes. Deep Shtetl: Yair Rosenberg shares a selection of reading material for Holocaust Remembrance Day.   

Explore all of our newsletters here.

Evening Read

Matt Chase / The Atlantic; Getty

Asteroid Measurements Make No Sense

By Marina Koren

A couple of newly discovered asteroids whizzed past our planet earlier this month, tracing their own loop around the sun. These two aren’t any more special than the thousands of other asteroids in the ever-growing catalog of near-Earth objects. But a recent news article in The Jerusalem Post described them in a rather eye-catching, even startling, way: Each rock, the story said, is “around the size of 22 emperor penguins stacked nose to toes.”

Now, if someone asked me to describe the size of an asteroid (or anything, for that matter), penguins wouldn’t be the first unit that comes to mind. But the penguin asteroid is only the latest example of a common strategy in science communication: evoking images of familiar, earthly objects to convey the scope of mysterious, celestial ones. Usually, small asteroids are said to be the size of buses, skyscrapers, football fields, tennis courts, cars—mundane, inanimate things. Lately, though, the convention seems to be veering toward the weird.

Read the full article.

More From The Atlantic

The flu-ification of COVID policy is almost complete. Photos of the week: firefly forest, turnip toss, and more

Culture Break

New York City's Riker's Island (Nina Berman / Redux)

Read. These books to read when you’re pregnant go beyond the standard guidebook to offer generous insight and reassurance.

A new oral history paints a vivid picture of life on Rikers Island, America’s most notorious jail.

And check out some cozy mystery series to keep you warm.

Watch. Poker Face, on Peacock, features Natasha Lyonne as a fun-to-watch crime-solving waitress.

If you’re in the mood for a movie, work through some of the Oscar-nominated front-runners.

And there’s always our foolproof list of 13 feel-good TV shows to watch this winter.

Listen. Spend time with the music of David Crosby, who died this month—and who was never a typical hippie, despite being one of the movement’s founders.

Play our daily crossword.

P.S.

Speaking of game shows, one of the television joys of my early teenage years was to come home from school and catch the old Match Game, in which ordinary Americans and show-business folks tried to finish each other’s sentences without being too dirty for the network censors. I stumbled across it on my Roku recently, and now I am mesmerized all over again by the great Gene Rayburn and his rotating cast of wiseacres.

Match Game was, for its time, a bit blue: Many of the clues were meant to sound naughty and designed to lead contestants to say “boobs” or “tinkle” or something. Today, it’s a joy to watch because it’s so quaint. (This is the show, after all, where it was ostensibly scandalous that people were skating the edge of outing Charles Nelson Reilly as gay, including wink-wink jokes from Reilly himself.) The celebrities—some of whom were big 1970s stars—are clearly having a ball; there were rumors of some boozing during the dinner breaks, and it shows. Watching Match Game in 1973 was like listening in on an adult cocktail party; today, it’s like a visit to your favorite bar full of characters, a kind of real-life Cheers masquerading as a game show. If nothing else, tune in for a look back at the Good Old Days, when people dressed like their home appliances in a riot of autumn rust, harvest gold, and avocado green.

— Tom

Isabel Fattal contributed to this newsletter.