The limits of white compassion: Imagine if Black lives mattered as much as one gorilla’s

Gorilla Memorial

Flowers lay around a bronze statue of a gorilla and her baby at the Cincinnati Zoo, May 30, 2016. (Credit: Reuters/William Philpott)

Over the past few days, my Facebook Timeline has been filled with fellow Cincinnati natives weighing in on the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden’s decision to execute a silverback gorilla named Harambe, thus ensuring the safety of the small child who fell into the gorilla’s habitat. If people are reacting out of the compassion we are taught to exercise toward non-human animals, the “passion” root is equally present: people of various ages, races, and general points of view are hurt and angry over Harambe’s death. They call for apology, for petition, for policy change, for the parent of the fallen child to be held responsible somehow. It’s not okay to kill a gorilla.

The people are passionately compassionate—and with effect. The story is hitting national media; yesterday my partner caught footage of the encounter on CNN. Clearly, it matters how people feel, what they say about what is happening around them; their questions and their demands. In turn, the Zoo has defended its actions while lamenting its loss. Various experts have put forth their now moot prognoses of Harambe’s possible actions. There’s buzz, and meaning, memes, and some strange sort of solidarity in the air.

For centuries, Black people—specifically Black men—and gorillas have been linked, however latently, however insultingly, and definitely vividly since at least “King Kong”’s 1933 entrance into the cultural imagination. You know — the primitive monster who threatens both the sanctity and safety of the prodigal white woman. The same sort of beast that Flannery O’Connor, in her 1952 story “Enoch and the Gorilla,” describes as “hideous and black”: two words an inculcated dyad for those of us Black in an anti-Black society, reflected in a beast that supposedly reflects us.

But I think Harambe was beautiful. Dignified, strong; silver and black. Harambe is worth caring about, as are all our non-human animal counterparts (particularly those we have endangered), as is the overall issue of animal captivity, and the privileging of humans over the numerous (though disappearing) other species of our planet. With power comes the counterweight of compassion. If we choose not to eat animals, we are acting out of compassion. If we choose to eat animals, what is the most compassionate way to do so? If we, collectively, choose to confine animals, what is the most compassionate way to do so? Was the shooting of Harambe the most compassionate decision, the most judicious one—or neither, or both?

But, back to Black people, yeah? I was born and raised in Cincinnati. I remember, albeit fuzzily, the 2001 race riots following the police killing of an unarmed Black man named Timothy Thomas. By the August 2015 killing of unarmed Samuel DuBose (instigated, incidentally, by DuBose’s lack of a front license plate), I’d left the city; I didn’t even hear about the February 2016 killing of Paul Gaston. Truthfully, after six years of living out of state, I no longer feel very connected to Cincinnati, really only thinking of it through the experiences of my loved ones who are still there, along with the Facebook posts of high school classmates I haven’t spoken to in years.

Yet, despite my disconnect, I knew right away that Harambe had been killed, and knew right away how people felt about it: their pain and outrage, their unwillingness to let the death pass quietly. And in my scrolling I searched—hoped—for some post that would reflect what I was experiencing.

I didn’t find it. So, I realized, I’d have to write it myself.

At the moment, the general public is demonstrating more compassion toward a gorilla than toward Black people who were (are!) gunned down by police at an alarming rate in this country. Harambe is mourned more (com)passionately than the Black humans with whom gorillas have historically and degradingly been compared. Harambe’s death by shooting—an isolated, logical decision—is, apparently, less acceptable than the systemized, institutionally-protected and -reinforced deaths of Samuel DuBose and Paul Gaston by bullets, just the same. When Black people are killed by cops, whether in Cincinnati or anywhere else in the U.S.,  it is “what’s supposed to happen,” and so: no outrage. When a gorilla, due to a random, unforeseen event, is killed by zookeepers, hearts bleed. How can we be so misguidedly selective about the bodies we invest compassion in?

Luckily, compassion is a limitless resource. We don’t have to choose between loving people and loving non-human animals, between demanding some meaningful outcome of Harambe’s death and demanding a full renovation of our supposed justice system. The reason that more compassion is being shown toward Harambe than toward Black people—those named above and multitudinous others—is simply that while Americans are encouraged from infancy to love and honor animals, we are taught from that same early age, regardless of our race, that Black people are something less than human. Apparently, maybe something even less than animal.

In the portraits of Harambe that surface on my Timeline, I appreciate the majesty of his body, a body not so distantly related to any human, Black or otherwise—and a body that can never live again. Unlike compassion, living is not limitless; as humans, we have the unique ability and responsibility to shape the lives of the animals we have placed ourselves over, as well as the ability and responsibility to shape our institutions, norms and cultural assumptions. Our own violences. Should Harambe have been killed? Should the Cincinnati Zoo’s gorilla exhibit have had a secondary enclosure? Should the United States have had more fatal police shootings in the first 24 days of 2015 than England and Wales combined have had in the last 24 years? Should a young Black man be 21 times more likely to be one of those slain than a young White one?

All of these questions are ours as Americans, with a particular onus on White Americans. Compassion is an investible form of power, and can be, as we see with various campaigns around Harambe’s death, a tool of inquiry and an agent of social change. To whatever possible end, folks have chosen to invest in Harambe—and the more we practice investing, the more potent and capacious our collective compassion becomes.

In turn, compassion is never wasted, should never be discouraged. What should be questioned are the presumptive limits of American compassion, and how that compassion can be most critically and progressively invested. Harambe will rest in peace; how can we, in a nation that grows more tenaciously racist with each turned head?

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The religious right’s policing of sex robs pleasure from the underprivileged

shocked_priest

(Credit: MoreISO via iStock/Pack-Shot via Shutterstock/Salon)

AlterNet

Sexual intimacy and pleasure are some of humanity’s most cherished experiences. The so-called “best things in life” include natural beauty, fine dining, the arts, thrilling adventures, creative pursuits and community service. But love and orgasms are among the few peak experiences that are equally available to rich and poor, equally sweet to those whose lives are going according to plan and to many whose dreams are in pieces.

Religious conservatives think that these treasured dimensions of the human experience should be available to only a privileged few people whose lives fit their model: male-dominated, monogamous, heterosexual pairs who have pledged love and contractual marriage for life. Some true believers—especially those in thrall to the Protestant Quiverfull Movement or the Vatican—would further limit sexual privileges even within hetero state-licensed, church-sanctified marriages to only couples who are open to intimacy producing a pregnancy and a child. Take your pick: it’s either reproductive roulette or no sex—although you might be able to game God by tracking female fertility and then bumping like bunnies during the low-risk times of the month.

Why Christianity Is Obsessed With Sex

To be clear, I’m not saying that Christianity’s sex rules are only a function of patriarchal Christian privilege. During the Iron Age, from whence Christianity’s sex rules got handed down, society was organized around kin groups, and the endlessly warmongering clans of the Ancient Near East were more at risk of extinction than overpopulation. Legally enforced monogamy created lines of inheritance and social obligation, clarifying how neighbors should be treated and who could be enslaved.

Also, hetero sex necessarily carried the risk of pregnancy, which made it adaptive to welcome resultant pregnancies. Children do best in stable, nurturing families and communities, and in the Ancient Near East, “No marriage? No sex!” may have served to protect the well-being of mothers and children as well as the social power of patriarchal men. But in today’s mobile, pluralistic societies with modern contraceptive options and social safety nets, God’s self-appointed sex police have little credible excuse save their own compelling need to bully and boss and stay on top.

It should come as no surprise that Church authorities want an exclusive license to grant “legitimate” sexual privileges. Over the centuries, religious authorities have sought to own and define virtually all of the experiences that touch us deeply: the birth of a new person (christening, bris), art (iconography), music (chanting and hymns), eating, morality, mind altering substances, community, coming of age, family formation, and even our dying process. In each case religious authorities seek to legitimize some forms of the experience and denigrate those that don’t fit their model. Powerful people and institutions want to control valued assets so they can leverage those assets to get more power. And controlling sex is powerful!

The Egotism and Cruelty of God’s Self-Appointed Messengers

Religious authorities like Catholic Cardinal Timothy Dolan or Evangelist Franklin Graham or Religious Right icon Pat Robertson quote the Bible and talk as if their self-righteous sex rules came straight from God, which of course is hooey. Set aside for the moment the fact that declaring oneself a spokesman for God is stupefyingly egotistical. Anyone who claims to know the mind of God is simultaneously making a rather bold claim about the superior infallibility of his own mind. The same can be said for anyone who boldly declares that the Bible is literally perfect and that he knows what God was trying to say.

But beyond egotism, telling people they can’t have sex based on Iron Age rules collected in the Bible or medieval rules pontificated by some kiss-my-ring Pope is just plain mean. It’s cruel and selfish and heartless, because the sex rules that served Hebrew patriarchs 2,500 years ago and that helped the Vatican breed more tithing members 500 years ago deny sex to a whole lot of people who would otherwise find sexual pleasure and intimacy precious.

No Sex for the Weary

Who would men like Dolan, Graham and Robertson (or their predecessors like the Apostle Paul, Augustine, or Martin Luther) exclude from the privilege of sexual intimacy? Most of humanity—including, probably, you and a lot of people you love. The list is limitless:

  • College students who face long years of study before being ready for partnership and parenthood.
  • Parents who want to commit their finite emotional resources to the children they already have.
  • Young singles whose bodies are at peak libido, but who aren’t ready to form families.
  • Queer folk.
  • Those who, whether married or not, want to commit their lives to some form of calling that isn’t parenthood.
  • People who perceive balance within the web of life as moral or spiritual imperative, whose conscience guides them to limit childbearing for the sake of other species and future generations.
  • Poor people who want to get a step ahead instead of (or before) having a child.
  • People who are saving up for marriage.
  • Cohabiting couples who don’t buy into the traditional marriage contract.
  • Empty nesters who are rediscovering why they like each other.
  • Travelers whose mobile lifestyle makes it impossible to offer a child a stable nurturing community and whose opportunities for intimacy flit past.
  • Unmarried soldiers.
  • Loners and eccentrics whose personal qualities or desire for solitude make partnership and/or parenthood a poor fit.
  • Puppy lovers.
  • Elderly widows and widowers for whom remarriage doesn’t make sense.
  • Famine-plagued women whose hungry bodies can ill sustain the risks of pregnancy or demands of incubating a healthy child.
  • The ill or those at risk of illness, who must navigate love in the time of chemo or love in the time of Zika.
  • War zone civilians and refugees who may not know whether they’ll survive or how, but know there is comfort in each other’s arms.

I could go on but I suspect there’s no need. Under what set of delusions is the world a better place because people like these are denied the pleasures of intimate touch, or the respite of a sexual interlude, or the acute pleasure of orgasm?

What the Sex Police Really Want

Wait a minute, a reader might say. Don’t overgeneralize. A minority of lay Christians believe that married couples must give up sex if they don’t want a(nother) baby—even if that is the official word from the pulpit for Catholics and some Protestants. So, this fight is really about people who want sex without marriage.

True. Well, partly true.

It goes without saying that conservative Christians want above all to deny sexual intimacy and pleasure to people who are single—especially girls and women. That is because the Bible’s Iron Age Sex Rules were meant, first and foremost, to ensure that females, who were economic assets belonging to men, produced purebred offspring of known paternity, who were also economic assets belonging to men. The Bible sanctions many forms of marriage and sexual slavery but all converge on one point: they guarantee that a man can know which offspring are his. That is why, after the slaughter of the Midianites in the book of Numbers, only virgins can be kept as war booty. It is why, in the Torah’s legal code, a rapist can be forced to buy and keep the damaged goods.

The Old Testament prescribes death for dozens of infractions (you yourself probably belong on death row). But when it comes to sex, the death penalty is for females who voluntarily give it up (or who don’t scream loud enough when they are being raped). The meanest, sickest part of this archaic and morally warping worldview is the idea that, for women, sex itself should be a death penalty—or at least a roll of the dice. It’s simply divine justice that sex should sooner or later lead to the pain and potential mortality of childbirth, because that’s the punishment God pronounced on uppity Eve for eating from the Tree of Knowledge.

“To the woman he said, ‘I will greatly increase your pangs in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children, yet your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you.’” Genesis 3:16 NRSV.

There you have it. Female sexual pleasure and intimacy without the risk of labor pain and death is cheating God—as well as the male who rules over her.

Control at Any Price

The ways in which God’s Self-Appointed Sex Police try to obstruct intimacy and orgasms are legion. Denying young people information about their bodies, promoting sex negativity, fostering a cult of virginity, spreading lies about masturbation—and above all shaming, shaming, shaming anyone who might dare to have sex without their approval. But the surest way the sex police can stop single females from cheating their way out of Eve’s curse is by making sex risky, which is why the religious right is obsessed with denying women access to birth control and abortion.

Globally, today 215 million desperate women want modern contraception and are unable to get it, thanks in part to American Religious Right politicians who explicitly excluded fertility management services from international HIV prevention. Church induced hang-ups about sex mean that reproductive empowerment gets left out of conversations where it is fundamental to wellbeing: family prosperity, early childhood development, mental health—even education of girls and career advancement of women.

At home, the U.S. squandered almost two decades and 1.5 billion dollars on abstinence-only “sex ed” that was an abject failure. Over the last three quarters of a century, conservative Christian obstruction of sexual literacy and family planning programs has driven humanity to the verge of collapse and has devastated families, condemning desperately poor people—like those who trusted Mother Teresa (who in turn trusted the Pope)—to lives of even deeper desperation.

Righteous men with access to the halls of power thwart sexual agency and then make criminals of women who abort the resulting ill-conceived pregnancies—all for the sake of maintaining their own authority and that of their institutions. And if the campaign to stop single women from having sex makes things hard for some married folks—the refugee couple, for example; or the poor parents trying to take care of the kids they already have; or those facing the prospect of a Zika baby with calcified and deformed brain structures—so be it.

The Small and Large of It

Think of the suffering as collateral damage—a form of collateral damage that is relatively benign by the standards of ecclesiastical history.

During the peak of Christianity’s political power, the Dark Ages, the Vatican launched a crusade against a sect of French Christians, the Cathars, who the Pope had declared heretics. When the crusaders arrived and began their slaughter, local people fled into churches, and sorting out who counted as a real Christian got confusing. So an inquiry was sent to the abbot, asking who should be killed and who spared. He replied by messenger: “Kill them all, God will know his own.”

By contrast with medieval butchery, collateral damage in the form of intimacy denied, or lives burdened with shame and stigma, or unwanted children born into the world with the odds stacked against them, seems minor.

But that is the only standard by which denying people sexual intimacy and pleasure is trivial. As I said, these are among humanity’s most treasured experiences. There are few freedoms that we value more than being able to form the love bonds and families of our choosing. In Islamic theocracies like Saudi Arabia and Pakistan—and even among immigrant Muslims in the West—young people risk and lose their lives for love.

Going for Broke

Religious authorities fight to maintain monopoly control over sexual privileges precisely because these privileges are so valuable—so to the heart of who we are as human beings. Sexual pleasure sweeps over us; it can bring us to our knees. Sexual intimacy allows us to transcend the boundaries of time and space, body and psyche—to lose the self in the other.

If these seem like religious terms, they are. It is no accident that vocalizations during carnal ecstasy sounds a lot like prayer or that erotic music often has religious overtones: Take me to church; I’ll worship like a dog. . . . In your temple of love . . . halleluja (HozierRod StewartLeonard Cohen). Or vice versa: You hold my hand and hold my heart; I give it away now, I am on my knees offering all I am (Parachute Band). The Church hierarchy’s determination to define and control “legitimate” sex may be cruel and transparently self-serving. But it is smart. Sex endlessly attracts and compels us, making sexual guilt the perfect currency for institutions trafficking in sin and salvation. When religious authorities hold exclusive power to forgive sexual transgressions and then dole out (or deny) sexual privileges, they can redirect sublimated love and loyalty and yearning and passion into the kind of peak experiences that religion itself has on offer—experiences like spiritual ecstasy, selfless service, or mystical union with the Divine—all scripted and doled out by the very same religious institutions and authorities, of course.

But God’s self-appointed spokesmen are losing their grip. If their proclamations seem crazier and their political maneuvers seem transparently cruel—as in recent bullying of transgender kids—that is because they are desperate. People are noticing that the cage door is open and that the world outside offers a rainbow of possibilities.

Sex and love that are not controlled by the Church compete with the Church. If individuals who are young and elderly, stable and transitioning, queer and straight, partnered and single, parenting and childfree, claim the right to pleasure themselves and each other and to form intimate bonds based on no authority save their own mutual consent and delight, the Church is screwed.

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Forget “Captain America”: This stunning Korean thriller is the summer’s first great movie

The Wailing

Do Won Kwak and Han-Cheol Jo in “The Wailing” (Credit: Pan Media & Entertainment)

Forget the inflated Trumpian moral dilemmas of Superman and Captain America. The summer’s most powerful and most disturbing thriller has arrived, in the form of an intensely atmospheric Korean movie called “The Wailing,” which caused a sensation at Cannes earlier this month and has since become a huge box-office hit in Asia. Unless you’re the kind of person who follows film-festival news and East Asian genre cinema, you’ve probably never heard of Na Hong-jin, who wrote and directed this movie. He has made other terrific movies in a more familiar action-adventure vein, including “The Chaser” and “The Yellow Sea.” But nothing quite like “The Wailing,” because there is nothing quite like “The Wailing.” A whole lot of people will hear about him now.

Anyway, no graduate-level education is required; this is a movie with dark powers of mind control, like the nameless and uncertain entity that appears to have invaded a small mountain town towards the middle of the Korean peninsula. “The Wailing” is something like the most gruesome and gripping Scandinavian crime drama you can imagine, transported to a rain-sodden Asian backwater where everyone’s in a bad mood and science, religion and superstition are locked in uneasy combat. It’s a police procedural and a zombie movie and a tale of demonic possession and a lurid murder mystery and a pitch-black but frequently hilarious comedy about what Karl Marx famously called the idiocy of rural life.

Before it’s over, “The Wailing” is a bunch of other things too, including an agonizing parable of bad parenting gone wrong and a moral and/or narrative puzzler that will keep you guessing days or weeks later. Who was that old guy, and did he cause all that outrageous small-town mayhem? What “really” happens at the climax of the story, when a middle-aged cop and a young priest come face to face with – well, something or other? Faced with a fateful decision that may save his family or send it into horrifying disaster, does our protagonist choose wisely?

It’s not much of a spoiler to say that in this kind of movie the answer to the last question is always likely to be “no.” Whether any wise choice is available to Jong-gu (Kwak Do-won), the paunchy, inept police sergeant at the heart of this twisty and terrifying narrative — now, that’s a much bigger question, and one I can’t address without giving too much away. As for the issue of what “really” happens in this tale of demonic invasion, madness and murder, that one’s easy: It’s a movie, so none of it really happens.

I know that’s an irritating observation, but in this case it’s essential. Asian genre filmmakers have been merging or blending action movies with the contemplative or ambiguous qualities of art-house cinema for at least two to three decades, but “The Wailing” elevates that combination to a new level. It can be appreciated as a purely visceral thrill ride, but it’s also a supremely controlled work of narrative indeterminacy told from various characters’ competing points of view, which never quite add up to a complete picture. The more we learn about Jong-gu’s first farcical and then nightmarish family saga, or the series of horrific unexplained murders afflicting the town of Goksung, or the elderly Japanese loner who seems to be involved, the less sure we feel about what’s going on. At the end of the movie Na offers an apparent solution — which comes unglued the more you think about it. Whether you find this uncertainty maddening or invigorating is up to you, but the painful questions of perception and cognition driving this story are probably the movie’s true subject.

Terrible things have started to happen in Goksung before the movie begins, but Jong-gu isn’t much interested. He values his uneventful life, which includes an unhappy marriage, a tepid affair with a co-worker and very little in the way of actual work. (If some version of original sin is illustrated in “The Wailing,” it might be about not giving a damn.) One of his fellow cops spins out a disturbing second-hand story about the Japanese newcomer everyone in town suspects of being a ghost or a demon or a serial killer, and then asks breathlessly: “Isn’t that scary?” Jong-gu only grunts, “Scary my ass,” and hurls a string of abusive epithets at his subordinate. Everyone in Goksung apparently curses and berates each other all the time, including Jong-gu’s proper-looking but ferocious mother-in-law. This element of unhinged comedy suggests life has already veered off the rails in ways the townspeople haven’t quite noticed. When Jong-gu’s adorable preteen daughter (Kim Hwan-hee) unleashes a vicious stream of foul language later in the film, maybe it’s a sign of demonic possession, and maybe she’s just trying to catch up with her surroundings.

A series of gothic and grisly murders begins to unfold in Goksung, accompanied by strange spectral visitations and a spreading contagion of insanity and bloodlust. It’s hard to imagine a police department, or a town, less well prepared for such a horror-movie scenario. But the authorities’ feeble effort to blame these gruesome events on a toxic batch of mushrooms doesn’t last long, and local attention turns back toward “the Jap” — seriously, that’s what he’s called in the subtitles — a mysterious old man who lives alone in the forest, played by veteran Japanese actor Jun Kunimura (seen in Quentin Tarantino’s “Kill Bill” movies). Has he been seen at all the sites of outlandish killings, and eating raw deer meat in the woods? Or is that all paranoia and rumor? Meanwhile, Jong-gu encounters a young woman dressed in white (Chun Woo-hee) who claims she has witnessed the killings and can explain them, but who keeps disappearing, provoking yet more abuse from Jong-gu’s superiors.

This peculiar combination of small-town farce and Grand Guignol bloodshed gradually slides from an art-house “Nightmare on Elm Street” more into the terrain of “Silence of the Lambs” and “The Exorcist,” with a touch of Michael Haneke and a lot more of the Bible than you’d expect. If Jong-gu is at least somewhat similar to the protagonist of the Book of Job — an ordinary man destroyed by mysterious forces for unknown reasons — it’s fair to say the Japanese stranger recalls at least two other Biblical characters.

“The Wailing” builds slowly but inexorably toward the moment when Jong-gu and his colleagues seek revenge upon the Japanese man (for crimes he may or may not have committed), and then into 40 minutes or so of explosive and sustained narrative tension, as the spillover from that event threatens to destroy Jong-gu’s family and every last vestige of civilization in this already debased community. It’s a virtuoso performance, a gut-wrenching bloodbath and a profound moral mystery. At the end of this haunting, provocative and masterful thriller, you may not be sure whether Jong-gu and his fellow villagers have really been visited by demons — or whether the demons are always here, in all of us.

“The Wailing” is now playing in Los Angeles, and opens this week in Atlanta, Baltimore, Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Denver, Honolulu, Houston, Las Vegas, New York, Philadelphia, San Diego, San Francisco, Seattle, Toronto, Washington and Vancouver, Canada, with more cities and home video to follow.

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Go ahead, believe in romance: It will make you a happier, more committed partner

Say Anything...

Ione Skye and John Cusack in “Say Anything…” (Credit: 20th Century Fox)

I grew up loving love stories. An early taste for fairy tales as a child led to an interest in Shakespeare and Homer. I was drawn to the heroes, the muses and the possibility of love not conquering, but triumphing over seemingly impossible obstacles. I liked having something more tangible than tales of damsels in distress to believe in.

Television shows like “Sex and the City” reinforced the notion that relationships could succeed with time, dedication and a little bit of luck despite the flaws of each partner. Indie-rock songs blared on repeat in my room as singers crooned about love lost under stars or found under bar lights, the implication being that either one could be tragically lost or serendipitously occur in the span of a breath. Maybe the stars would align and allow two planets to join in orbit. Maybe they’d collide and swallow one another in a black hole.

With the arrival of warm weather, romance buzzes like cicadas while also overwhelming nearly every form of media. Movies like “Me Before You,” coming out on Friday, and shows like “The Bachelorette” suggest we still have a very real interest in the possibility of romance. Emma Straub’s new novel “Modern Lovers” examines love as both a fictionalized form of entertainment and very real component of the human condition. It pains us, excites us, frustrates and compels us to do stupid and extraordinary things — and yet we seem ever-willing to come back for more.

Alain de Botton examines marriage and Romance in a recent New York Times article, explaining that people choose to marry the wrong people, based on a subscription to Romantic philosophy:

“We need to swap the Romantic view for a tragic (and at points comedic) awareness that every human will frustrate, anger, annoy, madden and disappoint us — and we will (without any malice) do the same to them. There can be no end to our sense of emptiness and incompleteness. But none of this is unusual or grounds for divorce. Choosing whom to commit ourselves to is merely a case of identifying which particular variety of suffering we would most like to sacrifice ourselves for.”

Swapping a romantic view of love for a tragic one makes about as much sense to me as calculus did in college — it just doesn’t add up. As a literary form, Romanticism champions strong emotional connections and responses, a certain awe of nature, and the imagination of the individual. We’re drawn to romances because they give us something to aspire to; we know not to model ourselves after mooncalf lovers regardless of verisimilitude. There’s nothing wrong with believing things will work out, and science now offers hope for all the romantics out there.

New research is investigating the effects of romantic values on contemporary society. As younger generations try to navigate the lust frontier amidst hook-up culture, high divorce rates and a recovering economy, it seems almost silly for people to hold onto concepts like soul mates and love at first sight. Scientists are finding the opposite to be true. Believing in romance is showing to lead to higher satisfaction and levels of commitment.

A recent article published in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships examined how romantic ideals shape commitment and satisfaction in relationships. The study’s authors found respondents who believed in love at first sight and soul mates, and questioned whether this degree of idealism affected the course of dating with a partner in the real world outside of novels and romantic comedies.

The researchers determined romantic beliefs positively correlated with relationship satisfaction and commitment. Those who valued enduring love were more likely to fight for it and run the risk of making themselves vulnerable to being torn apart by it. They were also the ones who reaped the most from it.

In the paper, authors Sarah Vannier and Lucia O’Sullivan write, “romantic beliefs do not appear to foster false or unobtainable expectations for romantic relationships, and the concerns regarding the endorsement of these beliefs may be misplaced.”

In the new edition of “Anatomy of Love,” biological anthropologist Helen Fisher explores the factors that lead modern Americans to continue to seek out marriage, and learned romance plays a critical role. Fisher’s research found single people prize finding a soulmate above all else in a relationship. Additionally, more than 54 percent not only value — but fully believe in — love at first sight.

Simply put, “In America, as much as in the postindustrial world,” writes Fisher, “romantic love is in full bloom.”

I don’t think I’ll ever be willing to give up my predilection for love stories or have the restraint to hold back in a relationship I’m excited about. It’s paramount to be cognizant of the differences between our love lives and those of characters in romances: Their fates are written, whereas ours are not. Whether it’s a long-time love or a summer romance, I don’t see any point in not enjoying it fully. At least until the next fall.

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Gov’t report: Airports need more help keeping intruders out

While intruders routinely breach the security fences protecting runways and planes at U.S. airports, the federal Transportation Security Administration is not keeping up with the threat or doing enough to help airports identify their vulnerabilities, according to a government report released Tuesday.

Congress asked the U.S. Government Accountability Office to investigate how often people get past airport perimeter security, and whether the TSA could do more to help airports anticipate and prevent incidents.

Using TSA data, the accountability office identified over 2,500 security incidents in each of the past three years at the nation’s roughly 440 commercial airports. Those incidents ranged from people jumping fences to reach jets and passenger terminals to workers who forgot their security badges piggy-backing with a colleague through checkpoints.

The report notes that the nation’s medium and small airports, which typically have less money to invest in perimeter security, have plenty of incidents — but do not undergo the “joint vulnerability assessments” that large airports receive every three years from the TSA and FBI.

The findings come several days after The Associated Press updated its ongoing investigation of perimeter security breaches at 31 of the nation’s busiest airports. AP reported that the breaches happened more often than authorities first acknowledged, and remained as frequent as ever in the past year despite investments to fortify outer defenses at some airports.

Airports responded that no incident involved a known terrorist plot, and many intruders do not make it deep into airfields. Several airports also tried to suppress the release of information about breaches.

AP’s investigation identified 345 perimeter security breaches from the start of 2004 through mid-February at those 31 airports, with an average of one every 10 days starting in 2012. The new federal report focused on October 2008 through October 2015. Due to changes with TSA’s data-keeping, the accountability office did not give specific numbers — but a chart summarizing security incidents showed they have ranged between about 2,200 and about 2,800 annually, with the past three federal fiscal years being higher than the previous four.

Those incidents did not involve security inside passenger terminals — they happened at the fence line or access points where workers enter nonpublic areas. Airports, not the federal government, are directly responsible for security outside terminals.

The report’s authors were not confident in drawing conclusions about trends in the nature or severity of the incidents because of how TSA keeps its data. Airports are supposed to report any security incident to the TSA, and say they do — but the database where the TSA logs incidents is not set up for analysis.

That means the TSA, despite having plenty of data, cannot pinpoint the biggest vulnerabilities.

TSA cannot say, for example, whether high-profile breaches at larger airports — such as a teenager who jumped a fence at the airport in San Jose, California, in 2014 and stowed away in the wheel well of a Hawaii-bound plane — might be a bigger security threat than breaches at regional airports.

That makes no sense to Rep. William Keating, D-Mass., one of the lawmakers who requested the study. To Keating, if TSA cannot spot trends and vulnerabilities, how can policy makers know how to allocate resources and change policies in the most effective ways.

“That information should all be system wide and available,” he said. “But it’s not there. And if it is there, it’s not in a form that’s useful to me as a congressman or to any official dealing with this.”

The TSA said it was addressing the report’s data analysis recommendation, as well as five others the authors made. They include updating TSA’s 2013 assessment of risks at airports to account for emerging concerns such as the potential threat posed by “insiders” — employees who have access to secure areas of airports and allegedly have used that clearance to smuggle guns and drugs.

“The agency continues to partner with its stakeholders to mitigate risks by identifying enhanced methods of increasing security across all federalized airports in the country,” TSA spokeswoman Lucy P. Martinez said in a written statement.

The report also said that the TSA has made some progress in doing joint vulnerability assessments. In 2009, the accountability office said that during fiscal years 2004-2008, the TSA did assessments at 57 airports — compared with 81 airports from fiscal years 2009-2015.

During those recent years, smaller airports had more than 1,600 security incidents, according to TSA data.

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Pritchard reported from Los Angeles, Mendoza from Santa Cruz, California.

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Contact Pritchard at https://twitter.com/lalanewsman and Mendoza at https://twitter.com/mendozamartha .

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Julia Louis-Dreyfus, greatest of all time: The “Seinfeld” and “Veep” star is the best TV comedy actor, hands down

Veep

Julia Louis-Dreyfus in “Veep” (Credit: HBO)

Despite the 11 championships of Bill Russell, the preposterous scoring prowess of Wilt Chamberlain, and the unprecedented total-packageness of LeBron James, Michael Jordan is considered the best basketball player of all-time, thanks to his lengthy resume of championships, MVPs, dunks, clutch shots, and devastated victims. It’s hard to think of another sport or field with such a clear-cut GOAT (greatest of all time). But after watching the recent “Veep” episode “Mother,” I realized something: Julia Louis-Dreyfus has established herself as the greatest comedic performer, male or female, in the history of television. She’s the Michael Jordan of TV comedy.

I don’t make such a grandiose claim lightly, though making grandiose claims lightly is as common on the internet as posting pictures of your face. But with “Seinfeld” under her belt and “Veep” in progress—not to mention a career full of wonderful short-term performances—Louis-Dreyfus has passed the likes of Carroll O’Connor, Roseanne Barr, Lucille Ball, Alec Baldwin, Ted Danson, Carol Burnett, Garry Shandling, and David Letterman. No one can match Louis-Dreyfus’ boob-tube resume, thanks to her remarkable range, demonic commitment to character, and consistent ability to use ridiculous comedy to explore some terrifying psychological depths.

As Elaine Benes, Louis-Dreyfus was part of the greatest comedy quartet ever and likely the greatest sitcom ever. The ginormous “Seinfeld” audience—76 million viewers for the finale, an unfathomable number in today’s fractured TV world—guarantees that she’ll always be remembered for hundreds of highlights. I can improve my mood at any moment just by thinking about Elaine failing at buying Mr. Pittman a proper pair of socks, tossing George’s hairpiece out the window, shouting “Stella!” while on muscle relaxants, cracking open a beer in Jerry’s apartment, and, of course, dancing. It would have been so easy to fade into the background next to Michael Richards’ manic energy and Jason Alexander’s twisted narcissism, but Louis-Dreyfus more than held her own, bringing crackling energy and complete commitment to the big and small moments. Nothing was (or is) outside Louis-Dreyfus’ comedy wheelhouse.

But that was just the beginning of her career as a comedy immortal. There used to be a supposed “Seinfeld” curse, which allegedly wielded a voodoo like power over the careers of Louis-Dreyfus, Seinfeld, Alexander, and Richards. While Alexander’s flopped sitcoms and Richards’ standup meltdown supported that theory, Seinfeld continued being one of the best standups without missing a beat, and “Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee” has been wonderful. But Louis-Dreyfus best disproved this superstition, first with the CBS hit “The New Adventures of Old Christine.” While not as revolutionary as “Seinfeld” or “Veep,” that show was a strong network comedy that proved she was no one-sitcom pony.

Louis-Dreyfus’ post-“Seinfeld” and pre-“Veep” career had many other highlights, deepening her comedy resume. She blew minds in a brief appearance as Liz Lemon on a live episode of “30 Rock,” establishing once and for all the straight line between her comedy genius and Tina Fey’s. In four episodes of “Arrested Development,” she stole a show that was hard to steal as compulsive liar/lawyer Maggie Lizer. Louis-Dreyfus excels at portraying despicable characters, and Lizer, who faked blindness and pregnancy, was deliciously bad. More recently, Louis-Dreyfus celebrated her “Last Fuckable Day” on “Inside Amy Schumer,” establishing her kinship with another great TV comic and commenting on the sexist awfulness of a business she has transcended. The diversity of these roles parallels the diversity of Louis-Dreyfus’ talents, and she improved every show she graced.

But everything in Louis-Dreyfus’ career, even Elaine Benes, now feels like a preamble to the role of Selina Meyer, the petty, narcissistic Vice President, then President, who has all the faults and foibles of an average person and all the hubris and greed of a monster. “Seinfeld” was a deep cut into humanity: through the endless poking at social etiquette and our petty obsessions, the writers and actors exposed the tragic comedy of our lives. But “Veep” cuts deeper and wider. It’s one thing to laugh at how the people down the hall or in the coffee shop are shallow self-obsessed jerks with no morality or even humanity. It’s some next-level comedy to show that people in power are also, as the kids say these days, garbage people.

Though any episode of “Veep” showcases Louis-Dreyfus’ vast gifts, “Mother” is the pinnacle (so far). In the episode, Meyers is President, but only because the previous President resigned. Her recent attempt to get elected on her own was too close to call, and she’s awaiting the results of a recount in Nevada. Meanwhile, her mother has a stroke. The episode shows Meyers bouncing between the demise of the mother she clearly despises (but must to pretend to mourn) and the possible demise of the Presidency she obscenely craves (but must pretend to not need with a fiery passion).

This juicy scenario allows Louis-Dreyfus to show off her full menu of skills and possibly invent a few new ones. In this packed episode, she nails bits such as mispronouncing a doctor’s name, shilling for wind power, insulting her press secretary, mistaking supporters for protesters, and dismissing her daughter’s grief (“Oh, wow, that is loud, honey.”). Her body language is priceless as she contemplates taking her brain-dead mother off the respirator, then walks away in the manner of someone strolling around the mall. As she tries to pray—with aide Gary feeding her lines, as always—a plea for her mother turns into a shameless pitch to win the contested election. It’s the funniest prayer since Will Ferrell’s endorsement-laded soliloquy to the “wee baby Jesus” in “Talladega Nights.”

Most of the moments are small, which is typical for the show, but in this episode, Louis-Dreyfus gets to go big. Just after the ventilator is removed, Louis-Dreyfus receives good news about the recount, causing her to laugh hysterically: this gleeful cackling is then witnessed by her horrified daughter, who wasn’t even given a chance to say goodbye to her mee-maw. Louis-Dreyfus is possessed by a comedy demon when she exclaims, “We got good news—from Nevada!” Watching a crazed, laughing Meyers hug her despondent, crying daughter as Mee-maw’s corpse is still warm is literally hysterical. Black comedy has rarely gone so far into the abyss.

Throughout the episode—just like her career — Louis-Dreyfus nails everything from subtle microexpressions to outsized wails, expressing madness for power, brutal psychological damage, petty sarcasm, and denial-drenched grief. The writing is terrific, but at the risk of ruining my basketball metaphor, Louis-Dreyfus is a one-woman comedy orchestra. If there’s anyone who can do the things she’s done, I haven’t seen ‘em.

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Guatemala gets new attorney general after resignation

GUATEMALA CITY (AP) — Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales has named a new attorney general after the previous chief prosecutor resigned due to threats.

Lawyer Anabela Morfin will now be the country’s top legal officer, replacing Maria Eugenia Villagran. Villagran told a local radio station on Monday that she will leave Guatemala due to the threats.

She attributed the threats received by her staff to the cases handled by her office, which include high-profile corruption cases.

One of the largest cases Morfin will take over involves allegations of bribes paid to a network of government officials, business executives and private citizens in exchange for granting a port operating contract.

Former President Otto Perez Molina and other officials remain jailed in connection with that and other cases.

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Australia to sell bitcoins confiscated as proceeds of crime

CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — An official says about $13 million in bitcoins will be auctioned in Sydney in June after Australian police confiscated the digital currency as proceeds of crime.

Ernst & Young transaction partner Adam Nikitins said Tuesday that the accountancy firm is running the process, which is only the second such bitcoin auction in the world after the U.S. Marshals Service sold 144,000 bitcoins over two years ending in 2015 that had been confiscated from Ross Ulbricht, who founded the online drug bazaar Silk Road.

Bidders can register from Wednesday until June 7 for the 24,518 bitcoins on offer. The 48-hour sealed auction will take place from June 20.

Based on Tuesday’s bitcoin price of $533.80, the cryptocurrency is valued at almost $13.1 million.

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South Korea says North Korea missile launch likely failed

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — A North Korean missile launch likely failed on Tuesday, according to South Korea’s military, the latest in a string of high-profile failures that tempers somewhat recent worries that Pyongyang was pushing quickly toward its goal of a nuclear-tipped missile that can reach America’s mainland.

South Korea’s Yonhap news agency said in an unsourced report that the missile was a powerful mid-range Musudan, which, if true, would make it the fourth failure by the North to conduct a successful test launch of the new missile, which could potentially reach far-away U.S. military bases in Asia and the Pacific. Seoul defense officials could not immediately confirm the report.

The South’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said in statement that the North attempted to launch an unidentified missile early in the morning from the Wonsan area, but likely failed. The military is analyzing what happened and had no other details.

Despite recent failures, there has been growing outside worry over North Korea’s nuclear and missile activity this year, which includes a nuclear test in January and a long-range rocket test in February that outsiders see as a test of banned long-range missile technology.

The most recent launch follows Seoul’s rejection of recent Pyongyang overtures to talk, part of what some analysts see as an attempt by the North to start a dialogue meant to win the impoverished country aid.

In April, North Korea attempted unsuccessfully to launch three suspected powerful intermediate-range Musudan missiles.

Musudan missiles have a potential range of about 3,500 kilometers (2,180 miles), which would put U.S. military bases in Guam within their striking distance. South Korea believes the North does not yet possess a missile capable of hitting the U.S. mainland, but the North is working on that technology.

Before April’s suspected launches, North Korea had never flight-tested a Musudan missile, though one was displayed during a military parade in 2010 in Pyongyang.

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FBI agent’s gun stolen from car in San Francisco

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — San Francisco police say an FBI agent’s gun and badge were stolen after his car was broken into in the city’s popular Alamo Square.

San Francisco Police Officer Carlos Manfredi says the FBI agent reported to police that his vehicle was broken into Sunday afternoon.

Manfredi says the agent’s .40-caliber Glock handgun was stolen, along with his I.D. Badge and credentials. He says no other information was available Monday.

The theft follows a series of break-in and burglaries where guns have been stolen and used in homicides in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Prosecutors say a trio of homeless drifters in October stole a gun from a civilian’s parked car in San Francisco and used it to kill a backpacker and a tantric yoga instructor.

Three months earlier a gun stolen from the vehicle of an agent with the federal Bureau of Land Management was used to kill 32-year-old Kate Steinle.

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