When Survivor first aired, I watched the initial episode with the naive idea that it was actually a show about survival. As in, dump a group of people on an island, and the one or ones who is the best at building shelter, figuring out sources of food, and keeping their innovative and rational wits about them, win. With rescue teams to keep the others from actually dying. Imagine my disappointment to discover that it was, instead, a show offering a re-run of junior high cliques and pout-fests. "Oh, dear god," I thought. "Junior high was bad enough the first time. Spare me the torture of watching it all over again." But I reassured myself with the thought that surely, this kind of show wouldn't last.
Last, of course, doesn't begin to describe what's happened in the reality TV world. Rabbits should reproduce and spread so prolifically. And even a number of my very intelligent friends have become avid fans of one show or another.
My own view, however, has remained unchanged. If a sinister power wanted to get state secrets out of my hands, a few days of non-stop reality TV show watching would do the trick. Enough back-to-back Bridezillas, The Janice Dickinson Modeling Agency, and Bachelor-babe catfights, with no hope of turning the channel, and I'd be pleading for mercy. But I'd also assume that I was the only torture victim in that equation.
Drawing on interviews with reality TV show contestants whose non-disclosure contracts have now expired, the article, headlined "Tired, Tipsy, and Pushed to the Brink," details a broad range of techniques routinely used on contestants, including sleep deprivation, isolation, taunting, food deprivation, and pushing of alcohol consumption. Take out the alcohol, and the list reads like a page straight out of a manual for enhanced interrogation techniques. Which both explains a lot, in terms of the bad behavior on those shows, and also provides a vivid illustration of why those techniques don't always get reliable intelligence from suspects.
Granted, reality show contestants have the option of leaving at any time--a significant difference. And one could argue that if contestants are stupid enough to sign on for the 15 minutes of humiliation fame reality shows offer, they deserve what they get. But even if contestants have visions of easy money or fame, I'm not sure they really know what they're getting into. Many may assume they can beat the system, knowing that they don't normally behave like the people they see on the shows. But even the stalwart feminist warrior Germaine Greer, who signed on to Britain's "Celebrity Big Brother" show in 2005 in the hopes of raising money for her rainforest charities, was overwhelmed by the abuse and dysfunction and quit after only four days. (Her account of her brief stay makes for interesting reading.)
There are undoubtedly any number of individual vulnerabilities and character flaws that plays into the equation, as well. But isolation, group pressure and sleep deprivation are powerful behavior-altering techniques, regardless of who's involved. That's why interrogators use them. When I was 16, I spent a week at a "Girl's State" convention that was ostensibly aimed at teaching us how to be better citizens. By the standards of reality TV, the experience was mild. But we were kept up late, roused early, and subjected to non-stop mandatory lectures each day. Group pressure to approve and conform was great. And within only a few days, almost all individual thought had evaporated. Each speaker got a standing ovation. Any differing opinion was booed, and the questioner ostracized. It was a frightening glimpse into how easy brain-washing and behavior modification are to accomplish--especially in a group.
Add alcohol, taunting, and the other tactics that seem commonplace in reality TV show environments, and you have a disturbing cross between George Orwell's 1984 and a modern-day Roman Coliseum. And yet, like the Romans of old, we cheer. We laugh. We watch. Seemingly without any twinge of conscience. And the puzzling question is ... why?
Is the entertainment quality of the shows that much better than the scripted programs we used to watch? I can't imagine I'd find many who'd say that. Are we so twisted that we love seeing other humans suffer? Or does watching the immature manipulative behavior, suffering and humiliation of seemingly-willing participants on those shows make us feel better about our own lives, no matter what we're going through?
Perhaps, like the contestants themselves, we don't realize what we're endorsing when we watch the shows, or buy the products they advertise. But that's beginning to change. As more information about the treatment of contestants comes out, will we continue to watch? Even knowing that that the last thing the behavior on reality TV shows represents is reality .... unless it's the reality of what vulnerable people will do under harsh and artificially-induced conditions?
The producers of these shows may be behaving as badly, or worse, than their inebriated, sleep-deprived contestants. But they could rightly argue that just as the slave trade depended on having people willing to buy the slaves, the reality TV shows depend on having audiences willing to watch. We are complicit. And as long as we are willing consumers of the product, the torture will continue--both for viewers who have increasingly fewer options in terms of what to watch, and for those hapless souls who sign up for a dream, and end up in a nightmare.
The number of American teens who excel at advanced math has surged. Why?
On a sultry evening last July, a tall, soft-spoken 17-year-old named David Stoner and nearly 600 other math whizzes from all over the world sat huddled in small groups around wicker bistro tables, talking in low voices and obsessively refreshing the browsers on their laptops. The air in the cavernous lobby of the Lotus Hotel Pang Suan Kaew in Chiang Mai, Thailand, was humid, recalls Stoner, whose light South Carolina accent warms his carefully chosen words. The tension in the room made it seem especially heavy, like the atmosphere at a high-stakes poker tournament.
Stoner and five teammates were representing the United States in the 56th International Mathematical Olympiad. They figured they’d done pretty well over the two days of competition. God knows, they’d trained hard. Stoner, like his teammates, had endured a grueling regime for more than a year—practicing tricky problems over breakfast before school and taking on more problems late into the evening after he completed the homework for his college-level math classes. Sometimes, he sketched out proofs on the large dry-erase board his dad had installed in his bedroom. Most nights, he put himself to sleep reading books like New Problems in Euclidean Geometry and An Introduction to Diophantine Equations.
For decades, some psychologists have claimed that bilinguals have better mental control. Their work is now being called into question.
In one of his sketches, comedian Eddie Izzard talks about how English speakers see bilingualism: “Two languages in one head? No one can live at that speed! Good lord, man. You’re asking the impossible,” he says. This satirical view used to be a serious one. People believed that if children grew up with two languages rattling around their heads, they would become so confused that their “intellectual and spiritual growth would not thereby be doubled, but halved,” wrote one professor in 1890. “The use of a foreign language in the home is one of the chief factors in producing mental retardation,” said another in 1926.
A century on, things are very different. Since the 1960s, several studies have shown that bilingualism leads to many advantages, beyond the obvious social benefits of being able to speak to more people. It also supposedly improves executive function—a catch-all term for advanced mental abilities that allow us to control our thoughts and behavior, such as focusing on a goal, ignoring distractions, switching attention, and planning for the future.
Attorney General Loretta Lynch announced the Justice Department is suing the Missouri municipality after an agreement on reform broke down.
The Justice Department filed a wide-ranging lawsuit against Ferguson, Missouri, in federal court Wednesday, accusing the municipality of “a pattern or practice of law enforcement conduct that violates the Constitution and federal civil rights laws,” Attorney General Loretta Lynch announced.
“Residents of Ferguson have suffered the deprivation of their constitutional rights—the rights guaranteed to all Americans—for decades,” Lynch said. “They have waited decades for justice. They should not be forced to wait any longer.”
The lawsuit’s allegations mirror those in the Justice Department’s landmark Ferguson Report, which was released last March on the same day as a separate report clearing Officer Darren Wilson of civil-rights violations for the shooting death of Michael Brown in August 2014. Brown’s death, alongside the high-profile shootings of unarmed black men and women in other cities, led to violent protests in Ferguson and ignited a national debate over race and policing in the U.S.
After a pair of poor showings in New Hampshire, Chris Christie and Carly Fiorina drop out of the race.
The Republican race is headed to South Carolina with two fewer candidates. The day after finishing sixth and seventh in the New Hampshire primaries, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina announced on Wednesday that they were suspending their campaigns.
Fiorina was always a long shot—she was practically a political newcomer, having only run one unsuccessful Senate campaign. And while her record at HP was vulnerable to attack, Republican figures saw in her both private-sector experience and a woman who could counter Hillary Clinton’s monopoly on a “historic” woman’s candidacy. While many political professionals sniffed at Fiorina’s candidacy, remembering that 2010 Senate race, she broke out after a commanding performance in the undercard to the first Republican debate. That earned her a promotion to the main stage at the next debate, where she scored another victory. But it was all downhill from there. Dogged by questions of honesty and unable to earn media attention, her campaign faded quickly.
Issued last summer, the rules are the centerpiece of the White House’s climate-change-fighting agenda, and they play a big part in the recent, tepid optimism about global warming. Without the proposal of the plan, the United States couldn’t have secured the Paris Agreement, the first international treaty to mitigate greenhouse-gas emissions, last December. And without the adoption of the plan, the United States almost certainly won’t be able to comply with that document. If the world were to lose the Paris Agreement—which was not a total solution to the climate crisis, but meant to be a first, provisional step—years could be lost in the diplomatic fight to reduce climate-change’s dangers.
After getting shut down late last year, a website that allows free access to paywalled academic papers has sprung back up in a shadowy corner of the Internet.
There’s a battle raging over whether academic research should be free, and it’s overflowing into the dark web.
Most modern scholarly work remains locked behind paywalls, and unless your computer is on the network of a university with an expensive subscription, you have to pay a fee, often around 30 dollars, to access each paper.
Many scholars say this system makes publishers rich—Elsevier, a company that controls access to more than 2,000 journals, has a market capitalization about equal to that of Delta Airlines—but does not benefit the academics that conducted the research, or the public at large. Others worry that free academic journals would have a hard time upholding the rigorous standards and peer reviews that the most prestigious paid journals are famous for.
Most people in the U.S. believe their country is going to hell. But they’re wrong. What a three-year journey by single-engine plane reveals about reinvention and renewal.
When news broke late last year of a mass shooting in San Bernardino, California, most people in the rest of the country, and even the state, probably had to search a map to figure out where the city was. I knew exactly, having grown up in the next-door town of Redlands (where the two killers lived) and having, by chance, spent a long period earlier in the year meeting and interviewing people in the unglamorous “Inland Empire” of Southern California as part of an ongoing project of reporting across America.
Some of what my wife, Deb, and I heard in San Bernardino before the shootings closely matched the picture that the nonstop news coverage presented afterward: San Bernardino as a poor, troubled town that sadly managed to combine nearly every destructive economic, political, and social trend of the country as a whole. San Bernardino went into bankruptcy in 2012 and was only beginning to emerge at the time of the shootings. Crime is high, household income is low, the downtown is nearly abandoned in the daytime and dangerous at night, and unemployment and welfare rates are persistently the worst in the state.
The ancient civilization may have tracked Jupiter using sophisticated methods, but their reasons for stargazing were very different than ours.
We’ve never escaped the influence of the Babylonians. That there are 60 seconds in a minute, 60 minutes in an hour, and 360 degrees in a full circle, are all echoes of the Babylonian preference for counting in base 60. An affinity for base 12 (inches in a foot, pence in an old British shilling) is also an offshoot, 12 being a factor of 60.
All this suggests that the Babylonians had a mathematics worth copying, which was why the Greeks did copy it and thereby rooted these number systems in Western tradition. The latest indication of Babylonian mathematical sophistication is the discovery that their astronomers knew that, in effect, the distance traveled by a moving object is equal to the area under the graph of velocity plotted against time. Previously it had been thought that this relationship wasn’t recognized until the fourteenth century in Europe. But since historian Mathieu Ossendrijver of the Humboldt University in Berlin found the calculation described in a series of clay tablets inscribed with cuneiform writing in Babylonia during the fourth to the first centuries B.C.E., where it was used to figure out the distance traveled across the sky by the planet Jupiter.
Why Donald Trump's anti-immigration rhetoric was enough for movement conservatives to forgive his history of liberalism.
Last summer, Donald Trump described Mexican immigrants as “bringing drugs, they’re bringing crime. They’re rapists.” In December, he called for “a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States.” Many commentators claim that this wild rhetoric helps Trump suck up media oxygen or appear like a straight-talking political outsider. But the most important benefit of the anti-immigrant language is that it inoculates Trump against the charge of being a closet liberal.
Trump has a seemingly fatal vulnerability in the Republican primary: His past support for a host of moderate and liberal positions. In recent years, Trump said he would “press for universal health care,” claimed that he was “pro-choice in every respect,” remarked that “I hate the concept of guns,” stated that Hillary Clinton would “do a good job” in negotiating with Iran, asserted that the GOP was “just too crazy right,” and even said, “In many cases, I probably identify more as a Democrat.”
This morning I went on Democracy Now to discuss my critique of “class-first” policy as a way of ameliorating the effects of racism. In the midst of that discussion I made the point that one can maintain a critique of a candidate—in this case Bernie Sanders—and still feel that that candidate is deserving of your vote. Amy Goodman, being an excellent journalist, did exactly what she should have done—she asked if I were going to vote for Senator Sanders.
I, with some trepidation, answered in the affirmative. I did so because I’ve spent my career trying to get people to answer uncomfortable questions. Indeed, the entire reason I was on the show was to try to push liberals into directly addressing an uncomfortable issue that threatens their coalition. It seemed wrong, somehow, to ask others to step into their uncomfortable space and not do so myself. So I answered.