Tuesday, 25 February 2020

The artifact

I saw a lot of dead bodies in 2018. I was researching a story about medical examiners, and in so doing inadvertently saw autopsies and death scenes and the inside and outside of a lot of corpses. It was an entirely different kind of encounter with the human form for me: so many opened rib cages, sculptural and bloody, and so many surprises. There is a delicate bone shaped like a horseshoe hidden in the cartilage at the throat. The uterus, fierce red, is startlingly pretty when lifted into the light. The dura mater, a membrane that sheaths our brain and spinal cord, clings so stubbornly to the inside of the skull that you need a tool like a chisel to scrape it out. The empty skull echoes. Skin eventually turns colors, swells, splits, peels back like curled paper.

What does a person still living inside her body do with this knowledge? What does a body mean? Nearly all of the corpses, at the moment I saw them, were in a medical examiner’s office, where the bodies are kept naked, toe-tagged, and supine, arranged on metal gurneys. Any clothing or belongings they arrived with rests in brown bags beside them. There’s a standardization to bodies kept in the morgue—the body becomes an item that has entered a bureaucratic system in order to be organized, studied, catalogued, and released. Corpses in this context are something like people, but they are also like books in a library.

Occasionally I saw a body before it had been processed, and turned into so neutral an artifact. In particular, there was a night when I went to the home of a woman who had died on the floor of her bedroom. I had been on standby that evening—if a death investigator was notified that he needed to go out to a death scene and collect a body, he would call me first and I would go, too. I was hanging around my rented room and keeping an eye on my cell phone, waiting for someone in that particular city to die. This woman was the first one that evening, and so I got into the investigator’s car and we drove together to a quiet residential block lit by swirling blue and red.

The situation at the woman’s house was everything the morgue was not; it was filthy, there was horror, people were having feelings all over the place. The house itself was falling apart and the interior was crammed with garbage. The EMS team hadn’t had enough space to work on her in her bedroom (and they’d been worried about catching fleas or bedbugs) so they’d moved her outside. There were six or ten dogs running around. 

The policemen on the scene immediately began reciting the story as they’d heard it from the woman’s family: like plenty of other people who lived in the area, which is a food desert, the woman was malnourished, which led to type 2 diabetes, which led to illness requiring pain medication, which led to addiction, which led to street drugs, which led to heart and liver problems and every other kind of problem, which led to rehab, which led to surgeries to fix the various organ problems and complications, which led more rehab, and on and on. It seemed possible that she’d been killed by an infection in her gaping surgical wound, but the investigator thought that she’d managed to find drugs in the few hours since coming home from the hospital and had overdosed. He referred her for an autopsy to be sure.

The autopsy is a storytelling exercise: in the absence of sure information, it is the job of the medical examiner to excavate the story of your death. “Every body tells a story,” forensic pathologists like to say. “It tells the story you can’t tell yourself.” Without conclusive evidence about what happened, the body will speak. In the case of this woman, the autopsy would confirm whether she died of an overdose, an infection, a heart attack, or something else.

One rule of an autopsy is that you shouldn’t stop when you think you’ve found a cause of death. The autopsy is intended to be the complete record of a body at a particular moment in time—all of its dimensions, markings, defects, and attributes. “Oh! He had rheumatic fever when he was a kid,” the doctor said of one, gesturing for me to come look at a tiny bit of scar tissue in the heart of a woman in her fifties. Another time, a doctor gestured at an X-ray showing that an elderly lady had dozens of healed rib fractures. She likely fell a lot. She likely lived alone long after she shouldn’t have.

This is something I never knew before: that experience is inscribed in the body at the deepest level. I knew about scars and premature graying and sunspots, appearance as a reflection of habit and experience, the residual effects of injury or illness that can permanently reshape the way a body moves and looks. But our veins, too! Even the arches of our feet; even which of our joints swell with arthritis. Once, a forensic anthropologist told me the gender, age, diet, socioeconomic background, basic medical history, and likely country of origin of a skeleton based on his teeth alone. In this sense the body is an artifact but it is also an archive.

Derrida wrote that the archive functions like a prosthesis for memory—it begins at the point where memory fails and, as dancer and scholar Linda Haviland summarizes, “provide[s] a substrate onto which the act of remembering could be consigned and further be retrieved, reproduced, or reiterated in some way.” The archive requires, according to Derrida, “a certain exteriority,” a place other than the self to hold information and memory. Historically, we’ve thought of this as a real structure, a space set apart to safeguard whatever has been chosen to survive time. “No archive without outside.”

But what is “outside,” he asks. There is, even within our own minds, “an internal substrate, surface, or space” onto and into which experience can be imprinted and archived even after it is forgotten. Haviland suggests that the body is a crucial component of this interior-exterior: a “sentient archive.” By this logic, the body carries the self and perhaps is the self but also holds within it someplace, other than the self. Some of what is lost to memory lives there.


The encounter with the woman who died on the floor of her bedroom, more than any of the others, sent me into a rictus of anger, or grief, that persisted even after the reporting trip ended. Until that point, I’d been more or less holding it together, but afterward all the bodies I saw lost the relative sterility of the morgue, where everyone is without context. Her death seemed too specific—I’d seen her bras on the carpet and her sons’ faces when they politely asked the death investigator for permission to see her before she was taken away—and too generic, too much a product of impersonal systems, too like a routine news item. 

Suddenly I was full of rage for the babies in the autopsy suite, the teenage suicides, the overdoses, everyone. All I could see in the mirror or in other people was the body as it eventually becomes—the familiar and beloved made strange, grotesque, helpless, architectural, rotted, lifeless. Everyone I saw, I pictured on the autopsy table. I tried not to be weird about it, but I avoided the butcher counter at the grocery store.

A complication of considering the body as an archive is that traditionally archives are curated by an authority that decides what is worth including and knows what is inside it. But most of what inscribes our bodies is out of our control. No one authority affects our childhood nutrition, national origin, and regional location, our scars, illnesses, basic features, or the habits and circumstances of our communities. We never even see the vast majority of our own apparatus. And yet the sense that we have—or should have—primary agency over our own bodies is so powerful. We protect that sense legally, manipulate it for profit, celebrate those who exemplify it, teach it to our children. Thinking of the body as a sentient archive admits the tension that we are both inscribed upon and the inscriber.

It took a few months for the vivid memories of corpses to fade, but they did. Mercifully, I stopped picturing people on the autopsy table. I thought less often of the little old lady with the broken ribs and the baby who died in a grease fire. Little flashes still came here and there, mostly of particularly gruesome things, but less often. I let myself forget and was grateful.

Most of what is recorded by the body remains a mystery to us. We cannot know which experiences will leave a trace and which will vanish, as the body itself eventually does. This is something I think about when I go to acupuncture. Tension or pain my body has stowed away beyond my conscious awareness are surfaced and eased. I started going a few years ago for TMJ, or painful jaw tension, which has come and gone with periods of stress ever since I was a teenager. A muscle in my jaw was spasming with such force that when I lay flat on my back, my neck started to shake, like a child’s hand refusing to let go. The first acupuncturist’s name was Elizabeth Bishop. (There was also an acupuncturist by the name of Sonntag at this establishment, but I chose Elizabeth Bishop. Acupuncturists as a group seem to have spectacular names.)

I laid on my back on a folding table and was scolded gently for not having taken my socks off. “Breathe,” Elizabeth Bishop commanded, and I tried to comply. When she put a needle in the crown of my head I realized a system of muscles on my scalp had been pulling my jaw tight; it all released at once. 

After the first session, my jaw pain went away and didn’t return for months.
Recently, I went to see a new acupuncturist, a woman named Molly Beverage. She was warm and calm, and her office was furnished with comfortable chairs and smelled strongly of essential oils. This acupuncture, though, was more intense than anything I was used to—every needle contracted a muscle so powerfully that I had to draw deep breaths to keep from yelping.

There’s a particular pain to acupuncture when it hurts, which isn’t always. The needle doesn’t sting, but it can make the muscle underneath it contract and throb before it releases. It’s not frightening pain, but it is mysterious. I noticed early on that different needles ache depending on where my mind wanders. When I think about work, certain needles light up with pain—the fleshy muscle between the thumb and forefinger. When I am angry, the needle sticking out of my sternum howls and throbs. Then it passes.

About twenty minutes into the session with Molly Beverage, around the time that the aching was beginning to let up, I smelled death. The room filled with the smell of the woman on the floor, of the morgue, of the autopsy suite. It’s a horrible, absolutely singular smell. Where was it coming from? My head was down in the donut-shaped pillow, and from that limited vantage point I started scanning the floor for dead mice. After the session was over and I got up and looked around, disturbed, convinced there must be a dead animal somewhere. Nothing was there. I thanked Molly and left. It wasn’t until we got in the car that I turned to my partner, who’d received acupuncture in the same room. “There was something dead in the room,” I said. “How could you concentrate?”

She looked at me blankly. Her nose is noticeably and reliably better than mine, but she hadn’t smelled anything at all.

(Source: The Paris Review)

Monday, 24 February 2020

Most serial killers have Taurus as their star sign, research finds

Does your star sign really determine your personal characteristics, or is it just a fluke? 

According to The Mirror, it does have an impact on whether you turn out as a serial killer or not. 

For the last two years, author David Jester has been researching his new thriller Clinic, which was released this week. 
Picture: iStock by Getty / coldsnowstorm

As a result of the research, he concluded that most serial killers were born under the Taurus star sign, which is between April 20 and May 20.

Also, the most serial killers were born on April 21, and February 18. 

Notorious killers born in the month included Levi Bellfield, Albert Fish, Steve Wright, and Martha Beck.

So, it may be worth taking note if you notice any Taureans acting strangely... 

(Source: indy100)

Sunday, 23 February 2020

Petrol and diesel car sales ban brought forward to 2035

A ban on selling new petrol, diesel or hybrid cars in the UK will be brought forward from 2040 to 2035 at the latest, under government plans.

The change comes after experts said 2040 would be too late if the UK wants to achieve its target of emitting virtually zero carbon by 2050.

Boris Johnson unveiled the policy as part of a launch event for a United Nations climate summit in November.
He said 2020 would be a "defining year of climate action" for the planet.

The summit, known as COP26, is being hosted in Glasgow. It is an annual UN-led gathering set up to assess progress on tackling climate change.
Campaign group Extinction Rebellion held a protest outside London's Science Museum to coincide with the event. Reuters

Sir David Attenborough said at the launch event at London's Science Museum that he was looking forward to COP26 and found it "encouraging" that the UK government was launching a "year of climate action".

"The longer we leave it... the worse it is going to get," he said.

"So now is the moment. It is up to us to organise the nations of the world to do something about it."

In a statement made ahead of the launch, Mr Johnson said the ban on selling new petrol and diesel cars would come even earlier than 2035, if possible.

Hybrid vehicles are also now being included in the proposals, which were originally announced in July 2017.

People will only be able to buy electric or hydrogen cars and vans, once the ban comes into effect.

The change in plans, which will be subject to a consultation, comes after experts warned the previous target date of 2040 would still leave old conventional cars on the roads following the clean-up date of 2050.

The Scottish government does not have the power to ban new petrol and diesel cars but has already pledged to "phase out the need" for them by 2032 with measures such as an expansion of the charging network for electric cars.

Mr Johnson said the 2050 pledge was necessary because the UK's "historic emissions" meant "we have a responsibility to our planet to lead in this way".

The announcement comes as COP26's former president Claire O’Neill, who was sacked on Friday, wrote a bitter letter accusing Mr Johnson of failing to support her work.

The prime minister's official spokesperson said Downing Street had "no comment" to make on the letter, but thanked Mrs O'Neill for her work towards the conference.

He said her replacement would be a "ministerial post" with details set out "in due course."

Mr Johnson did not answer the BBC's David Shukman's questions about the row.

Mr Johnson said: “Hosting COP26 is an important opportunity for the UK and nations across the globe to step up in the fight against climate change.

“As we set out our plans to hit our ambitious 2050 net zero target across this year, so we shall urge others to join us in pledging net zero emissions.

“There can be no greater responsibility than protecting our planet, and no mission that a global Britain is prouder to serve."

At the Science Museum the prime minister added that a "catastrophic period of global addiction" to hydrocarbons had led to the planet being "swaddled in a tea cosy" of carbon dioxide.

But Green Party MP Caroline Lucas said on Twitter: "Carbon emissions are not 'swaddling the planet like a tea cosy'. They are behind wildfires in Australia, soaring temperature records and the broken lives of those least responsible. The PM needs to understand that - and act."

Friends of the Earth's Mike Childs said the government was "right" to bring forward the ban, but that 2030 would be better than 2035.

“A new 2035 target will still leave the UK in the slow-lane of the electric car revolution and meantime allow more greenhouse gases to spew into the atmosphere," he said.

He said the government could show "real leadership" ahead of COP26 by reversing plans to develop "climate-wrecking roads and runways".

AA president Edmund King said: "Drivers support measures to clean up air quality and reduce CO2 emissions but these stretched targets are incredibly challenging."

The chief executive of the society of motor manufacturers and traders (SMMT) accused the government of "moving the goalposts".

"With current demand for this still expensive technology still just a fraction of sales, it's clear that accelerating an already very challenging ambition will take more than industry investment," Mike Hawes said.

He said the government's plans must safeguard industry and jobs, as well as ensuring current sales of low emission vehicles were not undermined.

Meanwhile Mrs O’Neill accused Mr Johnson of promising money and people to support her work, but failing to deliver either.

Cabinet minister Michael Gove said Mrs O'Neill was a "close friend" but that he disagreed with her comments.

He told BBC Radio 5 Live Mr Johnson described his own political outlook as "that of a green Tory".

Mrs O'Neill said her "absolute desire for action has not been comfortable for some", adding that this was "not about me" or Mr Johnson - but about working towards "rapid decarbonisation".

She said at COP26 the UK must "absolutely double down on taking our great leadership and ambitions in this space, and really energising the world as to why this is a huge opportunity".

(Source: BBC)

Saturday, 22 February 2020

Where Jennifer Lopez and Shakira’s unapologetically sexy halftime show fits into #MeToo

It’s telling that the two words being attached to Sunday’s Super Bowl LIV halftime show are “disgusting” and “empowering.”

For 15 electric minutes, Jennifer Lopez and Shakira performed a nonstop celebration of life and lust and Latin pop and Puerto Rican/Colombian/Lebanese culture and identity and costumes and dancing and footwork. It was muscular and sexy. It was unapologetic.

By Monday, in the harsh light of day, viewers and cultural observers and pundits had fallen into two distinct camps: The show was a triumph; the show was a travesty. Who run the world? (Girls); there was a stripper pole onstage.

The most curious reaction, to me, is one that I’m hearing a variation of over and over: Where does this performance fit into the #MeToo movement? Where does the #MeToo movement fit into this performance?

As one reader wrote to me Monday morning, “In a time that you and I and so many others advocate for not seeing women as sex objects ... WHAT HAPPENED?”

As a commenter wrote on a friend’s Facebook page: “Women will never be taken seriously if they keep turning themselves into sex objects.”

We’re awash in contradictions. Disgusting. Empowering.

Let’s talk about that for a moment.

First, I think it’s worth pondering why a 15-minute halftime show should guide how we view women, as though we share one collective brain or soul or goal in life. Those two particular women wanted to entertain 100 million or so people on Super Bowl Sunday, and they did so with fierce, fearless, sexy aplomb.

Another woman, San Francisco 49ers offensive assistant Katie Sowers, wanted to serve as the first female coach in Super Bowl history. And she did.

Some women want to serve in Congress. Some women want to orbit space. 

Some women want to teach third grade. Some women want to combat climate change. Some women want to write novels.

Is it harder for us to take them seriously as leaders, scientists, teachers, authors, as full humans, as women because of a sexy halftime show?
I hope the answer is no. I hope we’re able to see two women headline a performance, even a performance that involves a stripper pole, and still take women, as a gender, seriously.

Did Adam Levine performing shirtless at last year’s halftime show make it harder to take men seriously? Was his tattooed chest a blow to men’s rights? Did you eye your male colleagues, male mentors, male elected officials, male doctors, male authors, male thought leaders with a little more skepticism, a little less authority the next day? Did you see them as walking contradictions — acting all sexy on the one hand and then wanting to be taken all seriously on the other?

I hope that answer is also no.

I hope we can also acknowledge that the #MeToo movement doesn’t need to muscle out a performance like J.Lo and Shakira’s.

The #MeToo movement, as I see it, is not meant to strip sex or pleasure from the female experience. It is not meant to police women’s sexuality and send up a flare when a woman falls from her purity pedestal. It is not a wobbly construct that relies on women shunning sex and sexuality, lest the whole movement fall like a house of cards.

The #MeToo movement is, at least in part, a reclaiming and reframing of female sexuality. It is an ongoing discussion that asks us to acknowledge some hard truths: For far too long, women have been treated as conquests. 

Bodies to lay claim to and wield power over and use for pleasure, whether the women who inhabit those bodies liked it or not. That sort of separating of the woman from her body leads to sexual harassment and sexual assault — in the workplace, in schools, on the street, in families, in intimate relationships.
The #MeToo movement is a rejoining. Woman to her body. Woman to her agency. Human to her humanity.

The #MeToo movement doesn’t say women can’t be sexual. The #MeToo movement says women don’t want to be raped.

That’s not a contradiction. It’s an awakening. And we’re just now beginning to grapple with what it means. I’m glad we’re having the discussion. It’s not simple, and it won’t be linear, but it’s important. And it’s time.

Friday, 21 February 2020

An artist wheeled 99 smartphones around in a wagon to create fake traffic jams on Google Maps

An artist "hacked" Google Maps' traffic display — and all it took was a red wagon and 99 smartphones.

Simon Weckert toted the pile of smartphones down empty streets in Berlin. Every street he traversed suddenly appeared as a traffic-heavy red zone on Google Maps, rerouting drivers to avoid the streets, as shown in Weckert's YouTube video documenting the results.

Weckert essentially gamed the mechanism Google Maps uses to predict traffic, he said in an email to Business Insider.

A Google representative told Business Insider that the app determines traffic by continuously pinging smartphones that use location services and by using "contributions from the Google Maps community."

"We've launched the ability to distinguish between cars and motorcycles in several countries including India, Indonesia and Egypt, though we haven't quite cracked traveling by wagon," the representative said. 

"We appreciate seeing creative uses of Google Maps like this as it helps us make maps work better over time."

For Weckert's experiment, all 99 smartphones were turned on with Google Maps running.

"There is no such thing as neutral data. Data is always collected for a specific purpose, by a combination of people, technology, money, commerce, and government," Weckert said in an email to Business Insider.

Weckert said he carried out the experiment last summer but published the results this week in honor of the 15th birthday of Google Maps.

Weckert added that he wanted to draw attention to the blind trust that many people have in tech companies and platforms.

"Maps have the potential as an instrument of power for some intentions. They substitute political and military power," Weckert said. He added that "we are highly focused on" the data of apps like Google Maps "and tend to see them as objective ... thus data are viewed as the world itself, forgetting that the numbers are only representing a model of the world."

(Source: BI)

Thursday, 20 February 2020

Brexit: Will I need a visa to travel to the EU after 2021?

The present right of free movement will be surrendered when the Brexit transition period ends

For British travellers, much is uncertain about how life will be from 2021 onwards.

But UK visitors to the EU will need to get used to more red tape when an online system is introduced, probably in 2022.

These are the key questions and answers.

Will I need a visa to visit the European Union?
Not immediately. Until the end of 2020, everyone is pretending that the UK is still a member of the EU. British passport holders are entitled to travel anywhere in the 27 remaining member states for as long as they like.

UK travel documents will be regarded as full EU passports up to and including the date of expiry or 1 January 2021, whichever comes first. (This applies even if the passport was issued after Britain leaves.)

After Brexit a UK passport will continue to be valid as a British travel document – there is no need to renew.

But at the end of the transition British passports will lose much of their power and become subject to additional constraints – including, in time, the European Travel Information and Authorisation System (Etias). This will require prospective UK visitors to the Schengen area to apply online for permission to enter.

The Schengen area comprises most of the 27 remaining members of the European Union (but not Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Ireland and Romania) plus Iceland, Norway, Switzerland and plucky Liechtenstein.

Is Etias a visa?
Officially, no. Europe says that Etias is “a pre-travel authorisation system for visa-exempt travellers”. It is a similar concept to the US Esta and Canadian eTA, which are not technically visas.

“Its key function is to verify if a third country national meets entry requirements before travelling to the Schengen area.” says the EU.

But as Etias requires visitors to apply in advance, provide lots of personal information, pay money (€7/£6), and be issued with a permit to cross a border, I contend it amounts to a normal person’s understanding of a visa.

When and where must I apply?
There is no need to worry about this aspect of Brexit until 2022. The European Union originally hoped it would be ready by 2021, but that date has slipped.

At the heart of the system will be an Etias app and website – presumably etias.eu, though this URL does not yet route anywhere.

What details will be required?
Personal information including name, address, contact details, passport details and occupation (with your job title and employer, or for students, the name of educational establishment).

There will also be questions about your state of health, particularly any infectious diseases.

You must give details of any serious convictions in the past 20 years.
Next, you must say why you are travelling (holiday, business, visiting family, etc), specify the country you will first arrive in and provide the address of your first night’s stay — which will pose a problem for travellers who like to make plans as they go along.

What happens to the information?
Every application will be checked against EU and relevant Interpol databases, and “a dedicated Etias watch-list”. The system is tuned to pick out individuals suspected of being involved in terrorism, armed robbery, child pornography, fraud, money laundering, cybercrime, people-smuggling, trafficking in endangered animal species, counterfeiting and industrial espionage.

How long will it take for a decision to be made?
The intention is that the vast majority of applications will be approved within a few minutes. But if an application is flagged – ie there is a “hit” with one of the databases – then a decision could take as long as four days.

It may result in a straight rejection of permission, or require the applicant to attend an interview at a consulate of the first country they intend to visit.

In a case of mistaken identity, will I be able to appeal?
Yes. Details of how to appeal will be included with the notice of rejection.

Once I have an Etias, am I guaranteed admission to the Schengen Area?
No. “Mere possession of a travel authorisation does not confer an automatic right of entry”, says the EU. As with the US, travellers can be turned away for any reason.

Does everyone have to pay?
No, those under 18 or over 70 are exempt.

If I am granted entry to the European Union with an Etias, how long can I stay?
The present right of free movement will be surrendered when the Brexit transition period ends.

Instead the 90/180 rule will apply. In any stretch of 180 days (almost six months) you can stay a maximum of 90 days (almost three months).

This will apply in any event from the start of 2021 – it is independent of Etias.
For an example of what it means: if you were to spend the first 90 days of 2021 (January, February and almost all of March) in the Schengen area, you would not be able to return until the very end of June.

Do I need to apply for an Etias every time I travel to Europe? 
No. The permit will be valid for three years, or until the passport runs out. It is not yet clear whether you will need to go online and announce your travel plans before each visit to the European Union.

Will I need an Etias to travel to Ireland?
No. The Common Travel Area involving the UK, Ireland, the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands transcends European Union rules, and in any event Ireland is not in the Schengen Area.

What about people without internet access?
They will be expected to get a friend or family member to make the application for them, in the same way as the US Esta and similar schemes.

Is this all because of Brexit?
No. Work on strengthening the European Union’s external border was already under way before the UK referendum on membership in June 2016. Etias would not be relevant if the UK was still in the EU. But the decision to leave means that British travellers will be classified as “third country” citizens, which triggers extra red tape.

(Source: Independent)

Wednesday, 19 February 2020

Half of UK 10-year-olds own a smartphone

Fifty per cent of the UK's 10-year-olds owned a smartphone in 2019, according to a report by media regulator Ofcom.

The amount of young phone owners doubled between the ages of nine and 10, which Ofcom dubbed "the age of digital independence".

In addition, 24% of 3 and 4-year-olds had their own tablet, and 15% of them were allowed to take it to bed.

Ofcom's annual report looks at the media habits of children, and the types of devices they are using.

The 2019 study was based on more than 3,200 interviews with children and parents around the UK.

"The mobile phone is the device of choice for children," said Yih-Choung Teh, strategy and research group director at Ofcom.

"I'm conscious that for these children who have never known a world without the internet, in many respects their online and offline worlds are indistinguishable."

The report also found that more older children were using social media to express their support for social causes and organisations, with 18% having shared or commented on a post, and one in ten having signed an online petition.

Ofcom dubbed this "the Greta effect" after the 17-year-old environmental campaigner Greta Thunberg.

The "Greta effect" has led to more older children supporting causes online.

Other key findings for 2019 included:
  • 48% of girls aged 5-15 played online games, compared with 71% of boys. Boys spent twice as long playing, clocking up 14.5 hours per week, compared with 7.5 for girls
  • Snapchat and Facebook remained the most popular social media platforms of older children, but 62% were also using WhatsApp (up from 43% in 2018)
  • 99% of children aged 5-15 used a TV set, 27% used a smart speaker and 22% used a radio
  • 80% of the children in the report watched video-on-demand, and 25% watched no live broadcast TV at all. One nine-year-old girl told researchers: "I don't really like the TV because you can't pick what channels are on it".
Ofcom also interviewed parents about their concerns. It found that 45% of parents thought the benefits of children using the internet outweighed the risks, but there was an overall increase in parental concern about young people seeing content that might lead them to self-harm.

Just under half (47%) of the parents spoken to were worried about pressure to spend money within games, especially on loot boxes, where the reward is not clear before purchase.

Of those parents with children aged between 5 and 15, 87% had sought advice about how to keep them safe online.

"We are seeing around half of 12-15 year olds saying they have seen hateful content online, and an increase in parents who are concerned about it," said Yih-Choung Teh.

"The good news is, more conversations about staying safe online are also happening across the country."

Following the report, children's charity the NSPCC called for independent regulators to force social media platforms to protect their users from viewing harmful material.

"While it's encouraging that parents are talking to their children about their media use, we must look to tech giants to protect their users and ensure they are a force for good not bad," said Andy Burrows, head of child safety online policy.

(Source: BBC)

Tuesday, 18 February 2020

Notes of a chronic rereader

It has often been my experience that rereading a book that was important to me at earlier times in my life is something like lying on the analyst’s couch. The narrative I have had by heart for years is suddenly being called into alarming question. It seems that I’ve misremembered quite a lot about this or that character, or this or that plot turn—they met here in New York, I was so sure it was Rome; the time was 1870, I thought it was 1900; and the mother did what to the protagonist? Yet the world still drops away while I’m reading and I can’t help marveling, If I got this wrong, and this and this wrong, how come the book still has me in its grip?

Like most readers, I sometimes think I was born reading. I can’t remember the time when I didn’t have a book in my hands, my head lost to the world around me. On vacation with family or friends, I am quite capable of settling myself, book in hand, on the living room couch in a beautiful country house and hardly stirring out into the glorious green for which we have all come. Once, on a train going through the Peruvian Andes, with everyone else ooh-ing and aah-ing out the window, I couldn’t lift my eyes from The Woman in White. On a Caribbean beach I sat in the blazing sun, Diane Johnson’s Lesser Lives (an imagined biography of George Meredith’s first wife) propped on my knees, and was surprised when I looked up to see that I wasn’t surrounded by the fog and cold of 1840s England. The companionate-ness of those books! Of all books. Nothing can match it. It’s the longing for coherence inscribed in the work—that extraordinary attempt at shaping the inchoate through words—it brings peace and excitement, comfort and consolation. But above all, it’s the sheer relief from the chaos in the head that reading delivers. Sometimes I think it alone provides me with courage for life, and has from earliest childhood.

We lived in an immigrant, working-class neighborhood in the Bronx where all needs were met through the patronage of one of the many stores that ran the length of a single shopping street. The butcher, the baker, the grocer, the bank, the drugstore, the shoe repair: all storefront operations. One day, when I was quite small, seven or eight, my mother, holding my hand, walked us into a store I’d never before noticed: it was the local branch of the New York Public Library. The room was long, the floorboards bare, and the walls lined, floor to ceiling, with books. In the middle of the room was planted a desk at which sat Eleanor Roosevelt (in those days, all librarians looked like Eleanor Roosevelt): a tall, bosomy woman with a mass of gray hair piled belle epoque–style on the top of her head, rimless glasses perched high on her incredibly straight nose, and a look of calm interest in her eyes. My mother approached the desk, pointed at my head, and said to Eleanor Roosevelt, “She likes to read.” The librarian stood up, said “Come,” and walked me back to the front of the store where the children’s books were sectioned. “Start here,” she said, and I did. Between then and the time I graduated from high school, I read my way around the room. If I’m asked now to remember what I read in that storefront library, I can only recall that I went from Grimm’s fairy tales to Little Women to Of Time and the River. Then I entered college where I discovered that all these years I’d been reading literature. It was at that moment, I think, that I began rereading, because from then on it was to the books that had become my intimates that I would turn and turn again, not only for the transporting pleasure of the story itself but also to understand what I was living through, and what I was to make of it.


I’d grown up in a noisy left-wing household where Karl Marx and the international working class were articles of faith: feeling strongly about social injustice was a given. So from the start, the political-ness of life colored almost all tangible experience, which of course included reading. I read ever and only to feel the power of Life with a capital L as it manifested itself (thrillingly) through the protagonist’s engagement with those external forces beyond his or her control. In this way I felt, acutely but equally, the work of Dickens, Dreiser, and Hardy, as well as Mike Gold, John Dos Passos, and Agnes Smedley. I had to laugh when, a few years ago, I came across an essay by Delmore Schwartz in which he (Schwartz) takes Edmund Wilson to task for Wilson’s shocking lack of interest in literary form. For Schwartz, form was integral to the meaning of a literary work; for Wilson, what mattered was not how books were written but what they were talking about, and how they affected the culture at large. His habit, always, was to place a book in its social and political context. This perspective allowed him to pursue a line of thought that let him speak of Proust and Dorothy Parker in the same sentence, or compare Max Eastman favorably with AndrĂ© Gide. For Schwartz, this was pure pain. For me, it was inexpressibly rewarding. And what could have been more natural than that the way I read was the way I would begin to write.


One night toward the end of the sixties, I attended a speak-out at the Vanguard, a famous jazz club in Greenwich Village. The evening was billed as “Art and Politics,” and on the stage was the playwright LeRoi Jones (later Amiri Baraka), the saxophonist Archie Shepp, and the painter Larry Rivers. In the audience, every white, middle-class liberal in the city. Very quickly, it became clear that Art didn’t stand a chance up against Politics. Jones dominated the event by announcing early that not only was the civil rights movement tired of what he called white intervention, very soon blood was going to run in the seats of the Theater of Revolution and guess who was sitting in those seats. The place went up in flames, everyone yelling and screaming some version of “Not fair!” all at once—with one voice in particular heard above the rest, crying out, “I’ve paid my dues, LeRoi. You know I’ve paid my dues!” But Jones, unperturbed and unimpressed by the uproar, continued to explain that we “ofays” had fucked it all up, but when black people got there, they would do it differently: smash up the world as we knew it and start all over again. I remember thinking, “He doesn’t want to destroy the world as it is, he wants to take his rightful place in it as it is, only right now his head is so full of blood he doesn’t know it.”

I wanted badly to call that out, as everyone else was calling out whatever hurt most, but he terrified me (one can hardly imagine the strength of Baraka’s public presence in those painfully inspired days), so I kept silent, went home, and, burning with a sense of urgency I couldn’t really account for, sat up half the night describing the entire event from the perspective of my one great insight; and discovering, as I wrote, what was to become my natural style. Using myself as a participating narrator, it was my instinct to set the story up as if writing a fiction (“The other night at the Vanguard … ”) in order to put my readers behind my eyes, have them experience the evening as I had experienced it, feel it viscerally as I had felt it (“I’ve paid my dues, LeRoi. You know I’ve paid my dues!”), then come away moved and instructed by the poignancy not of Art and Politics, but Life and Politics. Although I did not then know it, it was personal journalism that I had begun to practice.

In the morning I put what I had written in an envelope, walked to the corner mailbox, and sent the piece to The Village Voice. A few days later my phone rang. I said “Hello,” and a man’s voice replied, “I’m Dan Wolf, editor of the Voice, who the hell are you?” Before I could think I said, “I don’t know, you tell me.” Wolf laughed and invited me to send him anything else I was working on. A year later I sent him another piece. And I think most of another year passed before I sent in a third.

I had meant it about not knowing who I was. Although at any given moment I could talk a blue streak that often made a listener say “You should write that up,” when it came to it, I’d almost invariably suffer a paralyzing case of self-doubt. It was only occasionally that that burning sense of necessity allowed me to bring a piece of work to a satisfactory conclusion. Now, here I was, after the evening at the Vanguard, with an open invitation to face down this painful disability and begin to realize the lifelong ambition of writing professionally. So what did I do? I got married. I got married and left New York to live in a place deep in rural America where every connection I had to writing was dramatically severed. Soon enough, I did get unmarried and I did return to the city, but it was only to wander about, working odd jobs in and around publishing: still an overaged girl refusing to become an adult.

Then one day I walked into the Voice office—how I had the nerve to do this I’ll never know—and asked Dan Wolf for a job. He said, “You’re a neurotic Jewish girl, you produce only one piece a year, how can I give you a job?” I said no, not any more, I’d do whatever he wanted—and, as it turned out, I meant it. Two assignments later the job was mine.
But what, exactly, was the job?

The Voice was a paper of opinion founded in 1955, at the height of the Cold War, when simply to speak out as a liberal was to be heard as a radical. The key words were “speak out.” The paper had a muckraking bent that made its writers, one and all, sound as if they were routinely holding a gun to society’s head. In one sense, the enterprise bore a strong resemblance to the social realism of my childhood, so I fit right in. In another, my predilection for personal journalism soon began to complicate the appealing simplicity of “them” versus “us” that ruled Voice reporting. Using myself as the instrument of illumination when exploring the subject at hand was forcing on me a growing need to look inward as well as outward: to put the “personal” and the “journalism” together proportionally, figure out how the parts really fit together, how the situation actually felt on the ground. For the longest time, it seemed, I worked with only partial success to solve this problem. Then the liberationist movements of the seventies kicked in, politics began to feel existential, and for me the dilemma of how to practice personal journalism was home free.

In late 1970 an editor at the Voice said to me, “There are these women’s libbers gathering out on Bleecker Street. Why don’t you go out and investigate them.” “What’s a women’s libber?” I asked. A week later I was a convert.

Within days I had met Kate Millett, Susan Brownmiller, Shulamith Firestone, and Ti-Grace Atkinson. It seemed as though they were all talking at once, and yet I heard every word each of them spoke. Or, rather, it was that I must have heard them all saying the same thing, because I came away from that week branded by a single thought. It was this: the idea that men by nature take their brains seriously and women by nature do not is a belief, not an inborn reality: it serves the culture and is central to how all our lives take shape. The inability to see oneself primarily as a working person: this, I now saw, was the central dilemma of a woman’s existence.

The insight felt new and profound and, above all, compelling. Of a sudden, I saw the unlived lives of women not only as a crime of historic proportion but a drama of the psyche that came brilliantly to life no sooner than the word “sexism” was applied—and that was the word that now governed my days. Everywhere I looked I saw sexism: raw and brutal, ordinary and intimate, ancient and ever-present. I saw it on the street and in the movies, at the bank and in the grocery store. I saw it while reading the headlines, riding the subway, having the door held for me. And, most shockingly, I saw it in literature. Taking up many of the books I’d grown up with, I saw for the first time that most of the female characters in them were stick figures devoid of flesh and blood, there only to thwart or advance the fortunes of the protagonist whom I only just then realized was almost always male. It occurred to me that all my reading life I’d been identifying with characters whose progress through life was at a vital remove from any I would ever make.

The exhilaration I experienced once I had the analysis! I woke up with it, danced through the day with it, fell asleep smiling with it. It was as though revelation alone could deliver me into the promised land not only of political equality but of inner freedom as well. After all, what more did I need than the denial of women’s rights to explain me to myself? What a joyous little anarchist I then became! The pleasure I took in the excitement of casting conventional sentiment aside! How blithely I pronounced, “No equality in love? I’ll do without! Children and motherhood? Unnecessary! Social castigation? Nonsense!” Life felt good then. I had insight, and I had company. Everywhere I looked I saw women like myself seeing what I saw, thinking as I thought, speaking as I spoke.

Yet, by no means was it all bread and roses. For example, no one had counted on the level of rage the women’s movement had released in men and in women alike: strong enough, it sometimes seemed, to set a match to the world. Every day, marriages broke up, friendships ended, family members became estranged—and perfectly decent people were saying and doing the most abominable things to one another. One night at a dinner party, a pair of academics—one a tall, slim woman, the other a short, fat man—were listening intently to a distinguished historian whose field the woman knew well. She was adding her voice to that of the speaker with an occasional question or comment when her colleague impatiently demanded that she stop “interrupting.” At any other time within living memory, I was certain, this woman would have fallen silent after receiving such a rebuke. Now, her face hardened and she spat out, “Why, you ugly little man, don’t tell me to stop speaking!” The table went silent, and within minutes the evening was breaking up. I sat there, stunned. On the one hand, I was thrilled by the woman’s outburst; on the other, the loss of civility among us left me with the taste of ashes in my mouth. Who could have imagined that so much hate and fear had been festering for so long inside so many of us.
Within the decade, seventies feminists came to realize that while we stood united in political analysis, ideology alone was not about to deliver us from our own damaged selves. Between the ardor of our rhetoric and the dictates of flesh-and-blood reality, it seemed, lay a no man’s land of untested conviction. We became then, many of us, a walking embodiment of the gap between theory and practice: the discrepancy between what we declared we felt and the miserable complexity of what we actually felt more apparent with each passing day.
The contradictions in my own character rose up daily to plague me, and patterns of behavior I had paid no attention to suddenly loomed large. I had always thought of myself as one of those ordinarily decent people who placed a high value on what is generally called “good character.” Now I saw that I did nothing of the sort. In conversation I was cutting and confrontational, at family affairs bored and dismissive, in the office self-regarding to a fault. Although I pined endlessly for intimate connection (I thought) I nonetheless sabotaged one relationship after another by concentrating almost exclusively on what I took to be my needs, not at all on those of my friend or lover. The narrowness of experience to which my own self-divisions had consigned me—how appalling that now felt!

In no time at all an unimagined universe of interiority opened before me, one equipped with its own theory, laws, and language, constituting a worldview that seemed to hold more truth—that is, more inner reality—than any other; and a drama of internal anguish began to unfold. Every day now I struggled with myself, one part of me pitted against another, reason telling me which behaviors to break free of, compulsion demanding that I ignore reason. Again and again I suffered the humiliation of sustained self-defeat. In the goodness of analytic time it became clear—but this took years to absorb—that insight alone was never going to prove sufficient. The effort required to attain some semblance of an integrated self was going to be the task of a lifetime. As the great Anton Chekhov had so memorably put it, while “others [might have] made me a slave” it was I who must “squeeze the slave out of myself, drop by drop.”

Once again, I found myself reading differently. I took out the books—novels in particular—I had read and reread, and read them again. This time around I saw that whatever the story, whatever the style, whatever the period, the central drama in literary work was nearly always dependent on the perniciousness of the human self-divide: the fear and ignorance it generates, the shame it gives rise to, the debilitating mystery in which it enshrouds us. I also saw that invariably what made the work of a good book affecting—and this was something implicit in the writing, trapped somewhere in the nerves of the prose—was some haunted imagining (as though coming from the primeval unconscious) of human existence with the rift healed, the parts brought together, the hunger for connection put in brilliant working order. Great literature, I thought then and think now, is a record not of the achievement of wholeness of being but of the ingrained effort made on its behalf.


I still read to feel the power of Life with a capital L. I still see the protagonist in thrall to forces beyond his or her control. And when I write I still hope to put my readers behind my eyes, experience the subject as I have experienced it, feel it viscerally as I have felt it.

(Source: The Paris Review)