I live in one of the wealthiest neighborhoods in the country, but on one of the more “modest” streets—mostly doctors and lawyers and family business owners. (A few blocks away are billionaires, families with famous last names, media moguls, etc.) I have noticed that on Halloween, what seems like 75 percent of the trick-or-treaters are clearly not from this neighborhood. Kids arrive in overflowing cars from less fortunate areas. I feel this is inappropriate. Halloween isn’t a social service or a charity in which I have to buy candy for less fortunate children. Obviously this makes me feel like a terrible person, because what’s the big deal about making less fortunate kids happy on a holiday? But it just bugs me, because we already pay more than enough taxes toward actual social services. Should Halloween be a neighborhood activity, or is it legitimately a free-for-all in which people hunt down the best candy grounds for their kids?
—Halloween for the 99 Percent
In the urban neighborhood where I used to live, families who were not from the immediate area would come in fairly large groups to trick-or-treat on our streets, which were safe, well-lit, and full of people overstocked with candy. It was delightful to see the little mermaids, spider-men, ghosts, and the occasional axe murderer excitedly run up and down our front steps, having the time of their lives. So we’d spend an extra $20 to make sure we had enough candy for kids who weren’t as fortunate as ours. There you are, 99, on the impoverished side of Greenwich or Beverly Hills, with the other struggling lawyers, doctors, and business owners. Your whine makes me kind of wish that people from the actual poor side of town come this year not with scary costumes but with real pitchforks. Stop being callous and miserly and go to Costco, you cheapskate, and get enough candy to fill the bags of the kids who come one day a year to marvel at how the 1 percent live.
There are more than forty thousand Chinese restaurants across the country—nearly three times the number of McDonald’s outlets. There is one in Pinedale, Wyoming (population 2,043), and one in Old Forge, New York (population 756); Belle Vernon, Pennsylvania (population 1,085), has three. Most are family operations, staffed by immigrants who pass through for a few months at a time, living in houses and apartments that have been converted into makeshift dormitories. The restaurants, connected by Chinese-run bus companies to New York, Chicago, and San Francisco, make up an underground network—supported by employment agencies, immigrant hostels, and expensive asylum lawyers—that reaches back to villages and cities in China, which are being abandoned for an ideal of American life that is not quite real.
Rain, who asked that I use his adopted English name to protect his identity, is reedy and slight, with a wide face and sloping cheekbones. He is observant, in no hurry to speak, but he is more cagey than timid. Like his boss, and like everyone else who works at the restaurant, he is primarily concerned with saving as much money as possible. He needs to pay the snakehead that got him to the U.S. and send money to his family in China. He harbors the vague suspicion that everyone around him is angling for more money, less work, or some other benefit at his expense. So, instead of conversation, Rain occupies himself with the math of a transient cook: the time it takes to clean the shrimp, the days before he can visit his girlfriend in New York, and the balance of his debts. At night, he lies on a cot in his boss’s otherwise empty living room, mulling the slow processing of his green card. During the day, if he’s feeling bold, he walks across the strip-mall parking lot to order lunch at Subway, pointing at the menu when he doesn’t know the English word for something.
“I understand why he acts like this,” Rain told me, about his boss. “He’s been working in that restaurant for almost twenty years. He goes back and forth between the restaurant and the dorm where we live. Back and forth, back and forth, every day for years.” The boss’s wife and kids are in China. “You do this kind of work for that long, and you start to lose perspective.” Rain pinched his fingers together. “Your world is this small.”
It can get kind of better
Six mornings a week, the boss picks up Rain and the other workers from their dorm and takes them to the restaurant. Their preparations have a catechistic order: first the rice cooker, then dishes for the buffet, then those for the lunch rush. Twice a week, a Chinese-run company brings supplies, and everyone gathers to butcher meat, hacking it into small pieces for quick cooking. They put on rubber gloves and pour salt and cornstarch over the meat, mix it by hand, then seal it and put it into the freezer. Chinese kitchens in the U.S. have none of the badinage that makes for good reality TV. In Rain’s kitchen, the only person who talks is the boss, complaining. When a buffet tray gets low, a waiter calls through an intercom, set at a startling volume: “We need more pineapple chicken up front!”
When Rain arrived in the U.S., he assumed that he had a fair proficiency with Chinese food. His father had prided himself on his culinary skill, and his mother was a capable cook, too. She taught him when to add spice to a dish, when to temper it with Chinese celery. Rain worked briefly as a fry cook in his village, and found that he had absorbed some of his parents’ knowledge. “Even if I’ve never cooked a dish before, I can think about it and draw from my experience,” he said. Having grown up on his father’s subtly flavored fish soups, he was surprised by American Chinese food. Americans seemed to eat like kids: they love starches and sweet things, and are frightened of meat and fish with bones in it. “Americans eat all that fried stuff,” he told me. “It’s not healthy.” Real Chinese food is more refined: “You have to spend a lot of time studying and really understanding it.”
In Maryland, most of the patrons seem to come for the buffet and eat as much as they can. Still, Rain loves watching people in the dining room. “I like seeing a clean plate,” he said. “I like it when people take the first bite of my food and they start nodding their head.” He spends hours trying to create a perfectly round Chinese omelette. “There’s a lot of kung fu in making egg foo young,” he told me. “If you have time, you’ll make it really perfect. You’ll make it bigger, better-looking, rounder. They’ll think, I spent so little money and I got such good food, and on top of that it’s good-looking. And then maybe they’ll come back.”
Rain viewed the job in Maryland as an opportunity to expand his repertoire. “In a takeout restaurant, people order the same dishes over and over,” he said. At a bigger restaurant, he could learn new dishes. And his salary—twenty-eight hundred dollars a month—was good, but not good enough to arouse concern. “If you come across a job paying three thousand, you think there must be something wrong with that restaurant,” he told me.
Rain lives with five co-workers in a red brick town house that his boss owns, part of a woodsy development near the restaurant. The house is tidy; there are three floors covered with white carpeting, and each worker has been supplied with an identical cot, a desk, a chair, and a lamp. “Some bosses don’t take care of the houses,” Rain said. “If they’re renting the house, especially, they don’t care. The rooms will actually smell.” Every restaurant worker has a story of sleeping in a dank basement or being packed in a room with five other people. Many complain of living in a house that has no washing machine, and being forced to spend their day off scrubbing their grease-spattered T-shirts in a sink.
So this is why he stays
For many restaurant workers, the decision to come to the U.S. is irrevocable. But, as the disappointments of immigrant life accrue, it can be hard not to imagine that things might be better elsewhere. Chinese-Americans, despite a good public image, suffer higher rates of poverty than the general public. Mental-health problems are an increasing concern in New York’s immigrant communities. In parts of China where the growing economy has given people more options, the allure of working in the U.S. has faded. This February, in a hostel in Queens, I met a woman who had just returned from a difficult day of job hunting. “I thought America would be heaven, and all it is is cold!” she complained. She returned to Beijing after four months. In Fuzhou, a taxi-driver told me that he was glad his attempts to emigrate had failed. “My father says that having a son in the United States is like having no son at all,” he said.
Rain tried not to dwell on returning to Maryland, where he was due in a few days. Everyone else who had worked at the restaurant when he started had been driven off by the boss’s temper. “And it’s so far away,” Rain said. If he could find a job somewhere closer, he could see Annie every weekend. As his family’s only son, Rain feels increasing pressure to send money home to his mother. But, he reasoned, everyone who comes to the U.S. should be prepared for hardship. “Everything we do, we do for the next generation,” he said, and added, “No matter what, it beats sitting around in the village.”
This month is the 10-year anniversary of my first online threat. I thought it was a one-off, then. Just one angry guy. And it wasn’t really THAT bad. But looking back, it was the canary in the coal mine… the first hint that if I kept on this path, it would not end well. And what was that path? We’ll get to that in a minute.
Later I learned that the first threat had nothing to do with what I actually made or said in my books, blog posts, articles, and conference presentations. The real problem — as my first harasser described — was that others were beginning to pay attention to me. He wrote as if mere exposure to my work was harming his world.
But here’s the key: it turned out he wasn’t outraged about my work. His rage was because, in his mind, my work didn’t deserve the attention. Spoiler alert: “deserve” and “attention” are at the heart.
A year later, I wrote a light-hearted article about “haters” (the quotes matter) and something I called The Koolaid Point. It wasn’t about harassment, abuse, or threats against people but about the kind of brand “trolls” you find in, say, Apple discussion forums. My wildly non-scientific theory was this: the most vocal trolling and “hate” for a brand kicks in HARD once a critical mass of brand fans/users are thought to have “drunk the Koolaid”. In other words, the hate wasn’t so much about the product/brand but that other people were falling for it.
I was delighted, a few weeks’ later, to see my little “Koolaid Point” in Wired’s Jargon Watch column.
The me of 2005 had no idea what was coming.
Less than two years later, I’d learn that my festive take on harmless brand trolling also applied to people. And it wasn’t festive. Or harmless. Especially for women.
I now believe the most dangerous time for a woman with online visibility is the point at which others are seen to be listening, “following”, “liking”, “favoriting”, retweeting. In other words, the point at which her readers have (in the troll’s mind) “drunk the Koolaid”. Apparently, that just can’t be allowed.
From the hater’s POV, you (the Koolaid server) do not “deserve” that attention. You are “stealing” an audience. From their angry, frustrated point of view, the idea that others listen to you is insanity. From their emotion-fueled view you don’t have readers you have cult followers. That just can’t be allowed.
You must be stopped. And if they cannot stop you, they can at least ruin your quality of life. A standard goal, in troll culture, I soon learned, is to cause “personal ruin”. They aren’t all trolls, though. Some of those who seek to stop and/or ruin you are misguided/misinformed but well-intended. They actually believe in a cause, and they believe you (or rather the Koolaid you’re serving) threatens that cause.
But the Koolaid-Point-driven attacks are usually started by (speculating, educated guess here, not an actual psychologist, etc) sociopaths. They’re doing it out of pure malice, “for the lulz.” And those doing it for the lulz are masters at manipulating public perception. Master trolls can build an online army out of the well-intended, by appealing to The Cause (more on that later). The very best/worst trolls can even make the non-sociopaths believe “for the lulz” is itself a noble cause.
But I actually got off easy, then. Most of the master trolls weren’t active on Twitter in 2007. Today, they, along with their friends, fans, followers, and a zoo of anonymous sock puppet accounts are. The time from troll-has-an-idea to troll-mobilizes-brutal-assault has shrunk from weeks to minutes. Twitter, for all its good, is a hate amplifier. Twitter boosts signal power with head-snapping speed and strength. Today, Twitter (and this isn’t a complaint about Twitter, it’s about what Twitter enables) is the troll’s best weapon for attacking you. And by “you”, I mean “you the server of Koolaid.” You who must be stopped.
It begins with simple threats. You know, rape, dismemberment, the usual. It’s a good place to start, those threats, because you might simply vanish once those threats include your family. Mission accomplished. But today, many women online — you women who are far braver than I am — you stick around. And now, since you stuck around through the first wave of threats, you are now a much BIGGER problem. Because the Worst Possible Thing has happened: as a result of those attacks, you are NOW serving Victim-Flavored Koolaid.
The first 49ers game I ever went to was against the Chicago Bears at Kezar Stadium. My dad took me. It was a December afternoon in 1967, and I was 14 years old. Kezar was a faded old bowl plunked down in the middle of the working-class Inner Sunset. Scary-looking brick Polytechnic High School was across from it, along with some houses whose roofs afforded a free view of the gridiron—a veritable West Coast Wrigley Field. Golden Gate Park, filled with still-mysterious creatures called hippies, lay just beyond the foliage of Kezar Drive.
My memory of that day is so old that it resembles an ancient newsreel, flickering and spotty. I vaguely remember that Kezar had narrow wooden bench seating, that the stadium’s paint was peeling off, and that the field seemed a long way away. I can see seagulls circling overhead and hear 60,000 people cheering, a sound the exact pitch of which I’ve never encountered again. My only distinct memory is of the Bears’ Gale Sayers returning a punt for a touchdown, the instant when he cut back against the Niners’ defense an imperishable fragment of violent athletic perfection.
In 1971, the Niners departed decrepit Kezar for sleek, modern Candlestick Park, which they shared with the San Francisco Giants. When Candlestick opened in 1960, Vice President Richard Nixon threw out the first ball and said, “This will be one of the most beautiful baseball parks of all time.” Nixon’s prediction did not prove accurate, but the first time I saw the ’Stick, I would have agreed with him wholeheartedly. I was awed by the steep concrete bowl and the otherworldly escalator that climbed into the sky, the sea of orange seats, and, most of all, the big field, a green universe between chalk lines where epic deeds were going to be performed.
Over the years, I gathered indelible memories of the 49ers at Candlestick Park. Jerry Rice soaring into the air in the north end zone to break Jim Brown’s all-time touchdown record. Joe Montana scanning the field. Steve Young outrunning defensive backs. A young girl sitting next to me crying with happiness when Alex Smith fired the winning bullet to Vernon Davis in the 2012 NFC divisional playoff, after which Davis himself wept. And, during the last 49ers game ever played at the ’Stick, on December 23 of last year, in an ending too implausible to script, NaVorro Bowman returning an interception the length of the field and launching himself deliriously over the goal line to win the game.
The 49ers will produce more lasting memories. But they won’t produce them in San Francisco. This September, the San Francisco 49ers, the team I have been faithfully rooting for since that hazy day in ’67, will start playing their games at their new Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara. Candlestick Park will be detonated in early 2015, joining the original Kezar Stadium in the trash can of history. An era that began in 1946, with the 49ers’ very first game at Kezar as part of the now-defunct All-America Football Conference, has come to an end. For the first time since Tony Morabito, who ran a lumber-carrying business in his native city, launched the 49ers in front of a crowd of longshoremen, factory workers, and draymen, San Francisco does not have a professional football team that plays in the city. This feels strange and wrong.
The simple truth is that, unless you’re a well-off resident of Santa Clara, San Mateo, or Santa Cruz County, or you passionately hated Candlestick (a not-so-small minority, even among San Francisco sports diehards), this move is a tough pill to swallow. The new stadium is priced for plutocrats, it is soul-shrivelingly corporate, and, of course, it is 40 exhaust-choked miles from San Francisco. But an equally simple truth is that for most of us fans, none of that necessarily matters. Because none of it is going to derail our love affair with the 49ers.
The dirty little secret about being a fan is that you’ll put up with anything. There’s pretty much nothing the team can do to permanently alienate you. The 49ers can hire Joe Thomas as general manager and Dennis Erickson as coach. They can start Jim Druckenmiller at quarterback. They can go 2–14. They can draft A.J. Jenkins. They can sign washed-up O.J. Simpson and insufferable Deion Sanders. And yes, they can leave town and build a $1.3 billion new stadium an hour away and frisk their loyal fans for thousands of dollars just for the right to spend even more on their season tickets (the dreaded seat license arrangement, more on which later), and we’re still going to watch them every Sunday. Because the 49ers are not their owners, not their front office, and not their stadium. They’re a Platonic concept, an unchanging, constantly changing entity made up of all the teams that have run onto the field over the years. And those of us who have drunk the red-and-gold Kool-Aid are not about to let the financial maneuverings of some suits deprive us of one of our favorite things in life.
For me, the move is mostly moot because, like a vast majority of fans, I usually watch the 49ers on TV. I’m as committed a fan as they come: I’ve only missed a handful of games in 35 years, the words “Billy ‘White Shoes’ Johnson” induce PTSD-like symptoms, and I’m still brooding about that phantom pass interference call on Eric Wright. But I’ve only been to about a dozen 49ers games in my life. The tickets were always too expensive (ah, I did not then know the meaning of the word), and I’m happy enough screaming at the set at home. So on a practical level, it doesn’t really make that much difference to me whether the 49ers play at Candlestick Point or at the bottom of the bay in Santa Clara. Ninety-nine percent of the time, I’m not going to be at either place.
And then there’s the other reason not to hold a grudge about being jilted: The new stadium is way, way, way better than the old one—and that’s accounting for the traffic jams and concession glitches that bedeviled the park at its grand opening last month. (The 49ers say that the problems will be addressed.) I went on a media tour of Levi’s Stadium this summer, then followed that up by joining a goodbye tour of Candlestick, so the comparison is fresh in my mind. And I can attest that Levi’s is to Candlestick as a shiny new maroon Bentley convertible with a chauffeur, a 42-inch HD TV, a Rogue RA:1K stereo, and a wet bar stocked with Château d’Yquem is to a yellow 1962 Volkswagen bug with a rusty body, torn vinyl, three empty Bud cans under the front seat, an engine that gets vapor lock after an hour on the freeway, and a worthless yet bust-inviting roach in the ashtray.
The most dramatic and obvious difference between the two stadiums is in the concourses. Candlestick’s public walkways were one step up from the Black Hole of Calcutta. Negotiating that narrow concrete passageway with a tray full of beers as a wall-to-wall phalanx of drunken yahoos bore down on you would have taxed even the lateral-movement abilities of Gale Sayers himself. Levi’s concourses, on the other hand, are like the fashion ethos of the 1970s blue jean: They’re wide. They stretch on and on. They allow even the most unsteady fan to wobble to his or her seat without colliding with half of the population of Los Gatos on the way.
Then there are the bathrooms. Candlestick appears to have been designed by one of those Werner Erhard–like behavior-modifying sadists for whom going to the bathroom indicates weakness of will. When the secret history of the ’Stick is written, its longest chapter will be about the legions of fans who missed epic moments while waiting to relieve themselves. Levi’s, on the other hand, will have 28 percent more plumbing fixtures than Candlestick and 250 more toilets. The only people complaining about this are catheter salesmen.
The contrast between the locker rooms is even starker. The old 49ers’ clubhouses at the ’Stick were ridiculously cramped, with Montana and Rice squeezed into a little space at the top of some absurdly placed stairs. The locker room below had only eight showers. The dingy, smelly tunnel that led out to the field was so low that current 49ers guard Alex Boone, who is 6 foot 8, had to duck his head when running down it. At Levi’s, the 49ers’ locker room is like a temple for oversize gladiators, with genuine walnut finishes on the 10-foot-tall lockers, high ceilings, and big TVs lining the walls. Even the visitors’ locker room (which, per hallowed, this-is-our-house custom, is much less opulent and spacious than the home locker room) is far nicer than the 49ers’ lockers at the ’Stick.
Then there are the bells and whistles. Candlestick, not to put too fine a point on it, didn’t have any. Its one attempt at being state-of-the-art, a radiant heating system, failed to work, prompting a famous lawsuit by flamboyant attorney Melvin Belli, who wore a parka into the courtroom to demonstrate how cold his box was. Levi’s, as you might guess, is wired up the wazoo. The two 200-by-48-foot scoreboards at Levi’s are the largest of their kind in any outdoor NFL stadium, and almost 10 and a half times (!) bigger than the scoreboard at Candlestick. As befits its location in the heart of Silicon Valley, the stadium has 40 times more broadband capability than any other ball field in the country. You can push a button on your Samsung Galaxy S5 and a gigantic genie will appear, bearing in his brawny arms a perfumed houri whose veiled charms are redolent of the dusky east. OK, that app is still in beta, but you can order a beer at a concession stand with your phone and pick it up without waiting, or have your food delivered to your seat. If you order at the stands, the wait shouldn’t be too bad: There’s one cash register for every 185 fans, two-thirds more than the ratio at the ’Stick. And the food will be better, too, with dishes like Rajasthani lamb curry and Niman Ranch pulled pork sandwiches with apple-jalapeño coleslaw and homemade barbecue sauce, which can be washed down with 40 different beers.
Another striking difference between Levi’s and Candlestick is the extent of the private spaces. Candlestick was built long before teams had hit upon the idea of turning over the most desirable seats in the stadium to corporate clients who would pay big bucks to sit in glassed-in luxury suites and private warrens. The new stadium’s corporate clubs are vast and opulent, and there are also 9,000 club seats and 176 luxury suites (the ’Stick had 94). The crowning privatized glory is the rooftop, whose panoramic views of the South Bay and access to a beautiful green roof, luxuriant with vegetation, are sure to dazzle the VIPs and other paying guests who are allowed entry. As our gaggle of media serfs walked for the fi rst and probably last time through one of the corporate clubs, past a custom wine refrigerator fi lled with high-end cabs and pinots, it struck me that this space was so mega-expensive that it made the $325 seats nearby seem downright democratic. The opera feels egalitarian by comparison. If you’re a techno-libertarian who ascribes to a corporationsare- people philosophy, you may find this encouraging. If you’re not, then all that gleaming corporate space may strike you as a tad creepy. But it’s a big part of how a modern, $1.3 billion stadium gets paid for.
Stephen Harper really seems to have it out for sociology. In 2013, in response to an alleged plot against a VIA train, Harper remarked that we should not “commit sociology,” but pursue an anti-crime approach. And last week, in response to the death of Tina Fontaine, Harper argued that an inquiry into missing and murdered indigenous women is not needed, because this is not a “ sociological phenomenon ” but simply a series of individual crimes.
Of course, not only is all crime a sociological phenomenon , but also without a broader sociological analysis we can’t begin to understand why the rates of missing and murdered indigenous women are tragically high compared to non-indigenous women. Furthermore, it’s clear that if rates of violence against non-indigenous women climbed as high as those of indigenous women, this government (even with its woeful record on women’s issues) would be more likely to announce not only a public inquiry but a full-scale national strategy. (This double-standard in how we value human lives is what sociologists call “racism.”)
Harper’s two disparaging comments about sociology, however, also need to be understood alongside his gutting of the long-form census in 2010. It is widely accepted that this action fundamentally undermined Canada’s ability to understand its own demographics, long-term social trends, and inequalities — in short, its sociology.
So what does Harper have against sociology? First, Harper is clearly trumpeting a standard component of neo-liberal ideology: that there are no social phenomena, only individual incidents. (This ideology traces back to Margaret Thatcher’s famous claim that “there is no such thing as society.”) Neo-liberalism paints all social problems as individual problems. The benefit of this for those who share Harper’s agenda, of course, is that if there are no social problems or solutions, then there is little need for government. Individuals are solely responsible for the problems they face.
This ideology is so seductive not only because it radically simplifies our world, but also because it mirrors the two social institutions neo-liberals actually believe in — the “free” market and law and order. Everything is reduced to either a simplistic market transaction or a criminal case. In the former, you either have the money to buy stuff, or you don’t and it’s up to you to get more. In the latter, a lone individual is personally responsible for a crime and is punished for it. Easy peasy. No sociology needed.
But there’s yet another reason this ideology is so hostile toward the kind of sociological analysis done by Statistics Canada, public inquiries and the like. And that has to do with the type of injustices we can even conceive of, or consider tackling, as a society.
You see, sociologists often differentiate between “personal injustices” and “systemic” or “structural injustices.” Personal injustices can be traced back to concrete actions of particular individuals (perpetrators). These actions are often wilful, and have a relatively isolated victim.
Structural injustices, on the other hand, are produced by a social structure or system. They are often hard to trace back to the actions of specific individuals, are usually not explicitly intended by anyone, and have collective, rather than isolated, victims. Structural injustices are a result of the unintended actions of many individuals participating in a social system together, usually without knowing what each other is doing. Whereas personal injustices are traced back to the harmful actions (or inactions) of individuals, structural injustices are identified by differential societal outcomes among groups. Sociologists call these “social inequalities.”
And therein lies the rub. Perhaps the key difference between personal and structural injustices is that the latter are only clearly identifiable through macro-level societal analysis — that is, sociology. This is because a) there are no clear perpetrators with whom to identify the injustice and assign responsibility; and b) while structural injustices do generate concrete harms and victims, we often only learn about the collective nature of the injustice through statistical inquiry, or by identifying social/demographic patterns over time.
What should be clear, then, is that Harper’s seemingly bizarre vendetta against sociology is actually an ideological attempt to prevent Canadian society from being able to identify, and tackle, its structural injustices. Without large-scale sociological analyses, we can’t recognize the pervasive, entrenched social inequalities that these analyses reveal. And because structural injustices are actually generated by our social systems, both their causes and solutions are social.
It could be we are in a remote part of space that no one cares about. We are the Moose Jaw of planets.
The Americas may have been colonized by Europeans long before anyone in a small Inuit tribe in far northern Canada realized it had happened. There could be an urbanization component to the interstellar dwellings of higher species, in which all the neighboring solar systems in a certain area are colonized and in communication, and it would be impractical and purposeless for anyone to deal with coming all the way out to the random part of the spiral where we live.
There are a lot of interesting hypothesis of why we haven’t had our first contact. The following is the scariest.
There are scary predator civilizations out there, and most intelligent life knows better than to broadcast any outgoing signals and advertise their location.
This is an unpleasant concept and would help explain the lack of any signals being received by the SETI satellites. It also means that we might be the super naive newbies who are being unbelievably stupid and risky by ever broadcasting outward signals. There’s a debate going on currently about whether we should engage in METI (Messaging to Extraterrestrial Intelligence—the reverse of SETI) or not, and most people say we should not. Stephen Hawking warns, “If aliens visit us, the outcome would be much as when Columbus landed in America, which didn’t turn out well for the Native Americans.” Even Carl Sagan (a general believer that any civilization advanced enough for interstellar travel would be altruistic, not hostile) called the practice of METI “deeply unwise and immature,” and recommended that “the newest children in a strange and uncertain cosmos should listen quietly for a long time, patiently learning about the universe and comparing notes, before shouting into an unknown jungle that we do not understand.” Scary.
“You came, you shopped, you dressed nice – you went to the mall. That’s what people did,” says Lawless, a pseudonymous photographer who grew up in a suburb of nearby Cleveland. “It was very consumer-driven and kind of had an ugly side, but there was something beautiful about it. There was something there.”
Gazing down at the motionless escalators, dead plants and empty benches below, he adds: “It’s still beautiful, though. It’s almost like ancient ruins.”
Dying shopping malls are speckled across the United States, often in middle-class suburbs wrestling with socioeconomic shifts. Some, like Rolling Acres, have already succumbed. Estimates on the share that might close or be repurposed in coming decades range from 15 to 50%. Americans are returning downtown; online shopping is taking a 6% bite out of brick-and-mortar sales; and to many iPhone-clutching, city-dwelling and frequently jobless young people, the culture that spawned satire like Mallrats seems increasingly dated, even cartoonish.
According to longtime retail consultant Howard Davidowitz, numerous midmarket malls, many of them born during the country’s suburban explosion after the second world war, could very well share Rolling Acres’ fate. “They’re going, going, gone,” Davidowitz says. “They’re trying to change; they’re trying to get different kinds of anchors, discount stores … [But] what’s going on is the customers don’t have the fucking money. That’s it. This isn’t rocket science.”
Of course it didn’t help that they were built with no urban planning principles in mind.
For mid-century Americans, these gleaming marketplaces provided an almost utopian alternative to the urban commercial district, an artificial downtown with less crime and fewer vermin. As Joan Didion wrote in 1979, malls became “cities in which no one lives but everyone consumes”. Peppered throughout disconnected suburbs, they were a place to see and be seen, something shoppers have craved since the days of the Greek agora. And they quickly matured into a self-contained ecosystem, with their own species – mall rats, mall cops, mall walkers – and an annual feeding frenzy known as Black Friday.
“Local governments had never dealt with this sort of development and were basically bamboozled [by developers],” Underhill says of the mall planning process. “In contrast to Europe, where shopping malls are much more a product of public-private negotiation and funding, here in the US most were built under what I call ‘cowboy conditions’.”
Shopping centres in Europe might contain grocery stores or childcare centres, while those in Japan are often built around mass transit. But the suburban American variety is hard to get to and sells “apparel and gifts and damn little else”, Underhill says.
Same thing in the largely empty Confederation Mall. The mall emptied out after rents skyrocketed in Saskatoon. What used to be disposable income is now needed for rent. In that way, malls are a reflection of the economic health of the surrounding communities.
The Illuminati-sounding Drinking Water Inspectorate found traces of the drug’s metabolized form, benzoylecgonine, at four inspection sites, peed out by coked-up Brits and not completely removed during water plants’ “intensive purification treatments.” The scientists also found trace amounts of caffeine, epilepsy medication, and pain-killer ibuprofen.
Steve Rolles, from the drug policy think tank Transform, told The Sunday Times that the findings were an indication of the scale of the use of the drug in Britain today. “We have the near highest level of cocaine use in western Europe,” he said. “It has also been getting cheaper and cheaper at the same time as its use has been going up.”
According to the charity DrugScope, there are around 180,000 dependent users of crack cocaine in England, and nearly 700,000 people aged 16-59 are estimated to take cocaine every year in Britain.
There are more than 300 of them in New York — violent crews of dozens of 12- to 20-year-olds with names such as Very Crispy Gangsters, True Money Gang and Cash Bama Bullies.
Police say these groups, clustered around a particular block or housing project, are responsible for about 40 percent of the city’s shootings, with most of that violence stemming from the smallest of disses on the street, Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.
“It’s like belonging to an evil fraternity,” said Inspector Kevin Catalina, commander of the New York Police Department’s gang division. “A lot of it is driven by nothing: A dispute over a girl or a wrong look or a perceived slight.”
The trend of smaller, younger crews has also been seen in Chicago and Northeast cities over the last few years as police have cracked down on bigger, more traditional gangs, experts said. While the Bloods, Crips and Latin Kings still exist, operating such money-making schemes as drug dealing, their members are usually older and understand the timeworn mantra of organized crime: violence is bad for business.
Not so for the crews, whose recklessness prompted former Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly in 2012 to launch an initiative to confront the crews dubbed Operation Crew Cut.
Investigators now focus on gathering intelligence about specific crews — understanding their activities, allegiances and feuds, which they glean through traditional street policing and trolling of social media sites, cellphone photos and even recorded jailhouse calls.
Police have also stepped up arrests of the most active crew members. In Manhattan, prosecutors set up an internal email alert system that notifies them when crew member are arrested, even on minor charges, and provides beyond-the-rap-sheet details for bail arguments. The prosecutor might mention that the person was a suspect in another crime or had made threats on Facebook, for instance.
In a recent case in Harlem, Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr. says a 2009 killing kindled years of vendetta attacks, including three killings and 30 shootings. Sixty-three people were rounded up, and at least 62 entered guilty pleas, including crew members so young that one told another to “mob up” after school.
“The evidence was very powerful,” said Robert Anesi, who represented a 19-year-old who pleaded guilty to attempted murder and conspiracy charges in the case last week. “They had such access to social media and they knew who the players were.”
NYPD statistics show gang arrests are up citywide nearly 14 percent from 2013 — and more than 28 percent from two years ago. Shooting incidents citywide are about the same as they were last year, with 282 recorded so far, and are down by nearly 23 percent from two years ago.
Still, crew-related violence persists despite record dips in overall crime in New York City over the last few years. The most notable recent case came in March when investigators say a 14-year-old member of the Stack Money Goons shot a .357 revolver at a rival member of the Twan Family on a crowded bus in Brooklyn. The bullet instead killed an immigrant father who was working two jobs to support his family.
“When you ask young adults, ‘Why? Why did you shoot that young man?’ Probably 80 percent of the time the answer is: He disrespected me,” said Kai Smith, an ex-con-turned-businessman who runs a gang-diversion program in city high schools.
“As people become more health conscious, and more interested in cooking ‘fresh,’ that’s not helping microwaves,” Owen said. “It’s leading to lower sales.” The interest in cooking is more than a movement; it’s a national phenomenon. Even major grocery chains have noted upticks in sales as a result.
Growth in sales of microwavable popcorn are also slowing, while sales of ready-to-eat popcorn are growing at an over 11% clip. Why microwave junk food when you can get it pre-popped? Americans are at once too patient and too lazy to use their microwaves these days.
Go into your neighbourhood Safeway or Sobey’s one of these days and look around. When I was a kid, most of the aisles were full of things for my mom to make and cook. Now the aisles are increasingly full of things that are already cooked. Wendy will tell you that at even 33rd Street Safeway can’t keep up with the demand of pre-cooked chicken, soups, and fries at supper time. Even a small store has a deli which will make you sandwiches and a variety of food like samosas and salads. We may want to cook but many families don’t have the energy or time to do it anymore.
A preoccupation with safety has stripped childhood of independence, risk taking, and discovery—without making it safer. As playgrounds become “safer”, they lack to the ability to hold a child’s attention which in some way explains why so many playgrounds are devoid of children.
It’s hard to absorb how much childhood norms have shifted in just one generation. Actions that would have been considered paranoid in the ’70s—walking third-graders to school, forbidding your kid to play ball in the street, going down the slide with your child in your lap—are now routine. In fact, they are the markers of good, responsible parenting. One very thorough study of “children’s independent mobility,” conducted in urban, suburban, and rural neighborhoods in the U.K., shows that in 1971, 80 percent of third-graders walked to school alone. By 1990, that measure had dropped to 9 percent, and now it’s even lower. When you ask parents why they are more protective than their parents were, they might answer that the world is more dangerous than it was when they were growing up. But this isn’t true, or at least not in the way that we think. For example, parents now routinely tell their children never to talk to strangers, even though all available evidence suggests that children have about the same (very slim) chance of being abducted by a stranger as they did a generation ago. Maybe the real question is, how did these fears come to have such a hold over us? And what have our children lost—and gained—as we’ve succumbed to them?
Does Seattle know how to grow?
You’d think so, with all those construction cranes back and so many mega-projects underway. We’re about to get expanded light rail, a new waterfront, a massive downtown tunnel, a super-sized 520 bridge, and a Mercer Mess that has been tidied up after 50 years of complaining. Growth would seem to be the least of our problems.
But there are some who think these endeavors are not enough. We could do more, do it bigger, do it better and, they believe, we had better get to it because we’re facing big economic challenges. Boeing, for example, has become a constant worry. The company is doing a slow retreat from Puget Sound, and keeping key parts of Boeing’s work here is getting increasingly expensive for taxpayers. Some $9 billion in new tax breaks have been offered to keep 777X work here. Even so, without a major transportation package and with major union concessions just voted down, Boeing is looking for a better deal elsewhere.
Another foundation of our economy is showing signs of change, and age. Microsoft has reached maturity and experienced enough marketplace failures (Vista, Zune, Surface) that a major management shift is underway. We’ve grown accustomed to Redmond being a perennial powerhouse and millionaire-generator in the Gates-Ballmer era, but will that roll continue?
Seattle sees itself as a special incubator of the next big commercial success — and the new Bezos family-funded “Center for Innovation” at the Museum of History and Industry that opened this fall is a shrine to this self-image. We’ve scored with Starbucks, Nordstrom, Costco and Amazon, for example. But in the tech sector there’s some thought that we haven’t reached our silicon potential, that we’re over-due for a new major success a la Google or Facebook.
Sure, we’re a pretty good place for start-ups, but Seattle tech booster Chris DeVore recently wrotethat while Seattle is pretty good at launching companies, “It’s been a long time since a new Seattle-based company produced a huge windfall.” He means a company, like Microsoft or Amazon, that lifted employees and investors by generating lots of wealth. “If I had to put my finger on the one thing we could do to improve our weak ‘startup rate,’ it would be to produce more explosive wins in Seattle…” he wrote. That would benefit start-ups and companies all up and down the food chain and generate money to invest in new ventures. Apparently, the tech sector needs a new blockbuster.
Another voice encouraging Seattle and Washington to take it to the next level is Microsoft executive vice president and general counsel Brad Smith. In October, he addressed the Greater Seattle Chamber of Commerce’s annual Leadership Conference, an appropriate place for business leaders to inspire the team with a growth-oriented Gipper speech. I also had a chance to talk with him afterwards. In his speech, he said “[I]f there is a moment in time when we can come together and focus on raising our ambition, I think that moment is now.” With the state recovering economically, with greater global competition ahead (China, Brazil, South Carolina…), and with so much potential here, we need to get going, and set our sights higher.
To that end, his Gipper — or maybe "Skipper" — speech cited a nautical example. It was inspirational achievement of the University of Washington rowing crew who beat the odds to win a gold medal in 1936. These were local boys who had to raise their own money during the Depression to go to Germany, who had to race under rules that favored Hitler’s rowing team, and who took on the task of making America proud at the Nazi’s infamous Olympic Games. “It’s a reminder of what nine young men from humble background could achieve when they reached beyond themselves and worked as a team,” he said.
- Because you loved her enough, but you didn’t love her right. You weren’t attuned to your daughter’s emotional state as a child, and now, she has difficulty connecting intimately with other human beings. It’s not that you meant to handicap her. You may even have a bit of a problem with authentic intimacy too, and it’s probably an intergenerational issue, so look to your mom and dad for answers as to how the cycle started in the first place.
- Because you were her friend, and not her parent (Hello Baby Boomers!). You never set solid parental boundaries, and you failed to teach her about her right to have her personal boundaries respected. Your permissive parenting led to her low self-esteem and crappy social skills. There are four major parenting styles, and I hate to tell you, this one is not the best.
- Because you got divorced, and it was ugly. I don’t even need to discuss the damaging effects of a nasty divorce because these statistics are known. However, if you still think it’s cool to get divorced and drag your kids through the mud because children are resilient, or won’t notice how poorly you two treat one another, think again. A study by Paul Armato shows that children of divorce continue to score lower academically, and in the areas of “psychological adjustment, self-concept and social competence.” Furthering this concern, a 2002 study in The Journal of Pediatric Psychology found that adolescents from mother-alone or mother-absent homes are more likely to become sexually active at a young age, risk taking behavior that is compounded by substance abuse and lack of social support. Yes, there are situations in which divorce is best for all, but the process by which divorce happens is delicate and negative consequences can have lasting effects.
- Because you raped, beat, or neglected her. Or someone close to you did. Though plenty of women who were abused as children do not go into porn, many women who have been abused (physically, emotionally or sexually) do participate in sexual risk taking behaviors. Even though a recent study found no link between pornography and child abuse, ample research on prostitution and child abuse provide insight to correlates of selling sex. A 2012 study on juvenile entry into prostitution explores the far-reaching consequences of abuse incurred in childhood, and the suggested pathways associated with entering prostitution (i.e. the selling of sex). Of course, this statement shifts the focus from the real argument, and can turn this point into a new argument about whether prostitution is equivalent to participating in pornography. I would suggest looking up the legal definition of prostitution, which states very simply that prostitution is “the act of offering one’s self for hire to engage in sexual relations.”
- Because you are a prude — or a total slut — and you didn’t have a good handle on your own sexuality. Your lack of self-knowledge may have led you to inadequately educate your daughter about sex, either teaching an abstinence only or laissez-faire approach. Statistics on abstinence-only programs show this approach to be ineffective. And if you divorced, letting the men (or women) you subsequently dated run in and out of your life (and your daughter’s life) taught her that significant others, and people in general, are exchangeable. Kids need the truth about sex, and reliable sources of adult support and attachment. This article addresses the issues in both point four and five.
- Because you let her watch insane amounts of television. There is a cost to letting the media raise your children. Even an hour over the average 72 minutes most children watch per day can cause great damage.
- Because you gave her a smartphone when she was 10, and now she takes awesome #selfies all day. With every picture she takes to post to her social media sites, she becomes less sensitive to the idea of her images floating around on the web. Studies show that higher social media use is correlated with narcissism. Sexting is a booming practice, and a gateway technology usage that might lead to appearances on Internet porn sites. You can be fairly certain that your daughter has either thought about sexting, or has friends who do it.
- Because her friends want to be porn stars, Playboy models, the Bachelorette or any other exaggerated and hyper-sexualized version of a real woman, and you aren’t close to her friends. When a child has excessive contact with her peers and loses touch with safe adult attachments, the likelihood increases that she will become an addict, as mentioned in addiction specialist Dr. Gabor Maté’s recent book, In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts. I think it’s possible that the problems arising from being raised by her peers can also lead to other harmful and immediately gratifying behaviors, like participating in porn.
- Because you never showed her a healthy way to fill the spiritual void that is quintessentially human. Isn’t it interesting that girls leave porn because they’ve found religion? It happens every day, even to girls who were considered to be “the world’s hottest porn star.” Money, sexual exploration, and false adoration didn’t provide personal fulfillment like spirituality did.
I saw you on the Manhattan-bound Brooklyn Q train.
I was wearing a blue-striped t-shirt and a pair of maroon pants. You were wearing a vintage red skirt and a smart white blouse. We both wore glasses. I guess we still do.
You got on at DeKalb and sat across from me and we made eye contact, briefly. I fell in love with you a little bit, in that stupid way where you completely make up a fictional version of the person you’re looking at and fall in love with that person. But still I think there was something there.
Several times we looked at each other and then looked away. I tried to think of something to say to you — maybe pretend I didn’t know where I was going and ask you for directions or say something nice about your boot-shaped earrings, or just say, “Hot day.” It all seemed so stupid.
At one point, I caught you staring at me and you immediately averted your eyes. You pulled a book out of your bag and started reading it — a biography of Lyndon Johnson — but I noticed you never once turned a page.
My stop was Union Square, but at Union Square I decided to stay on, rationalizing that I could just as easily transfer to the 7 at 42nd Street, but then I didn’t get off at 42nd Street either. You must have missed your stop as well, because when we got all the way to the end of the line at Ditmars, we both just sat there in the car, waiting.
I cocked my head at you inquisitively. You shrugged and held up your book as if that was the reason.
Still I said nothing.
We took the train all the way back down — down through Astoria, across the East River, weaving through midtown, from Times Square to Herald Square to Union Square, under SoHo and Chinatown, up across the bridge back into Brooklyn, past Barclays and Prospect Park, past Flatbush and Midwood and Sheepshead Bay, all the way to Coney Island. And when we got to Coney Island, I knew I had to say something.
Still I said nothing.
And so we went back up.
Up and down the Q line, over and over. We caught the rush hour crowds and then saw them thin out again. We watched the sun set over Manhattan as we crossed the East River. I gave myself deadlines: I’ll talk to her before Newkirk; I’ll talk to her before Canal. Still I remained silent.
For months we sat on the train saying nothing to each other. We survived on bags of skittles sold to us by kids raising money for their basketball teams. We must have heard a million mariachi bands, had our faces nearly kicked in by a hundred thousand break dancers. I gave money to the beggars until I ran out of singles. When the train went above ground I’d get text messages and voicemails (“Where are you? What happened? Are you okay?”) until my phone ran out of battery.
I’ll talk to her before daybreak; I’ll talk to her before Tuesday. The longer I waited, the harder it got. What could I possibly say to you now, now that we’ve passed this same station for the hundredth time? Maybe if I could go back to the first time the Q switched over to the local R line for the weekend, I could have said, “Well, this is inconvenient,” but I couldn’t very well say it now, could I? I would kick myself for days after every time you sneezed — why hadn’t I said “Bless You”? That tiny gesture could have been enough to pivot us into a conversation, but here in stupid silence still we sat.
There were nights when we were the only two souls in the car, perhaps even on the whole train, and even then I felt self-conscious about bothering you. She’s reading her book, I thought, she doesn’t want to talk to me. Still, there were moments when I felt a connection. Someone would shout something crazy about Jesus and we’d immediately look at each other to register our reactions. A couple of teenagers would exit, holding hands, and we’d both think: Young Love.
For sixty years, we sat in that car, just barely pretending not to notice each other. I got to know you so well, if only peripherally. I memorized the folds of your body, the contours of your face, the patterns of your breath. I saw you cry once after you’d glanced at a neighbor’s newspaper. I wondered if you were crying about something specific, or just the general passage of time, so unnoticeable until suddenly noticeable. I wanted to comfort you, wrap my arms around you, assure you I knew everything would be fine, but it felt too familiar; I stayed glued to my seat.
One day, in the middle of the afternoon, you stood up as the train pulled into Queensboro Plaza. It was difficult for you, this simple task of standing up, you hadn’t done it in sixty years. Holding onto the rails, you managed to get yourself to the door. You hesitated briefly there, perhaps waiting for me to say something, giving me one last chance to stop you, but rather than spit out a lifetime of suppressed almost-conversations I said nothing, and I watched you slip out between the closing sliding doors.
It took me a few more stops before I realized you were really gone. I kept waiting for you to reenter the subway car, sit down next to me, rest your head on my shoulder. Nothing would be said. Nothing would need to be said.
When the train returned to Queensboro Plaza, I craned my neck as we entered the station. Perhaps you were there, on the platform, still waiting. Perhaps I would see you, smiling and bright, your long gray hair waving in the wind from the oncoming train.
But no, you were gone. And I realized most likely I would never see you again. And I thought about how amazing it is that you can know somebody for sixty years and yet still not really know that person at all.
I stayed on the train until it got to Union Square, at which point I got off and transferred to the L.