Massachusetts executed two Italian immigrants 90 years ago: Why the global fallout still matters

statue of liberty

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Ninety years ago, on Aug. 23, 1927, two Italian immigrants were executed.

The deaths of Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti in the Charlestown Prison in Massachusetts marked the end of a raucous seven-year legal and political battle that captivated people across the United States and the world.

According to many who lived through it, no other event since the outbreak of the Civil War had so starkly divided American opinion. Writer Edmund Wilson believed that it “revealed the whole anatomy of American life, with all its classes, professions, and points of view, and raised every fundamental question of our political and social system.” And arguably, no other event until the Vietnam War evoked as much anti-American sentiment on the global stage.

I wrote a book about how and why the case of Sacco and Vanzetti evolved from an obscure local criminal trial to a national and international scandal. I refer to it in the book as the transition from a “case” to an “affair.”

What can it tell us about our politics today?

The most famous prisoners in the world

At first, Sacco and Vanzetti were two anonymous immigrants on trial for an act of banditry. Sacco was a skilled shoe factory worker and family man with two small children. Vanzetti was a fish monger. But local authorities charged them of being part of a stickup gang that on April 15, 1920 shot and killed a factory paymaster and his guard in Braintree, Massachusetts, stealing approximately US$15,700. One reporter sent to cover their trial wrote to his editor, using a derogatory term for Italians, that there was “no story . . . just a couple of wops in a jam.”

But fairly soon, it emerged that the two men were not anyone’s idea of typical bandits. Rather, they were active in Italian anarchist circles who believed that capitalism and states were oppressive and should be overthrown by revolution — and, if necessary, a violent one. At the time, most Americans lived in horror of anarchists and other “reds,” as left-wing radicals of all sorts were known, and anti-immigration sentiment (especially against Italians) was at its peak. Not surprisingly, their trial took on a decidedly political character.

The evidence against them was mostly circumstantial, relying heavily on what the authorities called “consciousness of guilt.” The prosecution made their political radicalism an issue, as if that helped prove them guilty of robbery and murder. And, given that opening, the defendants were not shy about expressing their radical ideas in court, which did not help them with the jury. Many people who came to Sacco and Vanzetti’s defense argued that they were innocent men being railroaded not for anything they did, but for who they were and what they believed in.

Sacco and Vanzetti forcefully protested their innocence from the moment they were arrested until the minute they were electrocuted. They gradually convinced large numbers of people. As their case dragged on, they gained the advocacy and support of public figures, legal experts, intellectuals, political leaders and ordinary people. Their supporters included law professor Felix Frankfurter, poet Edna St. Vincent Millay, car magnate Henry Ford, British author H.G. Wells and even Italian dictator Benito Mussolini.

The judge in their case, Webster Thayer, was openly biased against them. Among other things, he had originally lobbied to be assigned the case to make sure that Sacco and Vanzetti “got what they deserved.” During the trial, Thayer braggingly asked a member of his social club if he had seen “what I did to those anarchistic bastards the other day?”

After Thayer sentenced them to death in April 1927 — but not before the pair made stirring speeches in the courtroom proclaiming their innocence — the case created a genuine diplomatic crisis for the United States. Heads of state in Europe and elsewhere appealed to U.S. President Calvin Coolidge and Massachusetts Gov. Alvan Fuller to try to prevent the executions — in vain. Governments in Argentina, France, Britain, Brazil and elsewhere were forced to deal with angry demonstrations, major riots and attacks on American travelers, companies and embassies.

Why did Sacco and Vanzetti become, as the New Republic magazine put it, “the two most famous prisoners in the world”?

It was partly because of the global and geopolitical context. In the wake of World War I, the United States became a global power for the first time. At the same time, Western European nations suffered crisis and decline, and became indebted to American banks and reliant on American power. In that decade, the United States also closed its doors to immigrants who most desperately needed to migrate, especially those from poverty-stricken areas like Southern and Eastern Europe, as well as Mexico.

There have been many debates over the years over whether Sacco and Vanzetti were indeed guilty of the crime for which they were punished. Numerous authors have forcefully argued both sides. But this debate, which is impossible to resolve decades after the fact, misses the point of why Sacco and Vanzetti attained, after their deaths, totemic status.

As I describe in my book, Sacco and Vanzetti came to be seen as symbols of an America that had turned its back on foreigners, abandoned its principles of justice, and failed to pay heed to what Thomas Jefferson, in the Declaration of Independence, called “a decent respect for the opinions of mankind.” Their trial was so flawed, the politicization of their case so egregious, the executions so horrifying, that it was a travesty of justice irrespective of guilt or innocence.

From Sacco-Vanzetti to the Trump era

Ninety years after the executions of Sacco and Vanzetti, the affair presents us with many connections to the present. For many people in 1927 and after, the two men were victims of a deep-seated fear of immigrants. For others, they were criminals and terrorists who benefited from a worldwide campaign led by people who despised America and its institutions.

Today, the United States is engaged in a bitter struggle between these same two views, with the xenophobic forces currently in political power, especially in the White House.

But it is important to keep in mind that today’s America would be socially, culturally and demographically unrecognizable to Americans in 1927. The United States is a much more multicultural and diverse society nowadays than it was when Sacco and Vanzetti were alive. And it will become even more so.

The ConversationAt the same time, recent events have made life in America frightening for immigrants and minorities. The factors in American society that brought about the executions of Sacco and Vanzetti never completely went away. In the current, toxic political environment, those who care about equality and justice must remain vigilant.

Moshik Temkin, Associate Professor of Public Policy, Harvard University

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How I embrace my son’s language of numbers

Homework

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Motherwell“The vitamins go on five.” I was standing in front of the open pantry with a bottle of Flintstones Gummies in my hand and an insistent four-year-old at my knees.

I stared down at him bewildered. “Vitamins go on five?” I said. “I’m not sure what ‘five’ means. They go in the pantry, on the top shelf.”

“They go on five!” He was getting impatient with me, as he often did when I didn’t quite clue in to his language.

I was used to him pairing numbers with everyday conversation, it’s how he connected with the world and most of the time, as his mom, I kept up with him just fine.

Other times, I needed to buy a vowel, so to speak, as his numerical mind left me a little lost. Like in this instance, fighting over where to put the vitamins.

I like to joke that my son’s first language is numbers.

Nothing makes his ears perk up faster than when I can cleverly incorporate numbers into something I want him to hear or do. It’s exhausting at times, but it’s effective.

He associates going to the doctor with the number two. Because when we were on a cruise one time and he got a stomach bug, we visited the doctor on the 2nd floor. Now every ailment requires seeing the “doctor on two.”

Our favorite treats in the drink machine at his therapy center are known by the vending code, not the name. Mommy always gets an E6, he gets a B4. For snack he gets a 101.

One night he invented a game with a bulk size variety box of chips from BJ’s. He would bring me a bag and pose the question, “Is this 16, 12 or 10?” It took me a few turns to realize I had to identify the bag, not by it’s name (Cheetos, Lays, etc), but by the quantity of that particular chip as listed on the side of the box.

For example, Doritos were not Doritos. They were 16, because the box contained 16 bags of Doritos.

To him it was logical — and wildly entertaining.

When he was 18 months old and we began our process of diagnosing his autism, I came to resent his fixation with numbers.

It had been the first warning sign to which I paid attention. The tendency to focus only on numbers, to the exclusion of everything else, was indicative of “rigidity in play,” a hallmark of autism. It was his poker tell, the first quirk you noticed about him after a few minutes.

Mainly though, numbers were the obsession that prevented me from reaching my son. If numbers were around, humans didn’t exist. I didn’t exist.

And how do you rid the world of numbers? The fact that they are everywhere affected his everyday life. He would go outside and spend his playtime studying the license plates on our cars rather than playing soccer with his brother. His preschool teachers removed their own wall calendar because it was too much of a distraction for him and he wasn’t paying attention to classroom instructions.

It was too much. I knew it was too much. I worried that the rest of the world was passing him by. Sure, he could be codebreaking in the other room, but he couldn’t tell me what he had for lunch that day.

Would I have to take away his greatest joy if there was to be any hope of him making strides in his socializing and communication?

There was no greater love story than that between my son and his numbers, I’m convinced. It was a dilemma. How could I break his heart? But how could I knowingly hold him back?

It was two separate therapists who allowed me to see numbers for what they were…a precious and valuable tool. A friend and a bridge that would allow me to get through to my son on a level I currently wasn’t capable of accessing.

I didn’t need to compete with numbers, I didn’t need to be rid of them. What if I could make him see that I loved the language of numbers too? Would I become fascinating to him as well?

If that were the case, then I would meet him right where he was, which was on the floor, counting.

In the three years since I began using numbers to gain and hold my son’s attention — so that I could teach him different ways to interact — I feel like there have been many breakthroughs. Each one so small and insignificant to an outsider, but so giant to me.

In his toy bin right now, you will find a good mixture of numbers, action figures, cars and musical instruments. You will find him on a sunny day outside in the yard riding his bike or running up and down the street with his brother and the neighborhood kids.

Make no mistake, you will still see him show preference for the glorious digits 1-10, but he has broken his full-time fixation, as he now sees the beauty in many ways of play.

We do still talk numbers in our house. It is, after all, my son’s first language. I try my best to keep up, but sometimes I need a little extra help too.

My son looks from me to the vitamins to the pantry. And in a heartwarming act of reciprocity, he meets me where I’m at by starting at the bottom shelf and counting up, “One, two, three, four, five.” At five, he is pointing to the top shelf of the pantry. “Vitamins go on five,” he says. I shake my head at missing what was clearly obvious to my son.

My pantry has five shelves, and sure enough, he was correct. The vitamins do go on five.

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“Things to do to get pregnant”: Why I am afraid to bring a black child into this world

Baby Bootie

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Google: “Things to do to get pregnant” and you’ll come up with a list of things to do to prepare your body for conception.

  1. Make a doctor’s appointment.
  2. Ditch whatever form of birth control you’ve been using.
  3. Track the days when you’re most fertile (yes, there’s an app for that).
  4. Start taking prenatal vitamins two months before you even think you’re ready to start trying to have a baby in earnest.
  5. Convince yourself that, in a world where Nazis walk down American streets, that it’s OK to bring another black child into this world.

* * *

I stopped taking the prenatal vitamins the day Donald Trump refused to denounce Nazis and white supremacists after the rallies and terrorist attack in Charlottesville, Va. While nothing had changed about the racism that has always been so deeply ingrained in our country, I was not prepared for the onslaught of violence. I had not expected to see reports of a woman’s murder in plain view of the police and television cameras, though everything that’s happened in this country since Donald Trump was elected should have told me that this was the inevitable. Had I been prepared, I might have saved myself money and time; I might not have begun this summer with the intention of trying to get pregnant by December.

The week after the rally, I made an effort to get out of my house. I met with students, went to lunch with colleagues, had drinks with other writers. I tried to act and feel normal. After every social encounter I went back home, curled up on the couch, and watched pundits talk for hours about America’s homegrown terrorists. During that week, I replayed the press conferences. I left the television on MSNBC, which was all Charlottesville all day. I occasionally flipped to Fox, which had become the new voice for the preservation of the Confederacy. I read the comments and then I read them again. I didn’t write, I barely slept, I eyed the bottle of vitamins on my coffee table and suppressed the urge to throw them away. I drank a bottle of wine and made another list.

A List of Things That Kill Black People aka The Reasons I Don’t Need to Have Babies

  1. Police brutality
  2. Racism
  3. White is still right (to whites)
  4. Nazis
  5. People who vote against their own interests
  6. Donald Trump et al.
  7. America

On the fifth day after the rally in Charlottesville, I stayed up until 3 o’clock in the morning watching the news until I was overcome with the same fear and feelings of devastation I’d last experienced after the election. I woke up my husband with sobbing and incoherent pleading that we should go — that we should make plans to get out of the country — similar to the pleas I’d made in the aftermath of the election. I told him that his whiteness would not shield our children from the hatred we see on a daily basis. I begged him to take me away even though I knew we had nowhere else to go and it was the middle of the night. He tried to console me, unsuccessfully. I know he understands and certainly shares my fears, but the parts of his lists that don’t overlap with mine focus on the things that I’ve pushed to the back of my mind because at 37, time is no longer on my side. His lists are about finances and his own readiness to parent. When I calm down and he falls back into a light sleep, I make another list.

Every Time This Country Has Reminded Me of How Little It Values Black Lives: An Incomplete List

  • February 27, 2012
  • July 17, 2014
  • August 9, 2014
  • April 4, 2015
  • April 13, 2015
  • July 13, 2015
  • July 6, 2016

* * *

Two days after George Zimmerman was acquitted for the murder of Trayvon Martin, I couldn’t sleep, so I wrote for the first time of the fear I felt about bringing a child into this world. I was 33 years old — two years away from getting married, two years away from leaving Baltimore for my dream job back in New York City, two years away from Freddie Gray’s death — and already I was having doubts about motherhood, the kind of doubts I’d never had in my 20s when, if I had made a list of why I wasn’t going to have children, it would have looked something like this:

  1. I don’t want my life to change.

There are two distinct events that changed the way I began to reevaluate whether or not I wanted to become someone’s mother. The first was the election of Barack Obama, which for me served as a symbol that maybe this country of ours was making some progress on equality, that if I were to bring a child into this world I could say to that child: “You can be anything you want to be in this world; you can, in your black skin, be the president.” The second thing, the thing I probably found as improbable as an African-American president, was that I fell in love. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to have children, it’s that deep in my subconscious I didn’t want to have them in the America I knew. I didn’t want to have children alone.

In 2013 I wrote, “My white friends are so lucky. They can have babies who will likely never find themselves in Trayvon Martin’s position,” lying supine on the ground with a gun in their face because they wore the wrong skin color and a hoodie. In 2017, parenting while white looks like a luxury that my husband and I will never be able to afford. I imagine that my white friends, as they embark on the adventure of parenting, make lists about the many things that could at a moment’s notice cut short a young life. When my friends Jen and Patrick had their first baby, they asked everyone who planned to come in contact with the baby for the first year to get a whooping cough vaccination (there had been an outbreak where they lived). I remember being willing to comply because I love these people and because I had the luxury of health insurance. But I also thought I was missing something, that maybe black parents are so concerned with the violence our children meet in the streets we forget to ask our friends and families to properly inoculate themselves before we expose our children to the dangers we can’t see.

A List of Things I Imagine White Parents Do in Preparation for Bringing a Baby Into the World. Aka A List I’d Make Reflective of my Proximity to Whiteness

  1. Names of midwives
  2. Names of doulas
  3. Find local birthing centers
  4. Make appointment with lactation specialist
  5. Research organic baby food companies or, even better, learn to make my own organic baby food.

I make the above list not because I think that those actions are limited to the realm of white people, it’s just that they had never crossed my mind before. No one in my family has given birth with the aid of a doula, and I’m certain if I ever made mention of my intention to do so my mother would sweetly say the phrase she’s used to describe me since my first year at Sarah Lawrence: “Oh, Khaliah, you’re so bohemian.” I make that list because it forces me to confront the fact that the lists I make are so diametrically opposed to the lists I want to make if I can get past my fears, if I am ever fortunate enough to start a family with my husband. I want to make lists of nursery needs, birthing plans and baby names. I don’t want to add to the lists I’ve already started making, though I know I will have to add line after line. America hasn’t learned its lesson yet; black bodies are still expendable.

* * *

Three weeks ago my brother and his girlfriend welcomed a new baby into our family. He is a chubby-faced, dark-haired boy named Gavin. He is perfection. I instantly loved him and feared for him, though I have never held him in my arms. During a phone call, my mother tells me how she has cautioned his mother that it’s too early to bring him outside; we don’t know what’s out there. I resist the urge to tell her that we do know what’s out there, that I know what’s out there. I’ve made list after list after list.

* * *

My friend Amanda calls when I’m in the middle of writing this essay. I tell her how I’ve been feeling, what the last week has meant to me. We worry that the political climate is traumatizing us all, and we wonder what scars we will carry years after Donald Trump is no longer in office. We talk about the effect he is having on children of color. Amanda is the mother of two beautiful, brilliant and funny black boys; she tells me that she walks around with her stomach in knots for the things that her babies will endure simply for existing. She tells me a story of how her older son, Aaron, once ran up their street in Bed Stuy only to have his younger brother, Jacob, shout, “Brother, stop running! The police will kill you!” Jacob is 7 years old. Amanda’s fear and the lists she has made over the years mirror my own; they’re a reminder than even if I manage to keep a baby alive and into adolescence and adulthood, I’ll still add to the lists that I began making long before it was ever born.

After talking to Amanda, I am more hopeful. Not because I think anything will change in the next few months or even years, but because in the moments when she’s not telling me of her fears, she talks about her children with such joy, that I want to know what that feels like. Before she ends the call, she tells me what many friends have said to me in the last week: “You know, you should go ahead and have a baby. All this writing and talking about it, it will probably happen anyway.” She laughs and hangs up the phone. I half hope she’s right. It’s the reason I haven’t tossed that bottle of vitamins in the garbage. I want to take them, but I’m angry that the country where I was born, where I make my home, has filled me with so much doubt that I don’t know when I will be able to twist off that bottle cap and start a regimen that might bring something new and innocent and black into a world that doesn’t want to love it.

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Old West theme parks paint a false picture of pioneer California

New York’s Black Cowboys

(Credit: AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

In 1940, just a year before Pearl Harbor plunged the United States into a world war, Walter and Cordelia Knott began construction on a notable addition to their thriving berry patch and chicken restaurant in the Orange County, California, city of Buena Park. This new venture was an Old West town celebrating both westward expansion and the California Dream — the notion that this Gold Rush state was a land of easy fortune for all. The Knotts’ romanticized Ghost Town — including a saloon, blacksmith’s shop, jail and “Boot Hill” cemetery — became the cornerstone of the amusement park that is today Knott’s Berry Farm.

While Ghost Town is arguably the first of its kind, since 1940 Old West theme parks have proliferated around the United States and the world. They’re more than just destinations for pleasure seekers. Like Hollywood Westerns and dime novels, these theme parks propagate a particular myth of “the West.”

The relationship between history and entertainment is especially complex when these theme parks exist in California — a place that actually experienced “the Wild West.” Visitors can have a hard time differentiating between fantasy landscapes and local history.

In studying California’s Old West theme parks and their version of the state’s past, I’ve conducted oral histories, visited these sites and observed continued nostalgia for these places. What do these imagined spaces reveal about cultural conflicts of politics and regional identity in midcentury California? How do they demonstrate the attraction of a fantasy past that has captivated Californians?

Chicken with a side of ‘pioneer spirit’

The addition of a Ghost Town may seem an odd choice for the Knotts, who were farmers and restaurateurs. But it was a calculated move to entertain guests waiting upwards of three hours in line for their chicken dinner — as well as to tell a particular story about the California Dream.

Walter Knott grew up listening to his grandmother’s tales about traveling across the Mojave Desert to California in a covered wagon, with her young daughter (Walter’s mother) in tow. Knott admired his grandmother’s “pioneering spirit,” which influenced his own decisions to homestead (unsuccessfully) in the desert. For Knott, his grandmother’s account sparked ongoing admiration for independence and adventure, qualities that embody the myth of the West but not necessarily the realities of California’s past.

And it was this personal connection to California’s past that colored Knott’s critique of his present. Looking back over the devastation the Great Depression wrought on California, the farmer — a lifelong proponent of free enterprise — concluded federal interference had prolonged the situation by offering aid and social welfare programs, instead of encouraging struggling residents to work harder.

This assessment ignores the fact that an agricultural hub like Orange County gained much from New Deal programs. The Agricultural Adjustment Act, for instance, offered farmers price support for their crops, which Orange County growers accepted.

But Knott remained steadfast. In an oral history from 1963, he explained,

“We felt that if [Ghost Town visitors] looked back, they would see the little that the pioneer people had to work with and all the struggles and problems that they had to overcome and that they’d all done it without any government aid.”

This virulent independence shaped Ghost Town and ensured that Knott’s Berry Farm’s memorial to California history was a political statement as much as a place of leisure.

Beyond its political message about the past, Walter Knott wanted Ghost Town “to be an educational feature as well as a place of entertainment.” Indeed, the first edition of the theme park’s printed paper Ghost Town News in October 1941 explained, “ . . . we hope it will prove of real tangible educational advantage and a lasting monument to California.” By 1963, Knott asserted,

“I suppose there’s hundreds of thousands of kids today that know what you mean when you say, ‘pan gold.’ I mean, when they read it in a book they understand it because they’ve gone down and actually done it [at Ghost Town].”

Indeed, the message reached generations of visitors.

Perpetuating the myth of rugged individualism

But Knott learned — and taught — the wrong lesson from the past. Certainly 19th-century Anglo pioneers faced financial, physical and psychological challenges in reaching California. But these individuals did actually benefit from the “government aid” Knott scorned.

Federal funds and policies supported land grants in the West, a military to expand territory and fight indigenous peoples and even the development of the railroad that eventually connected California to the rest of the country. Government intervention helped support these Anglo pioneers as much as it did their Depression-era descendants.

Despite the fantasy past it represented, the premise of Ghost Town inspired local appreciation. Visitors to Knott’s Berry Farm saw evidence of California’s financial greatness when they panned for gold. Stories about the trials Walter Knott’s own relatives faced crossing the Mojave Desert reinforced the fortitude of those who settled in the Golden State. Indeed, by midcentury many Orange County residents had themselves moved west to California and could well identify with the theme of 19th-century migration.

Ghost Town played on mid-20th-century nostalgia for simpler and more adventurous times in California, especially as the area began to rapidly shed its agricultural past in the years following World War II. The Knotts’ nod to California’s 19th-century history was a welcome distraction from the modernization efforts in Orange County’s backyard.

The romantic and often whitewashed version of California’s past embodied by Ghost Town played an ongoing role in shaping midcentury cultural and political identity in the region. The Knotts used the living they earned from Ghost Town and their other attractions to support conservative causes locally and nationally. In 1960, Ghost Town and the Old California it represented was the literal backdrop of a Richard Nixon rally during his first presidential run.

Later, fellow conservative and the Knotts’ personal friend Ronald Reagan produced a segment about their attraction on his political radio show. On the July 15, 1978 episode, Reagan said, “Walter Knott’s farm is a classic American success story . . . And, it still reflects its founder’s deep love and patriotism for his country.” Reagan celebrated the theme park as the pinnacle of free enterprise and the California Dream.

Among California’s Old West theme parks, Ghost Town at Knott’s Berry Farm is not unique in tweaking the state’s 19th-century past to more closely align with a Hollywood Western than the complex racial, cultural and political reality. Today Ghost Town serves millions of domestic and foreign visitors annually and continues to sell a fantasy version of the Golden State’s history. But this fantasy memorializes mid-20th-century conservative values rather than 19th-century California.

The ConversationWith renewed debates about public memory and monuments, it’s more important than ever to examine sites like historical theme parks as places where individuals learn (false) history. These romantic and politicized versions of the Old West can leave visitors longing for a past that never was.

Amanda Tewes, Ph.D. Candidate in History, University of Massachusetts Amherst

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Disproving Trumpism on the field, the Minnesota Twins embrace diversity and win

Eddie Rosario, Byron Buxton, Max Kepler

Minnesota Twins outfielders, Eddie Rosario, Byron Buxton and Max KepleR (Credit: AP/Jim Mone)

September brings a lot of things: a new school year, the start of fall and the playoff hunt in Major League Baseball. With a season of 162 games, spanning six long months, one 30-day stretch shouldn’t seem too important. But for the fortunate teams vying for a playoff spot, September means everything.

One of the most surprising teams competing for a playoff berth this season is the Minnesota Twins. Last year, the team finished with the worst record in baseball, losing more than 100 games. They were 30 games out of a playoff spot when their season came to its merciful end.

This season, the club has a record of 71-65, and is in playoff contention. They’re in command of the second Wild Card spot — the best teams in the league that aren’t leading their division — and are two games back of the vaunted New York Yankees for the top spot.

If the Twins do make the playoffs, they will make history, becoming the first-ever team to make the playoffs the year after losing at least 100 games the previous season, according to Sports Illustrated.

Few can explain the Twins’ success this season. The mid-market franchise returned to the field with mostly the same players as last year, relying again on a young roster that fans have patiently waited to mature and develop. Featuring one of the youngest lineups since 1990, USA Today projected the team to again finish at the bottom with a dismal record of 66-96.

But since the season began, the Twins have battled and positioned themselves for a postseason run. One theory for their success: The Twins boast one of the most unified clubhouses in all of baseball, overcoming any language and cultural barriers that sometimes hamper teams in a sport that features a lot of players from the United States, Latin America and Asia.

Jose Berrios, the 23-year-old star-in-the-making pitcher from Puerto Rico, indicated as much in an interview with ESPN last month.

“We are all in it together,” he said in his native Spanish. “It’s not just for Latino players; it’s for everyone, Americans and Latinos. We all talk. We are always joking around with each other. Nothing personal. Just having fun. We believe that has made the difference.”

The difference has been evident, with the team’s chemistry on display almost every night.

Salon spoke with some of the Twins players this week to find out how they’ve bonded as a team, and what makes them different from last year’s squad — and every other team in MLB.

Ervin Santana, the 34-year-old All-Star pitcher from the Dominican Republic, and one of the Twins’ leaders, says the clubhouse is more than just a team.

“We treat ourselves like a family. It doesn’t matter where you are from,” he said. “We know we have to see each other for six months, and we know we have to treat each other as a family. Every player helps to win a game.”

Santana said that Twins players “communicate very well,” which has translated to close friendships off the field. The Twins have regular team dinners, a ritual that most sports teams observe. Santana insists, however, that those times are spent well, allowing everyone to interact and speak up.

Brian Dozier, the home-run-hitting second baseman and longtime Twin, singled out the team’s chemistry for this year’s success.

“We are in an age now when people only care about numbers and sabermetrics and analytics, but the only thing that matters is what you can’t put a number on and that is the team chemistry in the clubhouse,” he said. “The heart that each of us have, we root and care about each other.”

“What has gotten us to the point right now and having a chance of going to the playoffs is our chemistry,” Dozier added.

Dozier disputed any notion of a language barrier in the team’s clubhouse. “We communicate very well. Hadn’t been the case in the past — years ago,” he said. “But we communicate very well now. The dynamic of this club from top to bottom is off the charts.”

Dozier’s locker mate, shortstop Eduardo Escobar, agreed. He said that it does not matter what language a player speaks, they have found a way to communicate as a family.

Veteran pitcher Kyle Gibson, who struggled early at first this season only to find his groove again just in time for the playoff hunt, offered a pragmatic perspective to the Twins’ season.

“You know what they say, ‘chemistry breeds winning and winning breeds chemistry.’ Winning has a lot to do with it,” he said. “When you are playing together as a team, it’s easy to have chemistry.”

Gibson did acknowledge that the younger players have helped make this year’s success possible. Indeed, the Twins have been anchored by many starting players 25 years old and younger. From the electrifying Byron Buxton (from Baxley, Georgia) and Eddie Rosario (from Puerto Rico) to the sluggers Max Kepler (from Germany) and Miguel Sano (from Dominican Republic), the Twins’ young athletes are a microcosm of the Twins’ roster and the game of baseball as a whole.

Perhaps that is why the Twins are experiencing unprecedented success this season. They are playing this international game the way it was intended to be played.

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To my daughter who thinks she might be gay

Thinking sad daughter embracing her mother and looking up

(Credit: Getty/Nastia11)

MotherwellWhen you were still a tiny seedling curled up inside me, the Mexican spiritualist held a silver chain over my swelling belly. There’s a strong masculine energy here, she solemnly pronounced. The baby will be a boy.

But you weren’t. At our next doctor visit, your father peered into the spectral ultrasound image, the pulsating heart at its center. She’ll play soccer, anyway, he said stubbornly.

When you were a little sprout of four years, you were the prince in elaborate make-believe scenes acted out with your sister. That was the year you told us you’d never marry.

At six you made a collage of beautiful women cut from magazines. Look at my sexy ladies, you told me, lowering your voice on sexy. I put it in your baby box; it’s there now, on top of the blue-and-pink-striped hospital toboggan and your first onesie, Daddy’s Little Princess.

At eight you wanted to be Isaac Newton in the school play. I look like him, you protested when the teacher said no. All the boys had long hair back then. I agreed. We chalked it up to Mrs. Lambert’s lack of imagination, but I knew what else might be there, lurking behind. Like the tea set an aunt bought for your birthday, the year you asked for a Spider-Man mask.

Late one afternoon when the sunlight was sparkling off the pond, you asked me, What if I’m gay?

Then . . . you are, I said, draping an arm over your shoulder. We walked on, and after a while I added, Uncle Paul is gay.

I love Uncle Paul.

Me too.

And the one that does Dory’s voice in the Nemo movie?

That’s right. She’s one of the coolest people I can think of.

You were satisfied.

You grew. New teeth replaced smaller, lost ones (carefully labeled by date in zip-loc bags in your baby box); you stretched upward, blossomed. Now you’re a tall, willowy creature in whom I hardly recognize any sign of myself. A beauty, by anyone’s standards.

Mom, can I talk to you? you ask one night. I look up from my book, blinking at being so suddenly drawn back to the here and now. You sit down on the bed beside me, push your bangs back absentmindedly. Your dark eyes are anxious, and I feel a flicker of fear myself. There’s so much against you: the world’s cruel prejudices, its judgment. It’s hard enough to be a woman, any woman.

Then I rally. To hell with them. You have us on your side. Until my dying breath, you’ll have me.

So I smile, take your hand. Tell me about her, I say.

Source: New feed

Don’t drive distracted, wireless industry says, but safety advocates want more than talk

Japan Self Driving Car

In this July 12, 2016 photo, Nissan Motor Co. Deputy General Manager Atsushi Iwaki gets his hands off of the steering wheel of a self-driving new Serena minivan during a test drive at Nissan test course in Yokosuka, near Tokyo. (Credit: AP Photo/Shizuo Kambayashi)

FairWarningJust after noon on March 29, a pickup truck crossed the center line of a rural road in South Texas and slammed into a church bus, killing 13 members of the First Baptist Church of New Braunfels. A police report said the 20-year-old pickup driver, who survived, had taken medication and was texting. In other words, he was on two drugs, not one.

It was a particularly gruesome toll for a single crash, but in recent years thousands have died on the nation’s highways, mostly in ones and twos, as a result of drivers fiddling with their phones. Despite more crashworthy vehicles, in 2016 U.S. traffic deaths reached 40,000, the highest number in years, according to an estimate by the National Safety Council. Distraction from wireless devices is widely suspected to be a factor.

Smartphones are portals to the internet and consciously designed to seize the user’s attention. For some drivers, the ping of an incoming message is as irresistible as an open bag of potato chips on the passenger seat. The warning not to dial and text now seems quaint because drivers in large numbers are doing so much more: Reading and sending emails, viewing photos and videos, playing games, browsing social media and surfing the internet.

The main countermeasures — campaigns exhorting drivers to stay focused and ticketing violators of state bans on texting and hand-held use of phones — have had limited effect. Apps that can block electronic notifications, such as AT&T’s DriveMode, are voluntary and easy for drivers to bypass or ignore.  Safety advocates want wireless companies to put the genie back in the bottle, or at least on a leash, when people are driving, by automatically blocking electronic distractions.

Christopher Kutz, a University of California Berkeley law professor, compared the situation to opioid drug makers “who distribute their product widely and then close their eyes to what seems to be a pretty inevitable risk of catastrophic misuse.” Companies in the mobile ecosystem ”should do much more to make it harder to consume while driving.”

“The companies do have responsibility,” said Deborah Hersman, president and chief executive of the National Safety Council. “These are devices that they put out. People are addicted to their phones, but connectivity has no place behind the wheel.”

But industry members endorse the current strategies, which put full weight on personal responsibility and impulse control, and require next to nothing of them. They fiercely resist any limits on the way they design and market their enticing gadgets and, according to critics, have snubbed possible technological fixes that could curb drivers’ temptations.

The industry is lobbying the Trump administration to kill proposed federal guidelines aimed at limiting distraction from smartphones and other portable devices. The nonbinding guidelines, issued in draft form in December by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), call on industry players to collaborate on technology that would disable distracting features of drivers’ phones without blocking devices of passengers. Like other safety and health initiatives advanced in the waning months of the Obama administration, the guidelines could be scrapped.

Leading the opposition are a pair of trade groups that are a potent force in Washington: the Consumer Technology Association, which represents 2,200 companies in the $321 billion-a-year consumer electronics industry; and the CTIA (formerly known as the Cellular Telecommunications and Internet Association).

Between them, the groups combine all segments of the mobile wireless ecosystem — telecom companies, makers of devices and operating systems, app developers and retailers — and include such household names as Apple, Google, Samsung, Qualcomm, AT&T and Verizon. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, the CTIA and Consumer Technology Association have spent $78 million and $23 million, respectively, on lobbying in Washington since the start of 2010. Their member companies have poured hundreds of millions more into lobbying and political campaigns. Both groups declined interview requests.

The “worst of government overreach”

In a letter in February to Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao and the White House Office of Management and Budget, technology association CEO Gary Shapiro claimed the guidelines represent “the worst of government overreach” and would stifle technological innovation. In a statement provided to FairWarning, the CTIA said: “We absolutely share NHTSA’s goal of maintaining driver focus. But we favor a more flexible approach that takes account of the evolving nature of technology.”

At times, CTIA officials appear to have exaggerated the difficulty of selectively blocking drivers’ phones–as in their opposition to a bill in Massachusetts that would require that customers on family plans be offered at least one free app that can block cellphone use when their teens are driving. The group also declared unworkable a bill in New Hampshire to disable texting and email in moving vehicles.

In both instances, the group cited the so-called ‘passenger problem’ — that is, how to block a driver’s phone without also locking out devices of passengers. “This technology mandate cannot make a distinction between the person driving the vehicle and his or her passengers,” according to a November, 2015 letter  from a senior CTIA official to Massachusetts lawmakers. “In fact, the mandate cannot distinguish between someone in a car versus a passenger traveling on a bus, by rail, in a taxi, or any other mode of transportation.”

But that statement appears to be misleading. Several firms (here, here and here) have developed software or hardware that can sense when someone is driving and selectively block their phone. “Too many lives have been lost,” Rep. Carolyn Dykema, the sponsor of the Massachusetts bill, recently told FairWarning. “I’m very skeptical about the argument that we can’t come up with a technology to address this.”

Apple, too, has found a solution to the passenger problem, according to one of its patents. The patent was submitted in 2008, but for some reason not issued until 2014. It states: “Texting while driving has become so widespread that it is doubtful that law enforcement will have any significant effect on stopping the process.” The Apple technology is capable of selectively “disabling any function of a handheld computing device that may interfere with the safe operation of a vehicle by a driver.”

The existence of the patent — and Apple’s failure to deploy the lockout technology — became center stage in several lawsuits against the company, including a 2015 wrongful death case in federal court in East Texas. As previously reported by The New York Times, the case involved a driver who was texting on her Apple iPhone when she crashed her Dodge Ram into the rear of another vehicle and pushed it into oncoming traffic, where it was broadsided by a truck. A 7-year-old child was paralyzed and his grandmother and another woman were killed. Another case stemmed from the death of 5-year-old Moriah Modisette. She was killed by a driver who slammed into her parents’ vehicle while using Apple’s FaceTime video calling service.

Gregory Love, a lawyer for the bereaved families in both cases, said the patent showed that Apple understood the risks of drivers using iPhones, but decided to ignore them. “If you create the monster, you should have the duty to control it,” he said.

However, the two cases were recently dismissed when judges ruled (here and here) that the drivers, not Apple, were solely responsible. The rulings are being appealed, and no cases have reached the discovery phase in which Apple could be required to explain why it has not deployed the lockout system.

Apple recently announced that the next upgrade of its operating system, iOS 11, due out in the fall, will feature a ”Do Not Disturb While Driving” app that can silence messages and calls. Few details have been released but it appears that like other anti-distraction apps, use will be voluntary. Apple officials did not respond to several interview requests.

Smartphones have been around for barely more than a decade, yet U.S. users number 224 million. They have become such a potent cultural and behavioral force, particularly among teens and young adults, that it can be hard to remember what things were like without them. Psychologists and social critics have bemoaned the wasted time and social isolation that can result from being glued to a smartphone, but the situation is more fraught when compulsive users get behind the wheel.

Although education is a key part of the anti-distraction playbook, it appears that public awareness could not be much greater. A recent Google search of the term ”distracted driving” turned up 3.25 million results. “In the realm of distracted driving, there appears to be little to no relationship between knowing risk and changing behavior,” observed Paul Atchley, a professor of psychology at Kansas University.

According to a 2016 survey by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, “Most drivers view texting and emailing while driving as a very serious threat to their own personal safety and consider it completely unacceptable.” Yet “nearly 1 in 3 . . . admit to typing or sending a text message or email” in the past month, and “2 in 5 . . . report reading a text message or email while driving.”

Research from AT&T was even more sobering. Although 95 percent of drivers disapproved of distracted driving, the survey found that 71 percent use smartphones while driving — including 61 percent who said they read or send texts; 33 percent who read or send emails; 28 percent who surf the web; 27 percent who use Facebook; and 17 percent who said they take a selfie or photo. Of the wireless carriers, AT&T is by far the most emphatic about the risks, stating: “It’s not possible to drive safely while using a smartphone.”

David Greenfield, a psychologist and co-founder of the Center for Internet and Technology Addiction, said the ping of a smartphone delivers a little burst of dopamine, a brain chemical associated with pleasure and reward.

And Ramsay Brown, co-founder and chief operations officer of Dopamine Labs, a Venice, Calif., artificial intelligence software firm, said that the smartphone “has been carefully engineered to habituate you to respond to it every time it makes any noise. . . . Now if you’re just sitting around your dinner table and you decide your family is not as important as YouTube . . . I can’t tell you how to live your crappy personal life,” he told FairWarning. “But when you get behind the wheel of a car those habits don’t disappear.”

With smartphones constantly adding compelling new features, entrepreneurs and developers of anti-distraction technology saw a need and opportunity. But a number of these startups have failed, and the survivors have yet to become sustainable businesses. “There’s a graveyard that is many acres in area that houses the individuals, the companies, the well-intended souls that have tried to address this problem,” said Dan Abramson, a co-founder of Cellepathy, Inc., a developer of anti-distraction software.

Zero traction

The main barrier has been an inability to engage the big gatekeepers with their vast market reach — the makers of operating systems, manufacturers of handsets and wireless service providers. The big companies have been reluctant to embrace anti-distraction technology, observers say, because they do not see it as a moneymaker and fear a loss of customers if they limit functions of drivers’ phones.

Among the casualties was Aegis Mobility, a developer of text-blocking software that launched in 2007 but went out of business last year. “We got zero traction” because ”it was too difficult, too expensive and it had no return” for the major players, said Aegis founder Steve Williams. Timothy Smith, former Aegis chairman and lead investor, said the company burned through $17 million before giving up. “The market as we envisioned it . . . just never took off,” he said.

“It’s a painful subject because I had so much of my net worth and my emotion and my time in it,” Smith said. ”This was something I thought could be part of a legacy” and ”make people safer.”

Erik Wood, founder of Otter LLC, another defunct developer of anti-texting software, started the company after seeing his 3-year old daughter nearly run over by a texting driver. Wood told FairWarning that at one point Otter seemed close to a partnership with handset maker Nokia, but the deal fizzled. Marc Kleinmaier, the former head of developer experience for Nokia North America, confirmed that he was “very enthusiastic” about the idea of preloading Otter’s text-blocking software into new Nokia phones, “but at levels much higher than my pay grade there wasn’t enough interest in getting it done.”

“None of these companies are brave enough” to be the first, Kleinmaier said, “because they’re afraid of the consumer backlash.”

That worry makes this “a classic case for legislation,” said Kutz, the Berkeley law professor. A company “that requires its consumers to jump through hoops is likely to lose a lot of market share to the other companies unless there’s a common requirement.”

Some surviving start-ups have pivoted from the gatekeepers to directly targeting two promising markets: Parents who want to police their teen drivers, and companies that have policies against on-road use of cellphones by employees but no way to enforce them. Cellcontrol, based in Baton Rouge, La., offers DriveID, a small hardware device that attaches to the windshield and allows parents or company fleet managers to block data, texts and calls to the driver without affecting devices of passengers. A spokesman said Cellcontrol has distributed 40,000 to 50,000 DriveID units.

Katasi, based in Boulder, Colo., also sees parents and fleets as prime markets for its device called Groove, which can blocks texts and other notifications. But Groove can be activated only via telecom company networks. In 2014, the firm seemed close to a breakthrough deal with Sprint before the company pulled back, according to a report in The New York Times.

Lying awake at night

Katasi founder Scott Tibbitts said he’s come to understand that it isn’t distracted driving deaths that keep industry CEOs awake at night, but how to lift the stock price. Their attitude, Tibbits said, is that anti-distraction technology “has to be a good business for us — We’re not in the business of philanthropy.” Even so, Ready Mobile, an Iowa-based marketer of pre-paid phone services, recently announced plans to offer Groove, and Tibbitts said he expects a deal with a major wireless carrier will be announced soon.

Others are pessimistic that effective solutions will reach a broad swath of motorists without a government mandate.

“Some type of regulatory or legislative action is required because the mobile ecosystem will not take action on its own,’’ software developer Cellepathy said in comments filed with NHTSA. “Distracted driving safety technology is not something that will help sell more phones and therefore the profit motive will not drive development of such technology.”

Such a mandate is nowhere on the horizon. Given powerful industry resistance and the Trump administration’s anti-regulatory crusade, even guidelines may be dead.

***

In December, 2011, the National Transportation Safety Board decided it had seen enough. Its investigations had implicated cellphone use in a string of deadly incidents: the 2008 commuter train wreck that killed 25 people in Chatsworth, Calif., a big rig-passenger van collision that killed 11 in Kentucky; and a truck and school bus crash in eastern Missouri that caused two deaths and 38 injuries. So the safety board called on states to ban all non-emergency uses of cellphones, except those, like navigation, that support safe driving. It also urged the industry to develop technology to block electronic distractions on drivers’ phones.

The NTSB is an advisory agency with no regulatory powers, and its recommendation drew an acid response from the Consumer Technology Association (then known as the Consumer Electronics Association). “There is absolutely no real world evidence supporting such a blanket prohibition, unless one would also ban fast food, make-up application and engaging with children in the car.”

At the time, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood was making distracted driving a personal crusade, and a top priority for NHTSA. Drivers on cellphones were not the only problem. Automakers had launched an electronics arms race with built-in infotainment systems that they claimed made driving safer by enabling drivers to stay connected while keeping their eyes on the road and hands on the wheel. Many features of the built-in systems, and of smartphones, can be activated with voice commands. However, research has shown (here and here) that voice systems can also be complicated and distracting in the noisy environment of a car.

The softer path

Rather than attempt regulations to hold back the tide, NHTSA chose the softer path of guidelines. The first phase, adopted in 2012, focused on disabling the riskiest features of built-in infotainment systems. The guidelines called on automakers to lock out certain tasks — watching video, typing text messages, browsing the web and social media–unless a car is in park. Other tasks meeting a ”two second rule” — the driver could perform them without looking away from the road for more than two seconds — would be allowed. Critics have blasted this as reckless, noting that in the space of two seconds a car going 60 miles per hour travels 176 feet.

NHTSA next turned to drafting the portable device guidelines that are now under review. The proposal calls for the industry to deploy a Driver Mode that automatically disables manual texting, games, social media apps and Internet browsing by the driver, without blocking passengers’ phones. Other tasks that meet the two second rule would be permitted by pairing smartphones with in-vehicle electronics and using their screens and controls.

Some commenters have applauded. ”This issue should have been taken care of long time ago to jam cellphones while vehicles are in motion,” the safety director for a trucking company said in a comment submitted to NHTSA. “Great idea and please get this rolling. Lives depend on it.”

A write-in campaign by the American Motorcyclist Association generated more than 1,500 biker pleas for NHTSA to act. Most were form letters, but some cited near-death experiences at the hands of distracted drivers. “My wife and I are both motorcyclists,” one wrote. ”Last year she was nearly killed when a texting kid in a pickup truck crossed the center line. Without her keen attention to the road ahead and expert evasive action she would have gotten clipped leaving behind a heart-broken husband, 4 kids, and 4 grandchildren.”

Others complained that the proposal is weak, or rejected the idea of voluntary measures altogether. Christopher A. Hart, who until March was chairman of the NTSB, said that by accepting some infotainment features, the guidelines send ”the wrong message to states and the driving public.” Similarly, the nonprofit group Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety said voluntary guidelines are “woefully insufficient to address this public safety epidemic.”

Unyielding opposition

Given their nonbinding nature, the industry’s unyielding opposition might seem disproportionate. But industry officials say their members would be under strong pressure to comply, in part to avoid liability exposure in distracted driving cases. They further contend that NHTSA, while empowered to regulate vehicle designs, has no legal authority over portable devices.

The guidelines represent a “dangerously expansive” assertion of NHTSA’s authority and “could have a sweeping effect on the multibillion-dollar market for mobile devices and apps,” the Consumer Technology Association warned in its letter to Transportation Secretary Chao and OMB.

Industry groups had raised this challenge before but were rebuffed by Obama administration officials, who said NHTSA was on firm legal ground. Several Republican lawmakers, including chairmen of four key House panels, had channeled the industry’s arguments in a November, 2014 letter to then Transportation Secretary Antony Foxx. “The activities being conducted by NHTSA in its development of the Guidelines are beyond the scope of its authority,” the letter said. The technology association enclosed the congressional letter with its February letter to Chao and the OMB.

The signers were GOP representatives Fred Upton of Michigan who, at the time of the letter was chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee; Bill Shuster of Pennsylvania, chairman of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee; Greg Walden of Oregon, then chairman of the Communications and Technology Subcommittee; and Lee Terry of Nebraska, then chairman of the Commerce, Manufacturing and Trade Subcommittee (Terry left Congress after his reelection defeat in 2014).

All four had received campaign support from the Consumer Technology Association and CTIA, and considerably larger sums from member companies such as Verizon, AT&T and Google. The two trade groups have donated $56,750 to Upton’s campaigns and leadership political action committee in the last decade; $38,750 to Walden and his leadership PAC; $23,500 to Shuster and his leadership PAC; and $28,500 to Terry, according to data from the Center for Responsive Politics. Emails and calls to their congressional offices were not returned.

NHTSA officials declined to be interviewed about the guidelines, but said in an email that they are reviewing the comments “and will consider this information … as we make decisions about whether, how and when to move forward.”

Ironically, distracted driving is considered such a daunting problem that it has fueled enthusiasm for the automotive and tech worlds’ shiny new thing: driverless cars. As the technology association said in comments to NHTSA, ”the best and ultimate solutions” for distracted driving “are the technology and path to the driverless car.”

Some new cars and trucks already have autonomous features, such as automatic emergency braking and correction for drifting out of lanes. But some experts think it will be many years before fully self-driving cars will be even as capable as the flawed human motorists they are meant to replace. And some are concerned that, in the meantime, efforts to combat distracted driving will wane in expectation of a magic bullet.

Douglas H. Weber, a senior researcher for the Center for Responsive Politics, contributed to this story.

Source: New feed

This little light: On fathers, sons and that little lamp in the Pixar logo

Luxo Jr.

A still from “Luxo Jr.” (Credit: Pixar)

Sometimes when I think about money, and not having enough of it, I daydream what it would be like to win the lottery. Then I snap out of it, because as a white, upper-middle-class able-bodied English-speaking male American citizen born in San Francisco in the late 20th century, I already won the lottery. And I should appreciate my good fortune.

There was a rule in my house that tennis balls were fair game as long as the tube had been opened. I loved the surely toxic smell of new tennis balls  that would rush out with the phwoosh of the tube’s pressure release, but my dad would invent games for us kids with the old ones , like “Step-ball.” How high could you throw the ball up the staircase and still catch it clean when it came back down? I got very good at not fumbling the ball . I was the shortstop on every Little League team I played for, and he was my coach for most of them.

When I was about a year old or so, my father took me into his office for the day. My father was a computer scientist, and he worked for a weird little startup that didn’t make any money. I remember going in there as a kid and thinking the people dressed strange.

At some point during that day, my dad played with me with a tennis ball. John Lasseter, an artist who worked with him, watched us, and suddenly the short film he had been trying to figure out was right in front of him. Using my actions, proportions and personality as a model for his main character, Lasseter created the short film “Luxo Jr.”

The name may not mean anything to you, and you may have never seen the short film,  but you’d probably recognize the title character. He’s a little lamp with a short body and a big head.

The startup that my dad worked at was Pixar. John Lasseter went on to direct many of Pixar’s greatest hits: “Toy Story,” “A Bug’s Life,” “Cars.” And today, before every Pixar movie, that little lamp hops out, jumps onto the “I” in “PIXAR,” squashes it, and looks out to the audience.

In a way, that little lamp is me.

But let’s go back to the short film my little lamp debuted in. It was late 1985. Pixar (then a part of Lucasfilm) was bleeding money, and would continue to do so for years. Steve Jobs bought the company in 1986 for $10 million, and would sink many more millions into Pixar before one movie  —  “Toy Story”  —  brought sustained profitability to the company.

For many years, Pixar was a hardware company. They made some of the finest computers for the purposes of digital imaging. But in the mid-‘80s, that meant they were selling those computers mainly to hospitals and government entities. The potential of computer graphics wasn’t well understood. Before Pixar, my father spent one election night debuting his digital paint software on national TV by turning states red or blue as the votes were confirmed. That sure as hell caught on.

But despite Pixar being a hardware/software company, they felt it was important to produce short films ,  if only to demonstrate the capabilities of their machines. So for the Siggraph Conference in 1986, a major gathering for the major nerds of major computer graphics, Pixar debuted “Luxo Jr.”

“Luxo Jr.” is a beautiful short. In the film, a large lamp watches a smaller child lamp play with a toy ball. They pass the ball back and forth, the larger lamp encouraging the smaller lamp as he figures out the physics of the new toy. Eventually, the little lamp, emboldened by the larger lamp, hops atop the ball, only to open a hole and flatten it.

The larger lamp shakes his head : C’est la vie. The smaller lamp hops off screen, dejected.

But in a third act twist, the little lamp pushes a beach ball back across the screen, and with an enthusiastic leap right in front of that big lamp, chases after his new toy. The older lamp shakes his head in bemusement, as if to say, “oh, kids.”

The premiere was a giant success. The Siggraph audience applauded throughout the entire reel, enough so that the light jazz piano score was completely drowned out.

Lasseter tells a story about how after the premiere of the short, he was approached by Jim Blinn, a computer science expert with NASA, who would go on to win a MacArthur Fellowship, or “Genius Grant.” Lasseter was nervous  —  he was not a programmer.  He didn’t think he’d have the technical answers to Blinn’s questions.

Blinn asked him if the larger lamp was a mother or a father.

As Lasseter tells it, this was a pivotal moment for the development of computer-generated movies. Up until that point, computer-generated movies were largely experimental tests of the equipment  —  “light passing through a prism” and the like. But a computer genius asking about the family relationship that exists between two lamps? That’s the moment when computers became a tool to serve a story instead of a technical novelty. Pixar would soon mostly ditch the hardware and software to focus on the development of feature films. “Luxo Jr.” was nominated for an Academy Award. And Lasseter gave Blinn the answer: father.

But I have one more answer for Jim Blinn. “Luxo Jr.” is, to me, a home movie. It’s me and my dad. Encouraging, comforting, energetic and kind, that big lamp, Luxo Sr., is as much my father as I am Luxo Jr. Every time I see my little lamp logo hop out in front of a Pixar movie, it’s not me I think about  —  it’s my dad. How he spent an afternoon hitting ground balls to me the day before my first Little League practice, and how proud I was when the other coach on my team said, “Well, I think we found our shortstop.” I must have been 7 years old, and I still remember that moment with such clarity. I can still feel the hard fabric on the bag of baseballs, the position of the sun in the sky.

When I look at the father and son lamp playing with a ball, it’s impossible for me not to feel like I won the lottery. My father’s greatest gift to me was enabling me to be myself , and I’m reminded of it by a little hopping lamp in front of every Pixar film.

Don’t worry, my dad isn’t dead. I realize I’m setting you up for that  —  building him up only to drop you off an emotional cliff. Dad still works at Pixar, and even if it’s no longer a weird startup that makes no money, the people still dress super strange.

* * *

I recently became a father.

Just seconds before my wife gave birth  —  up until then a normal delivery, the culmination of a normal, healthy pregnancy — about 15 doctors and nurses flooded into our hospital room as an alarm blared. My memory is spotty here  —  my brain has blocked a lot of it out  —  but I remember the OB/GYN thrusting our son onto my wife’s chest and thinking, “Huh, I didn’t think babies looked like that.” He looked gray. Floppy. Dead.

And before I could even move, a specialist pulled him off my wife  —  his umbilical cord must have been cut at some point, but I have no idea when  —  and someone called out, “No breath. No pulse.”

A white-haired man with a lanyard around his neck pushed his thumbs deep into my son’s chest cavity over and over and over again. He’d lift up my son’s arm, let it fall back to the table, and it would just slap the table, limp. Another specialist put a bag-valve mask over my son’s face, pumping air into his lungs.

My wife was screaming at the OB at this point, wanting information, salvation, but the OB was watching the resuscitation as closely as possible, and nobody — no nurse, no doctor — was responding to my wife.

It’s tough for me to say this, and I think this is where a lot of the sadness comes in, but there was a point there where I had this distinct thought: “I can’t control what’s going on with the baby. But if he dies, which seems like it’s going to happen, I can’t let this destroy my marriage.” I took my wife’s hand and we stared at each other, hoping for the best, and realizing that “the best” might include our son’s death.

The injected him with drugs — epinephrine, I’d later learn — and continued CPR. A nurse called out, “One minute, no breath. Two minutes, no breath.” An intubation tube threaded deep into my son’s tiny throat.

TV and movies make it seem like these situations are chaotic and noisy, but the truth is it’s quiet. So quiet that you think to yourself about how very quiet it is. The only thing piercing the stale air was the upbeat music blasting out of our laptop speakers. I think we were playing HAIM. I remember thinking that I should turn it off, but that would have required walking away from my wife.

In just a few moments, you have a lot of time to worry.

You think to yourself — not vocalizing anything, for fear of distracting the man compressing your son’s chest — how long can a human go without oxygen? How long before brain damage? How long before death? You have a clock ticking in your head. Some rogue synapse fires a thought: Didn’t the Kennedy daughter have something like this? You shove it away and hope for something to change.

I often think about winning the lottery, but there’s no greater lottery win in my life  —  no more dire dice roll  —  than the one that ended with my son coughing after two and a half minutes of resuscitation. It may have been longer; I don’t know. But he coughed. They ripped the intubation tube out and he cried. His skin started to pink up; they placed him in a rolling bassinet and raced him to the NICU. I hadn’t even touched him.

I woke up at 2 a.m. that night shaking. I couldn’t stop for 45 minutes. I didn’t want to wake my traumatized wife and I didn’t want to leave the room for fear that she would wake up, not see me, and worry there had been some emergency in the NICU she had missed. They warned us that babies who go through that difficult of an event sometimes forget to breathe. Tests were being run, trying to ascertain just what had happened and what might happen as a result.

My father is a great father, a man universally respected. He’s brilliant, but humble. You could know him your whole life and never know he won three Academy Awards for his breakthroughs in computer graphics. He was my first coach in every sport, my editor on my college application essays, the first call when I exceeded my goal SAT score.

He was also on the first flight to Los Angeles the next morning, arriving at the hospital in time for breakfast.

I always idolized my father, and still do. And I couldn’t escape the feeling, in those early days of my baby’s life, that I had already failed to live up to his example. I hadn’t protected my son.

* * *

They’re not exactly sure why my son needed to be resuscitated after delivery, but some combination of his umbilical cord being wrapped tightly around his neck, his size, and his twisted position in the birth canal caused him to get stuck. It’s extremely rare for a full-term baby to need the level of resuscitation our son needed. Statistics are tough to come by (and I’m not a medical researcher), but babies needing this level of resuscitation happen in less than .05 percent of births. But of those who do, approximately 30 percent will die or face disabilities due to oxygen deprivation.

Thankfully, after a little more than two days in the NICU, our son was discharged. He had passed all of his tests. The head of the NICU and our obstetrician agreed that, though the delivery was rough (“He just ran 10 marathons”), he wouldn’t face any long-term consequences from it. He’d be fine.

Two big lotteries in my life ,  and I’d won both.

As we walked out of the NICU, once it became clear my son would be OK, I saw the white-haired specialist who gave CPR to our son. He was typing on a computer. I saw the mousepad. It’s such a nothing detail, and so coincidental, but it was a “Toy Story” mousepad. I pointed it out to my dad, and I can’t tell you why, but just seeing that mousepad with my father there, my son’s heart monitor beeping strongly in the background, made me feel good.

My son is 10 months old now. Not quite as old as Luxo Jr., but as he approaches my age at that pivotal moment, I’ve been comparing myself to him more and more. He’s big  —  long, heavy and with a head circumference that’s never been lower than the 98th percentile of babies his age. His favorite thing to do is jump. Whether he’s in his jumper or I’m holding him, he has such power and force to his squats that it’s easy for me to imagine him squashing a toy ball or a capital “I” on a movie screen. He has my eyes, my smile, my love. And as he becomes my Luxo Jr., I find myself identifying more and more with Luxo Sr. The film becomes less about me as a baby, and more about me as a father.

I’m trying to be a good father. I want to be a good father. I am a good father.

I just hope I can live up to my dad.

Source: New feed

To save her daughter, this mom became a medical marijuana pioneer

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(Credit: Narratively/Lianne Milton)

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It happened for the first time just 35 days after Margarete de Santos Brito brought her daughter Sofia home from the hospital. Laid on the sofa in their home in Rio de Janeiro, Sofia’s little arms rose up to shoulder height and tremored, flicking between strange angles.

The next two and a half years were punctuated by innumerable doctors’ appointments, hospital visits and tests before Sofia was finally diagnosed. Her epileptic fits turned out to be a symptom of an incurable genetic disorder called CDKL5. Only one other case had ever been diagnosed in Brazil. Over the years, Brito tried every medicine that doctors prescribed for Sofia. But the myriad of anti-convulsive medications had mixed success in reducing the severity and frequency of epileptic fits. Many weren’t particularly effective at all, and came with distressing side effects like partial loss of sight. 

Read more Narratively: The Man Who’s Been Fighting for Medicinal Psychedelics for 45 Years

Late one night, her husband Marcos woke her up. On a Facebook group of parents across the world with CDKL5 children, one mother in the U.S. described giving her daughter cannabis-based medicines to mitigate the epileptic fits. “He came to bed after me, super excited, and woke me up — ‘Guete, do you know what I’ve just seen?’” Brito chuckles. “I was half-asleep, and I said O.K., let’s talk about it tomorrow.” 

First thing the next morning, Brito contacted the parents in the group that her husband had told her about. They were using cannabidiol, which had shown promising results in reducing CDKL5 seizures. Under Brazil’s rigorous anti-drug laws, importing cannabidiol would be no different than  importing any other form of cannabis. Brito knew that if her package was intercepted, although it was only a small amount, she could be arrested for international drug trafficking and put in jail for up to 15 years. 

Read more Narratively: When My Abusive Father Got Alzheimer’s, Spoon-Feeding Him Helped Me Forgive

Within a few hours of speaking to the CDKL5 parents in the U.S., Brito decided to try it anyway. Ten days later, the extract arrived in a small jar through the mail. “It was a really hard, black paste; it looked like mechanical grease and had a really strong smell of marijuana.” 

Following instructions from a YouTube video, Brito scooped out a tiny ball of the paste, the same size as a grain of rice, and dissolved it in a spoonful of cooking oil over a gentle flame before putting it in Sofia’s mouth. “It was as if I was an alchemist or something,” she says. “It was a really crazy experience for me, I can’t even explain it.” 

Brito and her husband gave Sofia the medication three times a day for a month. There were some improvements, but it was a prohibitively expensive solution and the effects were nothing remarkable. But their efforts were enough to convince other parents in her social networks, at first skeptical, to try it. 

Read more Narratively: For Decades, Shame Kept My Dad’s Schizophrenia Secret from our Pakistani Immigrant Community

Katiele Fischer, whose daughter Anny is Brazil’s other CDKL5 case, began giving her daughter the extract. Three months later, Anny showed such an improvement that Brito decided to try again using an artisanal oil produced in Brazil. It wasn’t cheap, but this time Sofia’s seizures were drastically reduced. 

* * *

Alittle over two years later, Brito took on Brazil’s tangled legal system to become the first person in the country’s history with permission to grow cannabis for medicinal purposes. It was cheaper, she argued, than importing medicines for her daughter, who has a rare genetic disorder. In October 2016, Brito entered Rio’s civil court with her friend and lawyer Emilio Figueiredo to try to get formal permission to grow marijuana at home. A practicing lawyer herself, she felt certain that she knew exactly what she had to do. 

She brought a syringe of imported medicinal cannabis oil with her, and a photo of her homegrown foliage on her phone. In a dark room stacked floor to ceiling with books and case papers, they sat across the table from a slightly stunned judge as Brito explained exactly why she was growing an illegal substance in her house. 

The pair were informed that they needed to take their case to the criminal court. Others might have been intimidated by this order, but Brito’s 12-year career had left her well acquainted with Brazil’s byzantine bureaucracy. On October 16, she sat in the waiting room in another courtroom in downtown Rio, a stack of carefully prepared documents at her side amid disgruntled neighbors settling noise complaints. When her turn came, she presented the case herself to a different judge and a small audience. Sympathetically, the judge simply told Brito that there was no need for a formal decision on her case. 

But Brito wasn’t about to accept being told to remain in a grey area. “I knew that we needed this decision, as a political act to share, to say, ‘look, it’s allowed.’ The judges were all in favor, everyone saying the same thing — that if it was their daughter, they would do the same thing.” Brito persuaded the judge that she needed the decision: what if someone reported her to the police and her daughter’s medicine was confiscated? She received the formal legal decision granting her permission the very next day. 

Today, Brito is still one of just three Brazilians with the right to grow medicinal cannabis at home — but she wants to see this change, and fast. Other Brazilians, mostly parents of children with degenerative diseases, are forced to seek out expensive medical marijuana in clandestine fashion, risking punitive jail sentences if they are caught.  

* * *

Angela Silva is one such mother. Her daughter Janaína, who is now 28 years old, showed no signs of any condition until she was a little over two years old. Today Janaína’s condition remains a nameless mystery, but manifests as severe epileptic convulsions combined with elements of autism. She can understand what’s going on, but struggles to express herself. Her growth and development has been stunted; she looks far younger than her 28 years. 

Silva and her husband tried every solution suggested by the legions of doctors they visited, many of which did little to improve Janaína’s health. One year ago, Silva’s family finally found they were no longer able to afford the multitude of constantly changing prescriptions. Janaína’s state only deteriorated after she was internalized in a hospital for several months last year, a court mandate designed to release Silva from the round-the-clock job of caring for her. Silva now takes care of Janaína at home once again. As always, her day begins with a bump and a wail. 

“Good morning! Did you fall again?” Silva asks, in measured, sing-song tones. Janaína is lying on the floor, curled on top of her blanket. Green-purple splotches form a continual cluster from her ankles to her hips, a result of her many falls. On good days, Silva and Janaína sing together. On bad days, Janaína beats her head against the wall until she draws blood, reducing Silva to tears. But today, Silva notices something. Beaming, she asks, “Did you take off your pants all by yourself?” 

Silva has been giving Janaína cannabidiol, a purified cannabis extract in oil form, since October of last year. Before, she says, Janaína could never have managed to undress herself. Since using cannabidiol, Janaína has regained enough motor control to fill a water bottle and fix the lid in place herself — something which was unthinkable a year ago. 

“My daughter was on her way out. She didn’t walk anymore, didn’t speak, didn’t smile,” Silva says, frowning. “I started giving her cannabidiol myself, breaking all the doctors’ rules. If it wasn’t for cannabidiol, my daughter wouldn’t be here today.” 

Silva was ambivalent about the idea of cannabis oil at first, and her husband was entirely opposed to trying it. Cultural associations between marijuana, trafficking and criminal drug gangs still hold strong in Brazil. The illegal drug trade is the main contributor to urban violence in Brazil’s biggest cities like Rio de Janeiro, where Silva and her family live. As a result, 58 percent of Brazilians still believe that marijuana should not be legalized in any form. But as medication after medication failed to bring about any change, Silva and her husband decided to try cannabidiol. 

“I was very prejudiced,” Silva says curtly. “Janaína taught me not to be anymore. It’s prejudice that stops legalization.” 

Brito, Silva and parents like them aren’t just struggling with cultural stigma. Brazil’s National Health Surveillance Agency, ANVISA, authorized the first cannabidiol imports in late 2014. While this set sufficient legal precedent for ANVISA to authorize similar applications, no laws have been changed or introduced. Instead, ANVISA doles out legal permission on a case-by-case basis, giving 2,053 such permissions since 2014. 

Silva is one of many who’s asked for permission to import cannabis extract. She’s still waiting for it. Meanwhile Brazilian-made oils are also expensive, and producing cannabidiol for distribution purposes within Brazil itself, whether for commercial or non-profit ends, remains a legally grey area. 

* * *

Brito spends her days arranging activities with Support for Patients and Research for Medicinal Marijuana (APEPI), the NGO she founded in 2013, which supports parents like Silva. Although CDKL5 is incredibly rare, a whole host of other conditions — some genetic, some not, but all inexplicable for doctors – benefit from medical marijuana. She sees her position as special, able to fight for changes to medical marijuana laws that would help other Brazilians. As well as organizing events, talks and activities across Latin America, she is also constantly replying to messages in Facebook and WhatsApp groups founded for parents of children like Sofia.  

Bureaucratic hurdles don’t just get in the way for patients. Medical cannabis’s legal ambiguity is also stifling research on the topic, with only a handful of Brazilian universities obtaining the right to conduct studies using marijuana. Without a concrete scientific basis, as well as cultural biases and legal uncertainty, doctors in Brazil are unlikely to prescribe medical marijuana regardless of the patient’s condition. As well as serving as a point of support and information for parents throughout Brazil, APEPI plays a crucial role in pushing for advances in legalization and research permissions. 

“I was always a very political person, in the sense of mobilization,” says Brito, the corners of her mouth poking briefly skywards. Although APEPI had succeeded to an extent with importation, Brito realized that it was only a solution for the financial elite. The medicine itself was costly, at around $149 for 1500mg in late 2014. But with the addition of Brazil’s notoriously high import costs, even fewer families could afford it as a solution. APEPI had fought for the government to cover the import costs, and won. But even then the medicine ended up stuck with authorities, because the government didn’t have the money. 

“We started to notice in 2014 and 2015 that the question of legalization for importation wasn’t so much the problem. The problem was that no one could pay,” says Brito. “We started to see that the question of importation was no longer a fight that made sense.” 

By early 2016, Brito and other mothers in her social networks had been using Brazilian-made extracts for a while. Brito had been shown how to grow cannabis by another group she knew that grew for recreational purposes. A new idea began brewing in Brito’s head: that she could grow, produce and distribute it herself to her networks, for almost no cost. 

* * *

Because of Brito’s personal efforts, two more families have been given permission to grow at home since November 2016. Thanks to APEPI’s pressure, ANVISA is trying to implement new laws allowing people to grow their own medical marijuana at home before the end of 2017. 

Brito, as always, is looking ahead: she wants ANVISA to provide licenses for collective growers. Very few mothers have the time or the means to grow and produce the oil themselves. She is only able to do so, she says, because she has help from a domestic employee and her mother-in-law. Meanwhile, she thinks it’s important that as many people as possible are growing medical marijuana at home, regardless of whether they have permission. The number of people telling her that they would do the same thing in her situation makes her certain that no one would be arrested. 

Recent changes to other Latin American laws add to Brito’s certainty about medical marijuana’s fate in Brazil. Businesses in Colombia found a legal loophole in 2015 that allowed commercial sales of medical marijuana. A similar, mother-led movement pushed Peru’s government to propose medical legalization in February this year, while Argentina and Chile legalized medical marijuana in March 2017 and May 2017, respectively. Most recently, in July, Uruguay introduced widespread legalization of marijuana for personal and recreational uses, allowing citizens to purchase at pharmacies without need for a prescription. Brito, it seems, is part of a continent-wide movement. 

Her fighting spirit is clearly infectious, rubbing off on those in her Brazilian networks. On the terrace of Silva’s house, the blistering midday heat reveals a small change. Perched unobtrusively in a corner, a first, hopeful sprig glistens bright green in the sunlight, its tiny ten centimeters swaying in the breeze.

Source: New feed

Fake news is nothing new: This photo hoax went viral a century ago

Cottingley Fairies Photo

Cottingley Fairies Photo (Credit: Wikimedia)

Fake news is big news right now. According to certain people, you can’t believe anything you read in the newspapers. However, this certainly isn’t the first time in history the media has been accused of sharing a story that may (or may not) be true.

Take, for example, the extraordinary story of the Cottingley Fairies, which hit the headlines of British newspapers a century ago. “Real fairies photographed,” claimed the reports, and who could doubt it when there was actual photographic evidence. The camera doesn’t lie, right? Or at least it didn’t in the early 1900s when photography was still relatively new. So if the camera doesn’t lie, the images of the little girls with the fairies had to be true. Didn’t it?

Not necessarily.

In the latter years of the First World War, two young cousins, Frances Griffiths and Elsie Wright, from a quiet Yorkshire village of Cottingley in England, told their parents they had taken photographs of real fairies at the stream at the bottom of the garden where they played. In truth, these “fairies” were illustrations drawn by the eldest cousin, Elsie, and stuck into the ground with hatpins to give the illusion that the fairies were “alive.” Nine-year-old Frances had been repeatedly scolded by her mother for falling into the stream. The claim that she was playing with fairies was an attempt to get her out of trouble. However, what started as a practical joke between cousins, quickly escalated into a national and international sensation that would last a lifetime, and still fascinates us one hundred years after the first “fairy” photographs were taken.

The photographs — only ever intended to be shown to the girls’ parents — soon came to the attention of novelist and occultist Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Conan Doyle was a leading figure in the Theosophical Society in London. He called on experts to examine the photographs, who declared them to be entirely authentic (much to the girls’ astonishment). In November 1921, when Conan Doyle’s Strand magazine article — featuring Frances and Elsie’s photographs — hit newsstands, the story of the “Cottingley Fairies” grew wings, and soon the girls, and their remarkable photographs, were known around the world. Some always suspected the girls of fakery, but nobody could quite work out how they had done it, and the vast majority believed the fairies to be real. This real life fairy tale endured for decades until a confession finally came in the 1980s.

Growing up in Yorkshire in the 1970s and 1980s, I was aware of the photographs of the famous “Yorkshire fairies,” and as an adult I’ve often wondered how a nation could have been so easily swayed by images, which now look so clearly faked. Perhaps one of the most compelling reasons for the fake fairies being so readily accepted is the fact that the images came to light during a time of great national turmoil, shortly after the end of WWI. At a time when so many had lost so much, it isn’t that hard to understand why something as wonderful as fairies would enchant the public and provide something uplifting for people to cling to after the devastation of war. Many people at the time also found something quite magical and mystical about the process of capturing an image on film. Perhaps it was harder to accept that cameras could lie than it was to accept that fairies were real.

However, unlike the “fake news” claims of today, there was no malice at all in Frances and Elsie’s photographs. There was no intent to trick a nation, or the world. This was simply a joke between family members that got out of hand. No wonder the girls didn’t confess for over 60 years. How could they, when so many kept reasserting that the images were genuine? What a responsibility it would be to shatter all those hopes and admit the photographs were fake. And yet, not all the photographs were.

The fifth photograph is still a source of much speculation. To her dying day, Frances claimed that this photograph wasn’t staged like the others, and that it really did show actual fairies. Frances maintained that she often saw real fairies as a young girl in Cottingley, and throughout the rest of her life. Family members still hope the fifth photograph will be examined with modern technology to settle the matter once and for all. Perhaps there is an element of truth to every bit of “fake” news. Sometimes we have to look a little closer, look behind the picture, to discover the real story.

Not all news stories can be believed, but perhaps the real magic of this particular piece of fake news is in the power of wonder and imagination. Without intending to be anything other than a prank to get a young girl out of trouble with her mother, the Cottingley Fairy photographs became a symbol of hope to so many, and although we know how that particular story ends, there is still an inherent fascination with fairies within many of us. As I suggest in my novel “The Cottingley Secret,” the possibility and childlike hope that fairies might be real is perhaps more important than discovering the truth.

In such politically troubled times as those we are living through now, many of us are turning away from reality and seeking escape in fiction and art. When the world is so full of bad and “fake” news, it is little wonder that we seek out things that offer something far gentler, and more magical. To quote a newspaper report from 1920 when the Cottingley Fairy photographs first became public: “The soul of the fairy is its evanescence. Its charm is the eternal doubt, rose-tinted with the shadow of hope. But the thrill is all in ourselves.”

Source: New feed