Julie Taymor’s film on the multiple life stages of the defining feminist turns what should be a fascinating character study into an embarrassing disaster
It takes less than a minute into The Glorias, the director Julie Taymor’s shallow biopic of the feminist icon Gloria Steinem, to realize something is off. Four iterations of Steinem at different ages – child (Ryan Kiera Armstrong), teen (Lulu Wilson), young woman (Alicia Vikander), and middle-aged (Julianne Moore) – sit on an old Greyhound bus going … somewhere, each shaded a strange and uncomfortably wan gray against the colorful scenery out the window. Why edit half the scene in color, half in black and white, like the early iPhoto effects of the mid-2000s? There doesn’t seem to be a reason other than to gesture at depth – one of many baffling artistic choices that turn a nearly two-and-a-half-hour film on what should be a fascinating, mettlesome, complicated character study into an uneven, trite and at times laughably shoddy mess.
Since Beijing chose Gyaincain Norbu as the “official” Panchen Lama – the second-highest figure in Tibet’s spiritual hierarchy – observers have been watching for signs that he might take a bigger role in Communist Party rule in the region.A decade ago, after he was appointed as a 20-year-old to a top advisory body, the Standing Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, there was speculation that he would follow in his predecessor’s footsteps and eventually become a…
Saudi Arabia claims to have uncovered an Iranian-trained terrorist cell, arresting 10 people and seizing a stash of weapons and explosives in a farmhouse. However, Tehran has dismissed the report as “complete fabrication.” Read Full Article at RT.com
If you are reading this in the United States, you are experiencing a disaster—maybe more than one. Hurricane Sally hammered Alabama and the Florida panhandle last week, submerging homes and leaving tens of thousands without power. The West Coast is still wreathed in smoke from its worst fire season ever by acres burned, during which entire towns have been incinerated. Coronavirus cases are spiking in Wisconsin, but major disasters are layered on top of the coronavirus pandemic everywhere. “For the first time in American history, all 50 states, the District of Columbia, the Seminole Tribe of Florida and five territories have been approved for major disaster declarations for the same event,” a FEMA spokesperson told me, via email. The entire country is literally a disaster area.
Disasters have been trending upward for decades, but 2020 is a very bad year. After forecasters exhausted the official list of alphabetical storm names, they moved onto the Greek alphabet. Subtropical Storm Alpha petered out over the weekend, and Tropical Storm Beta is now menacing the Gulf Coast. We still have more than two months to go in hurricane season. Twice as many disasters caused more than $1 billion in damage each in the 2010s than in the 2000s, according to data collected by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. But “that really has to be adjusted for the size of the population and the size of the economy," Jay Zagorsky, an economist at Boston University, says. He’s done the math, and even after adjusting for growing gross domestic product, the rise in disasters is still significant.
Disasters are by definition sudden and terrible, but their causes are typically complex and multifarious. One cause of their rise is climate change, which worsens both western wildfires and eastern hurricanes. Forest management, planning and zoning policies that encourage sprawl into forests and floodplains, and aging infrastructure all play a role too. Systemic racism and deepening inequality mean many Americans don’t have the resources to avoid or bounce back from a disaster. Some rightly fear the police or government officials to whom they are told to turn for help.
Disasters also give rise to other disasters. Heat waves dry out soil, creating drought. Fires destroy the vegetation holding soil together, causing mudslides. Climate change raises sea levels, triggering coastal flooding as estuaries back up with water. Fires and floods force people into shelters, spreading the coronavirus.
Researchers who study this tangled web of crises call them “cascading disasters”—disasters that trigger other disasters like falling dominoes. As the climate warms, they are becoming increasingly common. Many risk analysts, though, still treat each disaster as a discrete event, according to Amir AghaKouchak at UC Irvine and Farshid Vahedifard at Mississippi State University.
The interwoven causality and relentless pace of disasters in 2020 is changing the way many of us think about them. Instead of individual episodes that impinge upon a normal course of events, like bombs lobbed by an angry god, disasters are an ongoing and possibly permanent texture to our lives. Not an event, but an era.
Vahedifard says that in a time of cascading disasters, the United States should be spending much more money to prevent and prepare for them. As an engineer, he’s particularly concerned about the nation’s infrastructure, which has been given a grade of D+ by the American Society of Civil Engineers. Our dams, bridges, public-transit networks, drinking-water systems, and energy infrastructure are falling apart. The deadly 2018 Camp Fire was caused by a worn-out hook on a high-voltage transmission tower, which broke, dropping a sparking line onto bone-dry vegetation. The hook was likely 100 years old.
But Vahedifard says that when he asked engineering students across the U.S. to give the country’s infrastructure a grade, the average was a B. It's the civil-engineering equivalent of “shifting baselines” in ecology—a phenomenon in which people don’t notice long-term environmental change, because of our tendency to compare current conditions to our own lived experience. These young engineers have grown up in a potholed, crumbling, rusting world. It is normal to them. And, Vahedifard says, they will likely “underestimate the value of improving things” as a result.
Humans cover the Earth in part because we are so very adaptable. But our mental flexibility means that we can also adapt to life within multiple ongoing disasters. We get used to wearing masks or working from home or perusing empty store shelves. We get used to seeing guys with military-style rifles wandering around downtown. Checking the air quality before we take the dog out becomes a habit. We stop clocking the daily pandemic deaths, because the number is always roughly 1,000. It happens so quickly.
Cascading disasters could become the new normal, the background to our lives. Or we could try to stop the dominoes from falling. But if we are to make the kind of sweeping systematic changes that could stop climate change from getting worse, end the truly dystopian inequities in our country, and crush the pandemic before hundreds of thousands more are dead, we cannot allow our baselines to shift. Wecannot forget that these are disasters.
Just this moment, sitting at my desk writing, I felt and smelled a gust of smoky wind press against my office window. My heart sank as I imagined that wind feeding oxygen to the wildfires that still rage in my area. Come to think of it, I did get an emergency alert about a “red flag warning” for extreme fire danger on my phone this afternoon. I had forgotten about it. I get so many these days.
The World Health Organization said Tuesday it was investigating allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse by people identifying themselves as the UN agency’s workers fighting Ebola in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
The game now is a homogenised, unceasing, geographically non-specific substance in which fans are not required and TV has total control
Gradually, then suddenly. This is how history tends to work, a process in which most of the time things don’t happen, or almost happen, or seem like they probably won’t happen – right up until the moment they suddenly do.
Football has always seemed like an industry in search of its final form. The last 25 years have brought such fevered textural change it has been tempting to marvel at the clanking pistons, the gusts of steam, the unceasing revolutions.
Fires linked to climate change are increasing in severity and frequency in many parts of the world. California, Australia and Brazil are burning. Can we live alongside fires, or will they force communities to relocate?
Conflicts and disagreements are a part of every relationship. Some even believe that arguments and differences in opinion can bring people closer and can sometimes enhance the way people execute positive changes in their lives.
Sometime this week, alone on a hospital bed, an American died. The coronavirus had invaded her lungs, soaking them in fluid and blocking the exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide that makes up our every breath. Her immune system’s struggle to fight back might have sparked an overreaction called a cytokine storm, which shreds even healthy tissue. The doctors tried everything, but they couldn’t save her, and she became the 200,000th American taken by COVID-19—at least according to official counts.
In reality, the COVID-19 death toll probably passed 200,000 some time ago. And yet “the photos of body bags have not had the same effect in the pandemic” as after other mass-casualty events such as Hurricane Katrina, says Lori Peek, a sociologist at the University of Colorado Boulder who studies disasters. “Is our national empathy—our care and love and concern for one another—at such a low level that we are not truly feeling, in our bones, in our hearts, and in our souls, the magnitude of the loss?”
It’s hard for anyone to comprehend the sheer horror of mass death. As I wrote in April, “compassion fade” sets in when victims are no longer individuals but statistics, and few Americans have witnessed something of this scale before. But there’s an additional explanation for this empathy deficit: Part of the reason this majority-white, majority-non-elderly country has been so blasé about COVID-19 deaths is that mostly Black people and old people are dying. Eight out of 10 American COVID-19 deaths have been among people older than 65; the rest of the dead are disproportionately Black. White people’s brains psychologically sort minorities as “out-groups” that stir less empathy. Segregated neighborhoods have also helped insulate white Americans from the horror Black Americans face, because the ambulance sirens and the packed hospital wards are typically far from their own zip codes. “We literally don’t see those deaths in the same way we might if we didn’t experience segregation,” says Nour Kteily, a management professor at Northwestern University who studies hierarchies.
Ageism reduces human beings’ capacity for caring too. Globally, people don’t value elderly lives as much as they do young people’s, research shows. When it comes to deciding who lives or dies, there’s a disregard for the elderly, even among the elderly.
Discrimination against the old is perplexing, because age will ultimately catch us all. Though no white person will ever be a Black person, every person, if all goes well, will get old. But several studies that forced people to imagine life-and-death decisions hint at how little society values the elderly.
One major insight into this phenomenon comes from a 2018 study called the “Moral Machine experiment,” which invites participants to determine how to program a self-driving car. People who play the Moral Machine game are shown two images, each of which depicts an out-of-control car driving into a different group of people (or, in some of the images, a cat or a dog.) For example, the game might tell the player that if you let the car plow ahead, the car will kill three little girls and two adult men. But if you swerve to the right, the car will instead kill two elderly men, two elderly women, and another, non-elderly woman. Would you swerve, or stay straight? Who would you kill?
After it launched in 2016, the Moral Machine experiment went viral a few times, which meant that millions of people in 233 countries and territories ultimately played it. Through the game, its authors were able to glean country-specific preferences for sparing or sacrificing different types of lives.
The strongest signals that came out of all those sessions were that people preferred to spare a greater number of lives, to spare human lives, and yes—to spare young lives. The most likely lives to be saved in these simulated car accidents were those of babies, children, pregnant women, and male and female doctors. Male or female homeless people and overweight men, meanwhile, were likely to be sacrificed.
Overall, older men and women were some of the least likely to be spared, ranking just above dogs, human criminals, and cats—disturbingly, in that order. (“People like dogs,” says Azim Shariff, a social psychologist at the University of British Columbia and one of the authors of the study. This could explain why the large number of coronavirus cases in prisons has also provoked a collective yawn from policy makers.)
Interestingly, people of all ages and backgrounds generally agreed on who to kill. Older players were less likely to sacrifice the older pedestrians than younger players were, but they still did it. As Texas Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick, himself a septuagenarian, has said, “As a senior citizen, are you willing to take a chance on your survival in exchange for keeping the America that America loves for its children and grandchildren? And if that is the exchange, I’m all in.”
“All things being equal, people were willing to place a priority on sparing a younger person to sacrifice an older person,” Shariff says.
This preference for sacrificing the old to save the young was found in every country. The only places where people showed a weaker preference for killing the old—though they still preferred it to sacrificing the young—were in East Asian countries, such as Japan and Taiwan, and in majority-Muslim countries, such as Pakistan and Saudi Arabia.
The two countries where people most preferred to sacrifice the elderly, meanwhile, were France and Italy. At the peak of the pandemic, this question became real for Italians, and doctors in the most affected regions of Italy used 80, or even 65, as their “cutoff age” for access to scarce ventilators.
Shariff and his team didn’t ask people why they preferred to kill the old, but judging by anecdotal reports, such as YouTubers playing the game for their viewers, people seemed to rationalize that the elderly had fewer years left to live.
Indeed, doctors follow a similar logic. In a May paper in the New England Journal of Medicine, a group of doctors from different countries suggested that hospitals consider prioritizing younger patients if they are forced to ration ventilators. “Maximizing benefits requires consideration of prognosis—how long the patient is likely to live if treated—which may mean giving priority to younger patients and those with fewer coexisting conditions,” they wrote. Perhaps, on a global scale, we’ve internalized the idea that the young matter more than the old.
The Moral Machine is not without its criticisms. Some psychologists say that the trolley problem, a similar and more widely known moral dilemma, is too silly and unrealistic to say anything about our true ethics. In a response to the Moral Machine experiment, another group of researchers conducted a comparable study and found that people actually prefer to treat everyone equally, if given the option to do so. In other words, people didn’t want to kill the elderly; they just opted to do so over killing young people, when pressed. (In that experiment, though, people still would kill the criminals.) Shariff says these findings simply show that people don’t like dilemmas. Given the option, anyone would rather say “treat everybody equally,” just so they don’t have to decide.
Bolstering that view, in another recent paper, which has not yet been peer-reviewed, people preferred giving a younger hypothetical COVID-19 patient an in-demand ventilator rather than an older one. They did this even when they were told to imagine themselves as potentially being the older patient who would therefore be sacrificed. The participants were hidden behind a so-called veil of ignorance—told they had a “50 percent chance of being a 65-year-old who gets to live another 15 years, and a 50 percent chance of dying at age 25.” That prompt made the participants favor the young patient even more. When told to look at the situation objectively, saving young lives seemed even better.
To Shariff, his study and others support what many already suspect to be true—that certain deaths bother us more than others do. “If it was attractive, 15-year-old, blond, soccer-playing children who are dying, then we would have more of a concern,” he says.
At 74 years old, President Donald Trump falls smack in the COVID-19-death demographic. Yet he has also minimized the threat of the virus repeatedly. This makes sense: The elderly themselves don’t care much about protecting the elderly because they typically don’t think of themselves as such, says Susan Fiske, a Princeton psychologist who has studied ageism and other prejudices. The “old” are always just a little bit older than ourselves.
For the rest of us, there might be a more sinister impulse behind ageism. Most of us know someone who is elderly, be they an aging parent or grandparent, and those ties make us subconsciously crave control over how the elderly behave, Fiske says.Younger people subconsciously want to be sure that the elderly don’t hog a disproportionate amount of time and resources. “Older people are expected to step aside,” she told me.
The only American cultures that have consistently positive views of the elderly are African Americans and Native Americans, Fiske has found in surveys. She’s not sure why, but speculates that the adversity these communities have faced has made them prize older people’s wisdom and experience.
Likewise, some experts have pushed back against the assumption that young COVID-19 patients are more worth saving than the old. Fifty-year-olds, for example, might be more useful for the economy because they have skills and experience that 20-year-olds don’t have.
Utilitarians would argue that policy makers should simply maximize the total number of years people have left to live; the young certainly have more. But the fact that mostly older people are dying has helped justify something that isn’t justifiable. It’s helped public officials look away when they should be taking action.
My friend Adam Nemett and I became close friends in college, when I basically lived in the house he shared with my then-boyfriend. We saw each other constantly—at home, on campus, over dinner. We got drunk together; took the train to New York City to go clubbing together; emailed during our summer vacations. The last night of college, the three of us wrapped our arms around one another, feeling the weight of this intimacy’s end. This proximity, we knew, would be lost to time and adulthood.
But almost 20 years later, after children (for him) and a divorce (for me), Adam and I have rediscovered a new intimacy. The pandemic has deepened our bond, even though we have abandoned proximity entirely. We keep an almost weekly FaceTime appointment to watch TV together. During those video calls, I see his house and his wife, and he sees my apartment—or, more recently, my friend’s apartment, where I’m crashing because of the divorce. It’s the most time we’ve spent in conversation since we lived together all those years ago. In fact, we’ve never been closer.
Friendships involve emotional intimacy, but people have assumed that this intimacy is best mediated in space. How many times do we conclude that serious conversations need to happen in person? And yet, exercising a friendship at a distance has been possible for decades—via letters, telephone, text, Facebook, Instagram DMs, and so on. Despite the internet’s ubiquity, those options can still seem like simulacra of friendship, rather than the real thing. Now COVID-19 has made carrying out friendship’s ideal practices hard: house parties; apartment dinners; trips to the park; visits to museums, restaurants, and bars. But the pandemic has also released us from the expectation that closeness requires physical proximity. Instead, it offers an opportunity to decouple good relationships from physical intimacy and to open up other ways for friendships to flourish. Those lessons could improve our relationships now, and later.
The pandemic has narrowed my social circle, but it has also made me more aware of the dynamics of social life. The places I go are fewer, which has limited the people I can see. I used to visit a friend who lived around the corner every day. Now, less often. When I temporarily forget about the pandemic and invite an old friend over, she texts back, “Girl, we have to be outside,” so we meet in the backyard of a coffee shop. Four months ago, I went on a socially distanced, fully masked outdoor park date with my boyfriend (whom I have seen nearly every day since). I miss the ease of just seeing whomever I want, whenever I want—though I’ve also realized how infrequently I used to see my closest friends. The joy of a restaurant dinner has been overwhelmed by the logistics of safety, the concern of exposure. My friendships still form the center of my emotions, but not my physical life. Now they occupy the spatial margins.
This isn’t the first time the way people relate to one another in space has changed. During the Middle Ages and into the Renaissance, many families lived in one room. Collective life and shared intimacies preoccupied culture. Then, things shifted, as the historian John Archer has argued. He sees the early-18th-century adoption of the single-family house as the consequence of Enlightenment values, synthesizing John Locke’s emphasis on selfhood, individuality, and private property. People embraced the “freedom to determine their own selfhood,” Archer writes in Architecture and Suburbia, which “suggested that the material world around us should have a new primacy in defining self.” Individualism caused humans of the modern era to see the physical environment as existing to realize their whims and desires, rather than as a social commons.
Aditya Ghosh, an architect and a writer, told me that what’s happening now—the emphasis on in-between spaces, restaurants taking up streets, finding ourselves in parks and medians, almost hiding our intimacies—is akin to the queering of physical space. “The queer community has always taken advantage of that liminality between planned cities to create a very temporary and performative kind of space,” Ghosh said—to make use of spaces in a social world that did not overtly support their intended behaviors and relationships. Now everyone has to do this, everywhere. He offered the transactional nature of cruising in the gay community as an example. The negotiated clarity of cruising reminds me of how many of us have learned, in the pandemic, to adopt a set of safety rules under an umbrella of shared social responsibility and comfort. We have transactional deals with one another, explicitly codified: who wears a mask, who’s been where, who’s been with whom. It’s like safer sex, except the sex is just breathing.
Using the city this way changes its temporal dimension too. As Ghosh said, “the queering or appropriation of any kind of urban condition is extremely sensitive to time.” In the short term, that means trying not to linger. In the long term, it means an acceptance of the fact that we have no idea how long this state of affairs will last. We will only ever know how long the coronavirus pandemic lasted once it ends.
“What I feel with the lack of space is the lack of pleasure,” Amale Andraos told me when I asked her for her thoughts on friendship and the pandemic. She is the dean of the Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation at Columbia University and a principal at the design firm WORKac, along with her husband, Dan Wood. Andraos was a colleague of mine before the pandemic but has become a true friend since—a relationship we codified by having a phone call rather than a Zoom meeting: In an age of videoconferences, closeness can now be measured in how free you feel roaming about your own, private space while socializing via technology.
As we spoke, she moved around the garden of her Rhode Island home; I paced my apartment. Sometimes I laid down and sometimes I stood up. I was noticing my environment while listening to her. It was so much more intimate than the times we’d sat across a table from each other to talk about architecture.
The isolation has been hard on Wood, the couple’s client work has been thrown into upheaval, and the demands upon Andraos as an institutional leader have been enormous. “I think this house will be equated with this time of trauma,” she said. She and Wood are redesigning the house completely, making it absolutely open. “We have depended very much on enclosed spaces in order to coexist, and for separate Zoom channels,” Wood told me. “A lot of what we’re doing in the new house is opening it up even more.” It’s a design decision that makes no sense for the needs of the pandemic, and is thus absolutely rooted in believing that this state is temporary: Designing an even-more-connected future habitat makes material their faith that one day the pandemic’s isolation will end, dinner parties will come back, and people will return to offices and restaurants.
I find myself moving in the opposite direction: seeking greater isolation. Recently, I checked myself into a hotel near the World Trade Center so that I could finish a book manuscript. I spent most of the time alone, but not nearly most of it writing. Instead, I took walks to the 9/11 memorial to remind myself that architecture matters. I watched a 1996 Jennifer Aniston movie while texting with my friend Jackie, who was watching the same movie at the same time in Los Angeles. I felt closer to Jackie than usual because I was completely alone in this hotel room, and when I’m completely alone, I feel fully available to others in a way I don’t otherwise. And I felt close to my boyfriend, who came to visit. We walked around SoHo and Nolita together, the first time either of us had spent time in Manhattan since before the pandemic, and I saw the animal drive for closeness play out everywhere, in the hunger I could feel for proximity.
I’m surprised at how much less lonely I feel now than at any other point in my life. Maybe it’s because I know that everyone else is lonely too. Maybe it’s because I had more practice. Many years ago, I suddenly moved to the desert to get away from mold (or my marriage, depending on how I’m looking at it), and I learned how to be remote friends with everyone I knew. It prepared me for now; it allowed me to see that intimacy didn’t have to be mediated through physical space, or proximity. I adapted, quickly, to the idea that I might never see my friends in person ever again.
The pandemic will end, eventually. Dan Wood will be able to hang out with his friends. Amale Andraos will be able to get off Zoom. I’ll be able to have a coffee with my friend inside. Everything ends, after all. And so might the new, unfamiliar intimacy that we have built, unless we cultivate it.
In one scenario, Adam and I realize how much we like “seeing” each other this frequently, and we make plans to do so even though he has a family in Virginia and I have a partner and a dog in New York. But in another scenario, once the pressure of the pandemic fades and the hunger to connect dissipates, we revert to our once-every-few-years rhythm. I can see a future in which my boyfriend and I cease to marvel at what’s open when we walk around the city and instead regress into frustration at the wait for brunch or the nuisance of the tourists. Today, just getting an ice-cream cone successfully feels like magic. Will it always?
The veneer is already cracking. Tonight, I walked to a restaurant to place a takeout order. A woman complained that her reservation wasn’t being honored, distraught that she’d been asked to wait for 10 minutes (outdoor dining is open in New York City). It felt so normal—and devastating. It made me want to preserve parts of this moment in amber, to remember that we still wanted to be close to one another, even though we couldn’t be. That we longed so profoundly for connection that we tolerated bad internet and a terrible season of Westworld, bending the city to make it meet up again. That even though we couldn’t touch each other, we still felt close. That there are thousands of ways to connect with each other, when we want to, whether we’re close and masked; far and virtual; proximate and counting on the wind.
Color-matching company Pantone has launched a new shade of red aimed at emboldening “people who menstruate.” But the woke gesture to ‘that time of the month’ left some women seeing red. Read Full Article at RT.com