Many people who come before the Supreme Court ask the justices to do something huge: devastate the Affordable Care Act, for instance, or declare a constitutional right to same-sex marriage. Kevan Brumfield just wanted a hearing. When Brumfield was convicted for the murder of Louisiana police officer Betty Smothers, the court still permitted states to execute mentally disabled people. In 2002’s Atkins v. Virginia, the court ruled that subjecting such people to capital punishment qualified as unconstitutional “cruel and unusual punishment.” Brumfield, who was sentenced to death, simply argued that he deserved an opportunity to prove in court that he is mentally challenged.
Regardless of what general seasoning you use in your burger patty recipe, salt is probably involved. If you want to cook a tender, juicy burger, wait to add salt to your patty until right before you start cooking.
When I was a kid, my parents had strict television rules: no more than an hour a day, and the content must be educational. This meant a lot of PBS. I did briefly convince my mother that the secret-agent show “MacGyver” was about science, but that boondoggle ended when she watched an episode with me. These restrictions seemed severe at the time, but my parents were just following the orders of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP): Children and teens should have no more than one to two hours of screen time per day, with children under 2 having no screen time at all. Those orders remain the same today.
Relative to my childhood, limits on screen time have become increasingly restrictive and confusing. The iPad (and Kindle, and various other tablets) has opened up a world of “educational” screen time. If my 4-year-old is doing a workbook on the iPad, does that mean she learns less than if we used a physical workbook? The AAP advocates for newspapers and physical books over iPads, computers and other screen options.
The AAP statement on media seems opposed to screens per se (quote: “young children learn best when they interact with people, not screens”) without really differentiating among various uses and types of screens. But, not surprisingly, when you look at the research, the screen matters less than what you do with it.
Of all the possibilities for screen time, television watching clearly gets the most negative attention. It’s not hard to see why. Unlike educational games on a tablet, which at least can be argued to have some interactive value, television and movie watching are largely passive. Those who oppose TV for children worry about many downsides, but chief among them are declines in test scores (or other cognitive ability) and increases in obesity.
Let’s consider a few examples. This paper relates television viewing among preschoolers to measures of “executive function” — basically, whether a kid can focus and accomplish a goal — and finds that more television exposure is associated with lower executive function. This one looks at a large sample of children and associates television viewing at younger than 3 years with lower test scores at ages 6 and 7. And this one relates television watching to obesity among children.
These are a small number of the many, many studies that show associations between time spent watching television and health and development outcomes. But all these studies have an obvious problem: the amount of TV children watch is not randomly assigned. In the general population, kids who watch a lot of TV — especially at young ages — tend to be poorer, are more likely to be members of minority groups and are more likely to have parents with less education. All these factors independently correlate with outcomes such as executive function, test scores and obesity, making it difficult to draw strong conclusions about the effects of television from this research.
There are a few studies with better designs, and these have mixed results. There does seem to be some evidence to suggest that lowering media consumption, including television, can help combat obesity in children (see here and here for examples).
The impacts of TV on IQ and test scores have not been subjected to large randomized trial evaluation. Perhaps the best causal evidence on this question comes from a 2008 paper by two media economists.35 The researchers take advantage of the fact that television was introduced to different areas of the United States at different times. This variation meant that, when television was first introduced in the 1940s and 1950s, some kids had access to TV when they were children and some did not. The researchers could then see how having TV access as a young child — what the AAP is most worried about — related to test scores when kids were in school at slightly older ages.
The researchers find no evidence that more exposure to television at an early age negatively affected later test scores. The contemporary applicability of this research is subject to various concerns — television in the 1940s and ’50s differs from the TV of today, for example — but it does suggest that such concerns about test scores may be overblown.
A second set of concerns with television — and these extend to all other screen time — is that there is something inherently bad about exposure to a screen per se. There really isn’t anything in the research to make us think this is a concern. Even the AAP, the ultimate screen time naysayer, focuses in its warnings on attention and learning difficulties, obesity and risky behaviors resulting from screen time.
Some parents worry about eye strain from looking at screens, but, again, there is simply no evidence for this. Looking for “iPad and vision” (or “tablet and vision”) in the medical literature results primarily in papers about using iPads to help people with poor vision read better. If you’d rather read your kid a book on the Kindle than on paper, there should be nothing to give you pause.
Based on my read of the evidence, I’d say there’s absolutely no reason to think there’s anything worse about using a screen to do activities you would otherwise do on paper. When it comes to passive screen time — TV and movies — it seems that, on average, watching more TV has limited (if any) impacts on test scores, but maybe has some small impacts on obesity among children. However, the key phrase here is “on average,” and fleshing this out makes clear why the effect of television is such a difficult issue to study.
To judge what impact TV has on children, we have to think about tradeoffs — what would kids be doing with their time if they weren’t watching television? There are 24 hours in a day. If your kid watches one less hour of TV, she does one hour more of something else. The AAP guidelines imply that this alternative activity is something more enriching: reading books with dad, running on the track, discussing current events with grandma, etc.
But a lot of kids and families may not use an additional hour in these ways. An hour of TV may be replaced by an hour of sitting around doing nothing, whining about being bored. Or, worse, being yelled at by an overtired parent who is trying to get dinner ready on a tight time frame. If letting your kids watch an hour of TV means you are better able to have a relaxed conversation at the dinner table, this could mean TV isn’t that bad for cognitive development.
With this insight, it’s easy to see why less television is likely to decrease obesity. The process of weight gain and loss is pretty simple: if you burn more calories than you take in, you’ll lose weight. Watching television is mostly done sitting. And most other activities involve at least some moving around. So pretty much no matter what else they do, watching less TV is likely to be associated with kids burning more calories and losing weight.
Similarly, it is easy to see why TV might not affect test scores. If the alternative use of an hour for most families is not in highly enriching parent engagement, television may be just fine.
“You’ll shoot your eye out,” I kept thinking while watching Game 2 of the NBA Finals on Sunday. The Warriors hoisted 35 3-point attempts and made only eight of them en route to scoring just 93 points. It was a maddening, sloppy game full of what-ifs. So … what if the Warriors had sunk threes at their normal accuracy rate?59 They would have won 111-95.
Were the Warriors just unlucky? Their opponents, the Cleveland Cavaliers, were not a particularly good defensive team during the regular season, either overall or against perimeter shooters, although they may be better with Iman Shumpert and Matthew Dellavedova and Tristan Thompson getting more minutes because of injuries. The Cavs forced the Warriors into some bad possessions, but the Dubs also missed on some good looks, shooting just 2-for-11 on corner threes.
But there’s also the old adage: Live by the three, die by the three. If your shooters are going to get crazy hot on some nights, isn’t it inevitable that they’ll shoot a bunch of bricks on another, rendering a team’s offense more inconsistent and making it more upset-prone?
Let’s look at some data from the 2014-15 regular season. In the chart below, I’ve sorted teams by the percentage of their field goals that were taken from 3-point range. Then I’ve looked at their game-by-game scoring, calculating their scoring range (as I’ll describe it throughout this article) as the span including the middle 80 percent of their games (that is, throwing out their top 10 percent and bottom 10 percent of performances).
The Warriors, for instance, averaged 110 points per game in the regular season, while their scoring range ran from 98 points (at the 10th percentile) to 126 points (at the 90th percentile), a 28-point difference. That seems like a wide range … but it’s perfectly normal. The average NBA team this season had a 27-point scoring range. The average range since 1979-80 (when the 3-point shot was introduced) is 28 points.
The Warriors weren’t the league’s most three-happy team, however. They were just seventh — behind the Houston Rockets, Cleveland Cavaliers, Los Angeles Clippers, Atlanta Hawks, Philadelphia 76ers and Portland Trail Blazers. So maybe the Dubs were pretty steady, but were those other teams inconsistent?
The Cavaliers were inconsistent: Their scoring range spanned 33 points, tied for the second-highest total in the league after Oklahoma City.60 But Houston, which took 39 percent of its attempts from long range (easily an NBA record), had a scoring range of just 25 points, below the NBA average. The three-happy Atlanta Hawks had a scoring range of just 24 points.
What’s going on here? Are teams that shoot a lot of threes actually more consistent than others? (Maybe they’re more resilient when facing different types of defenses or benefit from having better floor spacing?)
Actually, it’s mostly just because this data is pretty noisy. I ran a regression on all NBA teams since 1979-80 to predict their scoring range based on (i) the percentage of their field goal attempts that came from behind the arc and (ii) their per-game scoring average. Both variables have a positive and highly statistically significant relationship with a team’s scoring range. Teams that score more points have a wider scoring range, and, once you control for that, teams that shoot more threes do also.
Suppose, for instance, that a team scores 100 points per game and that 40 percent of its field-goal attempts are 3-pointers — higher, even, than this year’s record-setting Rockets. Its scoring range, according to the regression analysis, projects to be 29.7 points.
What about a team that scores 100 points but does so with only 10 percent of its shots being threes? No team has shot such a low percentage of 3-pointers since the 1999-2000 Philadelphia 76ers, but we’ll run the numbers just for fun. That team, according to the regression, would have a scoring range of 28.0 points. So it’s more consistent, but only barely so; its scoring range is only 6 percent narrower. This just really doesn’t matter much.
What matters a lot more, of course, is how effective a team is at scoring overall. The Oklahoma City Thunder, as I mentioned, had the most inconsistent offense in the regular season. But their 10th percentile score, 88 points, was still better than two-thirds of the league because they had a high per game scoring average.
And Golden State’s 10th percentile score, 98 points, was better than what almost a third of NBA teams scored on average per game. The Warriors will have better shooting nights than they did Sunday, but their bad nights aren’t indicative of a fundamental problem — they’re just bad nights.
CORRECTION (June 9, 11:45 a.m.): An earlier version of this article incorrectly said that if the Golden State Warriors had made 3-pointers at their regular-season accuracy rate, they would have won Sunday’s NBA Finals game 117-95. They would have won 111-95.
When you ask for a raise, shoot for an extra $55,000.
My wife and I are expecting a baby girl in September, and Daniel Hamermesh has a scary message for soon-to-be parents like us: The impact that a new baby has on your pocketbook is trumped by the impact on your stress levels. In a new study, Hamermesh, an economist at the University of Texas at Austin, translates that stress into dollar figures and finds it is “so huge as to be almost unbelievable,” he told me. (Gulp.)
In fact, the stress costs are so large, Hamermesh argues, that our family would need a lot more income to compensate. “If we thought about it more, we’d have fewer kids,” he said. (Gasp.)
Hamermesh and his co-authors quantify these stress effects in their recent working paper, “The Stress Cost of Children.” Although the paper has not yet been peer-reviewed, the results are startling. Parents’ self-reported feelings of financial stress increase little after having a child. But time stress — or how overwhelmed and rushed parents feel — jumps enormously, especially for mothers, and it lasts several years. Translating that time stress into dollar figures shows that having a child produces a significant burden — on top of the $245,340 in food, housing, education and other costs that the U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates that it takes to raise a kid.
To make these calculations, Hamermesh and his co-authors used two massive longitudinal studies from Australia and Germany, each spanning more than a decade: the Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia (HILDA) survey and the German Socio-Economic Panel (SOEP). (The researchers would have liked to study the United States, but similar longitudinal data doesn’t exist here.) Both the Australian and German surveys followed more than 7,000 heterosexual married couples for roughly a decade through 2012 and routinely asked participants questions like “How often do you feel rushed or pressed for time?” The participants were also asked to rank their satisfaction with their financial situation. The researchers looked at how stress levels changed for couples who had a child during the study period compared with those who didn’t. Despite differences in culture and child-care services between Australia and Germany, the qualitative conclusions from both studies were similar. That suggests the results “supersede any cultural or legislative differences,” Hamermesh said.
Those conclusions show — perhaps unsurprisingly — that the stress burden of a new kid falls heaviest on the mother. Specifically, a mother’s self-reported time stress increases about 20 percent to 22 percent55 in the first year or two after a child’s birth. Time stress rises far less for fathers, between 5 percent and 8 percent. The time stress on the mother, furthermore, doesn’t fade during the first few years of the child’s life, while it does for the father. “If I were a feminist, I would love this,” Hamermesh said.
Comparable research is hard to find. Troves of studies have examined how happiness changes for parents upon having a child. And those are similarly based on self-reported responses to surveys asking questions like “How happy are you?” and “How satisfied are you with your life?” But Hamermesh is skeptical of happiness statistics. “I don’t know what it means,” he said, “and it’s not clear what the heck it measures.” He argued that self-reported happiness is more squishy than self-reported stress.
Those happiness researchers, however, might see Hamermesh’s approach as incomplete. Peder Pedersen, who is an economist at Aarhus University in Denmark and has studied the effect of a new child on parental happiness, said in an email that “it’s absolutely valid to study stress and financial costs” but that doing so is not a “substitute for a well-being measure.” Another economist in this field, Kevin Staub of the University of Melbourne in Australia, said in an email that he sees the Hamermesh paper as an “exciting addition” to the literature, but he added that studying stress does not imply that happiness measures are invalid.
Regardless of whether happiness is a more complete indicator of how parents feel after they have children, the real innovation of Hamermesh’s paper is how he and his co-authors put a price on the time stress. Since they knew mothers experienced more time stress than fathers, they tried to answer the same basic question: How much money would it take to reduce a mother’s financial stress enough to offset the increase in her time stress?
Specifically, the researchers normalized time stress and financial stress into a common unit of analysis56 and considered both types of stress as reciprocal components of parents’ overall stress. From the survey data, they already knew how much time stress went up after a kid entered the picture; they then calculated by how much financial stress would have to fall to offset that rise.
Using the Australian survey data, the researchers found that to offset a new mother’s time stress, her annual earnings would have to increase by about $66,000 (or her husband’s earnings would have to increase by $163,000). Using the German survey produces more modest estimates: A mother would need a $48,000 annual raise to offset her time stress (or she’d need to see her husband get a $55,000 raise instead). As you can see, a mother responds differently to changes in her income than to changes in her husband’s — that’s because a $1 increase in her earnings goes further in reducing her stress than a $1 increase in her husband’s.
There are a number of confounding factors in studying how parents respond to a new child. (This study didn’t follow couples for more than three or four years; the effects beyond that period are unclear.) For one, couples who plan to have a child may do so when their stress is low.57 Sure enough, this paper documents a dip in self-reported time stress for women and in financial stress for men in the year before a child’s birth. Hamermesh and his co-authors readily admit that they couldn’t completely control for these factors, but “if anything, we underestimate the [stress] effect following the birth,” Hamermesh said. (Another gulp.)
So what can we do to help stressed-out parents? Hamermesh and his co-authors believe extra help with child care can alleviate the stress of having a kid — but only so much. Their estimates show that even if women were able to eliminate their child-care and child-related housework responsibilities following the birth of a child, they would still experience higher time stress. Hamermesh said that it’s “just having the buggers around,” to say nothing of the work they require, that stresses parents out. (Sigh.)
But if having a kid is so stressful, and that has real, quantifiable costs, why do people do it? “The long-term gain must exceed the short-term cost,” Hamermesh said, before adding earnestly: “Not having a third kid is a great regret of my life.” (Whew.)
I think this article should also consider the OTC availibility of Plan B, which I think is more influential than IUDs. I don't know anyone with an IUD.
You might not know it from the political debate, but abortion is becoming increasingly rare in the United States — and activists on both sides are rushing to take credit. A survey released earlier this week by the Associated Press shows that the number of abortions performed each year declined by about 12 percent nationwide between 2010 and 2014, continuing a steady downward trajectory since the early 1990s.60
Anti-abortion activists point to the hundreds of inventive restrictions on abortion passed in Republican-controlled states across the South and Midwest since 2010, which have closed dozens of clinics, especially in rural areas. These restrictions include mandatory pre-abortion counseling, waiting periods and policies that require women to look at an image of the fetus before undergoing the procedure. Charmaine Yoest, the president of Americans United for Life, one of the groups behind the measures, argues that the laws are forcing women to consider the full implications of the decision to abort. She told the AP that the decrease in abortions is a sign that women’s perspectives are changing. “There’s an entire generation of women who saw a sonogram as their first baby picture,” she said. “There’s an increased awareness of the humanity of the baby before it is born.”
Abortion-rights advocates, meanwhile, argue that the abortion rate is declining because contraception is cheaper and more widely available than ever before, thanks to the Affordable Care Act, which requires insurers to cover most types of birth control with no copay.
Although it’s impossible to attribute the decline to a single factor, the data shows that better contraception — combined with a bad economy and a falling teen pregnancy rate — is largely responsible. Abortion rates did fall in many of the states with new restrictions, but they also dropped in others, such as New York and Connecticut, where access to abortion is relatively unobstructed. In fact, some of the states with the biggest declines — Hawaii, Nevada and New Mexico — have enacted no new abortion laws in recent years, suggesting that something other than reduced access is spurring the trend.
Elizabeth Ananat, an associate professor of economics at Duke University who studies the economics of fertility, said the data also contradicts the notion that more women are rejecting abortion and choosing to stay pregnant. “If women’s attitudes were really shifting, we should see the birth rate go up,” she says. “Instead, birth rates are falling, too.” (The birth rate reached a record low in 2013, according to the CDC. It fell by 2 percent between 2010 and 2013, and by 9 percent between 2007 and 2013.) According to Ananat and other experts, the decline in abortions is a symptom of another trend: Fewer women are getting pregnant in the first place.
What’s behind the declining pregnancy rate is more difficult to pinpoint. One clear factor, said Joerg Dreweke, a spokesman for the Guttmacher Institute, a research organization that supports abortion rights, is the teenage pregnancy rate, which has been falling steadily since the early 1990s. According to Dreweke, this is partially due to better contraceptive use among teenagers. Other research on teen fertility rates supports this: In a paper published earlier this year, economists Phillip Levine and Melissa Kearney found that other policy changes — such as sex education, whether it was comprehensive or abstinence-only — couldn’t explain the decline. Because the vast majority (82 percent in 2010) of teen pregnancies are unplanned, a reduction in teen pregnancy overall will have an effect on the abortion rate. Since teenagers account for only about 18 percent of abortions, though, their effect is limited.
Another likely explanation of the declining pregnancy rate — and by extension the declining abortion rate — Ananat said, is that the lingering effects of the economic recession are prompting more women to consider whether now is the best time to have a child, especially women in their 20s, who account for 57 percent of all abortions. After climbing in the earlier part of the decade, the U.S. birth rate took a nosedive around 2008 along with the abortion rate, suggesting that hard times were prompting more reproductive caution. “People think of pregnancies as being either planned or unplanned, but there’s sometimes some middle ground there, some ‘let’s see what happens,’” she said. “People’s ambivalence tends to evaporate during a recession, and they’re more careful about birth control use because they’re more certain they don’t want to get pregnant.” This economic uncertainty even trickles down to teenagers. Kearney and Levine found that the jump in unemployment during the Great Recession was associated with a modest reduction in teen pregnancy.
But there’s a final explanation: So many women are able to successfully avoid pregnancy at least partly because of the Affordable Care Act’s contraception mandate, which took effect in 2012 and minimizes the up-front costs for highly effective, long-lasting forms of birth control such as the intrauterine device (IUD) or hormonal implant. The number of women using the most effective forms of birth control jumped to a high of 12 percent by the end of last year. New research shows that women who live in states with less abortion access are more likely than women who don’t to use a contraceptive like the IUD. “There’s been a push to expand the IUD and implant to women who were using contraception ineffectively in the past because long-acting birth control had big up-front costs, and they couldn’t afford it,” Ananat said. Because women who use contraception incorrectly or inconsistently account for 41 percent of unintended pregnancies, even a small shift to highly effective methods of contraception could have a disproportionate effect on the abortion rate.
What the data shows, according to Ananat, is a kind of perfect storm. “The teen pregnancy rate has been declining for a while now, and we can’t say that’s the driving force, but it’s contributing,” she said. “And then you have the combination of the recession, which makes people less willing to have children, and the Affordable Care Act, which gives women better access to contraception at a time when they really want it. So you end up with a situation where there’s less of a need for abortion just because fewer women are getting pregnant.”
The question, for her, is whether new abortion laws are affecting when women are getting the procedure. Over the past decade, more and more women have opted for abortions early in their pregnancies, but as states place more barriers in their way, that trend could shift. If women have to jump through more hoops — travel to faraway clinics or encounter waiting periods that require overnight stays — they might delay the procedure until they can raise enough money or take time off work. “We know that restrictive policies don’t deter most women from getting abortions, but it can delay them,” Ananat says. “The idea that women’s attitudes toward abortion are changing, though — we just don’t have evidence for that.”
1. Every person (x) must know exactly 1 person (y) named “Trevor.”1
2. Every person (x) must know exactly 1 person (y1) named “Trevor” at a time (t1). Person (x) may know an alternative person (y2) named “Trevor” at an alternative time (t2), but the original “Trevor” (y1) must no longer exist at time (t2) and likewise person (x) must never know the alternative “Trevor” (y2) at the original time (t1).2
3. If person (x) is himself named “Trevor,” he fulfills the functions of both persons (x) and (y). He must therefore never meet another person named “Trevor” (z) without violating rules 1 and 2 thereby resulting in a “Trevor Paradox.”3
4. Any person or persons claiming to be in violation of rules 1, 2 or 3 is either: (a) experiencing a serious nervous disorder accompanied by severe delusions; or (b) a dangerous pathological liar. In both cases, patients should be considered a threat to general society and must be isolated immediately. Perhaps someplace nice, like Hawaii.4
1 I met my best friend Whitney in Middle School. We lived across the street from each other. We took violin lessons together. One day walking home after violin practice, we realized there was only one kid named “Trevor” in our whole school. We started asking other kids from other schools in other after-school activities and they all told us the same thing. There was only one kid named “Trevor” at everybody else’s Middle School, too.
2 Whitney and I started dating in High School. I didn’t like school that much but I got good grades because she wanted to go to college at MIT and she said you needed to get good grades to go to MIT and I wanted to go to MIT with her. “Trevor” went to our high school, too. After he killed himself, Whitney was pretty upset. They had become good friends, I guess. They hung out a lot more than I thought they did. When some kid who also happened to be named “Trevor” moved in down the street from us a couple weeks later, she got even more upset. I just thought we were getting a new “Trevor.” I don’t know. They named a skate park after him. The first “Trevor,” I mean.
3 Whitney and I dated for a little while longer before I got kicked out of MIT. She was getting concerned about my bad grades and how obsessed I’d become with the name “Trevor.” One night I was ranting for several hours about the paradox and how it was equally probable that someone named “Trevor” would meet someone named “Trevor” as it was that someone named “Josh” or “Amy” or “Steven” would meet someone named “Trevor” and that this was a serious problem with the theory. She only said that she missed Trevor. I did not know which “Trevor” she was referring to. We broke up.
4 I have many friends named “Trevor” now. I am borrowing some more money from my parents to complete my independent research and then will be moving to Hawaii.
Jurassic World just broke box office records last weekend, but you know what else would get broken if dinosaurs were on the loose? Everything in your house that you care about and a few things you forgot you even had, that’s what. Because dinosaurs make terrible pets, according to this elucidating video from We Have A Dinosaur.
Their video posits dinosaurs have all the destructive impulses and bemused spitefulness of a house cat, plus the size and grip strength of a… really big house cat. It might just be better to have a dragon named Gary instead. And if you can’t watch the video for some reason (like a pet velociraptor chewed through your speaker wires, for example?), here’s a handy GIFset to summarize.
When people talk about the iconic comic book movies that helped jumpstart this industry and culture devouring trend, they mention Tim Burton’s Batman, the first X-Men movie, Spider-Man, or Richard Donner’s Superman. They don’t usually mention Warren Beatty’s Dick Tracy, a film with a cornball story, a star-studded cast, and an impressively daring sense of visual style.
It’s been 25 years since Beatty brought his vision to the screen and despite the years, the film still holds up and it still effectively makes its case for “classic” status. Here are a few reasons why you should see it for the first time, give it a re-watch, and/or hold it in higher esteem.
If Batman ’66 and Burton’s Batman had a baby, and that baby was raised by Frank Miller’s The Spirit and occasionally visited by Sin City for ballgames and its first beer, the result might be Dick Tracy. Let me be clear, this wasn’t a toy commercial or a kid’s film even though it was thoroughly merchandised and colorful in a cartoonish way. It’s not dark and gritty either. Accessible to all ages without pandering, Beatty’s film is as much a love letter to the original Chester Gould comic strip as it is to 1930s pro-crime stopper films like the James Cagney-starring G Men and the Edward G. Robinson-starring I Am The Law. The dialogue is mob movie 101 with a few “dames” and “kids” mixed in with paperback noir-speak like the above exchange between Tracy and Madonna’s Breathless Mahoney.
Madonna, of course, had a hand in the film’s musical tone as well, but Stephen Sondheim deserves the bulk of the credit. At times, the score echoes that of Batman, and I’m sure that wasn’t accidental, but the use of the Sondheim-penned musical montages (including the Oscar-winning “Sooner Or Later”) to illustrate both Tracy’s run of informed good luck against the criminal underworld and the reverse of that later on is thoroughly unique and adds to the fun feel of the film.
Shampoo is the finest example of Warren Beatty’s magnetism, but while his charm ray is lowered a little when he plays the above reproach lawman who is desperately trying to deny the heat between he and Breathless Mahoney and hold onto his relationship with the constantly put-upon Glenne Headly, it’s still evident. As Mahoney, Madonna is all sex-pot while Headly alludes to a layer beyond her nice-girl exterior when she threatens to break the kid’s arm after he swipes a five and when she plays coy with Tracy as he’s trying to propose.
The villains are the real highlight of the cast, though. With the exception of Dick Van Dyke (who traded on his familiar face to throw a curve ball) and James Caan, the rest of the Rogues got to be all decked out in their silly suits and hidden with makeup. Beatty could have cast a bunch of no-names, but instead he hit his Rolodex hard and brought in a group of well-known character actors (William Forsythe, Seymour Cassel, and Paul Sorvino) and stars (Caan and Dustin Hoffman) to play the baddies and flunkees that surrounded Al Pacino as the main big bad, Big Boy.
The “top” looks like an ant from where Pacino stands in this film, that’s how “over” it he is as the power-mad gangster/dance choreographer and scenery chewer, but it works within the context of this film even though the performance — which got Pacino a Best Supporting Actor nomination — is quite possibly the most cartoonish comic book villain this side of John Leguizamo in Spawn.
Dick Tracy actually received seven Oscar nominations, winning three. Two of those three went to Richard Sylbert and Rick Simpson for Best Art/Set Direction and to John Caglione Jr. and Doug Drexler for Makeup, and they are well deserved.
Moving the world of Dick Tracy from comic strip to live-action required a careful but imaginative application of makeup effects to turn those monstrous and deformed Rogues into villains that stood out, but didn’t make the film feel like a creature feature. Sometimes, those transformations were slightly subtle, as with Forsythe’s Flattop and Sorvino’s Lips, but others were a bit more exaggerated, like Little Face.
As for the visual effects, it’s simply the most striking thing about the film 25 years later, and something that people maybe didn’t have the chance to fully appreciate at the time. But with Frank Miller and Robert Rodriguez’s Sin City films and Miller’s The Spirit, it’s abundantly clear how ahead of his time Beatty was with the look of this film and its city, which feels as though it is half cartoon and half real life thanks to the use of matte paintings and bold colors.
This entire film could have taken Tracy off the page and shoehorned him into a world more like our own. Taken him out of his time too, but Beatty had a literal interpretation of the term “comic book movie” and that meant that Dick Tracy looked like a spectacle with an exaggerated skyline, cheesy dialogue, a loud visual sense, and meaty shots of our hero busting bad guys. No subtlety, no apologies for what it is, no grittiness, and certainly no neo-realism. And while audiences are far more interested in seeing comic heroes go on adventures within worlds that mirror our own, we should all tip our yellow fedoras to a film that was willing to challenge our imaginations and invite us into its bold world.
LeBron James’s Cleveland Cavaliers might be trailing the Golden State Warriors 3-2 in the NBA Finals. The Cavs might, as their Vegas odds suggest, have a mere 12 percent chance of winning the NBA championship. But according to just about every statistical measurement available, the self-proclaimed “best player in the world” is having a series for the ages.
Build a bare-bones performance metric that simply adds a player’s points, rebounds and assists and then divides by the number of games the team played,20 and James’s 2015 finals ranks as the best of the past 30 years.
Get more complex — using, say, a points above replacement (PAR) estimator based on the single-game version of Daniel Myers’s Box Plus/Minus21 — and James ranks sixth among all NBA Finals participants since 1985.22
So at either pole of the complexity spectrum, James has been the top player of these finals. (Neil Greenberg of the Washington Post and ESPN Insider’s Kevin Pelton came to similar conclusions using a few more metrics of varying intricacy.) And from a historical perspective, output of this level usually leads to winning the NBA Finals and the NBA Finals MVP: Every player near James’s combined total of points, rebounds and assists ended up garnering MVP honors.
In a vacuum, then, James’s performance has been so historically strong that it would be a shame for him not to win the award.
But on the other hand, if the Warriors win the series and the MVP goes to James, it will be the first time that a member of the losing team has received the honor since 1969, when Jerry West of the Los Angeles Lakers won in spite of the Boston Celtics’ championship. And, as Pelton notes, the culture of denying MVP honors to a nonchampion has grown in the intervening years, across all sports.
In the NBA alone, nine players since 1985 have been the best player in their series by PAR through five games yet failed to win the MVP after their teams lost. (To a certain extent, this also speaks to what can happen between Games 5 and 7 of a series between closely matched teams.) In 2011, Dwyane Wade — then James’s teammate on the Miami Heat — outplayed Dirk Nowitzki to a greater extent than James has outplayed presumptive Warriors MVP candidate Stephen Curry23 thus far yet still lost the award to the Dallas Mavericks star. So as great as James has been, it might not be enough to justify the award if Cleveland loses the series.
There’s one more angle to think about, though, when it comes to James’s 2015 finals performance. It may be that all our stats and metrics simply break down when forced to consider the unparalleled burden that James has been forced to carry on this undermanned, undertalented Cavaliers squad. James’s 41.1 percent usage rate in this series is the largest of any finalist since 1985, breaking Michael Jordan’s mark of 39.6 percent for the Chicago Bulls against the Phoenix Suns in 1993. James is also logging an incredible 45.6 minutes per game, the eighth-most of any qualified24 finalist since 1985.
As Tom Haberstroh wrote over the weekend, James’s physical workload during these finals has been termed “unfathomable” (among other things) by sports science experts. At the limits of human endurance and on-court influence — through his shooting and passing, James was involved in 70 of Cleveland’s 91 points in Game 5 — there may be no numbers that can do justice to how irreplaceable James has been for the Cavaliers in this series.
They don’t necessarily give out awards for being completely and utterly essential to your team, of course. And, as always, “value” is in the eye of the beholder. But whether the Cavs win or lose, it’s not hard to imagine this series going down as a testament to James’s singular talent, stamina and durability. And if that doesn’t constitute “value,” I’m not sure what does.
Killer Mike—rapper, national hero and increasingly prominent voice in the very narrow Venn overlap between pop culture figures and purveyors of political nuance—has announced, via this Instagram, his write-in candidacy for the Georgia House of Representatives, District 55.
As we saw in a video earlier this week, Chris Pratt was loving doing some of his own stunts on the Jurassic World set. The newest video diary released this morning picks up with Chris Pratt preparing to do a motorcycle stunt: “It’s been nice working on this movie. Tell all my friends and family I love them.”
“As you can see, there’s mud on my pants,” he says, pointing out that sometimes the wardrobe department will add it, but in this case it was his own contribution. “This I actually added myself by eating sh*t on the motorcycle about ten minutes ago.”
He explains, “Never let your confidence outgrow your skill,” sagely adding, “I should never have a motorcycle. If you ever see me in the tabloids driving a motorcycle, find me and kick me in the nuts.” Then, because he’s basically Andy Dwyer, he looks into the camera and asks the Triumph people to give him a free motorcycle.
For those have you who have been yearning for more lady versions of dude-centric comedies, here’s some interesting news: Sony is making a female version of 21 Jump Street. Even better, they’ve hired two writers from Broad City—Lucia Aniello and Paul Downs—to pen the script.
It has been well-documented that J.J. Watt will do awesome things off the football field for his fans. On Monday, an opportunity arose for him to come through for one fan, Ashlee Sanchez, and of course he rose to the challenge.
Sanchez bought tickets to Watt’s annual charity softball game, which takes place this Friday. But the problem is she didn’t clear it with her work first. So, she sent out a tweet, and J.J. responded with a handwritten letter directed towards her boss.
Meet Kristina Karo, the woman who is suing—or claiming to sue—Mila Kunis over a pet chicken that Kunis allegedly stole when they were children in Ukraine. This is her new hit song “Give Me Green Card.” At the risk of editorializing, I think I love her?
But when the media asks questions like, “Where have all the rock stars gone?,” what the writer really means is, “Where have all the charismatic, platinum-selling white guys in tight pants gone?”
Every few years, music fans are asked to mourn rock ‘n’ roll’s death. Apparently the genre is in worse condition than Keith Richards himself. The eulogies often bemoan the so-called lack of great rock bands these days — a scenario … Read More
Hey, remember how Disney isn’t even putting Black Widow on team T-shirts because girls aren’t part of Disney’s “desired demographic” with Marvel? In an announcement that seems rather well-timed, DC has just rolled out an initiative aimed squarely at 6 to 12 year old girls.
The initiative isn’t just a comic book or two either. According to The Hollywood Reporter, DC has brought on partners like Mattel, LEGO and Random House and plans to have TV specials and direct-to-video movies. Apparently the line was inspired by the success of Batgirl and more relevantly, DC’s teen-aimed and quite good Gotham Academy.
Well, that and the fact that they got called out by an eleven-year-old. And, on a larger level, one suspects DC’s higher-ups saw an opportunity their competitors couldn’t, or wouldn’t, aim for. Hasbro and Marvel don’t have a great track record of catering to little girls with their nerdy product lines, something that is increasingly annoying the hell out of parents.
Of course, this is really just the start; it’s nice that Bumblebee is in the character lineup, but she’s MIA from DC’s actual comic books. Similarly, it’s weird they’ve got Harley Quinn in the mix since her current book, while a huge hit, is essentially a string of dumb-blonde jokes. And for all we know, this is going to turn out to be a Computer Engineer Barbie-style mess when the actual content arrives. But hey, at least DC is trying, unlike almost everyone else.
London-based aspiring pop star Isaac Adni has the right idea. Honestly, if you could cast aside all the burdens and heartbreaks that come with adulthood, wouldn’t you choose to live freely as a water fowl instead? And Isaac isn’t looking to be a collar-popping loner duck, either. He wants to fit into the duck community. He wants to learn how to quack the right way. Plus, he can already swim (and dance!), so he’s halfway home. I hope the duck king grants him his wish, but if he doesn’t, I know Isaac will be successful because he’s literally walking along the path of UK musical greatness in his video.
Stinson, 50, has become an indispensable source for researchers and reporters looking into alleged crimes and acts of violence by police officers because he has built a database tracking thousands of incidents in which officers were arrested since 2005. His data has shown that even the few police officers who are arrested for drunken driving are rarely convicted and that arrests spike for cops who have been on the force 18 years or longer, contrary to prior research showing it was mostly new officers who were acting out.
The whole data-collecting operation is powered by 48 Google Alerts that Stinson set up in 2005, along with individual Google Alerts for each of nearly 6,000 arrests of officers. He has set up 10 Gmail addresses to collect all the alert emails, which feed articles into a database that also contains court records and videos.
It all adds up to a data set of alleged police misconduct unmatched by anything created inside or outside of government, which itself often uses Google Alerts to catch these cases.71 Yet Stinson’s database inevitably has holes because it relies on the media to cover every officer arrest, and because it takes immense effort to code each entry. The data set keeps falling behind.
Stinson’s path to police-misconduct expertise was a winding one. A high-school dropout, he worked for police departments in Arlington, Virginia, and Dover, New Hampshire, before getting his law degree, then turning in his license after mishandling client funds. He switched to criminology, getting his Ph.D. in 2009. He chose his research subject in part because of his experiences as a cop, seeing police officers get away with crimes others wouldn’t, and in part because he wanted to win a bet he’d made in his Master’s program. Now he’s the recipient of a National Institute of Justice grant to study police misconduct, host of an occasional podcast on the topic, and a go-to source for the media.
Stinson says he has no bias against his former profession. “This isn’t anti-police,” he said. “I hope to write papers and get things published that are helpful to law enforcement, not that bash law enforcement.”
The following is an edited transcript of my telephone interview with Stinson, with some followup questions by email.
Carl Bialik: You’ve worked with the media on stories about arrests for killings by police, and recently you’ve also been a source on arrests of police for DUIs. You’ve also studied sex crimes and corruption. How did you become the expert on police arrests?
Philip Stinson: The idea came up in the fall of 2004, when I was finishing my master’s at West Chester University of Pennsylvania. I was taking an ethics class. Somebody in the class — it was a bunch of cops in class, mid-career — somebody made a comment that cops don’t get in trouble much. I said, “That’s just absurd.” I started looking into it and realized there are no government statistics, and no government agency tracking it well.
I set up 48 Google Alerts, let it rip, and started printing pages out. Originally it was to win a bet in the master’s class.
CB: What did you bet?
PS: I don’t know. It was a beer or something. I wasn’t a betting man. It wasn’t anything big.
I had two and a half years, three years of data in my dissertation, covering 2005 to 2007, with 109 quantitative variables.
And then over time at Bowling Green, we now track 270 or so quantitative variables. Everything is automated now. Because data collection is real-time — you can’t use Lexis Nexis, NewsBank, all these other archival news databases, because lots of stuff has disappeared from the Internet — so because of that it’s very slow and time-consuming. It takes forever to do.
Some reporters wanted everything I had — everything. I was like, go fuck yourself. You get everything. I just spent 10 years on this.
Now we’re up to almost 11,000 cases involving almost 9,000 officers. We log these cases, then make Google Alerts on individual names so we can track cases through courts and the media.72
CB: How sure are you that The Washington Post’s count of 54 police officers charged with fatal shootings while on duty is a complete count?
PS: I want to make it very clear I’ve never claimed I have every case. It’s possible that’s not an exhaustive list. If anything, I think we’re missing just a handful of cases of killings, because those kinds of cases get news coverage. I’d have to hazard a guess that we do a better job of collecting data in smaller metropolitan areas and rural areas, because arrests there are so newsworthy.
CB: How much do you think you miss by relying on media reports?
PS: If I had 1,100 arrest cases, I can’t believe there are another 1,100 out there. I doubt we’re missing half, but there aren’t none.
CB: You were a lawyer before going to graduate school for criminology. What happened?
PS: I fucked up in my law practice [Stinson Law Associates, PC, in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania]. I was charged with several crimes and the commingling of funds in 2002. It was the kiss of death. I paid a heavy price and took a heavy hit.
CB: Did you do what you were charged with doing?
PS: I did it. [“Chronic sleep deprivation exacerbated mental health issues that I was not aware that I had and led to impaired judgment in many instances, and for that I’m very remorseful and in treatment,” Stinson told the Philadelphia Inquirer in 2002.] Everybody was made whole eventually.
I don’t like to leave that out [that I did this]. It’s not something I’m proud of, and I don’t like seeing it in print. It really has nothing to do with why I am doing this research.
I certainly think I’ve done everything I can to rehabilitate myself.
If I were teaching theology, it would never come up, but in criminology, it does come up sometimes with students, so I usually walk into the classroom and lay it out there.
CB: What was your experience as a cop and did it influence your work?
PS: When I went to New Hampshire, I saw some crazy shit. It really changed my outlook on things. When people were arrested, they would take them into the booking room, and sometimes the sergeant would come in and just beat the shit out of the guy while he was handcuffed — shit like that.
I was floored with my experience up there. In the two years I was up there, I saw all kinds of shit I did not know happened.
They faked reports, and there was creative report writing, to fit the arrest they wanted to have. There was evidence that was tampered with and overly suggestive court identifications to nail people with shit. It was quite an eye-opener. [When asked for comment, Anthony Colarusso, chief of Dover’s police department, said, “I feel strongly that the Dover Police Department has a high level of integrity and has had that since I joined the police department in May of 1985. In fact, our longstanding policy is that officers be terminated for any level of untruthfulness.” He added, “No police department is perfect, but we are very aggressive in holding ourselves accountable for our actions.”]
So I sort of had that kind of stuff in the back of my head for many years.
CB: Many who quote your stats use them to make larger points: Too many police officers break the law, or too few are punished for it, or police are too violent with citizens, or are biased against black people. Do you have a larger view based on the data you’ve collected?
PS: What we’ve seen is that courts are just very reluctant to convict cops who are charged with crimes. We see some interesting patterns with that. So juries, and even judges in bench trials, are not comfortable for prosecutors to prosecute cases.
We do look a lot at what gets them arrested, what gets them convicted or not convicted, and what gets them to lose their job. Two things that have come out that have just sort of blown me away:
1) Many cops are arrested for crimes that are serious and don’t lose their jobs. We have cops who were arrested in 2005 or 2006, and we’re startled to see they are still a cop — maybe still with the same agency, maybe not. That just blows me away. John Lewis in Schenectady, [New York,] is one example.
2) The other is, from prior research, it looked like if cops get in trouble, it will be early in their careers. What we found is that almost 20 percent of these cases involve officers with at least 18 years of experience.73
CB:The Washington Post investigation you contributed to found that in the last decade, just 54 officers were charged with fatally shooting someone while on duty. One open question is, what’s the denominator? How many people do you think police have killed overall in that time?
PS: I think it’s such a huge number. I don’t know how you could manage it. How do you verify it? We can at least go back and get the court records [for officer arrests]. It’s an impossible thing to do all of that [for the cases in which no one was charged].74
But we do have this file, that’s getting bigger, where we put articles that we come across where we’re just convinced they’re going to arrest the officer but they don’t. And the file just keeps growing. And we kind of scratch our heads. How does that happen?
CB: Seems like that’s more evidence that it’s much easier for police to avoid conviction.
PS: Absolutely. You’ve got to really fuck up to get convicted as a cop, of anything at all. We’ve seen some really weird things with charging incidents, like a cop charged with domestic violence incidents, hauled out of the house, and then charged with DUI. Because if he were charged with a simple misdemeanor of domestic violence, he can’t carry a gun, can’t own a gun, can’t carry ammo, can’t own ammo. We have dozens of police officers with qualifying crimes who’ve still got their job, carrying a gun every day.
CB: Did you ever help a cop avoid a domestic violence charge?
PS: No. No. I never would have thought of doing something like that.
CB: Do you think it’s the job of policing that makes some people violent or break the law, or are some of the people who are drawn to the job prone to violence or lawbreaking?
PS: It’s a chicken-and-egg situation. I know this from my own experiences, even from my own experience as a police officer, that the gun and badge become part of you. When you lose that, something is taken away from you. There is such a power element to it.
Brian Gilmore, whom I went to law school with, is now at Michigan State. Every once in a while we get together in Ann Arbor, halfway between us. I told him about my research. He said one time he worked at a law firm in D.C. and represented union members who were police and firefighters when they got in trouble. He represented a ton of cops charged with domestic-violence crimes, but not one firefighter. That’s quite telling. [Gilmore, asked to confirm the story, said, “My experience is anecdotal but true.”]
CB: Seems like now there are so many ways that officers can be filmed — by dash cams, body cameras, surveillance cameras and citizens’ cameras. Do you have a sense of whether that’s a growing factor in these arrests?
PS: We haven’t coded for that, and we’re three years behind. We haven’t gone back to code them. We need more grant money. I just don’t have the money to hire the staff.
Anecdotally, absolutely it’s made a huge difference. That starts with Rodney King forwards. But in the last few years, everybody is a videographer. You whip it out, very easily and with no cost, and take videos. The problem is, they don’t start filming until something has caught their attention. The combination of dash-cam video, citizen video and body-worn camera video gives you different pieces you can put together.
The problem with body cameras is that they can turn it off. We’ve seen that in a few instances, the cop will turn it off, beat the shit out of somebody, then turn it back on.
CB: What do your former police colleagues think about your work?
PS: Somebody who was a supervisor I worked under in the Arlington, [Virginia,] police department, she posted something on Facebook in response to something I posted. She posted this thing asking if I’d been on any ride-alongs recently. I responded, I don’t think there are too many police officers who are interested in having me ride along with them these days.
CB: You’ve mentioned “we” a few times. Who’s “we”? Who are your collaborators? Grad students?
PS: I’ve collaborated with John Liederbach at Bowling Green. Steven L. Brewer at Penn State has done a lot of work with machine-learning type stuff and decision-tree analysis.
Now that I don’t have grant money, and we’re in a weird time in higher education where there’s a push for more grad students paying fees, it’s harder to get help without grants.
In the last one and a half to two years, I’ve started to see what I can get away with from undergraduates. I have two grad students, and then 10 undergraduates who work six to 10 hours a week. They don’t get paid, and they do a great job. Everyone has a GPA over 3.5.
A friend of mine, who found Vince Foster’s body, pointed out that I would never be qualified to work for me, based on the standards for the students.
CB: What was your GPA?
PS: It was really low until I got medicated for ADD. I saw a doctor and realized I was out of control with impulse control. It made a world of difference. I ended up with a 3.94 GPA in my Ph.D. program. It was not until my late 30s that I was medicated. Both of my ex-wives would tell you I’m far calmer than before.
CB: Are you married now?
PS: No, I’m between wives and dogs.
CB: How do you code, and how long does it take? Do you have to code all 270 variables for every case?
PS: For my grant, we had 12 months, and I had eight graduate assistants working for me at the time. Four of them were just working on coding cases. I think it was 20 to 30 a week they would get done. They all worked for me for 20 hours a week. It takes even longer now. There are so many documents in the cases.
I have been running the same 48 search terms75 in Google Alerts since the beginning of 2005. What we’re doing just now is getting the database as tight as we can so when we have more grant money, we can go back in and code all the cases. Two years ago, I started collecting videos. Now I have 3,000 videos. I don’t even know what we’re going to use a lot of them for.
CB: Why track only arrests as opposed to so many other things police do that don’t result in arrest?
PS: I wanted to have something where somebody, some magistrate had signed off on an arrest warrant. So you gotta be charged — however you come in, whether arrested, arrested then indicted, indicted then arrested — somehow formally brought in and booked. That’s just to give it some rules.
CB: You mentioned before that you don’t like sharing the whole database.
PS: It’s my intellectual property.
CB: But do you think the government itself should be compiling a similar database, doing the work itself?
PS: Oh, absolutely. They haven’t figured out how to do it on their own. Survey research is not going to get the right answers. It’s seemingly hard to track for some reason.
CB: Are there any geographical trends you see? Are police officers especially likely to be arrested in certain states or cities, or in rural or urban areas?
PS: It’s everywhere. We looked at it at the county level. One variable is county FIPS [Federal Information Processing Standard] numbers. We mapped these cases and graphed them.
We see it in rural areas. We see it everywhere. It’s amazing to me. Everywhere across the country we see this kind of stuff, all 50 states and the District of Columbia.
CB: Cops are under lots of scrutiny and criticism. They’re increasingly filmed on the job. Has it become a tougher job since you had it?
PS: Over the last 10 or 15 years or so, a lot of police departments have had trouble hiring qualified people, especially during the height of war. Some police departments lowered educational standards. I don’t know if it’s a harder job. It feels like a more violent job.
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Nine people were indicted Tuesday in Kentucky after allegedly stealing more than $100,000 worth of Wild Turkey and rare Pappy Van Winkle bourbon. It is unclear to this author why they have not been charged with crimes against humanity. [The Wall Street Journal]
Proportion of campaign contributions in 2012 that came from people who were among the wealthiest 0.01 percent of Americans, according to research published by a political action committee trying to get the 99.99 percent more involved in politics. So you know, grain, salt, etc. [Daily Kos]
Proportion of independent doughnut shops in California that are owned by people of Cambodian descent. For decades, Cambodian immigrants have joined the doughnut business after fleeing the Khmer Rouge. [Lucky Peach]
Number of days left until Aug. 6, 2015, Jon Stewart’s final night hosting “The Daily Show.” [The A.V. Club]
At an expected cost of £400,000, London has successfully removed a 10,000-kilogram, 40-meter-long — ugh, screw it: At an expected cost of $600,632, London has successfully removed a 22,000-pound, 131-foot-long sewer disturbance composed of congealed fat and waste. Huzzah. [The Guardian]
How much veteran referee Kenny Bayless will be compensated to officiate the upcoming fight between Manny Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather. While it’s hardly chump change for a night — or more realistically, about an hour’s worth — of work, the fight itself is expected by some to pull in more than $400 million. [ESPN]
More than 88,000
Number of applicants for 55 affordable housing units in a new building west of Lincoln Center primarily slotted for luxury condos. This will presumably end with more than 87,945 applicants for pitchforks in the forthcoming revolution. [The New York Times]
A new study of 95,727 children found absolutely no relationship between the measles, mumps and rubella vaccination and the development of autism spectrum disorders. Did you hear that, California? [The Guardian]
Size of the resealable-bag market, a business with a shocking amount of intellectual property and innovation, all things considered. [Wired]
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And, as always, if you see a significant digit in the wild, tweet it to me @WaltHickey.
Testimony in the trial of former Iowa state legislator Henry Rayhons concluded Friday; Rayhons, 78, is charged with felony sexual abuse for allegedly having sex with his wife Donna while she was in a nursing home and in the advanced stages of Alzheimer’s. On Friday, Rayhons denied having sex with Donna, testifying, “I treated her like a queen.”
Lola: Hello and greetings. Today, we approach a deceptively simple query: Why doesn’t anyone listen to Ani DiFranco anymore?
Meredith: I just want to make clear to you, most righteous of babes, that Ani DiFranco raised me. I know all the words to every single song, every single giggly live track interlude. When I was 14, the sun rose and set with Ms. DiFranco, but for the kids today, she seems to have all but disappeared off the cultural map. So what gives?
Lola: As professional lesbians and amateur cultural detectives in a committed lesbian cultural detective relationship, we (Meredith Heil and Lola Pellegrino) felt none were more qualified to solve this mystery. Let us begin.
Going Down Hypothesis.
In early 2015, we waged three (3) separate attempts to make out to three (3) separate Ani DiFranco albums. All three failed to yield anything save a foundational postulation from Lola: “Nobody listens to Ani DiFranco anymore because you really, really can’t make out to this music unless you’re a teenager.” Meredith countered, “But I diiiiiiiid!” But that’s what Lola’s saying.
Sick of Me Hypothesis.
Much like how the most fatal viruses kill their hosts too quickly to ever lead to widespread epidemics, Ani “infected” her victims so hard and so terminally that they failed to infect others, so the outbreak flamed out.
Outta Me, Onto You Hypothesis.
Today’s media landscape boasts so many out, queer-identified famous people that we’re no longer resigned to projecting our queer dreams and aspirations upon a cis woman who has two babies with a cis man. To whom she is legally married. A husband-man. Her SECOND husband-man.
School Night Hypothesis.
Because all of our Ani stuff is somewhere at our parents’ house? We don’t know, it’s like, a photo scrapbook, this notebook with poems inspired by her haircuts and some ticket stubs. We can show you when we go back there for Easter; we think it’s in the basement.
What if No One’s Watching? Hypothesis.
Folk festivals used to be such A THING in the 1990s. Like, you’d pony up $65 to spend the weekend camping out and eating hemp seed cookies and braiding your hair and watching a bunch of vaguely familiar acts with one or two headliners (cue Ani DiFranco). Then Bonnaroo ruined everything. Fests are no longer about bands you’ve never heard before playing a similar genre of music. Now they’re like, Steely Dan sharing a million dollar stage with Snoop Dogg. Or whatever. Holograms.
Small World Hypothesis.
She was ultimately limited by being on her own label because nobody else of note was on it.
a. But, Bitch & Animal were on her label!
I Know this Bar Hypothesis.
Based on preliminary ethnographic research (i.e. having attended an Ani show as recently as 2011), we can report that her concert-going fanbase is about 40% guitar dads and 60% nostalgic moms, leading us to the realization that these modern day parental units were once pimply-faced Ani fans just like us, which further led us to the realization that WE ARE NOW MOM-AGED. Maybe it’s all our fault—we’ve ushered Ani into a certain type of momzone, a vast wash of Facebook status updates and bootcut jeans. RIP us.
Not a Pretty Girl Hypothesis.
Too earnest, too makeupless, too patent-leather-platform-Doc-Martens. Lola asks, "Maybe because she wore these pants in 2008?" Meredith comments, “The year on that can’t be right.” But it is, Meredith.
Old, Old Song Hypothesis.
Meredith’s initial social media investigation revealed that instead of Ani DiFranco, the Tumblr generation is listening to Lana Del Rey (?!?).
The Million You Never Made Hypothesis.
“Do the kids still hate capitalism? All those cool sneakers might have quelled that fire.”
The Next Big Thing Hypothesis.
Now that musicians can get famous on YouTube in a matter of five minutes, maybe Ani’s much publicized DIY struggle to combat major label domination doesn’t exactly qualify as #TheStruggle any longer.
Make Me Stay Hypothesis.
Because the person in her band responsible for “percussion and vibes” quit.
Lost Woman Song Hypothesis.
If one compares Ani’s early crooning to her later years, one will notice a distinct lack of, well, voice. Her voice is gone, shredded, left behind long ago to smolder and die in a heap of discarded Peace Frog posters. Time is the cruelest master and he comes for us all—even our vocal chords.
Meredith started listening to Tegan and Sara around the same time she found Ani. She remembers T & S’s first record—a raw, underproduced compilation of sad/angry, folk-fueled college radio jams. She also lovingly remembers Ani’s first album (a raw, underproduced compilations of sad/angry, folk-fueled college radio jams). Yet Tegan and Sara are currently killing it on mainstream radio, selling out enormous venues and enjoying a cushy front row seat on the indie charts. Why? Because they changed with the times, applying production technology to slicken their songs, modifying their sound as they grew. Ani’s untethered acoustics no longer jive with a generation raised on the internet, where feelings are mediated through a series of shiny hooks and cross-fades. She’s too damn real.
A texted analysis from our friend Amelia, an actual folk singer making actual music in 2015: “I don’t think her mellowness is the prob as much as she already wrote all her biographical songs/songs about being a fighter. I think now the songs are less compelling for teenagers cuz shes deeply at peace…No, not deeply at peace. I just mean she was a young person when we was little.” ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
Face Up and Sing Hypothesis.
She called folk an “attitude” in her press biography: says DiFranco, "I use the word 'folk' in reference to Punk music and Rap music. It's an attitude."
Icarus Hypothesis I.
She flew too close to the sun, man.
Icarus Hypothesis II.
And when her dreads melted, she lost all her powers.
The True Story of What Was Hypothesis.
Please see below: Figure 1, 1997 cast of MTV’s The Real World, the year Ani DiFranco released “Living in Clip,” her only gold record. Figure 2, the most recent cast of MTV’s The Real World, now in its 30th season.
Hide & Seek Hypothesis.
Since 2007, http://anidifranco.net has redirected to a site about dating married women, puzzling dozens of fans looking to trade bootleg cassettes and old set lists.
You only have to attempt to rap alongside Maceo Parker once to ruin your street cred forever: “sweepin ya off ya feel like we had a broom / with Ani DiFranco and Maceo / add a little freestyle flow and who knows?” We know. We found out.
Blood in the Boardroom Hypothesis.
We didn’t deserve this, Ani, and we’ll never forget.
Cradle and All Hypothesis.
She became a mom. The Kids don’t want to see a mom shouting about her “wound that won’t heal.”
Both Hands Hypothesis.
We’re getting nowhere with this; and we can’t let it go and we can’t get through.
Don’t Nobody Know Hypothesis.
Maybe people still listen to Ani. Maybe we’re just being assholes.
Every Angle Hypothesis.
“DiFranco” autocorrects to “Dog Rando” in Meredith’s phone.
Your Next Bold Move Hypothesis.
32 Flavors Hypothesis.
Does Baskin Robbins even still exist? Does anyone get this reference? Remember those clown cones? “Cause someday you might find you are starving/And eating all of the words you said.”