Bill Gates: How to Save
THE TECH ISSUE
IF YOU’RE NOT YOU’RE CRAZY Life in the surveillance society By Walter Kirn
The Investment Secrets of Al Gore By James Fallows
How to Thwart a Drone By Amanda Ripley Silicon Valley Poll:
Apple, Uber, Race, Selfie Sticks, and Hillary Clinton
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O F N O PA RT Y O R C L I Q U E
CONTENTS | NOVEMBER 2015 VOL.
Features THE TECH ISSUE
56 “We Need an Energy Miracle” BY JA M E S B E N N E T
An interview with Bill Gates
66 To Catch a Drone BY A M A N DA R I P LEY
The new fixation in drone technology: how we’ll defend against them
76 The View From the Valley Which start-ups will change the world? Which are overvalued? Should we fear intelligent robots? In our second annual Silicon Valley Insiders Poll, a panel of 101 executives, innovators, and thinkers weigh in.
84 The (PlanetSaving, CapitalismSubverting, Surprisingly Lucrative) Investment Secrets of Al Gore BY JA M E S FA LLOWS
The case for long-term, socially responsible greed
98 If You’re Not Paranoid, You’re Crazy B Y WA LT E R K I R N
As government agencies and tech companies find ever more intrusive ways to probe our thoughts and behavior, one man considers how to stay human in the panopticon. Photograph by CHRISTOPHER GRIFFITH
Al Gore, photographed in New York. August 25, 2015.
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CONTENTS | NOVEMBER 2015 VOL.
Google’s Biggest Bet
Most conglomerates fail— will Alphabet be any different?
Amateur Hour Why Americans like their presidential candidates ever more inexperienced
BY J E R RY U S E E M
BY J O N AT H A N R A U C H
STUDY OF STUDIES TECHNOLOGY
Moving to Mars How humans will find a home beyond Earth
The evolutionary value of urban legends
BY AL ANA S E M U E LS
BY M AT T H E W H U T S O N
WORKS IN PROGRESS
The Very Republican Painter
The Architects’ Dream Factory
How to Make Money in Music
Steve Penley’s progression from art-world outcast to the GOP’s favorite artist
Why the country’s most notable building facades get their start in Kansas City
BY WI LLIAM B R E N NAN
B Y M O L LY B A L L
BY K R I STO N C A P PS
14 The Conversation 124 The Big Question What science-fiction gadget would be most valuable in real life? 10
T H E AT L A N T IC
94 Small Prayer BY E LI Z AB ETH S P I R E S
Why short-term bond funds are generating long-term interest Short-term bonds have offered: Yield %
less sensitivity to interest rate changes than the overall U.S. credit bond market1
as frequent reinvestment as rates rise2
Time to Maturity
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Before investing in any mutual fund or exchange-traded fund, you should consider its investment objectives, risks, charges, and expenses. Contact Fidelity for a prospectus, offering circular or, if available, a summary prospectus containing this information. Read it carefully. Past performance is no guarantee of future results. ETFs are subject to market ﬂuctuation and the risks of their underlying investments. ETFs are subject to management fees and other expenses. Unlike mutual funds, ETF shares are bought and sold at market price, which may be higher or lower than their NAV, and are not individually redeemed from the fund. In general, the bond market is volatile, and ﬁxed income securities carry interest rate risk. (As interest rates rise, bond prices usually fall, and vice versa. This effect is usually more pronounced for longerterm securities.) Fixed income securities also carry inﬂation risk, liquidity risk, call risk, and credit and default risks for both issuers and counterparties. Lower-quality ﬁxed income securities involve greater risk of default or price changes due to potential changes in the credit quality of the issuer. Foreign investments involve greater risks than U.S. investments, and can decline signiﬁcantly in response to adverse issuer, political, regulatory, market, and economic risks. Any ﬁxed income security sold or redeemed prior to maturity may be subject to loss. The municipal market can be affected by adverse tax, legislative, or political changes and the ﬁnancial condition of the issuers of municipal securities. Interest income generated by municipal bonds is generally expected to be exempt from federal income taxes and, if the bonds are held by an investor resident in the state of issuance, state and local income taxes. Such interest income may be subject to federal and/or state alternative minimum taxes. Investing in municipal bonds for the purpose of generating tax-exempt income may not be appropriate for investors in all tax brackets. Generally, tax-exempt municipal securities are not appropriate holdings for tax-advantaged accounts such as IRAs and 401(k)s. Hypothetical yield curve: A chart that plots the yields of similar bonds across different maturities. The yield, as of 8/14/15, for commonly referenced indices representing bonds with 1–5 year maturities, is as follows: U.S. Treasury securities (1.01%), Barclays 1–5 Year Municipal Bond Index (1.11%), Barclays 1–5 Year U.S. Credit Bond Index (2.05%), and Bank of America Merrill Lynch 1–5 Year BB/B Cash Pay Index (5.99%). Sources: Barclays Live, Bank of America Merrill Lynch. 1 Interest rate sensitivity is based on the annualized standard deviation of monthly total returns for the 10-year period ending February 2014, with the overall bond market represented by the Barclays U.S. Credit Bond Index (all maturities), and short-term bonds represented by the subset of bonds within the index with maturities of 1–5 years (Barclays 1–5 Year U.S. Credit Bond Index). Source: FMR. 2 Frequency of reinvestment based on the percentage of bonds maturing within 3 years as of 8/14/15—22.54% for the overall bond market (represented by Barclays U.S. Credit Bond Index), and 55.42% for short-term bonds (represented by Barclays 1–5 Year U.S. Credit Bond Index). Source: FMR. Fidelity Brokerage Services LLC, Member NYSE, SIPC. © 2015 FMR LLC. All rights reserved. 686815.4.0
CONTENTS | NOVEMBER 2015 VOL.
The Culture File BOOKS
48 The Cliffhanger “Some people might call this crazy. I prefer to think of it as badass.” BY N AT H A N I E L R I C H
42 Twilight of the Headbangers How long can the legends of heavy metal stay on their feet? BY J A M E S PA R K E R
52 Unliberated Sex
46 How Satan Came to Salem The true story of the witch trials
In new novels, Michel Houellebecq and Margaret Atwood wonder if desire can thrive without freedom. BY SO P H I E G I LB E RT
BY ADAM GOODH E ART
108 The Exemplary Narcissism of Snoopy Charles Schulz’s comic strip endures because it sparks moral arguments over how to survive in a bitter social world. BY SARAH BOX E R
T H E AT L A N T IC
On the Cover Photograph by Phil Toledano
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THE CONVERSATION RESPONSES & REVERBERATIONS
Better Watch What You Say In their September cover story, “The Coddling of the American Mind,” Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt argued that issuing “trigger warnings” in college courses impedes education and emotionally weakens undergraduates.
Whatever their marketing says, universities certainly treat students today like paying customers—and they have convinced us, over time, to pay more and get less. Is it any wonder, then, that students feel entitled to some institutional consideration of their feelings, however misguided those feelings may be? Blair Reeves CHAPEL HILL, N.C.
How did colleges manage to guide generations of students through offense and outrage, only to founder at the dawn of the 21st century? Haidt and Lukianoff offer some plausible candidates … But here’s a candidate Haidt and Lukianoff don’t mention: the steady shift toward viewing college as a consumer experience, rather than an institution that is there to shape you toward its own ideal … Cultural and economic shifts have pushed students toward behaving more like consumers in a straight commercial
transaction, and less like people who were being inducted into a non-market institution. Mass education, and the rise of colleges as labormarket gatekeepers, have transformed colleges from a place to be imbued with the intangible qualities of character and education … into a place where you go to buy a ticket to a good job. I strongly suspect that the increasing importance of student loans also plays a role, because control over the tuition checks has shifted from parents to students … So perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised to find that students are demanding to be kept sheltered from ideas they don’t like—or that universities have begun to acquiesce to these demands. But if it is not surprising, it is worrying. A university education is supposed to accomplish two things: expose you to a wide variety of ideas and help you navigate through them; and turn you into an adult, which is to say, someone who can
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cope with people, and ideas, they don’t like. Megan McArdle EXCERPT FROM A BLOOMBERG VIEW ARTICLE
The authors make some important points about how protecting students from offense might shortchange their education—but they ignore one central cause of the trigger-warning trend: the erosion of tenure and academic freedom on American campuses. In 1975, nearly 30 percent of faculty were tenured and more than 15 percent were tenuretrack, afforded at least some academic-freedom protections. As of 2011, less than one-fifth of faculty fall into either category. This means the majority of classrooms are staffed by instructors who have to worry that one offended student might be the difference between next semester’s course load and job loss. If we want to ensure that classrooms remain places of vital (and, indeed, sometimes uncomfortable) intellectual
exchange, the first thing we must do is recommit to the protection of academic freedom for faculty so they need not fear that challenging their students to think and learn will threaten their job. Mikaila Mariel Lemonik Arthur ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR OF SOCIOLOGY, RHODE ISLAND COLLEGE PROVIDENCE, R.I.
Evolving thinking on the human microbiome has led to the belief that one of the causes of today’s increasing allergies and weakened immune systems is overprotected kids raised in an antibiotic-wiped, germ-free, dirt-free world. And consider the story of the Buddha, a prince raised in a kingdom where his father made sure he never saw anything upsetting or painful. It wasn’t until he escaped the confines of the castle and saw the world as it truly was that he found enlightenment. We should welcome idealism and good intentions, but also pay attention to the results. By limiting our exposure to germs, ideas, and
perspectives we are also limiting our resilience, tolerance, and understanding. John Arndt SAN ANSELMO, CALIF.
Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt’s article reads as nothing more than an ageist castigation of uppity youngsters and their false consciousness. These articles have proliferated in the past year or so, and I have reached a point of critical ennui with the 40-plus contingent worrying about what will happen to their “free speech” in the university. As a current graduate student who is often placed between professors and their students, I see firsthand the generational divide. However, to frame this solely in terms of generational difference is disingenuous, because that ignores how much the student population has diversified. The only thing that has changed in higher education over several decades is that Millennials are really sensitive? Come on! More students of color are attending college than ever before. What irks me most about Lukianoff and Haidt’s reasoning is the idea that these young people are delusional and in need of help. Yes, some of the examples the authors give are extreme. Yet these obscure how trigger warnings tend to operate in the classroom. When I give a brief content warning (I don’t call it a “trigger” warning) in class before teaching Harriet Jacobs’s Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, I am acknowledging that there are real people in front of me, not ciphers for my superior moral logic and reasoning. And, of all absurdities, Lukianoff and Haidt end their article with a quotation
from Thomas Jefferson on the “freedom of the human mind”—Jefferson, a landed elite who freed some of his most coveted slaves only upon his death. In Jefferson’s world, there was only one “human mind,” and it was white, male, and wealthy. This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t read his writings, but it does perhaps suggest that we should at least admit what kind of man he was and discuss it with our students. Leah Fry SANTA BARBARA, CALIF.
The authors display little or no interest in encouraging nuanced thought about the movement to bring greater consciousness to the ways that forms of oppression are unconsciously embedded in language—what I call humanistic awareness, not political correctness. I found Lukianoff and Haidt’s approach to requests for some advance notice to help trauma victims prepare for potentially triggering exposure similarly one-sided. I presume they also decry news broadcasts warning that difficult material is forthcoming. The article presents a reductionist argument, boiling the issue down to “bad thinking,” oversensitivity, and “coddling” of trauma victims. It reads like a panicked pandering knell, full of the catastrophizing of which the authors accuse college students (for example, the claim that faculty members “increasingly fear what students might do to their reputations and careers by stirring up online mobs against them”). Deep into the article, I, a clinical psychologist, encounter Pavlov, for the first time a trauma expert, and the
glossing-over of the fact that exposure therapy does not work for many people with anxiety and trauma. Nor do the authors offer any awareness of how their intellectual discourse has been shaped by their own sociopolitical locations, as their reference to Thomas Jefferson well attests. When Jefferson spoke about the “illimitable freedom of the human mind,” he surely didn’t mean those he and others enslaved. But no matter. I guess we’d all do well to go back to the good old days when boys would be boys, sticks and stones could break my bones but words could never hurt me, and we, the marginalized, did all the accommodating. Thandiwe Dee Watts-Jones, Ph.D. NEW ROCHELLE, N.Y.
Lukianoff and Haidt make an extraordinary claim: that trigger warnings are causing American college students to exhibit psychopathologies. As a social-science graduate student who teaches college students, I find this hard to believe. Before claiming that students are “more desirous of protection and more hostile toward ideological opponents than in generations past,” Lukianoff and Haidt should have used surveys,
experiments, and other tools of social science to measure students’ attitudes today, then compared them with similar surveys of college students in generations past. Instead of providing evidence from surveys of college students, the authors mention studies of the voting public (a very different population) and provide a number of anecdotes about tense interactions on different campuses. They make no attempt to show why these campuses should be treated as representative of college campuses as a whole. Lukianoff and Haidt wisely note that cognitive behavioral therapy has much to offer new college students. Perhaps the authors would benefit from their own advice against “catastrophizing” as they argue that trigger warnings are “bad for American democracy.” Seth Soderborg SOMERVILLE, MASS.
How the Bankers Stayed Out of Jail In September, William D. Cohan explained why the leaders of the financial institutions responsible for the 2008 crash won’t be brought to justice. The leaders of the creditrating houses—Standard &
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TH E CO N V E RSATI O N
Poor’s, Fitch, and Moody’s— are the real criminals who caused much of the devastation of the 2008 financial crisis. Their profligate, dishonest, and fraudulent behavior is unmentioned by Cohan, probably because no police entity went after them. Their granting of AAA status to bundled junk mortgages deserves much of the blame for the debacle. The credit-rating agencies’ deceit enabled Wall Street salesmen to do what Wall Street salesmen do: sell securities. If the three of them had rated the bundled mortgages as CCC, or even B, or even BB, they would have been unsalable. AAA was what Wall Street needed, and the credit-rating agencies gave it to them—for a fee. How did they escape? Donald Allen EVANSTON, ILL.
I’ve thought for a long time that it is useless to levy fines against corporations for wrongdoing. As Mr. Cohan points out, the money comes out of the pockets of consumers and shareholders and is taken as an “expense” by the corporation, thereby reducing taxes paid. I suggest that a special branch of criminal law be created to try corporations (who allegedly have the rights of citizens and therefore should be held to the same standard of accountability, in terms of criminal activity). If a financial institution deals in what it knows to be worthless derivatives, it should be
prohibited from creating or selling financial instruments for a specified period of time. The same proceedings should be able to assign responsibility to individuals acting on behalf of corporations, with appropriate individual accountability—prison sentences, psychiatric rehabilitation, community service. Brian M. Roth FREMONT, CALIF.
William D. Cohan replies: Donald Allen is certainly correct that the credit-rating agencies exacerbated the wrongdoing that Wall Street bankers, traders, and executives perpetrated on investors the world over, and that these agencies were giving the Wall Street underwriters of shoddy securities exactly what they wanted. The rating agencies were bought and paid for by Wall Street, which thought nothing of playing one agency off another until it got AAA ratings for securities that were anything but safe. In February, Standard & Poor’s, the leading rating agency and a division of McGraw Hill Financial, paid a $1.5 billion fine to settle fraud charges brought against the company by federal and state officials. As with the big Wall Street banks’ settlements, S&P’s settlement allowed the company to obfuscate exactly what it did wrong. One day, we will look back on this collective wrongdoing and wonder how we could have allowed our prosecutors to sweep the whole thing under the rug.
THE BIG QUESTION On TheAtlantic.com, readers answered October’s Big Question and voted on one another’s responses. Here are the top vote-getters.
Q: What was the most consequential sibling rivalry of all time?
5. Genghis Khan killed his older half brother. After the murder, he took over as ruler of his tribe. Eliminating his sibling likely enabled him to become the leader of the Mongol Empire. — Lawrence Balter
2. Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth. If Mary had lived, and suppressed her sister, the Catholic Church would have been restored in England and history would have been very different. — Andrew Gombos
4. Romulus and Remus, the mythological twins whose rivalry initiated the rise of the Roman Empire. — John Salamack
1. Two sons were born to Abraham: Ishmael and Isaac. Their rivalry originated thousands of years’ worth of deadly competition between nations and faiths in the Middle East and across the globe. — Emrys Tyler
3. The first fratricide, Cain’s murder of Abel. — Phillip Certain
The Migrant Crisis In the July/August issue, David Frum discussed ways to stop the flow of illegal migrants across the Mediterranean (“Closing Europe’s Harbors”). Frum cites the overthrow of Muammar Qaddafi as the starting point of the migrant flow but forgets to mention that his demise was engineered by the U.S. and its allies. This “regime change” has not just brought chaos to Libya; it has allowed the arming and expansion of Boko Haram, which has killed thousands in Africa and driven many more from their homes.
Then there are all the other military adventures of the U.S. and its allies: arming one group and then another, killing with drone strikes and drug wars, and on and on, creating millions of refugees. Here’s a suggestion for Europeans, and others. If you want to discourage migrants from flooding into your countries, you could start by not destroying their countries. Brigid Mullane SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA
To contribute to The Conversation, please e-mail email@example.com. Include your full name, city, and state.
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DISPATCHES I D E AS & PROVOC ATI O NS November 2015
“ History has shown that extinction events happen on Earth … We need to establish a second independent biosphere for the future of humanity.” — Pat Troutman of NASA , p. 28
Why Americans like their presidential candidates ever more inexperienced B Y J O N AT H A N R A U C H
H E P R E S I D E NC Y, it’s often said, is a job for which everyone arrives unprepared. But just how unprepared is unprepared enough? Political handicappers weigh presidential candidates’ partisanship, ideology, money, endorsements, consultants, and, of course, experience. Yet they too rarely consider an element of growing importance to voters: freshness. Increasingly, American voters view being qualified for the presidency as a disqualification. In 2003, I announced in National Journal the 14-Year Rule. The rule was actually discovered by a presidential speechwriter named John McConnell, but because his job required him to keep his name out of print, I graciously
Illustration by EDMON DE HARO
stepped up to take credit. It is well known that to be elected president, you pretty much have to have been a governor or a U.S. senator. What McConnell had figured out was this: No one gets elected president or vice president more than 14 years after his or her first gubernatorial or Senate victory. Surprised, I scoured the history books and found that the rule works astonishingly well going back to the early 20th century, when the modern era of presidential electioneering began. Where the keys to the Oval Office are concerned, not all political experience
is created equal. While voters are generally happy to promote a governor or a U.S. senator, they don’t seem to view the House of Representatives as a launchpad for the presidency. For all the worthy experience that a career in the House affords, no one has been elected directly from that body to the presidency or vice presidency since 1880 and 1932, respectively. But if House service doesn’t qualify you for the presidency, it doesn’t seem to count against you, either. Lyndon Johnson’s long tenure in the House didn’t knock him out of contention. And George H. W. Bush, who
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DI SPATCH ES
was exceptional in having never been a preference—but one that appears to be to the Senate in 2000) have passed governor or a senator, made it from the declining, at least on the Republican their sell-by dates, a fact reflected in House to the vice presidency in 14 years, side. A real break with the rule’s inner the palpable boredom that has greeted after an intervening career as United logic would be the election not of sometheir campaigns. Nonetheless, conNations ambassador, envoy to China, ventional wisdom regards them as the one with two or four too many years of and CIA director. As for most likely nominees. If political experience, but of someone mayors, state legislators, that wisdom turns out to with no political experience at all. In the past and other political leadbe right, we will have an That day seems to be drawing two open ers, the story is simple: election pitting two stale closer. The chart below shows the expresidential political dynasts against perience level of presidential winners Able though they may be, elections, they might as well forget each other—something and losers from 1960 to 2012. (For it. Even New York City we have reason to hope the purposes of this graph, experifreshness Mayors John Lindsay and ence equals years between first elecwill be rare in American has ruled. Rudy Giuliani, whose tion to a governorship, a Senate seat, political life. In this sceThe voters national profiles rivaled nario, one of the stale or the vice presidency and election to chose those of any governor, political dynasts will win the presidency; the trend lines do not the least couldn’t make the jump. general election, and change much if House experience is experienced the What about people the 14-Year Rule will fail at included.) governor or last. with zero political experiStarting in 1996, the candidate with senator in ence? History shows that more experience begins consistently the field. you can attain the presiELL, THERE IS losing. Moreover, as the trend lines dency if you are a general nothing magical show, the inexperience premium has who has won an epochal war (Washabout the number 14. What matters increased over time. That makes some ington, Grant, Eisenhower). And you about the rule is not the exact number— sense: As voters have grown angrier with can win without elective experience if 14 versus (say) 12 or 16—but its reflecgovernment, they have become more your name is William Howard Taft or tion of an underlying public preference receptive to outsiders. Republicans, in Herbert Hoover. (Taft held prominent for presidents who are battle-tested but general, are especially angry with govjudicial and Cabinet positions before ernment, so no one will be surprised to not battle-weary, experienced enough emerging as Theodore Roosevelt’s learn that since 1980 their presidential to know their way around but fresh handpicked successor. I have no excandidates have had, on average, three enough to bring new energy to the job. planation for Hoover. Does anyone?) to four years’ less experience than the That is a perfectly sensible Since Eisenhower, no one without congressional or gubernatorial experience has come even close to the Oval Office. Pizza moguls, magazine publishers, surgeons, CEOs, and even supreme NATO commanders do not make viable candidates. Winners Losers Trend ( Winners) Trend (Losers) 40 At the time of this year’s second Republican debate, five Democrats and 16 35 Republicans were running for president. 30 But if you ruled out people who had zero elective experience and therefore were 25 too fresh (goodbye, Ben Carson, Carly 20 Fiorina, and Donald Trump), and if you ruled out people who were more 15 than 14 years from their first election as governor or senator and therefore 10 were stale (goodbye, Jeb Bush, Lincoln 5 Chafee, Hillary Clinton, Jim Gilmore, Mike Huckabee, George Pataki, and 0 Rick Santorum), the field diminished to 1960 1970 1980 1990 2000 2010 three Democrats and eight Republicans. ELECTION YEAR Yes, both Bush (elected governor of Florida in 1998) and Clinton (elected
CANDIDATES’ YEARS OF EXPERIENCE
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(Senate, gubernatorial, and vice-presidential experience only)
PRESIDENTIAL WINNERS AND LOSERS
Democrats’ candidates. In the past two open presidential elections (that is, elections in which no incumbent was running), freshness has ruled the day. The voters, not satisfied with a merely moderate level of inexperience, chose the least experienced governor or senator in the field: George W. Bush (only six years of experience) in 2000, and Barack Obama (a shockingly skimpy four) in 2008. If voters were to stay true to form in 2016, the next president would be—drum roll— Senator Ted Cruz. Elected to the Senate in 2012, having previously attained the speed-bump-high office of Texas solicitor general, Cruz is the only politician in the race who can match Obama’s exalted standard of unpreparedness. I don’t actually think the Republicans will nominate Cruz. At least, I hope they won’t, because I am of the old-fashioned belief that it’s helpful for the world’s most powerful leader to know the ropes a bit. The GOP’s usual pattern, with the important exception of Jeb’s impressively green older brother, has been to flirt with a filly but settle on a mare. Republican purists may thrill to outsiders and demagogues, but typically, the amateur candidates self-destruct, the extremists split their votes, and experience prevails. In the end, the whole bizarre GOP primary season turns out to have been a kind of tantrum, something the conservative base needed to get out of its system. That said, there has never been a tantrum quite like the one that ensued when a pompadoured, potty-mouthed billionaire shot to the top of Republican polls without being a Republican in any meaningful sense, and without possessing political experience in any sense at all, and without saying anything coherent or even intelligible, and without having any chance of winning the presidency. Mindful that the Donald is not, in fact, going to be president of the United States, I have tried to make sense of his meteoric rise by channeling H. L. Mencken, who called democracy the only really amusing form of government. Besides, it’s healthy for
Illustration by JOE McKENDRY
the political system to be permeable to newcomers and disrupters. Right? Up to a point. By now, however, even antigovernment Republicans ought to be realizing that their infatuation with inexperience is descending into selfparody. And it is self-defeating. Not only do amateur-dominated primaries drive Republican candidates way to the right of the general electorate, complicating the task of winning general elections, but they also force experienced and impressive Republican candidates to campaign against their own strengths. In 2012, Mitt Romney, a moderate technocrat by disposition, felt he had to posture as a conservative ideologue, which was not who he really was and wasn’t what the general electorate wanted that year and didn’t work, because no one believed him. Jeb Bush may meet the same fate. Two generations ago, in 1962, the
great political scientist James Q. Wilson wrote a prescient book, The Amateur Democrat, in which he pointed out that political amateurs who were unyielding in their righteousness had begun supplanting the political professionals who were willing to make deals and compromise. The ascendency of amateurism, he predicted, would cause social friction and governmental gridlock: “Political conflict will be intensified, social cleavages will be exaggerated, party leaders will tend to be men skilled in the rhetorical arts, and the party’s ability to produce agreement by trading issue-free resources will be reduced.” That is a disagreeably accurate description of where we find ourselves today. It suggests why amateurism is a much better qualification for The Apprentice than for high political office. Being fresh is one thing. Half-baked is another.
•VERY SHORT BOOK EXCERPT
RELIEF FOR ATHLETES has now arisen to see who can build the biggest, most lavish learning center—part of a larger, billion-dollar arms race in college athletics. So far the University of Oregon is winning, hands down. A few years back it unveiled a $42 million, three-story glass-and-steel cube called the Jaqua Academic Center, which is exclusively for athletes. The money came from Phil and Penny Knight. Phil, who once ran a 1:53 half mile for the Oregon track team, is the founder of Nike. One of the more unusual flourishes of the Jaqua Center’s decor is a neon profile of Phil in the women’s bathroom on the second floor; one of Penny hangs in the men’s bathroom. A N A R M S R AC E
— Adapted from Billion-Dollar Ball: A Journey Through the Big-Money Culture of College Football, by Gilbert M. Gaul (published by Viking in August)
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The Very Republican Painter How Steve Penley went from art-world outcast to the GOP’s favorite artist B Y M O L LY B A L L
TEVE PENLEY’S HOUSE, in the Atlanta exurb of Newnan, sits on a narrow lane that winds through a manicured country club. At first glance, it resembles its neighbors on Golfview Drive. But step inside, and a very different scene awaits. Penley, who has made a lucrative career painting colorful, expressionistic renderings of American symbols and conservative personalities, lives in unchecked chaos. His kitchen’s granite countertops are covered with cans of spray paint, bottles of glue, power tools, and rolls of electrical tape. A parlor wall is hung with rows of splatter-painted
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guitars; once-elegant wood floors are encrusted with paint. The effect is as if a band of paintball-loving squatters had taken over a suburban show home. “It’s actually cleaner than it usually is,” Penley said as he led me to a room off his overstuffed garage-cum-studio. “This is the chair that I know has no wet paint on it, so that’s your chair,” he told me, indicating an armchair with a busted seat. Penley, who is 50 and has combedback silver hair and a doleful stare, was nursing a bad hangover and an incipient eye infection. He had appeared the previous night at a conference convened by one of his patrons, Erick Erickson, the
influential conservative and RedState .com editor. Although he shared the group’s conservative political views and had even made a brief appearance onstage, he’d felt out of place. “Some of those people were so geeky, I can’t take it,” Penley said. “I felt like I was at a UFO convention. Can’t any hip people be conservative?” Penley has spent his life trying to reconcile his inner conservative and his inner nonconformist. Today, his paintings (on loan) are the decor of choice in many congressional Republicans’ offices: House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy’s D.C. office has a portrait of
Illustration by JOHN CUNEO
Abraham Lincoln; Senator Ted Cruz’s features an enormous triptych of Ronald Reagan at a lectern. Penley regularly travels from Georgia to the Capitol to touch up his works (he never considers them quite finished). On a recent trip, he camped out in McCarthy’s office, cluttering the staid foyer with his drop cloth and canvases. He has painted TV-studio backdrops for Fox News’s marquee hosts, including Sean Hannity and Megyn Kelly, and the Republican pollster Frank Luntz likes to surround his televised focus groups on Fox and CBS with Penley paintings. In conservative circles, Penley is known as more than an artist—he is also something of a media personality. He frequently appears on Fox & Friends, where he paints on-air and contributes droll commentary. As familiar as Penley’s work is to Fox viewers, he is far from renowned in the galleries of Chelsea. When I asked the influential art critic Jerry Saltz about Penley, he didn’t recognize the name. After spending a few minutes perusing Penley’s Web site, Saltz e-mailed me that he “saw only a 100 percent derivative person who makes things that look like art.” Penley, whose paintings feature graffiti, stenciling, and thick brushwork, considers Warhol and Basquiat his inspirations; Saltz said Penley’s art “could have been made by any second rate Expressionist from about 1945 on.” If the art world has little use for Penley, the feeling is mutual. As an undergraduate at the University of Georgia, he straddled the Greek scene and the art-class set. In a crowd of fraternity brothers, he was the most disheveled one; in a crowd of art students, he was the most preppy, recalls his friend David Bell, who now serves as his studio manager. But when Penley proceeded to New York for art school—having been kicked out of his fraternity house, several years after he stopped taking classes—he strained to fit in. One moment was particularly clarifying. Penley, who was then enrolled at the School of Visual Arts, wandered into a downtown gallery presided over by a black-clad gallerista. In the middle of the floor, he recalls,
painted immense murals for Coca-Cola’s was a pile of dirt surrounded by a velvet Atlanta headquarters and its bottling rope. He realized he could never go plant in Shanghai; the company calls him along with the “groupthink” required its “unofficial artist in residence.”) to appreciate such a piece. “The deep Luntz, together with the late Andrew meanings they apply to these ridiculous Breitbart, conservative publisher and pieces of artwork—it’s so pretentious provocateur, helped Penley find his and it’s so asinine,” he told me. He was current niche. Penley got to know the also repelled by what he perceived as two a decade ago through various mutual the art world’s ultimate hypocrisy: the friends; soon, Luntz and Breitbart were ostentatious rejection of capitalism by collecting Penley’s work (Luntz’s Los people dependent on wealthy patrons. Penley spent the next decade search- Angeles home is dominated by what he ing despairingly for his muse. “I wanted calls his “wall of heroes”—a series of to please my art teachers,” he says. But Penley portraits of Founding Fathers what he really wanted, more than anyand Abraham Lincoln) and inviting him thing, was to paint the to parties frequented themes that spoke to by politicians, CEOs, “Can’t any hip him—World War II scenes, celebrities, and media people be Winston Churchill, the figures on the right. U.S. presidents. He made Even as Penley likes conservative?,” his way back to Georgia, to joke that his main Penley asked where he continued to interest in politicians after a be paralyzed by the fear is commercial—“They RedState that his ideas were “trite have access to so many gathering. and canned.” Until, that rich people!”—he shares is, a friend who was openmany of his clients’ politing a restaurant in Atlanta called in a ical leanings: a deep belief in American panic. He needed art for the walls, and exceptionalism, anxiety about the nahe needed it in three days’ time. Pentional debt, concerns about dependence ley sprang into action, finally painting on government. His convictions, like his the things he’d always wanted to paint. art, stem from an abiding reverence for The resulting artwork was an immedipatriotism, faith, and tradition, which he ate sensation. A local lawyer who saw considers at least as profound as a pile of it promptly commissioned portraits of dirt on a gallery floor. “Look at history. his family and colleagues. Before long, Look at what centralized planning does Penley had a thriving business among for people, what wealth redistribution the moneyed class in Atlanta, and later does for people,” he said. “These people a booming corporate business. (He has that talk about America like it’s the worst country in the world—I think that’s to ignore the greatness of where we live.” As I shifted on my paint-encrusted chair, Penley’s soliloquies frequently drifted to his messy personal life: a divorce, a recent breakup, estrangement from various family members, the threat of a lawsuit by a former assistant. Penley’s three school-age children were with their mother that morning. Midway through our conversation, a pretty, heavily pierced 20-year-old assistant named Emily came downstairs, and Penley sent her out to buy eye drops. She’d crashed there the night before, he explained, taking pains to add that their One of Steve Penley’s many portraits of President Ronald Reagan relationship was strictly professional.
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BIG IN ...
ICELAND GOING PAGAN
Liberty 1, a painting by Steve Penley
After my visit with Penley, I called one of his former mentors, Jim Herbert, who is retired from the University of Georgia. Herbert, a painter and filmmaker whose art films have been featured at the Museum of Modern Art and in the Whitney Biennial, has never had much commercial success with his wall-size canvases of nudes in pornographic arrangements. He professed surprise at his pupil’s political prominence, and he pointed out that Penley has described himself as an illustrator, not a fine artist. But he added that illustration was a valuable calling in its own right. “I remember seeing a mural he did at a Chick-fil-A in Athens, Georgia,” Herbert said. “It was sort of an homage to the restaurant’s founders, with football heroes and images of campus. But I looked at it a lot of times. The color, the gestural feel of it—it really had a masterly touch.”
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EXT YEAR, for the first time in a millennium, a pagan temple will welcome Reykjavik’s faithful. The heathen house of worship, vaguely resembling a misshapen meringue, will be aligned with the sun’s path and burrowed into a hill near the city’s airport. There, like the Vikings of old, members of Iceland’s neopagan Ásatrú movement will be able to feast on horse meat, swig from goblets of mead, and praise deities such as Thor, the god of thunder, and Freyja, the goddess of love. At first glance, the scene might appear bizarrely anachronistic. But although Iceland officially adopted Christianity around A.D. 1000, paganism never really disappeared from the Nordic island. The religious traditions of the Norsemen lived on—in mythology and poetry, in popular Icelandic names like Thorstein, in widespread belief in invisible
elves and nature spirits. Eygló Svala Arnarsdóttir, an Icelandic journalist and a self-described atheist who has attended Ásatrú ceremonies, told me, “Icelanders have never really been strictly Christian,” noting that when they accepted Christianity, they did so under the condition that they be permitted to quietly practice paganism. “It’s not that people necessarily believe in the old Norse gods or have secret ceremonies in their basement,” she said. Instead, she explained, pagan values are “ingrained into our culture.” Ásatrú was founded in 1972, but its following has climbed steeply in recent years, doubling since 2009 to nearly 2,700 members. (Iceland’s population is only 329,000.) Explanations for paganism’s resurgence range from disaffection with the state Lutheran Church, to spiritual dislocation in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis, to a harmony between the homespun
Members of Iceland’s neopagan Ásatrú movement
faith and Icelanders’ liberal values, including support for environmentalism and gay marriage. Indeed, Ásatrú approved gay ceremonies in 2003, seven years before same-sex marriage became legal in Iceland. The Web site Gay Iceland recently reported that, amid a broader boom in gay Icelandic destination weddings, “more and more travellers are opting to get married here in the Old Norse way.” Ásatrú’s chief priest, Hilmar Örn Hilmarsson, told the Web site that he attributed the “explosion” in pagan same-sex weddings to the fact that “pagan belief is very inclusive.” Wayne Sievers, who traveled from Australia to wed his partner, Paul Gane, beside a fjord last year, agrees. Sievers told me that the Ásatrú priestess who married them said the round of thunder and lightning before their ceremony was a gesture of acceptance from Thor. As for whether Vikings back in the day were as tolerant as Iceland’s latter-day pagans, Arnarsdóttir hesitated. “I’m not really sure they were.” — Uri Friedman
STEVE PENLEY; REUTERS
Penley claims, in his sixth decade, to have finally liberated himself from the art world’s stifling prejudices. Although he complains that there are “lots of hands in the cookie jar,” business is good—he has a backlog of commissions worth about $2 million. (His manager had listed them by subject on a piece of butcher paper tacked to the wall: “Judge Birch portrait … Clemson Tiger Paw … Hank Aaron.”) And he says he no longer frets, as he used to, about the opinions of his painting teachers, one of whom once compared him to a “parlor magician”— an insult that stung at the time, but that he now embraces.
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Xcor are already accepting reservations for suborbital flights. Such flights will be quick—Xcor’s will last about half an hour, Bryan Campen, a spokesman for Xcor, told me. Passengers can expect to be in zero gravity within five minutes of takeoff. After floating for another five or so minutes, they will descend back to Earth, experiencing 30 seconds of teeth-gnashing 4G reentry—about the same as on an intense roller-coaster ride— before gliding to the ground. These flights will take off and land in the same spot, but within a few decades, spaceflight could become the fastest way to travel internationally—making it possible to get from New York City to Tokyo in 90 minutes, Campen said.
Moving to Mars How humans will find a home beyond Earth BY A L A N A S E M U E L S
N E DAY, W H E N E A RT H is destroyed by war or rising seas or a wayward asteroid, humanity will be extinguished—and along with it reality television, baseball stadiums, and thousands of recipes for guacamole, with and without peas. Unless, that is, we’ve established a colony somewhere in space. “History has shown that extinction events happen on Earth,” Pat Troutman, a senior technologist at NASA’s Langley Research Center, told me. “We need to establish a second independent biosphere for the future of humanity.” That idea may sound far-fetched, but scientists are working hard to make it a reality. What would it take,
A BRIEF CHRONICLE OF LIFE IN SPACE H ISTO RY
130 B . C .: Hipparchus, a Greek astronomer, draws the first accurate map of the stars.
and how might we use the resources beyond Earth’s atmosphere? I recently talked with aerospace engineers, entrepreneurs, and researchers to find out what our future in space will look like, in the near term and in centuries to come.
Private aerospace companies are developing reusable spacecraft, which will dramatically cut the cost of launches, because we won’t need to build a new vessel each time we want to leave Earth’s atmosphere. Elon Musk’s SpaceX, for example, is on the brink of launching a reusable spaceship. Such vessels may soon make commercial spaceflight possible: Companies such as Virgin Galactic and
1869: Edward Everett Hale’s story “The Brick Moon,” published serially in this magazine, is believed to be the first fictional account of a space colony.
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As the cost of launching rockets comes down, more people will be able to participate in aerospace ventures. Already, universities and research groups can send up CubeSats— satellites about the size of a bread box— for as little as $100,000, a fraction of the tens of millions of dollars a satellite launch usually costs. As more organizations send satellites into space, however, collisions become more likely. In 1967, 10 years after Sputnik’s launch, about 2,500 objects (satellites, used rockets, and debris) were orbiting Earth; now there are more than 20,000, according to Colonel John Giles, the commander of the Joint Space Operations Center, which identifies and tracks objects in space. A twocentimeter piece of debris can cause as much damage to a satellite in space as a speeding Jeep would on Earth, Giles told me. The U.S. military is developing a “space fence”—a radarlike system expected to be operational by 2018—to warn of impending collisions and beginning to plan for a time when adversaries might try to take out satellites that are crucial for GPS and communications.
1918: The rocket scientist Robert Goddard lays out a plan for space colonization. He seals his notes, and they’re not published for 50 years.
I l l u s t r a t i o n b y A LVA R O D O M I N G U E Z
“THE BRICK MOON”: WIKIMEDIA; GODDARD: NASA/WIKIMEDIA
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Men on the Moon
Though no American has set foot on the moon since 1972, China recently landed a rover there and plans to eventually set up a permanent lunar base. In many ways, the moon is a good place for a colony—it has water, and its soil could be mined for minerals and oxygen. The moon would also make a good jumping-off point for exploring the rest of the solar system. Its gravity is about one-seventh that of Earth, so launching spacecraft there would require much less energy. Chris Impey, an astronomy professor at the University of Arizona and the author of Beyond: Our Future in Space, thinks we may one day build a “space elevator” on the surface of the moon in order to make lunar launches even easier. The idea sounds like something out of a Roald Dahl book: A giant tapered cable made of superstrong material would reach 35,000 miles into space. Solar-powered elevator cars would climb up the cable, delivering spacecraft into the moon’s orbit. “Serious engineers have been investigating this for half a century,” Impey said. “We could almost build it right now.”
Missions to Mars …
Many scientists think Mars, which has large reserves of underground water, could be our best bet for a permanent colony on another planet. But the obstacles to living there are daunting. Humans can’t breathe the air, there’s no surface water, and the planet’s frequent dust storms would make farming difficult. Solar radiation is another problem, and sending messages to Earth (via radio waves traveling at the speed of light) can take more than 20 minutes, depending on where the planets are in their orbits. Still, scientists, architects, and engineers are brainstorming ways to overcome those obstacles. ZA Architects, a Ukrainian firm, has drawn up plans for
structures made out of Martian soil; robots could be sent ahead to build them. Other researchers propose inhabiting Mars’s lava tubes— underground caverns likely formed by volcanoes—since the tunnels also provide protection from solar radiation and dust storms and would keep the temperature relatively constant. And NASA is testing an inflatable habitat that could be deployed on the surface of Mars. If a group of humans were to live on Mars for centuries with little or no contact with Earth, they would likely evolve, eventually becoming a different species, Impey told me. Because Mars has less gravity, scientists believe humans would slowly grow taller and their cardiovascular systems would become weaker. They’d also have less body hair (because they’d have to stay indoors or wear space suits, they wouldn’t need the protection from the elements), and their controlled diet might result in smaller teeth. But that’s assuming, of course, that humans can reproduce in Mars’s gravity—an untested proposition.
... And Beyond
In or near the moon’s orbit, there exist a few spots, called Lagrange points, where an object is pulled neither to the moon nor to Earth. A space station orbiting one of these points could stay in place for a long time without floating away. Eventually, Pat Troutman told me, one of those areas could serve as a harbor for ships going out farther into the universe, a sort of Rotterdam of the solar system. Resupplying and refueling would be costly from Earth, but, aided by robots, astronauts could pull a large boulder from an asteroid, tow it to a stable area, and mine it for water and oxygen, which could be turned into rocket propellant, Troutman said. The dwarf planet Ceres, the largest object in the asteroid belt, may
have big reserves of water, making it a potential base for more refueling, Troutman told me. And if Mars turns out to be un inhabitable, the Jovian system—Jupiter and its moons—might be a good alternative, he said. It, too, has water, and is largely protected from the sun’s radiation. The universe contains an almost incomprehensible number of stars—our galaxy alone has hundreds of billions, and there exist hundreds of billions of galaxies—and an even greater number of planets. Current technology isn’t very good at determining which of those planets might be habitable—or already inhabited, Sara Seager, a professor of planetary science and physics at MIT, told me. But our view of the galaxy could become a little clearer in 2018 with the launch of the $9 billion James Webb Space Telescope. It will sit 1 million miles from Earth, where it will search for gases that look out of place in the atmospheres of other planets, signaling vapors that might be produced by other life-forms. Sending a probe is likely the only way to know for sure whether extraterrestrial species exist. But even travel ing at one-tenth the speed of light, which some physicists believe might be possible, getting to the nearest star—25 trillion miles away—would take about 43 years. (Getting to the moon at that speed, by comparison, would take about 13 seconds.) Some physicists theorize that humans could one day get to far-off stars faster by warping space-time— essentially pushing a spacecraft forward by rapidly expanding the empty space behind it. The theory is unproved, and the process would require massive amounts of energy. Still, many scientists remain optimistic about the possibility of a manned mission beyond our solar system. “I have no doubt it’s going to happen,” Troutman said. “Just maybe not in my lifetime.” 2015
Fruit flies are the first creatures to leave Earth’s atmosphere.
Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walk on the moon.
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1998: Construction begins on the International Space Station.
2051: The first Mars colony is established.
F R U I T F LY : W I K I M E D I A ; A L D R I N : A S S O C I AT E D P R E S S ; P O S T E R : S PA C E X / W I K I M E D I A
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The IceCube Neutrino Observatory is unlocking the secrets of the extreme universe through research at the South Pole. Their teams use Slack, an easy-to-use l;vv-]bm]-rr|_-|bm|;]u-|;vb|_ou;bvঞm]|ooѴv-m7]-|_;uv-ѴѴou1ollmb1-ঞom bmom;rѴ-1; |Ľv|;-louhl-7;vblrѴ;uķlou;rѴ;-v-m|ķ-m7lou;ruo71ঞ ;
work on purpose
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•WORKS IN PROGRESS
The Architects’ Dream Factory Why the country’s most notable building facades get their start in Kansas City BY K R I STO N C A P P S
VEN IF THEY wind
up somewhere else, the most-interesting American buildings are constructed in Kansas City. That’s where the A. Zahner Company, a materials lab and fabrication shop known for its inventive use of metal, is based. For most of its 118 years, the firm was a sheeting and decking company with a steady business in tin roofs. That changed in 1983, when L. William Zahner—the greatgrandson of the company’s founder—met the architect Frank Gehry. At the time, Gehry was just beginning to explore erecting curvilinear
designs with seemingly impossible materials. Zahner subsequently worked with Gehry to fabricate the frenetic steel-and-aluminum exterior of the Experience Music Project Museum 1 , in Seattle, a pathbreaking 1
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achievement for metals and architecture alike. Today, Zahner’s client list could be mistaken for a roll call of Gehry’s rivals, among them Zaha Hadid, Herzog & de Meuron, Diller Scofidio + Renfro, Antoine Predock, Tadao Ando, Thom Mayne, and Daniel Libeskind. The company doesn’t build much “heavy structure,”
as Andrew Manto, one of Zahner’s design engineers, puts it, but instead focuses on unique surfaces, such as the copper-screen exterior of San Francisco’s de Young Museum. Zahner also takes on other restoration and engineering projects; last year, Kerry “KB” Butler, the plant’s lead welder, helped perform a core analysis of the stainless-steel-clad Gateway Arch, in St. Louis, to see how it’s holding up. Zahner is typically working on dozens of projects at any given time, their parts in various stages of planning, manufacturing, and fieldtesting 2 . Earlier this year, one of those projects was a shiny new shell 3 for the Petersen Automotive Museum, in Los Angeles, which
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•WORKS IN PROGRESS
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its creations outside, to see how they look (and function) in the real world. For the Petersen, this meant constructing a scale mock-up of the museum’s “ribbons” 2 . Finally, Zahner’s creations are sent via semitruck or shipping container to their destination, where they will be put together 6 .
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The humming, thumping shop floor is littered with parts in various states of finish. Among the machines frequently in use are a turret punch, which can notch holes of virtually any size and shape into almost any material, and a high-pressure water jet that can zip through metal. Zahner’s central innovation, known as the Zahner Engineered Profiled Panel Systems (ZEPPS), demonstrates how far digitally driven manufacturing has come. Picture two shapes: a cube and a Möbius strip. The cube is straightforward to build, but the latter requires custom components. The ZEPPS process marries digital
modeling with fabrication to make such pieces possible. Using this method, Zahner can build something as complex as the Petersen’s winding ribbons 7 —no two panels of which are the same—as easily as if they were being assembled from a kit. Out in the yard, draft models of building facades hang on multistory support stands, alongside a sample of the material used for the Experience Music Project Museum, the firm’s first digital-modeling commission. The sample’s curvature is rougher, and its brushing a little less refined, than that of the Petersen ribbons. But it is Zahner’s Model T, and so it stays. “It’s a canonical building for us,” Manto says. “It was the point we jumped from tin roofs to something much more ambitious.”
1 , 2 , 5 , 6 , 7 : A . Z A H N E R CO M PA N Y ; 3 , 4 ( R E N D E R I N GS ) : KO H N P E D E RS E N FOX ASS O C I AT ES
opened in 1994 and is scheduled to reopen in December following a $125 million renovation by the New York architecture firm Kohn Pedersen Fox Associates. If the original Petersen museum were a car, you might say that the renovation preserves the chassis while providing a new body—one designed to fit right over the original frame 4 . One part of the Zahner plant is essentially a tech firm, where design engineers use custom software to imagine metal surfaces and facades that in many cases have no precedent. The other part is a 50,000-square-foot metals shop 5 , where technicians use machines to cut, punch, fold, and patinate metals with precision. Work flows back and forth between the shop floor and the computer lab as engineers and craftspeople sort out riddles in aluminum, steel, titanium, zinc, and other exotic materials. Part of Zahner’s process involves erecting models of
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Google’s Biggest Bet Most conglomerates fail—will Alphabet be any different? BY J E R RY U S E E M
F Y O U G O O G L E the word conglomerate, you’ll learn that its original meaning was geological: basically, a rock that’s composed of different bits of rock, held together by some sort of clay, silt, or sand. Its corporate sense—“a hodgepodge of different enterprises all roped together under one name,” as Life magazine once explained it—burst onto the scene in the 1960s, when, for a brief and madcap moment, sticking Paramount Pictures, Consolidated Cigars, Beautyrest mattresses, and the New York Knicks into an amalgam called Gulf + Western seemed to make sense. It didn’t, and
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by the 1980s, this second meaning had become a corporate slur. “If you mix beef broth, lemon juice, and flour, you don’t get magic,” the conglomerator Harold Geneen wrote in 1997 after his Twinkies-and-rental-car empire, ITT, had returned to nature. “You get a mess.” Google will also inform you, of course, that Google has decided to reorganize itself into “a General Electric–like conglomerate called Alphabet.” Those were The New York Times’ first words on the announcement, and they’re loaded not only with that dirty word, conglomerate, but with two very sparkly ones: General Electric, the name of the most consistent corporate performer of the 20th century and the rare conglomerate that both predated and outlived the craze for them in the ’60s and ’70s. What to make of Google’s future? To answer that question, it helps to first understand why GE isn’t out in the conglomerate boneyard. What put the other conglomerates there is no great mystery. Gathering dissimilar businesses under a common roof was supposed to make each more
valuable. They could balance out one another’s risks, borrow cheaply with a common credit card, and share access to the superior management minds at headquarters. But it actually made them less valuable. Avis Rent a Car didn’t have anything to teach Continental Baking, and vice versa, so neither grew any faster. The management minds at headquarters couldn’t allocate capital as well as the market could. And by the late 1970s, investors looking for diversification could simply buy a mutual fund. Shareholders tired of the poor performance. ITT began unwinding itself in the mid-’80s. The lavish Gulf + Western building was stripped to its skeleton and renamed Trump International Hotel & Tower about a decade later. GE’s persistence is harder to explain. The company is in the midst of unloading most of GE Capital (a major drag on its stock price since the 2008 financial crisis) and its homeappliance business. But even after that’s done, its earnings will come from lightbulbs, locomotives, software, wind turbines, jet-engine maintenance, ultrasound equipment, and all the other products of a “multi-business industrial company”—the phrase GE executives gently suggest in place of conglomerate. This portfolio produces a river of profits that in the eyes of most analysts makes GE worth more than the sum of its parts. So what is GE’s secret sauce? The most common answer is the one I got from Jeffrey Immelt back in 2000, a few days after he’d been named Jack Welch’s successor as CEO. We were sitting in GE’s famed managementtraining facility in Crotonville, New York. What, I asked, was GE’s core expertise? Immelt responded, “We pick great people, we make them better, and we retain them.” Only after a second or two of silence did I realize that this was his whole response. But really, no elaboration was necessary. As we met, Immelt’s two defeated rivals for the top job were being scooped up to run Home Depot and 3M. GE’s unmatched record for cultivating management talent spoke for itself.
Illustration by JUSTIN RENTERIA
The “talent factory” theory of GE bodes well for Google. It, too, is celebrated for a rigorous peopledevelopment process that has produced, among others, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg. But three years after our first meeting, I met with Immelt again—and heard him articulate a second, lesserknown ingredient in the secret sauce. Actually, I coaxed him out onto the roof of Rockefeller Center, to stand just above the giant GE letters. What he told me out there, I’m not sure. (“God, this is something” is all I could make out above the wind.) Back inside, though, Immelt talked about “big bets,” and the importance of making the kind of bets that only GE had the wherewithal to make. He was invoking an earlier epoch of GE history, mostly forgotten, when the company was less about scientific management and more about science. This is where the Google comparison gets interesting. Inside the House of Magic—the nickname for GE’s research lab in Schenectady, New York, which opened in 1900—some of the most eminent scientific minds of the day were set loose on far-out projects. Some, like an electric-car charger, proved as ill-fated as Google X’s explorations of hoverboards and teleportation. But others, like the X-ray tube, opened up entirely new fields: radio, medical imaging. There was no one place on the balance sheet where the House of Magic’s impact could be seen, GE’s chairman, Owen Young, said in 1930. “It is the balance sheet itself.”
H E H O U S E O F M A G I C never disappeared, explains Christopher Hunter, the director of archives at Schenectady’s Museum of Innovation and Science. Rather, it disappeared from view. In the 1950s, the managementtraining facility in Crotonville took its place as GE’s most heralded incubator. But the managers created at Crotonville, including Welch and Immelt, were the inheritors of a corporate success story built from the company’s forgotten product lab—which Immelt has revived and reemphasized.
the company that eventually did much For Google—launcher of Earthof that commercializing, after Xerox imaging satellites, driverless cars, and a blithely invited Steve Jobs in for a tour.) crusade to end death—the “innovation What was the difference between GE hothouse” theory of GE bodes well, too. and Xerox in this regard? General Electric was clearly the Google The inner workings of each of its day. Is it premature to call Google company’s R&D process, fortunately, the GE of the 21st century? have been the subject of detailed Actually, yes. GE makes money lots histories. Dealers of Lightning, Michael of different ways. Google does many Hiltzik’s history of Xerox PARC, contains things, but it makes almost all its money numerous cautionary tidbits for Google. one way: through online advertising. For one, relying on moon shots while This business accounts for nearly belittling incremental innovations is 90 percent of the company’s revenues. dangerous. Second, it’s not true that Everything else—YouTube, Android, Chrome, Nest, Fiber, Gmail, Google “if you have the smartest people, you’ll end up ahead,” as one PARC executive Earth, Google+, Google Drive, Google flatly professed. What comes across in Docs, Google Maps, Google Capital— Hiltzik’s book, above all, is the mutual contributes just 10 percent. Google, sense of alienation within the company. financially speaking, is a monolith. Xerox’s businesspeople didn’t speak Bear in mind that, as late as the the language of science. Its scientists 1930s, lighting accounted for up to twodidn’t speak the language of business. thirds of GE’s profits. But by the time And neither side seemed the lighting business lost interested in learning. its pop as a profit engine— Google Complaining about the as maturing businesses are does many idiots in corporate or the wont to do—some of the things, but flakes at PARC was easier. company’s other projects it makes “So few of us accepted had kicked in as profit almost all responsibility” for overengines in their own right. its money coming that language This points to a third, vital one way: barrier, observed Bob ingredient in the GE recipe through Metcalfe, a co-inventor that Google has yet to online of the Ethernet at Xerox obtain: mastery of the very advertising. PARC, who went on to difficult process of turning found 3Com. cool science projects into Both history and geography may commercially viable products. Without have contributed to the problem. PARC this capacity, GE would have burned was established with money from a out long ago. And without this capacity, product monopoly it played no role Google will eventually risk comparison in creating. And it was located in Palo to another 20th-century icon—Xerox. Alto, California; Xerox, in Stamford, Like Google today, Xerox in the Connecticut. 1970s was a thrilling tech company GE’s Schenectady researchers, by whose massive profits gushed from a contrast, were wedged in cheek by jowl narrow source, the photocopier. Intent with manufacturing, sales, and every on extending its technological lead, other corporate function. And job No. 1 Xerox poured some of those profits in the early days at the House of Magic into Xerox PARC, the lab it created was securing GE’s then-tenuous footing to develop the technologies of the in the lighting business. It delivered big future. But Xerox’s copier business lost in 1910, with the tungsten-filament steam before any of the revolutionary lamp—an innovation that conveyed technologies that PARC pioneered—the decisive control of the lighting market mouse, the Ethernet, the overlapping to the mother ship. windows and icons you see on your The steady profits this ensured computer today—were successfully allowed the lab to widen its scope of commercialized. (Apple, famously, was
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•STUDY OF STUDIES DI SPATCH ES
exploration. But being thrust, very early, onto the front lines of the company’s main commercial battle also left a lasting cultural effect. The effort forced scientists to think like industrialists and industrialists to think like scientists. In the decades that followed, manufacturing people would routinely ask for lab input on this or that problem. And the researchers, to test the viability of this or that contrivance, weren’t averse to building small, working factories within the lab. “The company is not primarily a philanthropic asylum for indigent chemists, and I must not let it become one even secondarily,” wrote the lab’s guiding hand, Willis Whitney— who, at the same time, was known for popping his head into offices to ask “Are you having fun?” There was, to be sure, plenty of friction between the commercial imperative on the one hand, and the joy of discovery on the other. But the magic lay in their uneasy coexistence—something GE understood and embraced. The most worrying thing for Google, then, should be the lack of commercial imperative in so many of its operations. In that light, the most promising thing about Google is its reorganization into Alphabet—a step that will inevitably put pressure on its newly autonomous divisions to produce something besides giant losses. Nest (Google’s push into the automated home) and Fiber (its push to provide super-fast cable and Internet services) seem closest to becoming what Google’s executive chairman, Eric Schmidt, has called “real businesses.” Steve Jobs once warned Larry Page, a Google co-founder, that Google was in danger of becoming Microsoft—a company caught, maybe perpetually, in the Xerox trap. Perhaps Alphabet is Google’s way of putting a gun to its own head and forcing itself to become something more than an interesting collection of rocks. Jerry Useem has covered business and economics for Inc. magazine, The New York Times, Fortune, and other publications.
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Tall Tales The evolutionary value of urban legends B Y M AT T H E W H U T S O N
OMAN’S Butt Implants Explode While Doing Squats for an Instagram Workout Video.” This headline appeared on a fake-news Web site in July, only to be heedlessly picked up by other media outlets, thereby initiating one of the year’s most cringe-inducing urban legends. What leads a piece of modern folklore to gain such traction? A number of studies have shown that humans tend to remember certain kinds of information better than others, such as knowledge that might keep us alive or help us find a mate. In one study, subjects were asked to read an urban legend, rewrite it from memory, and then pass their version to the next person (a sequence resembling a game of telephone). At the end of the chain, the legends whose themes could have social or survival-related utility (nudity, spiders, that kind of thing) were recalled most accurately— as evolutionary theory might predict [1 ]. Many popular myths carry implicit warnings. When researchers analyzed 220 urban legends, they found that the stories were much more likely to mention hazards than benefits. This makes sense: Because believing THE STUDIES:  Stubbersfield et al., “Serial Killers, Spiders and Cybersex” (British Journal of Psychology, May 2015)  Fessler et al., “NegativelyBiased Credulity and the
in a fake hazard is less harmful than failing to believe in a real one, evolutionarily speaking, we should err on the side of being overcredulous about threats. And indeed, the researchers reported, test subjects found statements about topics ranging from German shepherds to Lasik surgery more believable when they mentioned risks, like mauling or double vision [ 2 ] .
Other research suggests that we may have an incentive not just to believe fearsome legends but to pass them on—sharing information about threats can make you seem more reliable. When people in one study read two descriptions of the same product, one of which mentioned a threat (“If you press control keys during installation, the software may damage your hard disk”), they rated the writer of the threatening description as more competent [ 3 ] . One theory of cultural
Cultural Evolution of Beliefs” (PLOS One, April 2014)  Boyer and Parren, “ThreatRelated Information Suggests Competence” (PLOS One, June 2015)
transmission argues that stories, myths, and religious concepts are most likely to endure when they have enough familiar elements to feel plausible, but also have two to three “counterintuitive” elements that make them memorable—a phenomenon known as minimally counterintuitive (MCI) bias. One study analyzed 45 online versions of the ubiquitous Bloody Mary story—say her name to a mirror three times, and she comes out to kill you—and found that the average number of counterintuitive elements was 2.36 [ 4 ] . Knowing that an urban legend isn’t true won’t necessarily inoculate you against its virality. A recent study, to be published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, found that reading a false statement (say, “The Atlantic Ocean is the largest ocean on Earth”) made people more likely to rate the statement as true when they encountered it a second time—even if they were told on both readings that it might be false, and even if they later demonstrated that they knew the Pacific was in fact the largest ocean. Exposure breeds familiarity, which fosters credulity—even when you know better [ 5] . Which is to say, stories about exploding implants might be with us for a while. Matthew Hutson is the author of The 7 Laws of Magical Thinking.
 Stubbersfield and Tehrani, “Expect the Unexpected? Testing for Minimally Counterintuitive (MCI) Bias in the Transmission of Contemporary Legends” (Social Science
Computer Review, Feb. 2013)  Fazio et al., “Knowledge Does Not Protect Against Illusory Truth” (Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, forthcoming)
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How to Make Money in Music BY W I L L I A M B R E N N A N SI N C E AT LE AST 1 9 0 8 , when the songwriter Jack Norworth immortalized Cracker Jack in “Take Me Out to the Ball Game,” brand names have wormed their way into consumers’ minds through popular music. But their
prevalence atop today’s charts—from Drake divulging his soda preference (“I avoided the coke game and went with Sprite instead”), to Rihanna namechecking her sunglasses (“Got my Ray-Bans on and I’m feelin’ hella cool
The new millennium has seen a sharp increase in brand references, which popped up in the top 30 Billboard songs 109 times in 2012—compared with just 47 times in 2002 and zero in 1962.
The growth $40M U.S. product-placement has been $35M revenues for music fueled in part by (in inflation-adjusted $30M 2014 dollars) brands doing what $25M brands have always $20M done: seeking out new marketing $15M platforms. Accord$10M ing to one estimate, $5M revenues from product-placement $0 1984 1994 2004 2014 deals in the music industry—for both lyrical and video promotions—nearly quadrupled between 2004 and 2014.
120 Number of words in the top 30 songs of each year that reference product brands
100 80 60 40 20 0
Lyrical Product Placements in Top Songs
Since these deals are confidential, there’s no way to know which product references are bankrolled—but industry experts say that brands are paying for a growing share. And according to Adam Kluger, the CEO of the Kluger Agency, which specializes in lyrical product placements, a shout-out to a brand in a top single “can easily offset the entire production and marketing budget” for the song.
It’s little wonder that product placement is on the rise, given that revenues from digital downloads and streaming have so far utterly failed to make up for plummeting CD sales.
U.S. music-industry revenues (in inflationadjusted 2014 dollars) $15B
0 1999 CD sales
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2009 Digital sales
Increasingly, artists have also been offering their music to brands in a more overt way: for use in ads. Deals to place songs in commercials and other visual media—long dismissed as “selling out”—brought in record global revenues of $347 million last year. “The stigma about licensing to advertisers began to lift, not coincidentally, at exactly the same time [album] sales dropped,” says Bethany Klein, a professor at the University of Leeds, as artists realized that “this is the new way to make money and be heard.”
ASS OC I AT E D P R ESS ; Sources: 1. Gloor (“Songs as Branding Platforms?,” Journal of the Music & Entertainment Industry Educators Association, 2014). 2. PQ Media (estimates adjusted for inflation by The Atlantic). 3. Adam Kluger. 4. Recording Industry Association of America. 5. International Federation of the Phonographic Industry.
tonight”), to the boy band 5 Seconds of Summer crooning about a pair of briefs (“You look so perfect standing there in my American Apparel underwear”)— hints at how musicians are adapting to a changing marketplace.
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CULTURE FILE THE OMNIVORE
Twilight of the Headbangers How long can the legends of heavy metal stay on their feet? BY J A M E S PA R K E R
HERE’D LEMMY GO? The stage is empty: vacated mics, cooling drum stool, the blocky, buzzing statuary of amps and speakers. Motörhead, the legendary Motörhead, is not there anymore. I’m in a heavy-metal hangar in Salt Lake City in late August, and singer/bassist Ian Fraser “Lemmy” Kilmister has just walked off, shakily and in evident distress, after only four songs, anxiously pursued by his drummer, Mikkey Dee, and guitarist, Phil Campbell. A man in a bandanna approaches me, pop-eyed with dire foreknowledge: “He’s not comin’ back, man! He’s not comin’ back! He’s too old!” Then he reels away, into the hormonal half-smoke and press of bodies in front of the stage. Should we riot? Are we sad? Is it possible that Lemmy— 69 years old, pacemakered, diabetic—Lemmy, the great survivor, opp os er, griz zled odds-beater, humanity’s middle finger, was crying? “Listen,” he’d said to us before exiting, in his familiar English roar-gasp, that voice of fiery exhaustion. “I’m really sorry— I can’t tell you how sorry I am—but my back’s gone. I’ve got this bad back and … I can’t breathe up here either.” Then he covered his face with his hands, and he left us. Now what? Ear-hum, and slitherings of suddenly surplus electricity. People are milling around pre-violently; a scuffle breaks out to my left, a centripetal skirmish sucking in
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bouncers, and the smell of snuffed adrenaline rises. Diehards are chanting: “Lem-my! Lem-my!” But Lemmy’s not comin’ back, man. He’s too old. It’s time to go, time to get out, into the Salt Lake City night, where the bike engines phlegmily rumble and the sprinklers complacently hiss. What if—a numb little thought, bubble-like in the desert air—what if this was the last Motörhead show? There is a second prime, we are discovering, in the life cycle of a rock-and-roller, a madder and more precarious second heyday. The potency of early manhood passes, and its beauty is a memory. Barely a blip now travels around the once-blazing circuit of your inspiration. Your bones ache, your voice is shot, and the rags of age are upon you. But you keep going. You keep playing. And gradually this becomes the thing about you: You’re still there. You endure, you defy, and the older and gnarlier you get, the more magnificent the rebellion is. Creaking recklessly, in swaggering infirmity, you sally forth; you hit the road again and again (and again) and you give the people what they want. And now, check it out, they don’t just worship you. Now they love you. In hard rock and heavy metal, of course, this dynamic and its attendant pathos are magnified, because in hard rock and heavy metal everything is magnified. Voices are distorted, amps are overdriven, performance is an onslaught. Volume projects power: A scream or chord, inhumanly sustained, outfaces mortality. And then there’s the lifestyle,
Illustration by BARRY BLITT
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a long-term test of the capacities. Some droop, some drop, but the music never subsides. Slayer just released Repentless, its first album without guitarist Jeff Hanneman, who died in 2013 of alcohol-related cirrhosis; now all of the band’s songs are written by Hanneman’s co-maniac, Kerry King. Iron Maiden has a new album out, too. Bruce Dickinson recorded the (characteristically soaring and outrageous) vocals with an undiagnosed tumor on his tongue. (“[They] took a scan of it,” he told the BBC , “and went, ‘You have head and neck cancer.’ So I went, ‘That’s a bit of a blow.’ ”)
The Culture File THE OMNIVORE
WEEK BEFORE the Motörhead show in Utah, my friend John and I drive out to Gillette Stadium, home of the New England Patriots, to see AC/DC. We make a fragile pair in John’s Mini Cooper: me, nibbling fennel seeds to soothe a grumbling tummy; him, munching lorazepam for the management of big-crowd anxiety. But the promise of AC/DC, of massive, major-chord resolution, shines before us like the promise of health. This is the music of ragers and rallies and bombing runs, of elemental affirmation and destruction. Like Motörhead, AC/DC comes out of the ’70s, when hard rock was gearing up for the domination it would enjoy in the ’80s; like Motörhead, AC/DC has hardly changed, riding out every subsequent fashion and fragmentation. Now, I tell John, now is the time to see AC/DC—not in 1977, in the band’s hooligan pomp, when its split-the-atom Australian blues was so fresh as to be almost avantgarde, but tonight, in 2015, in its wild senescence. We pay $25 to park three-quarters of a mile away from the stadium and continue on foot, passing a man dressed in the folkloric costume of lead guitarist Angus Young: schoolboy cap, blazer, and shorts. He wields a cardboard guitar. For AC/DC, too, it’s been a rugged season. Last year it was announced that rhythm guitarist Malcolm Young, 62, Angus’s brother, was suffering from dementia and could no longer continue in the band. Grotesque irony, that Malcolm, author of the most unforgettable riffs in rock and roll, should now be unable to remember them. Then Phil Rudd, the drummer whose disco-pistoned simplicity drove AC/DC from 1975 to 1983 and again from 1994 to 2014, was arrested last November and later convicted of drug possession and threatening to kill a former employee. Chris Slade is now on the drums, while Malcolm’s slot has been filled by his 58-year-old nephew, Stevie. (The Youngs are a clannish crew.) Stevie Young fits right in, presenting next to Angus a spectacle of withered and slightly vicious consanguinity.
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The bloodyminded, deathdemolishing longevity of AC/DC and Motörhead cannot be counterfeited or repeated.
But Malcolm is irreplaceable: the huge, benign tensions he summoned on the fretboard of his Gretsch, the anti-chords called into being by his chopped super-chords, his grimly joyful face and grimly twitching body. Then again, replacing the irreplaceable is what AC/DC does. When Bon Scott, the original singer, died in 1980 at the age of 33, after choking on his own vomit in a parked car, it took the band mere weeks to hire Brian Johnson and start recording Back in Black. As dusk falls and the air cools, the great bowl of the Gillette scintillates with the restless, insectile blink-blink of a thousand pairs of toy devil horns— tiny red lights, everywhere. You can get your horns at the concession stand, all part of AC/DC’s jolly postmodern diabolism: “Hell Ain’t a Bad Place to Be,” etc. And there on the big screen is Angus, with his pale, bare shins and his gibbering kneecaps and his head going up and down, up and down, in a contemplative frenzy, a 60-year-old man dressed like a schoolboy. He strikes his black Gibson, right arm lifting away from it in tribute. It takes a second for the sound to reach us, and in that time lag is the span of our adoration. This is the scalar difference between Motörhead and AC/DC: Lemmy has always spoken profoundly and poetically to his constituency of banged-up bikers and disaffectees; Angus is global. But when it’s done—and it’s almost done— there will be no more Anguses, no more Lemmys. The bloody-minded, death-demolishing longevity of AC/DC and Motörhead cannot be counterfeited or repeated. Lemmy once roadie’d for Jimi Hendrix; these days, retiring postshow to his tour-bus bunk, he reads P. G. Wodehouse. His mic stand, for 40 years, has been higher than his head, microphone angled downward, the better to catch the heavy-metal plasma shooting from his larynx. And now he’s disappearing into the dark wings of the stage, taking with him his grave-digger wit and his gnashing bass and the gorgeous, ruinous momentum of his music. You’re not supposed to go gentle into Dylan Thomas’s good night. Rage, rage, and all that. But it makes you gentle, the going. It takes your strength. The night after Salt Lake City, Motörhead canceled a show in Denver. In Austin, four days later, Lemmy left the stage after three songs. Lem-my! Lem-my! I can hear the crowd, the lowing, forsaken mob, letting off steam and honoring his frailty. In the middle of all this, Motörhead’s new album, Bad Magic, was released. There’s a track on it called “Thunder and Lightning”: Stand on the stage, promises made / Under the blade, scratching and biting. How hard it must be, and what strange grandeur in the effort, to try to keep those promises. To stay standing, even as the blade comes down.
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The Crucible (1953), described the witch scare as a kind of reactionary political spasm in response to the changing conditions of early America, “a perverse manifestation of the panic which set in among all classes when the balance began to turn toward greater individual freedom.” In the 1970s, a behavioral psychologist suggested that the Salem villagers’ rantings and ravings were caused by a hallucinogenic fungus on moldy rye bread—that colonial Massachusetts was, in effect, just having a really bad trip.
How Satan Came to Salem The true story of the witch trials BY A DA M G O O D H E A R T
T BEGAN AMONG CHILDREN. In the village minister’s house, two little girls crawled under the furniture, made silly noises, spread their arms out like wings and tried to fly. The strangest thing—to any person who has spent more than 10 minutes on a grade-school playground—is that it was strange at all. But standards of behavior for young girls were more exacting in 17thcentury New England than they are today. The primary sources adopt a tone of perplexity. Nine-year-old Betty Parris, the parson’s daughter, and her 11-year-old cousin, Abigail Williams, had always been model children, “well Educated and of good Behaviour,” according to one chronicle. Soon, word spread through Salem: They had been bewitched. Clergymen came, then constables. This was in January and February 1692. By autumn, it had all developed into very grown-up business. Twenty men and women, ages 20 to 80, had been executed under the imprimatur of the highest officials in Massachusetts. (Contrary to popular memory, however, no one was burned alive. Nineteen people were hanged, and one man was pressed to death with large stones in a failed attempt to extract a confession.) As many as 165 more, in two dozen villages and towns, had been publicly accused of sorcery; they ranged from an American Indian slave to one of the richest merchants in the colony. Then, suddenly, as 1692 turned into 1693, the executions stopped, the accusers fell silent, the jails emptied. Stolid farmers’ wives no longer gibbered and convulsed; New England skies were no longer vexed nightly by the aerial traffic of witches and demons. For the next 300 years and more, people were left wondering exactly what had happened. If 17th-century accounts of the events in Salem seem convoluted, contradictory, and blinkered by the preoccupations of their era, so too do many of the later explanations. There have been feminist interpretations, of course, and Marxist ones, and Freudian ones. Arthur Miller, in the opening pages of
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LIBRARY OF CONGRESS
O M AY B E I T ’ S a reflection of our own peculiar cultural moment that—especially in Stacy Schiff ’s new retelling, The Witches: Salem, 1692—the old Salem saga now reads most compellingly as a kind of true-life version of youngadult fiction. Pint-size wizards, talking cats, bloody bite marks, supernatural battles between rival factions of preteens—it’s all straight out of the pages of J. K. Rowling or the Twilight series. Rarely do children get star turns in historical narratives. Indeed, previous generations of chroniclers often downplayed this element of the witchcraft drama. Miller, for instance, raised Abigail Williams’s age from 11 to 17. But The Witches gives us scenes like the one in the Salem town meetinghouse on April 11, 1692, when the middle-aged matrons Sarah Cloyce and Elizabeth Procter faced a chorus of girlish accusers. Abigail recounted seeing Cloyce act as deacon at a satanic sabbath ceremony behind the parsonage, where 40 witches drank a communion of blood. When Procter took the stand, Abigail reached out to strike her in the face, only to have her fist magically unclench in midair; as her fingers brushed against the older woman’s hood, Abigail howled in pain as if scorched. Indeed the strongest evidence in the Salem courtroom that day, as on many others, was not verbal but visual. The gaping villagers and horrified clerics saw witches in action—or saw the awful effects that their black magic was apparently having on Abigail and 12-year-old Ann Putnam Jr., a mesmerizing choreography of gestures and paroxysms. “Look to her! She will have a fit presently,” one girl would cry out, pointing to another, who would promptly commence convulsing. Schiff writes: “At other times they warned, ‘We shall all fall!’ and seven or eight girls would collapse, raving, to the floor. For their predictive power the eleven- and twelve-year-old were soon dubbed ‘the visionary girls.’ ” Presiding over the courtroom circus that day was the grave and incongruous figure of Thomas Danforth, the acting deputy governor of Massachusetts and Harvard’s longtime treasurer, one of several senior colonial officials who would quickly overshadow the local magistrates.
Almost anyone who has ever been 11 years old still knows how it feels to dwell in a world where ordinary play can tip suddenly into sadism; where whole empires of fantasy are built amid the geography of the everyday; where the dark corners in the house teem with prospective ghosts—and where the ultimate prize is getting a crowded roomful of adults to pay attention. A preteen has little sense of consequences for herself, much less for another person, let alone an entire village or province. What she does have, though, is an acute appreciation of the struggle for power—and, quite often, a well-honed skill at manipulating those who hold authority. The age of Cotton Mather had more in common with the era of Harry Potter literature than might at first appear. “If we are looking for a time when the level of parental anxiety about children matches that in the early twenty-first century,” the British historian Hugh Cunningham has written, “it is perhaps among the Puritans of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries that we will find it.” To the disciples of Calvin, no infant soul was too tiny to become a battleground between light and darkness. From Puritan presses in England streamed forth the first-ever flood of children’s literature; their J. K. Rowling was one James Janeway, whose runaway best seller A Token for Children, Being an Exact Account of the Conversion, Holy and Exemplary Lives, and Joyful Deaths, of Several Young Children (1671) was evidently every bit the lighthearted romp that its title suggests. Summing up what all good parents should teach their toddlers, one earlier Puritan was more concise: “Learn to die,” he wrote. Children on the American frontier, more so even than their English cousins, grew up amid a rich-hued panorama of death. “Everyone knew a story about a dismembering or an abduction,” Schiff writes. “That was especially true of the convulsing Salem girls, of whom at least half were refugees from or had been orphaned by attacks in ‘the last Indian war.’ ” No wonder that devils seemed real, that hell might wait behind any parlor door. Witchcraft in Salem would perhaps have remained a parsonage-size nightmare, though, had it not been for the adults. One moment children were playacting; the next, people’s grandparents were being publicly tortured to death. The crucial link was the Honorable Mr. Danforth and his ilk, the arbiters poised attentively at the edge of the schoolgirl tableau.
H I S I S T H E G R E AT E R M Y S T E R Y: How did those fantasizing children so easily pull thousands of sober adults into their enchanted wardrobe and out the other side? It’s here that Schiff ’s book is especially successful.
The Culture File
“Look to her! She will have a fit presently.”
THE WITCHES: SALEM, 1692 STACY SCHIFF Little, Brown
Many 19th- and 20th-century popular accounts of the Salem trials harped on the judges’ superstitious ignorance, as if the 1692 hysteria were a stray pocket of medieval shadow amid the incipient dawn of the Enlightenment. John Locke’s A Letter Concerning Toleration, after all, appeared three years before Cotton Mather’s witch chronicle, Wonders of the Invisible World. But Schiff points out that Mather, Danforth, and their colleagues were, if anything, too enlightened, at least by the standards of their era: “They were less out of their depths than they were swimming in information.” The whole scholarly infrastructure of the 17th century—books, universities, learned societies—helped disseminate accounts of witchcraft and its dangers to the far ends of the Christian world. The judges in Massachusetts, and probably also some of the accusers, were deeply influenced by accounts of a witch outbreak in distant Sweden some years earlier. Witchcraft was science, and vice versa; Locke believed in it, as did Robert Boyle and Isaac Newton. Even after the Salem tumult subsided, very few New Englanders at any social level rejected the existence of witchcraft; many still maintained that Satan’s minions had been busy in Massachusetts, only among the accusers rather than the accused. Perhaps they were right. The devil could scarcely have planned things more neatly, especially as more and more adults joined the ranks of the complainants. “Who doesn’t have a bone to pick with a neighbor?,” Schiff writes. “There were as many reasons to accuse someone of witchcraft in 1692 as there were to denounce him under the Nazi occupation of France: envy, insecurity, political enmity, unrequited love, love that had run its course.” Witchcraft certainly served the needs of colonial leaders like Mather and Danforth—until it didn’t. Recent political developments on both sides of the Atlantic were eroding the authority, spiritual and temporal, of the Puritan fathers. A touch of black magic couldn’t have come at a better time. To a modern reader, the witch scare seems like a sudden, disorienting irruption of the supernatural into everyday life. It probably felt that way to many in Salem, too, but at the same time it was also part of the daily grind of Puritanism, a reminder of the dark lord’s ubiquitous pluckings and pinchings. Nor was it only New England’s elites, presiding over trials and prayers, who turned Satan’s doings to their own purposes. Once the Salem accusers had won credibility, it was as easy for them to point fingers at a rich man as a poor one. One of the most memorable courtroom moments in The Witches comes when the bewitched girls,
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“snapping and sneering,” encircle John Alden, the oldest son of the famous Pilgrim leader, to accuse him of everything from practicing sorcery to sleeping with Indian women. (Their motives are unclear, but these children have clearly been paying attention to their elders’ gossip.) When the sturdy sea captain and merchant—his hands bound, his sword confiscated—stands at the mercy of village children he has never before set eyes on, the scene reads as an American revolution of sorts. Indeed, what ultimately ended the witchcraft indictments may have been the growing fear that anybody might be next. Schiff brings to bear a sensibility as different from the Puritans’ as can be imagined: gentle, ironic, broadly empathetic, with a keen eye for humor and nuance. There are no real demons in her telling, at any rate not in human form; even the judges are just insecure men stumbling through anxious times. Her account takes us deep into the political intrigues of the Massachusetts elite, struggling to regain its footing after new regimes in Britain successively revoked, then replaced, the colony’s founding charter—and, among other outrages, imposed a degree of religious pluralism on the Puritan theocracy. “Witchcraft effectively aroused a lapsed, sluggish generation, though not as the clergy had anticipated,” Schiff writes. “When the spell broke, the torrent of recriminations swept away a rich layer of faith.” In the aftermath, letters and sermons were burned; whole sections were ripped from village minute books. The witchcraft court’s official records probably vanished somewhere underfoot in the Stamp Act chaos of 1765, when a Boston mob sacked the home of Massachusetts’s last royal governor. But the Puritans—obsessive investigators and assiduous note-takers that they were—still left a rich trove of recorded details. When witchcraft was afoot, no scrap of evidence, no snippet of conversation, was too small to be filed away. Thanks to this, and to Schiff ’s narrative gifts, the present-day reader flits above New England’s smoky chimneys and thatched rooftops, swoops into the locked studies of magistrates and clergymen; stalks among the jealousies and rivalries of village schemers; even dwells briefly in the innermost thoughts of schoolchildren dead three centuries and more. It is wizardry of a sort—in a flash of brimstone, a whole world made wondrously visible. Adam Goodheart directs the C. V. Starr Center for the Study of the American Experience at Washington College and is the author of 1861: The Civil War Awakening.
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The Cliffhanger “Some people might call this crazy. I prefer to think of it as badass.” BY N AT H A N I E L R I C H
L E X H O N N O L D is always asked the same two questions: Aren’t you afraid you’re going to die? Why do you do this? This refers to climbing thousands of feet in the air, alone, with no harness, rope, or other safety equipment. Few professional climbers have risked “free soloing,” as it is known in the climbing community. Many of them have died trying. But Honnold climbs longer and more difficult routes than anyone previously thought possible— extraterrestrially named routes like Cosmic Debris, Astroman, and Heaven. He also climbs them in record time. “I get really tired of answering those questions over and over again,” Honnold says. But you can’t blame those who ask the questions: fans, friends, me, any rational, thinking, nonsuicidal human being. These are the obvious questions and also the ultimate ones. Why is it not enough to be one of the best climbers in the world? Why remove the protection? It’s as if Tom Brady declined to use pads and a helmet, or Serena Williams played a Grand Slam tournament in which the penalty for losing a set was beheading. At its most elite levels, climbing is already staggeringly dangerous. Falling boulders, frayed belay ropes, avalanches, broken carabiners and bolts—Rock and Ice magazine keeps a running tally of accidents. Recent entries include: “Bolt Breaks, Climber Falls to Death”; “Impaled by a Quickdraw”; “Earthquake, Avalanche, 21 Dead on Everest.” Honnold’s free soloing has brought him wealth and international recognition, but neither of these prizes seems to be his central motivation. He is grateful for his sponsorships—The North Face, La Sportiva, and Goal Zero (Clif Bar dropped him last year out of fear that he was “taking the element of risk to a place where we as a company are no longer willing to go”)—but mainly because they allow him to climb even more terrifying walls, in places like Chad and Patagonia. Honnold lives frugally: A Ford Econoline van has been his home since 2007. And while he seems to appreciate the fame, despite some protests to the contrary, he had, until recently, conducted many of his most daring ascents in secrecy. It was only when friends, told belatedly of his accomplishments, leaked the news to climbing Web sites that his exploits came to be known. When asked in public about the risk of falling to his death, he answers glibly: “It’ll be the worst four seconds of my life.” (This is not exactly accurate. Were he to lose his grip near the top of one of the walls he has climbed, he would fall for 14 seconds before impact.) A memoir would seem to present the perfect occasion to deliver a reflective, persuasive, intimate answer. Honnold understands this. He raises the question of motivation frequently in Alone on the Wall. But he never quite answers it. Or rather, he answers it in many different ways, none of them convincing. Taken together, however, these
evasions approach a satisfying answer, which is to say, an honest one.
L O N E O N T H E WA L L , true to the sports-autobiography genre, is written with a co-author, though in this case Honnold and his collaborator—David Roberts, himself an experienced climber—write alternating sections. The co-author of any sports autobiography has two main responsibilities. He or she must render the athlete’s interview responses into legible prose and also provide context and insight when the athlete cannot. Rarely are world-class athletes, particularly those in their prime, able to explain to people who are not world-class athletes what it’s like to have supernatural ability. They’ve never been without it, after all. This is a reason sports memoirs written later in life tend to be more rewarding, or more human—the athletes, having faded into mediocrity, can finally appreciate the outlandishness of their talent. Elite athletes also tend to resist deep reflection. Were they to obsess over the pressures they face,
Elite athletes tend to resist deep reflection.
they’d never be able to thrive in the first place. As David Foster Wallace put it, in reference to the tennis player Tracy Austin, “Great athletes usually turn out to be stunningly inarticulate about just those qualities and experiences that constitute their fascination.” Honnold describes his mentality during a solo climb as “empty” and “not really thinking.” This is to be expected. A basketball player who thinks too much is more likely to miss a crucial free throw at the end of a game; a climber who thinks too much may plunge to his death. Alone on the Wall is a celebration of nonthinking. As he surveys the greatest accomplishments of his career, Honnold reviews his ascents in meticulous, technical detail: “The second pitch of the Zig-Zags flew by in a frenzy of hand jams and hero liebacking.” He refers to the possibility of “stepping into the void,” but never imagines the void, or what it would be like to step into it. Even when he forces himself to visualize falling to his death, his tone is matter-of-fact, indifferent: “I saw myself bouncing off the ledge below and
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going all the way to the ground, fracturing most of my bones as I rag-dolled down the mountain. I’d probably bleed out at the base.” This doesn’t lead to a dark night of the soul, however. During the climb itself, suspended in air, at times hanging by the tip of a single finger, he experiences no fear. The lows are never very low, nor the highs very high. Honnold’s reaction to free soloing Moonlight Buttress, a nearly vertical 1,200-foot-tall sandstone cliff in Zion National Park, the climb that first brought him national attention: “I was superpsyched.” On climbing both Half Dome and the Nose, in Yosemite National Park, mostly without ropes, in a little more than 11 hours, beating the record time by half: “I was massively psyched.” On climbing the Yosemite Triple, three steep routes, in less than a day, without falling: “I was pretty pleased.”
H I S E Q U A N I M I T Y in the face of oblivion is what separates Honnold from other top climbers. Before him, the most celebrated free soloist was one of his heroes, Dean Potter. Haunted, self-questioning, audacious, brooding—Potter was the climbing world’s Baudelaire. His earliest memory was a childhood dream of flying and falling. “I always wondered as I got older if it was some premonition,” Potter said. “I started free soloing harder and harder routes, kind of proving to myself that I could take control over … the biggest fear I had: falling to my death.” Potter fell to his death in May while jumping off a cliff in a wingsuit in Yosemite. Honnold, by contrast, projects what one friend calls a “dorky, awkward goofball” persona—Pete Sampras to Potter’s Andre Agassi. He draws the line at BASE jumping, the practice that killed Potter (“way too dangerous”), but to a layperson this seems a distinction without a difference. Before attempting his free solo of Moonlight Buttress, Honnold rehearsed the most challenging pitch on rope repeatedly, until he had memorized each move. But he soon tired of this approach, complaining that it “actually took some of the challenge out of the climb.” He free soloed Half Dome without being certain of the correct route; later he free soloed Rainbow Wall in Nevada’s Red Rock Canyon, “fourteen pitches of sustained climbing up this massive, concave, amphitheaterlike face, lots of it on tiny holds,” without scouting it at all, having climbed it only once, with protection, years earlier. “Some people might call this crazy. I prefer to think of it as badass. It definitely amped up the adventure.” Honnold halfheartedly tries out a number of explanations for his risk taking. There is denial that borders on delusion: “I don’t like risk.” The
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The Culture File BOOKS
Equanimity in the face of oblivion is what separates Honnold from other top climbers.
ALONE ON THE WALL ALEX HONNOLD WITH DAVID ROBERTS W. W. Norton
joy of conquering a self-imposed challenge: “I do it because it’s so much fun … All this stuff is a game.” The exhilaration of a life-or-death situation: “It’s hard to untangle the various feelings, but I definitely felt alive.” The euphoria of achieving a focus so acute that “pain ceases to exist.” He rejects the suggestion that he is an adrenaline junkie: “There is no adrenaline rush,” he told 60 Minutes’ Lara Logan. “If I get a rush, it means that something has gone horribly wrong … because the whole thing should be pretty slow and controlled.” But none of these explanations is credible, because they are all available to those who use ropes. Though Honnold’s free soloing—and the terrifying, thrilling videos of him clinging to an invisible hold in the middle of a sheer wall—is the source of his fame and, by extension, the reason for his book’s existence, he emphasizes that he spends the great majority of his time doing more-conventional forms of climbing. Much of the book dwells on his accomplishments in those realms, which are considerable. Last year, for instance, Honnold and Tommy Caldwell, another of the world’s elite climbers, were the first to complete the Fitz Traverse, a series of seven ice-covered granite spires in southern Patagonia. Honnold has broken a number of speed records, pioneered new routes, and managed astonishing feats of physical endurance. In recent interviews he has blamed the media for portraying him as an “extreme” free soloist and seemed to rue the notoriety his exploits have brought him. The solos, while of astounding technical difficulty, seem to have assumed for him a somewhat distasteful aura—as if they are stunts that have diminished his professional standing. Having entered his fourth decade, might his sense of his own mortality be evolving? If so, he doesn’t say. Even Honnold’s peers, who call him “No Big Deal” Honnold, are puzzled by his general lack of introspection. “His conversation never drifted to places of death, love or even innate beauty,” wrote Tommy Caldwell in an essay for Alpinist about the Fitz Traverse. “It’s as if he thinks everything is either badass or boring … That’s probably part of the reason he is so good at what he does.” Caldwell is almost correct. Honnold’s ability to ignore the higher questions—to ignore death—is not part of the reason for his success. It’s the entire reason. It’s also the source of his allure. I suspect that most people who watch Honnold’s videos do not particularly envy his climbing ability. We envy his ability to forget about death. Nathaniel Rich is the author, most recently, of Odds Against Tomorrow.
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Unliberated Sex In new novels, Michel Houellebecq and Margaret Atwood wonder if desire can thrive without freedom. BY S O P H I E G I L B E R T
N M A R G A R E T AT WO O D’S now iconic dystopian novel, The Handmaid’s Tale, published 30 years ago and set sometime around 2005, a polluted United States with a fertility crisis has become the repressive Republic of Gilead, ruled by Christian fundamentalists who staged a violent coup in the name of repelling “Islamic fanatics.” A new order of family values—prescribed by a patriarchy intent on boosting fecundity and implemented by a hierarchy of women—has eclipsed the godless, materialist, promiscuous, barren past. But, as Atwood reveals, desire is a difficult thing to stamp out. The handmaids, pressed into service, don’t discover joy in the “ceremonies” they’re forced to participate in; nor do the powerful men charged with repopulating the planet seem to find this world of regimented sexuality even remotely fulfilling. But what if authoritarian traditionalism promised authentic sexual liberation, and happiness along with it? Against a 21st-century backdrop of online matchups, Internet porn, and family flux (not to mention Fifty Shades of Grey fervor), such a prospect offers good grist for timely fictional rumination. In his latest novel, Submission, Michel Houellebecq spins out his own, more muted version of a fundamentalist future—the French vote in a government of Muslim moderates in 2022—and he rewrites the Atwoodian script in the process. Confronted with Sharia-lite in the country that Mark Twain once described as having “neither winter nor summer nor morals,” Houellebecq’s deeply alienated narrator, a Sorbonne professor named François, actually welcomes the reining-in of a libido that has brought him little real pleasure. “As the new Islamic regime pushed women’s clothing in the direction of decency, I felt my sexual impulses gradually diminish,” he explains. He sounds nothing so much as relieved. Atwood, meanwhile, returns to probe sexual pieties in The Heart Goes Last, a black comedy set in a near future when impoverished Americans willingly enter prison to get away from crime. She stages zany escapades to test a rather different provocative hypothesis: Perhaps a loss of freedom could prove the ultimate aphrodisiac.
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Not surprisingly, the two novels could hardly be less similar in texture and tone. Houellebecq, who is in his late 50s, is a curious blend of enfant terrible and dirty old man of the French literary establishment. Depressed and solitary narrators steeped in cultural pessimism—thinly veiled versions of himself (two have been named Michel)—are his trademark. Unmoored by the 1960s and an ethos of relentless gratification, his characters engage in empty sexual encounters played out in extravagant detail. Lasting human connection eludes them, and their impulse to romanticize a purer, more orderly past gives Houellebecq’s fiction a reactionary and misogynist flavor. In Platform (2001), Houellebecq added anti-Islamist tendencies to the list of sins that get him into trouble. He imagined a holiday camp for sex tourists being blown up by Muslim fundamentalists, after which he landed in court
on charges of racial hatred for referring to Islam as “the stupidest religion.” Atwood, by contrast, is a prolific standardsetter in the realm of “speculative fiction.” She creates dizzyingly inventive futuristic worlds only a few degrees removed from reality, and specializes in compelling female voices. Her dystopian works are inherently, but not polemically, political. Atwood, who is Canadian, wrote The Handmaid’s Tale in response to American friends in the 1980s who kept saying “It can’t happen here” as they
Illustration by SHONAGH RAE
watched the rise of religious fundamentalism in the Middle East and Asia. Clear-sighted about the worst tendencies of men (and women, too) in power, her fiction returns repeatedly to the resilience of the human spirit.
The Culture File
U T I F Y O U seated Houellebecq and Atwood next to each other at a dinner party and he was in the mood to talk (how’s that for speculative fiction?), their new novels would supply them with a common question to debate: Could more-restrictive societies possibly point the way to more-fulfilling sexual and romantic relationships? Both take evident pleasure in concocting ingenious sociopolitical backgrounds for their thought experiments, but their real interest seems to lie in their characters’ more intimate urges and confusions. Atwood wrote The Heart Goes Last as a serial, and the bumpy result isn’t about to replace The Handmaid’s Tale on school reading lists. The novel opens with a young married couple, Stan and Charmaine, living in their car after a financial meltdown has wiped out jobs in the Northeast. Marauding gangs rule the streets, and an ad for a gated community called the Positron Project lures them in with guarantees of extreme security: On a rotating schedule, residents spend a month in a 1950s-style idyll of cultural conformity (no porn, no “undue” violence, mostly Doris Day movies and show tunes for entertainment) and a month as prison inmates whose work somehow (Atwood is vague on the economics) generates income to support the town. Houellebecq develops a not-implausible electoral scenario: A charismatic Muslim Brotherhood leader forms a coalition with the Socialist Party to defeat Marine Le Pen’s National Front. But beyond the political specifics, Houellebecq’s narrator—whose melancholic pomposity has an oddly charming way of verging on self-mockery— supplies only a hazy vision of a Muslim France; women, seemingly unprompted, willingly leave the workforce when offered generous family subsidies and start covering their bodies almost overnight. With a more acutely sardonic eye, François probes the academic maneuvering at the Sorbonne. It is taken over by fabulously wealthy Saudi Arabian donors who proceed to offer male members of the faculty either a generous pension to retire or, if they convert to Islam and remain, a salary boost and polygamous family stability. Houellebecq’s real focus, though, is on François’ preelection state of profound ennui, which primes him to consider the university’s proposal to stay on more seriously than he himself can quite believe. Given Houellebecq’s proclivity
Perhaps a loss of freedom could prove the ultimate aphrodisiac.
for punctuating his novels with scenes of hardcore sex (the writer Julian Barnes once described them as “curiously both pornographic and sentimental”), what stands out in Submission is François’ fixation on the mystery of how people form lasting relationships that transcend fickle desire. To be sure, the novel delivers a good dose of Houellebecq’s typical near-absurdist eroticism. Watching an online video featuring group fellatio, François notes how “the penis would pass from one mouth to the other, tongues crossing paths like restless flocks of swallows in the somber skies above the Seine-et-Marne when they prepare to leave Europe for their winter migration.” But Houellebecq reserves his parodic best to convey François’ dulled appetite for everything, from sushi to sodomy. “I kind of wanted to fuck her,” he thinks when his girlfriend comes over, “but I also kind of wanted to die.” François—abandoned by that girlfriend (she flees with her Jewish family to Israel) as by her predecessors—finds himself yearning for the security of emotional communion. “A couple is a world, autonomous and enclosed, that moves through the larger world essentially untouched,” he reflects. “On my own, I was chipped and cracked all over.” Et voilà: As he ponders the new regime in France, with its emphasis on conservative family structures and the elevation of “dominant males,” he feels he has perhaps glimpsed salvation. Offered several women to marry—he won’t even have to choose them—he could find solace in the traditionalist framework of the new religious order. His escape from a hollow life punctuated by heartless sexual encounters is at hand. “A woman is human, obviously,” François thinks, “but she represents a slightly different kind of humanity. She gives life a certain perfume of exoticism.”
SUBMISSION MICHEL HOUELLEBECQ FSG
T WOOD, TOO, visits sexual malaise on her characters, portraying a pre-Positron experience of marital boredom for prim Charmaine and frustrated Stan. In their highstress existence in the grim outside world, she’s the classic uptight wife. He, meanwhile, fantasizes about a spouse ready to go wild with him. Newly confined, with needs met, fears quelled, and urgent choices banished, they’re suddenly confronted not with ebbing ids but with unexpected desires. Atwood lets Charmaine loose in a way Stan has often dreamed of—only he doesn’t get the benefit. Until now a model of what Stan describes as “quasi-virginal restraint,” Charmaine sneaks off for rough sex with the husband in the couple who inhabits their house during the months she and Stan are on prison duty. “She did love Stan, but it was different,”
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Charmaine muses, with her thrillingly coercive lover fresh in mind. “A different kind of love. Trusting, sedate. It went with pet fish, in fishbowls—not that they had one of those—and with cats, perhaps. And with eggs for breakfast.” Atwood strives for less broad caricature with Stan, though the catalyst for his adventures in the novel is farcically predictable. He’s turned on when he finds a steamy note under the refrigerator, which he assumes the wife in the alternate couple has left for her husband—a pair, Stan thinks enviously, that enjoys just the conjugal bliss he dreams of. Actually, as he soon discovers, the note is from Charmaine to her lover. Atwood proceeds to send Stan—who endures a brief stint as a sex slave to the wife in that other couple—on a tour of far-fetched solutions to the vagaries of desire. He spends time working in a Positron factory that manufactures “possibilibots,” or humanoid, sexually functional robots, and is repulsed by them—by “the motion of thighs and abdomens, like some grotesque art installation,” and the smell of plastic. Meanwhile, he learns that the Positron overseers are perfecting surgical methods to alter brains so that, upon emerging from the anesthetic, the patients are besotted— sexually and romantically—with whomever they first lay eyes on. As Houellebecq nears the end of Submission, he holds out to François a version of just such a spell of enchantment to nudge him toward converting. Forget the big salary hike offered by the Sorbonne. It’s the prospect of being granted up to three utterly devoted, nubile wives in veils that promises the liberation François thinks he wants from his own ungratifying impulses. His presumption that his future wives will be similarly fulfilled simply by virtue of having no other choice gets some support—or so it seems—from the closing
COVER TO COVER
The Unprofessionals: New American Writing From The Paris Review E DI T E D B Y L OR I N S T E I N PENGUIN
I N H I S P R E FACE , Lorin Stein, the editor of The Paris Review since 2010, touts the magazine’s interest in unsung talents who
excel in short forms, not fame-seekers taught to “write long and network hard.” He’s right to boast of a thriving tradition
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The Culture File BOOKS
THE HEART GOES LAST MARGARET ATWOOD Nan A. Talese
pages of The Heart Goes Last. Exhilarated though Charmaine has been by the bout of unbridled lust that she dared indulge within the safety of Positron, she once again worries about being out of control as she imagines resuming life with Stan. The new brain surgery beckons as a way to have everything decided for her—to be free of the prickling sensation in her gut that tells her she’ll never be completely satisfied. But Atwood has another twist in store, and in any case Stan’s journey seems to have left him unlikely to yearn for a Charmaine programmed to fulfill his every urge—or to imagine that she would be content if he were neurochemically tweaked so as to adore and crave only her. Desire, Atwood implies, is too paradoxical in nature to make for a happy ending. “All’s well that ends well,” thinks Charmaine. “Not that this is the end … It’s the beginning, a new beginning. The beginning as it should have been.” Yet the fresh start she anticipates features the same two people who were bored before, and then frayed their bond by chasing illicit thrills. Marriage and relationships can be regulated, and choice can be constrained, but human urges will forever be governed by a more incalculable rule: The allure of the new, or of the semblance of the new, may well be irresistible. As François contemplates his shot at what looks like uncomplicated happiness, he doesn’t stop to think about the implications either. “I’d be given another chance; and it would be the chance at a second life, with very little connection to the old one.” Except, of course, those lives will have one thing in common: restless, rootless François.
Sophie Gilbert is a senior editor at The Atlantic, where she oversees TheAtlantic.com’s culture section.
of literary discovery. Lesser-known writers manage startling feats in the array of stories, poems, and nonfiction pieces collected in this anthology. But don’t be surprised—or disappointed—to encounter the work of very successful pros, too, from Zadie Smith and Ben Lerner to Dan Chiasson and John Jeremiah Sullivan.
You’ll also find a preponderance of male voices—and voices is the operative word for a collection that prizes, in Stein’s words, “a sense of interiority overheard.” Of the 12 stories, nine (or 10, if you count Smith’s “Miss Adele Amidst the Corsets” on the grounds that Miss Adele was once a boy) feature men as first-person narrators or protagonists. The
memoiristic nonfiction skews male as well. Yet listen to these characters—a sperm donor, a prisoner, a self-anointed jackass, a frat boy—and you’ll hear almost all of them wrestling with their gendered roles. In that way, they speak “the vernacular of our time,” as Stein puts it. Even better, they explore the state of their souls. — Ann Hulbert
THE TECH ISSUE
Bill Gates has committed his intellect, his influence, and his personal fortune to propelling the world beyond fossil fuels fast enough to outrace potentially cataclysmic climate change.
“WE NEED AN ENERGY MIRACLE” I NTE RV I E W BY JA M E S B E N N E T Photographs by Stephen Voss
N H I S O F F I C E S overlooking Lake Washington, just east of Seattle, Bill Gates grabbed a legal pad recently and began covering it in his left-handed scrawl. He scribbled arrows by each margin of the pad, both pointing inward. The arrow near the left margin, he said, represented how governments worldwide could stimulate ingenuity to combat climate change by dramatically increasing spending on research and development. “The push is the R&D,” he said, before indicating the arrow on the right. “The pull is the carbon tax.” Between the arrows he sketched boxes to represent areas, such as deployment of new technology, where, he argued, private investors should foot the bill. He has pledged to commit $2 billion himself. “Yes, the government will be somewhat inept,” he said brusquely, swatting aside one objection as a trivial statement
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of the obvious. “But the private sector is in general inept. How many companies do venture capitalists invest in that go poorly? By far most of them.” Gates is on a solo global lobbying campaign to press his species to accomplish something on a scale it has never attempted before. He wants human beings to invent their way out of the coming collision with planetary climate change, accelerating a transition to new forms of energy that might normally take a century or more. To head off a rise in average global temperatures of 2 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels—the goal set by international agreement— Gates believes that by 2050, wealthy nations like China and the United States, the most prodigious belchers of greenhouse gases, must be adding no more carbon to the skies. Those who study energy patterns say we are in a gradual transition from oil and coal to natural gas, a fuel that emits far less carbon but still contributes to
global warming. Gates thinks that we can’t accept this outcome, and that our best chance to vault over natural gas to a globally applicable, carbon-free source of energy is to drive innovation “at an unnaturally high pace.” When I sat down to hear his case a few weeks ago, he didn’t evince much patience for the argument that American politicians couldn’t agree even on whether climate change is real, much less on how to combat it. “If you’re not bringing math skills to the problem,” he said with a sort of amused asperity, “then
representative democracy is a problem.” What follows is a condensed transcript of his remarks, lightly edited for clarity.
On whether new commitments to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions expected at the United Nations climate-change conference in Paris in December mean the world is now serious about the problem: It’s good to have people making commitments. It’s really good. But if you really look at those commitments—which are not binding, but even if you say they will
all be achieved—they fall dramatically short of the reductions required to reduce CO2 emissions enough to prevent a scenario where global temperatures rise 2 degrees Celsius. I mean, these commitments won’t even be a third of what you need. And one of the interesting things about this problem is, if you have a country that says, “Okay, we’re going to get on a pathway for an 80 percent reduction in CO2 by 2050,” it might make a commitment that “Hey, by 2030, we’ll be at 30 percent reduction.” But that first
30 percent is dramatically, dramatically easier than getting to 80 percent. So everything that’s hard has been saved for post-2030—and even these 2030 commitments aren’t enough. And many of them won’t be achieved.
On why the free market won’t develop new forms of energy fast enough: Well, there’s no fortune to be made. Even if you have a new energy source that costs the same as today’s and emits no CO2, it will be uncertain compared with what’s T H E AT L A N T IC
On the pace of energy transitions historically: What’s amazing is how our intense energy usage is one and the same as modern civilization. That is, for all the great things that happened in terms of human lifestyle, life span, and growing food before 1800, civilization didn’t change dramatically until we started using coal in the U.K. in the 1800s. Coal replaced wood. But the wave of wood to coal is about a 50- or 60-year wave. If it was just about economics, if we had no global warming to think about, the slowly-but-surely pace of these transitions would be okay. If you look at one of these forecasts, they all say about the same thing: What you look at is a picture that’s pretty gradual, with natural gas continuing to gain at the expense of both coal and oil. But, you know, 1-percent-a year-type change. If you look at that from a greenhouse-gas point of view—if you look at forecasts—every single year we’ll be emitting more greenhouse gases than the previous year.
On whether we’ve ever done anything as big, as a species, as what he’s asking for now: Well, sort of no. Because the scale of it is 58
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On his first real job:
Y FIRST JOB— other than being a page in Congress, which isn’t a real
job—was doing a computer-software project for Bonneville Power Administration, which is a quasi-governmental entity that controls the power grid in the Northwest. We were computerizing the power grid. And the company that BPA had contracted with, TRW, was behind, so the people there scoured the country to see who really knew how to do a certain type of programming, and they found me, because I was sort of infamous as a boy wonder of a certain type of programming. They said, “Have we hired everybody who’s really good at this stuff?” and somebody said, “Well, we haven’t hired Gates.” “Wait, there’s a guy we haven’t hired? Gates? Go get him!” And they said, “Well, nobody’s ever met him. They say he’s quite young.” And the boss says, “Go get him!” So I go down for this interview—and I did not look 16 when I was 16; I looked 12 when I was 16. My parents drove me down. I didn’t have my driver’s license. And so they were like, “God, we are really in desperate straits. We are hiring children.” It was a seminal experience for me, because TRW had brought its very best programmers to program there. So I came in and got assigned this stuff, and people saw that I was willing to work 18 hours a day and do hard stuff. So I would write code and these super-smart guys would look it over and tell me, “Hey, this isn’t very good, this isn’t very good,” so my whole programming skill during the year I was there went a whole notch up. And they were so nice to me. I mean, they got a kick out of my energy. The only problem was, they got it into my head that I should skip undergraduate and go straight to graduate school, which my parents vetoed.
very big. People can talk about the Manhattan Project during World War II—the challenge of “Hey, should we get a nuclear weapon before, potentially, the Japanese or Germans do?” The speed of innovation there really was mindblowing. And they had to find two paths to get there. One was enriching uranium; the other was breeding plutonium. And, in fact, the first bomb was a uranium bomb; the second bomb was plutonium. Both paths gave them what they’d hoped for. So there’s some amazing things— people look at the digital realm and see the pace of innovation. And that does kind of spoil you, because you can just put something up on the Web, and a hundred million people can download it. But what we’re asking ourselves to do here is change energy—and that includes all of transport, all of electricity, all of household usage, and all of industrial usage. And those are all huge areas of usage. And somebody’ll say to you, “Well, hey, lighting, LED technology, is going to reduce energy consumption from
lighting by over half.” That’s true; it’s a miracle, it’s fantastic. But unfortunately, there’s no equivalent in many of these other things, like making fertilizer or making electricity in a general sense. There’s opportunities to conserve that are really good. But the world is going to consume much more energy 30 years from now than it does today.
On whether we should all be driving electric cars: People think, Oh, well, I’ll just get an electric car. There are places where if you buy an electric car, you’re actually increasing CO2 emissions, because the electricity infrastructure is emitting more CO2 than you would have if you’d had a gasolinepowered car.
On what it will take to accelerate the transition from carbon-emitting energy: When people viewed cancer as a problem, the U.S. government—and it’s a huge favor to the world—declared a war
LAKESIDE SCHOOL ARCHIVES
tried-and-true and already operating at unbelievable scale and has gotten through all the regulatory problems, like “Okay, what do you do with coal ash?” and “How do you guarantee something is safe?” Without a substantial carbon tax, there’s no incentive for innovators or plant buyers to switch. And for energy as a whole, the incentive to invest is quite limited, because unlike digital products—where you get very rapid adoption and so, within the period that your trade secret stays secret or your patent gives you a 20-year exclusive, you can reap incredible returns— almost everything that’s been invented in energy was invented more than 20 years before it got scaled usage. So if you go back to various energy innovators, actually, they didn’t do that well financially. The rewards to society of these energy advances—not much of that is captured by the individual innovator, because it’s a very conservative market. So the R&D amount in energy is surprisingly low compared with medicine or digital stuff, where both the government spending and the private-sector spending is huge.
on cancer, and now we fund all health research at about $30 billion a year, of which about $5 billion goes to cancer. We got serious and did a lot of R&D, and then we got the private sector involved in taking that R&D and building breakthrough drugs. In energy, no government—including the U.S., which is in almost every category the big R&D funder—has really made a dramatic increase. It was increased somewhat under Carter and then cut back under Reagan, and it’s now about $6 billion a year—that’s the U.S. piece, which, compared with the importance to our economy in general, is too low. Realistically, we may not get more than a doubling in government funding of energy R&D—but I would love to see a tripling, to $18 billion a year from the U.S. government to fund basic research alone. Now, as a percentage of the government budget, that’s not gigantic. But we are at a time when the flexibility—because of health costs and other things, but primarily health costs— of the budget is very, very squeezed. But you could do a few-percent tax on all of energy consumption, or you could use the general revenue. This is not an unachievable amount of money.
On why, considering the level of debate in the presidential campaign, he thinks this kind of investment is imaginable: Well, the success of the United States
in medical research is really incredible. I mean, it’s phenomenal. We spend $30 billion a year of government money, and the private sector goes out and comes up with new drugs. It’s an industry that the U.S. is by far the leader in— creating wonderful jobs, great miracle cures—and that is working super, super well, but we spend more than all other countries put together. And the U.S. lead in health technologies, including drugs, is gigantic, just like the U.S. lead in digital technologies is gigantic. In the case of the digital technologies, the path back to government R&D is a bit more complex, because nowadays most of the R&D has moved to the private sector. But the original Internet comes from the government, the original chip-foundry stuff comes from the government—and even today there’s some government money taking on some of the more advanced things and making sure the universities have the knowledge base that maintains that lead. So I’d say the overall record for the United States on government R&D is very, very good. Now, in the case of climate change, because there’s so many possible solutions, it’s not like the Manhattan Project. I don’t think anyone’s saying, “Hey, pick just one approach, and pick some ranch in New Mexico, and just have those guys kind of hang out there.” Here, we want to give a little bit of money to the guy who thinks that high wind will work; we want to give a little bit of money to the guy who
thinks that taking sunlight and making oil directly out of sunlight will work. So there’s dozens of those ideas, and there’s enabling technologies for those ideas. That’s the kind of thing that we should be funding more of.
On the limits of wind power and solar photovoltaic cells: Wind has grown super-fast, on a very subsidized basis. Solar, off a smaller base, has been growing even faster— again on a highly subsidized basis. But it’s absolutely fair to say that even the modest R&D that’s been done, and the various deployment incentives that are there, have worked well. Now, unfortunately, solar photovoltaic is still not economical, but the biggest problem of all is this intermittency. That is, we need energy 24 hours a day. So, putting aside hydro—which unfortunately can’t grow much—the primary new zero-CO2 sources are intermittent. Now, nuclear is a non-CO2 source, but it’s had its own problems in terms of costs, big safety problems, making sure you can deal with the waste, making sure the plutonium isn’t used to make weapons. So my view is that the biggest problem for the two lead candidates is that storage looks to be so difficult. It’s kind of ironic: Germany, by installing so much rooftop solar, has it that both their coal plants and their rooftop solar are available in the summer, and the price of power during the day actually goes negative—they
S HARE O F F U E LS I N TH E G LO BAL E N E RGY M IX AC ROSS MOD E RN H I STO RY 100%
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pay people to take it. Then at night the only source is the coal, and because the energy companies have to recover their capital costs, they either raise the price because they’re not getting any return for the day, or they slowly go bankrupt. There are many people working on storage—batteries are a form of storage, and there’s a few others, like compressed air, hot metals. But it’s not at all clear that we will get gridscale economic storage. We’re more than a factor of 10 away from the economics to get that.
the solution that gets us beyond the CO2-based energy economy will be a mix of things.” And it will be a mix—but a few will be very big. And so the companies that find whatever turns out to be the mainstream, they will do super, super well. But there won’t be as many successes here as there are in an area like software, where there’s a lot more variety.
On the self-defeating claims of some cleanenergy enthusiasts: They have this statement that the cost of solar photovoltaic is the same as hydrocarbon’s. And that’s one of those misleadingly meaningless statements. What they mean is that at noon in Arizona, the cost of that kilowatt-hour is the same as a hydrocarbon kilowatt-hour. But it doesn’t come at night, it doesn’t come after the sun hasn’t shone, so the fact that in that one moment you reach parity, so what? The reading public, when they see things like that, they underestimate how hard this thing is. So false solutions like divestment or “Oh, it’s easy to do” hurt our ability to fix the problems. Distinguishing a real solution from a false solution is actually very complicated.
On the role of private investors: I think dozens and dozens of approaches should be funded at the R&D level, and then people like myself, who can afford to take big risks with start-up companies, should—because of climate change—be willing to put some number of billions into the spin-offs that will come out of that government-funded activity. You can’t expect that it will be like a digital thing. So you do have to bring a more patient investor, and even a lower return threshold, to this than to other things. People often talk about, “Well, 62
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On why energy is a global challenge: People can always say, “Well, my country is such a small part of it—why should I make the sacrifice? Because I don’t know for sure that the other countries are going to do their part of it.” We don’t have a world government. Fortunately, we don’t have that many world problems—most problems can be solved locally—but this one is a world problem. Carbon is not a local pollutant. It mixes in the global atmosphere in a matter of days. So it doesn’t really matter whether it’s a coal plant in China or a coal plant in the U.S.—the heating effect for the entire globe is the same.
On the dangerous certainty of environmentalists: The heating levels have not tracked the climate models exactly, and the skeptics have had a heyday with that. It’s all within the error-bar range. To me, it’s pretty clear that there’s nothing that relieves this as a big problem. But when people act like we have this great certainty, they somewhat undermine the credibility. There’s a lot of uncertainty in this, but on both the good and the bad side. By overclaiming, or even trying to ascribe current things more to climate change than to other effects, environmentalists lend weight to the skeptics. Like, in the near term, the Pacific oscillation, this El Niño thing, has a much bigger impact on current weather than climate change has had so far. Now, climate change keeps climbing all the time—it just keeps summing, summing, summing, and adding up. So, as you get up to 2050, 2080, 2100, its effect overwhelms the Pacific oscillation. So we have to have dramatic change here. It’s unprecedented to move this quickly, to change an infrastructure of this scale—it’s really unprecedented. And, when you turn to India and say, “Please cut your carbon emissions, and do it with energy that’s really expensive, subsidized energy,” that’s really putting them in a tough position, because energy for them means a kid can read at night, or having an air conditioner or a refrigerator, or being able to eat fresh foods, or get to your job, or buy fertilizer. That’s why we really need to solve that dilemma, we need innovation that gives us energy that’s cheaper than today’s hydrocarbon energy, that has zero CO2 emissions, and that’s as reliable as today’s overall energy system. And when you put all those requirements together, we need an energy miracle. That may make it seem too
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daunting to people, but in science, miracles are happening all the time.
On the central role of rich countries: I’m a big believer in foreign aid, but the climate problem has to be solved in the rich countries. China and the U.S. and Europe have to solve CO2 emissions, and when they do, hopefully they’ll make it cheap enough for everyone else. But the big numbers are all in the developed economies, where China’s defined into that term.
On whether he’s really read all 36 books by Vaclav Smil, his favorite author and a leading scholar of the history of energy use: I have read all of Smil. There’s a book about the transition of the Japanese diet. I don’t recommend it.
On the limitations of a campaign to force university endowments and other funds to divest from fossil-fuel companies: If you think divestment alone is a solution, I worry you’re taking whatever desire people have to solve this problem and kind of using up their idealism and energy on something that won’t emit less carbon—because only a few people in society are the owners of the equity of coal or oil companies. As long as there’s no carbon tax and that stuff is legal, everybody should be able to drive around. So I’ve been saying, “Hey, come on—broaden your message to be pro– R&D.” And even the same people who are divesting those stocks of energy companies, ideally some of that money would come into this pool that is funding these high-risk innovations. And so that’s a message that I’ve started to get out. I don’t know if that will be successful.
On the surprising wisdom of government R&D: When I first got into this I thought, How well does the Department of Energy spend its R&D budget? And I was worried: Gosh, if I’m going to be saying it should double its budget, if it turns out it’s not very well spent, how am I going to feel about that? But as I’ve really dug into it, the DARPA money is very well spent, and the basicscience money is very well spent. The government has these “Centers of Excellence.” They should have twice as many of those things, and those things 64
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should get about four times as much money as they do. Yes, the government will be somewhat inept—but the private sector is in general inept. How many companies do venture capitalists invest in that go poorly? By far most of them. And it’s just that every once in a while a Google or a Microsoft comes out, and some medium-scale successes too, and so the overall return is there, and so people keep giving them money.
On why he thinks Congress may not be hopeless: The U.S. Congress does support solar and wind subsidies, which have been quite generous. So Congress isn’t completely absent on this. The House actually passed a climate-change bill [in 2009], when it was a Democratic Congress. There’s a class of voters who care about this, that I think both parties should want to compete for. So I don’t think it’s hopeless, because it’s about American innovation, American jobs, American leadership, and there are examples where this has gone very, very well.
understandable, because it’s just chemistry. He would say, “Oh, cool, you found lithium, that was nice.” Nuclearpower plants, he would go, “What the hell is that?” That, he would be impressed with. And chips, which we can use for managing data and stuff, he’d be impressed with. But he could visit a coal plant and say, “Okay, you scaled it up.” He would visit a natural-gas plant and that would look pretty normal to him; he would look at an internalcombustion engine and he wouldn’t be that surprised.
On his faith in human ingenuity: If you told me that innovation had been frozen and we just have today’s technologies, will the world run the climatechange experiment? You bet we will. We will not deny India coal plants; we will run the scary experiment of heating up the atmosphere and see what happens. The only reason I’m optimistic about this problem is because of innovation. And innovation is a very uncertain process. For all I know, even if we don’t up the R&D, 10 years from now some
If we just have today’s technologies, will the world run the scary climate-change experiment of heating up the atmosphere and seeing what happens? You bet we will. On the centrality of government to progress on energy, historically: Everyone likes to argue about how much the shale-gas boom was driven by the private sector versus government; there was some of both. Nuclear: huge amount of government. Hydropower: mind-blowingly government—because permitting those things, those big reservoirs and everything, you can’t be a private-sector guy betting that you’re going to get permitted. People think energy is more of a private-sector thing than it is. If you go back to Edison’s time, there wasn’t much government funding. There were rich people funding him. Since World War II, U.S.-government R&D has defined the state of the art in almost every area. But energy moves really slowly. There’s this thing Vaclav Smil says: If Edison were reborn today, he would find our batteries completely
guy will invent something and it’ll take care of this thing. I don’t think that’s very likely, but nobody has a predictor function of innovation—which is weird, because the whole modern economy and our lifestyles are an accumulation of innovations. So I want to tilt the odds in our favor by driving innovation at an unnaturally high pace, or more than its current business-as-usual course. I see that as the only thing. I want to call up India someday and say, “Here’s a source of energy that is cheaper than your coal plants, and by the way, from a global-pollution and local-pollution point of view, it’s also better.” I think if we don’t get that in the next 15 years, then as much as people care about this thing, we will at least run the 2-degree experiment. Then there’s the question of “Okay, do we run the 3-degree experiment? Do we run the 4-degree experiment?”
100 CITIES. 40 MAYORS. 50 COUNTRIES.
Bringing together mayors from around the world and urban experts to collaborate on real, scalable solutions to the most pressing challenges facing cities. To watch live, visit TheAtlantic.com/2015CityLab.
With Thanks to Our Underwriters PRESENTING /
For more information, contact Noelle Thorn Rinner at email@example.com
THE TECH ISSUE
The new fixation in drone technology: how we’ll defend against them
TO CATCH A DRONE BY AMANDA RIPLEY Illustrations by Tomer Hanuka
NE SWELTERING T UE SDAY this summer, I found myself standing on the vast aluminum roof of an East Coast government building, staring at a slim metal rod with a microphone and a metal box bolted to it. The contraption stared back, impassive as a Buckingham Palace guard. I took its picture. I wondered aloud whether we would all have something like it on our homes one day. It did not respond. It was listening for one specific threat, and that threat wasn’t me. From the outside, this appeared to be the most boring building in America: beige cement blocks surrounded by a lazy river of asphalt parking lots. But below my feet was a Homeland Security office, and its occupants were concerned about the ways terrorists or mischief makers might use small, off-theshelf drones to conduct video surveillance or deliver unwanted packages. The contraption, called DroneShield, was designed to detect the sound of an approaching drone and warn of its impending arrival. On this particular day, DroneShield’s inventors, Brian Hearing and John Franklin, were demonstrating the device for a representative from the office. After they completed the installation, we climbed a ladder down to the ground. Their white polo shirts peppered with soot, they offered the client a cookie. (He declined.) Then they fired up a drone about the size of a biology textbook, and we all watched as it whirred effortlessly up, up, up into the sky. The drone, a white, four-propeller rig, emitted a buzzing hum—sort of like a hive of bees trapped in a mailbox. Comparing it against a library of common drone sounds, DroneShield correctly identified the model—a DJI Phantom—in about three seconds and dispatched a text-message alert that, if this hadn’t
been a drill, would have sent security guards running. The client nodded. Then, mostly for dramatic effect, the DroneShield guys illustrated how one might capture such a drone with a net gun, a tool normally used to catch feral animals. While Franklin leveled the drone above us, Hearing charged the gun with a compressed-air cartridge, took aim, and fired. The net sprawled out on the grass, having missed its target. A second shot also failed. The drone hovered patiently, like a butler waiting on his drunken master. On the third try, the net swaddled the drone in mesh and brought it down to the ground, undamaged. We all cheered. It was strangely exhilarating to see the drone finally tangled in white threads. Man had triumphed over machine, for now. The DroneShield guys retired to Ruby Tuesday for beers. To understand how grown men came to be lassoing robots out of the sky, consider what has happened in recent months: Everyone from Silicon Valley entrepreneurs to high-school kids have put nonmilitary drones to new, previously unimagined uses. Drones have delivered medicine to rural Virginia, monitored crops, and captured heart-stopping video footage that has appeared in movies you have probably seen. The devices have also veered uncomfortably close to planes in U.S. airspace—more than 650 times in the first eight months of the year alone, nearly triple the number of encounters in all of 2014. One transported a vial of radioactive material onto the roof of the Japanese prime minister’s office. Three have flown near the White House, including one that crash-landed on the South Lawn, sending the Secret Service swarming. And across the globe, at gatherings ranging from triathlons to gay-pride parades, small drones have struck and injured more than a dozen innocent bystanders. Drones are capable of wonderful, mundane, and terrible things. Ignore anyone who predicts a coming utopia or apocalypse. Flying robots are hard to stereotype. And while T H E AT L A N T IC
considering what drones will do is interesting, a more compelling question is what we will do about them: How will we manage the vaguely menacing marvels that we’ve built? Will we learn to tolerate the privacy invasions, just as we have surveillance cameras? Will we accept the occasional hit-and-run, as we do with cars? Having invented flying robots that can go places we’d rather not, how will we prevent them from going too far? To glimpse the near future, I spent several months speaking with people who already live there, including security experts, a celebrity-wedding planner, an animal-rights activist, and a couple of prison wardens. In different ways, they are all reckoning with off-the-shelf drone technology in their everyday work. They’re responding faster than most government agencies, and their patched-together countermeasures are as imaginative as the drones themselves.
aggressively. After a DJI Phantom fell on a man named Scot Yount at a Memorial Day parade in Marblehead, Massachusetts, injuring him slightly, the crowd became hostile. The drone operator rushed over to apologize, and Yount accepted his apology. But others were not so forgiving. “Immediately, people were running over,” Yount told me, “predisposed to be angry.” One man started filming the contrite drone operator with his smartphone. Someone called the police and a local CBS affiliate. Soon paramedics and firefighters arrived. Within hours, the story was up on the Drudge Report. For a while, Yount wondered whether he should have been more upset: Maybe the crowd’s reaction was rational, and
U T U R E H I S T O R I A N S T R Y I N G to identify the date that civilian drones went mainstream may look to January 7, 2013. That’s when DJI, a Chinese company, released its Phantom drone, for $679. A sleek quadcopter that fit in a backpack, the Phantom was remarkably easy to use. It flew where you told it to fly, all while remaining stable enough to take great footage. Until that point, the only way to get a comparable device was to buy a professional rig for a small fortune or to build your own. The same improvements that have transA drone confiscated in August, when two men tried to use it to deliver formed smartphones—better GPS units, accelerdrugs, tobacco, and pornographic videos to a maximum-security prison ometers, and other sensors—have also revolutionin Maryland. Over the past two years, drones have been intercepted in ized drones. Companies such as 3D Robotics and attempts to smuggle contraband into more than a dozen prisons around the world. Parrot have released their own relatively cheap and easy-to-use models, as DJI’s revenue rocketed from an estimated $25 million in 2012 to $500 million in 2014 (a DJI representative declined to release official he was wrong. But now he thinks the reaction represents a primal human response, one that goes beyond the actual threat. figures). Industry analysts estimate that more than 1 million “There’s something about a drone,” he said, “that awakens small civilian drones are now in circulation worldwide, though something in our psyche that we don’t even know is there.” accurate sales data are hard to come by. That number could In response to incidents like these, legislators in 26 states double next year. have passed laws limiting the use of drones. But some will not It’s not a coincidence, then, that the number of dronewithstand judicial scrutiny. Under a sweeping new Florida law, related hijinks has also been on the rise. In August 2013, a drone for example, drone users who videotape people without their crashed into a crowd at a bull run in Virginia. The next month, consent could be sued for financial damages—a rule that seems activists protesting the German government’s surveillance to conflict with a century of precedents protecting the news policies landed a drone on a dais in front of Chancellor Angela media’s right to collect images from public vantage points. Merkel at a reelection-campaign event in Dresden. Over the At the federal level, the FAA—the agency to which most past two years, people have attempted to use drones to smuggle drone regulation has fallen—has been slower than its intercontraband into more than a dozen prisons around the world. national counterparts to regulate drone use in a coherent This summer, a few drone users committed the ultimate way, partly because the United States has a comparatively faux pas: interfering with firefighters. California emergency large and crowded airspace. So far, the agency has prohibited personnel were forced to halt aerial wildfire-fighting operations drones from flying below 18,000 feet anywhere near Ronald at least five times due to worries that nearby drones might get Reagan Washington National Airport, including all of the sucked into jet engines or tangled up in helicopter propellers. nation’s capital. In most of the rest of the country, people can (In truth, no one really knows whether a small drone could take legally fly drones for fun as long as the device weighs 55 pounds down a plane, but no pilot is eager to find out. The Federal Aviation Administration has said that it will begin testing the impact or less, remains within sight, flies below 400 feet, and stays of drones on plane engines and parts over the next year.) away from people and airports. But 55 pounds is actually quite Along the way, the public response to drones has begun to heavy, and probably more heft than you’d want a novice flying shift. Strangers have started to confront drone users, sometimes anywhere in your ZIP code. (The most-popular off-the-shelf 68
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drones, including DJI’s latest-model Phantom, weigh less than five pounds.) A bigger problem is that drone operators violate these rules every day, particularly the one about avoiding people and airports. And, because it is very hard for law enforcement to track down owners of rogue drones, the FAA hasn’t enforced the rules in any significant way. Meanwhile, if Americans want to use drones for any kind of profit-generating activity, such as news-gathering or shooting professional wedding videos, they must first get an exemption from the FAA, and they must have a licensed aircraft pilot at the controls. In other words, there are nominal limits on amateurs using drones but strict limits on professionals, which seems odd. So far, the FAA has granted about 1,500 of these commercial waivers, which is less than the number of approvals granted by much smaller countries such as Japan, France, and Canada. The FAA has promised to finalize more-flexible and more-comprehensive commercial rules sometime in the next several months, but it has blown past similar deadlines before. For now, many professionals use drones in violation of the policy.
deployed for DroneShield’s rooftop demo. Its operator had presumably lost control of the device around the time its payload got tangled in the power line. When Bryan Stirling, the director of the South Carolina Department of Corrections, got the call about the drone incident, he was stunned. He’d only heard about drones in news stories on the military’s unmanned strikes abroad or on Amazon’s futuristic home-delivery schemes. But the more he thought about the incident, the more sense it made. South Carolina’s corrections officers recover contraband almost 20 times a day across the state’s two dozen prisons. Inmates have recruited friends and associates to pack pills into tennis balls and footballs and heave them over the fence. They have tried to smuggle in tattooing equipment, weapons, and whiskey. Near one prison, officers even discovered a potato cannon that had likely been used to launch projectiles over the fence. “People come to prison with a plethora of knowledge,” Stirling told me. “It makes sense they would use this technology.” If Amazon executives are testing out a clever new delivery scheme, you can be sure inmates are, too. To enlist the public’s help in finding the perpetrators, South Carolina officials publicized the drone incident. In response, Stirling got calls from all manner of companies offering solutions to his HAVING INVENTED FLYING ROBOTS drone problem. Some promised fantastic defenses, THAT CAN GO PLACES WE’D from laser guns to drone-hunting drones. Stirling RATHER NOT, HOW WILL WE PREVENT was skeptical. “At this point, I’m not going to go with the shiniest ball,” he told me. “I want someTHEM FROM GOING TOO FAR? thing proven, or I’m not comfortable spending taxpayer money.” Unfortunately, there are no proven solutions. While regulators have been plodding along in their alternate Not yet, anyway. Small drones are hard to stop. They can change direction at speeds rarely seen in nature. Jamming reality, Sam’s Club stores have been stocking up on a dozen the radio signal of a drone (or cellphone or anything else) is different drone models for the holiday shopping season. An illegal in the United States under long-standing federal law antiprostitution activist in Oklahoma has been using a drone because, according to the Federal Communications Comto capture footage of johns and posting it online. And in July, a mission, it could prevent people in range from calling 911 in teenager in Connecticut weaponized his drone with a handgun an emergency. and posted a chilling YouTube video of the device being fired Shooting down drones is usually illegal too, even if the remotely in the woods. It’s not quite time to welcome our robot drone is above your property. William Merideth of Hillview, overlords, but things are getting weirder by the day. Anyone Kentucky, was arrested in July after shooting down an $1,800 who wants to prevent drones from careening into his or her drone that was, he says, hovering over his daughters in the sky airspace has no choice but to get creative. above his back deck. The anonymity of the drone was what UST BEFORE 2 O’CLOCK in the morning on the day spooked him. “We live in a society now where we don’t know after Easter last year, an officer at Lee Correctional what these people are doing,” Merideth told a local news staInstitution noticed what looked like a flying object in tion afterward. “We don’t know if they’re pedophiles looking the black sky overhead. That was odd. A high-security for kids; we don’t know if they’re thieves. We don’t know if it’s prison in Bishopville, South Carolina, Lee does not get many ISIS.” The pilot of the drone said he was just trying out his new unexpected visitors. The prison consists of 14 low-slung toy and did not intend to invade anyone’s privacy or, presumcement-block buildings ringed by two razor-wire fences and ably, to establish an Islamic state. pine trees. Beyond that, farmland stretches as far as the eye Even if it were legal to shoot down a drone, it’s not an elegant solution if the drone then falls onto a crowd of people. can see. Most nights, the only moving objects are corrections And it’s not always easy to do—especially if the pilot is flying officers’ vehicles, slowly orbiting the prison on routine patrols. the drone erratically to avoid such a fate. Not only is it illegal The officer, who was in the prison’s control room at the time, to jam the signal of a drone, in other words, you also can’t easily radioed a colleague on patrol and asked her to investigate. She shoot one down. couldn’t locate the UFO, but she did see a human sprinting into So what can you do? One product for sale, and I am not makthe woods. After the sun rose, other officers spotted a tapeding this up, is a giant net that can surround a building in order to up bundle of cellphones, tobacco, and marijuana dangling prevent all manner of incoming deliveries. A few prisons have from a power line next to the prison. In the nearby shrubbery, installed this netting to prevent contraband from being thrown they found the getaway vehicle—a drone not unlike the one
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(or flown) in, and the solution has a certain SpiderMan appeal. But Bryan Stirling worried that it could create new problems—for example, offering inmates a handy way to climb off the grounds. Still, he felt compelled to act. He knew from experience that if corrections officers discover a contraband-delivery strategy once or twice, it has been deployed many more times without anyone noticing. So, after considering his options—and South Carolina’s modest corrections budget—he decided to go with what he knew. Deterrence, Stirling concluded, is always the first line of defense. His investigators searched the woods and found what seemed to be a small campsite near where the drone had crashed. A discarded receipt led them to a nearby convenience store. There, they scanned security-camera footage and identified two suspects, both of whom were subsequently arrested. One of them, Brenton Lee Doyle, has since been sentenced to 15 years for contraband smuggling and drug possession. (Neither Doyle nor his lawyer responded to requests for comment; the other suspect’s case is pending.) The possibility of a 15-year prison sentence would discourage some people; others would need a more immediate barrier. So Stirling fast-tracked a preexisting plan to build a pair of three-story watchtowers on Lee’s perimeter, so officers could see incoming air traffic sooner. He also had thermal-imaging cameras installed for the night watch. Not all drones give off enough heat to be easily detected this way, but the humans operating them do. (Drones can be programmed to fly on autopilot, using GPS coordinates, but most users still find it easier to operate them by standing nearby with a joystick.) South Carolina’s other countermeasures are decidedly lowtech, Stirling explained as we cruised around Lee in his Crown Victoria last summer. “We try to keep the grass real short so people can’t hide things,” he said. Then there are the bees, he added, pointing to one of a couple dozen wooden beehives scattered around the grounds. Signs on the prison’s perimeter warn would-be trespassers in yellow and red paint: DANGER! BEES. KEEP OUT! The bees serve as an educational outlet for inmates interested in apiculture, Stirling said—but also as a disincentive for anyone thinking about launching care packages over the fence. Finally, there are the rattlesnakes—a naturally occurring feature of the South Carolina brush. The prison leverages this asset with signs picturing a sinister-looking reptile above the words RATTLESNAKE RESTORATION AREA! As Stirling put it: “We need a holistic approach.” Drones are new and unpredictable, yes, but humans will always be afraid of snakes. O ST PEOPLE FLYING DRONE S are not trying to smuggle cellphones to prisoners, of course. They are your friendly neighborhood geeks, hobbyists, and videographers, using the drones to take sweeping aerial footage for fun or for work. When they violate existing rules, it’s usually because they don’t know that the rules exist. Last year, 31 drones were flown near Major League Baseball stadiums. In virtually every case, the drone was piloted by a hobbyist who just wanted to capture the magic on video. This
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September, a drone flown by a science teacher crashed into an empty section of seats at a U.S. Open tennis match, causing a brief delay in play. The NFL counted 12 drones near stadiums on game days last season. “It’s like the Wild West out there,” says Jeffrey Miller, the NFL’s chief security officer. “People aren’t aware of the regulations.” Drones, like all manner of aircraft, are not supposed to fly over stadiums full of people, because someone could get hurt if something goes wrong. Most off-the-shelf drones cannot easily carry anything heavy, so a mass-casualty terrorist attack is less likely than an accidental crash. “Right now,” Miller says, “the biggest threat is a hobbyist who just wants to take a photo and loses control.” Major League Baseball, in conjunction with federal officials, experimented with a drone-detecting radar system at the AllStar Game in Minneapolis last year. The system swept the crowd of 40,000 people in search of rogue aircraft and spotted at least one drone. But it reportedly cost several hundred thousand dollars for just one night of use. “It’s a rather expensive proposition,” says John Skinner, the director of security for MLB. “It does work, but it requires a lot of equipment.” For now, league security officials have concluded that one of the best ways to detect drones is simply to deputize the crowd. When it comes to spotting small drones, 80,000 eyeballs are better than radar. Through text messages, signs, scoreboard announcements, and any other available platform, officials can remind fans to be on alert. Now when fans see someone in the parking lot pull out a drone to fly above the stadium, they are quick to alert security. Of course, stopping the drone is a complicated proposition, but once it has been detected, officials can use security cameras to help locate the operator and evacuate fans seated nearby if need be. “The best we can do for now,” Skinner says, “is educate the public.” One of the many ironies of the drone debate is that the people most worried about drones use them in their own work. The FAA has investigated several NFL teams for using small drones to film their practices without first obtaining an exemption for
commercial drone use. Firefighters are using drones to track wildfires. Gavin de Becker, who runs a private-security firm, is profoundly concerned about paparazzi and stalkers using drones to watch or even attack the politicians, celebrities, and other prominent figures his firm serves. His clients have already experienced at least a dozen drone incursions on their properties. Still, de Becker’s company has itself been using drones for the past two years— for example, to investigate sensor alerts on large estates and send back instant images. Within a year, he predicts, “they will be a regular feature at protected premises.” Given the obvious benefits, de Becker says, “it’s hard to say, ‘All right, we’ll just regulate this away.’ ” Drones have the potential to help and to harass, and the race is on to see which narrative will prevail. Considering the complexity, even if regulators devise better rules and communicate them widely, not everyone will agree that they are the right ones. Which means there will be another guaranteed way that Americans will manage drones. As sure as the national anthem plays before a baseball game, we will do what we have always done when life gets complicated: We will sue each other.
explained, he always called the club before flying. “You’re supposed to call. And we do,” Hindi said. “We get an answering machine.” He has never seen a helicopter landing at the helipad. Naturally, some hunters SHARK has targeted have tried to shoot the activists’ drones out of the sky. So far, the drones have been hit about four times, Hindi said, but only one has been lost. The Philadelphia Gun Club is trying a different tactic, suing SHARK and Hindi for invasion of privacy and for interfering with its shoots, among other claims. A representative of the club referred my questions to its attorney, Sean Corr. “It is a stress which is very difficult to live with on a longterm basis,” Corr said, calling the drones “eerie.” Beyond his clients’ concerns, he wondered what the rise in drones portends for the public at large. “At what point do we say that a person has a right to be left alone?” For his part, Hindi insisted that his drones do not interfere with shoots or infringe on the club members’ privacy. But the lawsuit has been harder to repel than gunshots. His drone flights have become less frequent in recent months, partly because he has less money to travel from his home in Illinois to Pennsylvania. Much of his budget is going to lawyers. “Their vengeance is the lawsuit,” he said, “and they’re just bleeding us.” VENTUALLY, HUMANS WILL INVENT better ways to counter drones—more precise than litigation and more certain than deterrence. In the early 1900s, it’s worth remembering, motorists did not have to bother with stop signs or driver’s licenses. That didn’t last long. NASA, in collaboration with the FAA, is now working with various universities and companies, including Google and Verizon, to design an air-traffic-control system just for drones—one that would have its own equivalent of roads, traffic lights, and DO NOT ENTER signs. Other researchers are working on technology to help drones sense and avoid obstacles in their way. The U.S. Department of Transportation is considering whether the FAA has the authority to require drone users to register their devices when they buy them. To deal with the small number of criminal-minded drone users who will likely
OR MORE THAN a CENTURY, the Philadelphia Gun Club has hosted pigeon shoots along the banks of the Delaware River in Bensalem, Pennsylvania. Ernest Hemingway was a member, and Annie Oakley visited with Buffalo Bill Cody. About five years ago, the club’s members encountered a new kind of airborne species. Between bursts of bird shot at their occasional live-pigeon shoots, they noticed drones hovering above them in the smoke-swirled sky. The machines had eight propellers, which meant they were exceptionally stable, and they carried cameras with high-powered lenses. The resulting footage was posted online by an animal-rights group known as SHARK (Showing Animals Respect and Kindness), whose members hoped to IF AMAZON EXECUTIVES ARE TESTING publicly shame the gun-club members. OUT A CLEVER NEW DELIVERY SCHEME, In the past, a fence around the club’s estate had offered some privacy. Then, in YOU CAN BE SURE INMATES ARE, TOO. 2009, SHARK set up tall tripods and filmed over the fence. The club reacted by building a much higher barrier, roughly three stories tall. ignore all these efforts, some start-ups are developing droneThat’s when SHARK unleashed the drones. “It’s like an arms hunting drones—machines that could be sent into the sky to race,” Steve Hindi, the president of SHARK, told me. “That’s net or otherwise disrupt fellow drones. And engineers are the game we have to play because they try to hide.” developing methods of hacking into rogue drones and taking Another club SHARK targeted went so far as to build a control, a sort of cyberjacking that would prevent the devices landing pad for helicopters, apparently hoping to ground the from falling on people below or releasing whatever questiondrones by exploiting the FAA requirement that drones avoid able payload they might be carrying. airports. (The club did not respond to multiple requests for This summer, at a high-end wedding in the Hamptons, an comment.) Soon after the helipad appeared, Hindi got a call event planner named JoAnn Gregoli noticed a drone approachfrom the FAA asking about his activities. But Hindi knew the ing over the water. Most of her weddings now use drones to rules; the FAA requires drone users to notify an airport or control tower before flying within a five-mile radius. So, Hindi film the proceedings, so she asked her videographer whether
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the device was his. When he said no, she began to panic, fearing paparazzi. “You could see the camera on it,” she said. “It was hovering over the ceremony. You could hear the whine.” So she ordered her videographer to send up his own drone and maneuver it between the rogue device and the wedding party below, hoping to block the camera’s shot. Soon afterward, the unknown drone flew off, and Gregoli has yet to see any images of the event in the tabloids. At future high-profile events, she plans to position a lookout to scan the sky for drones—with a counterdrone on standby just in case. In a perfect world, common sense would be built into every drone. For an early glimpse of what that might look like, I went with Jon Resnick, the policy representative for DJI, the Chinese drone company, on a field trip to the border between drone and no-drone airspace outside of Washington, D.C. Before joining DJI in January, Resnick spent two decades working as a TV-news producer for Reuters and then the Associated Press. He still talks (and smokes) more like a newsman than a businessman. We drove in his Nissan convertible to a large, grassy field next to a church in Oakton, Virginia, and he took a Phantom out of his trunk. He’d just come from a
world, including, as you might expect from a Chinese company, Tiananmen Square and the rest of Beijing. The system sends a message to a user’s control panel when the drone approaches a sensitive area, and stops the drone from flying farther when it reaches a no-fly location. “We are very cognizant,” Resnick told me, “of the potential for our stuff to be used for bad purposes.” To experience the magic of geofencing, I first flew Resnick’s drone around in unrestricted airspace, whipping it up and down and back and forth over the field. I waved to the camera and saw an image of myself from above projected on an iPad. “Now go over there,” Resnick said, pointing eastward, toward D.C. The drone buzzed off as directed, flying merrily for about 50 yards. Then it reared up slightly and hovered, as if it had run into an invisible wall. I pushed the joystick again, but the drone would not fly any farther. It hovered patiently, awaiting further instruction but refusing to break the rules, as prim as a flying C-3PO. “You can’t legislate away stupid,” Resnick likes to say. But you might be able to innovate it away, at least some of the time. Pre-engineered safeguards will undoubtedly become part of a broader solution, raising all manner of intriguing questions about what should—and should not—be geofenced, and who gets to decide. Right now, the DJI geofencing database contains more than 10,000 restricted sites, most of which are air“THERE’S SOMETHING ABOUT A DRONE,” ports. But who’s to say prisons should not be SCOT YOUNT SAYS, “THAT AWAKENS included? And what about Jennifer Aniston’s SOMETHING IN OUR PSYCHE THAT mansion in Bel Air? The list could get very long, very soon. WE DON’T EVEN KNOW IS THERE.” Moreover, geofencing is not a robust enough solution for the Secret Service or for airports. For one thing, if you choose not to meeting on Capitol Hill in which he’d had to repeatedly defend upgrade the software on your drone, it will still fly wherever drones, and he was still making the case. “See, he’s a happy you’d like it to go without the latest geofencing updates. (So guy!” he said, holding the device up to me. “He even has a far, DJI does not ground, or “brick,” devices that have not name,” he added, pointing at the label on its case, which read been upgraded.) Besides, advanced users can find ways to COSTELLO. Abbott, another of his drones, was at home. override geofencing by hacking into the software. And about Resnick started learning about drones two and a half years half the drones on the market don’t come with automatic geoago, to find ways for the Associated Press to get better, cheaper fencing at all. (That may change as the backlash grows. Senator Chuck Schumer has promised to introduce a proposal this footage. At the time, his camera crews had to use a helicopter fall that would require all consumer-drone companies to use to get certain shots: “I’d put a $5,000 line item in the budget geofencing.) and wait for my boss to yell at me.” But soon after he bought For now, every drone flight represents a sort of unmanned his office’s first drone, he realized that the FAA’s policies on psychological experiment, testing the boundaries of our commercial flying would make it extremely difficult for news comfort and our imagination. We may eventually become organizations to legally use drones. “I started out just wanting to take cool pictures,” Resnick said, “and I was sitting in desensitized to the machines we have built, especially if they meetings with the FAA, frustrated.” When DJI came calling, become more useful to more people. Until then, we will go it seemed like a good opportunity to get off the sidelines and with our guts, for better and for worse. enter the policy fray. After we’d been flying Costello for a few minutes, a car On Resnick’s third day at DJI, he got a call from his boss pulled up beside us. A man got out and walked over with a in Hong Kong. A Phantom had landed on the White House smile, introducing himself as the pastor of the church on lawn, and Resnick needed to go on CNN to explain what the whose field we were standing. “Drone?” he asked, eyebrows company was doing about it. Within a couple of days, DJI raised, hands in his pockets. We nodded, and Resnick offered announced that it had upgraded its software to prevent its to send him a photo of the church taken from above. The pastor drones from flying anywhere within the D.C. no-fly zone. The politely declined. He urged us to stay as long as we liked that tool, called geofencing, uses GPS coordinates to create virtual day. Then, ever so gently, he asked us to please not come back boundaries that drones cannot cross. in the future, alluding vaguely to liability concerns. Other drone manufacturers have resisted this approach so Amanda Ripley is a senior fellow at the Emerson Collective and far. But for the past year, DJI has used geofencing to prevent the author of The Smartest Kids in the World. its drones from flying over sensitive locations all around the 74
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The View From the Valley Which start-ups will change the world? Should we fear intelligent robots? And what do tech insiders think of HBO’s show about them? In our second annual Silicon Valley Insiders Poll, a panel of 101 executives, innovators, and thinkers weigh in. Illustrations by Elias Stein
Which start-up will change the world? Top answers:
Tesla, or anything else Elon Musk attempts: 7% Theranos: 7% (A COMPANY THAT OFFERS FAST AND INEXPENSIVE DIAGNOSTIC TESTS)
Slack: 5% (A GROUP-MESSAGING TOOL)
Additional answers: “Textio, which is applying analytics and linguistics to help remove gender bias in the hiring process.” — Katrina Lake, founder and CEO, Stitch Fix
“Inboard. People are underestimating the power of electric skateboards as a solution to the ‘last mile’ problem in commuting. I’ve been riding one to work every day for the past five months and loving it.” — Eric Wahlforss, co-founder and CTO, SoundCloud
What is the most overvalued tech company? Top answers:
Uber: 23% “Technically a start-up with no physical assets, Uber is matching the valuation of GM and Ford!”
“Absolutely. This is worse than the dot-com Internet bubble. Tons of money is being thrown at incremental, short-term proposals or fads, and the compensation for software-engineering talent is through the roof.”
Twitter: 14% Snapchat: 9% Slack: 6%
(Note: Some respondents skipped certain questions, and some answers were edited for space.) NOVEMBER 2015
— Michael A. Brown, president and CEO, Symantec
— Brit Morin, founder and CEO, Brit + Co
“Terrafugia. It’s close to releasing a street-legal airplane/car, a first step toward the company’s ultimate goal of a hybrid electric flying car.”
— Jay Rossiter, senior vice president of science and technology, Yahoo
— Alok Bhanot, CTO and executive vice president, VeriFone
“We’re certainly seeing some sky-high valuations for companies still proving out their business models and staying power.”
“Electroloom, which makes the world’s first 3-D printer for clothing. One of the company’s goals is to let consumers recycle their clothes back into the machine so that it can break apart the fibers and reuse them for a new piece of clothing.”
Are we in a tech bubble?
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“Only as much as we were in an electricity bubble 100 years ago.” — Gavin Hall, CTO, TED
— Sara Gardner, CTO of social innovation, Hitachi
TERRAFUGIA; JIM MONE/AP; SUE OGROCKI/AP; CHARLIE NEIBERGALL/AP; FRANK FRANKLIN II/AP; ANDY KROPA/INVISION/AP; M A R Y A LTA F F E R / A P ; C A R O LY N K A S T E R / A P ; R I N G O H . W . C H I U / A P ; R I C H A R D D R E W / A P ; C H I P S O M O D E V I L L A / G E T T Y
THE TECH ISSUE
Which election issue is most important to you?
If Silicon Valley were to elect its own president, who would it be?
If you could put one invention or innovation back in the box, what would it be?
Inequality: 18% The economy: 17% Immigration reform: 12% Climate change and overpopulation: 12% Foreign policy: 8% Health care: 7% Fiscal policy/ government spending: 7% National security (cyber and otherwise): 5% Education: 5%
The selfie stick: 12%
“I think almost every major issue—income inequality, environmental stress, water and food shortages, geopolitical conflicts—is hugely impacted by the continued increase in population. We are simply running out of room and resources. But nobody will run, or win, on the ‘we have too many people’ platform.”
Elon Musk: 16% “Based just on the money he made at PayPal, he’s thoughtfully attacking huge problems for humanity, including pollution and the survival of the species. It’s hard to imagine what he could do with the full faith and credit of the United States at his disposal.” — Mike Olson, co-founder and chief strategy officer, Cloudera
Nuclear and atomic weapons: 9% Facebook and/ or Twitter: 8% Additional answers: “The Salad Shooter. The world is full of products no one really needs. This is emblematic of a class of products we see in tech, too. Jeff Hammerbacher [a data scientist who worked at Facebook and then co-founded Cloudera] once said, ‘The best minds of my generation are thinking about how to make people click ads.’ We need today’s talent working on stuff that matters to our future.” — Jennifer Pahlka, founder and executive director, Code for America
— Marty Beard, COO, BlackBerry
“The news feed. The front page of every (popular) site on the Internet today is the same: Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, LinkedIn, Medium, Quora. They are endless scrolls of trivialities and shared links. These sites have simply become the newspapers—albeit customized by our interests and friends—of yesteryear. Where we’ve ended up is not very innovative, actually.”
If the presidential election were tomorrow, which of the declared candidates would you vote for? Sheryl Sandberg: 10% Marc Andreessen: 9%
— Aaron Patzer, co-founder and CEO, Fountain.com
Additional answer: “Given Silicon Valley’s current fixation on strong artificial intelligence, surely that honor must go to the first device or network to achieve consciousness. President Singularity will immediately offer full suffrage to all nonhuman entities, thus giving the Internet of Things an unbeatable voting bloc.” — Kate Crawford, principal researcher, Microsoft Research; visiting professor, MIT Center for Civic Media T H E AT L A N T IC
What is the greatest work of science fiction ever written?
Do you fear intelligent robots?
The Foundation novels, by Isaac Asimov: 17% The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, by Douglas Adams: 10% Star Wars: 7%
HBO’s Silicon Valley: 37% “It’s like watching your life as a satire. I know the real-life version of every character on the show.” — Christina Mercando, co-founder and CEO, Ringly
The Social Network: 12% Game of Thrones: 7% Additional answers: “Toddlers & Tiaras.” — Rod Favaron, president and CEO, Spredfast
“Big Hero 6. It captured the joy and beauty of innovation that I still think drives Silicon Valley.” — Salman Khan, founder and CEO, Khan Academy
What we need is Uber for … Top answers:
Health care: 12%
Babysitting/ elder care: 8% Mexican food: 3%
78% “I write AI software, and have 10-plus patents in algorithms. Everything that blows the mind of the public is good math and a bit of statistics. We are far further from AI sentience than you are led to believe.”
22% “We can unplug things. People need to calm down.” — Leyla D. Seka, senior vice president and general manager, Desk.com
— Aaron Patzer, co-founder and CEO, Fountain.com
“Super-intelligent AI is a serious existential threat we will face in the next 100 to 200 years. We need to develop empathetic, value-driven AI as a priority if we want the human species to survive and thrive in the 22nd century.” — Scott Button, co-founder and CEO, Unruly
Additional answers: “Compost pickup. San Franciscans don’t realize how lucky they are.” — Jillian C. York, director for international freedom of expression, Electronic Frontier Foundation
“Personal assistants. I’m counting the days until Hello Alfred, which is democratizing butler service in New York and Boston, launches in San Francisco.” — Matthew Prince, co-founder and CEO, CloudFlare
“Picking up your sunglasses when the afternoon turns into evening and messengering them back to your house.” — Ilan Zechory, co-founder and president, Genius
“Entourage—a lot of dudes with egos, rolling around, getting into trouble.”
Do you have an Apple Watch? “It is the worst device Apple has ever made. I really tried to like it, but I cannot find a place for it in my life.” — Nick Halstead, founder and CEO, DataSift
“No, but I have a Pebble Time, and I love it. I can finally read texts while driving my motorcycle.” — Steve Huffman, co-founder and CEO, Reddit
“My VP of products has one and recently showed me how he orders burritos at the touch of a button on his watch … That’s pretty tempting.” — Lew Cirne, founder and CEO, New Relic
— Katrina Lake, founder and CEO, Stitch Fix
What is the latest tech buzzword? Top answers:
Internet of Things: 17%
“A billion-dollar-valued company. So. Overused.” — Kiki Schirr, co-founder and CMO, Fittr
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“Decacorn. A term used to describe companies with valuations of $10 billion or more. Apparently, being just a unicorn doesn’t cut it anymore.” — Jim Yu, co-founder and CEO, BrightEdge
“Yoko. The term for blaming a prominent woman when it’s really a much deeper structural issue. Most common usage: Reddit.” — Kate Crawford, principal researcher, Microsoft Research; visiting professor, MIT Center for Civic Media
EVAN AGOSTINI/INVISION/AP; APPLE
Which TV show or movie of the past decade best captured the culture of Silicon Valley?
How many hours do you work in an average week? Too many/ who can count?: 19%
Will Oculus Rift live up to the hype?
“Writing a number in some way implies that there is a line drawn between ‘work’ and ‘personal.’ Balance is not something I currently enjoy.” — Logan LaHive, founder and CEO, Belly
80+ hours: 12%
“All of them.” — Philip Krim, co-founder and CEO, Casper
70–79 hours: 13%
“60. The problem is I have no idea which 60.” — Tim Wilson, managing director, Artiman Ventures
60–69 hours: 27%
“50. Studies show that any more than that actually results in reduced output.”
“Virtual reality will start replacing monitors within five years. That’ll mean that a considerable portion of the time that you currently spend at a computer screen (which is often more than 50% of your waking hours) will be replaced by life in the Matrix.” — Balaji S. Srinivasan, CEO, 21
— Jeremy Howard, founder and CEO, Enlitic
50–59 hours: 21%
“Did Google Glass live up to the hype?”
40–49 hours: 4% Fewer than 40 hours: 4%
— Philip Krim, co-founder and CEO, Casper
In 20 years, which of the following companies will still be in business?
Yes: 43% “Yes. In fact, I am answering this very question from a ranch in Montana where I am spending the week with no cell service and only a 20-foot radius of WiFi.”
IBM: 54% Uber: 52% LinkedIn: 48% PayPal: 39% eBay: 29% Twitter: 23% Yahoo: 16%
— Katrina Lake, founder and CEO, Stitch Fix
Rarely: 30% (ONLY WHEN SLEEPING, GOING TO THE BATHROOM, OR ON A PLANE)
No: 27% “Since I’m writing this on a canoe trip in the Adirondacks, I’d say no.” — Carl Bass, president and CEO, Autodesk
“Maybe the more interesting question is which companies will be joining the list. In 20 years we’ll be facing a very different set of planetary challenges. I’d expect less social media and more alternative energy, synthetic biology, and geo-engineering. And hopefully a more international set of names.” — Kate Crawford, principal researcher, Microsoft Research; visiting professor, MIT Center for Civic Media
Apple: 95% Google: 94% Amazon: 91% Facebook: 75% Microsoft: 71%
“People overestimate how quickly companies become successful and underestimate how slowly they disappear. A more important question might be how relevant they will be. Companies like Yahoo have been irrelevant for almost a decade, but it will not disappear anytime soon.”
Maybe: 29% I’d rather talk about augmented reality: 6% “Augmented reality that uses standard smartphones and computers will be part of everything we do, while virtual reality in head-mounted displays will be short-lived. No one likes to wear helmets.” — Yves Béhar, founder and CEO, fuseproject; chief creative officer, Jawbone; co-founder, August
— Carl Bass, president and CEO, Autodesk
THE PANEL: Aditya Agarwal, vice president of engineering, Dropbox, Steven Aldrich, senior vice president of business applications, GoDaddy, Maria Alegre, co-founder and CEO, Chartboost, Adam Bain, president of global revenue and partnerships, Twitter, Carl Bass, president and CEO, Autodesk, Clay Bavor, vice president of product management, Google, Marty Beard, COO, BlackBerry, Yves Béhar, founder and CEO, fuseproject; chief creative officer, Jawbone; co-founder, August, Anthony Bettencourt, president and CEO, Imperva, Alok Bhanot, CTO and executive vice president, VeriFone, Danah Boyd, principal researcher, Microsoft Research; founder, Data & Society, Michael A. Brown, president and CEO, Symantec, Jonathan Bush, co-founder and CEO, athenahealth, Scott Button, co-founder and CEO, Unruly, Vint Cerf, vice president and chief Internet evangelist, Google, Bora Chung, vice president of payments and checkout, eBay, Lew Cirne, founder and CEO, New Relic, Darren Clark, CTO, YP, Kate Crawford, principal researcher, Microsoft Research; visiting professor, MIT Center for Civic Media, Bracken Darrell, president and CEO, Logitech, Niccolo de Masi, chairman, president, and CEO, Glu Mobile, Scott Dietzen, CEO, Pure Storage, Tracy DiNunzio, founder and CEO, Tradesy, Tyler Droll, co-founder and CEO, Yik Yak, Sean Duffy, co-founder and CEO, Omada Health, Rod Favaron, president and CEO, Spredfast, David Feller, co-founder and CEO, Yummly, Sara Gardner, CTO of social innovation, Hitachi, Ajay Gopal, CFO, StubHub, Owen Grover, senior vice president and general manager, iHeartRadio, Tony Haile, CEO, Chartbeat, Gavin Hall, CTO, TED, Nick Halstead, founder and CEO, DataSift, Aaron Harris, partner, Y Combinator, Jeremy Howard, founder and CEO, Enlitic, Steve Huffman, co-founder and CEO, Reddit, Dev Ittycheria, president and CEO, MongoDB, Waldo Jaquith, director, U.S. Open Data, Jason Johnson, co-founder and CEO, August, Kevin Kelly, senior maverick, Wired, Salman Khan, founder and CEO, Khan Academy, Philip Krim, co-founder and CEO, Casper, Mohit Lad, co-founder and CEO, ThousandEyes, Logan LaHive, founder and CEO, Belly, Katrina Lake, founder and CEO, Stitch Fix, Bryan Lamkin, senior vice president of technology and corporate development, Adobe, Sahil Lavingia, founder and CEO, Gumroad, Eric Lefkofsky, co-founder and CEO, Groupon, Paula Long, co-founder and CEO, DataGravity, Horace Luke, co-founder and CEO, Gogoro,
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S E R G E Y G A LYO N K I N / W I K I M E D I A
Are you ever unreachable?
Which app could you not live without?
“Sleep Cycle. If you can only sleep three hours, this lets you get the best three hours possible.”
Uber: 9% Outlook/e-mail: 7% 1%
On a scale of 1 to 10 (with 10 being the worst), how bad is sexism in the tech industry?
Google Maps: 10%
— Balaji S. Srinivasan, CEO, 21
Could the Sony hack happen to your company?
Yes: 74% 1
3. “I have never felt sexism at the companies I’ve worked for in the tech industry.”
7. “I didn’t feel discriminated against for being a woman during my 20s, but being a new mother is making me a lot more aware of everyone’s biases, including my own. Not enough examples of working mothers means everyone makes silly generalizations about ‘what mothers care about.’ ”
— Bora Chung, vice president of payments and checkout, eBay
9. “Just look at the stats. Facebook, Twitter, and Google all have a lot to answer for.”
“Anyone who thinks otherwise is deluding themselves.”
— Dev Ittycheria, president and CEO, MongoDB
— Maria Alegre, co-founder and CEO, Chartboost
— Jillian C. York, director for international freedom of expression, Electronic Frontier Foundation
On a scale of 1 to 10, how serious is the lack of racial and ethnic diversity in the industry?
Any parting thoughts? 1
9. “The question of diversity is not just one about the numbers, or even about the culture of hostility toward and willful exclusion of black people and Latinos, the existence of which is axiomatic. It’s about the deep lack of self-reflection and the strong resistance to it. It’s about the deep comfort with being in all-white spaces (or only-white-andAsian spaces)—a different but very real type of ‘tech bubble’—and not understanding the impact of that exclusion on the work and society.” — Rashad Robinson, executive director, ColorOfChange
10. “The entire industry falls back on bullshit excuses like ‘It’s a pipeline problem’ and ‘We’re a meritocracy.’ The latter is particularly pernicious, because baked into the ‘meritocracy’ excuse is the inherent assumption that white men are just fundamentally superior to everybody else.” — Waldo Jaquith, director, U.S. Open Data
“I hope we will see some serious milestones in missions to the outer planets and to Alpha Centauri in the next two decades.” — Vint Cerf, vice president and chief Internet evangelist, Google
“Ingestible computing will become ubiquitous over the next 20 years.” — Andrew Thompson, co-founder and CEO, Proteus Digital Health
“Technology is awesome.” — Aditya Agarwal, vice president of engineering, Dropbox
Devin MacKenzie, CEO, Imprint Energy, Kira Makagon, executive vice president of innovation, RingCentral, Matt Maloney, co-founder and CEO, GrubHub, Todd McKinnon, co-founder and CEO, Okta, Christina Mercando, co-founder and CEO, Ringly, Eric Migicovsky, founder and CEO, Pebble, Alastair Mitchell, co-founder and president, Huddle, Brit Morin, founder and CEO, Brit + Co, Mike Olson, cofounder and chief strategy officer, Cloudera, Cindy Padnos, founder and managing partner, Illuminate Ventures, Jennifer Pahlka, founder and executive director, Code for America, Aaron Patzer, co-founder and CEO, Fountain.com, Claudia Perlich, chief scientist, Dstillery, Matthew Prince, co-founder and CEO, CloudFlare, Joshua Reeves, co-founder and CEO, ZenPayroll, J. R. Rivers, CEO, Cumulus Networks, Rashad Robinson, executive director, ColorOfChange, Jay Rossiter, senior vice president of science and technology, Yahoo, Andrew Rubin, co-founder and CEO, Illumio, Oscar Salazar, CTO and product officer, Ride, Pooja Sankar, founder and CEO, Piazza, Kiki Schirr, co-founder and CMO, Fittr, Leyla D. Seka, senior vice president and general manager, Desk.com, Clara Shih, founder and CEO, Hearsay Social, Michael Shmilov, COO, Viber, Zach Sims, co-founder and CEO, Codeacademy, Kieran Snyder, co-founder and CEO, Textio, John Somorjai, executive vice president of corporate development, Salesforce, Balaji S. Srinivasan, CEO, 21, Ramji Srinivasan, CEO, Counsyl, H. Tayloe Stansbury, executive vice president and CTO, Intuit, Lisa Sugar, co-founder and editor in chief, Popsugar, Mikkel Svane, founder and CEO, Zendesk, Andrew Thompson, co-founder and CEO, Proteus Digital Health, Sebastian Thrun, co-founder and CEO, Udacity, Kentaro Toyama, author, Geek Heresy: Rescuing Social Change From the Cult of Technology, Tri Tran, co-founder and CEO, Munchery, Eric Wahlforss, co-founder and CTO, SoundCloud, Nick Weaver, co-founder and CEO, eero, David Weinberger, senior researcher, Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard, James Whitehurst, CEO, Red Hat, Karen Wickre, editorial director, Twitter, Tim Wilson, managing director, Artiman Ventures, Tony Xu, co-founder and CEO, DoorDash, Sam Yagan, CEO, Match Group, Dan Yates, co-founder and CEO, Opower, Jillian C. York, director for international freedom of expression, Electronic Frontier Foundation, Christopher Young, senior vice president and general manager, Intel Security Group, Jim Yu, co-founder and CEO, BrightEdge, Marco Zappacosta, co-founder and CEO, Thumbtack, Ilan Zechory, co-founder and president, Genius
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THE QUESTIONS MAP You’re a business owner. You should care deeply about the Internet of Things. Maybe you already do. Maybe you don’t. Maybe you’re not sure what you think. Maybe you’re about to turn the page. Don’t. Pay attention. We’ll walk you through it. This is important.
Do you care about the Internet of Things (IoT)?
Good. Clearly you’re focused on your bottom line (not to mention market share, competitive advantage, environmental sustainability, etc.) But if you’re curious about IoT innovations in specific industries, stick with us.
The IoT market is projected to outsell the smartphone, PC, and tablet markets combined. “Roughly five billion of such connected devices will be in use in 2015, increasing to tens of billions in just a few years,” according to a report in Deloitte University Press. And many of these devices are transforming how businesses work across industries. Maybe it’s time to reconsider?
What’s the Internet of Things? The Internet of Things is the network of devices connected to the Internet and to each other—able to capture data and communicate it to one another. According to a Deloitte University Press report: “From smart thermostats in our homes, personal fitness bands on our wrists, and observational devices in vehicles to noise, efficiency, and vibration sensors embedded in factory machinery and jet engines, these devices, and the insights and predictions emanating from the resulting analytics, will quite literally be everywhere.”
Let’s move on.
Ok, ok. My business is just fine the way it is. No need to get all sci-fi. It’s not sci-fi. It’s what’s revolutionizing businesses right now. Are you sure you’re not interested in learning more?
Right, of course. I still don’t get it. Check out the Deloitte University Press article “IoT’s about us: Emerging forms of innovation in the Internet of Things” at http://dupress.com/articles/ internet-of-things-innovation
Strategy The IoT affects how companies create value for customers and compels them to revisit how they capture value for themselves.
Great! Go to http://dupress.com/ internet-of-things to learn more about how the IoT affects many different aspects of your business, including:
Will the IoT give you or your customers the upper hand? Your IoT efforts will work best when you both benefit, but that won't always be easy.
Security Any company deploying IoT solutions is well advised to understand the unique security challenges raised by these technologies.
Supply Chain For some, the IoT will increase supply-chain efficiency; for others, it will drive growth; and the really lucky ones will use IoT to enable innovation.
No, I changed my mind. Industry Applications Yes.
Thatâ€™s too bad. Maybe this article will change your mind.
We've looked at how the IoT might affect more than a dozen different sectors of the economy, including automotive, oil & gas, telecom, the public sector, the military, and more. We're still hard at work: expect to see reports on a dozen more industries before the end of the year.
THE TECH ISSUE
Al Gore has in mind nothing less than a new version of capitalism—one that reduces environmental and social damage, while still rewarding investors. The record of his 10-yearold firm, Generation Investment Management, suggests he may be onto something.
The Investment Secrets of Al Gore
(Planet-Saving, Capitalism-Subverting, Surprisingly Lucrative)
By JAMES FALLOWS Photographs by Christopher Griffith
H E N I L E F T the White House in 2001, I really didn’t know what I was going to do with my life,” Al Gore told me this summer, at his office in the Green Hills district of Nashville. “I’d had a plan”—this with a seemingly genuine chuckle rather than any sign of a grimace— “but … that changed!” After the “change,” via the drawn-out 2000 presidential election in which he won the vote of the populace but not that of the Supreme Court, for the first time in his adult life Gore found himself without an obvious next step. He was 52, two years younger than Barack Obama is now; he
hadn’t worked outside the government in decades; and even if he managed to cope personally with a historically bitter disappointment that might have broken many people, he would still face the task of deciding how to spend the upcoming years. Some of the answers he found are known to everyone. He connected himself with the leading tech firms of the era, Google and Apple. In 2005 he and a partner launched Current TV, which in 2013 was sold to Al Jazeera for several hundred million dollars. Throughout his political life he was poor compared with many senators; now by any standard he is rich. According to his financial-disclosure forms, Gore was worth between $1 million and $2 million when he ran for president. Gore declined to discuss his personal finances with me, but T H E AT L A N T IC
published estimates of his net worth are in the hundreds of millions. He was the most prominent U.S. politician to issue an early warning against the impending invasion of Iraq, which he did in a speech in California in September 2002. His first book about climate change, An Inconvenient Truth, was a No. 1 international best seller. The movie version won two Oscars, the audiobook won a Grammy, and for his climate work Gore was a co-winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007. Gore is still involved on most of these fronts. He has become a partner in the Silicon Valley venture-capital firm Kleiner Perkins and is a member of the Apple board. He founded and chairs an advocacy group called the Climate Reality Project, travels constantly for speeches, and has published several books since An Inconvenient Truth, including another No. 1 best seller, The Assault on Reason. I asked him how he divided his time among the projects. “Probably a little more than half on Climate Reality,” and then half on some other commitments. “And then probably another half on Generation.” The object of this final “half ” is Generation Investment Management, a company that is rarely mentioned in press coverage of Gore but that he says is as ambitious as his other efforts. The most sweeping way to describe this undertaking is as a demonstration of a new version of capitalism, one that will shift the incentives of financial and business operations to reduce the environmental, social, political, and long-term economic damage being caused by unsustainable commercial excesses. What this means in practical terms is that Gore and his Generation colleagues have done the theoretically impossible: Over the past decade, they have made more money, in the Darwinian competition of international finance, by applying an environmentally conscious model of “sustainable” investing than have most fund managers who were guided by a straight-ahead pursuit of profit at any environmental or social price. Their demonstration has its obvious limits: It’s based on the track record of one firm, which through one decade-long period has managed assets that are merely boutique-scale in the industry’s terms. Generation now invests a total of about $12 billion for its clients, which are mainly pension funds and other institutional investors, half U.S.-based and half overseas. For comparison, total assets under management by BlackRock, the world’s largest asset-management firm, are about $5 trillion, or 400 times as much. But for investment strategies, the past decade has been a revealing one, with its bubbles, historic crashes, and dramatic shifts in economic circumstances in China, Europe, and every other part of the globe. During that tumultuous time, from the summer of 2005 through this past June, the MSCI World Index, a widely accepted measure of global stock-market performance, showed an overall average growth rate of 7 percent a year. According to Mercer, a prominent London-based analytical
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firm, the average pre-fee return for the global-equity managers it surveys was 7.7 percent. This meant that after fees, which average about 70 “basis points” (or seven-tenths of 1 percent), the returns an average professional money manager could produce barely kept up with plain old low-cost, passive index funds. Individual investors have heard this message (“You can’t beat the market, so why try?”) for years, from index-investing firms like Vanguard. The Mercer analysis says that it applies even to the big-endowment pros. But through that same period, according to Mercer, the average return for Generation’s global-equity fund, in which nearly all its assets are invested, was 12.1 percent a year, or more than 500 basis points above the MSCI index’s growth rate. Of the more than 200 global-equity managers in the survey, Generation’s 10-year average ranked as No. 2. In addition to being nearly the highest-returning fund, Generation’s global-equity fund was among the least volatile. Gore is obviously delighted to discuss the implications of his firm’s success. “I wanted us to start talking when the five-year returns were in, but cooler heads persuaded me that we should wait until now,” he told me. But he says he is not doing so to attract more business. The minimum investment Generation will accept in its main fund is $3 million, and even then individuals must show they have total assets many times that large to be “qualified investors.” And besides, its most
“We are making the case for long-term greed.” Al Gore and David Blood, in Generation’s New York City office. August 25, 2015.
successful fund is now closed to new investment. Instead he and his colleagues are aiming at a small audience within the financial world that steers the flow of capital, and at the political authorities that set the rules for the financial system. “It turns out that in capitalism, the people with the real influence are the ones with capital!,” Gore told me during one of our talks this year. The message he hopes Generation’s record will call attention to is one the world’s investors can’t ignore: They can make more money if they change their practices in a way that will, at the same time, also reduce the environmental and social damage modern capitalism can do. “We are making the case for long-term greed,” David Blood told me in July. Blood is Generation’s senior partner and onscene leader at its headquarters in London. The formal name for the concept he and Gore are advancing is sustainable capitalism, which sounds both more familiar and less hardedged than what I understand to be the real underlying idea. The idea is that if some tenets of “long term” and “value based” investing are extended to include the environmental and social ramifications of corporate activity, the result can be better financial performance, rather than returns that are “nearly as good” or “worth it when you think of the social benefits.” I asked David Rubenstein, the billionaire co-founder and co-CEO of the Carlyle Group, the private-equity firm, what he thought of Generation’s aspirations and its business model.
“The general theory in investing is that the highest returns go to those who are unencumbered by sustainability or other environmental and social constraints,” he said. Generation’s “pitch that the conventional wisdom is wrong may be right; their record would be a good barometer.” “They are indeed unusual, in applying such a comprehensive sustainability perspective,” Dominic Barton, the global head of McKinsey, said when I asked him about Generation’s approach. “They have created a real demonstration vehicle for the idea that if you are broad-minded and care about externalities, you can actually add shareholder value. Many people have talked about this, but now they have done it.” The economist Laura Tyson, of UC Berkeley, who is part of Generation’s unpaid advisory board, said that Gore and Blood were “genuine pioneers” in showing the practicality of their investment approach. “When they started, very few people believed that a sustainability strategy could offer competitive returns,” she told me. “Their hypothesis has been borne out by their results.” No single small company is going to change finance by itself, and Generation’s past results are no guarantee of its future. But previous examples of market success—Peter Lynch of Fidelity in the early mutual-fund days, Warren Buffett of Berkshire Hathaway with his emphasis on the long term, David Swensen of Yale with his returns from unconventional investments, John Bogle of Vanguard with his advocacy of low-cost indexing—have shifted behavior. Generation’s goal is to present an example of a less environmentally and socially destructive path toward high returns.
HE CHAIN OF LOGIC behind this argument starts with the assumption that capitalism has shown its superiority to all other systems—as Gore put it to me, “it has proven to unlock a higher fraction of human potential” than any alternative system for making money—and markets are the most efficient way to allocate resources. But markets often overshoot, creating bubbles and busts like the destructive subprime real-estate disaster of the 2000s, and through its history the global capitalist system as a whole has periodically overshot, causing national or worldwide crises. The financial and industrial crises of the late 19th century led to reforms in the United States (and revolution in Russia) but were never fully resolved in Europe. The more profound crisis of the Great Depression led to the modern welfare state. The capitalist crisis of our times, to follow this logic, shows up in the recurring booms and busts, the widening gaps between rich and poor, and the intensifying pressures on the natural environment. In many countries, including the United States, overall growth has stagnated through the past decade, and the
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median income has fallen even while total wealth has gone up. In one way or another, all of these problems are related to faulty market signals or destructive incentives within today’s capitalism. Since the 2008 financial crisis, a growing number of economists, managers, and financiers have warned that ever shorter time horizons are destroying businesses and entire economies. For instance, this spring Laurence Fink, the CEO of BlackRock, sent a cautionary letter to hundreds of CEOs. As a group, he said, they were too attentive to short-term profitability and stock values, at the cost of the long-term welfare of their firms. “The average Fortune 500 CEO has a term of only five years,” Fink told me. “If you’re going to build a new factory in a manufacturing company, the break-even point is probably longer than that. In pharmaceuticals, the payoff time may be more than twice that long. There’s an incentive not to reinvest. You see these behaviors, year after year, and it’s a big problem.” Dominic Barton, of McKinsey, has written or co-written three influential articles in the Harvard Business Review on the pernicious effects of short-term pressures. According to a 2012 Harvard Business School study, simply issuing quarterly profit guidance, which most Wall Street analysts demand, led managers to overemphasize immediate returns in a way that reduced long-term profitability. So far these might sound like lessons from one of Warren Buffett’s annual letters to Berkshire Hathaway shareholders, or the pre-IPO letter from Google’s founders on why they were determined to resist short-term profitability pressures. The sustainable-capitalism concept includes a long-term outlook, a search for underlying value, and an attempt to resist distraction by market ephemera. But it adds the idea that the real, dollars-and-cents, balance-sheet value of a company is best assessed by including factors deliberately left out of many business measurements. Among them are a company’s environmental effects, the culture it creates internally, and its impact on the societies in which it operates. This contention involves some elements that seem blandly commonsensical, like the importance of matching pay and incentive structures with a company’s long-term interests. But others are anything but conventional. For instance, Warren Buffett considers Coca-Cola a wonderful long-term value proposition, because of its decades-long track record of worldwide success. By Generation’s standards, it is distinctly unsustainable, since obesity problems in all of its leading market countries will, in the firm’s view, inevitably do to the soda industry what public-health concerns have done to Big Tobacco.
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Generation’s best-known analysis is its 2013 report asserting that coal and petroleum reserves were “stranded assets” whose theoretical market value would never be realized, because environmental, legal, technological, and market constraints would inevitably prevent much of that carbon from being sold and burned. Generation argued that the bankruptcies, write-downs, and market declines that had battered the coal industry in the past decade would soon extend to oil companies. As a prominent Harvard alumnus, Gore has said that the university’s endowment should divest itself of carbonbased assets. “But I say that not just because it’s the ‘right’ thing to do but because it is the economically smart thing to do,” Gore told me. “Oil companies have assets on the books worth $21 trillion, but that’s based on the fiction that all that carbon is going to be burned.”
*** SEEING MORE OF THE “SPECTRUM” I’ve observed, interviewed, and slightly known Gore over the decades, and have been on better and worse terms with him over that time (based mainly on what I had most recently written about him). It’s common knowledge that his physical appearance varies. When I saw him this summer, he looked good—sturdy rather than portly, tall and erect, hair now gray rather than jet-black but still present and combed straight back. His speaking mode has also varied by year and by setting: sometimes loose and wisecracking, sometimes ponderous and slow. When I spoke with him through a long afternoon in Nashville this summer, he seemed to have evolved a jokey enjoyment of his own weakness for pedantry. For instance: As I first walked into his office, he showed me a big photo of the Earth, like the famous Blue Marble picture from Apollo 17 that everyone has seen. This one showed Africa and Europe, rather than the Americas, as in the Apollo shot. “Nice!,” I said, or something similar. He realized he had an opening for a little tutelage, so he explained to me why this photo, far from nice, was something extraordinary. It turned out that the familiar Blue Marble picture was not just the best-known “full disk” picture of the Earth. It was, according to Gore, the only one of that exact type ever taken— until, that is, a few days earlier, when a NASA satellite had produced the second-ever photograph, the one Gore was now showing to his underappreciative visitor. Gore had initiated the Deep Space Climate Observatory satellite program, known as DSCOVR, when he was vice president; Dick Cheney personally zeroed out its funding as soon as he could, and the program
ASS O C I AT E D P R ESS
went into hibernation until the Obama adminapproach. I’ve gone this far in my journalistic caTHE MANY LIVES OF istration revived it. After more than 40 years in reer without feeling compelled to use holistic; I AL GORE which one Blue Marble photo of the Earth existed, deploy it here as part of my reportorial duty.) 1. As a Democratic DSCOVR would start producing photos every day. From Generation’s perspective, most of what congressman repre“I love explaining this!,” Gore said—and obviously passes for “financial” analysis—the focus on senting Tennessee’s he did. But he also seemed to be taking some price-to-earnings ratios, the daily chatter on Fourth District. September 23, 1981. arm’s-length amusement, in a way I had not seen why the markets moved, the screaming on the 2. As Bill Clinton’s runhim do during his competitive political career, at cable shows, the speculation about the Federal ning mate. July 9, 1992. the spectacle of himself giving this little lecture. Reserve—is equivalent to the tiny slice of the 3. As the Democratic nominee for president, He loved the spectrum even more. Halfway entire spectrum human eyes can see. It’s hard debating George through our talk he asked politely, “Has anyone to detect the full extent of the spectrum, but W. Bush. October 17, mentioned the metaphor of the spectrum, as a Generation believes that attempting to do so 2000. 4. As a filmmaker, guide to our work?” I said that, as it happened, can make businesses both more sustainable and accepting the Acadduring my recent visit to the Generation Investmore profitable. emy Award for Best ment headquarters in London, every single perWhen the spectrum model is applied to investDocumentary, for An Inconvenient Truth. son had mentioned it to me. It was a core part ing, it means a subtly but significantly different February 25, 2007. of company culture. And I was actually holding approach from some of the “ethical investing” 5. As a television execin my hand a chart that explained the concept. approaches of the past. For as long as there have utive and co-owner of Current TV, winning an And … been buyers and sellers, borrowers and lenders, Emmy for outstanding “Oh, that’s great!” he said, and sat looking a people have considered using market power for interactive television. little disappointed for a moment. Then he brightnoneconomic ends, as in boycotts of British tea September 16, 2007. 6. As a Nobel laureate ened. “But this is important, so I’d just like to exby the American colonialists in the 18th century in Oslo, Norway, when plain …” and boycotts of the products of American slave he was awarded the So now let me explain! We all know that labor in the 19th. The current ethical-investment Nobel Peace Prize, there’s a spectrum of visible light, from red at one movement dates to the 1960s, when students which he shared with the Intergovernmental end, with the lowest-frequency waves, to violet pressured their universities to rid endowments Panel on Climate at the other, with the highest. Everyone has also of holdings in defense contractors or big pollutChange. Decemers. The most famous political success of what is heard in science class that visible light is only a ber 2007. 7. As a technology called a “negative screen” approach—ruling out small part of the full electromagnetic spectrum. investor and environThe spectrum extends in a vastly broader range certain categories of investment—was the antimental crusader, talkthan we can see. Just below red, on the low end, apartheid boycott of South African products and ing about green infrastructure projects it goes first to infrared and then farther down businesses in the 1980s and early 1990s. But all at a trade show. April 3, to microwaves and radio waves. On the highof these methods viewed “ethics” as a minus, the 2009. frequency end, it goes from violet to ultraviolet unavoidable cost of doing the right thing. The and then up to X-rays and gamma rays. But until people at Generation, of course, contend that 200 years ago, people had no idea that the nonthe “holistic” and “sustainable” view is a busivisible parts of the spectrum even existed. “We can see less ness plus, in the service of long-term greed. than one-tenth of 1 percent of what’s really there,” Gore said, They have more evidence to draw on than just their own. making sure I got the point. “We were blind and didn’t know The most comprehensive recent research in this field, released what we couldn’t see!” last year by economists at Oxford University in collaboration The reason everyone at Generation uses this analogy is with the investment firm Arabesque, drew on 190 academic that it matches their ambition: to improve investment choices studies and news reports about businesses that had and had by bringing more information into the range of the visible not applied sustainability policies. The business-world term rather than leaving anything out. (The other two words they for these policies is ESG, meaning that in addition to normal use all the time are sustainability, which of course is their cenprofit-and-loss calculations a company factors in the envitral precept, and holistic, to describe their inclusive analytical ronmental, social, and governance effects of what it does.
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In spectrum-analogy terms, these are policies that broaden considerations beyond the narrow range of visible light. (A related concept is that of the “triple bottom line,” promoted by the British consultant John Elkington starting in the 1990s. This is the idea that, in addition to the normal financial profitand-loss bottom line, corporations should also be measured by the bottom line of their environmental and social effects.) The Oxford-Arabesque report found overwhelming evidence that “it is in the best economic interest for corporate managers and investors to incorporate sustainability considerations into decision-making processes.” According to the study, the advantages include more stable (and less volatile) revenues, significantly lower cost of capital, higher profits, and better share-price performance. In an ongoing series of speeches, the Bank of England’s chief economist, Andrew Haldane, has similarly emphasized that firms and investors that widen their perspective and look beyond this quarter’s or year’s results can earn predictably higher returns than those that don’t. Most people who have taken economics courses would say: That can’t be so! If the returns really were higher, everyone would already be investing this way. Arbitrage would even out the returns. (In economics courses, this is known as the “$20 bill paradox”: An economist sees some money lying on the sidewalk and says, “That can’t be a $20 bill, because if it were, someone would have picked it up.”) But Haldane’s analysis shows a persistent market failure because of habits of mind, compensation structure, and other real-world factors that make investors undervalue long-term returns. Thus there are potential increased rewards for those who can organize themselves to think differently and buck the trend.
where his father was an executive with Ford. When he was 11 and headed into sixth grade, his father was reassigned to Brazil, and the whole family moved to São Paulo. Each morning, through the window by his breakfast table, he could look out directly onto a Brazilian slum, or favela. “I could throw a baseball into the house of a boy my age,” he told me when I met him in London. “I wondered how it was that I was here and he was there. That has bothered me all those years since, the disparity in income and wealth. It was a moment that led to the founding of Generation.” Blood came back to the United States for high school, was a star football linebacker at Hamilton College, in New York, and planned to become a child psychologist. But he didn’t get into graduate school, and his application for the Peace Corps was turned down. “My father said, ‘You have to get a job,’ and the only offer I got was from a bank. “I’d never thought about finance, but I found I was okay at it,” Blood said. Over the next decade, he thrived. After his first job, with Bankers Trust, he went to Harvard Business School. His most formative experience there came during the summer between his first and second year, when he worked for the thenfamous, now-defunct (through merger) brokerage firm E. F. Hutton. “Everything about the culture seemed wrong to me,” he said. “Everything was short-term-focused, with no sense of what would help the client in the long run.” This was around the time that a young bond trader named Michael Lewis was observing something similar at the also now-defunct Salomon Brothers. Lewis converted his insights into his first book, Liar’s Poker. Blood developed an enduring interest in the way a firm’s internal culture governed its success. “There were companies that had the same toxic short-term culture in those days— Drexel, Salomon, Bear Stearns, Kidder, Lehman,” he told me. “They’re all gone. If you look at what happened to them, it was all failures of culture: governance, leadership, incentive structures, values. That’s why they failed. And that was the beginning of my view that long-term business success requires a holistic view, involving teamwork, integrity, values.” He said he found the values he was looking for at Goldman Sachs, a firm that then prided itself on a noblesse-oblige culture of putting its investors’ interests first. Blood rose in the organization, was transferred to London, and by the time he met Al Gore in 2003 had become the head of Goldman’s assetmanagement division, overseeing 1,600 people and managing $325 billion in investments. He had also become a U.K. citizen, although unlike some other Yankee expats he does not sound ersatz British when he talks. Just when Gore was turning to Goldman Sachs for advice on buying the Swiss asset-management firm, Blood was preparing to leave. Their mutual friend at the firm introduced Blood to Gore, and they immediately agreed they should work together. “It was obvious that we were both searching for the same holy
A growing number of economists warn that ever shorter time horizons are destroying businesses and entire economies.
*** WHEN GORE MET BLOOD “I won’t be one of those people saying, ‘Oh, it wasn’t about the money,’ ” Gore told me about his early postelection work for an asset-management firm called Metropolitan West, based in Newport Beach, California. “I am telling you straight up, it was about the money. They were very nice people, and they offered me enough money to get my attention.” After a year of work, Gore had improved his finances and found the intellectual exercise of asset management— matching insights about opportunities and challenges to bets on particular firms—to be truly interesting. “I decided that I wanted to continue in the business, but I wanted to do it on my own terms,” he told me. By 2003 Gore had made enough money to consider buying an investment company, and looked hard at one in Switzerland called Sustainable Asset Management. A friend at Goldman Sachs was advising him in this investment and said: You don’t really want to buy a company. What you want to do is meet David Blood. Then in his early 40s, Blood had enjoyed a conventionally successful finance career, starting from an unconventional background. He grew up in the prosperous suburbs of Detroit,
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Mark Ferguson (left) and Miguel Nogales (right), Generation’s chief investment officers, with David Blood in their London office. September 8, 2015.
grail,” Gore told me, “which was a way to manage assets with sustainability built into every part of the model.” They considered buying the Swiss firm and other possibilities, but finally agreed that their best chances lay with what Gore calls the “long, slow approach”: starting their own company, whose structure, values, analytic approach, and payment schemes would be designed the way they wanted. In early 2004 they founded Generation with five other like-minded partners. They spent the rest of that year establishing the firm’s operating rules, objectives, and even its own new vocabulary, which they considered important for a group determined to reconceive investment. To get this out of the way: The obvious joke about their collaboration is that the firm should have been named Blood and Gore. The joke is so obvious that nearly everyone I spoke with about Generation mentioned it. Overobviousness, along with forced jocularity, no doubt helps explain why the founders chose a different name. But Gore and Blood both emphasized another reason, which reflects the values they hoped to build into the firm: There were seven partners, not two, at its founding. Gore and Blood are now first among equals, as chairman and senior partner, respectively. (Gore spends about a week a month at Generation’s office in London, and several more days at its office in New York. He joins, by phone, weekly management-committee meetings, and he told me that he spends part of nearly every day in online or telephone contact with Generation analysts.) In the details of its daily work, Generation incorporates a team-based rather than star-dominated approach to decision making.
HOW IT WORKS In practice, seeing more of the spectrum involves a disciplined, complex, multilevel process, which I heard about in London. I’ll highlight just three of its aspects. The road map. The starting point for many of Generation’s investment decisions is a set of “road map” reports, on the longterm business, environmental, and social aspects of emerging technologies or markets. The Generation team, which now numbers more than 60 people in London and another 11 in
New York, has produced more than 100 of these reports, on topics ranging from the worldwide spread of diabetes to changes in the heating-and-air-conditioning industry, which (with elevators) can account for nearly half the total energy use in big cities. I am looking as I write at a report on the environmental and workforce implications of the rapid rise in data-storage centers, the physical incarnation of the “cloud.” Next to it is one on the “last mile” question of online commerce: how products ordered over the Internet make their way into customers’ hands, and whether the dynamics are more likely to make delivery companies—the postal service, FedEx and DHL, and eventually Lyft and Uber—into retailers, or instead convert retailers such as Costco and Walmart into their own deliverers. And another report on the environmental, workforce, and urban-planning ramifications of those models and others. I’ve read a lot of these reports now. When they touched on topics I knew about, such as the manufacturing supply chain in China, or the business future of the media and the political and social effects of that changed future, I thought they rang true. The rest gave me a better understanding of, say, sustainability issues in the fashion industry, and equipped me to learn more. The company also runs occasional multiday “solutions summits” on major topics for its analysts, held at its headquarters in London and presided over by Gore. This June it held one on “The Future of Mobility,” meant to explore what changes in city planning, self-driving cars, battery and engine and drone technologies, business models like Uber’s, and other areas would mean for companies ranging from Tesla to Priceline. As I read the records of some past summits, I realized that they were more, well, holistic than events I’d heard of or seen elsewhere. Compared with those at universities or government agencies or think tanks, they were more tied to business opportunities. Compared with those at other financial firms, they took a broader historical and intellectual view. The focus list. Based on the road maps, summits, and other sources of guidance, Generation’s analysts begin researching specific companies. They travel to the headquarters and interview managers and board members. They tour factories; they learn about competitors. They check sites like Glassdoor.com, where former employees discuss what they liked and didn’t like about a firm. Once a week, about 25 members of the analyst team sit around a big conference table in London to discuss a company that has been the target of such research. They know that at the end of the meeting, they will each be asked to assign the company a value on two scales, BQ and MQ. BQ stands for “business quality,” a measure of whether the firm is likely to enjoy better-than-average long-term profitability. Does it have a “moat” against competitors? Is its whole industry vulnerable
PHOTOGRAPH BY DARIO MITIDIERI T H E AT L A N T IC
“Long-term business success requires a holistic view, involving teamwork, integrity, values.” The London office. September 8, 2015.
to disruption? Does it have a strong enough brand to avoid ruinous price competition? MQ stands for “management quality,” which encompasses not merely the character and intelligence of the executives and board members but also how closely their personal interests are aligned with the firm’s. Do their payment schemes encourage them to cash out or front-load the company’s profits and thus underfund long-range investments? Are they respected or resented by employees at large? Built into both assessments is consideration of the company’s social and environmental effects. Neither a very profitable business with disastrous environmental side effects nor a well-meaning company with weak revenues would qualify for investment. Presiding over these meetings are Generation’s two co–chief investment officers, Mark Ferguson and Miguel Nogales. I heard the shorthand “Mark and Miguel” at Generation almost as often as I heard references to “Al.” (No one there seems to call him “Vice President Gore”; they viewed my reflexive use of the term as a weird Americanism.) Ferguson and Nogales, both in their 40s, make up an odd-couple leadership team. Nogales grew up in southern Spain, in a family of doctors and medical professors. He came to England for high school and then went to Cambridge, where he earned a degree with highest honors in economics. If you had to guess, based on bearing and diction, who at Generation was from the English upper class, you would choose the man from Spain. Mark Ferguson is a Scot who says he finished high school only because he injured his knee in a soccer game when he was 16 and gave up his dream of going pro. “I come from a football family,” he told me. This was wry understatement: His father is the longtime Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson, probably more recognizable on a London street than Al Gore. Both Ferguson and Nogales went into finance early and thrived. But in their 30s each was looking for a way to combine it with his environmental and social-justice interests. Ferguson had worked, at different times, with both Blood and Nogales; Blood introduced them both to Gore; and in 2004 they were all part of the founding team. (The other three founders were a young asset manager named Colin le Duc; Gore’s former chief of staff, Peter Knight; and Peter Harris, of Goldman Sachs.) At the focus-list meeting I attended, Ferguson and Nogales guided the conversation rather than weighing in themselves, taking care to draw out even the soft-spoken or introverted analysts and those less comfortable in English. The business
under discussion at that session was a well-known U.S.-based technology firm, which I am not supposed to name. On the good side, it held a wide market lead, and some of its technologies had shown potential in helping low-capital entrepreneurs in Africa, India, and elsewhere. On the bad side, other technologies might leapfrog its entire market category. Analysts argued the pros and cons. And was the pay structure likely to keep the best executives on board? An analyst making a case about the strengths of a company is also supposed to prepare an imagined corporate obituary, listings the things that went wrong and led the company to fail. When it came time to vote on business quality and management quality, everyone around the table held out a closed fist, palm down. Then, on a count of three—“rockpaper-scissors” style—each person at the table put out one to five fingers, ranking first the company’s BQ and then its MQ. This company got a BQ3 and an MQ3. “We came up with the rock-paperscissors plan because we found that if Miguel or I indicated our feelings, that would inevitably steer things,” Ferguson told me. What struck me when the process was over was what I had not heard during the long back-and-forth: namely, any mention of the company’s stock price. “That would really be frowned on at this stage of discussion,” Nogales said when I mentioned this to him the next day. “It would suggest a misunderstanding of what we’re trying to do.” He meant separating the judgment about whether a company is sustainably profitable from the decision about when to buy its shares. The initial judgment is made, collectively, at the focus-list meeting. If a company scores 3 or higher on both measures, it is added to Generation’s focus list. That list now has about 125 entries. These are the firms whose stock prices and earnings Ferguson and Nogales watch closely, so they
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Generation’s deliberative process for choosing investments differs profoundly from the investmenthouse norm.
can buy if and when the price falls into what they consider an attractive range. Some companies have been on the list for years but have never become cheap enough to buy. Nogales told me, for example, about a European biotech firm that Generation considers a top-ranked BQ5/MQ5. Unfortunately, the rest of the investing public has also recognized its virtues, keeping the price too high. In other cases Ferguson and Nogales have bought when the price was right—and then kept buying as the price went into a slump. For instance, in 2007 Generation bought 5 percent of the total shares of Kingspan, an Irish company that had invented a dramatically effective form of building insulation. During the ensuing collapse of the world’s construction business, the company’s share price plummeted from 22 euros all the way down to 2. Generation increased its holdings as the shares fell; the price is now back in the 20s. “Our sustainability analysis has given us the conviction to have very concentrated positions in companies we think have the right long-term earning potential,” Nogales told me. Some of these bets have gone wrong—an early stake in First Solar, an Arizona-based company whose solar panels were underpriced by Chinese competitors and whose business results fell short of Generation’s assumptions. But enough have gone right to give Generation the performance record on which it is now making its case. Active ownership. This is the third distinctive trait of the Generation approach. Mark Ferguson said that in a normal firm, 80 percent of the attention is on the buy decision and 20 percent on the sell, leaving zero percent for owning shares in a company. From Gore and Blood on down, everyone I spoke with at Generation said they viewed the attention scale entirely differently. Their real responsibilities began rather than ended when they bought shares of a firm. Generation officials meet with board members and managers of companies they invest in, explaining exactly what they like about the business and what kinds of decisions they’re hoping to see. “We talk directly with them about compensation levels, about board structure, about sustainability practices they are considering,” Nogales said. “Typically board members and CEOs will tell us that we’re the first institutional investors ever to talk about these issues. You should not underestimate the influence this can have on CEOs. We are trying to give cover to people who want to do things in a different way.”
*** REINVENTING CAPITALISM? At Generation, I could tell that I had slightly hurt Mark Ferguson’s, Miguel Nogales’s, and David Blood’s feelings by not acting more awestruck at what I was seeing. To me, the analyst reports and discussions resembled good versions of what I’d seen and heard over the years from scientists discussing opportunities and obstacles in a field they knew well, or entrepreneurs weighing prospects for a new business. The Generation officials emphasized that if I had spent more of my life in the financial world, I would understand how profoundly their deliberative process varied from the investment-house norm. In particular, it was not based on a star system, in which leading analysts cultivate their contacts and play their hunches.
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S M A L L P R AY E R
If my heart were scoured, if my soul were remade into a new and shining garment, then would I have to die? Lord, if perfection is death, let me stay here a little while longer, spotted and stained.
— Elizabeth Spires Elizabeth Spires’s most recent collection is The WaveMaker (2008). She teaches at Goucher College.
Nor did it involve the normal sort of quantitative analyses of general market trends. “If you want to get an idea of the difference, spend a few minutes watching CNBC,” Blood told me. Pay systems at financial firms are typically based on year-by-year or even quarter-by-quarter profits; staff turnover is rapid, driven by higher pay offers elsewhere. Bonuses for Generation’s investment team are based on its funds’ performance over a three-year period. Annual turnover has been about 3 percent through Generation’s history, very low for the financial world. When I was able to look at the complete focus list of 125 companies under ongoing consideration, and public U.S., U.K., and European regulators’ reports on the companies in which Generation holds active positions, I was at first puzzled about just what made this lineup so special. Of the three dozen companies in which Generation reported holdings as of June 30, its largest holding was in Microsoft. No. 2 was Qualcomm, the leading chip maker for the mobile-phone industry, and the top 10 also included Google and the company that makes John Deere tractors. I asked David Blood how this constituted any kind of reinvention of capitalism. He reminded me that Generation was trying to realize two goals usually considered contradictory: making a lot of money and supporting sustainable businesses. Every company on the focus list—big or small, household name or obscure start-up—had passed Generation’s internal test of offering good long-term business prospects. The big, familiar names were in one way or another advancing a sustainability goal. Microsoft, according to Nogales, met the test of “providing goods and services consistent with a lowcarbon, healthy, fair, and safe society,” while also being (in Generation’s perhaps contrarian view) an attractive long-term business. Qualcomm was notable for its market position and its leadership in clean manufacturing and energy-efficient
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processing chips. John Deere? Equipment that supported “precision agriculture,” which could increase crop yields while reducing demand for energy, water, and chemical inputs. For the past six years Generation has held shares in Unilever, which it considers a proponent of sustainable agriculture around the world. A major cause of deforestation throughout the tropics is clearing forests to open land for palm-oil plantations, and the market for palm oil is dominated by big companies like Unilever, P&G, Nestlé, and L’Oréal. Unilever, the single largest palm-oil purchaser, has coordinated international efforts toward sustainable palm-oil production. Once I looked past the likes of Microsoft and Qualcomm, I saw that about a third of the companies on Generation’s holdings list, and the great majority of those on its larger focus list, were ones I had simply never heard of before, even in fields I felt familiar with. I asked about them and learned that many made ambitious environmental or social-benefit claims. For instance: Ocado, an online-only grocery company based in England, has no physical stores. It claims to be able to deliver your selections to your house for a lower total energy/carbon cost than if you walked to a store yourself, and at much greater savings than if you drove. (Main reason: It avoids the extreme energy intensity of operating a chain of normal grocery stores, where the cooling and heating systems are working against each other, and where so much fresh food goes unsold and spoils. Instead Ocado uses an Amazon-esque model of stocking food in its own few warehouses, where rapid stock turnover minimizes spoilage. The energy costs of its sophisticated home-delivery network are less than those of a chain’s distribution system.) A firm called Ansys, based in the small Pennsylvania town of Canonsburg, has developed simulation software that allows engineering companies to skip many stages of creating physical prototypes, thus saving time, energy, and materials. Other Ansys products allow companies to model and reduce the environmental effects of their operations. Linear Technology, based in Milpitas, California, north of San Jose, dominates the market for sensors and related devices for electric and hybrid vehicles (which can use five to 10 times as many of them, per vehicle, as conventional cars). I asked about many other companies and heard many similar rationales. Some concerned a firm’s environmental or public-health effects; others, exceptional market power. All arose from the long BQ/MQ analytical approach. When I pressed Gore and Blood on whether this assortment of companies, plus Generation’s undeniably successful first-decade performance record, had more than niche significance, they said they recognized the risks of overstating their achievement. But they said it should not be underappreciated, because they had provided at least one counterexample to the assumption that reducing the destructive side effects of modern capitalism would necessarily mean reducing its success. Political strategies change when a candidate comes out of nowhere to win. Coaches and athletes must adapt after losses if
they hope to win again. The Generation strategy had proved a winner by the standards capitalism cares about most. “When a new model appears that shows consistent results that beat the average, that model is sought after,” Gore told me. “Even if most assets are still allocated to index funds or by algorithmic traders, a prime part of the world’s assets are reserved for managers who think they can beat the market. That is what we have done. Our goal is to show that sustainability is a ‘best practice’ for doing this, and thus for changing the culture of the investment marketplace. I know that sounds pretty grandiose, but it’s our aim.” Many other people suggested to me that world finance is ready for such a push. Laurence Fink, of BlackRock, said that he wrote his open letter to CEOs because “I truly believe we need to have inclusive capitalism, progressive capitalism”—a system that can be “stronger, more resilient, more equitable, and better able to deliver the sustainable growth the world needs.” Fink said that countless pressures, from hyper-fast automated trading to the frenzied tone of cable-news coverage, were steering managers toward destructively shortsighted behavior. “We decided that we needed to be a countervailing voice, to say that as your largest shareholder, we’re going to raise expectations about how you behave.” Dominic Barton, of McKinsey, has written extensively about the leverage that investors and boards can have in deterring short-term, unsustainable corporate behavior. With Fink and other asset managers from Europe, North America, Asia, and elsewhere, Barton has been organizing an effort to convert major investors to a longer-term outlook. “We have something like $10 trillion in investable assets lined up here,” he told me. “This is not a small-potatoes amount, and it can send a very powerful signal.” Laura Tyson, of Berkeley, says that sustainability strategies of one kind or another are now “by far the fastest-growing category of assets under management.” In his book Capitalism 4.0, published in the wake of the worldwide crash of 2008–09, the British financial writer Anatole Kaletsky argued that capitalism has survived so long because of its ability to adapt and mutate. In times of deep crisis—the brutal inequality of the first Gilded Age, the mass unemployment of the 1930s, financial instability and environmental pressures today—governments sooner or later intervene. “At these historic moments, when the capitalist system appears to be in its death-throes, it also seems incapable of radical reform,” he wrote. But just then, “politics kicks in to shake up institutional structures … [and] a reformed version of capitalism takes shape.” “Reform” sounds boring and earnestly high-minded, criticisms that have been applied to Al Gore as well. But having lost some of the major fights in his life, he has earned consideration for the implications of this win.
“When a new model … shows consistent results that beat the average, that model is sought after,” Gore says.
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James Fallows is an Atlantic national correspondent.
THE TECH ISSUE
As government agencies and tech companies find ever more intrusive ways to influence and probe our thoughts and behavior, one man considers how to stay human in the panopticon.
IF YOU’RE NOT PARANOID, YOU’RE CRAZY BY WALTER KIRN
PHOTOGRAPHS BY PHIL TOLEDANO 98
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night, about a year before my phone suggested I eat more walnuts, I was researching modern spycraft for a book I was thinking about writing when I happened across a creepy YouTube video. It consisted of surveillance footage from a Middle Eastern hotel where agents thought to be acting on behalf of Israel had allegedly assassinated a senior Hamas official. I watched as the agents stalked their target, whom they apparently murdered in his room, offscreen, before reappearing in a hallway and nonchalantly summoning an elevator. Because one of the agents was a woman, I typed these words into my browser’s search bar: Mossad seduction techniques. Minutes later, a banner ad appeared for Ashley Madison, the dating site for adulterous married people that would eventually be hacked, exposing tens of millions of trusting cheaters who’d emptied their ids onto the Web. When I tried to watch the surveillance footage again, a video ad appeared. It promoted a slick divorce attorney based in Santa Monica, just a few miles from the Malibu apartment where I escaped my cold Montana home during the winter months. Adultery, divorce. I saw a pattern here, one that I found especially unwelcome because at the time I was recently engaged. Evidently, some callous algorithm was betting against my pending marriage and offering me an early exit. Had merely typing seduction into a search engine marked me as a rascal? Or was the formula more sophisticated? Could it be that my online choices in recent weeks—the travel guide to Berlin that I’d perused, the Porsche convertible I’d priced, the old girlfriend to whom I’d sent a virtual birthday card—indicated longings and frustrations that I was too deep in denial to acknowledge? When I later read that Facebook, through clever computerized detective work, could tell when two of its users were falling in love, I wondered whether Google might have similar powers. It struck me that the search engine might know more about my unconscious than I do—a possibility that would put it in a position not only to predict my behavior, but to manipulate it. Lose your privacy, lose your free will—a chilling thought. Around the same time, I looked into changing my carinsurance policy. I learned that Progressive offered discounts to some drivers who agreed to fit their cars with a tracking device called Snapshot. That people ever took this deal astonished me. Time alone in my car, unobserved and unmolested, was sacred to me, an act of self-communion, and spoiling it for money felt heretical. I shared this opinion with a friend. “I don’t quite see the problem,” he replied. “Is there something you do in your car that you’re not proud of? Frankly, you sound a little paranoid.” My friend was right on both counts. Yes, I did things in my car I wasn’t proud of (wasn’t that my birthright as an American?), and yes, I’d become a little paranoid. I would have to be crazy not to be. HE NIGHT I SAW my first black helicopter—or heard it, because black helicopters are invisible at night— I was already growing certain that we, the sensible majority, owe plenty of so-called crackpots a few apologies. We dismissed them, shrugging off as delusions or urban legends various warnings and anecdotes that now stand revealed, in all too many instances, as either solid inside tips or spooky marvels of intuition.
P R O P S T Y L I N G BY A R I A N A S A LVATO / A P O S T R O P H E
KN E W W E ’ D B O U G H T WA LN U T S at the store that week, and I wanted to add some to my oatmeal. I called to my wife and asked her where she’d put them. She was washing her face in the bathroom, running the faucet, and must not have heard me—she didn’t answer. I found the bag of nuts without her help and stirred a handful into my bowl. My phone was charging on the counter. Bored, I picked it up to check the app that wirelessly grabs data from the fitness band I’d started wearing a month earlier. I saw that I’d slept for almost eight hours the night before but had gotten a mere two hours of “deep sleep.” I saw that I’d reached exactly 30 percent of my day’s goal of 13,000 steps. And then I noticed a message in a small window reserved for miscellaneous health tips. “Walnuts,” it read. It told me to eat more walnuts. It was probably a coincidence, a fluke. Still, it caused me to glance down at my wristband and then at my phone, a brandnew model with many unknown, untested capabilities. Had my phone picked up my words through its mic and somehow relayed them to my wristband, which then signaled the app? The devices spoke to each other behind my back—I’d known they would when I “paired” them—but suddenly I was wary of their relationship. Who else did they talk to, and about what? And what happened to their conversations? Were they temporarily archived, promptly scrubbed, or forever incorporated into the “cloud,” that ghostly entity with the toodisarming name? It was the winter of 2013, and these “walnut moments” had been multiplying—jarring little nudges from beyond that occurred whenever I went online. One night the previous summer, I’d driven to meet a friend at an art gallery in Hollywood, my first visit to a gallery in years. The next morning, in my inbox, several spam e-mails urged me to invest in art. That was an easy one to figure out: I’d typed the name of the gallery into Google Maps. Another simple one to trace was the stream of invitations to drug and alcohol rehab centers that I’d been getting ever since I’d consulted an online calendar of Los Angeles– area Alcoholics Anonymous meetings. Since membership in AA is supposed to be confidential, these e-mails irked me. Their presumptuous, heart-to-heart tone bugged me too. Was I tired of my misery and hopelessness? Hadn’t I caused my loved ones enough pain? Some of these disconcerting prompts were harder to explain. For example, the appearance on my Facebook page, under the heading “People You May Know,” of a California musician whom I’d bumped into six or seven times at AA meetings in a private home. In accordance with AA custom, he had never told me his last name nor inquired about mine. And as far as I knew, we had just one friend in common, a notably solitary older novelist who avoided computers altogether. I did some research in an online technology forum and learned that by entering my number into his smartphone’s address book (compiling phone lists to use in times of trouble is an AA ritual), the musician had probably triggered the program that placed his full name and photo on my page. Then there was this peculiar psychic incursion. One
FIFTY YEARS AGO IN THE ATLANTIC In a November 1967 cover story, Arthur R. Miller, then a law professor at the University of Michigan, wrote about the dangers of a federal proposal to build a National 102
Data Center. The proposal was dropped amid public outcry, but a version of the same idea came to fruition decades later with the creation of the National Security Agency’s Utah Data Center. Today Miller’s warnings seem eerily prescient. A Data Center poses a grave threat to individual freedom and privacy. With
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reluctant to air them in mixed company. I knew that many of my fellow citizens took comfort in their own banality: You live a boring life and feel you have nothing to fear from those on high. But how could you anticipate the ways in which insights bred of spying might prove handy to some future regime? New tools have a way of breeding new abuses. Detailed logs of behaviors that I found tame—my Amazon purchases, my online comments, and even my meanderings through the physical world, collected by biometric scanners, say, or license-plate readers on police cars—might someday be read in a hundred different ways by powers whose purposes I couldn’t fathom now. They say you can quote the Bible to support almost any conceivable proposition, and I could only imagine the range of charges that selective looks at my data might render plausible. Everything about the data center was classified, but reports had leaked out that hinted at the magnitude of its operations. Aerial photos on the Web showed a complex of slablike concrete buildings arrayed in a crescent on a broad, bare hillside. The center was said to require enough power to supply a city of tens of thousands of people. The cooling plants designed to keep its servers from overheating and melting down would consume fantastic quantities of water—almost 2 million gallons a day when fully operational, I’d read—pumped from a nearby reservoir. What couldn’t be conveyed by such statistics was the potency of the center’s digital nucleus. How much information could it hold, organize, screen, and, if called upon, decrypt? According to experts such as William Binney, a government whistle-blower and former top NSA cryptologist, the answer was simple: almost everything, today, tomorrow, and for decades to come. The data center, understood poetically (and The National Security Agency’s Utah Data Center, south of Salt Lake City. Keeping the center’s servers from overheating could require almost 2 million gallons of water a day.
its insatiable appetite for information, its inability to forget anything that has been put into it, a central computer might become the heart of a government surveillance system that would lay bare our finances, our associations, or our mental and physical health to government inquisitors or even to casual observers. Computer technology
is moving so rapidly that a sharp line between statistical and intelligence systems is bound to be obliterated. Even the most innocuous of centers could provide the “foot in the door” for the development of an individualized computer-based federal snooping system … At present we cannot imagine what the dimensions, the sophistication, or
The Mormon elder who told me when I was a teenager back in 1975 that people soon would have to carry “chips” around or “be banished from the marketplace.” The ex–Army ranger in the 1980s who said an “eye in the sky” could read my license plate. The girlfriend in 1993 who forbade me to rent a dirty video on the grounds that “they keep lists of everything.” The Hollywood actor in 2011 who declined to join me on his sundeck because he’d put on weight and a security expert had advised him that the paparazzi were flying drones. The tattooed grad student who, about a year before Edward Snowden gave the world the lowdown on code-named snooping programs such as PRISM and XKeyscore, told me about a childhood friend of his who worked in military intelligence and refused to go to wild parties unless the guests agreed to leave their phones locked outside in a car trunk or a cooler, preferably with the battery removed, and who also confessed to snooping on a girlfriend through the camera in her laptop. The night I vowed never again to mock such people, in January 2014, I was standing knee-deep in a field of crusty snow at the edge of a National Guard base near Saratoga Springs, Utah, a fresh-from-the-factory all-American settlement, densely flagpoled and lavishly front-porched, just south of Salt Lake City. Above its rooftops the moon was a pale sliver, and filling the sky were the sort of ragged clouds in which one might discern the face of Jesus. I had on a dark jacket, a dark wool cap, and a black nylon mask to keep my cheeks from freezing. I’d gone there for purposes of counterespionage. I wanted to behold up close, in person, one of the citadels of modern surveillance: the National Security Agency’s recently constructed Utah Data Center. I wasn’t sure what I was after, exactly— perhaps just a concrete impression of a process that seemed elusive and phantasmagoric, even after Snowden disclosed its workings. The records that the NSA blandly rendered as mere “data” and invisibly, silently collected—the phone logs, e-mails, browsing histories, and digital photo libraries generated by a population engaged in the treasonous business of daily life— required a tangible, physical depository. And this was it: a multibillion-dollar facility clearly designed to unscramble, analyze, and store imponderable masses of information whose ultimate uses were unknowable. Google’s data mines, presumably, exist merely to sell us products, but the government’s models of our inner selves might be deployed to sell us stranger items. Policies. Programs. Maybe even wars. Such concerns didn’t strike me as farfetched, but I was
how better to understand an object both unprecedented and the way to fix the old one at a Firestone store. Its employees impenetrable?), was as close as humanity had come to putting dealt with us in an upbeat, tightly scripted manner that appeared to stem from their awareness of several cameras infinity in a box. angled toward the service counter. The situation reminded With me was a friend named Dalton Brink, a former Navy me that the ferreting-out of secrets is merely one purpose of nuclear technician. We’d driven down from Montana the night surveillance; it also disciplines, inhibits, robbing interactions before, tuned in to one of those wee-hours AM talk shows of spontaneity and turning them into self-conscious perwhose hosts tend to suffer from a wretched smoker’s cough formances. The Firestone employees, with their smiles and and whose conspiracy-minded guests channel a collective ungood manners, had the same forced cheerfulness I’d long ago conscious understandably disturbed by current events. Their noticed in my Facebook feed, a parallel universe of marriage hushed revelations are batty but compelling, charged with announcements and birthday well-wishes straight out of the weird folkloric energies: Our nation’s leaders have reptile DNA Midwestern 1950s. Both were miniature versions, it occurred and belong to abominable sex cults. Microwave stations above to me, of the society we’d all soon inhabit—or already did but the Arctic Circle whose beams cause cluster headaches and had yet to fully acknowledge. amnesia are crippling America’s truth-seeking subversives. To It was dark when we finally reached Saratoga Springs those who understand that fiction warps the truth in order to tell and looked for an inconspicuous parking spot from which to the truth, the literal meanings of such tales are beside the point. launch our raid. We ended up in a hivelike subdivision whose Nightmares are a form of news. immaculate streets and culs-de-sac were named after fruits The manic broadcast caused us to reflect that in the days (Muskmelon Way) and religious concepts (Providence Drive). before our trip, we’d e-mailed promiscuously about our plans, Above the beige houses rose the spires of identical brand-new using all sorts of keywords that might draw the interest of Mormon churches, packed in so closely that national-security spybots. And supposing that we could see six of them from our parking we had raised red flags, it was technologically spot. Many of the houses looked unoccupied, conceivable that our movements were be“I think it’s ing monitored through the GPS chips in our as though built for an army of workers that scanning us,” phones. Word had by then leaked out about hadn’t yet arrived. In one of the driveways was Dalton said, and so-called stingray devices (fake cellphone a car whose license plate ended in NSA. something told towers, some of them mounted on prowling We had parked where Providence Drive me he was right. aircraft) that secretly swept up information ran out, at the edge of a field, across which from any mobile phone within their range. we could see the data center’s curving access We knew that had we been deemed especially interesting, our road. It ran uphill to the facility’s entrance: a pillared gate of phones might have been remotely activated to serve as listening Platonic, spectral beauty that seemed less like a military checkpoint than a dimension-spanning star bridge. Behind it, cool devices—a capability first reported on way back in 2006, when green lights marked the perimeter. We started walking. A few the FBI employed the tactic in a Mafia investigation. minutes later we heard a thwop thwop sound. We turned in its These wild speculations seemed less wild the next morning, direction, toward a ridgeline, and as we did the sound changed when we woke to discover that our car had a flat tire. The cause character, deepening and thrumming in our chests. The craft was a long, sharp screw with a washer fitted around its base so had a palpable, heavy-bellied presence but no detectable that it would have stood straight up when placed behind a tire. outline, no silhouette; the only visible sign of its approach Since the tire had been fine during the drive, the puncture must was a tiny blinking red light. It seemed to slow down and then have occurred in Salt Lake City, where we’d stayed the night. A hover overhead. mischievous prank, no doubt. And yet there was doubt—not a “I think it’s scanning us,” Dalton said, and something whole lot of it, but some. PRISM. XKeyscore. Stingrays. They told me he was right; the modern nervous system, groomed sow doubt, and not only in self-styled gonzo journalists out on by its experiences in airports, is sensitive to high-tech a lark. One might be forgiven for thinking that sowing doubt is probing. I gazed straight up at where I thought the invisone of their main functions. ible vessel was and pictured two green thermal images—our We set out for the data center on a spare tire, stopping along
the snooping ability of the National Data Center will turn out to be ten or twenty years from now. Nor can we predict what new techniques will be developed to pierce any safeguards that Congress may set up in order to protect people against those who manipulate or falsify information they extract from or put into the center …
The very existence of a National Data Center may encourage certain federal officials to engage in questionable surveillance tactics. For example, optical scanners—devices with the capacity to read a variety of type fonts or handwriting at fantastic rates of speed— could be used to monitor our mail. By linking scanners with a computer system, the
information drawn in by the scanner would be converted into machine-readable form and transferred into the subject’s file in the National Data Center … These tactics, as well as the possibility of coupling wiretapping and computer processing, undoubtedly will be extremely attractive to overzealous law-enforcement officers. Similarly, the ability
to transfer into the National Data Center quantities of information maintained in nonfederal files—credit ratings, educational information from schools and universities, local and state tax information, and medical records—will enable governmental snoopers to obtain data that they have no authority to secure on their own.
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the coal mine, preternaturally sensitive to bad vibrations that bodies—displayed on a screen inside its cockpit. What other calmer folks were just starting to feel. I was coming to think feats could the craft’s instruments perform? Could they exof paranoia as a form of folk art, the poetic eruption of murky tract the contents of the phones buttoned into the pockets of inklings, which made the gun show a kind of gallery. The our coats, learn our identities, run background checks, and buying and selling of firearms and their accessories was only determine the level of threat we posed? Anything seemed part of what went on there; the place was also a forum for possible. The systems protecting this new holy of holies were dark visions and primitive fears, where like-minded people, surely among the most advanced available. provoked by developments beyond their ken, shared their We stood there in our boots, our heads tipped back, absorbapprehensions. A decade ago, at a similar event in Livingston, ing the interest of the floating colossus. The experience was Montana, a fellow had told me that my TV was capable of strangely bracing. In the age of Big Data and Big Surveillance, watching me back. I didn’t take him seriously—not until this the overlords rarely sally forth to meet you. Then it was over. year, when I read that the voice-recognition capabilities built The formless thing flew off, leaving us with the sense that into certain Samsung sets could capture and then forward to we’d been toyed with. We were nothing to it, two pranksters third parties the conversations held nearby. in the snow. Inside the show, a clean-cut salesman stood beside a Twenty more minutes of trudging through knee-high drifts woman who gazed at him with an expression that bordered brought us closer to the center than I’d thought would be on idolatry. He showed us a line of shotgun ammunition depermitted. We weren’t sure whether the place was functionsigned to shred a human target with scores of tiny, multisided ing yet—I’d read about fires erupting inside the buildings that blades. Another shell contained a bunched-up wire precisely housed the servers. Perhaps the reports were true; the place weighted at both ends such that it would uncoil and stretch seemed deserted. Moon-of-Jupiter deserted, as in incapable of out when fired, sawing its target into pieces. The man also sold sustaining life. Gazing at it from 50 yards outside its fence, I felt absolutely nothing coming back: no hum, no pulse, no buzz, no “bug out” bags stocked with handsaws, fuel pellets, first-aid kits, and other equipment that might prove helpaura, no emission or emanation of any kind. It ful should relations between the watchers and had substance but no presence, as though all of The key would the watched catastrophically deteriorate. The its is-ness was directed inward. be surviving key, the man said, would be surviving those It awed me, the Utah Data Center at night. those first days first few days after the ATMs stopped working It awed me in an unfamiliar way—not with its after the ATMs and the grocery stores were looted bare. size, which was hard to get a fix on, but with The couple didn’t push their goods on its overwhelming separateness. To think that stopped us, only their outlook. When they learned virtually every human act, every utterance, working and we were from Montana, they asked whether transaction, and conversation that occurred the grocery we’d seen the FEMA camps where, supposedly, out here—here in the world that seemed so stores were thousands of foreign troops were stationed in vast and bustling, so magnificently complex— looted bare. anticipation of martial law. The salesman was could one day be coded, compressed, and concerned that these troops would “take our stuck in there, in a cluster of buildings no larger women,” and he recommended a podcast—The Common Sense than a couple of shopping malls. Loss of privacy seemed like a Show, hosted by someone named Dave Hodges—that would tiny issue, suddenly, compared with the greater loss the place prepare us for the coming siege. The man’s eyes slid sideways presaged: loss of existential stature. as he spoke, as though on alert for lurking secret agents. Later, BOU T 20 MILE S NORTH of Saratoga Springs, across I learned that his worry was not entirely unfounded. In January the Wasatch Valley from the NSA’s fortress of secrets, is of this year, the ACLU unearthed an e-mail describing a federal a convention center in Sandy, Utah, that regularly hosts plan to scan the license plates of vehicles parked outside gun a gathering of some of America’s most suspicious minds: the shows. The plan was never acted on, apparently, but reading Rocky Mountain Gun Show. Dalton and I visited it the next about it caused me some chagrin; I’d thought the jumpy salesman had completely flipped his wig. day, still frazzled by our encounter with the data center and The gun show was not about weaponry, primarily, but about convinced that such a monstrous creation must cast a spiritual autonomy—construed in this case as the right to stand one’s shadow of some kind. We wanted to see what that, too, looked ground against an arrogant, intrusive new order whose instrulike up close. ments of suppression and control I’d seen for myself the night Flanking the entrance to the gun show were two enormous before. There seemed to be no rational response to the feelarmy-style trucks painted in camouflage whose tires were the ings of powerlessness stirred by the cybernetic panopticon; size of children’s wading pools. Their cabs were too high to access without steps. Both were for sale, which seemed to the choice was either to ignore it or go crazy, at least to some mean there existed buyers for such behemoths, people who degree. With its coolly planar architecture, the data center projected a stern indifference to the qualms that its presence incould imagine needing them. To do what, however, in what evitably raised. It practically dared one to take up arms against exigencies? To transport food across demolished cities? To it, a Goliath that roused the instinct to grab a slingshot. The blockade an airport? To storm the data center? assault rifles and grenade launchers (I handled one, I hope for Having lived in Montana for almost 25 years, I knew my the last time) for sale were props in a drama of imagined resisshare of apocalyptic oddballs. They entertained some strange tance in which individuals would rise up to defend themselves. scenarios and counted among their numbers every sort of The irony was that preparing for such a fight in the only way zealot, kook, and hater. But perhaps they were also canaries in
T H E AT L A N T IC
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these people knew how—by plotting their countermoves and Sitting waist-deep in a thermal pool, beneath the stars, I hoarding ammo—played into the very security concerns that struck up a conversation with a teenager who’d dropped out the overlords use to justify their snooping. The would-be comof high school the year before and seemed depressed about batants in this epic conflict were more closely linked, perhaps, his prospects. There was no job he knew how to do that a robot than they appreciated. couldn’t do better, he told me, and he guessed that he had A voice on the PA system announced that the show would three years, at most, to earn all the money he would ever make. be closing in 15 minutes, causing vendors to slash their prices When I told him about my NSA excursion, he sighed and shook and customers to stuff their bags with camouflage jumpsuits, his head. Surveillance, he said, was pointless, a total waste. The solar-powered radios, and every sort of doomsday camping powers that be should instead invite people to confess their secrets willingly. He envisioned vast centers equipped with gear. In the car, headed north on I-15 toward home, I donned mics and headphones where people could speak in detail and my new bulletproof shooting glasses while Dalton plugged at length about their experiences, thoughts, and feelings, delivhis phone into the stereo and played an episode of The Common Sense Show. Its murky, subterranean acoustics suggested ering in the form of monologues what the eavesdroppers could that it had been recorded in a fallout shelter. Dave Hodges’s gather only piecemeal. guest, a certain Dr. Jim Garrow, purported to be a retired spook Whether this notion was brilliant or naive, I couldn’t decide, who’d spent the past few decades in “deep cover” and become but it felt revelatory. There in the pool, immersed in clouds of privy to many “chilling” schemes, including one to convert steam that fostered a sense of mystic intimacy, I wondered pro-sports arenas into cavernous detention centers where whether a generation that found the concept of privacy archaic might be undergoing a great mutation, surrendering noncompliant freedom lovers would be guillotined en masse. the interior psychic realms whose sanctity can no longer be Guillotined? Why bring back those contraptions? Because their assured. Masking one’s insides behind one’s outsides—once blades killed instantly and cleanly, yielding high-grade corpses the essential task of human social life—was whose body parts could be plundered and reused by ghoulish, power-mad elites intent on becoming a strenuous, suspect undertaking; achieving immortality. why not, like my teenage acquaintance, just Memories of The men’s demeanor as they described quit the fight? Surveillance and data mining the data center this nightmare was unhurried and curiously presuppose that there exists in us a hidden faded, blasé. Neurotics like me who were still learnself that can be reached through probing and supplanted by ing to cope with being monitored were prone analyses that are best practiced on the unvisions of aware, but what if we wore our whole beings to pangs of disquiet and unease, but for The organ-stealing on our sleeves? Perhaps the rush toward Common Sense Show types, a strange equanimsupermen. self-disclosure precipitated by social media ity was possible. What were merely unsettling was a preemptive defense against intruders: times for most of us were, for Hodges and his What’s freely given can’t be stolen. Interiority on Planet X-Ray fans, a prelude to detainment and dismemberment, grimly is a burden that’s best shrugged off, not borne. My teenage fascinating to observe, potentially thrilling to oppose, but no friend was onto something. Become a bright, flat surface. Cast cause for prescription sedatives. no shadow. The podcast brought on a trance state ideal for long-haul But I am too old for this embrace of nakedness. I still believe driving. Memories of the monolithic data center faded and dispersed, supplanted by visions of organ-stealing supermen that in the boundaries of my own skull and feel uneasy when they would reappear in my mind’s eye when I read, many months are crossed. Not long ago, my wife left town on business and later, of an ambitious Italian surgeon intent on perfecting “full I texted her to say good night. “Sleep tight and don’t let the body” transplants involving grafting human heads onto bodies bedbugs bite,” I wrote. I was unsettled the next morning when other than their own. I found, atop my list of e-mails, a note from an exterminator offering to purge my house of bedbugs. If someone had told me E C R O S S E D I N T O southern Idaho at dusk and even a few years ago that such a thing wasn’t pure coincidence, made a side trip to Lava Hot Springs, an isolated I would have had my doubts about that someone. Now, howmountain town renowned for its therapeutic thermal ever, I reserve my doubts for the people who still trust. There pools. I wanted to wash the black helicopter off me. Consortare so many ghosts in our machines—their locations so hidden, ing with the twitchy gun-show folks after skulking around the their methods so ingenious, their motives so inscrutable—that data center had weakened my psychological immune system. not to feel haunted is not to be awake. That’s why paranoia, Paranoia is an infernal affliction, difficult to arrest once it takes even in its extreme forms, no longer seems to me so much hold, particularly at a time when every week brings fresh news a disorder as a mode of cognition with an impressive track of governmental and commercial schemes that light up one’s record of prescience. overactive fear receptors: AT&T and the NSA colluded in bugParanoia, we scorned you, and we’re sorry. We feared you ging the United Nations; the FBI is flying Cessnas outfitted were crazy, but now we’re crazy too, meaning we’re ready to with video cameras and cellphone scanners over U.S. cities; listen, so, please, let’s talk. It’s time. It’s past time. Let’s get to Google has the capacity, through its search algorithm, to swing know each other. Quietly, with the shades drawn, in the dark, the next presidential election. Once you know how very little in the space that is left to us, so small, now nearly gone. you know about those who wish to know everything about you, daily experience starts to lose its innocence and little things Walter Kirn is an essayist and a novelist from Livingston, begin to feel like the tentacles of big things. Montana. His most recent book is Blood Will Out.
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E S S AY
Exemplary Narcissism THE
Snoopy Charles Schulz’s comic strip endures because it sparks moral arguments over how to survive in a bitter social world.
By SARAH BOXER
T REALLY WA S a dark and stormy night. On February 12, 2000, Charles Schulz—who had single-handedly drawn some 18,000 Peanuts comic strips, who refused to use assistants to ink or letter his comics, who vowed that after he quit, no new Peanuts strips would be made— died, taking to the grave, it seemed, any further adventures of the gang.
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Hours later, his last Sunday strip came out with a farewell: “Charlie Brown, Snoopy, Linus, Lucy … How can I ever forget them.” By then, Peanuts was carried by more than 2,600 newspapers in 75 countries and read by some 300 million people. It had been going for five decades. Robert Thompson, a scholar of popular culture, called it “arguably the longest story told by a single artist in human history.” The arrival of The Peanuts Movie this fall breathes new life
CHARLES M. SCHULZ MUSEUM AND RESEARCH CENTER; ©PEANUTS WORLDWIDE LLC
into the phrase over my dead body— starting with the movie’s title. Schulz hated and resented the name Peanuts, which was foisted on him by United Feature Syndicate. He avoided using it: “If someone asks me what I do, I always say, ‘I draw that comic strip with Snoopy in it, Charlie Brown and his dog.’ ” And unlike the classic Peanuts television specials, which were done in a style Schulz approvingly called “semianimation,” where the characters flip around rather than turning smoothly in space, The Peanuts Movie (written by Schulz’s son Craig and grandson Bryan, along with Bryan’s writing partner, Cornelius Uliano) is a computer-generated 3-D-animated feature. What’s more, the Little Red-Haired Girl, Charlie Brown’s unrequited crush, whom Schulz promised never to draw, is supposed to make a grand appearance. AAUGH!!! Before all that happens, before the next generation gets a warped view of what Peanuts is and was, let’s go back in time. Why was this comic strip so wildly popular for half a century? How did Schulz’s cute and lovable characters (they’re almost
always referred to that way) hold sway over so many people— everyone from Ronald Reagan to Whoopi Goldberg? Peanuts was deceptive. It looked like kid stuff, but it wasn’t. The strip’s cozy suburban conviviality, its warm fuzziness, actually conveyed some uncomfortable truths about the loneliness of social existence. The characters,
The characters could stir up shockingly heated arguments over how to be a decent human being in a bitter world.
the comics publisher Fantagraphics has been issuing The Complete Peanuts, both Sunday and daily strips, in books that each cover two years and include an appreciation from a notable fan. (The 25-volume series will be completed next year.) To read them straight through, alongside David Michaelis’s trenchant 2007 biography, Schulz and Peanuts, is to watch the characters evolve from undifferentiated little cusses into great social types.
though funny, could stir up shockingly heated arguments over how to survive and still be a decent human being in a bitter world. Who was better at it— Charlie Brown or Snoopy? The time is ripe to see what was really happening on the pages of Peanuts during all those years. Since 2004,
N THE STONE AGE of Peanuts— when only seven newspapers carried the strip, when Snoopy was still an itinerant four-legged creature with no owner or doghouse, when Lucy and Linus had yet to be born—Peanuts was surprisingly dark. The first strip, published on October 2, 1950, shows two children, a boy and a girl, sitting on the sidewalk. The boy, Shermy, says, “Well! Here comes ol’ Charlie Brown! Good ol’ Charlie Brown … Yes, sir! Good ol’ Charlie Brown.” When Charlie Brown is out of sight, Shermy adds, “How I hate him!” In the second Peanuts strip the girl, Patty, walks alone, chanting,
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“Little girls are made of sugar and spice … and everything nice.” As Charlie Brown comes into view, she slugs him and says, “That’s what little girls are made of!” Although key characters were missing or quite different from what they came to be, the Hobbesian ideas about society that made Peanuts Peanuts were already evident: People, especially children, are selfish and cruel to one another; social life is perpetual conflict; solitude is the only peaceful harbor; one’s deepest wishes will invariably be derailed and one’s comforts whisked away; and an unbridgeable gulf yawns between one’s fantasies about oneself and what others see. These bleak themes, which went against the tide of the go-go 1950s, floated freely on the pages of Peanuts at first, landing lightly on one kid or another until slowly each theme came to be embedded in a certain individual—particularly Lucy, Schroeder, Charlie Brown, Linus, and Snoopy. In other words, in the beginning all the Peanuts kids were, as Al Capp, the creator of Li’l Abner, observed, “good mean little bastards eager to hurt each
other.” What came to be Lucy’s inimitable brand of bullying was suffused throughout the Peanuts population. Even Charlie Brown was a bit of a heel. In 1951, for example, after watching Patty fall off a curb into some mud, he smirks: “Right in the mud, eh? It’s a good thing I was carrying the ice cream!” Many early Peanuts fans—and this may come as a shock to later fans raised on the sweet milk of Happiness
For many fans, there was something fundamentally rotten about the new Snoopy. Is a Warm Puppy—were attracted to the strip’s decidedly unsweet view of society. Matt Groening, the creator of the strip Life in Hell and The Simpsons, remembers, “I was excited by the casual cruelty and offhand humiliations at the heart of the strip.” Garry Trudeau, of Doonesbury fame, saw Peanuts as “the first Beat strip” because it “vibrated with ’50s alienation.” And the editors
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of Charlie Mensuel, a raunchy precursor to the even raunchier Charlie Hebdo, so admired the existential angst of the strip that they named both publications after its lead character. At the center of this world was Charlie Brown, a new kind of epic hero—a loser who would lie in the dark recalling his defeats, charting his worries, planning his comebacks. One of his best-known lines was “My anxieties have anxieties.” Although he was the glue holding together the Peanuts crew (and its baseball team), he was also the undisputed butt of the strip. His mailbox was almost always empty. His dog often snubbed him, at least until suppertime, and the football was always yanked away from him. The cartoonist Tom Tomorrow calls him a Sisyphus. Frustration was his lot. When Schulz was asked whether for his final strip he would let Charlie Brown make contact with the football, he reportedly replied, “Oh, no! Definitely not! … That would be a terrible disservice to him after nearly half a century.” Although Schulz denied any strict identification with Charlie Brown (who was actually named for one of Schulz’s
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friends at the correspondence school in Minneapolis where Schulz learned and taught drawing), many readers assumed they were one and the same. More important for the strip’s success, readers saw themselves in Charlie Brown, even if they didn’t want to. “I aspired to Linus-ness; to be wise and kind and highly skilled at making gigantic structures out of playing cards,” the children’s-book author Mo Willems notes in one of the essays in the Fantagraphics series. But, he continues, “I knew, deep down, that I was Charlie Brown. I suspect we all did.”
CHARLES M. SCHULZ MUSEUM AND RESEARCH CENTER; ©PEANUTS WORLDWIDE LLC
E L L , I D I D N ’ T. And luckily, beginning in 1952 (after Schulz moved from his hometown, St. Paul, Minnesota, to Colorado Springs for a year with his first wife, Joyce, and her daughter, Meredith), there were plenty more alter egos to choose from. That was the year the Van Pelts were born. Lucy, the fussbudget, who was based at first on young Meredith, came in March. Lucy’s blanketcarrying little brother, Linus, Schulz’s favorite character to draw (he would
start with his pen at the back of the neck), arrived only months later. And then, of course, there was Snoopy, who had been around from the outset (Schulz had intended to name him Sniffy) and was fast evolving into an articulate being. His first detailed expression of consciousness, recorded in a thought balloon, came in
response to Charlie Brown making fun of his ears: “Kind of warm out today for ear muffs, isn’t it?” Snoopy sniffs: “Why do I have to suffer such indignities!?” I like to think that Peanuts and identity politics grew up together in America. By 1960, the main characters—Charlie Brown, Linus, Schroeder, Snoopy—had their roles and their acolytes. Even Lucy
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had her fans. The filmmaker John Waters, writing an introduction to one of the Fantagraphics volumes, gushes: I like Lucy’s politics (“I know everything!” …), her manners (“Get out of my way!” …), her narcissism … and especially her verbal abuse rants … Lucy’s “total warfare frown” … is just as iconic to me as Mona Lisa’s smirk.
Finding one’s identity in the strip was like finding one’s political party or ethnic group or niche in the family. It was a big part of the appeal of Peanuts. Every character was a powerful personality with quirky attractions and profound faults, and every character, like some saint or hero, had at least one key prop or attribute. Charlie Brown had his tangled kite, Schroeder his toy piano, Linus his flannel blanket, Lucy her “Psychiatric Help” booth, and Snoopy his doghouse. In this blessedly solid world, each character came to be linked not only to certain objects but to certain kinds of interactions, too, much like the main players in Krazy Kat, one of the strips that Schulz admired and hoped to match. But unlike Krazy Kat, which was built upon a tragically repetitive love triangle that involved animals hurling bricks, Peanuts was a drama of social coping, outwardly simple but actually quite complex. Charlie Brown, whose very character depended on his wishes being stymied, developed what the actor Alec Baldwin, in one of the Fantagraphics introductions, calls a kind of “trudging, Jimmy Stewart–like decency and predictability.” The Charlie Brown way was to keep on keeping on, standing with a tangled kite or a losing baseball team day after day. Michaelis, Schulz’s biographer, locates the essence of Charlie Brown—and Peanuts itself—in a 1954 strip in which Charlie Brown visits Shermy and watches as he “plays with a model train set whose tracks and junctions and crossings spread … elaborately far and wide in Shermy’s family’s living room.” After a while, Charlie Brown pulls on his coat and walks home … [and] sits down at his railroad: a single, closed circle of track … Here was the moment when Charlie Brown became a national symbol, the Everyman who
survives life’s slings and arrows simply by surviving himself.
In fact, all of the characters were survivors. They just had different strategies for survival, none of which was exactly prosocial. Linus knew that he could take his blows philosophically—he was often seen, elbows on the wall, calmly chatting with Charlie Brown—as long as he had his security blanket nearby. He also knew that if he didn’t have his blanket, he would freak out. (In 1955 the child psychiatrist D. W. Winnicott asked for permission to use Linus’s blanket as an illustration of a “transitional object.”) Lucy, dishing out bad and unsympathetic advice from her “Psychiatric Help” booth, was the picture of bluster. On March 27, 1959, Charlie Brown, the first patient to visit her booth, says to Lucy, “I have deep feelings of depression … What can I do about this?” Lucy replies: “Snap out of it! Five cents, please.” That pretty much sums up the Lucy way. Schroeder at his piano represented artistic retreat—ignoring the world to pursue one’s dream. And Snoopy’s coping philosophy was, in a sense, even more antisocial than Schroeder’s. Snoopy figured that since no one will ever see you the way you see yourself, you might as well build your world around fantasy, create the person you want to be, and live it out, live it up. Part of Snoopy’s Walter Mitty–esque charm lay in his implicit rejection of society’s view of him. Most of the kids saw him as just a dog, but he knew he was way more than that. Those characters who could not be summed up with both a social strategy and a recognizable attribute (Pig-Pen, for instance, had an attribute—dirt—but no social strategy) became bit players or fell by the wayside. Shermy, the character who uttered the bitter opening lines of Peanuts in 1950, became just another bland boy by the 1960s. Violet, the character who made endless mud pies, withheld countless invitations, and had the distinction of being the first person to pull the football away from Charlie Brown, was mercilessly demoted to just another snobby mean girl. Patty, one of the early stars, had her name recycled for another, more complicated character, Peppermint Patty, the narcoleptic tomboy who made her first appearance
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in 1966 and became a regular in the 1970s. (Her social gambit was to fall asleep, usually at her school desk.) Once the main cast was set, the iterations of their daily interplay were almost unlimited. â€œA cartoonist,â€? Schulz once said, â€œis someone who has to draw the same thing every day without repeating himself.â€? It was this â€œinfinitely shifting repetition of the patterns,â€? Umberto Eco wrote in The New York Review of Books in 1985, that gave the strip its epic quality. Watching the permutations of every character working out how to get along with every other character demanded â€œfrom the reader a continuous act of empathy.â€? For a strip that depended on the readerâ€™s empathy, Peanuts often involved dramas that displayed a shocking lack of empathy. And in many of those dramas, the pivotal figure was Lucy, the fussbudget who couldnâ€™t exist without others to fuss at. She was so strident, Michaelis reports, that Schulz relied on certain pen nibs for her. (When Lucy was â€œdoing some loud shouting,â€? as Schulz put it, he would ink up a B-5 pen, which made heavy, flat, rough lines. For â€œmaximum screams,â€? he would get out the B-3.)
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Lucy was, in essence, society itself, or at least society as Schulz saw it. â€œHer aggressiveness threw the others off balance,â€? Michaelis writes, prompting each character to cope or withdraw in his or her own way. Charlie Brown, for instance, responded to her with incredible credulity, coming to her time and again for pointless advice or for football kicking. Linus always seemed to approach her with a combination of terror and equanimity. In one of my favorite strips, he takes refuge from his sister in the kitchen and, when Lucy tracks him down, addresses her pointedly: â€œAm I buttering too loud for you?â€? It was Lucyâ€™s dealings with Schroeder that struck closest to home for Schulz, whose first marriage, to Joyce, began to fall apart in the 1960s while they were building up their huge
estate in Sebastopol, California. Just as Schulz’s retreat into his comic-strip world antagonized Joyce, Michaelis observes, so Schroeder’s devotion to his piano was “an affront to Lucy.” At one point, Lucy becomes so fed up at her inability to distract Schroeder from his music that she hurls his piano into the sewer: “It’s woman against piano! Woman is winning!! Woman is winning!!!” When Schroeder shouts at her in disbelief, “You threw my piano down the sewer!!,” Lucy corrects him: “Not your piano, Sweetie … My competition!” Now, that’s a relationship!
N T H I S D E E P LY D Y S T O P I C strip, there was only one character who could—and some say finally did—tear the highly entertaining, disturbed social world to shreds. And that happens to be my favorite character, Snoopy. Before Snoopy had his signature doghouse, he was an emotional creature. Although he didn’t speak (he expressed himself in thought balloons), he was very connected to all the other characters. In one 1958 strip, for instance, Linus and Charlie Brown are talking in the background, and Snoopy comes dancing by. Linus says to Charlie Brown, “My gramma says that we live in a veil of tears.” Charlie Brown answers: “She’s right … This is a sad world.” Snoopy still goes on dancing. By the third frame, though, when Charlie Brown says, “This is a world filled with sorrow,” Snoopy’s dance slows and his face begins to fall. By the last frame, he is down on the ground—far more devastated than Linus or Charlie Brown, who are shown chatting off in the distance, “Sorrow, sadness and despair … grief, agony and woe …” But by the late 1960s, Snoopy had begun to change. For example, in a strip dated May 1, 1969, he’s dancing by himself: “This is my ‘First Day of May’ dance. It differs only slightly from my ‘First Day of Fall’ dance, which differs also only slightly from my ‘First Day of Spring’ dance.” Snoopy continues dancing and ends with: “Actually, even I have a hard time telling them apart.” Snoopy was still hilarious, but something fundamental had shifted. He didn’t need any of the other characters in order to be what he was. He needed only his imagination. More and more often T H E AT L A N T IC
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he appeared alone on his doghouse, sleeping or typing a novel or a love letter. Indeed, his doghouse— which was hardly taller than a beagle yet big enough inside to hold an Andrew Wyeth painting as well as a pool table—came to be the objective correlative of Snoopy’s rich inner life, a place that no human ever got to see. Some thought this new Snoopy was an excellent thing, indeed the key to the strip’s greatness. Schulz was among them: “I don’t know how he got to walking, and I don’t know how he first began to think, but that was probably one of the best things that I ever did.” The novelist Jonathan Franzen is another Snoopy fan. Snoopy, as Franzen has noted, is the protean trickster whose freedom is founded on his confidence that he’s lovable at heart, the quickchange artist who, for the sheer joy of it, can become a helicopter or a hockey player or Head Beagle and then again, in a flash, before his virtuosity has a chance to alienate you or diminish you, be the eager little dog who just wants dinner.
But some people detested the new Snoopy and blamed him for what they viewed as the decline of Peanuts in the second half of its 50-year run. “It’s tough to fix the exact date when Snoopy went from being the strip’s besetting artistic weakness to ruining it altogether,” the journalist and critic Christopher Caldwell wrote in 2000, a month before Schulz died, in an essay in New York Press titled “Against Snoopy.” But certainly by the 1970s, Caldwell wrote, Snoopy had begun wrecking the delicate world that Schulz had built. The problem, as Caldwell saw it, was that Snoopy was never a full participant in the tangle of relationships that drove Peanuts in its Golden Age. He couldn’t be: he doesn’t talk … and therefore he doesn’t interact. He’s there to be looked at.
Snoopy unquestionably took the strip to a new realm beginning in the late 1960s. The turning point, I think, was the airing of It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie
Brown in 1966. In this Halloween television special, Snoopy is shown sitting atop his doghouse living out his extended fantasy of being a World War I flying ace shot down by the Red Baron and then crawling alone behind enemy lines in France. Snoopy is front and center for six minutes, about one-quarter of the whole program, and he steals the show, proving that he doesn’t need the complicated world of Peanuts to thrive. He can go it alone. And after that he often did. In 1968, Snoopy became NASA’s mascot. The next year, Snoopy had a lunar module named after him for the Apollo 10 mission (the command module was called Charlie Brown). In 1968 and 1972, Snoopy was a write-in candidate for president of the United States. Plush stuffed Snoopys became popular. (I had one.) By 1975, Snoopy had replaced Charlie Brown as the center of the strip. He cut a swath through the world. For instance, in parts of Europe Peanuts came to be licensed as Snoopy. And in Tokyo, the floor of the vast toy store Kiddy Land that is devoted to Peanuts is called Snoopy Town. To accommodate this new Snoopycentric world, Schulz began making changes. He invented a whole new animal world for Snoopy. First came Woodstock, a bird who communicates only with Snoopy (in little tic marks). And then Snoopy acquired a family: Spike, a droopy-eyed, mustachioed beagle, followed by Olaf, Andy, Marbles, and Belle. In 1987, Schulz acknowledged that introducing Snoopy’s relatives had been a blunder, much as Eugene the Jeep had been an unwelcome intrusion into the comic strip Popeye: It’s possible—I think—to make a mistake in the strip and without realizing it, destroy it … I realized it myself a couple of years ago when I began to introduce Snoopy’s brothers and sisters … It destroyed the relationship that Snoopy has with the kids, which is a very strange relationship.
THE COMPLETE PEANUTS: VOLUME 23 CHARLES SCHULZ Fantagraphics
He was right. Snoopy’s initial interactions with the kids—his understanding of humanity, indeed his deep empathy (just what they were often missing),
coupled with his inability to speak— were unique. And that’s why whenever Snoopy’s relatives showed up, the air just went out of the strip.
U T F O R M A N Y F A N S , it wasn’t merely Snoopy’s brothers and sisters dragging him down. There was something fundamentally rotten about the new Snoopy, whose charm was based on his total lack of concern about what others thought of him. His confidence, his breezy sense that the world may be falling apart but one can still dance on, was worse than irritating. It was morally bankrupt. As the writer Daniel Mendelsohn put it in a piece in The New York Times Book Review, Snoopy “represents the part of ourselves—the smugness, the avidity, the pomposity, the rank egotism—most of us know we have but try to keep decently hidden away.” While Charlie Brown was made to be buffeted by other personalities and cared very much what others thought of him, Snoopy’s soul is all about self-invention—which can be seen as delusional self-love. This new Snoopy, his detractors felt, had no room for empathy. To his critics, part of what’s appalling about Snoopy is the idea that it’s possible to create any self-image one wants—in particular, the profile of someone with tons of friends and accomplishments—and sell that image to the world. Such self-flattery is not only shallow but wrong. Snoopy, viewed this way, is the very essence of selfie culture, of Facebook culture. He’s the kind of creature who would travel the world only in order to take his own picture and share it with everyone, to enhance his social image. He’s a braggart. Unlike Charlie Brown, who is alienated (and knows he’s alienated), Snoopy is alienating (and totally fails to recognize it). He believes that he is what he’s been selling to the world. Snoopy is “so self-involved,” Mendelsohn writes, “he doesn’t even realize he’s not human.” Just as some people thought that Charlie Brown, the insecure loser, the boy who never won the love of the Little Red-Haired Girl, was the alter ego of Schulz himself near the beginning of his career, so Snoopy could be cast as the egotistical alter ego of Schulz the worldfamous millionaire, who finally found a little happiness in his second marriage
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and thus became insufferably cutesy. (In 1973, Schulz and his wife divorced, and a month later Schulz married Jeannie Clyde, a woman he met at the Warm Puppy Café, at his skating rink in Santa Rosa, California.) Two-legged Snoopy, with his airs and fantasies—peerless Snoopy, rich Snoopy, popular Snoopy, world-famous Snoopy, contented Snoopy—spoiled it all. Schulz, who had a lifelong fear of being seen as ostentatious, believed that the main character of a comic strip should not be too much of a showboat. He also once said he wished he could use Charlie Brown—whom he described as the lead character every good strip needs, “somebody that you like that holds things together”—a little more. But he was smitten with Snoopy. (During one of the Christmas ice shows in Santa Rosa, while watching Snoopy skate, Schulz leaned over and remarked to his friend Lynn Johnston, another cartoonist, “Just think … there was a time when there was no Snoopy!”) Schulz, Johnston writes in an introduction to one of the Fantagraphics volumes, found his winning self in this dog: Snoopy was the one through which he soared. Snoopy allowed him to be spontaneous, slapstick, silly, and wild. Snoopy was rhythm, comedy, glamour, and style … As Snoopy, he had no failures, no losses, no flaws … Snoopy had friends and admirers all over the globe.
Snoopy was the polar opposite of Charlie Brown, who had nothing but failures, losses, and flaws. But were the two quite so radically far apart?
NO OP Y ’S C R I T IC S are wrong, and so are readers who think that Snoopy actually believes his selfdelusions. Snoopy may be shallow in his way, but he’s also deep, and in the end deeply alone, as deeply alone as Charlie Brown is. Grand though his flights are, many of them end with his realizing that he’s tired and cold and lonely and that it’s suppertime. As Schulz noted on The Today Show when he announced his retirement, in December 1999: “Snoopy likes to think that he’s this independent dog who does all of these things and
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Strategy Is Making Choices How Apple Raises Competitive Barriers The Danger of Straddling What Trader Joe’s Doesn’t Do First Movers versus Fast Followers When Netﬂix Met Blockbuster
Anticipating Your Rival’s Response 8 Why Did Disney Buy Pixar? 9 The Diversiﬁcation Discount 10 Forward and Backward Integration 11 Mergers and Acquisitions— The Winner’s Curse 12 Launching a Lean Start-Up
OPERATIONS MANAGEMENT Taught by Thomas J. Goldsby, The Ohio State University 13 The Power of Superior Operations 14 Leaner, Meaner Production 15 Reﬁning Service Operations 16 Matching Supply and Demand 17 Rightsizing Inventory 18 Managing Supply and Suppliers 19 The Long Reach of Logistics
20 Rethinking Your Business Processes 21 Measuring Operational Performance 22 Keeping an Eye on Your Margins 23 Leveraging Your Supply Chain 24 Reducing Risk, Building Resilience
FINANCE AND ACCOUNTING Taught by Eric Sussman, University of California, Los Angeles 25 Accounting and Finance— Decision-Making Tools 26 How to Interpret a Balance Sheet 27 Why the Income Statement Matters 28 How to Analyze a Cash Flow Statement 29 Common Size, Trend, and Ratio Analysis 30 Cost-Volume-Proﬁt Analysis
31 Understanding the Time Value of Money 32 The Trade-Off between Risk and Return 33 How Investors Use Net Present Value 34 Alternatives to Net Present Value 35 Weighing the Costs of Debt and Equity 36 How to Value a Company’s Stock
ORGANIZATIONAL BEHAVIOR Taught by Clinton O. Longenecker, The University of Toledo
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THE COMPLETE PEANUTS: VOLUME 23
leads his own life, but he always makes sure that he never gets too far from that supper dish.” He has animal needs, and he knows it, which makes him, in a word, human. Even Snoopy’s wildest daydreams have a touch of pathos. When he marches alone through the trenches of World War I, yes, of course, he is fantasizing, but he also can be seen as the bereft young Charles Schulz, shipped off to war only days after his mother died at the age of 50, saying to him: “Good-bye, Sparky. We’ll probably never see each other again.” The final comic strips, which came out when Schulz realized he was dying, are pretty heartbreaking. All of the characters seem to be trying to say goodbye, reaching for the solidarity that has always eluded them. Peppermint Patty, standing in the rain after a football game, says, “Nobody
shook hands and said, ‘Good game.’ ” Sally shouts to her brother, Charlie Brown: “Don’t you believe in brotherhood?!!” Linus lets out a giant, boldface “SIGH!” Lucy, leaning as ever on Schroeder’s piano, says to him, “Aren’t you going to thank me?” But it’s Snoopy who is grappling with the big questions, the existential ones. Indeed, by his thought balloons alone, you might mistake him for Charlie Brown. The strip dated January 15, 2000, shows Snoopy on his doghouse. “I’ve been very tense lately,” Snoopy thinks, rising up stiffly from his horizontal position. “I find myself worrying about everything … Take the Earth, for instance.” He lies back down, this time on his belly, clutching his doghouse: “Here we all are clinging helplessly to this globe that is hurtling through space …” Then he turns over onto his back: “What if the wings fall off?”
Snoopy may have been delusional, but in the end he knew very well that everything could come tumbling down. His very existence seems to be a way of saying that no matter what a person builds up for himself inside or outside society, everyone is basically alone in it together. By the way, in the end Snoopy did admit to at least one shortcoming, though he claimed he wasn’t really to blame. In the strip that ran on January 1, 2000, drawn in shaky lines, the kids are having a great snowball fight. Snoopy sits on the sidelines, struggling to get his paws around a snowball: “Suddenly the dog realized that his dad had never taught him how to throw snowballs.” Sarah Boxer is a writer and cartoonist. She is the creator of the graphic novel In the Floyd Archives and has written a sequel.
The Atlantic (ISSN 1072-7825), recognized as the same publication under The Atlantic Monthly or Atlantic Monthly (The), is published monthly except for combined issues in January/ February and July/August by The Atlantic Monthly Group, 600 New Hampshire Ave. NW, Washington, DC 20037 (202-266-6000). Periodicals postage paid at Washington, D.C., Toronto, Ont., and additional mailing offices. Postmaster: send all UAA to CFS (see DMM 707.4.12.5); NONPOSTAL AND MILITARY FACILITIES: send address corrections to Atlantic Address Change, P.O. Box 37564, Boone, IA 50037-0564. Printed in U.S.A. Subscription queries: Atlantic Customer Care, P.O. Box 37564, Boone, IA 50037-0564 (or call 800-234-2411). Privacy: we make portions of our customer list available to carefully screened companies that offer products and services we believe you may enjoy. If you do not want to receive this information, please write to the Customer Care address above. Advertising (646-539-6700) and Circulation (202-266-7100): 600 New Hampshire Ave. NW, Washington, DC 20037. Subscriptions: one year $39.95 in the U.S. and poss., add $8.00 in Canada, includes GST (123209926); add $15.00 elsewhere. Canada Post Publications Mail Agreement 41385014. Canada return address: The Atlantic, P.O. Box 1051, Fort Erie, ON L2A 6C7. Back issues: send $7.50 per copy to The Atlantic, Back Issues, 1900 Industrial Park Dr., Federalsburg, MD 21632 (or call 410-754-8219). Vol. 316, No. 4, November 2015. Copyright © 2015, by The Atlantic Monthly Group. All rights reserved. T H E AT L A N T IC
THE BIG QUESTION
What science-fiction gadget would be most valuable in real life? Diana Gabaldon, author, Outlander series Nicole Perlman, screenwriter, Guardians of the Galaxy
As someone who’s both accident-prone and constantly putting her foot in her mouth, my first thought is the Omega 13 from Galaxy Quest. A 13-second rewind into the past would prevent numerous stubbed toes and bruised egos. Then again, the Inception dream machine invisibly influences people’s ideas and emotions, which might be the ultimate superpower.
cruelty makes me fear the end of kindness. If I had a portable version of this machine, I could weed out the humanoid robots among us—and perhaps find out that I’m one, too.
Mark Cuban, investor, Shark Tank Dr. McCoy’s scanning device from Star Trek, which immediately diagnoses any illness. The market opportunity is obvious: Who wouldn’t buy one?
Geoffrey A. Landis, NASA scientist The teleporting TARDIS from Doctor Who—go anywhere in space and time in an instant. No more commutes, no more being packed like sardines in an airplane, no more waiting. Wherever you want to go, zap! You’re there!
Robin Ince, comedian For day-to-day life, the Voigt-Kampff empathy tester from Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? There are days when the combination of abysmal behavior and social-media
Hiroshi Ishiguro, director, Intelligent Robotics Laboratory, Osaka University Everybody wants a time machine, like the one imagined by H. G. Wells. Building one of those might be impossible—but as we rely more on robots to do the work of our bodies, we are, in another way, freeing ourselves from the constraints of time.
T H E AT L A N T IC
Teleportation, hands down. Aside from saving billions of hours of daily commuting, and the trillions of dollars spent on fuel and mechanical-transport devices, consider all the accidental deaths, injuries, and cargo spills that could be avoided. To say nothing of the advantages of not being trapped in a subway car inhabited by an aggressively hostile person playing the accordion.
that I’ve got in there now all to heck. READER RESPONSES
Tony Maddox, Abington, Pa. The Babel fish from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy: instant translation. Or the guide itself, though smartphones have filled that void.
Ben Rubin, CEO and founder, Meerkat The ansible, first imagined by Ursula K. Le Guin, a device that provides users with the ability to rapidly send and receive messages throughout our vast galaxy. It would be a groundbreaking step toward determining whether anyone else is out there. If so, are they friends or foes?
Ann Leckie, science-fiction writer How fabulous would it be to have the dermal regenerator from Star Trek in my purse, to instantly heal cuts or scrapes or burns? It would beat the dusty old Band-Aids coming out of their wrappers
Brien Beidler, Charleston, S.C. A lightsaber: All-in-one kitchen knife meets gunless home defense.
Doug Garr, New York, N.Y. Easily, the transporter from Star Trek. Not only could you instantly beam yourself anywhere, but you would avoid TSA lines—and you wouldn’t need to take your shoes off. Want to see your name on this page? E-mail bigquestion@ theatlantic.com with your response to the question for our January/ February issue: What is the greatest collaboration of all time?
Illustrations by GRAHAM ROUMIEU
COULD: PAINTING W H AT ’ S POSSIBLE W H E R E A R T, I D E A S , A N D T H E F U T U R E I N T E R S E C T
he future has always been hard to predict, but as technology evolves ever more quickly, it can now be just as hard to imagine. Just two decades ago, we didn’t even have smartphones. Now, we’re on the cusp of driverless cars.
To understand the next wave of innovations, Qualcomm collaborated with Atlantic Re:think, The Atlantic ’s creative marketing group, to explore the emerging edge of technology through art. The resulting project, “Could: Painting What’s Possible,” put Qualcomm researchers in conversation with fine artists to express what that brave new future might look like.
Turn the page to see the art.
Robert Minerviniâ€™s painting depicting the end of resource scarcity
THE SPACE BEYOND Since 1798, when Thomas Malthus issued humanity’s ﬁrst warning that dire consequences await should the Earth’s population continue growing unabated, there have been concerns over the scarcity of the planet’s resources. But as the Internet of Everything proliferates, connecting people and objects alike, and as cognitive technologies make these billions of new connections smarter, we could soon see the end of scarcity—even as the world’s population is expected to reach 10 billion by the end of the century. A smart layer of technology that measures, manages, and distributes the Earth’s resources will offer us the insights we need to survive and thrive better than we ever imagined possible, preparing societies of the future to address world hunger, water scarcity, and some of humanity’s other great challenges. This fully connected world, enabled by underlying cognitive technology, has the potential to transform the lives of billions. Learn more at theatlantic.com/could