True story: The first time I got drunk was freshman year of college. While inebriated, I sent an email to the entire school that included, among other things, the lyrics to “The Super Bowl Shuffle” as well as a (false) claim that I’d defeated the computer Deep Blue in a chess game. The moral? Always...
The latest loss for the former world champion underlines he has little hope of returning to the summit of the sport
It was less than an hour after Terence Crawford’s comprehensive beatdown of Amir Khan on Saturday night and the conversation had already shifted to what lies ahead for the talented American, whose uncommon blend of tactical aptitude, mental dexterity and power in both hands is drawing straight-faced comparisons to Sugar Ray Leonard.
The long-running series in which readers answer other readers’ questions on subjects ranging from trivial flights of fancy to profound scientific concepts
It was reported in 1957 that the Russian premier Nikita Khrushchev wanted to explode a 100 megaton nuclear device on the moon to demonstrate Soviet missile technology. Had this happened, what might have been the effect?
Growing up in Canada, Ken Ho never quite felt like he fit in. At his Vancouver high school, children of Chinese descent like himself were either perceived as studious nerds, or wealthy “Fresh Off the Boat” international students.He could see little of himself either in Canada’s history or its contemporary culture – and he certainly wasn’t anything like the flannel-clad white men proudly proclaiming “I am Canadian” in the popular beer commercial for Molson Canadian.Why overseas Chinese are…
The school children who have been protesting to stop climate change every Friday have understood a basic truth: They are being betrayed. By politicians. By business leaders. And by an entire generation of denialists.
High schoolers this decade have stormed out of their classrooms after the 2016 election, demanding protection for immigrants. They have called for gun control in the wake of school shootings, spurring a nationwide movement.
In L.A. this year, students picketed with their teachers in the largest...
Large colorful portraits in Mexico’s capital depict 43 students who disappeared at the hands of police five years ago. Chinese dissident artist Ai Weiwei was inspired to create the exhibit after meeting the students' relatives.
I salute women who wait to have children, writes Roz Treadway. Plus responses from Jan Dubé and Kirtana Chandrasekaran to Zoe Williams’ criticism of breastfeeding campaigners
Zeynep Gurtin (The myths behind late motherhood, Journal, 18 April) omits one reason why there appears to be atrend for women to leave having babies until their late 30s/early 40s: that in their 20s and early 30s they may not have decided whether they want children at all, rather than just delaying having them. They may be enjoying life free of the ties and responsibility of children, working at jobs they love and have studied for and struggled to obtain – jobs they know will be touched by having children in ways that a man’s career won’t.
Women are more than their biological ability to give birth, and I salute those who choose to explore and reach their own potential before deciding if they want to undertake the huge task of producing and raising another human being. Roz Treadway Sheringham, Norfolk
This review avoids serious spoilers about Avengers: Endgame, but mild plot descriptions do follow.
The biggest surprise of Avengers: Endgame may be its leisurely pace. All right, perhaps that’s not the film’s most shocking twist. Considering that the movie is the 22nd entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and that it purports to bid farewell to at least some of its major characters, Avengers: Endgame has a few bombshells. Given that the running time is a whopping 182 minutes, audiences might go in expecting something that feels like a slog. But the film earns its length not by overstuffing the frame with opulent action, but by slowing things down and basking in the charisma of its ensemble.
In the 11 years since Marvel began its experiment of creating an interconnected world of superhero movies with Iron Man, the studio has assembled an all-star cast of hunks, cult favorites, and Hollywood legends to play its leads, costumed and otherwise. Avengers: Endgame,directed by Anthony and Joe Russo, lives up to its promise of providing a real ending for the series’ original crew, including Iron Man, Thor, Captain America, and the Hulk. But the movie also functions as a brag for how expansive the Marvel universe has gotten over the past decade—a necessary strength, since the broader franchise shows no sign of concluding, just recycling and evolving as the box-office receipts continue to pile up.
After all, the Marvel movies can never really stop. This was a notion that Thanos (played by Josh Brolin), the big bad of the Avengers series, sought to challenge when he showed up in Infinity War, which was released almost exactly one year ago. Thanos, a giant purple meanie from a distant planet that was destroyed by overpopulation, entered this cinematic universe and declared it crowded. After assembling the mighty Infinity Stones, a collection of celestially significant jewels, he set about trying to thin the herd, killing off a few major characters and eventually snapping his fingers and turning half of all living things into ash.
Endgame is set in the aftermath of that devastating Snapture, with the galaxy’s remaining heroes struggling to pick up the pieces. Popular pals such as Black Panther, Spider-Man, Dr. Strange, and the Scarlet Witch have vanished, and the Russos (along with the screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely) emphasize just how miserable life has become in their absence. Whereas Infinity War was all chaos, a frantic race to stop Thanos from executing his plan, Endgame is curiously static for much of its running time, thriving more on witty dialogue and the well-established dynamics of its cast than on CGI bedlam.
Of course, the story eventually shifts into epic mode, and the action has the usual bland competence of Marvel movies (something even outstanding entries such as Black Panther struggled to dodge). But all the applause breaks and jaw-dropping developments work only because of the interpersonal bonds that have been strengthened over the years and that Endgame spends much of its time celebrating. After beginning with a mournful tone, the film turns goofier and livelier as the team’s wild gambit to save the world comes into focus; it’s to the Russos’ credit that they manage this transition with aplomb.
Digging into the details of Endgame’s plot is a very tricky proposition. If you’re invested in the Marvel world, it’s best to go in knowing next to nothing at all. One should head to the theater armed just with the memory of what happened in Infinity War, as well as perhaps the briefest of refreshers on the details of the Infinity Stones. It’s not giving anything away to say that the film mostly focuses on the original team that headlined the first Avengers movie, all of whom conveniently survived Thanos’s magic snap. Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Captain America (Chris Evans), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), and, returning from a mysterious sojourn, Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) all gather to try to undo Thanos’s universe-wide genocide.
Their mission takes them on a winding course that touches down in the furthest reaches of the Marvel realm, referencing the best-loved entries from the series as well as more overlooked chapters. If Avengers: Endgame were, for some bizarre reason, your first Marvel movie, it’d be a miserable experience. But for devoted fans, it functions as a greatest-hits clip-show package. It’s filled with hat-tips and winks to the audience—forgivable pieces of indulgence, given the goodwill the series has built up with millions of viewers. The film works to resolve conflicts beyond Thanos, fights that were first kindled in movies such as Captain America: Civil War (which wrenched Captain America and Iron Man apart) or Thor: Ragnarok (which rent the magic kingdom of Asgard asunder). For viewers, much of the joy will come from watching the movie pull it all off, effortlessly tying most of the series’ narrative threads into a satisfying knot.
The biggest question the film leaves open is whether the Avengers—as a name brand in the Marvel Universe—should continue after this barnstorming ending. The Marvel experiment continues apace, with many (mostly untitled) new editions on the docket, and Endgame will make more than enough money to justify them. But it’s hard to know whether the series will ever be able to replicate the peculiar magic of this movie’s finale, which had me realizing with a jolt, over and over again, how much I cared about the lives of these loud, wisecracking, CGI-bedazzled champions. The newer arrivals to the franchise, folks such as Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman) and Captain Marvel (Brie Larson), are similarly lovable, but who knows whether the formula of “heroes assembling again and again until their contract options run out” can be repeated forever. All I know is that Thanos’s demand for a dramatic ending in Infinity War pays off here in all the right ways. The Avengers, as a concept, probably won’t be going anywhere, but Endgame still feels like a proper goodbye.
Janhvi Kapoor, who made her big Bollywood debut with 'Dhadak' recently appeared on a talk show with her sister Khushi Kapoor. The sisters were at their candid best and quite a few tough questions quickly. On the show, Janhvi was quizzed who she would want to kiss between Vicky Kaushal and Kartik Aaryan and This is what she replied.
The former co-presenter of What Not to Wear on treating fast fashion garments with respect – and how the right shoes made her favourite look zing
Yellow is one of my favourite colours. I always associate it with happiness and joy. This isn’t my perfect shade, which would be more lemony, but it just about does it. I usually put yellow and white together, but the last time I wore this I paired it with a yellow shirt. I wanted to be a beacon of yellowness.
I wore it earlier this month to what I thought was a memorial. It was for a lady who was one of the most energetic women I’ve ever met. Her name was Maya and she had died from cancer, aged 60. She just exuded positivity and fabulousness and I wanted to celebrate her life. I walked in and realised it was a requiem mass – I was the only person not wearing black. For a second, I worried about what all the staunch Catholics would think, but then I thought: I don’t care. My friend always liked the way I dressed and I imagined her looking down and thinking: here she is, dressing for me.
We fully support the 2020 nominee’s student debt relief proposal. But to make it happen, we’ll need to kick our efforts into higher gear
This week, Elizabeth Warren, who is running for the 2020 Democratic nomination for president, announced a proposal to cancel student debt for millions of people and make public college free. This is a stunning, visionary plan that would transform our educational system and dramatically improve millions of people’s lives.
But like every other progressive proposal now being touted by presidential hopefuls, from Medicare for All to the Green New Deal, the call for debt relief and free education first came from the grassroots. And if we want a real student debt jubilee to actually happen – to go from policy paper to reality – the grassroots will need to continue to push for it. Fortunately, it’s a battle that can be won.
“Like a Girl,” like some of Lizzo’s most popular songs to date, is a tad mawkish but nonetheless feel-good. So it’s not wholly surprising that the perennially positive singer sounded a bit defensive about the feminist-adjacent missive during a recent interview with The Cut, when she expounded on its meaning: After being told the track, and its premise, sounded rather commercial, Lizzo quickly justified the song’s concept by suggesting that her goal was to take ostensibly basic concepts—including the brand-dominated territory of “women’s empowerment”—and broaden them to include previously excluded groups. “I’m trying to be inclusive,” the artist said. “Could this song be in a Dove commercial? Yes, but it won’t. They aren’t thinking about everybody.”
Lizzo’s infectious music does often sound like it’s made with everybody in mind. It’s meticulously universal, the kind of art that’s said to push boundaries both because of its content and by virtue of who is making it. It feels good to root for Lizzo—not just because of her undeniable talent, but also because of what and whom she represents. Lizzo is, after all, a fat black woman; she shirks easy categorization along numerous lines, including sexual orientation. Her music is celebratory. It’s defiant and boundary-pushing by necessity. It’s also fun: Listening to Lizzo can feel like taking a SoulCycle class without all the requisite shame.
There has never been a woman like Lizzo at her level of pop stardom—and her road to fame has come with no shortage of slights, often rooted in or amplified by overlapping forms of discrimination. She has utilized her expanding platform to address racism, sexism, and fatphobia in her music and media appearances alike. It’s endeared her to a legion of fans, many of whom feel like misfits in their own ways. Lizzo has managed to harness the isolation she’s felt at various points in her life and produce work that marries social critique with self-affirmation, all buoyed by bounce-heavy production. This savvy has also primed her for commercial co-option. In that same interview with The Cut, Lizzo bristled at the way she’s been crowned a queen, an Icon™ of the sometimes-fraught Body Positivity movement:
“It’s not a label I wanted to put on myself. It’s just my existence. All these fucking hashtags to convince people that the way you look is fine. Isn’t that fucking crazy? I say I love myself, and they’re like, ‘Oh my gosh, she’s so brave. She’s so political.’ For what? … Even when body positivity is over, it’s not like I’m going to be a thin white woman. I’m going to be black and fat. That’s just hopping on a trend and expecting people to blindly love themselves. That’s fake love. I’m trying to figure out how to actually live it.”
This emphasis on her realness and authenticity has characterized much of the press Lizzo has received in recent months. Cuz I Love You reached the No. 1 spot on the iTunes chart over the weekend, ahead of even Beyoncé’s Homecoming live album. For many listeners, her ascent has been a welcome sign that artists—particularly women, musicians of color, and fat people—may not need to sacrifice their essential selves to find loyal audiences or success. In an entertainment landscape that often forces people to choose between valuing underrepresented communities and producing commercially viable work, Lizzo seemed to be doing both. And winning.
It’s particularly disappointing, then, that the artist reacted to a mildly critical review, published on Pitchfork early Monday morning, with a series of tweets denigrating the writer, Rawiya Kameir, also a black woman. “PEOPLE WHO ‘REVIEW’ ALBUMS AND DONT MAKE MUSIC THEMSELVES SHOULD BE UNEMPLOYED,” Lizzo tweeted. She then followed up with a series of now-deleted disclaimers that attempted to both downplay the original hyperbole and further drag the writer in question for her perceived pettiness. (In one, she suggested that only people who cook well can judge her food.)
The comments are troubling for a variety of reasons: Even without taking into account the bizarre invocation of unemployment in an industry already characterized by massive economic instability, this is a dubious kind of gatekeeping. To suggest that only musicians can critique music is a bizarre line to draw, an echo of the same sort of hierarchical thinking that much of Lizzo’s music and public persona has thus far explicitly opposed. The comments also betray a fundamental misreading of the purpose of criticism, which exists not just to rank artists against some imperceptible standard, but also to contextualize art within the genre, medium, and world it enters.
It’s understandable that any artist would be, to quote a famously cantankerous musician, “sensitive about [their] shit.” And for multiply marginalized artists such as Lizzo, navigating the boundary between shrinking oneself to fit repressive industry standards and over-marketing one’s own identity is tricky territory. Kameir’s review was a thoughtful assessment not just of Lizzo’s music itself, but also of how the musician’s prominence affects the fans whom she is most beholden to: “Lizzo does have a genre, something like empowerment-core, and she offers songs for an astonishing array of demographics: thick women, independent women, women in general, anyone struggling with body image, people who are single, people who wish to become single, etc.,” Kameir wrote. “Lizzo’s music performs an important social function. The sound might disappoint, but there will be people moved to transformations of their own thanks to her songs. And that’s important, too.”
The Pitchfork review was by no means scathing, or even mostly negative—nor was it a mean-spirited attack on Lizzo’s musicianship. Rather, this kind of thorough analysis is rare; artists such as Lizzo are too often either dismissed immediately or written about exclusively as “unapologetic” avatars of whatever identity is most convenient to name-check. Cuz I Love You, like much of the artist’s other work, has been met with near-rapturous praisefromcritics. This reception, and her response to one perceived aberration, recall Chance the Rapper’s reported outrage at MTV News for publishing a lukewarm review in 2016. The artist’s manager threatened that he would no longer work with MTV, prompting the publication to remove the post, which the writer David Turner later published on his own Medium account. (Again, the critic in question was black, a troubling detail for artists whose public personas hinge largely on championing their communities.)
In both cases, overwhelmingly beloved musicians—who gained popularity partly through their lovable music—lashed out at critics who were simply doing their jobs. It’s an avoidable shame that Lizzo’s reaction to a comprehensive, if also critical, response to her work has now served to distract from the music itself.
Cuz I Love You is, after all, an eminently enjoyable record. Even with its many soundtrack-ready bops, the album has no shortage of vulnerable, masterly songs with immense replay value. There’s the soulful ballad “Jerome” and the sexy ode to self, “Lingerie.” For every ad-ready “Like a Girl,” there’s an original, high-powered show of impressive vocal range such as “Crybaby,” on which she belts over brash electric guitar riffs: “I swore you’d never see this side / But it’s so hard to say goodbye / I don’t need to apologize / Us big girls gotta cry.” There are also funky anthems like “Juice,” a natural extension of the hyper-confident 2017 single “Truth Hurts.” (The latter track still has one of the most memorable lines in modern pop: “I just took a DNA test / turns out I’m 100% that bitch.”)
On the Missy Elliott–assisted “Tempo,” Lizzo is collaborative, sharp, and cheeky. The Ricky Reed–produced song’s chorus reminds listeners exactly what it is that Lizzo’s music, at its best, inspires listeners to do: “Slow songs, they for skinny hoes / Can’t move all of this here to one of those,” she sings. “I’m a thick bitch, I need tempo (Tempo) / Fuck it up to the tempo.”
When I was in sixth grade, the cool girls at my school drew up a document they called the popularity pyramid. Everyone was sorted into a handful of social categories; suffice it to say, I, along with the plurality of the class, was relegated to the lowest tranche and designated a Loser Beyond Belief.
Now a pair of scientists are doing something similar with the birds of the United States. In a paper published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, they ranked 621 avian species by their popularity. But unlike the pyramid of my past, this list isn’t meant to give any animal an inferiority complex; instead, the authors hope that it can be used to boost the profiles of lesser-known species in a way that’s best suited to their unique traits and talents.
The most popular birds in America are more or less what you’d expect: They’re large, they’re widespread, they’re popular mascots or children’s characters. The snowy owl, the common raven, and the bald eagle are all among the top 10. The authors of the paper, Alison Johnston of Cornell University and the Maine-based biologist Justin Schuetz, measured popularity by looking at the number of Google searches a species generates compared with the number of sightings recorded in a bird-watching database called eBird. Bigger birds tended to produce more hype, as did species that are mascots for sports teams. Bright colors, migration, frequent feeder visits, and endangered or threatened status also added small popularity boosts.
Many birds in the lowest ranks of the avian “it list” are found only in small areas in the southwestern United States. That puts them at a disadvantage, since, like the kids in middle school who hung out only in the band room, relatively few people are likely to have ever heard of them. Take the Couch’s kingbird, a gray-and-yellow number that came in dead last. Tim Brush, an ornithologist at the University of Texas at Rio Grande Valley, says the bird is ecologically “very successful” in South Texas, but doesn’t often travel to other parts of the country. Its cousin, the eastern kingbird, dresses in a much more subdued black-and-white getup, but its range covers more than half of the continental United States. The eastern kingbird ranks more than 200 places higher than the Couch’s.
Other less exalted species suffer from shyness, a condition that will be familiar to many an uncool sixth grader. The MacGillivray’s warbler—bird No. 617 out of 621—is what ornithologists call a “skulker” because it likes to stay under the cover of thick vegetation. When Jay Pitocchelli, who studies the species at Saint Anselm College, goes out in search of the birds, he says, “I’m looking for a mountain range, and then I’m hoping that there’s a logging road or there’s a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service road or there’s a mining road” that will take him far into the hills. That’s not a route most people are likely to take, which means that the MacGillivray’s warbler isn’t a bird most people are likely to see and Google.
The popularity (or lack thereof) of many species can’t be helped. Their appeal to humans “is, to a large extent, going to be determined by the evolutionary history of the bird as well as a lot of the behavior of the bird,” says Sean Mahoney, who studies Lucy’s warblers (No. 619 out of 621) and other birds at Northern Arizona University. That is to say, you can’t change the fact that these birds are small, dull-colored homebodies who hate social interaction. And you can’t change the fact that humans think all those characteristics are boring.
That, according to Mahoney, is the point of the paper. “This is a really important paper because it allows us to identify what it is about birds that people value,” he says. Given what these rankings reveal about how humans judge different species, he says he would plan conservation efforts around Lucy’s warblers in a very specific way. He wouldn’t emphasize the bird’s small stature or its gray-and-brown feathers, he says, because “people don’t care about these things.”
Instead, he’d point to the important ecological role Lucy’s warblers play in the Southwest: The birds are the only western warblers that nest in cavities, and they help maintain those cavities for other animals such as lizards, snakes, and even small mammals that use them to escape the heat. “I think that would be something that people could get on board with,” he says.
Other less glamorous species have different redeeming qualities, which could be leveraged to craft and improve their public image. MacGillivray’s warblers, despite their shyness, like to broadcast their originality—“almost every individual bird has an individual song, different from the one next to him,” Pitocchelli says. Couch’s kingbirds, the biggest losers of all, are devoted parents. They aggressively defend their young from much larger predators such as hawks, and use their body to shade their eggs from the boiling Texas sun.
Deborah Finch, of the U.S. Forest Service, says there are plenty of ways dull-colored birds can make up for their less compelling exteriors. “There’s a lot of species that can be flashy and drab at the same time,” she says. “They’re flashy because of their behavior.” The plain chachalaca, for example, is a pheasant-like bird with brown feathers. Its favorite activity is hopping up into a tree and screamingat the top of its lungs. At No. 604 out of 621, it’s still pretty unknown, but at least it’s got a big personality. That’s something the uncool among us can all get behind.
The most perturbing question that plagues the minds of 12th standard students is that what course they should pursue after the board exams. Engineering is, of course, a popular choice for those from a science background.
On that day two decades ago, news spread from Columbine quickly, and widely. By the time the killers concluded their shooting spree by turning their guns on themselves, less than an hour after firing their first shots, the attack had already become a media event unprecedented in the history of mass shootings. Local news stations and CNN began broadcasting the scene live to viewers around the country about 40 minutes into the attack. The coverage continued unbroken for hours. The story made the front page of TheNew York Times the next day and remained there for a week and a half; it was a constant presence in the local Denver Post well into summer. No other school shooting had reached a nationwide audience so fast, or taken such a hold on the news cycle.
American students started bringing guns to school and firing on their teachers and peers as early as 1840, and by the late 1990s, they had begun doing so multiple times a year in classrooms around the country—more frequently even than in the present day. But Columbine was both one of the deadliest school shootings in the United States up to that point and the first one to become a national spectacle. It set the blueprint for a generation of attacks. “[Reporters] really wrote the script as they went,” says Jaclyn Schildkraut, a professor at SUNY Oswego and a co-author of Columbine, 20 Years Later and Beyond. “There wasn’t a template at the time for how these events are covered … Columbine created the script of crisis coverage.”
It also created a model for would-be killers. This week, law enforcement in Colorado searched for an armed 18-year-old woman who made multiple threats in the Denver area and was “infatuated” with the Columbine attack; the hunt ended when she was found dead. She was far from the first person to draw inspiration from the attack: In an analysis of 12 school shootings that took place from 1999 to 2007, Ralph W. Larkin, a professor of sociology at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice at the City University of New York, found that eight of the shooters “directly referred to Columbine.” A 2014 analysis conducted by ABC News found even more extensive influence, identifying “at least 17 attacks and another 36 alleged plots or serious threats against schools since the assault on Columbine High School that can be tied to the 1999 massacre.” Among those who studied and admired the killers, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, were the perpetrators of two of the deadliest mass shootings in American history, at Virginia Tech in 2007 and Sandy Hook in 2012.
Studies have shown mass shootings to be contagious, suggesting that inspiration to commit one can spread via articles and television segments. Researchers hypothesize that potential killers see the devastation unfold and the shooters made famous in the national media, and become more likely to act on their own homicidal impulses. In this way, the Columbine killers may have continued to infect and inspire perpetrators of violence for 20 years, aided by the massive attention the media gave them.
Schildkraut lays out some of the beats of “the narrative pattern” developed by Columbine reporters: Begin with live reports from the scene, repeatedly air “images of people running out of school buildings with their hands over their heads,” then bring on the experts to offer their assessments, loop footage from “the law-enforcement press conferences,” and finally shift, as “the scene quiets down and is cleared by law enforcement,” to identifying victims and “talking about things such as societal and legislative changes.” Developing technology has introduced new elements to the narrative, such as social-media posts and cellphone calls from people trapped inside the building while the shooting is still ongoing. But the basic pattern has remained largely static for the last 20 years, as has the amount of time it takes before the news cycle starts to turn away: about one week.
What has also persisted, Schildkraut says, is the “process of irresponsible reporting” that grew in the immediate aftermath of Columbine. The constant presence of cameras and reporters in the face of tragedy “left people to grieve in a fishbowl, with all of these lenses posted up on them,” she says. “I think there’s a lack of mindfulness about what people experience.” Writing about the attack for Newsweek on the 19th anniversary last year, one Columbine survivor remembered how she and her classmates had to learn “to hide from the cameras as we cried on each other’s shoulders.” My colleague Adrienne LaFrance covered the aftermath of the Sandy Hook massacre in 2012 and reported on the Connecticut town’s frustration with the crushing media presence. Dozens of television cameras blocked sidewalks and staked out funeral homes while back-to-back services for murdered 6-year-olds took place. “Reporters are stalking us,” one Newtown resident told her. “It’s like, Fuck you. Go away. Leave us the fuck alone.”
Also irresponsible, Schildkraut says, is how the coverage has treated perpetrators. The early Columbine coverage was heavily focused on the killers: In a 2016 study, researchers found that the two shooters were mentioned more than twice as often as their 13 victims combined in early Denver Post stories on the attack, and six and a half times as often in New York Times articles. The news ran a constant cycle of profiles, conversations, and debates, all attempting to answer the same core questions: Who were Harris and Klebold? What went wrong in their upbringing? What drove them to kill?
In fact, though Columbine came to be seen as the archetypal American school shooting, the killers didn’t intend for it to be seen as a shooting at all. They planned it as a massive bombing, a domestic terrorist attack in the mold of Oklahoma City that would claim hundreds of lives, decimate the high school, and launch them into infamy for inflicting, in Klebold’s words, “the most deaths in U.S. history.”
The coverage’s focus on them posthumously granted Harris and Klebold the macabre celebrity they had hoped for—if not quite in the way they’d imagined. They had envisioned themselves going down in history alongside the likes of Attila the Hun or the Oklahoma City bomber, Timothy McVeigh, as the ruthless killers of hundreds of innocents. With their choice of venue—their suburban high school—and the failure of core pieces of their plan, they inadvertently gave rise to a different narrative and a different kind of terror: that of the disaffected teenage shooter taking revenge.
Within a day of the shooting, this narrative was more or less set. By most accounts, the killers were outcasts, goths, loners, targets of bullying by more popular students, and members of, as described in a New York Times article, “a group of misfits who called themselves the Trench Coat Mafia.” They were said to listen to “satanic music” and be obsessed with Nazi Germany. Reports held that they had planned their attack for Hitler’s birthday, with targets in mind among the student body: athletes, students of color, Christians—groups that had ostracized them, or that they saw as inferior. A DenverPost article published three days after the attack opened by likening it to other recent shootings: “Pearl, Miss. West Paducah, Ky. Springfield, Ore. And now Jefferson County, Colo. One common denominator in all these schoolyard shootings: bullies and misfits.”
This account was widely recounted throughout the spring of 1999 and lingers as a common perception of the attack 20 years later, but later reporting showed it to be rife with inaccuracies. The killers wore trench coats during the shooting, but they weren’t members of the school’s “Trench Coat Mafia.” They weren’t loners, but instead belonged to a close-knit group of friends. They didn’t listen to Marilyn Manson music, as some reports claimed. Harris did become enamored with, in his words, “German shit” in the lead-up to the shooting, and began quoting Hitler, along with Nietzsche and Freud, and listening to German rock. But the attack wasn’t planned for Hitler’s birthday. Originally, the killers intended for it to take place a day earlier, on the fourth anniversary of the Oklahoma City bombing. They didn’t target specific groups—not athletes, not students of color, not Christians. They went into the school hoping to indiscriminately kill everyone inside and anyone who came to help.
Details about the bombs and the shooters’ true interests and personalities were included in many early accounts of the attack, even though they conflicted with the dominant narrative of Columbine as a targeted shooting carried out in response to bullying. But the myth that the killers were tormented outcasts taking revenge prevailed. “Once you put out an inaccuracy like that, it’s extremely difficult, if not impossible, to reel that back in,” Schildkraut says. The attack engendered a litany of anti-bullying campaigns in schools around the country. And more recent shootings have prompted similar responses.
In a New York Times op-ed last year, Isabelle Robinson, one of the survivors of the attack on Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, challenged the bullying narrative. She remembered the former student charged with the shooting once throwing an apple at her, though she had never met him, and her uncomfortable experience tutoring him as part of the school’s peer-counseling program. “I am writing this because of the disturbing number of comments I’ve read that go something like this: Maybe if [the alleged killer’s] classmates and peers had been a little nicer to him, the shooting at Stoneman Douglas would never have occurred,” she wrote. “No amount of kindness or compassion alone would have changed the person that [he] is and was, or the horrendous actions he perpetrated.”
Less than three months later, the brother of the teenager charged with carrying out the attack launched an anti-bullying program, citing bullying and isolation as root causes of his brother’s violent actions. He admitted to bullying his brother himself when they were younger; reports have not confirmed that the alleged shooter was similarly targeted by his peers. Regardless, school shootings cannot be traced to any singular experience or trait in the perpetrators, as an FBI report outlined last year, and most perpetrators didn’t live in extreme social isolation before their attacks.
In recent years, some survivors, news organizations, and public figures have made an effort to change the narrative by shifting attention away from killers, refusing to say their names or show their pictures. After a shooter killed 50 people and wounded dozens more at a New Zealand mosque last month, for instance, the country’s prime minister, Jacinda Ardern, vowed not to contribute to his infamy. “He sought many things from his act of terror,” she said, “but one was notoriety. That is why you will never hear me mention his name.”
A number of researchers have suggested that minimizing focus on the killers after attacks in this way could help combat the contagion of mass shootings. “[Reports] focus so extensively on the perpetrators that we are essentially rewarding them for killing people and incentivizing people who show a familiar like-mindedness,” says Schildkraut. “We’re not focusing on the people who are taken—we’re giving the credit to the people who did the taking, and that just seems very dangerous to me.”
She says that “some stations and some outlets” have improved their coverage strategies since Columbine, “but by and large, there are still tremendous issues”—including the disproportionate exposure of killers and the harassment of communities where shootings occur. New technologies pose still more challenges to responsible disclosure.
Social media have enabled the harassment of survivors and victims’ families by the conspiracy theorists who began falsely claiming after the 2012 attack on Sandy Hook Elementary School that mass shootings were “false flags” and survivors were really “crisis actors.” And the same venues that connect communities with harassers also provide a more direct link between shooters and mass audiences, which further complicates the effort to deny them the infamy they crave. The contents of writings and videos left behind by the Columbine killers reached the public only through the filters of law enforcement and reporters. But the New Zealand killer was able to post links to his 74-page manifesto to 8chan and Twitter and to live-stream his attack on Facebook.
These mass-consumed shootings represent one of the enduring legacies of Columbine for a new generation. Harris and Klebold hoped to leave behind a different story, but this is the narrative that grew out of their killings; it’s one that continues to terrorize the world, 20 years later.
The day was cold, gray, and rainy, and the wolf smelled exactly like a wet dog. I sat on my heels, my shoulders just a few inches higher than hers, and hesitantly scratched her belly, her thick, black-tipped gray fur soft and greasy between my fingers. She nosed at my face, bumping my chin and lapping my cheeks. She tried to slide her long, flexible tongue into my mouth, and when that failed, an unguarded nostril.
This wolf lives with four of her siblings on five acres of remote spruce forest in northern Norway, well above the Arctic Circle. Though she hunts the small animals that find their way through the high steel fence that encloses her world, she mainly eats carcasses supplied by her human keepers. Through the long winter twilights and summer days, she fights with her pack mates; she stretches, yawns, and rolls on her belly; she sits on her haunches and stares across the valley. But unlike free-roaming wolves, she has no reflexive fear of humans. When she was born in captivity five years ago, her keepers named her Frigg, after the Norse goddess, and in their care she has learned that most humans are simply objects of curiosity, sporadically available for inspection.
Which is not to say that Frigg is tame. Wolves long accustomed to humans can still be frightened by unfamiliar behaviors—and in a confined space, they may feel cornered and attack. Even when at ease, wolves can be dangerous at close range, and what starts as a playful lick can end in a painful nip. Before entering the wolves’ enclosure, I was told not to make sudden movements or actively approach the animals. I was told to allow them to advance and retreat as they pleased; to speak quietly, if at all; and to kneel, not sit, so that if necessary I could make a hasty escape through the nearby gate. I was instructed to take off my earrings, my hair clip, and any wool clothing, lest I smell like a sheep. I was warned not to wear heavy scents, and told that synthetic polar fleece is, for reasons not entirely understood, perilously exciting to wolves. Only with hesitation were my leather boots permitted.
This place is called Polar Park, and though visitors can see many species here—lynx, moose, bears, reindeer—what draws them from all over Europe and beyond are the wolves. Wolves were trapped, shot, and chased out of much of Europe long ago, and a lot of people, it seems, are willing to pay a lot of money to watch wolves at play in a European forest.
I had, and still have, mixed feelings about these wolves’ captivity, their training, and the resources required to get near them. I’d heard and seen free-roaming wolves in the past—closer to home, in Yellowstone National Park—and I had wondered whether an encounter with captive wolves, even a hands-on one, could compare. Yet once inside the enclosure, I was overwhelmed by the immediacy of the animals. I don’t cry easily, but when Frigg butted her heavy body against my chest, vying for attention as her pack mate made her own attempt to spiral her tongue into my nasal cavity, I choked up.
Though Polar Park might be one of the few places in the world where it’s possible to pet a wolf in relative safety, it’s no longer one of the only places in Europe where it’s possible to see a wolf. As organized persecution of wolves has eased, and as people continue to leave the European countryside for cities, wolves and other predators are wandering back to the countries that once exterminated them. Wolves from surviving populations in Italy crossed the Alps into southern France in the 1990s, and wolves from Poland took up residence in eastern Germany a few years later. In 2011, a Dutch mortician photographed a wolf crossing a road in the eastern Netherlands—the first verified sighting in the country in well over a century. In 2012, Danish officials confirmed their country’s first wolf sighting in 200 years, and last spring, researchers filmed a litter of wolf pups at play on the Danish mainland. Wolves have returned to the Scandinavian peninsula, too, and today, more than 400 wolves live in the unfenced forests of Sweden and Norway.
Europe is now home to an estimated 12,000 wolves, 17,000 bears, and 9,000 lynx, and wolf sightings have been documented in every country on the European mainland. Large predators provoke powerful emotions, and in Norway, where captive wolves are a beloved and lucrative tourist attraction, humans have greeted the returning wolves with both great joy and exceptionally furious resistance. The resulting conflict is testing humans’ ability to coexist with our fellow predators—and, along the way, our ability to coexist with one another.
More than 500 miles south of Polar Park, well beyond the easternmost fingertips of the coastal fjords, the broad glacial valleys of inland Norway are thinly populated and thickly forested. Along the Norway-Sweden border, the high plateaus are speckled with lichen, and in the fall, yellowing birch leaves glow in the low-angle light, buttery flames against the gray clouds.
Petter Wabakken has lived in this area for 40 years, ever since he moved here with his young family in the fall of 1978. Tall, thin, and scruffy-haired, he is now, somewhat to his chagrin, the public face of wolf recovery in Norway. Back in 1978, though, he was a student at the University of Oslo, hired by the Norwegian government to look into a spate of reported wolf sightings along the border. The last wolf bounty in Norway had been paid more than a decade earlier, and for nearly a century there had been no more than a handful of wolves in southern Norway. Most experts dismissed the reports from southeastern Norway and southwestern Sweden as sightings of “unidentified pet animals,” and Wabakken was not expected to find much of interest.
Wabakken, however, was not intimidated by scientific authority: While still in high school, he’d published a paper questioning the official counts of threatened bird species in Norway. “When things are described in black-and-white terms, then I get very curious,” he told me when I met with him at the Inland Norway University of Applied Sciences, the small technical college where he teaches.
Wabakken had heard and read enough about the local sightings to suspect that at least some were accurate, but there was no obvious way to confirm them. DNA testing of hair and scat was not yet possible; motion-sensitive camera “traps” were not yet widely available; individual tracks in the snow could not be confidently distinguished from the tracks of dogs or wolf-dog hybrids. But Wabakken had time, and he had patience. Whenever he found a set of canine tracks in the snow, he followed it on skis—sometimes for hundreds of miles and weeks at a time. He hypothesized that wolves, which, unlike domestic dogs, had no reliable source of food or shelter, would behave in ways that allowed them to save energy. He noticed that some of the animals he was tracking sought out shallower or more compacted snow, sticking closely to riverbanks, forest roads, and tire tracks. Some even used old moose prints to hopscotch over the landscape, stretching from one track to the next without dropping into the snow. “I’d like to see a dog move its paws so efficiently and elegantly,” he said.
After four winters of work, Wabakken concluded that between three and five wolves had taken up residence in Norway, but he didn’t have definitive proof. And because he had purposely kept his distance from the animals he tracked—he didn’t want to influence their behavior—he had not yet laid eyes on a Norwegian wolf.
In 1982, Wabakken was invited to present his findings at an international mammal conference in Helsinki. As a young, unproven researcher, he expected that only a handful of people would listen to his report. Due to a scheduling mix-up, however, his talk was squeezed between presentations by two eminent scientists, and he spoke to a captive audience of hundreds. Wabakken won over the experts who heard him, and their endorsement convinced Scandinavian managers that wolves were back in Norway. The following year, a litter of wolf pups was spotted on the Norway-Sweden border, and for the first time in nearly a century, the peninsula had a documented breeding population of wolves.
For a while, the public reaction was muted. Few managers believed that the fledgling binational population would survive, and with good reason; to get to Sweden and Norway from Finland or Russia, which have substantial wolf populations, a wolf must either survive a long and dangerous journey through the Sámi reindeer-herding districts of northern Scandinavia, where legal protection for wolves is relatively weak, or cross at least 90 miles of unpredictable Baltic sea ice. But by 1990, at least one more wolf had managed the trip, and the small band founded a thriving population. By 2002, as many as a hundred wolves in eight family packs were in southern Sweden and Norway. Last winter, researchers counted 305 wolves in Sweden and 94 in Norway, living in a total of 41 packs. Lynx, bears, and wolverines have rebounded, too.
As the wolf population expanded, resistance to it grew. During the decades in which wolves and other predators had been scarce or absent, Norwegian farmers had begun allowing their sheep to scatter in the mountains each summer, believing that dispersed animals could make the most of the sparse vegetation; they even developed breeds known for their disinterest in herding. Norwegian moose hunters, who traditionally work with elkhounds on leashes, had begun to train their dogs to run loose in the forest after quarries. “The return of the wolves represented a change in a system that had taken many, many years to build up,” says John Linnell of the Norwegian Institute for Nature Research. Polls consistently showed that the majority of Norwegians supported wolf recovery, but as the sheep and dog casualties mounted, the pitch and volume of the complaints increased.
Wabakken recognized that the wolves’ survival depended on their human neighbors’ ability to cooperate across borders: Sweden and Norway, despite their proximity and linguistic similarities, are divided by history, culture, and, most recently, the boundary of the European Union (Norwegian voters, famously, rejected EU membership twice, first in 1972 and again in 1994). While Sweden is bound by the environmental regulations of the EU, Norway answers primarily to its own national laws and to the Bern Convention, a wildlife-protection treaty signed by all European countries; the practical result is that Sweden is required to accommodate many more wolves than its neighbor.
To ensure that scientists, at least, treated the countries’ shared wolf population as a single unit, Wabakken co-founded SKANDULV, a Swedish-Norwegian wolf-research project, in 1998. Over the past two decades, Wabakken, his colleague Barbara Zimmerman, and their collaborators in Sweden and Norway have monitored the growth of the population, tracked the movements of radio-collared wolves, and conducted genetic studies so extensive that they can describe the family tree of every wolf on the peninsula.
Yet this heavy investment of time and money—by both countries—has done little to reduce public opposition to wolf recovery in rural Norway. Though the Scandinavian wolf population remains among the smallest in Europe, the political divide over the animals is at least as deep and stubborn as anywhere on the continent.
To anyone familiar with the rural United States, rural Norway is almost disconcertingly prosperous. On an early evening in mid-September of last year, in the eastern Norwegian town of Elverum—a winding half-hour drive south of Wabakken’s college campus—teenagers chased soccer balls across vivid green fields, and Teslas purred past the neat storefronts that line the wide main street. On the outskirts of town, in the lingering autumn sunlight, nearly 300 people stood outside the Norwegian Forest Museum, waiting to be let through the front doors. They filed into the museum’s spacious atrium, helped themselves to black coffee and sweet bread, and settled into chairs arranged in careful rows. The only suggestion that this gathering was anything other than a well-attended community meeting were the two uniformed police officers stationed discreetly in the atrium’s balcony.
Though wolves were the ostensible subject of the meeting, they were present only in effigy, and only on the distant edges of the crowd. In the museum foyer, a taxidermied wolf eyed arriving visitors. Upstairs, in a darkened gallery, another stood in a too-small glass case, head thrown high and teeth bared as if about to howl.
The September meeting’s organizer was Gunnar Gundersen, a former member of Parliament who swam the 400-meter medley in the 1976 Olympics in Montreal and still cuts a powerful figure at the podium. A wealthy private-forest owner, he works for a national timber cooperative and heads a regional alliance of forestry and farming organizations. The meeting, he told me later, was intended to “put a bit of pressure” on the national environment ministry. For most of three hours, as the deputy environment minister hunched uncomfortably at a long table in the front of the room, a succession of invited speakers endeavored to do exactly that.
While the translator I was working with whispered subtitles into my ear, a local hunter reported that his beloved elkhound had been killed by a wolf—then got some laughs by poking fun at the absent environment minister Ola Elvestuen, known for both his sympathy for wolves and his dandified good looks. Diminutive, white-haired Gunnar Glöersen, a representative from the Swedish Hunters Association, warned that if the government didn’t permit more wolf hunting in Norway, hunters would take matters into their own hands and start poaching the animals.
Several area farmers said that the continued killing of livestock by wolves threatened their livelihood. More than 2,600 sheep and lambs were documented by government officials as having been killed by wolves in 2018—Norway’s agricultural daily often led with bloody photos of disemboweled lambs—and while those casualties represent a small fraction of the roughly 2 million sheep and lambs that graze freely in the forest each summer, some farmers were hit disproportionately hard. (The government compensates farmers for documented losses of sheep to wolves, but as many farmers point out, the payments don’t cover the costs of extra shepherds and other indirect impacts to their businesses.)
The evening’s argument revolved around the number of wolf packs permitted to live in Norway. In late 2016, a resolution by the Norwegian Parliament set a target of “four to six” litters in the binational population each year, with at least three born to packs living entirely within Norwegian borders. Regional authorities were allowed to permit hunters to “cull” or shoot additional animals, and a total of 30 wolves were legally shot by private or state-employed hunters between June of 2017 and March of 2018. Another 20 have been shot since June of 2018. Wolf numbers still exceed the target set by Parliament, however, and most of those who spoke at the meeting—including several irate members of Parliament—wanted the national environment ministry to allow more hunting and fewer wolves.
Elvestuen, however, has been reluctant to expand the wolf hunt. In contrast to the parliamentary agreement, both Norway’s national environmental law and the international Bern Convention state that no species can be hunted until its populations are self-sustaining within national borders—which some legal scholars interpret to mean that more wolf packs should be allowed to survive and reproduce in Norway. The matter is currently in court, with conservation groups and agricultural and hunting organizations lining up on opposing sides.
The disagreement runs far deeper than numbers. For Norway, which declared its independence from Sweden just over a century ago and was occupied and nearly starved out by German forces during World War II, domestic food production is a matter of both national security and national pride. In recent decades, the government has gone to great lengths to keep farmers and rural communities solvent. (Norwegian voters opposed EU membership partly because they feared it would lead to cuts in state agricultural subsidies, which currently make up about 60 percent of farmers’ gross income.) But farming is and always has been a marginal enterprise in cold, soil-poor Norway, and despite the generous government support, more than half of the country’s farmers work second jobs.
When sheep farmers say that wolves are threatening their livelihood, or hunters say their traditions are endangered, they’re rarely talking about their individual survival: Norway’s extensive, tax-supported welfare state guarantees every Norwegian a basic level of economic and social security. What most mean, fundamentally, is that wolves look like yet another threat to Norway’s hard-won independence.
Such fears surfaced throughout the meeting, and toward the end of the evening, when the floor was opened to public comment, they were echoed by many in the mostly older, predominantly male, and almost entirely white audience. But the room held other fears, too. “My family is going to tell me to shut up,” said a young, dark-haired woman who declined to identify herself. “But not everyone in Elverum is against wolves.” The crowd muttered, and there was scattered applause.
The next speaker, Kari Wenche Fossum, wore her long gray hair in a loose twist, and surveyed the audience through round glasses. “I’m going to say something you don’t want to hear about being outside, about feeling safe,” she said calmly. Because of her support for wolves and other predators, she continued, “I’ve been physically threatened, I’ve been injured twice. I want to encourage everyone to think about this. It’s not just you guys who are suffering.”
The relationship between Norwegian humans and Norwegian wolves is, in some ways, distinctive. Because of Norway’s investment in rural life, its countryside is more populated than Sweden’s, and Norwegian sheep farmers have hung on while most of their Swedish counterparts have simply moved out of wolf habitat. And some Norwegian politicians have found that it is both possible and politically convenient to keep compensating farmers and hunters for wolf damage, all the while promising a radical reduction in wolf numbers—a strategy that gives their constituents little incentive to adapt.
Public attitudes toward wolves in Norway, and in northern Europe as a whole, also seem to be less tolerant than attitudes in southern and eastern Europe, where some farmers have never known a world without wolves. There, defensive practices such as keeping sheep in tighter, more closely supervised herds are considered routine. “Wolves might be a pain, you might not like them, but eventually, there is not much sense in protesting against them,” says the researcher Nathan Ranc, who studies carnivores in Italy, France, and elsewhere. “They’re like a storm or an avalanche. They’re there, and it’s part of the job to deal with them.”
At the same time, what’s happened to the public discussion about wolves in Norway in recent years is exactly what’s happened to discussions of all kinds, all over the world: It has become more and more polarized, sometimes violently so. In 2009, an Elverum-area resident named Tore Hauge was so outraged by the illegal killing of a local wolf that he personally offered a reward of 50,000 Norwegian kroner—about $8,000 at the time—for information leading to the culprit. After his offer appeared in the newspaper, garbage was dumped in his driveway, and his outbuildings and fences were vandalized. One night, when he was out of town, his wife awoke to a loud buzzing noise and realized that a group of people had encircled the house and were marching around it, waving chain saws. Wenche Fossum, who spoke at the Elverum meeting, told me that she has been the target of threats for more than a decade.
Critics of the government’s wolf policy have fewer and less extreme stories of harassment, but they feel the sharp edges of polarization, too. Three herding-cooperative leaders told me that every time they appear on television to talk about their problems with wolves, they are blasted with vicious texts and calls from wolf supporters.
The Norwegian sociologist Ketil Skogen, who has studied the wolf controversy for two decades, says that its deepest divisions are between rural and urban Norwegians. Since World War II, in Norway and the rest of the developed world, the growth of the urban middle class—both in numbers and political and cultural influence—has fostered a sense of inferiority in rural communities. Many rural people feel, not without reason, that their practical knowledge and experience are dismissed by more formally trained urban “experts,” and some have responded to perceived and real disrespect with a deep skepticism of science and scientific authority. These urban-rural resentments, Skogen has found, can obscure even vast class differences, creating political alliances between large rural landowners such as Gundersen and working-class hunters and farmers.
Gundersen has worked with farmers’ and landowners’ groups to mobilize this alliance, and this past January, they drew an estimated 7,000 protesters to a torchlight parade in Oslo. Supporters of wolf recovery have also organized large protests, with several thousand people turning out for demonstrations across the country this winter. Vi er vikinger, ikke veikinger, (We are Vikings, not weaklings), read one pro-wolf demonstrator’s sign.
In Norway, like everywhere else, these divides are deepened by social media. During my week of conversations in rural Norway—in farmyards, in offices, and over teatime waffles in cozy kitchens—I heard repeatedly that the nastiest arguments about wolves take place on Facebook. Social media have bred conspiracy theories, too, with many wolf opponents insisting, for instance, that the wolves were secretly trucked into Scandinavia and released. (There are many variations on this rumor, all fanciful extrapolations of a real but stillborn Swedish proposal to reintroduce wolves in the 1970s.) The theory is so persistent that a group of landowners in eastern Norway commissioned a second set of wolf DNA analyses, separate from those already conducted by SKANDULV, in hopes that the results would suggest that the animals were descended from captives or came from far outside the region. Wolf opponents have also convinced the Norwegian government to sponsor two additional studies. But none has found any evidence of deliberate reintroduction.
Even for a visitor, the polarization can be exhausting—and frustrating, for the stereotypes that help maintain it usually collapse in conversation. One of the most passionate wolf opponents I spoke with, a sheep farmer and the leader of a local herding cooperative, grew up outside Oslo and took up farming only after pursuing a career in the city. Marte Conradi of the World Wildlife Fund, whom I met with in a swank coffee bar at the Oslo airport as she was returning from a conference on European predators, grew up in a tiny town in eastern Norway and worked for several years as a county-level wildlife manager. Tore Hauge, who put up the reward for the wolf poacher, grew up in Rena, near Elverum, and before his recent retirement made a living mining coal and building highway tunnels. And not many wolf opponents are more skeptical of scientific authority than their sworn enemy Petter Wabakken.
Even those who think wolves have no place in Norway insisted to me that they have no problem with wolves in general, and many spoke of them with admiration. This might have been what they thought I wanted to hear, but I heard it expressed so many times, and in such detail, that I came to believe it was at least partly sincere. Jørn Stener, a hunting guide and a fierce critic of the government’s handling of the wolf recovery, sounded almost reverent when he recalled the first of his many encounters with wolves in the woods. “They’re smart, they’re adaptable—they’re amazing animals,” he said.
Though politics may or may not allow the Scandinavian wolf population to expand in eastern Norway, Norwegian wolves are almost certainly here to stay. “You can sit and dream about the time when we didn’t have large carnivores,” Wabakken said. “But that dream is over.” Even if resident wolves were to be killed or driven out, as they were in previous centuries, young wolves born to Swedish packs would soon wander over the border to take their place. Eventually, farmers in wolf habitat will have to adjust: They will have to switch from raising sheep to raising cows, which are less vulnerable to wolf predation, or follow the lead of farmers such as Morten and Linda Ulvedalen, who recently bought a farmstead inside the wolf-management zone.
Morten Ulvedalen is the CEO of a specialty construction-supply company in Oslo, and the couple was able to afford enough land to both keep their sheep enclosed in the summer and grow grass for winter feed (many sheep farmers point out that they need to graze their animals in the mountains in the summer in order to use their pasture to grow feed). With the help of a government grant, they were also able to afford a burly electric fence from New Zealand, and their sheep now graze placidly within it. Linda Ulvedalen, who breeds sheep, is especially interested in reviving older breeds that are less likely to scatter in the woods. Though their surname translates to “Wolf Valley,” neither of the Ulvedalens is particularly happy about the expansion of the wolf population, and when I visited their farm, Morten Ulvedalen was quick to point out that government grants don’t cover the full cost of their adaptations. Such practical measures, however, give livestock the best chance at coexisting with wolves.
Larger pastures and stronger fences don’t heal the deeper divide over wolf recovery, though. The first step toward doing that, says John Odden, a predator researcher with the Norwegian Institute for Nature Research, is for opposing groups to agree on a shared set of facts. Odden uses camera traps to gather data on predator populations, and about five years ago he began to set up cameras around a community where government estimates of lynx numbers, and the consequent limits on lynx hunting, had been met with great skepticism. Odden, who grew up in the countryside not far from Elverum, decided to involve the community in his project, convincing local hunters to advise him on the placement of the cameras and help him collect the camera data cards. Some hunters got involved because they hoped to prove the government wrong; others just wanted to geek out about the fancy cameras. But one participant, Jan Erik Olbergsveen, says that those who took part in the data collection gained more confidence in its accuracy, and skepticism faded.
Odden has since organized a similar project to track wolf movements near communities in eastern Norway, and while wolves are much more controversial and politically complex than lynx, he has once again enlisted locals to help place and check the cameras. Some of the angriest anti-wolf voices at the Elverum meeting, in fact, belonged to his volunteer data collectors.
The reasons for opposing wolf recovery in Norway, as in most of the rest of the world, are pretty straightforward: inconvenience, cost, fear of change, fear of fangs. The reasons for championing wolves—for going to court on their behalf, for inviting anger and worse by speaking up for their protection, for spending excruciating amounts of money visiting the captive pack at Polar Park—are harder to pin down.
In the United States, supporters of wolf reintroduction and recovery often point to the importance of large predators in ecosystems, especially to the measurable changes in the flora and fauna of Yellowstone National Park since the return of wolves. But in Europe, where most ecosystems are highly human-dominated, few wolf supporters expect wolf restoration to lead to a broader recovery of ecological processes. Some value wolves as symbols of wildness, or nature, or the limits of human influence, but most make another argument for wolf recovery: They say that wolves have a right (up to a point) to survive and repopulate the places where their kind once lived, and that humans have a duty (up to a point) to accommodate them.
The idea that humans should accommodate other large predators is nothing new, and it’s far from exclusively urban. In 1893, Swedish authorities ended a long-standing bounty on brown bears because they realized that the country’s bear population was about to go extinct. “It is a matter of honor for our country that this interesting animal be protected from complete extermination,” the Swedish Royal Academy of Sciences stated in 1905. Concern about the extinction of other species—useful to humans and not—was by that time widespread throughout North America and Europe. Since then, measures to protect other species have been almost constantly challenged, but the general notion of species survival and recovery as a good thing has persisted worldwide.
Even opponents of wolf expansion in Norway indirectly acknowledge the existence of these rights and duties: One reason for the longevity of the clandestine-reintroduction conspiracy theory, for example, is that reintroduced wolves are seen as having a much lesser claim to the Norwegian countryside than animals that returned on their own, and would therefore be politically easier to drive out. Even the complaint that “wolves have more rights than we do,” often heard in eastern Norway, implies that both parties have at least some rights.
The trouble with wolves, of course, is that their pursuit of survival collides with ours. While some species demand little of people in order to survive, large, free-roaming predators can require humans to change their habits, their livelihood, and even their place in the food chain. Norwegians, who live in one of the wealthiest and best-educated countries in the world, have an opportunity to reduce these conflicts: to hack through the accumulated mistrust and resentment, identify the genuine burdens that accompany meaningful predator recovery, and figure out, as a society, how to share those burdens more equitably. If they can do that, they will have taken a step toward solving one of the wickedest problems in conservation. If they can’t, conservation will remain a job that gets done when convenient—and rarely otherwise.
“If we can conserve predators, we can conserve everything,” says Guillaume Chapron, a wildlife researcher at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences. “If we can’t conserve predators, it doesn’t look good.”
Toward the end of my visit to Polar Park, I asked Stig Sletten, who had accompanied our small group into the wolf enclosure, whether he had time to talk. Sletten, the park’s head animal keeper, was clearly reluctant to be interviewed, but after disappearing for several hours to finish what he said were some much-needed repairs to the musk-ox shelter, he consented to a conversation.
Polar Park, which was dreamed up in a bar by a group of locals hoping to bring more tourists to the area, opened in 1994 and is now supported primarily by entrance fees and corporate sponsorships. Sletten, who grew up nearby, was one of the park’s first employees, and after more than a decade in the Norwegian military, he returned to the park full-time in 2008. Soft-spoken, with white hair that contrasts with his unlined face, Sletten is as alert and wary as a wolf, noticing everything but giving little away. He’s aware of the resemblance, and said it serves him well inside the enclosure: “I do have to sniff around a bit, notice what people are feeling and thinking, whether someone’s nervous,” he said, raising his pointer fingers above his temples to resemble ears.
When I asked him what he hopes people will take from the experience, he turned serious. “I don’t want to force anyone to like it or not like it,” he said. Many visitors, like me, cry when the wolves approach them. Some cry when the keepers judge them too small or frail to enter the enclosure safely. Some brag to their friends and family that they have a special way with animals, and are embarrassed when the wolves ignore them. Some are preoccupied with their cameras. And some are scared, which doesn’t bother Sletten. “They’re going to meet a predator—they’re going to meet a wolf. It’s okay that they’re scared, maybe even a good thing,” he said. Far more dangerous, he added, would be to have no fear at all.
I wasn’t especially afraid in the enclosure, though maybe I should have been; as much as the wolves look, behave, and even smell like large dogs, they can turn on one another with shocking speed, snapping and growling with fleeting but genuine menace. With humans, however, they are simply nosy. They placidly investigated our small group, then loped off, then returned, coming and going for about an hour. Prompted by a couple of convincing howls from their keepers, they let out a piercing, unruly chorus of yips and yelps that seemed to linger in the fog.
When we finally filed through the heavy gate and departed, skirting the outside of the enclosure, Frigg and her pack mates followed us on their side of the fence, whining indignantly and gnawing at saplings. They didn’t need us, and they certainly didn’t love us, but they wanted us to stick around. The fascination, like the trepidation, is instinctive—and mutual.
They generate the engagement that helps keep Instagram growing—but, they argue, the multibillion-dollar platform doesn’t pay them for their work, or give them any control. So they’re fighting back. And before you write off IG Meme Union Local 69-420 as a joke, the organizers of the collective would like you to know that they are very serious.
“Solidarity actions with memers. Memers of the world unite,” the Instagram page for the union reads, encouraging followers to “seize the memes of production.”
The IG Meme Union will probably never be recognized by the National Labor Relations Board, but organizers say it can still act as a union for all intents and purposes. “We’re calling it a union and doing union-organizing tactics,” Paul Praindo, a representative of the organizing committee, told me. “We stand in firm support of others who are working to organize anti-labor industries. We think these movements mark the beginning of a labor renaissance.” Some other “unions” function this way: The Freelancers Union, for instance, doesn’t have a formal management structure to negotiate with, but does advocate collectively for independent workers.
Similarly, the IG Meme Union, which is currently taking applications through an online form, hopes to negotiate better working conditions for memers who say they have been exploited by Instagram and other tech platforms for too long. “People are doing a lot of work, doing it for free or little compensation, or not recognized for the work they’re doing,” Praindo said. “All these people are bringing revenue to Instagram, producing this major profit margin for this company, and they’re subject to really little job security.”
Instagram follows the same business model as Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, and other social platforms. The service itself is free to use, but the platform monetizes the content posted to it to sell ads based on metadata attached to that content. Users themselves, who are the ones posting the photos, videos, and memes that keep people coming back to the app, don’t get a cut of that revenue.
“We as content creators want to have worker protections,” Praindo said. “Even if you’re producing funny pictures of Shrek, that should not determine whether you’re taken seriously as a creator or your livelihood is imperiled at the drop of a hat … We are a meme union; the whole point of it is to work for protections for other content creators.”
Instagram declined to say explicitly on the record whether it supports the union. Instead, a company spokesperson offered a statement: “We’re always listening to feedback from the community,” it said. “We’re happy to have the feedback so we can improve. Hearing these concerns is useful for us.”
A few things the IG Meme Union wants: a more open and transparent appeals process for account bans; a direct line of support with Instagram, or a dedicated liaison to the meme community; and a better way to ensure that original content isn’t monetized by someone else. “Having a public and clear appeal process is a big thing,” Praindo said. “People appeal now and get turned down, and they won’t know why.” (In a statement, an Instagram spokesperson said, “Each week we review millions of reports and there are times when we make mistakes.” She also said the company would soon be rolling out an option to appeal post removals.)
So far, the union’s message has been well received by the broader meme community. Administrators for accounts with millions of followers said they support the group’s efforts and would stand in solidarity with them. “I think the union is a good thing. There should be something like this,” said Sonny5ideUp, a memer with more than 1 million followers on Instagram. Jackson Weimer, a writer for Meme Insider who has also created several successful Instagram meme pages, said he thinks the union is a “good idea” and a necessary way to get Instagram to finally take memers seriously.
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Memers represent a burgeoning sector of the labor force that currently has no job security or formal protection. “If you’re spending all your time as a Twitch broadcaster or creating memes, that is work,” says John Ahlquist, an associate professor at the University of San Diego’s School of Global Policy and Strategy, who has done research on the changing nature of work. “People that are trying to earn a living on these platforms are recognizing how vulnerable they are on an individual basis with respect to the platform, and so they’re turning to this tried-and-true model of collective action.”
Memers aren’t direct employees of these tech platforms, nor are they independent contractors for them. But they produce, directly or indirectly, the bulk of these platforms’ income. And current labor protections don’t cover this type of “mediated work,” Ahlquist told me.
“All the basic labor-market regulations we have in place to try to give people fallback in the event of illness or the recession or aging—they’re all designed and counted under a particular set of contractual arrangements that no longer fit many people,” he said. “That labor contract [and those jobs] looks like things we’re familiar with from the middle of the 20th century.”
This isn’t the first time internet influencers and creators have tried to band together to make their voices heard—with varying results. Top YouTubers often join multichannel networks, which bargain for higher rates and facilitate a direct line to YouTube. In 2015, more than 20 of Vine’s top stars joined together to attempt to negotiate a payment structure from the app. When talks broke down between the Viners and the platform, they walked; Vine’s user base and engagement plummeted, and the app later shuttered. In 2016, more than 100 top Facebook pages reaching more than 10 million users collectively banded together to form the Meme Alliance, which argued for more transparent enforcement of the platform’s community standards. Facebook did end up revamping its moderation policies, though it did not directly acknowledge the Meme Alliance.
While previous efforts by small groups of creators may have stalled, William Fitzgerald, a volunteer with the Tech Workers Coalition, a worker-led organizing group for the tech industry, told me that the IG Meme Union is forming at an optimal time. Tech giants such as Facebook, Apple, Google, and Amazon have come under fire recently for exploitative labor practices, and the public is becoming aware of just how much power these companies exert over our lives and economy.
Amazon was recently forced to scrap its plans for its New York City expansion after backlash. Employees at Google staged a 20,000-person walkout and protest last fall over the company’s mishandling of sexual-harassment claims, forcing the company to revise its policy. Uber and Lyft drivers have attempted to unionize, as have staff at the crowdfunding platform Kickstarter and in tech-adjacent sectors such as animation and digital media. Polygon recently declared that 2019 could be “the year video game unions go big.”
People are “seeing that across the tech sector you have this handful of really big tech companies with control over the livelihoods of so many creators,” Fitzgerald said. “There are so few platforms with so much power and no accountability or rules.”
Weimer said that he hopes the conversation around the memers’ union will help open a discussion about these creators’ value to the platforms and their impact on broader culture. “We need to recognize the people who are creating these trends and give them respect for their accounts and what they’re doing,” he said. “Memers need to be respected for the power they have as creators.”
The picture of a black hole, captured for the first time, shows a ring as radiant as gold against the darkness of space. At its center, the charcoal shadow of a void so powerful, nothing can escape its pull.
The dreamy photograph represents a tremendous technological achievement, assembled using eight radio telescopes in four continents—two each in Hawaii and Chile, and one each in Arizona, Mexico, Spain, and Antarctica—all synced together to scan the skies for several days in a row.
But the picture would not exist without technology much less sophisticated: computer disk drives.
The telescopes’ data had to go to two astronomy institutions to be processed, MIT’s Haystack Observatory in the United States and the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy in Germany. An email attachment wasn’t going to work. The observatories had collected five petabytes of data. The average iPhone has 64 gigabytes of data storage. One million gigabytes are in one petabyte. It would have taken years for the data to cross the internet.
And so the data were carried on hundreds of hard disk drives, shipped to and from the observatories through plain old FedEx. Which is kind of marvelous, when you think about it. In a world where transferring information from one end of the world to another takes only a click, some things still have to be done the old-fashioned way. Humanity owes its first glimpse of one of the most mysterious objects in the universe not to something flashy and high tech, but a technology that has been around since the late 1950s, and transportation methods far older.
And to find out how it’s done, you have to talk with Don Sousa.
Sousa is a computer-support specialist at the Haystack Observatory. He’s also the shipping guy. He handled virtually every shipment for the Event Horizon Telescope, the effort to photograph a black hole.
Sousa grew up a few towns over from Haystack and has the trademark Boston-area accent to prove it. Over decades at the observatory, he has packaged equipment, put in orders, wrangled foreign customs regulations, and filled out reams of paperwork so that all kinds of hardware, from atomic clocks to disk drives, gets where it is needed. Before disk drives became widely available, he shipped reels of magnetic tape. “It’s amazing the differences from the mid-eighties, when I started, to what we do now,” Sousa says.
For the Event Horizon Telescope, Sousa packaged the disk drives in groups of eight. (“These are off-the-shelf hard drives,” he says. “You could buy them for your own personal computer if you wanted.”) The stacks were placed inside custom cases that allowed data to be recorded on all eight drives at once. Each module—eight disks, plus their custom coating—weighed about 23 pounds. Sousa shipped them in boxes labeled fragile and lined with a two-inch layer of foam, with cutouts in the middle to snuggle the modules, like precious jewelry in an antique box.
Sousa says he uses mostly FedEx and UPS. Some routes were trickier than others. Chile and Mexico had stricter rules about what could cross their borders. Sousa had to obtain a special license from the U.S. Department of Commerce to ship a particular piece of equipment to Mexico.
The toughest destination was the South Pole Telescope in Antarctica. Without a nation to decide customs law, the continent relies on shipping agencies in Christchurch, New Zealand, which dispatch cargo ships and planes to the ice. Sousa had to coordinate with the National Science Foundation, which operates the research station where the telescope is based. Shipments had to meet very detailed specifications; Haystack had to build a wooden crate to carry the modules, because plastic containers weren’t allowed. “If it gets to Christchurch and something’s wrong, your equipment just sits there,” Sousa says.
The journey to the eight observatories was fine. It was the return trip that was worrisome. There were too much data to go through the burden of making extra copies; the disks that flew out of the stations were the only ones they had. “Going out there, they’re just blank,” says Mike Titus, the researcher who operated the supercomputer that helped synthesize all the data into a single, composite image. “Coming back, they’re precious commodities.”
I asked Titus whether the team considered asking a file-sharing service like Dropbox to build them something capable of transferring all those petabytes. “Don’t tell me that Amazon Cloud and Google Cloud, they wouldn’t love to have our data and store it for us,” Titus said, laughing. But even groundbreaking scientific teams don’t have that kind of budget. “Too much data and too much money—that’s why we don’t do it that way. Nothing beats the bandwidth of a 747 filled with hard disks.”
The return of the disks from the South Pole was particularly welcome. The shipment arrived months after all the rest thanks to the Antarctic winter, which had prevented anyone from flying in. The staff at Haystack was jubilant when FedEx arrived with a truck full of cosmic goodies from the bottom of the Earth. “It’s like they thought we were expecting penguins to jump out of the box or something,” says Nancy Wolfe Kotary, the communications officer at Haystack.
Sousa understood the concern, but he wasn’t too worried himself. “I’ve shipped to every continent,” he says, and in his 32 years on the job, he hasn’t lost one package.
Well, there was one, but it wasn’t his fault, or even the fault of any shipping company. The equipment, bound for a new research station in South Africa, cleared customs in Johannesburg and was loaded onto a truck. On the road, the truck was hijacked, and its contents stolen. “To this day, we figure it’s sitting somewhere on a coffee table as a conversation piece,” Sousa says.
Sousa plans to retire in three years and enter a new phase of his life that doesn’t require checking tracking alerts every day. He doesn’t have a background in science; before joining Haystack, he worked as a police officer for the state of Massachusetts. For him, the photo is the culmination of years’ worth of effort by astronomers and shipping experts alike. But the actual shot, he says, is pretty impressive, too.
An onstage pyramid, two hundred performers, and an audience sprawling across a desert field: Beyoncé’s 2018 Coachella show was big. Yet it was little, too. One could spend the two hours of Netflix’s new documentary Homecoming just taking in facial expressions—the furious widened eyes of the majorette who kicked things off, the stuck-out tongue of a male drummer gyrating low to the ground, the knowing wink of Destiny’s Child’s Kelly Rowland. Beyoncé gives supermodel smolder, and glistening pageant grins, and kiddy giggles. Individuals in the crowd perform the Wile E. Coyote jaw drop, or they just cry.
Macro, micro, personal, political: Beyoncé always works on many levels, achieving the kind of complexity one might call “effortless” if she didn’t go out of her way to show how much sweat it took. Last year’s Coachella set wowed the festivalgoers and fans live-streaming it online, but the full footage hasn’t been available officially until now. Released today, Homecoming cuts together the two weekends of performance—yellow-costumed for the first and fuchsia for the second—with a multiplicity of camera angles and filters. As importantly, it zaps from the stage to the prep, which took eight months of intensive labor. You’re seeing the magic trick, and you’re seeing how it was done.
It’s an amazing trick, still. In a voice-over, Beyoncé says she tried to make the show as “graphic” as it could be, which would seem to refer to bold shapes, bright colors, and other elements of clean, militant bombast. But she also talked about fussing over mini details, and now the world can rewind and scrutinize them as well. Someone’s seen stitching tiny jewels in a constellation pattern to the top of a beret. Beyoncé, fatigued post-pregnancy, struggles to learn intricate hand choreography. She says she personally picked each dancer, wanting to showcase “different characters” in the ensemble: unique faces, unalike body shapes, personal ways of moving.
This was smart stagecraft, hypnotizing spectators with mass movement and surprising them with divergence. It also served a deeper purpose. Beychella, as the event was nicknamed, celebrated historically black colleges and universities, which is to say it was an outpouring of pride in black traditions and excellence. Beyoncé played teacher, and her teaching text was the body. “It was important to me that everyone who had never seen themselves represented felt like they were on that stage with us,” she says in the film. “Black women often feel underestimated. I wanted us to be proud of not only the show, but the process … I wanted everyone to feel thankful for their curves, their sass, their honesty—thankful for their freedom.”
Motivation such as this has long been her mission, expressed in what appears to be her favorite kind of choreography: the formation. Pop stars and marching bands both, of course, routinely order human beings into synchronized onenesses. But in Beyoncé’s case, a shiver of excitement often comes from slight difference. For the performance of “Partition” at Coachella, she sat at the bottom of her bleachers, with a single-file line of women extending up the pyramid behind her. As she opened her legs, they opened their legs. But they did so microseconds behind, for a waterfalling effect. It was like a hall of mirrors, but with each reflection her own person, with her own agency.
Some of the most blazing moments, in fact, came when Beyoncé surrendered or shared the spotlight. Ligament-twisting ballerinas, the fluid-and-robotic breakdancers known as Les Twins, Francesca Simone’s heavy-metal shredding, Solange jerking and high-kicking: The excellence was diverse, and viral stars are already emerging from the film (hello, Bugaboo Rocket!). Homecoming spends a little time with a few team members’ personal stories but puts more focus on simply watching their talents at work. Beyoncé’s voice-over makes clear that she’s as amazed as the viewer must be: “The things that these young people can do with their bodies, and the music they can play, and the drumrolls, and the haircuts, and the bodies … It’s just not right! It’s just so much damn swag.”
The soundtrack to this teeming human pageant was inclusive, too, going beyond the star’s oeuvre to a wider black canon, including the rap classic O. T. Genasis’s “Everybody Mad,” the cherished “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” and Nina Simone’s anguished take on “Lilac Wine.” But Beyoncé’s own music wasn’t lost. As cuts from across her catalog were reanimated with new acoustic vibrancy—bass became brass, drum machines rendered back into drums—so too were their meanings. The portable empowerment messages of “Flawless” and “Feeling Myself,” the smitten ecstasy of “Drunk in Love” and “Deja Vu,” and the marital drama of “I Care” and “Don’t Hurt Yourself” all came through. Over the years, she’s sold the idea that these are songs about an actual woman with an actual husband who just happens to be actually famous. But on this stage, Beyoncé cheered how they’d become everyone’s songs.
She’s released the Coachella set as a live album, and it’s a thunderous, welcome addition to her catalog. It’s not its fullest self, though, without the images, which gratifyingly are no longer confined to bootleg clips. But the Homecoming movie’s combo of well-edited stage spectacle and behind-the-scenes segments—intimate, hard-fought, occasionally tense, politically explicit, personally specific segments—make it a career-defining document. Like Beyoncé’s great visual albums, it’s about obsession, created by obsession, and sure to inspire obsession. Like all masterpieces, it’s almost angering, because so little else compares to it. “If my country ass can do it,” Beyoncé says at one point when talking about her desire to inspire others, “they can do it.” If only!
If you take blood pressure medicine, you'll want to double-check your bottle. Torrent Pharmaceuticals Ltd. has expanded its recall of losartan potassium and losartan potassium/hydrochlorothiazide tablets.
Laura Leon and Robert Leonard of Cutler Bay High School’s Academy of Hospitality and Tourism were selected to participate in the El Camino de Santiago Program, which provides high school … Click to Continue »
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A group of students admiring the orchid arches in the Enid A. Haupt Conservatory at the New York Botanical Garden. The arches are one of the main attractions of the Orchid Show: Singapore, which closes on April 28.