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The New York Times Magazine November 26 2017

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November 26, 2017
HE’S
GOTTA
HAVE
IT
WHAT HAPPENS TO A
PROVOCATEUR LIKE SPIKE
LEE WHEN THE CULTURE
CATCHES
UP TO HIM?
BY THOMAS CHATTERTON WILLIAMS
“First Republic has improved the
financial health of our school.”
THE HAMLIN SCHOOL
Cristina Casacuberta, Director of Finance and Operations (left)
Wanda M. Holland Greene, Head of School (right)
(855) 886-4824 |
BLACK YELLOW MAGENTA CYAN
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NYTM_17_1126_SWD2.pgs 11.14.2017 13:20
November 26, 2017
11
First Words
Plain Sight Being able to ‘expose’ something — or someone
— is a kind of power. This fall, the balance of that power has
shifted, with exhilarating, destabilizing results.
By Carina Chocano
14
On Money
‘The Smartest Fleet’ China has fully embraced the ‘‘sharing
economy’’ — but in ways that show just how cynical
the concept can become.
By Brook Larmer
18
Well
Stepping Backward Physical-activity monitors don’t always
work the way we want them to.
By Gretchen Reynolds
20
26
11
20
Letter of
Recommendation
In-Flight Movies There’s more than one ritual that provides
cover for public weeping.
By Meher Ahmad
22
The Ethicist
Indebted Can you let your friend pay off your mortgages?
By Kwame Anthony Appiah
24
Eat
After the Feast Following Thanksgiving, turkey leftovers fit
for a king.
By Sam Sifton
26
On Dessert
Child’s Play Learning to bake instills joy and character.
By Dorie Greenspan
58
Talk
Preet Bharara The former United States attorney is not
running for office.
Interview by Dan Amira
Behind the Cover Jake Silverstein, editor in chief: ‘‘Spike Lee is such an iconic figure in
American culture, and it was important to us that we photograph him in a new way. So we turned to the
young photographer Mamadi Doumbouya, whose fresh style (this is his first magazine cover) was the
perfect fit — brash, original and modern.’’ Photograph by Mamadi Doumbouya for The New York Times.
Continued on Page 4
6
8
13
17
21
Contributors
The Thread
New Sentences
Poem
Tip
22 Judge John Hodgman
54 Puzzles
56 Puzzles
(Puzzle answers on Page 53)
3
28
The Voices in Blue
America’s Head
For years, liberals have tried, and failed, to create their
own version of conservative talk radio. Has Crooked Media
finally figured it out?
By Jason Zengerle
32
He’s Gotta Have It
What happens to a provocateur like Spike Lee when the
culture catches up to him?
By Thomas Chatterton Williams
38
Prisoners at Sea
The U.S. Coast Guard is targeting low-level smugglers in
international waters — shackling them on ships for weeks
or months before arraignment in American courts.
By Seth Freed Wessler
46
A Mind of Its Own
As machine learning becomes more powerful, researchers find
themselves unable to account for what their algorithms know —
or how they know it. Can A.I. be taught to explain itself?
By Cliff Kuang
‘There were days when I would not say a word. I would just
stay in my mind thinking of my kids, my baby, my failure.’
PAGE 38
4
Copyright © 2017 The New York Times
Photograph by Glenna Gordon for The New York Times
November 26, 2017
Where the Season
Brings Sequins
Fashion. Food. Art.
New York, NY
Contributors
Seth Freed Wessler
‘‘Prisoners at Sea,’’
Page 38
Editor in Chief
Deputy Editors
JAKE SILVERSTEIN
JESSICA LUSTIG,
BILL WASIK
Photographed by Kathy Ryan at The New York Times
on Nov. 17, 2017, at 9:40 a.m.
Seth Freed Wessler is an investigative journalist
and a Puffin reporting fellow at the Investigative
Fund at the Nation Institute. He reports on
criminal justice, immigration and racial inequality
and has received numerous awards for his
journalism, including the Hillman Prize, the Izzy
Award and the Al Neuharth Award for
Investigative Journalism from the National
Association of Hispanic Journalists. For his
article this week, he investigated the detention
practices of the United States Coast Guard at
sea. ‘‘I wondered about what was missing from
the frame in the orderly photos of crew lined up
beside stacked bales of cocaine,’’ Wessler says.
‘‘What about the people who were picked up
smuggling the drugs?’’
Managing Editor
Design Director
Director of Photography
Art Director
Features Editor
Politics Editor
ERIKA SOMMER
GAIL BICHLER
KATHY RYAN
MATT WILLEY
ILENA SILVERMAN
CHARLES HOMANS
Special Projects Editor
CAITLIN ROPER
Story Editors
NITSUH ABEBE,
MICHAEL BENOIST,
SHEILA GLASER,
CLAIRE GUTIERREZ,
LUKE MITCHELL,
DEAN ROBINSON,
WILLY STALEY,
SASHA WEISS
Associate Editors
JEANNIE CHOI,
JAZMINE HUGHES
Chief National Correspondent
MARK LEIBOVICH
Staff Writers
SAM ANDERSON,
EMILY BAZELON,
TAFFY BRODESSER-AKNER,
Carina Chocano
First Words,
Page 11
SUSAN DOMINUS,
Carina Chocano is the author of ‘‘You Play the
Girl’’ and a contributing writer for the magazine.
Her last article was a First Words column about
what gets labeled a ‘‘distraction.’’
MAUREEN DOWD,
NIKOLE HANNAH-JONES,
JONATHAN MAHLER,
WESLEY MORRIS,
JENNA WORTHAM
‘‘A Mind of Its Own,’’
Page 46
Cliff Kuang
Cliff Kuang is a writer at large for Fast Company
and the author of ‘‘User Friendly,’’ which will be
published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
Writers at Large
C. J. CHIVERS,
PAMELA COLLOFF,
NICHOLAS CONFESSORE,
JOHN ISMAY,
KEVIN ROOSE,
JIM RUTENBERG
Thomas Chatterton
Williams
‘‘He’s Gotta Have It,’’
Page 32
Thomas Chatterton Williams is a contributing
writer for the magazine. His last feature was
about a former Islamist who started a foundation
to combat extremism among Muslims.
David Carr Fellow
Digital Art Director
Special Projects Art Director
Deputy Art Director
Designers
JOHN HERRMAN
RODRIGO DE BENITO SANZ
DEB BISHOP
BEN GRANDGENETT
CLAUDIA RUBÍN,
RACHEL WILLEY
Jason Zengerle
‘‘The Voices in Blue
America’s Head,’’
Page 28
Jason Zengerle is a contributing writer for the
magazine and the political correspondent for GQ.
His last feature was about Rex Tillerson and the
State Department.
Dear Reader: Are You on Your
Phone in the Bathroom?
Every week the magazine publishes the results
of a study conducted online in June by The New
York Times’s research-and-analytics department,
reflecting the opinions of 2,903 subscribers
who chose to participate. This week’s question:
Do you use your cellphone while on the toilet?
Deputy Photo Editor
Associate Photo Editors
JESSICA DIMSON
STACEY BAKER,
AMY KELLNER,
CHRISTINE WALSH
Virtual Reality Editor
JENNA PIROG
Copy Chief
ROB HOERBURGER
Copy Editors
HARVEY DICKSON,
DANIEL FROMSON,
MARGARET PREBULA,
ANDREW WILLETT
Head of Research
Research Editors
NANDI RODRIGO
ROBERT LIGUORI,
RENÉE MICHAEL,
LIA MILLER,
STEVEN STERN,
MARK VAN DE WALLE
Production Chief
Production Editors
40% Yes
60% No
ANICK PLEVEN
PATTY RUSH,
HILARY SHANAHAN
Editorial Assistant
LIZ GERECITANO BRINN
Publisher: ANDY WRIGHT Advertising Directors: MARIA ELIASON (Luxury and Retail) ⬤ MICHAEL GILBRIDE (Fashion, Luxury, Beauty and Home) ⬤ SHARI KAPLAN (Live Entertainment and Books) ⬤ NANCY
KARPF (Fine Arts and Education) ⬤ MAGGIE KISELICK (Automotive, Technology and Telecom) ⬤ SCOTT M. KUNZ (International Fashion) ⬤ JOHN RIGGIO (Recruitment) ⬤ JOSH SCHANEN (Media, Studios and
Travel) ⬤ ROBERT SCUDDER (Advocacy) ⬤ SARAH THORPE (Corporate, Health Care, Liquor and Packaged Goods) ⬤ BRENDAN WALSH (Finance and Real Estate) National Sales Office Advertising Directors:
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⬤ ROBERT SCUDDER
(Boston/Northeast/Washington)
To advertise, email karen.farina@nytimes.com.
6
11.26.17
⬤ KAREN FARINA
(Magazine Director) ⬤ MARILYN M C CAULEY (Managing Director, Specialty Printing) ⬤ THOMAS GILLESPIE (Manager, Magazine Layout).
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The Thread
Readers respond to the 11.12.2017 issue.
RE: THE TECH AND DESIGN ISSUE
THE STORY,
ON TWITTER
The Technology issue is a fascinating
exploration of the foreseeable future.
However, amid all the discussion of technological accomplishment and potential
societal progress, I could not help but
wonder about the ‘‘utopian’’ idea of the
shared ridership of autonomous cars.
Yes, it sounds like a solution to the
problem of urban transit. But anyone who
uses the New York subway knows how
little many riders care about their fellow
commuters. It takes an army of workers
to keep these systems clean. The same
person who thinks nothing of littering
on a subway car or platform will think
nothing of leaving their detritus behind
for the next occupant of the shared car
to enjoy. A human driver might consider
clearing the space, but who will do that on
an autonomous vehicle? Uber will abandon its drivers at its peril.
Carlos D. Martinez, Rego Park, N.Y.
Already, highways are being changed to
cater to self-driving cars, even if it makes
things less safe for human drivers. For
example, California is phasing out ‘‘Botts
Dots’’ — raised bumps that alert people
when they cross a lane divider — in part
because automated vehicles apparently
don’t understand them. This is unwise.
People still drive, and from my observations, they need all the help they can get.
And I feel sure that automated vehicles
8
11.26.17
can be programmed to include Botts Dots
in lane-marker categorization. A rush to
the future shouldn’t involve instantly
kicking existing technologies to the curb.
Susan McCarthy, San Francisco
I find it frightening that Arizona is racing
to attract the self-driving car developers
by lowering the bar on regulations as far
as possible, making the Arizona public
part of their beta-test programs.
There are two criteria all states follow
in issuing driver’s licenses: the age of the
driver and a test of their competence.
My sense is that current autonomous
cars have the experience and judgment
of perhaps 8-year olds. Under ideal conditions, they can follow white lines and
observe and respond to traffic signals.
But they are at the beta-test stage, with
the American public being asked, unwittingly, to help them learn by getting into
crashes with them. And what about dealing with four-way stops, or negotiating a
rotary, or crossing a boulevard? These are
the easy ones. What about driving into
the sun’s glare, or during a snowstorm, or
dealing with dirty or ice-coated sensors?
Regarding testing, some states have
set test criteria, but the Transportation
Department and now Arizona are saying,
‘‘Do whatever testing you want, and put
your car on the highway when you feel
ready, and we’ll accept that.’’ No, there
should be a multi-acre site set up by the
Transportation Department or an industry organization to run each proposed
vehicle through the dozens of scenarios
and weather and lighting conditions that
real life requires, with pass or fail reported on each situation, before these cars
are allowed on the highways.
Arthur M. Telchin, New York
Illustrations by Giacomo Gambineri
Excellent NYT Mag
series looking at
the implications of
introducing selfdriving cars into
everyday life. As
exciting as it would be
for many of these
changes to become
reality, this quote
stuck out to me: ‘‘A
city is not a problem
to be solved.’’
@ccarballeira21
CORRECTIONS
A rendering of the Driverless City Project’s
‘‘mind map’’ on Pages 54 and 55 of the Nov.
12 issue erroneously excluded a label reading ‘‘Drive-Thru Stores.’’ It should have
appeared between ‘‘Ubiquitous Commerce’’
and ‘‘Collection Points.’’
‘People still
drive, and
from my
observations,
they need all
the help they
can get.’
An article on Nov. 14 about the media
company Barstool Sports, relying on information from company representatives,
misstated the circumstances under which
one of its bloggers, Chris Spagnuolo, left
the company last spring. Following a brief
suspension, his departure occurred when
the company and Spagnuolo could no longer agree on the terms of his continued
employment. He was not fired.
Send your thoughts to magazine@nytimes.com.
Photograph by Vik Muniz
Writers imagined the quirks and pitfalls of a
self-driving future, Ford’s race against Silicon Valley, vehicle-to-vehicle technology and
the role of autonomous cars in the quest for
a sustainable future.
The enthusiasm in the autonomous-car
issue was insufficiently balanced. The
inherent technical flaws in fully autonomous cars, too numerous to list here,
will likely prevent their safe widespread
deployment for perhaps a few centuries.
It is pure speculation that fully autonomous cars will reduce crash rates vs.
those of human drivers; the initial data
suggests the opposite.
The billions of dollars now being
spent on autonomous-car development
must not remove resources reducing
drunk, drugged or drowsy driving or
speeding, tailgating and other risky and
aggressive driver behaviors. Autonomous cars are not a deus ex machina;
current driving-safety programs must
not be compromised.
Richard A. Young, Ph.D., Executive Director,
International Traffic Medicine Association
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First Words
Being able to ‘expose’ something — or someone — is a kind of power. This fall, the balance
of that power has shifted, with exhilarating, destabilizing results. By Carina Chocano
Plain Sight
For a town so in love with doomsday scenarios, Hollywood has
never been big on revelations about itself. That’s what apocalypse
is, literally: disclosure of knowledge. In biblical Greek, ‘‘apokalypsis’’
means ‘‘uncovering’’ or ‘‘unveiling.’’ It refers to the moment when a
long-buried truth is finally exposed. The secret could be anything
— a plague of worms; corruption; a culture of flagrant harassment,
exploitation and abuse. What actually ends the world as we know
it is the revelation itself, being shown the thing we had agreed not
to see. Once we see that civilization had it coming, we can consign
everything to the purifying flames. ¶ Exposure is terrifying. You can
die of it. It suggests that there is some sinister, lurking thing, shrouded
in pretense: We know it’s in there, and we know it might come out.
It’s as though we’re dwelling in two parallel realities — one hidden
but real, the other visible but false — and this unstable doubleness
is poised to blow up in our faces at any moment. Hollywood’s entire
11.26.17
11
business model is built on this kind of
explosion. Movies are made out of welltimed revelations — third-act eruptions,
secrets unveiled, faces unmasked, true
identities uncovered. And popular
entertainment tucks apocalyptic
revelations into even the most anodyne
entertainments. On home-remodeling
shows, couples are escorted to different
houses, made to choose one, then
enjoined to sledgehammer the walls and
expose the structure’s commendable
bones — and its alarming rot. ‘‘RuPaul’s
Drag Race’’ has helped turn cries of
‘‘Expose her!’’ into a viral phenomenon
— a call to zero in on someone’s flaws
and show the world who he or she really
is. Journalism, too, craves the exposé
of hidden wrongdoing — when it’s not
reporting on how, say, White House aides
are worrying over their legal exposure in
a special-counsel investigation. Exposure
always means vulnerability: You can be
exposed to a fatal chill, a deadly virus,
a sunburn, a lawsuit. Sometimes young
actors and writers are offered favorable
exposure in lieu of payment, but, of
course, you can die of that kind, too.
Lately, each day has been a carnival
of exposure, as we’ve watched the
stones overturned to reveal more
and more supposedly great men as
criminals, perverts or frauds. Some
people are surprised by this, but
many are not. In several cases, the big
revelation was already old news, the
kind of thing we used to call an ‘‘open
secret’’ — something that wasn’t O.K.
to acknowledge on the record, lest it
come back to bite you. Open secrets
are par for the course for women in
the workplace; they are the pact we
make in order to be able to participate.
Why do we do it? Have we all been
coerced or threatened? Have we all
signed nondisclosure agreements and
waivers? Have we all tacitly agreed to
participate in this weird hierarchical
system, without ever being asked
how we like it, to preserve the status
quo and the narrative that everything
is fine, because familiar narratives
are comforting, and exposure is
destabilizing, and we’ve been given no
choice? Are we brainwashed? Sure. Of
course. Some, maybe all, of the above.
If the wrong people weren’t so often
protected, there would be no need to
expose them — no need to expose what
Exposure is about truth, sure, but it’s
mostly about power — about the relationship of truth to power. When a
12
Photo illustration by Derek Brahney
11.26.17
hadn’t been concealed in the first place.
In the 2007 documentary ‘‘Girl 27,’’ the
writer David Stenn tells the story of
an underage dancer named Patricia
Douglas who was raped at an MGM
stag party by a studio salesman in 1937.
When she went public, filing a criminal
complaint and suing the studio, she
was smeared by the press. She spent
the rest of her life in hiding, while the
infamous MGM executive, producer
and fi xer Eddie Mannix is said to
have boasted that ‘‘we had her killed.’’
Women like Douglas were taught that
their attempts at exposing the truth
would fail and that their lives would be
ruined. They were taught to take it or
leave it, but mostly they were taught to
shut up about it. They were still being
taught that more than 70 years later.
If the wrong
people weren’t
so often
protected,
there would be
no need to
expose them.
powerful man exposes himself by forcing his nakedness on others, he’s commanding their attention in a violent way,
making them see what they don’t want to
see. In the moment of exposure, he’s not
the one who feels vulnerable; they are.
Conversely, when that man is exposed
as a monster, he is shown in a different
light. The perspective is forced, and he
is revealed to be something else.
In the case of the producer Harvey
Weinstein, now accused of assault or
harassment by more than 80 women, it
may be that his victims became more
powerful over time. (When you harass
seemingly every young actress who
crosses your path, it’s inevitable that at
least some of them will rise to a position
of power.) When it seemed that women
might come forward to expose him to the
authorities, Weinstein paid informants
to gather intelligence on his accusers’
psychological and sexual histories — the
usual scramble to accuse the accuser
Source photo: From Badztua, via iStock/Getty Images
First Words
Illustration by Kyle Hilton
herself of being a fraud, a gold digger, a
disgruntled loser, ‘‘disturbed.’’ Exposing
others is scary because we fear our own
exposure; when we say, ‘‘Someone did
this to me,’’ we are asking to be looked
at in a new, unpleasant, disempowered
way. Who will get the last word? Who
will get to delegitimize whom?
In Hollywood, as in politics, exposure
is something you want coming in but
never going out. The fresh face — say,
Mariel Hemingway at the start of her
career, hoping for a huge role in Woody
Allen’s ‘‘Manhattan’’ — needs exposure.
The predatory potentate — say, Allen
himself, when he started dating Mia
Farrow’s adopted daughter Soon-Yi Previn — does not. What he needs is cover,
leverage and all the good will he has
banked over the years. He may not even
need to withdraw very large amounts.
He could get himself elected president,
if he wanted. He could do anything.
When you’re a star, they let you do it. The
comedian Louis C.K., who has copped
to masturbating in front of freaked-out
colleagues, not only exposed himself but
also toyed with artistic self-exposure:
He pulled a Raskolnikov, giving himself
away in his comedy and in a dangerously
self-referential movie. How much could
he reveal in public before being exposed?
Until recently? Almost everything.
The sheer volume of recent exposures
— from what happens between two people in a hotel room to what happens in
a huge political campaign — certainly
makes it feel as though we’re living
through an apocalyptic moment. It’s
elating, or overwhelming, depending
on your experience. Allegations ranging from gross harassment to assault
have been leveled against Weinstein,
against the writer and director James
Toback, against the former New Republic editor Leon Wieseltier, against the
former NPR and New York Times editor Michael Oreskes, against the former
Amazon Studios chief Roy Price, against
the journalist and author Mark Halperin, against actors and talent agents,
against a senator and a Senate candidate, against ‘‘media men’’ listed in a
crowdsourced spreadsheet.
Countless streams of revelations are
coursing everywhere around us — from
the Paradise Papers, which expose the
flow of wealthy people’s capital through
secret banking channels, to the steady
drip of emails and direct messages and
surprising meetings uncovered in the
Trump-Russia probe. It is, in many ways,
exhilarating. It’s as if all the rugs are being
lifted, all the demons released.
It’s a reminder, once again, that
language is power, that storytelling
is power, that mythmaking is control.
The postwar French critic Roland Barthes was big on exposure, too — only
he was interested in revealing the lies
in our most innocu ous pop- culture
images and ‘‘common sense’’ beliefs.
‘‘I wanted to expose in the decorative
display of what- goes-without- saying
How much
could he
reveal in public
before being
exposed?
Until recently?
Almost
everything.
the ideological abuse I believed was
hidden there,’’ he wrote. It takes power
to expose abuse, and courage. It takes a
culture that believes the powerless aren’t
exposing for the exposure.
In ancient Greece, Pandora’s box was
not actually a box but a jar, or a clay pot
with a lid, that was kept in the kitchen,
where the women were also kept. Maybe
it contained evil — or maybe it just concealed it. Maybe Pandora let the evil
out, or maybe she blew the lid off what
was really going on back there, where
nobody else could see it. Anyway, the
truth got out, and all hell broke loose,
leaving behind only hope.
New Sentences By Sam Anderson
‘In its center drawer
there is an envelope
labeled ‘‘This envelope
contains small screw
for eyeglasses in case
of loss of one.’’ ’
From Anne
Fadiman’s ‘‘The
Wine Lover’s
Daughter’’ (FSG,
2017, Page 150).
Fadiman is also
the author of the
essay collections
‘‘Ex Libris’’ and ‘‘At
Large and at Small.’’
This sentence about envelopes is
itself an envelope of a sentence:
a public statement that contains,
sealed neatly within quotation
marks, a previously private note.
It comes from Anne Fadiman’s
memoir about the life of her father,
Clifton Fadiman, who was a
midcentury public intellectual:
host of the popular quiz show
‘‘Information Please,’’ board member
of the Book-of-the-Month Club
and Encyclopaedia Britannica,
author of ‘‘The Joys of Wine’’
and ‘‘The Lifetime Reading Plan’’
and other monuments to the glories
of Western civilization. Fadiman
was very much a mind of his time,
a chummy patriarchal arbiter of the
sacred canon; his mission was to
help contemporaries wrestle with
the eternal verities and, when
necessary, to put presumptuous
upstarts in their place. (‘‘I fail to see
why we must go into a spasm of
ecstatic shivering,’’ he wrote in 1936,
‘‘just because Mr. Faulkner is a
clever hand at fitting up a literary
asylum for the feeble-minded.’’)
In contrast to such highmindedness, we have this amazing
note on an envelope in Fadiman’s
desk drawer. It was not meant to be
read by the world; it was private and
practical, hasty and awkward, the
solitary statement of a tool-using
creature doing his best to plan ahead.
I find it poignant and lovely — a bit
of vital accidental poetry. As a
communication, the sentence is both
oddly formal (it doesn’t just say
‘‘GLASSES SCREW’’) and ragged. It is
missing an ‘‘a’’ before ‘‘small screw,’’
and it ends with the wonderful
staccato rhythm ‘‘in case of loss of
one’’ — an elegy for all time.
This envelope jotting is not
an attempt to wrestle with eternal
verities, but it inevitably touches
on them anyway. So much depends
— for all of us, forever — upon
the one tiny screw in the envelope
in the center desk drawer.
13
On Money By Brook Larmer
China has fully embraced the
‘sharing economy’ — but in
ways that show just how cynical
the concept can become.
14
11.26.17
Illustration by Andrew Rae
For decades after its Communist revolution in 1949, China was known as ‘‘the
kingdom of bicycles.’’ The one-speed Flying Pigeons that swarmed the streets were
not simply a cheap mode of transportation. They were symbols of a shared aspiration. Along with a radio, a watch and a
sewing machine, a bicycle was one of four
possessions — known as sanshengyixiang,
or ‘‘three rounds and sound’’ — that urban
Chinese families felt they needed to be
part of the modern world. By the time I
joined the masses in 2001, cycling across
Beijing for daily Mandarin classes, cars
had begun to displace bicycles. Pedaling
alongside my fellow commuters — students, workers, pensioners — I felt part of
a communal experience that might soon
be gone forever.
I was wrong, of course. China’s cities
are suddenly teeming with bicycles, and
the humble one-speed, that remnant of
China’s collective memory, again serves
as more than just a means of conveyance. It is now a digital device too, helping shape one of China’s most dynamic
growth engines — the so-called sharing
economy. Three years ago, bike-sharing
didn’t exist in China. Today more than 40
companies offer the service. And the top
two alone, Mobike and Ofo, handle more
than 50 million rides every day, solving the
‘‘last mile’’ problem of getting people from
public transportation to their homes.
China’s bike-sharing explosion is driven by digital innovations that make renting ‘‘dockless’’ bikes easy, cheap and completely cool. All it takes is a smartphone:
to find the nearest bike via GPS, to scan
its QR code and open its smartlocks and
to pay a minuscule fee (usually 15 cents
or less per ride) through a mobile-payment app. At the end, the bikes can be
left almost anywhere. (In the United
States, bicycles often need to be picked
up and returned to a fixed dock, as with
New York’s Citi Bike.) For a generation of
consumers conditioned to adapt to new
things, the draw is no longer the pride of
ownership but has become convenience
and cachet. For the companies and, more
pointedly, the Chinese government, the
potential windfall comes not so much
from profits, which remain elusive, but
from the consumer data produced by
every transaction.
The state-run press agency, Xinhua,
has trumpeted bike-sharing as one of
China’s ‘‘four great new inventions.’’ (The
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On Money
other three are mobile payments, e-commerce and high-speed rail.) It may sound
absurd to compare a dockless bike to the
world-changing inventions of China’s
past: paper, gunpowder, the compass and
movable type. But the boast conveys the
importance that Beijing assigns the ‘‘sharing economy’’ in helping China make
the leap from a manufacturing-based to
a service-oriented economy. Last year,
according to government figures, China’s sharing economy accounted for
more than $500 billion in transactions
involving roughly 600 million people. (An
estimated 55 million Americans will use
a sharing service this year, according to
a CBS report.) And with Beijing planning
on an annual 40 percent growth rate, officials are commanding this new economic
engine to account for 10 percent of the
national gross domestic product by 2020
and 20 percent by 2025.
Cities around the world have embraced
the sharing economy — Seoul, Amsterdam, Milan — but China is the first country
to frame it as a ‘‘national priority.’’ While
innovation can’t be conjured on demand,
Beijing has financed start-up incubators,
offered tax incentives, formed think tanks
and kept foreign competitors away. ‘‘This
is state capitalism,’’ says Jeffrey Towson, a
private-equity investor and a professor of
investment at Peking University. ‘‘When
the government gives the green light,
everybody follows.’’ That includes investors. Mobike and Ofo, which are financed
by China’s biggest tech giants, Tencent
and Alibaba, respectively, have raised
roughly a billion dollars each in venture
capital. (Didi Chuxing, the ride-sharing
company that bought out Uber’s China
operation last year, is even bigger — with
$5.5 billion in financing and 450 million
users across China.)
In this frenzy, investors have thrown
millions of dollars at almost any venture
with a ‘‘sharing’’ label, from basketballs
and refrigerators to luxury handbags
and phone chargers. Not all the ideas
fare well. The Shared Girlfriend sex-doll
service, for example, was shut down in
September in response to a public outcry.
The police also forced a Beijing company
to stop renting out ‘‘napping capsules,’’
condemning them as fire hazards. Other
ideas, on closer inspection, hardly look
innovative. The ‘‘shared bookstore’’ is
really just a lending library. And the
‘‘shared washing-machine service’’ — isn’t
that a laundromat?
China’s sharing economy has veered
sharply away from how the term was originally defined: as a peer-to-peer exchange
of underutilized goods and services. In
China, ‘‘sharing’’ now means almost any
short-term rental of a product or service
activated by a smartphone. Moreover, the
things on offer, like Ofo’s 6.5 million bikes,
are not spread out among individuals but
16
Illustration by Andrew Rae
11.26.17
‘As China
defines it,
even Amazon
would be
part of the
sharing
economy.’
Brook Larmer is a
contributing writer for
the magazine.
are owned by the tech companies themselves. The same is true for the spoils,
from revenue to data. As a result, the
ideals that still animate the concept in
many other places — the reallocation of
unused resources and the community that
forms around it — are essentially absent
in China. ‘‘I was thrilled when I first heard
China was so committed to the sharing
economy,’’ says April Rinne, an adviser
who is a member of China’s National Sharing Economy Commission. ‘‘But it’s all so
transactional, and the definition of sharing
has gotten so broad that it’s almost meaningless. As China defines it, even Amazon
would be part of the sharing economy.’’
Who can blame China for hanging
on to the term ‘‘sharing economy’’? It
fits with the image that Beijing wants
to project: warm, generous, egalitarian. Robin Li, the chief executive of the
internet giant Baidu, said last year that
‘‘the idea of a sharing economy is quite
similar to that of a communist society,’’
because both focus on ‘‘distribution
according to need.’’ A strategic planner
at the advertising firm Havas Worldwide
waxed so rhapsodic in a commentary
about ‘‘the close-knit comradeship’’
of Chinese consumers that it seemed
the idea of sharing was itself a Chinese
invention. ‘‘There is almost a sense of
nobility garnered by having the means
to own something yet deciding to share
instead,’’ the author wrote. The prize for
puffery, however, goes to The People’s
Daily, the Communist Party mouthpiece,
which in August celebrated umbrella-sharing enterprises as ‘‘a show of
human care, releasing the warmth of the
city.’’ A few weeks after that, nearly all
300,000 umbrellas distributed by a new
company called Sharing E Umbrella had
been either lost or stolen.
The self-congratulation masks a growing awareness that, for all its economic
success, China has become a hard-edged
society where the spirit of sharing and
social trust is in short supply. The
bike-sharing battles expose these cracks,
too. Some start-ups struggle with theft
and vandalism; one company, Wukong,
reportedly lost 90 percent of its bikes
in just six months. Meanwhile, Ofo and
Mobike have turned this battle into a
proxy war between their tech masters.
As dozens of smaller companies try to
find niche markets, the two giants have
Poem Selected by Terrance Hayes
deluged major cities with nearly 15 million yellow (Ofo) and orange-and-silver
(Mobike) bicycles. Until recently, city
governments tolerated the use of public
spaces by bike-sharing companies, a concession the companies will not continue
to enjoy as they venture overseas. But in
Shanghai, where battalions of bikes clog
the sidewalks, the city is starting to crack
down, hauling thousands away at a time.
None of China’s bike-sharing companies are turning a profit yet. But even as
they fight for market share, the data is
the destination. ‘‘Collecting data is the
first goal of the sharing economy,’’ says
William Chou, the head of Deloitte’s telecoms, media and technology practice in
China. Every time consumers scan the
QR code on a bicycle — or basketball,
handbag, umbrella — they provide information about habits, locations, behaviors
and payment histories. That’s invaluable
not just to Tencent and Alibaba but also to
city planners seeking precise information
about where to build roads, bridges and
subways. ‘‘The fight is no longer over who
has the biggest fleet,’’ Towson says, ‘‘but
who has the smartest fleet.’’
Those are the benign side-effects of
the sharing economy. But what happens as this data filters into China’s new
social-credit system, which promises to
rate every individual by her financial,
social and political worth? In fact, Beijing has authorized Tencent and Alibaba
to conduct social-credit pilot testing, and
their bikes serve as the perfect vehicles.
There are no walls of privacy. The government has the ability to access company
data, good or bad, faster than you can
scan a QR code.
One morning recently in Shanghai,
I caught a glimpse of some suspicious
behavior. I was walking down a tranquil,
tree-lined street when a muscular man lumbered past carrying two orange-and-silver
Mobikes. As he swept by, a wheel touched
the ground and set off an alarm, causing
him to heave the bikes even higher in the
air. The man was not a bike enthusiast,
but he wasn’t a thief, either. As I watched
him slip down a side alley and emerge
moments later empty-handed, I realized
that he was a foot soldier in the bike-sharing wars, dumping competitors’ bikes in
hard-to-find places. Rounding the corner,
I saw the result of his handiwork: a sea of
bikes in almost every hue. Yet not a single
orange-and-silver Mobike was in sight.
This poem displays a clever folding and unfolding. Alliterative ‘‘ll’’ sounds braid each stanza with a mix
of lull and lullaby. ‘‘I could always make something else of myself,’’ it declares, bouncing between introversion
and confession. Sly engineering makes the poem something more than a child’s riddle. Even the almost
overlooked epigraph — non serviam, Latin for ‘‘I will not serve’’ — makes it something more than playful.
Roly-Poly Bug
By Stephanie Burt
Non serviam
Because I can’t ever appear
as I would like to appear,
I once tried to make it so you couldn’t see me at all.
I named myself after a pill
but it didn’t help. I liked
the feeling of feeling small,
as long as it let me feel mobile; I wanted to roll
up and down and around the tiny hall
of a groove in discarded cardboard. I used to appall
my peers with risky behavior. I might fall
to my death in a half-inch ditch
full of oil or lawnmower grease. I stall
at the brush of a fingertip. I’m so afraid
of a grand faux pas that I answer the most banal
questions by quoting the questioner, so as to let
his words shield mine. I cover my anger
imperfectly, so I can breathe
with my head between my ten legs; I am my own
backyard slat fence, my own slate garden wall.
I am chitin and ichor inside, but I’ll never let on
how I look underneath. I could always make something
else of myself. I could be having a ball.
Terrance Hayes is the author of five collections of poetry, most recently ‘‘How to Be Drawn,’’ which was a finalist for the National
Book Award in 2015. His fourth collection, ‘‘Lighthead,’’ won a 2010 National Book Award. Stephanie Burt is a professor of English
at Harvard University. Her most recent collection of poems is ‘‘Advice From the Lights,’’ published under the name Stephen Burt in
October by Graywolf Press.
Illustration by R. O. Blechman
17
Well By Gretchen Reynolds
Stepping Backward
Physical-activity monitors don’t always work the way we want them to.
Comparatively speaking, young people
in the United States and England do not
move much. Studies indicate that most
children reach their activity peak at
about age 7 and become more sedentary
throughout adolescence. Many parents
probably hope that shiny new technologies, such as Fitbits and other physical-activity monitors, might inspire our
children to become more active.
But a recent study published in The
American Journal of Health Education
finds that the gadgets frequently have
counterproductive impacts on young
people’s attitudes about exercise and the
capabilities of their own bodies.
The new study, conducted by psychologists from Brunel University London and
the University of Birmingham, involved
100 healthy boys and girls ages 13 and 14
from two middle schools in England. The
schools were far apart geographically and
socioeconomically, representing a broad
cross section of adolescent society.
The researchers began by interviewing
the young people and asking them to fill
out psychological questionnaires about
how they felt about exercise and their fitness. Then the scientists gave everyone
an activity monitor, which came preprogrammed with a goal of 10,000 steps
each day. The users’ activities could be
recorded on a ‘‘leader board’’ shared with
friends, which would show who had been
the most and least active.
The teenagers were asked to use the
monitors for two months, and then complete more questionnaires and participate in focus-group discussions. During
the focus groups, almost all the young
people expressed initial enthusiasm for
the monitors and said they had at first
become more active.
But the allure soon faded. After about a
month, most of the teenagers had begun
to find the monitors chiding and irksome, making them feel lazy if they did
not manage 10,000 steps each day. Many
also said they now considered themselves
more physically inept than they had at
the study’s start, often because they were
rarely near the top of the activity leader
boards. Most telling, a large percentage
of the adolescents reported feeling less
motivated to be active now than before
getting the monitor. (The researchers did
not directly track changes in the young
people’s activity levels, because the study
focused on psychology.)
The problem with the monitors seemed
to be that they had left the teenagers feeling pressure and with little control over
their activities, as well as self-conscious
18
Illustration by Ping Zhu
11.26.17
‘You can’t
just give a child
a Fitbit for
Christmas and
expect them
to be active.’
about their physical abilities, said Charlotte Kerner, a lecturer in youth sport and
physical education at Brunel University
London, who led the study. The result was
frustration, self-reproach — and less, not
more, movement.
‘‘You can’t just give a child a Fitbit for
Christmas and expect them to be active,’’
Kerner said. ‘‘They will need educating on
how best to negotiate the features.’’ Nudge
them to set realistic step counts and other
fitness goals, she says, and to consider
whether they want to share their results
with friends. For many young people, fitness may be better achieved in private.
National Jewish
Health
Letter of Recommendation
In-Flight Movies
By Meher Ahmad
The flight attendant passing a tomato
juice to my seatmate did a double-take
when she saw my tear-streaked face. She
touched my shoulder: ‘‘Ma’am, are you
doing O.K.?’’ I wiped the gobs of snot
from my nose, pulled my headphones
off and gave her that awkward, forced
smile you do when you’re crying but
want the other person to leave you
alone. She obliged.
I was watching ‘‘Lion,’’ the Garth Davis
film about a young Indian boy adopted by
nice, white Australians, but I would have
reacted the same way if I were watching a David Attenborough nature documentary. I wasn’t even two minutes into
the film when the first tear rolled down
my cheek dramatically and my lower lip
started quivering.
Crying on planes is so common that it
has prompted cheeky ‘‘weep warnings’’
on Virgin Atlantic flights and myriad
articles trying to understand why we
do it. The most accepted explanation is
a simple confluence of altitude, loneliness and the heightened emotions that
20
Illustration by Javier Jaén
11.26.17
There’s more than
one ritual that
provides cover for
public weeping.
accompany the humiliating experience
that is modern air travel.
I’ve been dealing with clinical anxiety,
the most millennial of maladies, since I
was a teenager. I experienced my first fullfledged anxiety attack in a Metro car in
Paris, and after that I became a panicked
traveler regardless of whether I was on the
ground or in the air. Over time, my phobia shifted to become about crying itself —
which then made it inevitable that I would
cry, in that prophetic way anxiety manifests
itself. Once, on a short flight from Marseille
to Paris, I caught the panic creeping up
slowly enough that I flagged the flight
attendant, hoping she could somehow
reverse the oncoming hyperventilation
with a chic Air France accouterment. ‘‘Just
pretend she is a biiiiig bus,’’ she crooned
in Franglais, assuming my anxiety derived
from a fear of flying rather than from my
actual fear: people seeing me cry in public.
Though I come on my mother’s side
from a long line of Shiites, who encourage public grieving through institutionalized mourning called matam, there’s
little I find more mortifying than crying
in front of strangers. Matam is the act
of grieving Imam Hussain, the Prophet Muhammad’s grandson, who was
martyred along with his followers in a
bloody battle in the year 680. Our tears
and self-flagellations are meant to be in
remembrance of Hussain’s agony, but it’s
actually a chance for us to grieve about
our own quotidian sufferings. It’s difficult
not to cry when you attend a majlis, or
the congregation for matam.
My mother, my aunts, my grandmother
and her sisters have between them survived multiple wars, a violent escape
from their small town in what is now
India during the Partition and an economic exodus that took their children
and grandchildren to far-flung places like
Minneapolis and Indianapolis, the opposite end of the world from Pakistan. Still,
they don’t really cry outside a majlis. The
ritual allows them to break down without any of the judgment that is otherwise
associated with being a wailing woman
in public. The few times I’ve been with
them, I sat on the floor in the ladies’ section of the mosque and watched as they
dissolved into sobbing, shaking piles of
dark fabric. My face stayed dry.
I pride myself in rarely crying or displaying any emotion at all, so having panic
attacks meant my anxieties came out all
at once. They weren’t expected, and their
erratic appearances are precisely what
made them debilitating. At my worst, I
convinced myself that my fear of weeping on planes would stop me from flying
altogether, but then I began relishing the
idea of flipping through the in-flight movie
catalog on a clumsy touch-screen, calmly
selecting a straight-to-DVD film that would
reduce me to tears.
On a plane, the principles of film
selection are suspended as long as we’re
at cruising altitude: It’s fine — welcome,
I began relishing
the idea of
flipping through
the in-flight
movie catalog,
calmly selecting
a straight-toDVD film that
would reduce
me to tears.
even — to watch a bad movie. I’ve found
myself dabbing my eyes through ‘‘Murder, She Baked,’’ a series of films created
by Hallmark Movies & Mysteries, and
have somehow choked up at ‘‘Taken 2’’
and ‘‘Taken 3’’ — anything in which the
music swells. I had little interest in watching ‘‘Lion’’ in theaters or at home, but I
knew it would give me the opportunity
to freely weep at someone else’s anxieties
instead of my own. Above all, it gave me
an excuse to cry when there seemed to
be a reason to, a semblance of control.
By the time the plane begins its
descent, I’m blotchy-eyed but emotionally
sound; I’m still riding the high of postcrying calmness while standing in the
airport taxi line. The rhythm to the ritual
is comforting enough that I don’t even
need to discreetly nibble off-brand Xanax
in my seat; it has replaced my new-age
meditation completely. The idea of letting
my weepy alter-ego make a controlled
appearance is so appealing that I sometimes wonder whether I travel just to give
my tear ducts a test run.
A kind woman sitting cater-corner to
my seat watched me dissolve into the
hiccuppy kind of crying by the last scene
of ‘‘Lion,’’ handing me her allotted single
in-flight napkin after seeing that mine was
soaked. Airlines are stingy with everything,
but it seems inhumane that they aren’t
willing to hand out more napkins during
a service, given that everyone acknowledges that in-flight movies make them cry.
At Shiite mosques, they like to put boxes
of pink, perfumed Rose Petal brand tissues
around the room before people arrive for
prayer. At least they’re prepared.
Tip By Malia Wollan
‘‘Get up on your feet, and speak the
words aloud,’’ says Jacqui O’Hanlon, the
director of education at the Royal Shakespeare Company. Shakespeare wrote
these lines some 400 years ago; the worst
way to learn them is sitting down and
reading them in your head. Start with a
few image-rich lines from, say, ‘‘Henry V.’’
Young people should consider choosing
something from star-crossed lovers, as
when Juliet says, ‘‘Come, gentle night;
come, loving, black-browed night, give
me my Romeo.’’
It helps to read through a synopsis
of the play first to know the basic plot.
Get a partner to whisper the lines while
you repeat. With professional actors and
students alike, the Royal Shakespeare
Company begins with something they call
‘‘imaging the text’’: Act out the images.
It will feel silly, but making a window
with your limbs or galloping like a horse
embeds the lines in your mind. Listen
for the playwright’s beat. Shakespeare
mostly composed in iambic pentameter,
a rhythm in which unstressed syllables
are followed by stressed ones; O’Hanlon
describes it as ‘‘the rhythm of your heart.’’
Say your lines over and over again.
‘‘What you definitely don’t want to do
is to get bored,’’ O’Hanlon says. Keep
things lively with a little game she calls
‘‘as if.’’ Imagine you’re learning the balcony scene in which Romeo says: ‘‘But,
soft! What light through yonder window
breaks?’’ First, whisper the lines as if you
are worried you’ll be overheard; then say
them again as if you don’t care who hears
you. ‘‘Give yourself lots of these ‘as ifs,’ ’’
O’Hanlon says. Another technique is to
go through the lines emphasizing the
emotion in the vowels and then again
focusing just on the cerebral crispness
of the consonants.
In Britain, learning Shakespeare is
compulsory for all schoolchildren. A big
part of O’Hanlon’s job is trying to help
students and teachers to connect with the
work not as an obligatory chore but as an
exercise in what it means to be human.
‘‘These plays are fundamentally about
expressing how we feel,’’ she says, ‘‘in
response to terrible and wonderful and
beautiful things in our lives.’’
Illustration by Radio
21
How to Memorize
Shakespeare
Meher Ahmad
is a journalist based in
Karachi, Pakistan.
The Ethicist By Kwame Anthony Appiah
To submit a query:
Send an email to
ethicist@nytimes
.com; or send mail
to The Ethicist, The
New York Times
Magazine, 620
Eighth Avenue, New
York, N.Y. 10018.
(Include a daytime
phone number.)
22
11.26.17
My closest American friend here in Japan,
of more than 30 years, is worried about me
and wants to pay off my mortgages. He
says he doesn’t want to be paid back; he just
wants to make sure I am out of debt before
he dies. He is not dying, but he is 98. He has
been mentioning this more and more, and
says he wants to write a check the next time
we meet. I never talk about this with him
unless he brings up the subject. The amount
he would give me would come to about
3 percent of his assets. It would have no
impact on his financial needs. And frankly,
it would be helpful for me.
Yet, I have a gnawing feeling that I would
be taking advantage of him. Or that
I have unconsciously manipulated him.
But I can’t think of anything I did.
I’ve never asked for or taken money from
him. I got myself out of credit-card and
student-loan debt — he offered to help, but
I declined. My only remaining debts are
my mortgages. I think he is pleased that I
managed to get my finances in shape.
Even though he is 98, he is not
suffering from dementia. However, he isn’t
as capable of doing things as he once was,
and he depends on my help more and more
— with his computer and finances, and
to serve as a translator.
Should I decline and feel noble? Or
should I be practical and take the offer
in the spirit he intends?
Name Withheld
You don’t mention your age, but the relationship you have with this man sounds
Illustration by Tomi Um
I recently spoke on the phone with an old
friend from college. During the call she
mentioned that her son is taking a drug for
A.D.H.D. and that it really helps him focus.
I know there is controversy surrounding this
class of drugs, but I didn’t feel comfortable
bringing that up. I assume she has looked
into the pros and cons, and I know her
mother is a psychiatrist. But should I mention
my concerns nevertheless? Or should my
concerns about seeming a busybody outweigh
concerns about her son’s future health?
Name Withheld
The answer to your last question is easy:
No. If the only issues were being thought
to be a busybody and the possibility that
a child would be seriously harmed, the
latter would win out. But you’d be raising
this issue with a mother who has a psychiatrist parent and, presumably, another doctor writing the prescriptions. You
don’t have a basis for thinking that you’re
better-placed to see the risks than your
friend is. So one reason you might have
hesitated to say something is that you
didn’t want to insult her by suggesting
she was either ignorant or careless about
her child’s welfare.
Still, I doubt she’d have taken affront had
you said at the time, ‘‘Oh, I thought I’d read
there could be bad long-term consequences
with those drugs.’’ Your friend could have
told you if she’d looked into them (or rushed
off to do research if she hadn’t). The more
time that passes, though, the more awkward your interjection becomes.
You can reassure yourself that parents
these days are likely to Google the names
of drugs prescribed for their children and
look up side effects. If you do this for two
of the major drugs prescribed for A.D.H.D.
— methylphenidate (e.g., Concerta) and
amphetamines (e.g., Adderall) — you find
arguments suggesting or denying significant risks to long-term use. It’s an issue
that a concerned mother would take up
with a doctor. At this point, you should
probably direct your attentions elsewhere.
I teach at a prestigious private art school.
Every year, we take in 600 or so young
Bonus Advice From Judge John Hodgman
Nancy writes: I live in Brookline, Mass., and when I’m driving
and see pedestrians waiting on the sidewalk at a ‘‘Yield to
Pedestrians’’ crosswalk, I stop for them. My husband says
that he won’t stop unless they are actually standing in the
crosswalk. Who is right?
————
This is an easily researched matter of law, but as you write
from my hometown, I will do your Googling for you this once.
In Massachusetts, when there is no traffic signal, you must
stop when a pedestrian is in the crosswalk in your lane of
travel, or approaching your lane of travel. So technically
your husband is correct, but as a Brookline native, I will advise
him: Don’t be a masshole. Where are you rushing to? The
Primal Plunge on Brighton Avenue, where I used to get all my
zines? You’re too late. That place has been closed for years!
Illustration by Kyle Hilton
Can I Let
My Friend
Pay Off My
Mortgages?
very like the relationship between a father
and a son. (We’ve withheld your name but
know that you’re a man.) His generous offer
is in the spirit of paternal love, and your
services to him, your clear concern for his
interests, your scruples and your wish not
to take advantage of him are like those of
a loving son. You are lucky to have this
relationship, as is he. He can afford to do
what he proposes to do. It will allow him
to express his gratitude and his friendship.
It will make him happy. And it will permit
you to have one less thing to worry about.
If you were preying on some emotional
or physical or mental vulnerability, you’d
be guilty of exploitation. But nothing in
your letter suggests that. And even if the
parental model isn’t quite right — even if,
as sounds possible, he is a little in love with
you — your reciprocated caring and affection mean that you’re not taking advantage
of him. Go ahead. In accepting his gift,
you’ll be making a gift of your own.
people with little understanding of
how the arts work as an industry.
We charge a very high tuition, offer almost
no scholarships and load them up
with a lot of debt. Even though we claim
to offer ‘‘career planning,’’ the illusions
of our students are not addressed. Our
graduates, even those with a degree in
design, rarely find a job in their field.
Those who do rarely last long before
realizing that they are in a hopeless
situation. Most have given up on art
within a few years of graduation. When
I encounter them, they convey a
considerable amount of bitterness about
student loans and the education they
received. By preying on their naïveté
and ignorance, I feel that we are
essentially robbing our students. Some
colleagues argue that we are not doing
anything that Harvard or N.Y.U. isn’t
doing — that we are simply a ‘‘special
place for a certain kind of young adult.’’
I do not have tenure and have no
influence in admissions or tuition policy.
Without this job, I am virtually
unemployable at my age. Is it wrong to
take the ‘‘caveat emptor’’ approach and
let these naïve young people continue to
pay me through their student loans?
Name Withheld
Having taught at Harvard and N.Y.U., I
confess to thinking that the education
they offer is not a matter of preying on
‘‘naïveté and ignorance.’’ But even if it
were, the bad behavior of other institutions wouldn’t excuse that of your own.
The school would do well to provide, and
draw attention to, reliable information
about the career prospects of graduates.
It might lose some students this way, but
it would gain something as well; a trail of
bitter graduates is not a sound basis for
seeking alumni support.
Are you obliged to take a public stand on
this, at the expense of your career? You are
not. Especially because it’s highly unlikely
that the school will change its practices as
a result. But you certainly shouldn’t mislead
any students who ask you about their prospects. The trope of the ‘‘starving artist’’ got
established for a reason.
Kwame Anthony Appiah teaches philosophy
at N.Y.U. He is the author of ‘‘Cosmopolitanism’’ and
‘‘The Honor Code: How Moral Revolutions Happen.’’
Eat By Sam Sifton
After the Feast
Following Thanksgiving, turkey leftovers fit for a king.
I love those moments before Thanksgiving dinner gets underway. I love how the
candles twinkle in the low light of late
afternoon and the windows are fogged
with steam from the mashed potatoes and
I can hear, out in the yard, a whisper of
laughter that will soon become a storm:
car doors slamming, friends and family
arriving for the weekend, company on
the step. There are knock-knocks and
you-made-its, hugs and lots of luggage
and bottles of wine. The turkey smells
great. Let’s go.
I love the meal just as much, with its
toasts and camaraderie and plates piled
high, love the gravy spills and the red
bloom of cranberries dropped on the
tablecloth, and how people you never
thought would eat very much are going
back for seconds, for thirds. The wine
gives way to whiskey, to deeper conversation, even as someone goes to sleep on
the couch, and it’s fine.
I love the walk that follows, how we
string out on a quiet Long Island street to
make our way down toward the dark water
of the harbor, the lot of us working up a
second appetite, for pie and crumble and
good sharp cheese. Dogs gambol, small
children ask to be carried and that really
is a cheroot a friend is lighting under the
big oak that’s going to come down some
night in a blow. It all fills me with happiness, and that happiness lingers right
through dessert and a movie and my midnight leftover turkey sandwich, through a
Friday-morning breakfast of biscuits with
sausage gravy, everyone lolling about,
crowded in the kitchen, ready for games
and adventure, holiday labor.
Soon enough, though: It is time for
you to go. There are pounds of leftovers
in the refrigerator, and I could feed an
army for a week. But like many who play
at extroversion, I can keep up the bubbly
all-are-welcome cheer for only so long. At
some point in the 36 hours that follow a
Thanksgiving feast, what I start to long for
24
11.26.17
Photographs by Gentl and Hyers
Food stylist: Maggie Ruggiero. Prop stylist: Amy Wilson.
Turkey à la King
Time: 30 minutes
6
tablespoons unsalted butter
2
tablespoons all-purpose flour
1¾
cups turkey or chicken stock,
low-sodium if store-bought
2
1½
cups sliced mushrooms, ideally wild,
approximately 4-6 ounces
cups chopped cooked turkey
½
cup heavy cream
1
cup frozen peas
2
tablespoons dry sherry
Kosher salt and freshly ground
black pepper to taste
Finely chopped parsley, for garnish
It’s the sort of
dish you devour
without much
conversation
but with raised
eyebrows
instead. It tastes
of relief.
is the quiet that preceded it, the relative
silence of a small family at weekend rest.
It is time to return to our regularly scheduled programming. I need to rake leaves.
And I want to dive into those leftovers and make turkey à la king. The
dish is absolutely nursery food, soft and
creamy, salty-sweet. It sits happily atop
toast or biscuits, rice or waffles or noodles; in some households, it’s wrapped
within crepes: leftover turkey in gravy,
essentially, with mushrooms and peas for
heft. And as such it is comforting to eat, in
much the same way that burrowing into
a nest on the couch to watch football or
a three-hankie movie is comforting. But
it is also threadbare elegant with its hint
of sherry, and you could call the gravy a
French sauce suprême if you liked.
That combination appeals to adults as
much as it does to children (and adults
who act like them). The singer Bobby
Short ate just such a dish nightly, with
chicken and lobes of foie gras, before his
shows at the Café Carlyle in New York. I
think it delivers the sort of metaphoric
euphoria that John Cheever compared
to the euphoria of drink, the sort of dish
you devour without much conversation
but with raised eyebrows of happiness
instead. It tastes of relief.
The ‘‘à la king’’ preparation is loaded in
origin myth. Some say it derives from the
recipe of a Philadelphia hotel chef named
King, who made the dish with chicken
in the late 19th century and served it to
cheers; others ascribe it to a nameless
hotel chef who made it for a customer
named King, who liked it so much it
became a menu standby. Either way, the
dish has nothing to do with royalty, even
if it may evoke the low American aristocracy of hotel guests, boarding schools and
heavy silver.
It’s goop on a plate, yes, so what? James
Beard, in his ‘‘Fireside Cook Book’’ of
1949, called the combination of cream
sauce and poultry ‘‘a most appetizing
and versatile dish.’’ He suggested the
addition of diced ham, or minced clams,
shucked oysters or a handful of slivered
pimiento. But for the traditional article,
you just make a little roux, add to it some
stock, foam some mushrooms in butter,
heat through some leftover turkey and a
handful of peas, then combine it all with
cream and a splash of sherry to create a
silken concoction of deep flavor. To me
it’s glorious, a reminder of Thanksgiving
joy just past and a celebration of the peace
that replaces it, a dish like a memory that
is gloriously slow to fade.
1. Make a roux. In a small saucepan set over
medium heat, melt 4 tablespoons of the
butter. When it begins to foam, sprinkle the
flour over it, and whisk to combine, then
continue whisking until it begins to turn the
color of straw, approximately 7-10 minutes.
2. Slowly add 1 cup of the turkey stock to
this mixture, and stir to combine. Add more
stock to thin the sauce. Keep warm.
3. Set a large sauté pan over mediumhigh heat, and add to it the remaining
2 tablespoons of butter. When it begins
to foam, add the mushrooms, and cook,
until the mushrooms have released their
moisture and begun to get glossy and
soft, approximately 7-10 minutes. Add the
turkey, then the warm sauce and cream,
and stir to combine. Add the peas, then
cook, stirring occasionally, until the mixture
is hot and has thickened slightly,
approximately 7-10 minutes.
4. Stir in the sherry, adjust seasonings and
serve over biscuits or toast, rice or buttered
noodles, garnished with the parsley.
Serves 4.
25
On Dessert By Dorie Greenspan
Child’s Play
Learning to bake instills joy and character.
26
11.26.17
Photograph by Gentl and Hyers
Food stylist: Maggie Ruggiero. Prop stylist: Amy Wilson.
Sometimes the
work became
the backdrop for
conversations
on subjects we
might never
have broached.
There’s a picture that I keep in the lefthand corner of my computer screen,
of me and my son, Joshua, who is now
grown, baking together years ago. It
shows me bent over the kitchen counter
gingerly disengaging a bell-shaped cookie
from a large piece of dough. It looks as if
it might have been gingerbread. Joshua
— age uncertain, less than 3, I’d say — is
standing on the stool we bought for just
this job. He’s holding a cookie cutter, and
there are more scattered about. We both
have flour on our fingers; Joshua has some
in his hair and on his sleeve, too. We’re
both concentrating intently.
We baked together regularly but rarely took pictures. I wish we’d taken more.
If we had, I think I would have seen us
growing older, but not different. In the
gingerbread picture, I recognize the
curve I still make over the counter and
the way Joshua holds his head when he’s
focused, the way he keeps his arms close
to his body when the task is intricate.
Our silhouettes would be the same
today, and we would probably be doing
the same things. Playing with the dough
a little longer than any recipe would recommend. Molding miniature figures from
the scraps. Licking bowls, spoons and fingers. Piling dishes in the sink and leaving
them for later. Sitting on the floor in front
of the oven window, watching our work
rise, turn golden and set. Snatching hot
cookies from the rack. Smiling, happy to
be together in the warm room with the
fragrance of butter and sugar and spice
around us.
As Joshua grew older, what we baked
didn’t change much. We made the cookies and plain cakes we had always loved
and the ones we probably could have
made without reading the recipes. What
changed was how we worked together. I
no longer needed to teach Joshua about
baking. He no longer felt he had to show
me what he could do. Our time in the
kitchen was simply time to be together
doing something we liked. Sometimes we
would work silently, and sometimes the
work became the backdrop for conversations on subjects we might never have
broached outside the kitchen, without the
comfort of dough in our hands and a familiar job ahead of us. These moments are
written indelibly into our shared memory.
Something else was being written as
we worked, too, something I didn’t really think about until last year. I had just
finished a talk at a bookstore outside Los
Angeles when a boy named Austin, age
2½, walked over to have his copy of my
cookbook ‘‘Baking From My Home to
Yours’’ signed. The book weighed five
pounds, and his mother helped him heft
it onto the desk. It was smudged and dogeared and lumpy in odd places. Austin
started leafing through the book, and I
saw why it was so misshapen: Every few
pages there was a photograph of him
with his mother and what they had baked.
Under the image was the date. ‘‘‘I think of
this book as his baby journal,’’ his mother
told me. When Austin would come to a
photo, he would point to it and say, ‘‘I
made this!’’ Each time he said it, he lifted
his head from the book, looked directly
at me and smiled.
When I was pregnant, I dreamed of
having a child with an eclectic appetite
and a proclivity toward all things French.
Michael, my husband, a skilled woodworker, imagined a child who could make
things with his hands. Michael believed
that when you craft something, you know
when it’s right. You can measure its good
qualities on your own — you don’t need
someone else’s praise or approval to
understand that you’ve done a job well.
Our time in the kitchen — all those
cookies and cakes and brownies and
cupcakes — gave Joshua that quiet sense
of competence. Maybe especially the cupcakes. I remember one afternoon when
Joshua must have been in middle school.
Until that day, every baking project was
a work for 20 fingers; that day, he told
me that I could sit on the windowsill, that
he would make the cupcakes himself. I
watched him line the muffin tins with
pleated papers and mix the batter. We
chatted, and he worked, checking that
there was the same amount of batter in
each cup, poking the tops of the cakes to
see if they were baked through and finally
frosting them. When the cupcakes were
ready, he admired his work. I did, too.
butter, at room temperature
1
cup (200 grams) sugar
3
large eggs
1
large yolk
2
teaspoons pure vanilla extract
¾
1
cup (180 ml) buttermilk, shaken
cup (170 grams) mini chocolate chips
For the frosting:
9
ounces (255 grams) semisweet or
bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
3
tablespoons confectioner’s sugar, sifted
6
tablespoons (85 grams) cold unsalted
butter
Sprinkles, optional
1. To make the cupcakes: Position the
racks to divide the oven into thirds, and
preheat to 350. Line 18 muffin cups
with cupcake papers, or grease the tins.
2. Whisk together the flour, baking powder,
baking soda and salt.
3. Working with a mixer, beat the butter
and sugar together on medium speed until
light and fluffy, 3-4 minutes. Add the whole
eggs and the yolk one at a time, mixing well
after each goes in. Beat in the vanilla.
4. On low speed, mix in the dry ingredients in
three additions and the buttermilk in two,
scraping the bowl, as needed, and beating
until the batter is smooth. Mix in the chips.
5. Divide the batter among the muffin cups.
Bake for 20-22 minutes — rotating the
pans top to bottom and front to back after
10 minutes — or until the tops feel springy
to the touch (they won’t color much) and a
toothpick inserted into the center comes
out clean. Cool in the pans for 10 minutes,
then transfer to a rack to cool to room
temperature. Frost, and cover with sprinkles,
if you’d like, before the frosting dries.
6. To make the frosting: Put the chocolate
in a heatproof bowl, and fit it into a saucepan
of simmering water — don’t let the bottom
of the bowl touch the water. Melt the chocolate,
stirring occasionally. Remove the bowl from
the heat, whisk in the sugar and let rest on the
counter for 3 minutes. Bit by bit, whisk in the
cold butter, mixing until smooth and thickened
just enough to spread. Use immediately.
Black-and-White Cupcakes
Active time: 25 minutes
Yield: 18 cupcakes.
For the cupcakes:
1¾
2
¼
cups (238 grams) all-purpose flour
teaspoons baking powder
teaspoon baking soda
¼
teaspoon fine sea salt
10
tablespoons (133 grams) unsalted
27
28
The Voices in
Blue America’s
H
For years, liberal
s have tried,
and failed, to cr
eate their own ve
rsion
of conservative
talk radio. Has
Crooked Media
finally figured it
out?
By Jason Zenger
Photograph by Br
le
ian Finke
ead
It was early November, the day before Virginia’s elections, and the Democratic cavalry —
in the form of four podcast hosts crammed into
a Lyft — was coming to the aid of Lt. Gov. Ralph
Northam. ‘‘Do you want to kick things off with
something light and funny?’’ Jon Favreau asked
Jon Lovett as their ride — an S.U.V. outfitted with
neon lights and a disco ball that were a bit discombobulating before 9 o’clock in the morning —
took them to a Richmond campaign office. They’d
be rallying volunteers canvassing for Northam,
the Democratic candidate for governor, who was
at the time commanding a perilously narrow lead
in the polls. ‘‘I want to go toward the end for some
earnestness,’’ Favreau said.
‘‘You should do something real message-y,’’
Tommy Vietor proposed.
‘‘I’m expecting the ‘race speech’ for G.O.T.V.,’’
Dan Pfeiffer chimed in.
It was a joke from the podcasters’ past lives.
As Barack Obama’s chief speechwriter for eight
years, Favreau had a hand in some of his most
memorable oratory — none more so than the 2008
campaign speech about race that followed questions about Obama’s relationship with the Rev.
Jeremiah Wright. Whenever a knotty issue arose
in Obama’s White House, Pfeiffer and Vietor, who
worked in the communications department, and
Lovett, a fellow speechwriter, would taunt Favreau:
‘‘We need a ‘race speech’ for Simpson-Bowles,’’ or:
‘‘Write a ‘race speech’ for the BP oil spill.’’
The night before, at the National, an 800-seat
theater in Richmond, Favreau and his co-hosts
performed a sold-out live taping of ‘‘Pod Save
America,’’ a liberal political podcast and the flagship offering from Crooked Media, the media
company that Favreau, Lovett and Vietor started
in January. ‘‘Pod Save America’’ scored its first
million-listener episode within its first several
weeks, and it now averages 1.5 million listeners
per show — about as many people as Anderson
Cooper draws on prime-time CNN. Their podcast
has come to occupy a singular perch in blue America; where an NPR tote bag once signified a certain
political persuasion and mind-set, in the age of
Trump, it’s a ‘‘Friend of the Pod’’ T-shirt. ‘‘ ‘Pod
Save America,’ ’’ says the Democratic strategist
Jesse Ferguson, ‘‘is the voice of the ‘resistance.’ ’’
Its hosts have not shied
Previous photograph
away from making use
(from left): Tommy
of their newfound influVietor, Jon Lovett
and Jon Favreau
ence. In 2017, ‘‘Pod Save
backstage before a
America’’ has pointed its
‘‘Pod Tours America’’
audience toward an array
event in November.
of grass-roots groups on
the left, partnering with MoveOn to send nearly
2,000 listeners to Republican town-hall meetings,
with Swing Left to raise more than $1 million for
challengers to House Republicans next year and
with Indivisible to deluge Republican senators
with tens of thousands of phone calls in favor
of preserving Obamacare. And in Richmond,
the hosts were lending their activist cachet and
30
11.26.17
charisma to Northam, a candidate who, Democrats worried, could use a lot more of both.
‘‘With Donald Trump winning the presidency,
we have decided — we’ve realized — that democracy is not just a job for politicians,’’ Favreau told
the crowd at Northam’s campaign office, amid
half-empty doughnut boxes and carafes of coffee.
‘‘It’s a job for every single American, and that job
doesn’t just end on Election Day — that job is an
every-single-day job. It is a fight.’’
As the podcasters spoke, Northam looked on
with what appeared to be a mixture of bewilderment and admiration. He was the candidate,
and the only person in the room wearing a suit
and tie — the podcast hosts, like the canvassers,
were dressed in jeans and hoodies — but it was
clear he knew he wasn’t the star of this particular show. When it was his turn to speak, the
man who in 36 hours would be elected Virginia’s
73rd governor recalled a conversation he had
the day before with his two 20-something children. ‘‘They said, ‘We heard you’re going to be
on ‘‘Pod Save America’’! Is that true?’ ’’ Northam
recounted. The crowd laughed. ‘‘Oh, my God!’’
he exclaimed. ‘‘I have finally arrived!’’
During the 2016 campaign, Favreau, Lovett,
Vietor and Pfeiffer — mostly as a lark — hosted
a popular politics podcast for Bill Simmons’s
sports-and-pop-culture website The Ringer
called ‘‘Keepin’ It 1600.’’ But with Hillary Clinton
expected to be sitting in the Oval Office in 2017,
‘‘we didn’t want to be the people who criticized
the White House just to be interesting, nor did
we want to be to the Clinton administration
what Hannity now is to the Trump administration,’’ Pfeiffer says. ‘‘We all assumed the election
was the end of the road for us.’’
Favreau, Lovett and Vietor were in their 20s
when they went to work for Obama in the White
House, and they had been somewhat adrift since
leaving it around the end of Obama’s first term.
They relocated to California in search of a second act, but nothing quite stuck. Lovett helped
create a sitcom called ‘‘1600 Penn’’ about a wacky
First Family, but poor ratings and reviews led
NBC to cancel it after one season. Favreau and
Vietor founded a strategic communications firm
to pay the bills while they nursed their own TV
ambitions, but their projects — a campaign
drama-comedy called ‘‘Early States’’ and a public-affairs show that they pitched, with Lovett, as
‘‘a millennial ‘Meet the Press’ ’’ — were rejected
by the networks and streaming services. ‘‘Lots of
people in suits told us that politics was a crowded space as they greenlit ‘CSI [expletive] West
Hollywood’ or whatever,’’ Vietor recalls.
The day after Trump’s victory, Lovett was driving Favreau and Vietor to The Ringer’s Hollywood
studios when his car ran out of gas. It was while
the three of them were pushing the Jeep Grand
Cherokee down Sunset Boulevard that they first
started discussing what would become ‘‘Pod Save
America’’ and Crooked Media. They wanted to get
involved in politics again, but none of them had
any desire to go back to Washington or to work
for a candidate. A podcast and a liberal media
company, they thought, could be their contribution to the anti-Trump resistance.
In the early days of ‘‘Pod Save America,’’ the
hosts leaned heavily on their Obama connections;
Obama himself was the guest on one of their
first episodes. But as the podcast rapidly built
an audience, Democratic politicians outside the
Obama orbit began accepting their invitations,
or sometimes even asking to appear on the show
— even if they didn’t always know what exactly ‘‘Pod Save America’’ was. In a May episode,
Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota confessed
that it had been her daughter’s idea for her to be
interviewed: ‘‘I, for some reason, thought it was a
video, so I spent a lot of time wearing a hip outfit
today, and then I found out it was a podcast.’’
More than 1,600 political podcasts — most of
them anti-Trump — have appeared since the 2016
election, according to RawVoice, a podcast hosting and analytics company. ‘‘Pod Save America,’’
with nearly 120 million downloads to date, is
the undisputed king of the field. But the show’s
y that
‘If there is one wa t the 2016
ha
w
up
m
su
d
ul
wo
I
cable news,
election was on journalists
ss
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ons.’
or
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numbers alone do not quite capture the nature
of its accomplishment. With a shoestring budget
and no organizational backing, its hosts seem to
have created something that liberals have spent
almost two decades, and hundreds of millions of
dollars, futilely searching for: the left’s answer
to conservative talk radio.
Air America, the nationwide liberal talk-radio
network, declared bankruptcy and stopped
broadcasting in 2010 after six years of middling to
abysmal ratings. The independent cable network
Current TV, which Al Gore started with Joel Hyatt
in 2005, tried to make itself a platform for unapologetically liberal commentary — at one point hiring
Keith Olbermann as its chief news officer — but it
was sold and shut down in 2013. Part of the problem with these earlier ventures was their arms-race
mentality: They offered liberals a mirror image of
what conservatives had, rather than something
liberals might actually want. ‘‘Olbermann was lefty
O’Reilly,’’ says Tim Miller, a Republican media consultant and Crooked Media’s token conservative
contributor. ‘‘Air America was lefty Limbaugh.’’
‘‘Pod Save America,’’ by contrast, has no
conservative antecedent. The craft-beer-barbull-session vibe of podcasts suits the left better
than the shouty antagonism of talk radio. ‘‘Rather than trying to replicate what’s worked on the
right, these podcasts aren’t taking the same tropes
you see on Fox or hear on conservative talk radio
and applying them to the left,’’ Miller says.
On ‘‘Pod Save America,’’ Favreau sits in what
radio pros call ‘‘the power chair,’’ dictating the
topics and pace of the show; Lovett provides
comic relief; and Pfeiffer and Vietor contribute
an earnest wonkiness. A typical hourlong episode
might consist of a breakdown of the latest Republican tax-reform proposal, some war stories from
the Obama White House, a dispute about which
host was more disruptive at a recent ‘‘Game of
Thrones’’ viewing party and an interview with
Ta-Nehisi Coates. ‘‘It’s down to earth and relaxed,’’
Seth Moulton, a Massachusetts congressman who
appeared on ‘‘Pod Save America’’ in March, told
me. ‘‘I think it’s important for people to realize I’m
a regular person, and sometimes you don’t get that
when you see me in a suit on CNN.’’
Like conservative talk radio or Fox News, ‘‘Pod
Save America’’ is an authentic partisan response
to the perceived failings of the mainstream media.
While many conservatives hate the mainstream
media for its supposed liberal bias, many liberals
have come to despise what they see as its tendency
toward false equivalence — a grievance particularly inflamed by the coverage of Hillary Clinton
during the 2016 campaign. Liberals don’t want a
hermetically sealed media ecosystem of their own,
so much as one that does away with the pretense of
kneejerk balance: a media that’s willing to say one
side is worse than the other. ‘‘I screamed at the TV
a lot in the White House,’’ Favreau says. He and his
co-hosts particularly loathe the bipartisan on-air
panels of blabbering pundits that cable networks
deployed during the election. ‘‘If there is one way
that I would sum up what the 2016 election was
on cable news,’’ Lovett says, ‘‘it was world-class
journalists interviewing morons.’’
‘‘Pod Save America,’’ to its hosts and its listeners, is a twice-weekly reality check. ‘‘I think
that when you have a president gaslighting an
entire nation,’’ Vietor says, ‘‘there’s a cathartic
effect when you have a couple of people who
worked in the White House who are like: ‘Hey,
this is crazy. You’re right, he’s wrong.’ ’’
What is absent from the podcast, significantly,
is any of the usual liberal squeamishness (or,
depending on your point of view, principle) about
using media as a tool of partisan advantage. Liberal activists point regretfully to Jon Stewart and
Stephen Colbert, who in their Comedy Central
heyday were happy to savage Republicans but
refused to champion Democrats: In 2010, the
pair drew some 215,000 people to the National
Mall a few days before the midterm elections,
only to keep the rally strictly nonpartisan. ‘‘Pod
Save America,’’ by contrast, isn’t afraid to, as Ben
Wikler of MoveOn puts it, ‘‘actually touch Excalibur.’’ At the theater in Richmond this month,
shortly before bringing Northam and the rest of
Virginia’s Democratic ticket onstage, Favreau
asked the crowd: ‘‘Is everyone registered to vote?
Is everyone going to be doing phone-banking
and canvassing? Because if not, you have to leave.’’
Crooked Media’s headquarters consists of a
few bargain-priced rooms on La Cienega in a
seedy section of West Hollywood, cater-corner
to a lingerie shop and across the street from a
strip club. On the summer afternoon I visited, I
was greeted at the entrance by a goldendoodle.
Favreau, materializing behind the animal, said:
‘‘This is Lovett’s dog, Pundit — the thing that we
hate and the thing that we’ve become.’’
The office, like the company itself, was still very
much a work in progress. An entire wall was covered with ‘‘A Beautiful Mind’’-style scribbles about
‘‘webseries,’’ ‘‘daily micropods’’ and ‘‘chat convos’’
— the handiwork of Tanya Somanader, who was
the director of digital rapid response in the Obama
White House and is now Crooked Media’s chief
content officer. ‘‘This,’’ she said, pointing at the
wall and summoning as portentous a tone as she
could muster, ‘‘is how you build a media empire.’’
The self-mockery about Crooked Media’s ambitions belies how outsize those ambitions are. In
addition to ‘‘Pod Save America,’’ the company now
has six other podcasts and plans to roll out at least
two more soon. It has hired two producers, one
from MTV and the other from the Oprah Winfrey
Network. In October, it poached a New Republic
writer to helm its website. A nationwide ‘‘Pod Save
America’’ tour, Crooked Media’s first serious stab
at live events, has so far played to sold-out theaters
in seven cities. For the 2018 midterms and the
2020 presidential race, Crooked Media is hoping
to host candidate forums and debates.
Acutely aware of the perils of their new operation resembling the old political-media boys’ club,
the decidedly bro-ish ‘‘Pod Save America’’ hosts
have slanted Crooked Media’s growing podcast
slate toward non-white-male hosts, and the company’s top two executives are women. ‘‘Ideally
what we’re trying to build is a media company
that’s not about one show, ‘Pod Save America,’ but
a whole bunch of new shows that are not living
and dying by the latest tweet,’’ Vietor told me.
Still, the one show is serving them awfully well.
An executive at another podcasting company
told me that assuming standard industry rates,
Crooked Media is most likely bringing in at least
$50,000 in advertising revenue for each episode
of ‘‘Pod Save America’’ — which at two episodes a
week is about $5 million a year. That has allowed
the company to turn away the many investors
who have approached it. Peter Chernin, whose
Chernin Group acquired a reported 51 percent
stake in the media company Barstool Sports last
year, was one of them. ‘‘I think it’s more unusual
than standard to turn down investors,’’ Chernin
told me, ‘‘but it’s been very smart on their part.’’
Chernin was the president of Rupert Murdoch’s
News Corporation when the company enlisted
Roger Ailes to get Fox News off the ground in the
late 1990s, and he sees some parallels between the
conservative cable channel and Crooked Media.
‘‘This was true of Roger: It’s not just a business
for these Crooked Media guys, it’s a calling,’’ he
told me. ‘‘The real execution challenge is about
authenticity. Does it feel authentic to the audience?
They certainly have that going for them.’’
Few things are as inauthenticity-prone, however, as the political-pundit business. On a
Saturday morning in July, ‘‘Pod Save America’’
traveled to the Pasadena Convention Center for
Politicon, a two-day event that has been hailed
as the ‘‘Comic-Con of politics,’’ in which several thousand political junkies pay $80 apiece for
the opportunity to see their favorite cable-news
talking heads in the flesh. When the Politicon
organizers first approached them about appearing, the ‘‘Pod Save America’’ hosts recoiled at the
idea — ‘‘Some of these people are despicable,’’
Lovett complained to the organizers about the
other invitees — but they eventually reconsidered. After all, they had a brand to promote.
As they stood at the threshold of the Politicon greenroom, the ‘‘Pod Save America’’ hosts
looked like patients about to go into surgery.
‘‘I’d rather stay out here as long as possible,’’
Vietor whispered. Inside, Ann Coulter —
flanked by a couple of cops who were providing security — marked her territory, while the
Coulter wannabe Tomi Lahren paraded around
with a camera crew in tow. In one corner, the
Republican rogue Roger Stone held court. In
another, Chris Cillizza of CNN dispensed conventional wisdom. The Crooked Media guys
mostly talked among themselves.
Then Vietor and Lovett spotted Bill Kristol,
the founding editor of The Weekly Standard and
a neoconservative boogeyman to liberals during
the George W. Bush presidency, who emerged as
one of the most forthright conservative critics of
Trump in 2016. They introduced themselves and
fell into conversation about the 2008 election. ‘‘You
guys had a good team,’’ Kristol said. ‘‘It seems like
another era: Hillary and Obama debating the intricacies of whether you could do health care reform
without a mandate or with a mandate.’’
‘‘The primary was about whether the I.R.G.C.’’
— Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps —
‘‘should be a terrorist group!’’ Vietor marveled.
Soon, their discussion turned to the Trump
administration. ‘‘It’s so unbelievable that these
guys are trying to run anything,’’ Kristol lamented. ‘‘This level of total insanity is terrible.’’
‘‘You know what?’’ Lovett told Kristol. ‘‘I like
you better lately. It’s like we’re together to fight
the aliens.’’
‘‘It’s like we’re all defending the Earth!’’
Kristol said.
‘‘But at some point the aliens will leave,’’
Lovett reminded him. ‘‘And then we’ll just be
sitting at the same table being like, ‘Oh, right,
we hate each other.’ ’’
The New York Times Magazine
31
32
What happens to a provocateur like Spike Lee when the culture catches up to him?
By Thomas Chatterton Williams / Photographs by Mamadi Doumbouya
efore he had even made his
first movie, Spike Lee used
to fantasize about three
things: season tickets at
the Garden, a brownstone
in Fort Greene like the one
that he was raised in and
a house in the historically
black Oak Bluffs section of
Martha’s Vineyard. In 1986,
after writing, producing,
directing and acting in his infectious debut,
‘‘She’s Gotta Have It,’’ a stylish, edgy rom-com
about a libidinous young woman juggling three
lovers, those Knicks seats came first. The two
homes swiftly followed, and within a decade,
Lee’s status and celebrity had catapulted him,
practically against his will, from Da Republic of
Brooklyn, as he likes to call it in emails, into a
8,200-square-foot Upper East Side townhouse
that was previously home to Jasper Johns. But
the getaway in Massachusetts, situated next to
the 18th hole at the Farm Neck Golf Club, has
never required upgrading.
As I was preparing to visit him there this
summer, Lee warned me that the second week
of August is when ‘‘everybody’’ descends on
the Vineyard. He did not lie. The annual African-American Film Festival was happening, and
the sheer saturation of black achievement on display — on an 87-square-mile strip of land that
is home to some of the first integrated beaches
in the country and also synonymous with the
liliest-lily-white establishment — was something
to behold. In the previous 24 hours, both Barack
Obama and the two-time N.B.A. champion Ray
Allen had teed off behind Lee’s house; as my Uber
turned down Lee’s dirt driveway, Henry Louis
Gates Jr. pedaled past on a tricycle. Lee has long
been a fixture at the festival, and this year he
would be previewing his latest project, a 10-episode Netflix reboot of the very film that made
him a star: ‘‘She’s Gotta Have It.’’ A late-career
foray into prestige television, the series, released
this week, marks a homecoming of sorts, as well
as a risky departure.
My driver, an amiable 6-foot-8 Jamaican man
who grew up in Canarsie, became star-struck
when Lee came to meet our car and did not want
to pull away. ‘‘What high school you go to?’’ Lee
asked him by way of greeting. Schools and sports
teams are the kinds of affiliations that genuinely
mean a lot to him. The driver’s answer seemed
satisfactory, but then Lee noticed his backward
baseball cap and asked to see the front of it. The
driver sheepishly swiveled it around. ‘‘It’s a B for
Brooklyn,’’ he tried.
‘‘That ain’t no Brooklyn! That B is for Boston!’’
Lee erupted, only half-jokingly. ‘‘Do you see the
flag?’’ He pointed to an enormous navy-blue-andwhite New York Yankees standard hoisted high
above his property, so large it flapped in slow
motion, as if underwater. ‘‘Look at the flag!’’
34
11.26.17
Lee was dressed more or less as himself, with
a white Yankees cap, blue plastic frames and a
diamond stud gleaming in his left earlobe. He had
draped bright blue-and-orange plastic necklaces
and two long gold chains suspending a chunky
crucifix over a dark blue Yankees jersey. He also
had on Knicks-colored Nikes, a Knicks-colored
G-Shock watch, numerous matching blue-andorange plastic bracelets and a beautiful one made
out of solid gold. The sheer quantity of flair on
his person was Pharaonic.
He led me to the wraparound porch off the
main house, to a white table with his papers
spread on it. When he had checked and silenced
his BlackBerry — he still uses one — I brought
up Kathryn Bigelow’s latest movie, ‘‘Detroit,’’
which opened the African-American Film Festival two days earlier. The film, about the violence
inflicted by white police officers on black residents of Detroit during the 1967 riots, had upset
audiences. Many black critics, and some white
ones, had been making the case that it wasn’t
Bigelow’s right as a white person to tell such a
story in the first place — that her lingering and
detailed depiction of the violence took on the
qualities of pornography. I asked Lee if he agreed
with that assessment.
‘‘I haven’t seen it,’’ Lee said. ‘‘She’s a very good
director. She knows what she’s doing.’’ He thought
for a moment, then added: ‘‘But I do understand
the flip side. Black folks get kind of funny now
with other people telling our stories.’’ Lee himself
has long been one of the most outspoken critics
of such work. He has famously feuded with Quentin Tarantino over what he views as Tarantino’s
appropriation and exploitation of blackness, particularly in ‘‘Django Unchained.’’ ‘‘American Slavery Was Not a Sergio Leone Spaghetti Western,’’
Lee wrote on Twitter. ‘‘It Was a Holocaust.’’ And
he wrested ‘‘Malcolm X’’ away from the director
Norman Jewison on the grounds, according to
Jewison, that he lacked ‘‘the deep understanding
of the black psyche’’ required to handle the subject. Sitting on his porch, Lee lifted his cap and
ran a hand across his freshly buzzed scalp. ‘‘I don’t
want to sound like a cliché,’’ he said, laughing,
‘‘but people are kind of woke.’’
Cliché or not, it’s true: People are kind of woke
these days. And it must be vindicating and also
somewhat disorienting for a figure like Lee, a man
who hasn’t changed one bit but whom the wider
culture has increasingly come to resemble. Beginning with his third film, the masterpiece ‘‘Do the
Right Thing’’ (1989), about a feverish day in Bedford-Stuyvesant that culminates in a deadly race
riot; intensifying in his fifth film, ‘‘Jungle Fever’’
(1991), a blunt cautionary tragedy of interracial
romance; and culminating in his sixth movie,
‘‘Malcolm X’’ (1992), a three-hour biopic brought
to fruition through force of will alone, Lee has
earned and never really shaken the reputation of
a talented but polarizing director — something
of a professional black crank.
Spike Lee in his Brooklyn office in November.
For much of his career, Lee was either the
black — or the only serious black — filmmaker
around, and this combination of gravity and
rarity allowed him to navigate a singular course
both inside and outside the studio system, telling
artistically ambitious, unapologetically black stories and reaping significant financial and critical
rewards in the process, practically in a vacuum.
(There have certainly been more commercially
successful black storytellers, but by and large they
have lacked broad cultural cachet.) But what does
the formerly isolated black filmmaker do, then,
in a time of sustained racial awakening, a cultural
moment when politically conscious black storytelling is not only flourishing at the margins but
also making deep incursions into the center, a
time when audiences can eagerly anticipate blackhelmed blockbusters like Ryan Coogler’s ‘‘Black
Panther’’ and Ava DuVernay’s ‘‘A Wrinkle in Time’’?
Photograph by Mamadi Doumbouya for The New York Times
In such a context, Lee’s decision to remake
‘‘She’s Gotta Have It’’ can seem like an advertisement for himself, a savvy, scripted campaign to
remind a viewing public with a very short attention span just who was here first. But for someone
who has cut against the grain for so long and from
so many angles, this return to the beginning can
also look like a tacit concession that one of America’s sharpest, most provocative personalities may
have finally run out of grain to cut against.
In 1992, Esquire ran a cover article with the
incredible title ‘‘Spike Lee Hates Your Cracker
Ass.’’ It contained many quotes like this from Lee:
‘‘We’ve been robbed of our names and robbed of
our culture. When you’re told every single day for
400 years that you’re subhuman, when you rob
people of their self-worth, knowledge, history,
there’s nothing worse you can do. We got told
that if we could ride in a bus next to a white person, take a leak next to a white man, everything
would be fine. Well, we got those things.’’
But those victories didn’t amount to much, in
Lee’s estimation. The journalist, Barbara Grizzuti
Harrison, grew increasingly despondent. ‘‘Why
should I have expected more than any other white
interviewer has elicited from this 35-year-old producer, writer, director and world-class hustler
who courts the media and simultaneously repels
inquiry with set speeches, set postures, attitude?
Why should I have entertained the hope that we
could leap over the dividing wall of color?’’
One of the most striking aspects of reading
the article in 2017 is Harrison’s reaction, not Lee’s
statements. What he says, from our current vantage, seems unexceptional — talking like that
about race has practically become an orthodoxy.
And this is one of the more intriguing challenges
Lee, who recently turned 60, will be facing with
‘‘She’s Gotta Have It.’’ In terms of the racial politics of the day, he is more in tune than ever with
mainstream liberal thought. In terms of sexual
politics, however, to borrow Lee’s own phrasing, women are also getting kind of funny about
other people telling their stories. And younger
female auteurs like Issa Rae and Lena Dunham
have seized the means of narrative production,
portraying female sexuality and desire in ever
more urgent and original ways.
What Harrison missed about her subject is that
Lee has never been anything other than a firstrate color-line traverser. Born Shelton Lee in 1957
in Atlanta, the eldest of six, he moved with his
family to Brooklyn when he was small. The Lees
became the first black family to integrate Cobble
Hill, a heavily Italian-American neighborhood
near the waterfront. ‘‘We got called nigger this
The New York Times Magazine
35
and nigger that,’’ he said with a shrug, when I
asked what that was like. Once his new neighbors
discerned that there were no more black families
following his, they seemed to relax. From that
point on, Lee — whose mother, Jacquelyn, had
taken to calling Spike because he was ‘‘a tough
baby’’ — made friends mostly with white kids.
‘‘But my mother was a visionary,’’ he said, so his
parents saved and bought a brownstone facing
the park in Fort Greene, which was then all black,
‘‘for like $45,000.’’ (Houses on that street now
routinely top $3 million.) Jacquelyn died from
cancer in 1976 and never saw her son’s success.
His father, Bill, remarried a Lithuanian-American Jew with dreadlocks who referred to herself as ‘‘spiritually black.’’ Bill still lives in that
same brownstone.
Lee descends, as he puts it, ‘‘from a long line of
educated Negroes.’’ After graduating from John
Dewey High School in 1975, he went to Morehouse College, just as his father and grandfather
did. His mother went to Spelman, and so did her
mother, Zimmie Shelton, the granddaughter of
a slave, who went on to teach art, and, Lee says,
‘‘saved the Social Security checks’’ so that she was
able to put him through both college and N.Y.U.
film school, where his contemporaries included
Jim Jarmusch and Ang Lee. Today he is the artistic director of N.Y.U.’s graduate film program.
Perhaps Lee’s most important influence,
however, was Bill, who scored his son’s first four
movies. He was a bass player talented enough
to record with Bob Dylan, and the family’s sole
breadwinner. But when the industry veered electric in the ’60s, he refused to adapt, and the work
vanished. Jacquelyn, who had been a homemaker
for years, was forced to return to teaching highschool English, at St. Ann’s in Brooklyn Heights.
That kind of self-sabotaging bohemian purity
seemed to make a defining impression on their
son — a perfect example of how not to be an artist. Since Lee’s very first feature, all of his films
have been made through his own company, 40
Acres and a Mule Filmworks, a defiant nod to the
broken Reconstruction-era promise. ‘‘I want to
wet my beak,’’ he told me. ‘‘I wet my beak ’cause
there’s been a history of black artists, athletes
being taken advantage of, and other people are
making fortunes off our blood, sweat and tears.’’
Claude Grunitzky, an entrepreneur and the
founder of the pioneering urban-culture magazine Trace, has known Lee and collaborated on
commercial and editorial projects with him since
the ’90s. He explained to me that Lee was always
aware of his own value, and that as a result, he
made significantly more money from his films
than a typical independent director. Because he
owns 40 Acres, Grunitzky said, ‘‘he can find a
way to pay himself as opposed to being victim
to a Hollywood studio.’’ I asked Grunitzky why
everybody doesn’t do that, and his response was
simple: ‘‘Very few people can get away with it.’’
Lee’s near-solitary status as a black auteur for
36
11.26.17
Tracy Camilla Johns and Spike Lee
in ‘‘She’s Gotta Have It’’ (1986).
much of his career allowed him to find financing in unconventional places. When, for example, Warner Brothers balked at putting up the
money to produce the version of ‘‘Malcolm X’’
Lee wanted to make, he was able to circumvent
the studio and petition the most prominent
members of the black 1 percent, including Magic
Johnson, Oprah Winfrey and Bill Cosby, to open
their pocketbooks.
Lee also brought in lucrative advertising
deals through his company Spike DDB. The
eight black-and-white Air Jordan commercials
he directed for Nike in the early ’90s — and in
which he co-starred as his character Mars Blackmon — were nearly as pivotal in embedding the
product within the culture as the young M.V.P.’s
offense. (To this day, Nike continues to make
a highly coveted riff on the sneaker called the
Spizike.) In ‘‘The Spike Lee Reader,’’ the film
scholar Paula J. Massood noted that ‘‘Lee’s production and advertising companies (the latter in
particular) provide the financial foundations’’ for
him to pursue deeply original work without caving to market imperatives. Selling out, in other
words, to avoid selling out.
Yet despite having cracked the code of how to
be a well-compensated artist — one whose beak,
in real terms, is practically soaking — Lee is resistant to being thought of as wealthy. Whenever the
conversation turns to money, he tends to compare himself not with everyday Americans — let
alone black people — or even with other artists,
but with billionaire moguls. ‘‘I didn’t make as
much as Spielberg or Lucas, you know,’’ he told
me. In 2008, he told The New Yorker that he was
‘‘not rich rich.’’ He went on: ‘‘Rich is Spielberg.
Lucas. Gates. Steve Jobs. Jay-Z! Bruce Springsteen. I’m not complaining. But that’s money. Will
Smith. Tyler Perry. Oprah Winfrey — that’s a ton
of money. Compared to them, I’m on welfare!’’
It’s an almost ludicrously self-indulgent way
of interpreting gradations of hyperaffluence, but
I could also see Lee’s point. It was Lee who discovered and first cast Halle Berry. It is Lee whose
homes are filled with signed photos saying ‘‘thank
you’’ from Michael Jordan. It was Lee who was
the first in the hip-hop era to aestheticize both
the black college milieu that Kanye West used as
a launchpad as well as the brownstone Brooklyn landscape that anticipated the borough’s
21st-century renaissance. All of which is why it
may be incongruous, yet on some level not outlandish, to think of Spike Lee as still not having
gotten his full due.
In 31 years, Lee has achieved a rate of productivity that is rivaled in America only by Woody Allen.
His body of work is prodigious: 22 feature movies, of which at least three are absolutely first-rate;
a half-dozen more are flawed classics, and all of
them are at least sporadically brilliant, artistically
daring and always intellectually ambitious. There
are also many documentaries, which cover a wide
range of black American topics, including two
on Michael Jackson and one on Kobe Bryant. Of
these, ‘‘4 Little Girls’’ (1997), about the Little Rock
church bombings, and ‘‘When the Levees Broke’’
(2006), about Hurricane Katrina, are two of the
best documentaries ever made about black life —
or perhaps just life — in the South. Yet many of his
projects have been commercial flops, and he has
scored just one legitimate box-office smash in his
career, ‘‘Inside Man’’ (2006), a slick bank-robbery
thriller starring Denzel Washington and Clive
Owen that grossed in the nine figures.
‘‘He basically cashed in all the good will he had
from ‘Inside Man’ to raise funds for ‘Miracle at St.
Anna,’ ’’ said James McBride, the National Book
Award-winning author of the novel from which
the script, about a real-life all-black regiment in
Island Pictures/Courtesy Everett Collection
‘It’s always been
my belief that if
you’re really going
to be an artiste,
you really have to
go after the truth.’
Italy during World War II, was adapted in 2008. It,
too, was a commercial failure. ‘‘That’s the dilemma of a talented black artist in any field,’’ McBride
told me. ‘‘You have to recreate the genre, otherwise you don’t survive. Stevie Wonder is not a
pop musician; Stevie Wonder is a genre. Michael
Jackson is a genre to himself. Spike Lee has
moved into that territory. Spike Lee is not short
on talent. What Spike Lee is short on is friends
in the industry, and the kind of space to fail. He
has no room to fail.’’ Rosie Perez, a longtime collaborator of Lee’s, echoed McBride’s sentiments
over the phone. ‘‘For someone of Spike’s stature
to have to extend himself the way he has to to
get something done is just insulting,’’ she told me,
growing emotional as she spoke.
These observations about the specific plight of
the black genius — that lack of margin for error
— called to mind something the comedian Chris
Rock has said: True equality would look less like
a black president than like a black Sarah Palin. In
culture as in politics, while many profess to value
diversity, there remains scant space for a thriving
black ‘‘middle class’’ within the industry, a healthy
ecosystem of artists and others working at varying
levels of talent and acclaim. (In a 2016 Annenberg survey of Hollywood directors, 87 percent
of respondents were white.) This winner-takes-all
system has led to some magnificent black art in
recent years, from Barry Jenkins’s ‘‘Moonlight’’ to
Donald Glover’s ‘‘Atlanta’’ to Jordan Peele’s ‘‘Get
Out.’’ But such breakthroughs can be counted on
five fingers at best.
As Lee sees it, the solution to the problem will
not come from the artists themselves. ‘‘Even now
with ‘She’s Gotta Have It,’ ’’ Lee said to me on
his porch, ‘‘many people had passed on it. The
reason it got made was because Netflix has three
black women executives — Pauline Fischer, Tara
Duncan and Layne Eskridge — who knew the
cultural significance of Nola Darling and Mars
Blackmon. Other people didn’t get it.’’
‘‘Why do you think all the others passed?’’
I asked.
‘‘Every time someone says no, they never tell
you why, they’re very polite. They’re not going
to say, ‘This sucks,’ because they don’t want to
burn a bridge, and they want you to come with
the next thing.’’ He shook his head. ‘‘But all the
people who said no — there was no black person
in the room with them!’’
Three decades into his career, Lee’s singular
achievement seems to have led him to the realization that he cannot, in fact, do it alone. Making
a Hollywood with more diverse gatekeepers is an
issue of such importance to him that he says it
would be worth giving back his Oscar — a point
he made to me emphatically and repeatedly. But
it’s not just a matter of fairness. He sees it as an
issue of practical importance, and in the service
of this point, he brought up the excruciating
Pepsi ad from this spring. In it, Kendall Jenner
wanders off a fashion shoot into something like
a Black Lives Matter protest and hands a can of
soda to a cop, bringing joy to all, police officers
and demonstrators alike. ‘‘If there were just somebody advising the room with any common sense,’’
he said with a laugh. ‘‘Like, ‘Yo! My man — that
[expletive] is [expletive] up!’ ’’ He grew serious
again. ‘‘Getting those gatekeeping positions.
That’s the last — that’s where the battle is.’’
As soon as Lee and I entered the main house,
a meticulous study in contemporary New
England chic, a yappy, rabbit-size dog named
Ginger rushed me and bit my leg with a ferocity
mitigated only by a mercifully weak jaw. In the
airy kitchen, Claudia Rankine’s ‘‘Citizen’’ sat on
a marble countertop. On the walls were several framed prints by the black painter Romare
Bearden. There were numerous other paintings
and pictures of icons of black culture, like Joe
Louis and Lee himself, as well as those thank-you
notes from Jordan. ‘‘That’s a, what’s his name?
Sharpley?’’ he asked, pointing to a signed Shepard
Fairey print of candidate Obama. We crossed the
yard and entered his ‘‘writer’s cottage,’’ where
a gold-framed, historical-size Kehinde Wylie
oil painting of a black man in Jackie Robinson’s
Brooklyn Dodgers jersey loomed over the work
area. The books on display ranged from ‘‘iPod and
iTunes for Dummies’’ to one of those gorgeous
$6,000 Taschen monographs on Muhammad Ali.
Lee seemed genuinely indifferent to all of it.
The weather was gorgeous, and we continued
back outside and toward the fence that separated
his property from the golf course, walking with
no particular goal in mind. It is fun, I learned, to
stroll around with Spike Lee and to gauge other
people’s reactions. Everyone recognizes him.
No sooner had we set foot on the fairway than a
Boston Brahmin kind of white woman called out:
‘‘Spike, what’s with your flag? We’re Red Sox fans
around here!’’
‘‘Twenty-seven world championships! Thank
you!’’ Lee shot back without missing a beat or
betraying the least bit of surprise to be addressed
so familiarly by a perfect stranger.
Lee pushed ahead in his customary, slightly
pigeon-toed gait, torso tipped forward, necklaces
swinging from his neck. I told him that I recently
rewatched ‘‘Do the Right Thing’’ and was astounded by the degree to which it felt au courant and
even prescient. The scene late in the film when an
N.Y.P.D. officer places Radio Raheem in an illegal
chokehold, killing him, was shattering to watch,
melding in my mind with phone-camera footage
of Eric Garner, who was killed in 2014 on Staten
Island in similar fashion. And the question at the
heart of the drama — just whose vision of black
life can (or should) prevail, anyway, Malcolm’s
or Martin’s — was trenchant. Lee’s own views
on that question remain satisfyingly ambiguous.
While the film seems to imply that it is Malcolm
who personifies genuine integrity, Lee has also
observed that Radio Raheem could have behaved
differently and avoided his violent fate.
Yet the film amounts to much more than mere
social commentary: Like ‘‘She’s Gotta Have It’’
and ‘‘School Daze’’ before it, it was itself an
engine of culture. And in addition to Samuel L.
Jackson, it gave us our first glimpses of Rosie
Perez, Giancarlo Esposito (‘‘Before he was Gus in
‘Breaking Bad,’ the culture knew him as Buggin’
Out,’’ Lee reminded me) and a fresh-faced Martin Lawrence. It caused a sensation at Cannes,
but back home, critics including Stanley Crouch
and Joe Klein worried that it would start riots. It
is mind-blowing to pause and think that a film
as forward-facing and potent as ‘‘Do the Right
Thing’’ was released the same year as ‘‘Driving
Ms. Daisy.’’ ‘‘Driving Ms. [expletive] Daisy.’’ Lee
shook his head. ‘‘The best film of the year 1989,
brought to you by your Academy members.’’
As we walked on, Lee seemed to grow weary
of talking. The afternoon heat was fatiguing, and
we got turned around and lost in a dirt-road
labyrinth along the golf course, doubling back
on ourselves until we came to a cafe in a clearing,
where two beautiful black women, who looked
as if the universe itself belonged to them, were
facing the course, sipping rosé of the hue the
French call gray.
‘‘Oh, [expletive], there’s my wife,’’ Lee
exclaimed, leading me over to Tonya Lewis Lee,
a statuesque, green-eyed blonde whose hair was
sheared shorter on the sides than on top. She
glanced questioningly at her husband and then
extended her hand.
‘‘I did not tell Spike I was going to be here.’’
‘‘He just slipped a LoJack in your bag,’’ her
friend Crystal said, laughing.
Tonya is an attorney and an entertainment-industry force in her own right. She is the executive producer of the new ‘‘She’s Gotta Have It,’’
the impetus for which she describes as twofold:
a chance for the two of them to work together
and to present as fresh a vision of contemporary
Brooklyn as Lee first did in the ’80s. ‘‘It was her
idea,’’ Lee acknowledged. ‘‘I did not see it.’’
I asked her what it’s like to work with her
husband.
‘‘Being married to Spike is crazy every day,’’
she said matter-of-factly. ‘‘Working with him, it’s
like: ‘We’re going to do it the way I do it, because,
by the way, have you seen my résumé? Do you
need my bio? Here’s my bio (Continued on Page 52)
The New York Times Magazine
37
In an expansion of the war on drugs, the U.S. Coast Guard is targeting low-level smugglers in international waters — shackling them on ships for weeks or m
Prisoners at Sea
or months before arraignment in American courts.
By Seth Freed Wessler / Photographs by Glenna Gordon
39
On nights when the November rain
and he had not slept at all,
poured down
Jhonny Arcentales had visions of dying, of his
body being cast into the dark ocean. He would
imagine his wife and their teenage son tossing
his clothes into a pit in a cemetery and gathering at the local church for his funeral. It had
been more than two months since Arcentales,
a 40-year-old fisherman from Ecuador’s central
coast, left home, telling his wife he would return
in five days. A cuff clamped onto his ankle kept
him shackled to a cable along the deck of the
ship but for the occasional trip, guarded by a
sailor, to defecate into a bucket. Most of the time,
he couldn’t move more than an arm’s length in
either direction without jostling the next shackled man. ‘‘The sea used to be freedom,’’ he told
me. But on the ship, ‘‘it was the opposite. Like a
prison in the open ocean.’’
By day Arcentales would stand against the wall
and stare out at the water, his mind blank one
moment, the next racing with thoughts of his
wife and their newborn son. He had not spoken
to his family, though he asked each day to call
home. He increasingly felt panicked, fearing his
wife would believe he was dead.
Arcentales has wide muscular shoulders from
his 25 years hauling fishing nets from the sea.
But his meals now consisted of a handful of rice
and beans, and he could feel his body shrinking
from the undernourishment and immobility.
‘‘The moment we would stand up, we would get
nauseated, our heads would spin,’’ he recalled.
The 20-some prisoners aboard the vessel — Ecuadorians, Guatemalans and Colombians — would
often stand through the night, their backs aching,
their bodies frigid from the wind and rain, waiting for the morning sun to rise and dry them.
In the first weeks, Arcentales had turned to
his friend Carlos Quijije, another fisherman from
the small town of Jaramijó, to calm him. They
were chained side by side, and the 26-year-old
would offer some perspective. ‘‘Relax brother,
everything is going to work out,’’ Arcentales
remembered Quijije saying. ‘‘They’ll take us to
Ecuador, and we will see our families.’’ But after
two months of being shackled aboard the ship,
40
Quijije seemed just as despondent. They often
thought they would simply disappear.
By this time it was November 2014, and in the
brick box of a house where Arcentales lived in
Ecuador, Lorena Mendoza, Arcentales’s wife,
and their children were praying together for his
return. In Jaramijó, it is not unheard-of for fishermen to vanish, stranded by a broken motor,
shot by a pirate or shipwrecked in a storm. ‘‘I
was always worried that we would never see
him again,’’ she told me. ‘‘But he always came
home.’’ This time Mendoza was certain she
would receive a call to collect Arcentales’s
waterlogged body from the docks.
Mendoza had no way of knowing that her husband was still alive. He had departed Jaramijó
because his family needed money so desperately
that he had accepted a job smuggling cocaine
off the coast of Ecuador. But deep in the Pacific,
Arcentales and the other fishermen he traveled
with were stopped not by pirates or vigilantes
but by the United States Coast Guard, deployed
more than 2,000 miles from U.S. shores to trawl
for Andean cocaine. Over the past six years, more
than 2,700 men like Arcentales have been taken
from boats suspected of smuggling Colombian cocaine to Central America, to be carried
around the ocean for weeks or months as the
American ships continue their patrols. These fishermen-turned-smugglers are caught in international waters, or in foreign seas, and often have
little or no understanding of where the drugs
aboard their boats are ultimately bound. Yet nearly all of these boatmen are now carted from the
Pacific and delivered to the United States to face
criminal charges here, in what amounts to a vast
extraterritorial exertion of American legal might.
The U.S. Coast Guard never intended to operate
a fleet of ‘‘floating Guantánamos,’’ as a former
Coast Guard lawyer put it to me in May. The
Coast Guard has a humanitarian public image,
celebrated in local newspapers for rescuing
pleasure boaters off Montauk or hurricane survivors in Florida. But as the lone branch of the
military that serves as a law-enforcement agency, the 227-year-old service has also long been
in the business of interdicting contraband, from
Chinese opium smugglers to Prohibition rumrunners. For centuries, Coast Guard operations
waited to arrest smugglers once they crossed
into U.S. territorial waters. Then, in the 1970s,
as marijuana trafficking ballooned on the route
from Colombia into the Caribbean before arriving in the United States, Justice Department officials argued to Congress that current U.S. law
constrained law enforcement’s ability to punish
drug smugglers caught on the high seas. While
the Coast Guard, then a branch of the Department of Transportation, could chase smugglers
into the Caribbean, Justice Department lawyers
could rarely hold smugglers caught in the legal
gray zone of international waters criminally liable in U.S. courts.
Congress responded by passing a set of laws,
including the 1986 Maritime Drug Law Enforcement Act, that defined drug smuggling in international waters as a crime against the United States,
even when there was no proof that the drugs, often
carried on foreign boats, were bound for the United States. The Coast Guard was conscripted as the
agency empowered to seek out suspected smugglers and bring them to American courts.
In the 1990s and through the 2000s, maritime
detentions averaged around 200 a year. Then
in 2012, the Department of Defense’s Southern
Command, tasked with leading the war on drugs
in the Americas, launched a multinational military campaign called Operation Martillo, or
‘‘hammer.’’ The goal was to shut down smuggling
routes in the waters between South and Central
America, stopping large shipments of cocaine
carried on speedboats thousands of miles from
the United States, long before they could be broken down and carried over land into Mexico and
then into the United States. In 2016, under the
Southern Command’s strategy, the Coast Guard,
with intermittent help from the U.S. Navy and
international partners, detained 585 suspected
drug smugglers, mostly in international waters.
Above: San Lorenzo, Ecuador, near Jhonny Arcentales’s departure point. Opening pages: The open
waters between Ecuador and Colombia, from which Arcentales departed.
That year, 80 percent of these men were taken
to the United States to face criminal charges,
up from a third of detainees in 2012. In the 12
months that ended in September 2017, the Coast
Guard captured more than 700 suspects and
chained them aboard American ships.
Over the last year, I’ve interviewed seven former Coast Guard detainees, some of whom are
still in American federal prison, and received
detailed letters, some with pencil renderings of
the detention ships, from a dozen others. Most of
these men remain confounded by their capture
by the Americans, dubious that U.S. officials had
the authority to arrest them and to lock them
in prison. But it is the memory of their surreal
imprisonment at sea that these men say most
torments them. Together with thousands of pages
of court records and interviews with current and
former Coast Guard officers, these detainees
paint a grim picture of the conditions of their
extended capture on ships deployed in the extraterritorial war on drugs.
Their protracted detention is justified by
Coast Guard officials and federal prosecutors
alike, who argue that suspects like Arcentales
Photograph by Glenna Gordon for The New York Times
are not formally under arrest when the Coast
Guard detains them. While on board, they’re
not read Miranda rights, not appointed lawyers,
not allowed to contact their consulate or their
families. They don’t appear to benefit from federal rules of criminal procedure that require that
criminal suspects arrested outside the United
States be presented before a judge ‘‘without
unnecessary delay.’’ It is as if their rights are
in suspension during their capture at sea. ‘‘It’s
hard-wired into the Coast Guard’s minds,’’ says
Eugene R. Fidell, a former Coast Guard lawyer
who teaches at Yale Law School, ‘‘that usual law
enforcement constraints don’t apply.’’
The increased detentions and the domestic
prosecutions of extraterritorial activity were
ushered in largely under the watch of Gen. John
Kelly, who from 2012 to 2016 served as the head
of the Southern Command and is now the White
House chief of staff. He has long championed the
idea that drug smuggling and the drug-related
violence in Central America poses what he has
called an ‘‘existential’’ threat to the United States
and that to protect the homeland, American law
enforcement must reach beyond U.S. borders.
This April, during his brief tenure as Trump’s secretary of Homeland Security, which now oversees
the Coast Guard, Kelly gave a lecture at George
Washington University. ‘‘We are a nation under
attack’’ from transnational criminal networks, he
told the audience. ‘‘The more we push our borders out, the safer our homeland will be,’’ he said.
‘‘That includes Coast Guard drug interdictions
at sea.’’ Asked about the detainments, a White
House spokesperson said, ‘‘Under General Kelly’s command, U.S. personnel treated detainees
humanely and followed applicable laws.’’ The
spokesperson declined to comment further.
Like most men he grew up with in Jaramijó,
Arcentales began fishing as a teenager and
never stopped. He often worked with Quijije,
who lived with his wife, daughter and his wife’s
family in a two-room house just up the hill from
Arcentales. After working on their boss’s skiff,
they would meet up and talk for hours about
their children and their plans to someday buy a
boat of their own.
Arcentales never had much money. The $6,000
he could hope to make a year, on the skiff and
41
Jhonny’s wife, Lorena Mendoza, with a note Jhonny sent her from America.
working on tuna ships for a month or two at a
time, does not stretch far in Ecuador’s economy.
The house where he and Mendoza lived was just
a single room for their family of nine: their teenage son, Enrique; Mendoza’s two older daughters
from a previous marriage, Nelly and Juliana, who
have three children between them; and Nelly’s
husband, Wladimir Jaramillo. They all slept on
fraying mattresses, sharing a single toilet. When
it rained, the roof leaked and muddy water trickled through the door.
The thrum of anxiety about money became
an alarm in 2014 when Mendoza unexpectedly became pregnant at 43. A doctor prescribed
bed rest. Too worried to be out at sea for long,
Arcentales worked less. That July, Mendoza gave
birth to a boy they named Ismael. The household had grown to 10. It would be more than two
months before his next fishing trip, and Arcentales could not escape the nagging sense of failure.
‘‘I would lie some nights in bed, asking myself,
‘Am I going to live my entire life in a hut that
is close to falling apart?’ ’’ he said. ‘‘ ‘What will I
leave my children?’ ’’
On the morning of Sept. 5, after a very bad
night of sleep, Arcentales left Mendoza and their
children. ‘‘Viejita,’’ he told her, ‘‘don’t worry,
everything will be O.K.’’ A fisherman Arcentales
had known for years had been soliciting Arcentales for two years to accept a cocaine smuggling
job. Arcentales always refused. But when he
left home that September morning, Arcentales
went looking for that man. Ecuador is a secondary shipment point for Colombian drug-smuggling groups who work increasingly for Mexican cartels, and in Jaramijó, recruiters, called
42
enganchadores, those who ‘‘hook,’’ have become
fixtures. Residents of the town have watched as
their neighbors return from what they say were
fishing trips, then buy cars or fix up their homes.
Residents call the trip ‘‘la vuelta,’’ which means,
aspirationally, ‘‘round trip.’’ The fisherman told
Arcentales that he would earn $2,000 up front,
and then $20,000 apiece for him and his partner
upon their return. It was as much as Arcentales
could expect to earn in three or four years. If Quijije joined him, they could finally buy their boat.
The next evening, he and Quijije met another
man in San Lorenzo, near the Colombian border.
The man led them to a skiff, gave Arcentales a GPS
tracker and instructed the pair to meet another
boat at a location 50 nautical miles away. There,
he said, they would collect 100 kilos of cocaine,
split in four packages, and the coordinates for
another vessel less than a day’s trip away where
they would drop off the drugs and then be done.
But when they arrived at the location to retrieve
the drugs, they were instead given 440 kilos of
cocaine and joined by a baby-faced Colombian in
his early 20s named Jair Guevara Payan, paid to
watch the drugs. Payan led Arcentales and Quijije
on a five-day voyage, 1,100 miles to the north,
farther than either man had ever ventured. Arcentales considered refusing to go, but he knew there
was no real choice now that they were at sea. ‘‘We
had been screwed,’’ he told me.
When Arcentales, Quijije and Payan finally
arrived at their final coordinates, 145 miles off
the coast of Guatemala, a small white speedboat motored toward them, then another, each
manned by two Guatemalan men. Together, the
men offloaded the drugs onto one of the boats,
and Payan motored away on it with a pair of Guatemalan brothers. Arcentales and Quijije were
told to step into the second boat, a skiff called the
Yeny Arg, manned by the two other Guatemalans,
Giezi Zamora, a mechanic, and Hector Castillo,
a fisherman. The four of them headed for shore,
and Arcentales let his senses dull for the first time
since he had set out. ‘‘We are free,’’ he thought to
himself, and nearly fell asleep.
But a U.S. Navy patrol airplane had been tracking the Guatemalan boats since the morning. The
plane’s crew had watched the men step into the
arriving boats and the Southern Command had
contacted the Coast Guard. Soon, Arcentales
spotted a white military ship, then a speedboat
with five officers aboard racing toward them. The
officers ordered Arcentales and the others not to
move, and the men raised their hands in the air.
When boats are not registered to a country
or flying a country’s flag, they are considered
stateless, and maritime laws allow U.S. officials
to board. Hundreds of these unmarked boats
depart from Ecuador and Colombia each year.
But the Yeny Arg was registered in Guatemala,
so federal officials contacted their Guatemalan
counterparts to gain permission, under a bilateral agreement, to board and conduct a search.
U.S. authorities have some 40 agreements with
countries around the world to gain access to foreign vessels. For some countries, U.S. prosecution
removes a burden from their own legal systems;
with other countries, the U.S. has exerted pressure on governments to forge such agreements.
Countries in the Americas and the Caribbean
have generally allowed U.S. officials to board and
search ships that bear their flags.
For several hours, the Coast Guard officers
searched the Yeny Arg. By midafternoon, Arcentales, Quijije and the two Guatamalans were
moved to the Coast Guard speedboat, and were
delivered to the Coast Guard ship. On board, they
had mug shots taken. Less than 12 hours later, the
men were moved to a Coast Guard ship called
the Boutwell, a 378-foot, 46-year-old cutter with a
crew of 160. Payan and the Guatemalan brothers
were already onboard.
The men were not told where they would be
taken nor allowed to call their families. Officials
told them to strip down and change into papery
white Tyvek jump suits, and then guards led
them up a flight of stairs above the deck and
into a hangar. Arcentales felt a cuff close around
his ankle. He and Quijije looked at each other,
and then at their ankles, which, he said, were
now attached to the floor by short chains. Thin
rubber mats would serve as their beds. ‘‘A deep
sadness came over me,’’ Arcentales said. ‘‘Right
there my life changed.’’
On the Boutwell, Arcentales and the other men
began asking the guards where they were being
taken. One Spanish-speaking guard explained
Photograph by Glenna Gordon for The New York Times
to the men that American officials were coordinating with officials from his country to
arrange a transfer. The guard, Arcentales said,
told him they would be on land in five days.
Several nights passed on the Boutwell. Then, as
the sun rose on the fifth day, the men spotted
land. They could make out a volcano, then a
port — the topology of Central America. ‘‘We
thought we were going back to our country,’’
Arcentales said. ‘‘We thought they were going
to hand us over to migration. Migration or the
Ecuadorean consulate.’’
But as they approached land, a guard showed
up with a plastic bucket to use as a toilet. An
officer closed the doors of the hangar where
they were held. Through small holes in the wall,
they could see people walking on the docks. The
Guatemalans recognized a port called Acajutla.
An hour passed, then four, then eight. When the
narrow beams of light that had shone through
the holes in the hangar wall faded, they felt the
Boutwell move. The boat’s engines roared, and
a guard threw open the doors: The sun was
setting, and the men were back at sea. For 30
minutes, an hour maybe, they sat in silence,
watching the water and the sky become dark,
their minds turning to their families. That night,
Arcentales and Castillo, the Guatemalan fish-
cocaine production is again on the rise, and while
the Coast Guard says it has seized nearly half a million pounds of cocaine over the past year, agency
officials have warned as recently as this September
that they need more resources to stop the flow.
Government officials say intelligence gained
from small-time boatmen is key to investigating
and dismantling larger transnational criminal
networks. The Coast Guard has claimed that
between 2002 and 2011, cases against these maritime smugglers helped the government secure
three-quarters of its extraditions of Colombian
drug kingpins. Affidavits filed more recently in
criminal cases against three Mexican and Central American drug leaders, including the notorious cartel leader El Chapo, have noted boat
interdictions as small points in larger constellations of evidence. By linking kingpins to boats,
prosecutors can add maritime smuggling to the
list of charges against them. But the fishermen
caught aboard these small smuggling boats,
many detained on their first or second run, often
have access to mere fragments of information
about the people they’re working for. For the
most part, men like Arcentales barely know the
identity of their recruiter, sometimes just a first
name or moniker, and nothing more. ‘‘They are
not key widgets in this process,’’ said Bruce Bag-
that he learned to eat slowly, to fool his mind
into thinking the plate contained more than it
did. The men watched the guards discard their
unfinished meals into trash bags hanging nearby
and devised a plan. ‘‘Someone would ask to be
taken to the restroom so that we could try to
reach the trash and take the food,’’ Quijije said
in testimony. They would pass a piece of leftover
chicken down the line, each detainee taking a
bite and handing it to the next, until the bone
was picked clean. After more than two months
of detention, Arcentales says, he had lost 20
pounds; Payan says he lost 50. Time began to
warp for them. ‘‘We could no longer endure living in such conditions for that prolonged period
of time,’’ Arcentales wrote later in a letter. ‘‘It
did not matter to us where they would leave us;
we were desperate to communicate with our
family.’’ The Coast Guard and the Department
of Justice maintain that all detainees are treated
humanely and with accordance to the law. The
Coast Guard adds that it shackles detainees and
conceals them while in port for their own safety
and the safety of the crew.
The Coast Guard does not have discretion
over where and when to transfer drug-interdiction detainees. Those decisions are made
by the Department of Justice, the D.E.A. and
‘I asked the nurse officer if he could do me a favor, just shoot me and kill me, I would appreciate, because I cannot take this anymore.’
erman, both cried, their chests heaving as the
other men looked out at the sea.
When the sun rose the next morning, the
men took notice of each other not as they had
before, as accidental fellow prisoners, but as longer-term companions. Castillo, who was just shy
of 24, asked Arcentales, whom he called ‘‘Don
Jhonny’’ out of his respect for his age, about his
family. They learned that Zamora, Quijije and
Arcentales were fathers of newborns, or had a
child on the way. ‘‘We would talk of our young
kids,’’ Arcentales said about conversations the
men had. ‘‘And then there were days when I
would not say a word. I would just stay in my
mind thinking of my kids, my baby, my failure.’’
They had all accepted what they thought was the
remote risk of arrest in order to provide for their
family. Castillo said that he had already taken la
vuelta two weeks before. It had been relatively
easy, so he’d taken another. ‘‘You start to think
you can get away with it,’’ Castillo told me.
Coast Guard and Southern Command officials,
including John Kelly, have argued that if the agency had more ships to deploy, it could interdict
four times as much cocaine. ‘‘Because of asset
shortfalls, we’re unable to get after 74 percent of
suspected maritime drug smuggling,’’ Kelly said
at a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing in
2014. ‘‘I simply sit and watch it go by.’’ Colombian
ley, a leading scholar on drug smuggling and a
professor of political science at the University
of Miami. By prosecuting them, he added, ‘‘you
don’t slow down the broader operations.’’
On Oct. 6, 25 days after the men were caught, the
Boutwell returned to its home port in San Diego.
The crew of the ship lined up for photos on the
deck behind bales of cocaine wrapped in black
tarps, collected from 14 smuggling boats, including, presumably, Payan’s, and worth, according to
the Coast Guard, more than $400 million.
The cocaine made land long before the
detainees. For 44 more days, Arcentales, Quijije, Payan and the Guatemalans were transferred
from one ship to the next, passing a week or
10 days on one, a few days on another, always
chained to the decks. ‘‘I remember one time I
asked the nurse officer if he could do me a favor,’’
Payan wrote later in a letter, ‘‘just shoot me and
kill me, I would appreciate, because I cannot
take this anymore.’’ As day after mind-numbing day dragged on, hunger began to rival their
families as their central preoccupation. Food
logs from Coast Guard ships and testimony
from Coast Guard officers show that on some
ships, detainees’ meals consisted of only small
portions of black beans and rice, on occasion
with a bit of spinach or chicken. Arcentales says
federal prosecutors with information from the
Coast Guard. Coast Guard officers I spoke to,
one of whom was disturbed enough to call the
vessels ‘‘boat prisons,’’ say they want detainees removed far more rapidly from their ships,
which they acknowledge were never designed
to serve as detention centers. Drug Enforcement Administration agents say in court filings
that rapid transfers to U.S. soil are logistically
impossible, with few countries allowing airport
transfers and a shortage of available D.E.A.
flights. The Coast Guard says the agency patrols
six million square miles, which creates ‘‘logistical and transportation challenges.’’
But there’s evidence in those court filings that
budgetary considerations may also add to the
delays. In 2015, a Southern Command official
suggested in an email to a D.E.A. agent who was
handling a Coast Guard detainee transfer that the
agency ‘‘may save costs to the taxpayers’’ when
weighing the benefits of one route back versus
another. In an April 2017 brief in a separate case,
the government argued that pulling a cutter from
normal drug-smuggling patrol to hasten a detainee transfer would be a ‘‘considerable waste of
government resources and time.’’
Coast Guard ships and frigates on loan from
the Navy instead slowly fill up their hangars
or decks, waiting to unload detainees when
43
port calls can be arranged with foreign officials and flights arranged with the D.E.A. Other
detainees are simply kept aboard cutters as
they make trips back to San Diego or through
the Panama Canal on the way to East Coast
ports. No matter the route, federal judges have
repeatedly waived normal protections against
extended prearraignment detention, accepting the government’s claims that transferring
detainees from the Pacific is too logistically
complex to allow for a speedy appearance
before a judge. And so over the years federal
judges have allowed for progressively longer
periods of detainment: five days in the Caribbean in 1985; then 11 in 2006; in 2012, 19 days
in the Pacific. Average detention time is now
18 days. An official told me that men have been
held up to 90 days.
Maritime- and human-rights-law scholars
caution that the delayed periods of detention
employed by the United States in its antidrug
campaign run counter to international human
rights norms. ‘‘In a European context, what the
U.S. does would not meet the standard,’’ says
Efthymios Papastavridis, a maritime-law scholar
at Oxford University. ‘‘It would have to be measured against human rights and due-process law
and this would be unlikely to pass the test.’’
coast of Panama. This time the detainees were
told to stand up. Guards unlocked their ankle
cuffs and led them off the ship. He would see his
family soon, Arcentales thought. Then he heard
a guard announce: ‘‘Gentlemen, D.E.A. agents
are waiting for you outside. You are going to
the United States.’’
Unlike domestic arrests, which stipulate that
defendants be charged in the jurisdiction of their
crime, maritime smugglers can be prosecuted
anywhere, as long as it’s the first place they
land or in the District of Columbia. American
law-enforcement officials have developed a clear
preference for prosecuting maritime smuggling
cases in Florida, where federal agencies have set
up interagency drug-task forces and prosecutors
have expertise on maritime drug cases. Trying
these cases in Florida may have made practical
sense in the 1980s and even the 1990s, when
the bulk of maritime interdictions took place in
the Caribbean. But now that sea smuggling has
shifted significantly to the Pacific, the desire to
prosecute defendants in Florida’s federal courts
has arguably played a role in the increasingly
prolonged maritime detentions.
One reason few trials have moved to the West
Coast may be that the Ninth Circuit Court of
Appeals, which covers California, has placed a
like a nature documentary where you see the
hawk grab the fish out of water, and the fish is
there saying, ‘What the hell am I doing in the
air?’ ’’ do Campo said. ‘‘For them that’s Florida. ‘A few weeks ago, I was in Ecuador, then
I went into the middle of the Pacific and now
I’m here?’ It’s entirely surreal.’’
Arcentales, Quijije, Payan and the four Guatemalans were put on a flight to Florida. On
Nov. 19, they were formally arrested. Arcentales
says he told a federal agent all he knew about
the operation. ‘‘But the truth is,’’ Arcentales told
me, ‘‘I don’t know anything about it at all.’’ At
least one other man in the group of seven talked
to investigators, too, providing all the information he had: the route he’d taken and the last
name of the enganchador who’d hired him. All
seven accepted plea agreements. No motions
were filed challenging the conditions of their
extended detentions.
Such motions, in the rare instances when
defense lawyers file them, have little effect.
Lawyers for three men whose detention overlapped on a cutter with Arcentales petitioned a
federal court to throw out their indictments for
‘‘outrageous government conduct.’’ The judge
said he was troubled by detainees’ accounts of
‘‘inadequate nutrition, weight loss, lack of pri-
‘I would wake up sweating; almost crying, thinking I was still chained. Over time it passes. But a thing like this, it never leaves you.’
But Melanie Reid, a former federal prosecutor in the Department of Justice’s Dangerous
Narcotics division, said the department’s position was that ‘‘the clock does not start ticking,
in the procedural sense, until these people get
to the United States and are arrested.’’ A senior
Coast Guard lawyer wrote in a 2016 paper on
maritime enforcement and human rights that
‘‘no remedy for these delays is generally available to defendants.’’
On Nov. 21, 77 days after her husband left on his
vuelta, Lorena Mendoza walked with her newborn in a stroller from Jaramijó to the nearby
port city of Manta as part of a procession of the
Virgen de Montserrat. Amid a crowd of thousands of people who had packed into the streets
with brass bands, she prayed for her husband,
imagining what her life would be like if he was
really dead.
When she returned home, Mendoza saw that
she had missed a series of phone calls from the
United States. At 11 the next morning the phone
rang again. ‘‘I am here,’’ Arcentales said. ‘‘I am
alive.’’ Mendoza cried, overcome by a great swell
of relief. ‘‘Thank God I can hear my family again,
thank God you are all O.K.,’’ Arcentales said.
Several days before, the American ship had
taken yet another trip to port, this time on the
44
significant limit on the reach of the U.S. Coast
Guard. Unlike courts on the East Coast, the
Ninth Circuit requires federal prosecutors to
prove that drugs discovered on foreign-registered boats were actually bound for the United States. That decision, in 1994, returned the
legal framework in California to something
more like the one that existed nationally in the
1980s. Prosecuting smugglers found aboard
a foreign-flagged ship without proving their
cargo was intended for U.S. markets, the court
found, violates Fifth Amendment due-process
protections. ‘‘We try not to bring these cases
to the Ninth Circuit,’’ said Aaron Casavant, a
Coast Guard lawyer who until 2014 provided
legal guidance to the service’s law-enforcement
operations and recently wrote a law-review article defending the legal basis of extraterritorial
drug enforcement. Casavant points to the fact
that there are more lawyers and judges with
maritime experience in Florida. But the Justice Department would likely lose a case like
Arcentales’s in the Ninth Circuit, where there
is a burden of proof. The majority of these cases
are tried in the 11th Circuit in Florida, where no
such burden exists.
Orlando do Campo, a private defense lawyer
in Miami, has been assigned by the courts to
handle 23 cases of maritime smuggling. ‘‘It’s
vacy for toilet use and lack of sufficient protection from the elements.’’ Even so, he said, the
‘‘inhumane treatment’’ had not been used ‘‘in an
effort to secure an indictment,’’ so he could not
dismiss this indictment. ‘‘This is not to say that
such treatment of detainees is condoned by this
court,’’ he added. ‘‘Far from it.’’
On July 2, 2015, Arcentales and Castillo
were taken to court for a sentencing hearing.
In testimony before Congress this year, John
Kelly attested that ‘‘suspects from these cases
divulge information during prosecution and
sentencing that is critical to indicting, extraditing and convicting drug-cartel leadership
and dismantling their sophisticated networks.’’
But the judge presiding in the Arcentales case,
Virginia Hernandez Covington, made it clear
that the two men were of little use. ‘‘They are
just trying to do it to make some money for
their family,’’ Covington said in court. ‘‘The
higher up you are, the more information you
have. You’re more culpable. But you have more
information.’’ She continued, ‘‘The lower level
folks have less information to bargain with.’’ But
defendants charged under the Maritime Drug
Law Enforcement Act, even mules like Arcentales, are rarely provided reduced sentences on
mandatory minimums, as a suspect caught on
U.S. shores with the same quantities of drugs
might be. Covington sentenced Arcentales to
10 years in federal prison and Castillo to just
over 11.
When I met Arcentales for the first time at the Fort
Dix federal prison in New Jersey in late 2016,
his face had been transformed from the angular, gaunt one I’d seen in mug shots taken by jail
officials shortly after his arrival in Florida. He
appeared to have gained back the weight he’d lost
at sea. We sat beside each other in the visitation
room, set up like an airport waiting area, and
talked in Spanish amid the drone of mothers and
wives speaking in English to their incarcerated
loved ones. Speaking slowly and precisely, he
told me he had never considered before he was
charged that by smuggling drugs he might be
committing a crime against the United States.
He wondered repeatedly why the United States
would not let him serve his time in Ecuador. At
least then he would have contact with his family,
beyond a time-limited call every few weeks. He
thinks about them constantly. And of the Coast
Guard cutters he was detained on.
‘‘I had a terrible nightmare about the chains,’’
Arcentales told me in the visitation room. ‘‘I
would wake up feeling the chains digging into
my ankle and jerk my leg thinking I was shackled, and feel my leg free and be relieved that I
was not chained there on the boat. I would wake
up sweating; almost crying, thinking I was still
chained. Over time it passes. But a thing like this,
it never leaves you.’’
In the home that Arcentales had left behind,
life is no less destitute than when he departed.
Two weeks after Arcentales arrived in Florida, Mendoza opened a store in what was once
their small sitting area, but it was a good day if
it brought in $15. When I met her in Jaramijó,
Mendoza welcomed me warmly into her home,
which is crowded with her children and grandchildren and a flow of customers who step inside
to buy diapers, plantains or cheese.
Both Mendoza and Arcentales assumed that
his fate, now widely known in the community, would serve as a warning for those being
approached by the enganchadores. In April at
Fort Dix, Arcentales told me that if he could
he ‘‘would tell everyone not to go, never take
la vuelta!’’ But the vueltas have only increased
since Arcentales went to prison. In April 2016,
a catastrophic earthquake struck the Ecuadorean coast. Whole blocks in Jaramijó were
leveled, leaving thousands homeless. Fishing
boats and storage and canning operations were
destroyed. Blue tents, supplied by the Chinese
government as emergency shelters, remained a
year later on the edge of the cliff that rises over
the town’s now quiet docks.
The quake sent a flood of the unemployed,
including impoverished fishermen, in search
of smuggling jobs. In late 2016, Mendoza’s
Photograph by Glenna Gordon for The New York Times
Ismael, age 3, son of Jhonny and Lorena. He was born just before Jhonny left Jaramijó.
son-in-law Wladimir, who had been living in her
house, disappeared. The young man had worked
selling morocho, a homemade sweet corn drink,
on the street ever since he hurt his back unloading fish in Manta. But that brought in only a
few dollars a day, and he’d been telling his wife,
Nelly, that he was thinking of taking la vuelta.
Wladimir had never fished a day in his life, Nelly
told me, and she never believed he would take
the job. But in December 2016, Wladimir said
he was going to the store and never came back.
For six weeks, Nelly worried constantly about
her husband, asking in Facebook messages if
I could check to see if he was in a U.S. prison.
In early February, one week before I arrived in
Jaramijó, Wladimir called Nelly from a jail in
Florida. A Coast Guard ship had detained him
in the Pacific Ocean.
Wladimir’s court-appointed lawyer, Joaquin
Mendez, argued in a federal court in Florida
that the 31-day delay between his interdiction
and his delivery to court in the United States
was a violation of federal statutes requiring that
defendants be arraigned within 30 days. ‘‘The
Coast Guard made a calculated determination
to continue on with their interdiction, to keep
these individuals in the conditions that they
were, while they’re going about doing their
business,’’ Mendez told Judge James I. Cohn.
For what may have been the first time in
federal court, Cohn dismissed the indictment
against Wladimir because of the delay. ‘‘If
government’s argument is taken to its logical extreme, an individual could be detained
indefinitely for a federal crime as long as the
government did not file a formal complaint,’’
Cohn said in court. But he threw the case out
‘‘without prejudice’’ — a small embarrassment
for federal attorneys, yet one that allowed them
to file a new complaint. In late August, Wladimir
was sentenced to 10 years.
In Ecuador, government officials have publicly
warned fishermen to refuse offers from enganchadores. Yet men are still making the trip, many
traveling directly into the Coast Guard’s net. I
met more than 20 families in Jaramijó and other
towns who have lost men. A frail woman I met in
her thatch home told me her oldest son, a fisherman, barely an adult himself, had provided the
family its only source of income. Three months
after the earthquake, the fish market stalls were
still decimated, and only about a third of fishermen were working. He’d followed the flow of
men out onto the high seas.
One evening in February, after the arrests of
Arcentales and Wladmir, I sat with Mendoza
under a pomegranate tree in the mud-rutted
driveway outside Mendoza’s house. A group of
her neighbors and relatives gather there most
nights as the sun falls and the air cools. While we
talked, a man carrying two gleaming swordfish
walked by and waved. One of the men who lay in
a hammock told me that the passing fisherman
had recently taken la vuelta. Lorena pointed up
the street to a new car parked against the curb.
It had been purchased with vuelta money. As we
talked, a young relative of Mendoza’s, who had
until then lay quietly in a hammock, told me that
he was thinking hard about taking a job, too.
‘‘I know it’s only about a 50 percent chance I’ll
make it back,’’ he said. ‘‘I know what happened
to Jhonny.’’
45
As
Machine learning
becomes more
powerful, the field’s
researchers
increasingly find
themselves
unable to account
for what their
algorIthms know —
or hOw
they know it.
BY CLIFF KUANG
46
PHOTO I LLUSTRATI ON S BY D E R E K B R AHN E Y
Can A.I. be
taught to explain
itself ?
The New York Times Magazine
47
September, Michal Kosinski published a study that he feared might end
his career. The Economist broke the news first, giving it a self-consciously
anodyne title: ‘‘Advances in A.I. Are Used to Spot Signs of Sexuality.’’ But the
headlines quickly grew more alarmed. By the next day, the Human Rights
Campaign and Glaad, formerly known as the Gay and Lesbian Alliance
Against Defamation, had labeled Kosinski’s work ‘‘dangerous’’ and ‘‘junk
science.’’ (They claimed it had not been peer reviewed, though it had.) In
the next week, the tech-news site The Verge had run an article that, while
carefully reported, was nonetheless topped with a scorching headline: ‘‘The
Invention of A.I. ‘Gaydar’ Could Be the Start of Something Much Worse.’’
Kosinski has made a career of warning others about the uses and potential abuses of data. Four years ago, he was pursuing a Ph.D. in psychology,
hoping to create better tests for signature personality traits like introversion or openness to change. But he and a collaborator soon realized that
Facebook might render personality tests superfluous: Instead of asking if
someone liked poetry, you could just see if they ‘‘liked’’ Poetry Magazine.
In 2014, they published a study showing that if given 200 of a user’s likes,
they could predict that person’s personality-test answers better than their
own romantic partner could.
After getting his Ph.D., Kosinski landed a teaching position at the
Stanford Graduate School of Business and soon started looking for new
data sets to investigate. One in particular stood out: faces. For decades,
psychologists have been leery about associating personality traits with
physical characteristics, because of the lasting taint of phrenology and
eugenics; studying faces this way was, in essence, a taboo. But to understand what that taboo might reveal when questioned, Kosinski knew he
couldn’t rely on a human judgment.
Kosinski first mined 200,000 publicly posted dating profiles, complete
with pictures and information ranging from personality to political views.
Then he poured that data into an open-source facial-recognition algorithm
— a so-called deep neural network, built by researchers at Oxford University — and asked it to find correlations between people’s faces and the
information in their profiles. The algorithm failed to turn up much, until,
on a lark, Kosinski turned its attention to sexual orientation. The results
almost defied belief. In previous research, the best any human had done
at guessing sexual orientation from a profile picture was about 60 percent
— slightly better than a coin flip. Given five pictures of a man, the deep
neural net could predict his sexuality with as much as 91 percent accuracy.
For women, that figure was lower but still remarkable: 83 percent.
Much like his earlier work, Kosinski’s findings raised questions about
privacy and the potential for discrimination in the digital age, suggesting
scenarios in which better programs and data sets might be able to deduce
anything from political leanings to criminality. But there was another question at the heart of Kosinski’s paper, a genuine mystery that went almost
ignored amid all the media response: How was the computer doing what
it did? What was it seeing that humans could not?
It was Kosinski’s own research, but when he tried to answer that question,
he was reduced to a painstaking hunt for clues. At first, he tried covering
up or exaggerating parts of faces, trying to see how those changes would
affect the machine’s predictions. Results were inconclusive. But Kosinski
48
11.26.17
knew that women, in general, have bigger foreheads, thinner jaws and longer
noses than men. So he had the computer spit out the 100 faces it deemed
most likely to be gay or straight and averaged the proportions of each. It
turned out that the faces of gay men exhibited slightly more ‘‘feminine’’
proportions, on average, and that the converse was true for women. If this
was accurate, it could support the idea that testosterone levels — already
known to mold facial features — help mold sexuality as well.
But it was impossible to say for sure. Other evidence seemed to suggest
that the algorithms might also be picking up on culturally driven traits, like
straight men wearing baseball hats more often. Or — crucially — they could
have been picking up on elements of the photos that humans don’t even recognize. ‘‘Humans might have trouble detecting these tiny footprints that border on the infinitesimal,’’ Kosinski says. ‘‘Computers can do that very easily.’’
It has become commonplace to hear that machines, armed with
machine learning, can outperform humans at decidedly human tasks, from
playing Go to playing ‘‘Jeopardy!’’ We assume that is because computers
simply have more data-crunching power than our soggy three-pound
brains. Kosinski’s results suggested something stranger: that artificial
intelligences often excel by developing whole new ways of seeing, or even
thinking, that are inscrutable to us. It’s a more profound version of what’s
often called the ‘‘black box’’ problem — the inability to discern exactly
what machines are doing when they’re teaching themselves novel skills
— and it has become a central concern in artificial-intelligence research.
In many arenas, A.I. methods have advanced with startling speed; deep
neural networks can now detect certain kinds of cancer as accurately as
a human. But human doctors still have to make the decisions — and they
won’t trust an A.I. unless it can explain itself.
This isn’t merely a theoretical concern. In 2018, the European Union
will begin enforcing a law requiring that any decision made by a machine
be readily explainable, on penalty of fines that could cost companies like
Google and Facebook billions of dollars. The law was written to be powerful and broad and fails to define what constitutes a satisfying explanation
or how exactly those explanations are to be reached. It represents a rare
case in which a law has managed to leap into a future that academics and
tech companies are just beginning to devote concentrated effort to understanding. As researchers at Oxford dryly noted, the law ‘‘could require a
complete overhaul of standard and widely used algorithmic techniques’’
— techniques already permeating our everyday lives.
Those techniques can seem inescapably alien to our own ways of thinking.
Instead of certainty and cause, A.I. works off probability and correlation. And
yet A.I. must nonetheless conform to the society we’ve built — one in which
decisions require explanations, whether in a court of law, in the way a business
is run or in the advice our doctors give us. The disconnect between how we
make decisions and how machines make them, and the fact that machines
are making more and more decisions for us, has birthed a new push for
transparency and a field of research called explainable A.I., or X.A.I. Its goal
is to make machines able to account for the things they learn, in ways that we
can understand. But that goal, of course, raises the fundamental question of
whether the world a machine sees can be made to match our own.
‘‘Artificial intelligence’’ is a misnomer, an airy and evocative term that can
be shaded with whatever notions we might have about what ‘‘intelligence’’
is in the first place. Researchers today prefer the term ‘‘machine learning,’’
which better describes what makes such algorithms powerful. Let’s say that
a computer program is deciding whether to give you a loan. It might start
by comparing the loan amount with your income; then it might look at your
credit history, marital status or age; then it might consider any number of
other data points. After exhausting this ‘‘decision tree’’ of possible variables,
the computer will spit out a decision. If the program were built with only
a few examples to reason from, it probably wouldn’t be very accurate. But
given millions of cases to consider, along with their various outcomes, a
Source photo, opening pages: J.R. Eyerman/The Life Picture Collection/Getty Images.
In
machine-learning algorithm could tweak itself — figuring out when to, say,
give more weight to age and less to income — until it is able to handle a range
of novel situations and reliably predict how likely each loan is to default.
Machine learning isn’t just one technique. It encompasses entire families
of them, from ‘‘boosted decision trees,’’ which allow an algorithm to change
the weighting it gives to each data point, to ‘‘random forests,’’ which average
together many thousands of randomly generated decision trees. The sheer
proliferation of different techniques, none of them obviously better than
the others, can leave researchers flummoxed over which one to choose.
Many of the most powerful are bafflingly opaque;
others evade understanding because they involve
an avalanche of statistical probability. It can be
almost impossible to peek inside the box and see
what, exactly, is happening.
Rich Caruana, an academic who works at
Microsoft Research, has spent almost his entire
career in the shadow of this problem. When he
was earning his Ph.D at Carnegie Mellon University in the 1990s, his thesis adviser asked him and
a group of others to train a neural net — a forerunner of the deep neural net — to help evaluate risks
for patients with pneumonia. Between 10 and 11
percent of cases would be fatal; others would be
less urgent, with some percentage of patients
recovering just fine without a great deal of medical attention. The problem
was figuring out which cases were which — a high-stakes question in, say,
an emergency room, where doctors have to make quick decisions about
what kind of care to offer. Of all the machine-learning techniques students
applied to this question, Caruana’s neural net was the most effective. But
when someone on the staff of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center
asked him if they should start using his algorithm, ‘‘I said no,’’ Caruana
recalls. ‘‘I said we don’t understand what it does inside. I said I was afraid.’’
The problem was in the algorithm’s design. Classical neural nets focus
only on whether the prediction they gave is right or wrong, tweaking and
weighing and recombining all available morsels of data into a tangled web
of inferences that seems to get the job done. But some of these inferences
could be terrifically wrong. Caruana was particularly concerned by something another graduate student noticed about the data they were handling:
It seemed to show that asthmatics with pneumonia fared better than the
typical patient. This correlation was real, but the data masked its true cause.
Asthmatic patients who contract pneumonia are immediately flagged as
dangerous cases; if they tended to fare better, it was because they got the
best care the hospital could offer. A dumb algorithm, looking at this data,
would have simply assumed asthma meant a patient was likely to get better
— and thus concluded that they were in less need of urgent care.
‘‘I knew I could probably fix the program for asthmatics,’’ Caruana says. ‘‘But
what else did the neural net learn that was equally wrong? It couldn’t warn me
about the unknown unknowns. That tension has bothered me since the 1990s.’’
The story of asthmatics with pneumonia eventually became a legendary
allegory in the machine-learning community. Today, Caruana is one of
perhaps a few dozen researchers in the United States dedicated to finding more transparent new approaches to machine learning. For the last
six years, he has been creating a new model that combines a number of
machine-learning techniques. The result is as accurate as his original neural
network, and it can spit out charts that show how each individual variable —
from asthma to age — is predictive of mortality risk, making it easier to see
which ones exhibit particularly unusual behavior. Immediately, asthmatics
are revealed as a far outlier. Other strange truths surface, too: For example,
risk for people age 100 goes down suddenly. ‘‘If you made it to this round
number of 100,’’ Caruana says, ‘‘it seemed as if the doctors were saying,
‘Let’s try to get you another year,’ which might not happen if you’re 93.’’
Caruana may have brought clarity to his own project, but his solution
only underscored the fact the explainability is a kaleidoscopic problem. The
explanation a doctor needs from a machine isn’t the same as the one a fighter
pilot might need or the one an N.S.A. analyst sniffing out a financial fraud
might need. Different details will matter, and different technical means will
be needed for finding them. You couldn’t, for example, simply use Caruana’s
techniques on facial data, because they don’t apply to image recognition.
There may, in other words, eventually have to be as many approaches to
explainability as there are approaches to machine learning itself.
Three
years ago, David Gunning, one of
the most consequential people in
the emerging discipline of X.A.I.,
attended a brainstorming session
at a state university in North Carolina. The event had the title ‘‘HumanCentered Big Data,’’ and it was sponsored by a government-funded think
tank called the Laboratory for Analytic Sciences. The idea was to connect leading A.I. researchers with
experts in data visualization and human-computer interaction to see what
new tools they might invent to find patterns in huge sets of data. There to
judge the ideas, and act as hypothetical users, were analysts for the C.I.A.,
the N.S.A. and sundry other American intelligence agencies.
The researchers in Gunning’s group stepped confidently up to the white
board, showing off new, more powerful ways to draw predictions from a
machine and then visualize them. But the intelligence analyst evaluating
their pitches, a woman who couldn’t tell anyone in the room what she
did or what tools she was using, waved it all away. Gunning remembers
her as plainly dressed, middle-aged, typical of the countless government
agents he had known who toiled thanklessly in critical jobs. ‘‘None of
this solves my problem,’’ she said. ‘‘I don’t need to be able to visualize
another recommendation. If I’m going to sign off on a decision, I need
to be able to justify it.’’ She was issuing what amounted to a broadside. It
wasn’t just that a clever graph indicating the best choice wasn’t the same as
explaining why that choice was correct. The analyst was pointing to a legal
and ethical motivation for explainability: Even if a machine made perfect
decisions, a human would still have to take responsibility for them — and
if the machine’s rationale was beyond reckoning, that could never happen.
Gunning, a grandfatherly military man whose buzz cut has survived his
stints as a civilian, is a program manager at the Defense Advanced Research
Projects Agency. He works in Darpa’s shiny new midrise tower in downtown
Alexandria, Va. — an office indistinguishable from the others nearby, except
that the security guard out front will take away your cellphone and warn you
that turning on the Wi-Fi on your laptop will make security personnel materialize within 30 seconds. Darpa managers like Gunning don’t have permanent
jobs; the expectation is that they serve four-year ‘‘tours,’’ dedicated to funding
cutting-edge research along a single line of inquiry. When he found himself
at the brainstorming session, Gunning had recently completed his second
tour as a sort of Johnny Appleseed for A.I.: Starting in the 1990s, he has
founded hundreds of projects, from the first application of machine-learning
techniques to the internet, which presaged the first search engines, to the
project that eventually spun off as Siri, Apple’s voice-controlled assistant.
‘‘I’m proud to be a dinosaur,’’ he says with a smile.
As of now, most of the military’s practical applications of such technology involve performing enormous calculations beyond the reach of
human patience, like predicting how to route supplies. But there are more
The New York Times Magazine
49
Deep
neural nets, which evolved from the kinds of techniques that Rich Caruana
was experimenting with in the 1990s, are now the class of machine learning
that seems most opaque. Just like old-fashioned neural nets, deep neural
networks seek to draw a link between an input on one end (say, a picture
from the internet) and an output on the other end (‘‘This is a picture of a
dog’’). And just like those older neural nets, they consume all the examples
you might give them, forming their own webs of inference that can then be
applied to pictures they’ve never seen before. Deep neural nets remain a
hotbed of research because they have produced some of the most breathtaking technological accomplishments of the last decade, from learning how to
translate words with better-than-human accuracy to learning how to drive.
50
11.26.17
To create a neural net that can reveal its inner workings,
the researchers in Gunning’s portfolio are pursuing a number
of different paths. Some of these are technically ingenious —
for example, designing new kinds of deep neural networks
made up of smaller, more easily understood modules, which
can fit together like Legos to accomplish complex tasks. Others involve psychological insight: One team at Rutgers is
designing a deep neural network that, once it makes a decision, can then sift through its data set to find the example
that best demonstrates why it made that decision. (The idea
is partly inspired by psychological studies of real-life experts
like firefighters, who don’t clock in for a shift thinking, These
are the 12 rules for fighting fires; when they see a fire before
them, they compare it with ones they’ve seen before and
act accordingly.) Perhaps the most ambitious of the dozen
different projects are those that seek to bolt new explanatory
capabilities onto existing deep neural networks. Imagine
giving your pet dog the power of speech, so that it might
finally explain what’s so interesting about squirrels. Or, as
Trevor Darrell, a lead investigator on one of those teams,
sums it up, ‘‘The solution to explainable A.I. is more A.I.’’
Five years ago, Darrell and some colleagues had a novel idea
for letting an A.I. teach itself how to describe the contents of a
picture. First, they created two deep neural networks: one dedicated to image recognition and another to translating languages.
Then they lashed these two together and fed them thousands
of images that had captions attached to them. As the first network learned
to recognize the objects in a picture, the second simply watched what was
happening in the first, then learned to associate certain words with the activity
it saw. Working together, the two networks could identify the features of each
picture, then label them. Soon after, Darrell was presenting some different
work to a group of computer scientists when someone in the audience raised
a hand, complaining that the techniques he was describing would never be
explainable. Darrell, without a second thought, said, Sure — but you could
make it explainable by once again lashing two deep neural networks together,
one to do the task and one to describe it.
Darrell’s previous work had piggybacked on pictures that were already
captioned. What he was now proposing was creating a new data set and
using it in a novel way. Let’s say you had thousands of videos of baseball
highlights. An image-recognition network could be trained to spot the
players, the ball and everything happening on the field, but it wouldn’t
have the words to label what they were. But you might then create a new
data set, in which volunteers had written sentences describing the contents
of every video. Once combined, the two networks should then be able to
answer queries like ‘‘Show me all the double plays involving the Boston
Red Sox’’ — and could potentially show you what cues, like the logos on
uniforms, it used to figure out who the Boston Red Sox are.
Call it the Hamlet strategy: lending a deep neural network the power
of internal monologue, so that it can narrate what’s going on inside. But
do the concepts that a network has taught itself align with the reality that
humans are describing, when, for example, narrating a baseball highlight?
Is the network recognizing the Boston Red Sox by their logo or by some
other obscure signal, like ‘‘median facial-hair distribution,’’ that just happens to correlate with the Red Sox? Does it actually have the concept of
‘‘Boston Red Sox’’ or just some other strange thing that only the computer
understands? It’s an ontological question: Is the deep neural network really
seeing a world that corresponds to our own?
We human beings seem to be obsessed with black boxes: The highest
compliment we give to technology is that it feels like magic. When the
workings of a new technology is too obvious, too easy to explain, it can feel
banal and uninteresting. But when I asked David Jensen — a professor at
Photo illustration by Derek Brahney. Source photo: Howard Sochurek/The Life Picture Collection/Getty Images.
ambitious applications on the horizon. One recent research program tried
to use machine learning to sift through millions of video clips and internet
messages in Yemen to detect cease-fire violations; if the machine does find
something, it has to be able to describe what’s worth paying attention
to. Another pressing need is for drones flying on self-directed missions
to be able to explain their limitations so that the humans commanding
the drones know what the machines can — and cannot — be asked to do.
Explainability has thus become a hurdle for a wealth of possible projects,
and the Department of Defense has begun to turn its eye to the problem.
After that brainstorming session, Gunning took the analyst’s story back
to Darpa and soon signed up for his third tour. As he flew across the country meeting with computer scientists to help design an overall strategy for
tackling the problem of X.A.I., what became clear was that the field needed to collaborate more broadly and tackle grander problems. Computer
science, having leapt beyond the bounds of considering purely technical
problems, had to look further afield — to experts, like cognitive scientists,
who study the ways humans and machines interact.
This represents a full circle for Gunning, who began his career as a cognitive psychologist working on how to design better automated systems for
fighter pilots. Later, he began working on what’s now called ‘‘old-fashioned
A.I.’’ — so-called expert systems in which machines were given voluminous lists of rules, then tasked with drawing conclusions by recombining
those rules. None of those efforts was particularly successful, because it
was impossible to give the computer a set of rules long enough, or flexible enough, to approximate the power of human reasoning. A.I.’s current
blossoming came only when researchers began inventing new techniques
for letting machines find their own patterns in the data.
Gunning’s X.A.I. initiative, which kicked off this year, provides $75 million in funding to 12 new research programs; by the power of the purse
strings, Gunning has refocused the energies of a significant part of the
American A.I. research community. His hope is that by making these new
A.I. methods accountable to the demands of human psychology, they will
become both more useful and more powerful. ‘‘The real secret is finding a
way to put labels on the concepts inside a deep neural net,’’ he says. If the
concepts inside can be labeled, then they can be used for reasoning — just
like those expert systems were supposed to do in A.I.’s first wave.
the University of Massachusetts at Amherst and
one of the researchers being funded by Gunning
— why X.A.I. had suddenly become a compelling
topic for research, he sounded almost soulful:
‘‘We want people to make informed decisions
about whether to trust autonomous systems,’’ he
said. ‘‘If you don’t, you’re depriving people of the
ability to be fully independent human beings.’’
A
decade in the making, the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation finally goes into
effect in May 2018. It’s a sprawling,
many-tentacled piece of legislation
whose opening lines declare that the
protection of personal data is a universal human right. Among its hundreds of provisions, two seem aimed
squarely at where machine learning
has already been deployed and how
it’s likely to evolve. Google and Facebook are most directly threatened by
Article 21, which affords anyone the
right to opt out of personally tailored
ads. The next article then confronts machine
learning head on, limning a so-called right to
explanation: E.U. citizens can contest ‘‘legal or
similarly significant’’ decisions made by algorithms
and appeal for human intervention. Taken together, Articles 21 and 22 introduce the principle that
people are owed agency and understanding when
they’re faced by machine-made decisions.
For many, this law seems frustratingly vague. Some legal
scholars argue that it might be toothless in practice. Others claim
that it will require the basic workings of Facebook and Google
to change, lest they face penalties of 4 percent of their revenue.
It remains to be seen whether complying with the law will mean
a heap of fine print and an extra check box buried in a pop-up
window, some new kind of warning-label system marking every
machine-made decision or much more profound changes.
If Google is one of the companies most endangered by this
new scrutiny on A.I., it’s also the company with the greatest
wherewithal to lead the whole industry in solving the problem.
Even among the company’s astonishing roster of A.I. talent,
one particular star is Chris Olah, who holds the title of research
scientist — a title shared by Google’s many ex-professors and
Ph.D.s — without ever having completed more than a year of
college. Olah has been working for the last couple of years on
creating new ways to visualize the inner workings of a deep
neural network. You might recall when Google created a hallucinatory tool called Deep Dream, which produced psychedelic
distortions when you fed it an image and which went viral
when people used it to create hallucinatory mash-ups like a
doll covered in a pattern of doll eyes and a portrait of Vincent
Van Gogh made up in places of bird beaks. Olah was one of
many Google researchers on the team, led by Alex Mordvintsev, that worked on Deep Dream. It may have seemed like a
folly, but it was actually a technical steppingstone.
Olah speaks faster and faster as he sinks into an idea, and the words
tumbled out of him almost too quickly to follow as he explained what he
found so exciting about the work he was doing. ‘‘The truth is, it’s really
beautiful. There’s some sense in which we don’t know what it means to
see. We don’t understand how humans do it,’’ he told me, hands gesturing
furiously. ‘‘We want to understand something not just about neural nets but
something deeper about reality.’’ Olah’s hope is that deep neural networks
reflect something deeper about parsing data — that insights gleaned from
them might in turn shed light on how our brains work.
Olah showed me a sample of work he was preparing to publish with
a set of collaborators, including Mordvintsev; it was made public this
month. The tool they had developed was basically an ingenious way of
testing a deep neural network. First, it fed the network a random image
of visual noise. Then it tweaked that image over and over again, working
to figure out what excited each layer in the network the most. Eventually,
that process would find the platonic ideal that each layer of the network
was searching for. Olah demonstrated with a network trained to classify
different breeds of dogs. You could pick out a neuron from the topmost
layer while it was analyzing a picture of a golden retriever. You could
see the ideal it was looking for — in this case, a hallucinatory mash-up of
floppy ears and a forlorn expression. The network was indeed homing
in on higher-level traits that we could understand.
Watching him use the tool, I realized that it was exactly what the psychologist Michal Kosinski needed — a key to unlock what his deep neural
network was seeing when it categorized profile pictures as gay or straight.
Kosinski’s most optimistic view of his research was that it represented
a new kind of science in which machines could access truths that lay
beyond human intuition. The problem was reducing what a computer
knew into a single conclusion that a human could grasp and consider. He
had painstakingly tested his data set by hand and found evidence that the
computer might be discovering hormonal signals in facial structure. That
evidence was still fragmentary. But with the tool that Olah showed me,
or one like it, Kosinski might have been able to pull back the curtain on
how his mysterious A.I. was working. It would be as obvious and intuitive
as a picture the computer had drawn on its own.
The New York Times Magazine
51
Lee
(Continued from Page 37)
— I’ve done 30 films in 30 years.’ You know, and
that’s how it goes.’’
Lee stood off to the side staring into the distance, a slightly amused expression playing on
his face, and did not contradict her.
It is hard to overstate how radical, and attention grabbing, ‘‘She’s Gotta Have It’’ was when
it debuted. Lee announced himself, practically
fully formed, as someone who intended to do for
Brooklyn not only what Woody Allen did for Manhattan but also what James Joyce did for Dublin,
what Borges did for Buenos Aires. The original
‘‘She’s Gotta Have It’’ is an electrifying production,
sumptuously scored by Lee’s father and beautifully shot by Ernest Dickerson in stretches of crisp
black-and-white and vivid color. It is redolent of
‘‘Annie Hall’’-era Woody Allen and bursting with
references to Kurosawa and the French New
Wave. It manages all this while staying fully situated within a natural black American vernacular
spanning distinctions of class and color — a deeply
impressive feat.
The film tells the story of one Nola Darling,
a 20-something with a spacious loft in Brooklyn
and lots of scented candles, who is basking in her
youth and in the world’s reaction. Played by Tracy
Camilla Johns, she is pursued by men and women
alike, unashamedly enjoys sex and has it regularly with a persistent square named Jaime Overstreet, a ludicrous B-boy named Mars Blackmon
— played by Lee — and an equally preposterous,
self-obsessed male model called Greer Childs. All
of the men are in possession of more resonant personalities than Nola, who is something of a cipher.
In the film’s denouement, an act of consensual sex
turns so ugly so fast it can be described only as a
rape, and it is difficult to stomach, though Nola
herself seems to take the brutality in stride and
even suggests that she deserved it. More shocking, the scene functions as a moment of epiphany
through which her character is able to develop
into a better, more stable person. By the end of
the story, she has decided to commit herself to
the very man who violated her.
In a scathing essay titled ‘‘Whose Pussy Is This:
A Feminist Comment,’’ the scholar Bell Hooks
described Lee’s protagonist as ‘‘ ‘pure pussy,’ that
is to say that her ability to perform sexually is
the central, defining aspect of her identity.’’ The
film, in Hooks’s view, was contaminated by ‘‘the
pervasive sense that we have witnessed a woman
being disempowered and not a woman coming to
power.’’ Lee seems as close to chastened as possible by the criticism, and emphasized to me that
five writers on the Netflix reboot are women. That
is either an overdue development or an earnest
act of penance or both. Yet as I compared Lee’s
original creation with the Netflix series, the effort
to atone for that rape scene — and all the other
52
11.26.17
ambiguous attitudes it rendered explicit — felt
forced, even conformist. And such lack of edge is
compounded by society’s shifting sexual mores:
‘‘Everybody’s got three lovers now,’’ Samuel L.
Jackson, another longtime collaborator of his, told
me skeptically. ‘‘That’s not controversial, that’s
kind of normal.’’
For these and other reasons, the series can seem
a lot less interested in eros than ideology, functioning as a platform to disseminate right-thinking
messages about black culture and beauty standards, misogyny, homophobia, mental illness and
policing. Toward the end of the first episode, a
millennial Nola Darling, played by DeWanda Wise,
turns straight into the camera and declares out
of nowhere that ‘‘Black Lives Matter.’’ It’s a move
so timely and didactically on the nose that it permanently ripped me out of the fictive dream. And
ever since then, I have thought of that scene more
than any other, and of its meaning for the project
as an artistic endeavor.
I could not shake the suspicion, watching ‘‘She’s
Gotta Have It,’’ that Lee made better, more bracing
work in the era in which he was more conscious
and more irreverent than the culture at large — a
time when he found himself freer to enlighten as
well as offend. The shift seemed to come somewhere around 2015’s ‘‘Chi-Raq,’’ a surreal spin
on Aristophanes’ play about the Peloponnesian
War, updated to take on the fraught subject of
homicide in Chicago. In the movie, as in the play
that inspired it, women impose a sex strike to
pressure their men into a cease-fire. Critics liked
it. Yet before it was even released, the film was
consumed by controversy over the title and by
concerns over whether the city’s miseries should
even be appropriated for cinematic purposes — let
alone for ones with a self-critical bent.
Skeptics took issue with Lee’s intentionally fantastical plot, calling it glib and insensitive. ‘‘ ‘ChiRaq’ leans heavily on the not-at-all-modern but
seductive power of enduring sexual stereotypes
. . . to sell a sexual strike as a viable solution to
Chicago’s staggering murder rate,’’ Janell Ross
wrote in The Washington Post. ‘‘It puts us in the
zone of facile, no-cost, no-government-or-publicengagement-needed solutions to a big and complicated problem.’’ Representatives of the local
hip-hop scene bristled at the notion of an outsider
telling their story, from Chief Keef’s manager to
the Grammy winner Chance the Rapper, who
released a blistering fusillade of tweets deeming
the film both ‘‘sexist’’ and ‘‘racist.’’ Lee responded
by calling the rapper a ‘‘fraud.’’
‘‘Black Twitter is a [expletive], I’m telling you,’’
Lee said, shaking his head over the outcry that
met his film on social media. ‘‘And it’s a force to be
reckoned with.’’ Perhaps that is why, at the time of
the movie’s release, he, too, began to justify himself not in strictly artistic terms but in primarily
social ones: He told reporters that he wanted to
save lives. As we spoke on his porch, he circled
back several times to the Windy City’s mortality
crisis, each pass growing more and more agitated.
Finally, he began to sketch in his notebook a series
of circles representing homicide rates in Chicago,
New York and Los Angeles for 2016, the first one
dwarfing the others.
‘‘It’s always been my belief that if you’re really
going to be an artiste, you really have to go after
the truth,’’ he said when he was done. ‘‘I’ve tried
to be honest. I got a lot of hell for ‘Chi-Raq,’ but
I stand behind that film 100 percent.’’ He ripped
the drawing out of the notepad and handed it to
me. ‘‘Here’s the thing, though,’’ he said, raising
his voice. ‘‘Chicago is the biggest segregated city
in America. So people say, ‘the homicides of Chicago.’ ’’ But, he said, ‘‘it’s not all Chicago. It’s the
West Side and the South Side. Half of Chicago had
more homicides than all of New York City and all
of L.A. combined!’’
At that moment, Lee’s balancing act — as
both representative and critic of black America
— seemed simultaneously inescapable and overwhelming to me. I began to suspect it might seem
that way to him as well.
While I was on the island, I visited a place called
Native Cuts, a barbershop unlike any I had ever
been to on the continental United States. The
owner, a wiry black man with a neck tattoo,
trimmed up and made chitchat with a marblesin-the-mouth white senior citizen who could
not have been more at ease. My barber was a
white 20-something who seemed to be profoundly influenced by the speech patterns of ebonics. Martha’s Vineyard is a very strange place,
racially speaking. Or maybe it’s the way things
could be if everyone had a bit more money and
job security and status and could meet on equal
enough footing. I don’t believe Lee would see it
that way, but the idea that he might somehow
hate anyone’s ‘‘cracker ass’’ seemed hilarious to
me in such a setting.
The following night, I accompanied Lee to
his screening of a Netflix one-off called ‘‘Rodney
King,’’ a film he made of an ingenious one-man
show about Los Angeles in the ’90s — but really
about America today — written and performed by
Roger Guenveur Smith, another of his longtime
collaborators. Lee wore a denim jacket that had
Esposito’s face as Buggin’ Out airbrushed on the
back of it. He does not even try to blend into
crowds, and before we could get inside the building, he posed for a dozen pictures. A retired black
physician pitched him a movie project about a
retired black physician on Martha’s Vineyard. Lee
politely declined.
Inside, the auditorium of the local high school
was bustling. Branford Marsalis and Junot Díaz
were milling about, as was Guenveur Smith. For
an hour onscreen, his sweaty, wide-eyed face held
the room rapt. The performance was so sui generis
and captivating, Lee didn’t have to do anything but
set up cameras at a variety of angles and record it.
Yet it is precisely the kind of offbeat, hallucinatory
and essential project that also requires a deeply
attuned but independent force to bring about.
Two nights later, Lee closed the festival with
a screening of a teaser for ‘‘She’s Gotta Have It’’
— again at the high school in front of another
packed house. It was Saturday, Aug. 12, the afternoon when white nationalists brought death to
the streets of Charlottesville, Va. In the taxi, Lee
had mentioned that he spoke to Obama earlier in
the day, when he reached the 18th hole, behind
Lee’s house. Obama hadn’t yet heard about what
was happening because he’d been out on the
course all day. Somehow that image struck me
as unbearably sad. Perhaps it struck Lee that way,
too, and we quickly changed the subject.
One of the things you hear over and over again
about Lee is how loyal and generous he is in a
business that is so often the opposite. He employs
countless graduates of historically black colleges
and universities in front of and especially behind
the cameras, and many of them were at the screening, as well as hundreds of black Vineyard locals
who had no particular connection but simply
seemed grateful to be among the first to support
one of their own, that rare voice who tells stories
specifically for and about them. Lee calls black
audiences like this his ‘‘base,’’ and he told me that
he always tests out his work in front of them first
because they’ll let you know ‘‘if this some [expletive].’’ He has cut scenes in the past after such
encounters, including one from ‘‘Jungle Fever’’
that Wesley Snipes advised him never to show.
The base, that night, erupted in applause. I wondered if my initial misgivings had been too harsh.
The poet Amiri Baraka once derisively wrote
that Lee was ‘‘the quintessential buppie,’’ his
work frivolous and bourgeois, but that is vicious.
The Rev. Michael L. Pfleger, the real-life Chicago
preacher behind John Cusack’s character in ‘‘ChiRaq,’’ described him as ‘‘the conscience of Hollywood,’’ but that may be too generous. Roger Ebert,
who recalled having been ‘‘too shaken to speak’’
after seeing ‘‘Do the Right Thing,’’ got the closest
to the truth when he wrote about the fundamental ‘‘evenhandedness that is at the center of Spike
Lee’s work,’’ a quality that is sadly ‘‘invisible to
many of his viewers and critics.’’ It is this evenhandedness that causes some whites to recoil from
him as angry, while at the very same time it makes
some blacks cool to him as out of touch. It may be
the most important, but by no means only, part
of what makes him a genuine and lasting artist.
The most idyllic section of Fort Greene is found
along the exquisitely preserved brownstone
blocks of South Portland and South Oxford
between DeKalb and Lafayette, and along stately
Washington, which faces the procession of morning joggers, dog walkers and French-speaking
nannies animating the park. It has gotten considerably whiter — and beiger — but it comprises
an exceptionally confident mix that, in pockets,
nearly rivals that of the Vineyard. Lee’s mother
found her family’s brownstone on the park around
the same time my elderly West Indian former landlord on South Portland acquired two abandoned
addresses for the price of back taxes and the hassle
of kicking out heroin addicts shooting up in the
vestibules. Today the split between the black families who owned their homes and the population
boxed in the projects is almost incomprehensible.
Yet Lee takes it as self-evident that race trumps
class. As such, he is a man whose own phenomenal life can present certain contradictions. He
is a vociferously outspoken critic of even mild
gentrification, as discomfited by the erection of
a skyscraper on Flatbush as the rent-is-too-damnhigh guy. Chris Rock put his finger on the irony
in ‘‘Brooklyn Boheme,’’ Diane Paragas and Nelson
George’s 2011 documentary about the black-andLatino creative community that blossomed in Fort
Greene in the ’80s and ’90s. ‘‘Spike made ‘She’s
Gotta Have It,’ ’’ Rock said, ‘‘and Fort Greene just
became like — Brooklyn! Like, wow, there’s a place
in Brooklyn where black people live, and it’s nice.’’
The complicated truth is that Lee, in film after
film and more than almost any other single denizen, has played an integral part in his borough’s
renewal process, with deeply urbane and humane
portraits of his home that proved more attractive
than even he may have intended.
The day after the festival ended, I met Lee at
the 40 Acres and a Mule headquarters on South
Elliott Place in Fort Greene, around the corner
and down the block from where he grew up. It
is a museum-like world unto itself that stretches
over four floors all bursting with memorabilia, art,
antique racial propaganda and movie posters with
fond inscriptions from peers like Spielberg and
Fellini. The outside of the building has always
functioned as a way for Lee to communicate
with the neighborhood directly. On that day, it
was adorned with large, bright purple posters for
the new ‘‘She’s Gotta Have It.’’ As he was locking
up, three young black women approached him,
took photos and thanked him for his work. He was
still wearing the denim jacket with Esposito’s face
on it (and for good measure, carrying an orange
backpack adorned with his own likeness as Mars
Blackmon). As he walked me across Lafayette Avenue and down Fulton, cars honked and strangers
waved. Lee acknowledged all of them.
We had come to South Portland Avenue,
where the local rap legend Notorious B.I.G. has
for years now been reduced to a child-friendly
caricature emblazoned on the side of an open-air
Mexican-Cuban eco-cafe. ‘‘Brooklyn is gentrified!’’
Lee laughed, gesturing at all the new construction
rising up around us. It is, and it has been for a
long time now. Lee has solidified his own sort of
landmarked status as a local and national treasure.
But on that hot summer day, as we said goodbye
and I watched him turn and walk away into that
sanitized, rainbow-colored bobo wonderland, for
the first time since I’d met him he seemed almost
out of place.
Answers to puzzles of 11.19.17
COUNTERPRODUCTIVE
S
A
M
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I
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A
D
D
M
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T
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E V A L
R E L
T R I
I M A F
P E E L
A
R A N
D E R
E L I S
R E A L
M A N A
I S N T
S E A S
S
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F E
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B A
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W A S H O
H T H O U
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T A R T A
A G E I N
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D L U C K
A P E S
H I S S
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C S D
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S W E R
A R M S
M Y S
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P E
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N M A
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G R
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W L
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A
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KENKEN
SPLIT DECISIONS
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M M
S
C O
I S H
U M
D F
T
A E R O
RM U A MT
R
NG
A U
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I A
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DOUBLE VISION
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DM
S T L E
BOXING MATCH
1. Candy canes 2. Cheat
sheet 3. Rodeo rider 4.
Small scale 5. White whale
6. Easter basket 7. Bunsen
burner 8. Talked turkey
9. Federal Reserve 10.
Pinches pennies 11. Elevator
operator 12. Suspended
sentences
Answers to puzzle on Page 54
SPELLING BEE
Conductor (3 points). Also: Coconut, concur, conduct,
contour, count, court, crouton, cutout, donut, occur, outdo,
outdoor, outrun, rotund, round, trout, turnout, tutor, uncut.
If you found other legitimate dictionary words in the
beehive, feel free to include them in your score.
The New York Times Magazine
53
Puzzles
SPELLING BEE
SWITCHBACKS
BOXING MATCH
By Frank Longo
By Patrick Berry
By Thinh Van Duc Lai
How many common words of 5 or more letters can
you spell using the letters in the hive? Every answer
must use the center letter at least once. Letters may
be reused in a word. At least one word will use all 7
letters. Proper names and hyphenated words are not
allowed. Score 1 point for each answer, and 3 points
for a word that uses all 7 letters.
Answers in this grid proceed in two long, winding paths.
Path A starts in the upper-left corner and winds left and
right, taking hairpin turns at the curved ends. Path B
starts in the same place but winds up and down. Each
path contains a series of answers placed end to end,
one letter per space (including each loop on the sides),
clued in order of appearance.
Place numbers from 1 to 9 in the grid so that each
outlined region contains consecutive numbers, and so
that the sum of numbers in every 3x3 area is the same.
The grid has 16 overlapping 3x3 areas. Solving hint:
When 3x3 areas overlap, the sum of the numbers in
their unshared squares must be equal. In the example,
the total of each 3x3 area is 42.
Rating: 7 = good; 13 = excellent; 19 = genius
Path A Paleolithic human (hyph.) • Makes, as an
income • World Cup sport • Easy-to-spread cheese •
Elite Navy group
Ex.
>
Path B Container for sugar or flour • Speeches from a
pulpit • Waltz and mazurka (2 wds.)
C
T
D
B
A
U
N
R
O
A
B
Our list of words, worth 22 points, appears with last week’s answers.
ACROSTIC
1
S 3
M 4
R 5
23 T 24 L
By Emily Cox & Henry Rathvon
J 6
Q 7
N 8
E 9
25 F 26 A 27 D 28 K 29
D
10
I
66 R 67 O 68 E 69 B 70 G 71
90 N 91
111
D 92 F 93
I
E 112 U 113 O
132 H 133 N
H 72 U 73
J 74
94 O 95 E 96 V
L 11
O
12
53 F 54 O
K
14
A 15 W 16 M 17
L 75 P 76
F
55 C 56 P 57 D 58 M 59 J
77 C 78 D 79 V 80 A 81 M
97 C 98 Q 99 A 100 P
114 N 115 R 116 W 117 K 118 J 119 C
120 A
134 L 135 K 136 E 137 D 138 G 139 T 140 P 141 V 142 S
F. Move about under one’s own steam
I 122 T 123 G 124 D
143 J 144 C 145 A 146 F
166 K 167 Q
L. Vague; having no precise limits
____ ____ ____ ____ ____ ____ ____ ____
____ ____ ____ ____ ____ ____ ____ ____ ____ ____
44
171 127 92
60
14
99 120 145 63 80
B. Author of a 1966 “true crime novel”
____ ____ ____ ____ ____ ____
87
69 155 38 126 104
C. Fictional chronicler addressed in
the quote (2 wds.)
____ ____ ____ ____ ____ ____ ____ ____
119 131
77
41
55
97 164 144
9
____ ____ ____ ____ ____ ____ ____
58 33
36
70 106
H. Suspenseful, as a plot keeping
91
45
71
133 47 114 30
59
34
19 156 143 73
____ ____
the quote
____ ____ ____ ____ ____ ____ ____ ____
48
89 148 43
8
22
13 135 166 28
117
31
94
109 M 110 V
125 E 126 B 127 F 128 Q 129 S
130 U 131 C
147 Q 148 K 149 L
150 I 151 G 152 P 153 N 154 M
R. Sandwich with many synonyms
____ ____ ____ ____
40
4
66 115
S. Environmental subgroup
35
20 142 129 49 88
T. Get to the bottom of
42
72
112 86 160
V. All together now
____ ____ ____ ____ ____ ____ ____
39 141 79 110 163 96
17 140 37 100
1
W. Social standing for good or ill
____ ____ ____ ____ ____ ____ ____ ____ ____
32 147 167 84 128
107 I 108 D
____ ____ ____ ____ ____ ____ ____
Q. Quid pro quo (3 wds.)
61
82 W 83 E 84 Q 85 L 86 U 87 B 88 S 89 K
130 21
11
____ ____ ____ ____ ____ ____ ____
75
I 63 A 64 W 65 T
U. Plain as the nose on your face
P. Wide-angle, as lenses go
152 56
U 22 E
C 42 U 43 K
____ ____ ____ ____ ____ ____
153 168 90
67 158 113
62
21
103 23 162 65 122 139
____ ____ ____ ____ ____ ____ ____
K. Man of mystery speaking in
____ ____ ____ ____ ____ ____ ____ ____ ____
7
40 R 41
60 L 61 Q
2
N. Brief report of a current event
54
37 P 38 B 39 V
J 20 S
____ ____ ____ ____ ____ ____ ____
81
O. Relative of a nautiloid
____ ____ ____ ____ ____ ____ ____ ____ ____
5
154 109 16
(2 wds.)
J. Having offbeat or outlandish habits
118 105
3
____ ____ ____ ____ ____ ____ ____ ____
93 107 121 150 62 172 29
E. What makes a man? (2 wds.)
46 134
M. Achieve loft or stonedness (2 wds.)
____ ____ ____ ____ ____ ____ ____
____ ____ ____ ____ ____ ____ ____
____ ____
24 85 149 102 74 165 10
138 123 151 52
I. One with too few smarts
173 108 78
111 170 95 83 157 68 136 125
25
G. Manifest, palpable, in easy view
50 132 169
case (hyph.)
____ ____ ____ ____ ____ ____ ____ ____ ____
27
76 146 53
you spellbound
____ ____ ____ ____
D. Elementary in its solution, as a
159 137 124 57
12
19
168 N 169 H 170 E 171 F 172 I 173 D
____ ____ ____ ____ ____ ____ ____ ____ ____
26 161
P 18 Q
101 W 102 L 103 T 104 B 105 J 106 G
121
155 B 156 J 157 E 158 O 159 D 160 U 161 A 162 T 163 V 164 C 165 L
A. Patently so; based on truisms
F 13
30 N 31 O 32 Q 33 M 34 J 35 S 36 G
44 A 45 D 46 L 47 N 48 E 49 S 50 H 51 W 52 G
Guess the words defined below and
write them over their numbered
dashes. Then transfer each letter to
the correspondingly numbered square
in the pattern. Black squares indicate
word endings. The filled pattern will
contain a quotation reading from left
to right. The first letters of the guessed
words will form an acrostic giving the
author’s name and the title of the work.
54
V 2
6
98
18
____ ____ ____ ____ ____ ____
116 101 82
15
64
51
Law School for Everyone
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Thinking like a Lawyer
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Trial Strategy behind
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Opening Statements:
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Questioning Your Witnesses
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The Art of the Objection
Problematic Evidence
Controlling Cross-Examination
Closing Arguments:
Driving Your Theory Home
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Appellate Process
12. Arguing before the
Supreme Court
Criminal Law and Procedure
1.
2.
3.
4.
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7.
Who Defines Crimes,
and How?
Crime and the Guilty Mind
Homicide and Moral
Culpability
The Law of Self-Defense
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Cruel and Unusual
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The Shrinking Warrant
Requirement
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Privilege
11. Miranda and Police
Interrogations
12. Plea Bargains, Jury
Trials, and Justice
9.
Civil Procedure
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2.
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5.
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Procedural Rights and
Why They Matter
Subject Matter Jurisdiction
Jurisdiction over
the Defendant
A Modern Approach to
Personal Jurisdiction
The Role of Pleadings
Understanding
Complex Litigation
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The Calamitous
World of Tort Law
Legal Duty to Others
Reasonable Care and the
Reasonable Person
Rules versus
Standards of Care
The Complexities of
Factual Causation
Legal Causation and
Foreseeability
7.
8.
The Use and Abuse
of Discovery
Deciding a Case before
the Trial Ends
9. The Right to a Civil Jury Trial
10. Determining What
Law Applies
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12. Appeals and How
They Are Judged
8.
Torts
1.
2.
3.
4.
5.
6.
Liability for the Acts of Others
When Tort Plaintiffs
Share the Blame
9. Animals, Blasting,
and Strict Liability
10. The Rise of Products Liability
11. Products Liability Today
12. Punitive Damages
and Their Limits
Your Guide to the
American Legal System
Law School for Everyone
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Puzzles Edited by Will Shortz
1
1 Per
7 Per ____
11 Feature on
3
4
6
22
43 Metal pin stuck
in parts of sinks
47 Figure skater Sonja
49 Shout after
7
83 Dangerous vipers
86 Ka-boom!
87 1972 No. 1 hit with
10
11
31
Fill the grid with digits so as not to repeat a digit in any row or column, and so that the digits within each
heavily outlined box will produce the target number shown, by using addition, subtraction, multiplication
or division, as indicated in the box. A 5x5 grid will use the digits 1–5. A 7x7 grid will use 1–7.
32
33
34
14
36
41
42
48
51
52
57
49
53
58
62
63
69
64
65
70
76
79
80
86
97
93
102
116
105
106
113
117
123
126
127
107
108
114
118
122
ring a bell?
4 Pipe joint
5 “Cool” sort
6 Reason to pull
an all-nighter
7 Partner of a
crossed “t”
8 Creative sort
9 Something pressed
against a conch
10 Game predecessor
of Riven
11 Certain spa
treatment
12 Baker’s container
13 The “I” of “The
King and I”
14 ____ dish
15 Bad puns
16 Song with
verses by four or
more rappers
17 Mounties’ hats
18 Understand
23 “Go” preceder
25 Give for a while
29 Hindu exercise
system
31 “Do as I say!”
32 Climbing plant
in the pea family
34 Broadcaster of
many Ken Burns
documentaries
82
88
104
112
3 Does his name
77
99
103
111
72
94
98
110
81
87
92
66
71
75
91
17
29
47
56
16
25
40
46
55
15
21
35
39
61
13
24
28
38
12
20
27
KENKEN
KenKen® is a registered trademark of Nextoy, LLC. © 2017 www.KENKEN.com. All rights reserved.
9
23
26
30
8
19
the lyric “No one’s
seeing Godzilla
37
the back of
ever gonna keep
50 Motorsports
some pajamas
me down again”
43
44
45
vehicle
15 Conversation
89 Regret
51 ____ ammoniac
interrupter in a
90 Ranger’s wear
50
52 Good times
car, at times
92 Fear among
54
Capital
of
the
18 Cured salmon
underground
54
world’s happiest
19 Jazzy Anita
workers
country, per a
59
60
20 Top-shelf
95 It goes downhill
2017 U.N. survey
21 Go bad
97 First name in
55 QB’s cry
67
68
22 Lists about a port
1950s comedy
56 Unpleasant
on the Black Sea
98 Actor John of
73
74
58 The dark side
24 Guaranteed
the “Harold
59 One of the
to succeed
& Kumar” films
78
principal deities
26 Auspice
99 Nordstrom
in Hinduism
83
84 85
competitor
27 Referring to
61 Sliding item
this clue within
100
Shades
of
tan
on a car
89
90
this clue, e.g.
102 “Pimp My
64 Carne ____
28 Neighborhoods
Ride” network
(taco option)
95
96
surrounded
103 Curry of the N.B.A.
67 ____ Dimas, Calif.
by crime
100
101
68 Flourishes around 105 Moves, as a plant
30 1970s-’90s
monsoon events
109 Coming up
109
chess champion
71 Sample-collecting
in vetoes
33 Fill-in
org.
112 Got 100 on
115
35 ____ Store
73 Lush
114 “I’ll get this done”
36 Laura of “ER”
75 React to a
120
121
115 Licorice-flavored
37 Provide cover
haymaker
extract
for, say
125
76 Slack-jawed
116 Crew found inside 124
39 Fad dance
78 Pot note
again and again
move of 2015
79 Heaters
120 Spy novelist
40 Blue-green hue
80 Major investors
126 And others,
Deighton
in start-up cos.
42 Style of Radio
for short
121 Poet ____ St.
City Music Hall,
82 Its filling contained
127 Gets fresh with
Vincent Millay
lard until 1997
informally
122 Kook
DOWN
123 “Fawlty Towers”
or “The Vicar
1 Nose of a wine
Puzzles Online: Today’s puzzle and more
of Dibley”
than 9,000 past puzzles, nytimes.com/crosswords
2 Single-____ (like
($39.95 a year). For the daily puzzle commentary:
124 Need a lift?
a certain health
nytimes.com/wordplay.
care system)
125 Looking up
56
5
18
By Jeff Chen
ACROSS
2
38 Something to
work through with
a therapist
41 Benghazi native
43 Waste
44 Actress Phylicia
of “Creed”
45 “Fighting”
collegiate team
46 Stella ____ (beer)
48 Another name
for Dido
51 Hybrid activewear
53 Santa ____ winds
56 Tailor’s measure
57 See 74-Down
60 Take in
62 Blood type of a
“universal donor”
63 Ardent
65 “Oh, heavens!”
66 Take off an
invisibility cloak
69 Lit a fire under
70 Annual event
viewed live by
hundreds of
millions of people,
with “the”
72 Big stretches
74 With 57-Down,
something
filling fills
77 Graceful
losers, e.g.
119
11/26/17
INSIDE OUT
81 Besmirch
83 Magazine places
84 Don Quixote’s
unseen beloved
85 Sign with an
antlered pictogram
86 Award won by
“The Curious
Incident of
the Dog in the
Night-Time”
88 Speedboat follower
91 Continues
92 Hosts, for short
93 Words of empathy
94 “You shouldn’t’ve
done that”
96 The Blues Brothers
and others
101 Emulate Snidely
Whiplash
104 Hack down
106 Chilled
107 Costa Ricans,
in slang
108 Modern education
acronym
110 Brouhaha
111 Lid irritant
113 “I call that!”
117 Very in
118 Second
Amendment org.
119 U.S.O. audience
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Preet Bharara
Is Not Running
For Office
Interview by Dan Amira
You went from being the most famous
and powerful United States attorney in
the country to hosting a weekly podcast
about justice. No offense, but some people
might consider that a slight step down.
Wow. How much of a descent is that? Look,
if I had never become the United States
attorney, I would have lived a full and
happy and unregretful life. The happiest
day of my professional life was becoming
an assistant U.S. attorney, because I always
wanted to have a position where the only
job is to do the right thing. Becoming U.S.
attorney was gravy on top of all that. But
at some point, you’ve got to leave.
I’ll bet a lot of people think you were a
district attorney. If you’re at a cocktail
party and someone gets your job title
wrong, do you correct them? If it’s a formal event, I will probably gently correct.
But I’m more likely to have my last name
mispronounced.
I think it’s fair to say that the longer
Trump is in power, the better your podcast will do. Would you trade podcast
success for an early Trump retirement?
Would I happily talk about other social,
political, legal issues — which might cause
fewer people to listen to the podcast — in
exchange for the president of the United
States not embarrassing us and not undermining democratic institutions on a daily
basis? Absolutely yes. But this is what’s
happening in America right now. I don’t
feel like I have any choice.
But the podcast has to be a pit stop for
you on your way to elected office, right?
I don’t think I would enjoy politics in any
shape or form. The way I say it respectfully — as an Indian-American and given the
tea-drinking habits of my parents — it’s not
my cup of tea.
Is there something in particular that
turns you off about politics? I find the
58
11.26.17
Age: 49
Occupation:
Podcast host and
distinguished scholar
in residence at N.Y.U.
School of Law
Hometown:
Eatontown, N.J.
Bharara was
fired from his job
as United States
attorney by
President Trump in
March. He is host
of the podcast ‘‘Stay
Tuned With Preet.’’
Photograph by Eva O’Leary
His Top 5 Dream
Podcast Guests:
1. Kurt Vonnegut
2. Atticus Finch (the
elder and younger)
3. Malala Yousafzai
4. Bruce Springsteen
5. Donald J. Trump
play of money in politics to be not only
disgusting and conducive to all sorts of
corruption but also personally distasteful.
The idea of calling friends and acquaintances for several hours every day to raise
money for a race doesn’t float my boat.
Your convictions of Sheldon Silver and
Dean Skelos — the former New York State
Assembly speaker and the former State
Senate majority leader — were recently
vacated thanks to an 8-0 Supreme Court
ruling that narrowed the definition of
public corruption. Did eight Supreme
Court justices get it wrong? I tend to
agree with the commentators who have
said the decision is a little bit naïve. But
if you spend all your time sort of under
the covers fuming about what the people
in robes do, you wouldn’t get out of bed
on some days.
You once heard Dean Skelos’s son on
a wiretap saying, and I quote, ‘‘It’s like
[expletive] Preet Bharara is listening to
every [expletive] phone call.’’ How hard
did you laugh when you heard that? I
laughed very robustly.
Do you consider yourself part of the
‘‘resistance’’? No. I don’t know what that
term means. I consider myself a private
citizen who cares about the country.
I’m going to ask you the same question
you asked one of your guests. Say you’re
a member of Congress. Based solely on
what we publicly know today, would you
vote to impeach Donald Trump? The
closest I’ve come to setting a threshold
for what I think would merit impeachment is if he were to cause Bob Mueller
to be fired. That would be the equivalent
or worse than the Saturday Night Massacre. Given the accumulation of all sorts of
other ways that Donald Trump has flouted
the rule of law, that’s just a bridge too far.
Let’s say that Trump does get impeached.
How are you celebrating that night? This
is going to sound not credible to some
people: I don’t know that I’d be celebrating. To me, the most somber thing that
happens in civilian life is when a jury
comes back for a verdict in a criminal
case: That moment is an illustration that
people do bad things, and that justice is
necessary, but it’s awful that it’s necessary.
It’s not the same thing, but if we got to the
point where the president of the United
States has to be impeached on a bipartisan
basis, it will be gratifying in some ways, if
it’s responsible and deserved, but it will
also be very sad.
Interview has been condensed and edited.
Talk
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